First Advisor

Gordon Dodds

Term of Graduation

Fall 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Wasco Indians -- Social life and customs, Tlakluit Indians -- Social life and customs, Wasco Indians -- Cultural assimilation, Tlakluit Indians -- Cultural assimilation, Wasco Indians -- Diseases, Tlakluit Indians -- Diseases



Physical Description

1 online resource (iii, xiii, 133 pages)


This study examined the Wasco and Wishram's response to the introduction of Euro-American technologies and cultural expectations, and how it affected the natives' culture.

The response of the Wasco and Wishram of the Middle Columbia River to the Euro-Americans in their midst reflects the natives' dynamic culture. These Chinookan speakers were quick to adopt those ideas they perceived as aiding them in the acquisition of material wealth. At the same time, the Wasco and Wishram were resistant to some philosophical and cultural changes that traders and missionaries sought to impose.

Difficulties between the two groups were more pronounced when disparate cultural expectations were involved. During trade and social gatherings, the Chinookans expected the whites to reciprocate to their gift-giving in traditional ways, while the whites, ignorant of the social expectations of gift-giving, viewed the natives as avaricious. Euro-American market-derived prices had no place in the Wasco/Wishram's trade sphere when determining the value of native trade goods. Among the traditional trading partners of the Wasco/Wishram, prices were determined through historic exchanges, and the cultural value of those items.

Toward the end of the 18th century the native groups all along the Lower Columbia River suffered tremendous population loss due to the introduction of alien diseases by maritime traders. Two pandemics of smallpox swept through the native population circa 1775 and again in 1801, killing almost 90 percent of the villagers. Malaria swept through the region in 1829 killing, in some estimates, upwards of 99 percent of those who survived the smallpox epidemics.

Missionary groups sought to civilize the remaining Chinookans through Christianity starting in the 1830s. Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian groups sent missionaries to the Pacific Northwest to convert and civilize the natives. The Chinookans viewed the missionaries as sources of spiritual power, providing additional economic avenues and spiritual paths leading to ways to acquire more wealth and prestige for themselves and their families. The Wasco/Wishram failed to recognize they were substituting a new belief system for their native one, and incorporated the new deity and attendant rituals to augment their panoply of spirits.


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