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History of The Dalles

The History of The Dalles, Oregon
by Tony Wilson of

The City of The Dalles, Oregon is currently home to approximately 13,636 (according to the city website). The city's population swells and recedes with the seasons. From the Spring through Fall, people come and go as they reside here for harvest of a local agricultural product, or on their way further south for the warmer weather to escape the cold of winter.

The Dalles is a small city, located on the banks of the mighty Columbia River, sitting on a crook in the river's gorge.

The town was settled on January 11, 1854 and is the largest city in the county of Wasco, which at one time ranged between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountain range East to West and from Washington to California North to South, which consisted of a whopping 130,000 square miles. The Dalles is the county seat providing a large spacious courthouse.

The city lies amongst the basalt columns that line this part of the Columbia Gorge. These Basalt columns helped name the city. The name comes from the French word "dalle", meaning sluice or flagstone, referring to the basalt walls of the region. The first name given to this area was in 1814, naming it "La Grande Dalle de la Columbia".

The Dalles was first referred to in writing in a narrative by Gabriel Frenchere, in April of 1814. It's name changed several times over the years. In 1851 it was known as "Dalles", 1853 "Wascopam" and The Dalles in 1860. The Native Americans called this area "Win-quatt", meaning a place encircled by rock cliffs.

The area was first founded by white men in an expedition by Lewis and Clark, camping here near a small creek named "Mill Creek", called by Native Americans "Quenelt", their name for trout. The exact spot where they camped is called "Rock Fort". This event took place in October of 1805 on their way towards the Coast.

Lewis and Clark came to the area and took their recordings back East passing through The Dalles again in 1806. Follow up expeditions came exploring the area in 1807 and 1811. At this time they also discovered Fort Astoria being built by the the Pacific Fur Company near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Commercial efforts in the 1820's became very competitive. A company, named the Northwest Company came in and started hunting the local area of it's Beaver, harvesting their pelts. The idea was to ship furs from the local area by sea, but when the Ship of the Americas (supply ship) became grounded, Northwest Company sold out to the British Pacific Fur Company.

The Northwest Company thought they were stranded figuring they could not transport their pelts back across the Continental Divide and harsh lands.

In 1821 the British Northwest company was acquired by the Hudson Bay Company, which chose The Dalles as the preferred river port for shipping around the rapids and waterfalls because of the river access. It was easy to build, load and launch canoes, boats and rafts loaded with pelts of beavers and supplies.

Methodist Missionaries arrived in the area around 1838 establishing the Wasco-pam Mission. This was done by Reverend Jason Lee along with his nephew Daniel Lee and Henry Perkins.

In 1838 it is said that Rev. Lee preached from a rock formation in The Dalles known as "Pulpit Rock", which is still located here.

Later after the mission was established, Rev. Lee traveled back East, extensively preaching of the wonders of the "Oregon Territory" and the need to Christianize the Native Americans. These Missionaries were in large part responsible for the western emigration which boomed between 1850 and 1860. This caused this small area of The Dalles to explode with a population hovering around 10,000. Among those arriving were settlers, adventurers, gold miners, gamblers, tavern and bordello owners, and a few unsavory characters.

In 1849, the U.S. Army located into the New Oregon Territory and established a military outpost referred to as "Fort Drum", later calling it "Fort Dalles". The log fort was finished in 1850.

In 1850 the "Land Donation Act" helped The Dalles became a part of the "Oregon Trail". Some stayed while others moved along either down the river or along the toll road known as the "Barlow Trail" which opened in 1850. Construction of the Barlow Road began in 1845. The road was approximately 150 miles long. The road was constructed by a team of 40 men and Sam Barlow. The Provisional Government allowed Sam Barlow to make this a toll road, charging $5.00 per wagon and .10 per head of livestock. The day the road was completed, 145 wagons amounting to $725.00 and 1600 head of livestock amounting to $160.00 were allowed to pass through on their way to the "Promised Land" known as Oregon City.

In 1851, The Dalles established a Postal Office.

In 1857 The Dalles became an incorporated city.

The Dalles is the 3rd oldest incorporated city in Oregon. It had one of the largest populations in the Northwest which played a major role in the commerce, politics, military and navigation of the local area.

It served as the end of the overland route unless people chose to go on to Oregon City.

In 1865, the U.S. Congress made available monies to establish a mint that was to be used to make currency from Canyon City which was being brought in by gold miners. The mint had several setbacks due to cost overruns, which ran two years behind in construction, people leaving to find work and a flood caused by the Columbia River. It led to it's eventual demise in 1870.

In 1855, a Treaty was signed between the local Native Americans. This Treaty was said to have been signed at a couple of different locations. Some say at a large Oak tree on Mill Creek known as the "Treaty Oak", while other accounts say it was signed at "3 mile crossing". This account has not been well documented so it remains an unknown.

Under the Treaty terms, the Native Americans would be relocated to a reservation, known as the Warm Springs. Although this Treaty was signed, the Native Americans retained "off reservation rights". These rights in the treaty allow the "off reservation rights to fish, hunt game, and retrieve other foods on land outside of reservation boundaries.

The tribes consisted of Warm Springs, Paiute, and Wasco. Currently there are approximately 4,500 registered members living on the reservation.

The Dalles was a major trade center for both the Native Americans and the settlers. It was (and still is) a major fishing area for the Native Americans.

The City of The Dalles, Oregon is full of history and a great destination for people looking for adventure. Come enjoy our sunny city for a day and see why many people who settled here decided to stay and call this wonderful venue "home".

"For the Tourist"

Restaurants in The Dalles - We list all of the tasty places to eat in town as well as where you can find Wifi Hotspots! All offer e-coupons which you can redeemed by showing on your mobile device when it's time to pay the bill!

Lodging - Whether you're looking for a hotel, motel, campground, rv park, vacation rental or bed and breakfast, we've got you covered! We list pet friendly establishments as well!

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Camping - Detailed list of campgrounds where you can pitch a tent and enjoy the beautiful Columbia River Gorge!

Cycling - List of popular routes where you can get on your bike, start pedaling and nail down a good workout!

Hiking - List of all the cool hikes you can take including popular walking trails.

Fishing - Bait that hook, cast out and reel in a big one at one of the many fishing holes on our list! We also note establishments where you can obtain a daily or seasonal fishing license.

Hunting - Few realize that this city has some of the best hunting in the state. We reveal all the great places to lock and load including where you can pick up a license!

Lakes - Whether you're going for a swim or looking to catch tonight's dinner, The Dalles has you covered!

Rivers - The MIGHTY COLUMBIA dominates this town's list of rivers. List includes boat ramps!


Historic Sites