Follow us on Facebook
Site Map


Other Great Sites

Wishram Indian Tribe

History of the Wishram Indian Tribe
by Stuart of

In 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited the Wishrams as they traveled westward. The people belonged to the Upper Chinookan language group and were known as the “Wish-ham” as they were named in the Yakima treaty. The lands of this Upper Chinookan tribe extended along the Columbia River north bank from about ten miles above The Dalles to about ten miles below them. Their main village was at Spearfish which is present-day Wishram, Washington. This village is also featured in a Coyote legend, Tsagaglalal, known as “She Who Watches.” It was estimated there were between 1,000 and 1,600 tribal members at the beginning of the 19th century, according to Lewis and Clark. That would have represented between 6 and 10 percent of the Upper Chinookan population.

When the smallpox epidemic struck in 1782-1783, it had been suggested that half of all Wishrams had been killed. More populations died along with other Chinookans from other diseases such as the intermittent fever (defined as: a malarial fever in which feverish periods lasting a few hours alternate with periods in which the temperature is normal. OR any fever characterized by intervals of normal temperature) which happened in 1829.

Where the Columbia River narrows at The Dalles, the Wishrams fished for salmon which they heavily depended on for their subsistence. Baskets were used to preserve the fish in which up to a hundred pounds of salmon could be contained. Other tribes also came to the Columbia River for fish and the salmon which the Wishrams caught was often used for trade. It could be said that this area of the Columbia was the foremost native mart in the Pacific Northwest.

Their tools and implements were primitive. Metal tools were not used until after the arrival of Europeans. Instead, they used materials such as horns, animal bone, animal hair, wood, rock, grasses, and shells to create woven baskets, blankets, adzes, hammers, chisels, knives, fishhooks, harpoons, spears, clubs, bows and arrows, spoons, ladels, storage boxes, and the like.

The coastal and interior tribes had very different cultures but since the Wishrams were located between these points, they had developed cultural traits from both regions. They utilized mat-covered lodges which showed evidence of integration with the Shahaptian peoples on their east as well as their own lodges made of planks, typical of the coastal tribes. They also dressed much as the peoples on their east in the winter. During the winter months, the Wishrams would live in semi-subterranean houses which were common of the people who lived in the interior.

The Wishrams paid considerable attention to the disposal of their dead, as did others who lived along the lower Columbia River and Northwest Coast. They placed the bodies in rectangular grave houses of planks and poles on islands in the Columbia River.

Coastal tribes grouped members according to rank which the Wishrams did also. These distinctions were upper, middle, and lower class. An individual’s class ranking within the tribe was based upon their social class at birth and/or the material wealth of the individual. The Wishrams did hold slaves who were regarded as lower class. Slaves were usually women and children captured as a direct result of intertribal warfare. The adult male was usually killed, rather than enslaved by the victor. The slaves were held mostly to enhance the position of their owners but were also exchanged for goods. The Wishrams had obtained their goods in trades even before they had seen the whites.

The whites threatened the Wishram’s mercantile dominance which contributed to the unfriendliness by the Wishrams toward them. They showed hostility to Astorian fur traders in 1811 who asked for their services in transporting goods over a ten-mile stretch around Celilo Falls. When the Hudson’s Bay Company increased its control over the Columbia River, the resistance of the Wishrams weakened since their population was declining and the white population was increasing. They had also come under the influence of the Methodist Wascopam Mission which was founded in 1838 in their lands. The Wishrams hostility was not entirely directed towards whites but had developed over many ages in which they had been raided by natives from up and down the Columbia.

The Wishrams opposed removal to a reservation. The natives of the Columbia’s south bank were removed to the Warm Springs Reservation in north-central Oregon. However, between 1860 and 1865, some Wishrams moved to the Yakima Reservation in Washington Territory. From there, they alternated with their former homes to subsist on the fisheries. There were several families who did remain in their homelands along the Columbia River. A census taken in 1910 listed 274 Wishrams and in 1962, ten were reported to be living in Washington.

Title Link

250 ad

I-84 Corridor

Title Link