The Long View: History of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe

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The concept of defining sharp boundaries in order to set off the territory of one group from that of another is typical of Anglo-Americans, but it is a foreign concept to Native Americans.

They had loosely defined use areas, and the territory of one group would often heavily overlap with those of others.

The white man needs boundaries in order to draw his maps, but Native Americans never held the concept of being able to say that anyone owns a part of the Earth Mother. She owns us. Numerous different groups might be together in one huckleberry patch.

The following boundaries are to be understood in a general sense as the basic use areas of the four Cowlitz Tribal bands.

Aboriginally, the Cowlitz had the largest land-base of all the Western Washington tribes.

Let us begin at a point near Yard Birds in the today’s Chehalis-Centralia area and travel east past the southern face of Mount Rainier to the Cascade divide.

Then turn south to Battleground (near Vancouver), and continue downstream on the Columbia River.

The villages along the forks of the Lewis River were known as the Lewis River Cowlitz Band.

The 29 villages along the Cowlitz River from the Coweeman River to a short distance above the Barrier Dam were known as the Lower Cowlitz Band.

Fourteen villages upstream on the Cowlitz River were those of the Upper Cowlitz Band.

Continue down the Columbia River from the mouth of the Cowlitz River for another 15 to 20 miles, turning to the right into the Willapa Hills and the area of the Kwalhiokwa Cowlitz Band.

We now take a turn to the right before we get to Willapa Bay and take a line that takes us back to our point of beginning at Yard Birds in Chehalis.

The Cowlitz Tribe occupied all of the area which is now Cowlitz and Clark Counties, and parts of Lewis, Pierce, Skamania, and Wahkiakum counties.

You can see that the Cowlitz tribe occupied the major portion of what is now known as the southwestern portion of the state of Washington.

About 1840 the Cowlitz crossed the Columbia River and established a village near the present site of Rainier, Ore. Otherwise the Columbia River was the southern boundary of their existence.

They had a common boundary with the Chinook on the downstream side of the Columbia River. On the north, the Lower Cowlitz bordered with the Chehalis Tribe, while the Upper Cowlitz bordered with the Upper Nisqually tribe.

In the east they bordered with the Yakama Tribe.

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Next week: The languages spoken by the Cowlitz Tribe.

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Roy I. Rochon Wilson was an elected leader of the Cowlitz Tribe for three decades and is the author of more than 30 books, including several histories of the Cowlitz Tribe. He is a retired ordained Methodist minister and current spiritual leader of the tribe. Wilson lives near Winlock.

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