The Nehalem / Tillamook People

The name ‘Tillamook’ comes from the Chinook term which means ‘people of Nehalem’. According to them (them meaning the regular, usually unreferenced ‘experts’ of course), the first ancestors of the Tillamook settled in that area in the 15th century. Population estimates (again by the amorphous ‘them’ of course) show that the Tillamook population stood at about 2,200 in the beginning of the 18th century.

The first encounter with the Tillamook by the white devils was by Robert Haswell, an early American maritime fur trader to the Pacific Northwest. Haswell is known due to the detailed logs (heh, logs!) that he kept of his voyages to the northwest. The logs provide a detailed record of contacts with various native peoples and other European traders, and provide an invaluable source for the history and anthropology of the region. Even the famous John Quincy Adams knew of him, noting that that “a very intelligent and accurate journal was kept by one of the officers on the Washington.” Speaking of fur trading, anyone watched The Revenant yet? I wonder if the bear he ate was a good source of protein? But I digress. The modern era is truly a godsend; instead of hunting bears for protein we can just check out sites like The Protein Investor to get the best deals on cheap whey protein.

The second encounter with the Tillamook was by the famous Lewis and Clark expedition (no relation to Superman or DC Comics), at Fort Clatsop, an encampment in Oregon County near the mouth of the Columbia river. A whale washed ashore, and the Tillamook quickly stripped it down to the bone, saving the blubber for later. Lewis and Clark, upon hearing of this, led a party to trade for blubber. It was them that actually did the population estimate of 2,200. The expedition further noted that their main source of food was salmon. Expensive taste!

Unfortunately in 1824 and 1829, two smallpox epidemics hit the Tillamook hard, followed by the arrival of the Oregon Trail settlers in 1841. The epidemics, coupled with the conflicts with the settlers, led to the Tillamook population reducing to an estimated 400 in 1845, and a further 200 in 1849. This led to the US government placing the Tillamook, together with about 20 other tribes on the Siletz Reservation, meaning that further population estimates did not separate between the tribes.

White man keeping the brown man down
White man keeping the brown man down

Isn’t it sad that Native Americans have been so mistreated by the American government? Today we associate Native American reservations with high levels of alcoholism, obesity, poverty, and gambling addictions. But fun fact! The Tillamook people were the first Native Americans to sue the US government, in 1898. True pioneers, folks! In 1907, the Tillamook and two other tribes were awarded U$23,500 by the government, which according a calculator I found online, would amount to US$588,000 today. Hardly approaching the ‘fuck you’ level of money, and pretty poor compensation for being basically wiped out if you ask me.

At least they get their own ice cream named after them.
At least they get their own ice cream named after them.

Well there you have it folks! A brief overview of the history of the Nehalem, or the Tillamook people. Where are they today? Well they are still around; enrolled in either the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon or the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.  Other Nehalem are part of the unrecognized Clatsop Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

Probably not what the Tillamook people had in mind.
Probably not what the Tillamook people had in mind.