Continuity & Change at Cathlapotle

Excavated trade goods from Cathlapotle | courtesy  Dr. Kenneth Ames

When speaking of the past, indigenous Northwesterners often emphasize continuity over time while non-Native archaeologists and historians organize the past according to major changes like revolutions and wars, large population migrations, or major economic shifts. From 1450 to the mid-1800s, Native people, archaeologists, and historians agree that residents of Cathlapotle lived there continuously, and that they experienced both continuity and tremendous change during that time.

Glass Bead | courtesy Dr. Kenneth Ames

Contact with Europeans and Americans at first brought economic opportunity but little that truly transformed Chinookan lifeways. But as the 19th century advanced, the pace of change accelerated beyond Chinookan control. Global trade routes carried deadly diseases as well as material wealth. Epidemics eventually resulted in the depopulation and abandonment of Cathlapotle in the 1830s.

Ethnohistorian Robert Boyd estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Chinookan people succumbed to diseases brought by American and European voyagers to which they had no immunity.

Cathlapotle residents were crucial provisioners and intermediaries in fur trade activities. After 1825, a well-worn footpath connected Cathlapotle to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, located a mere 18 miles upriver. The sudden appearance and sharp increase in imported glass beads attests to the participation of Chinookan traders in an emerging fur trade.