Four Directions Institute: Atfalati (Tualatin)


The Tualatin by Robert L. Benson

"Those who live in Washington County today are the heirs of a mild and unwarlike native people, the Tualatins, whose limits coincided pretty nearly with out county line. They were grudging allowed by the Willamette Falls Indians to fish now and then at the falls, and there is some slight evidence of occasional Tualatin camps at Portland. The Chehalem people, too, might be considered Tualatins rather than Yamhills; probably the three dialects were very similar. So we might, as a maximum, count small parts of Yamhill, Clackamas and Multnomah counties as Tualatin land, in addition to our won county.

The Tualatins are sometimes said to be a "band" of the Calapooya "tribe", but such a usage is not correct, Speakers of the three Kalapuyan languages (Yoncalla, Santiam, and Tualatin-Yamhill) were nearly or quite, unintelligible to one another, just as most European nations are today. The relationship is only a distant linguistic one. The Kalapuyan nations seem to have lacked all political unity of any sort until a loose form of organization was imposed upon all the Grand Ronde tribes in reservation days.

The Tualatins or Tualati called themselves Atfalati, a name which may seem quite different from "Tualatin" until you accent the second syllable, fal, pronouncing is fahl, the Indian way. Other names which turn up for this people are Fallatahs, Fwalitz, Wappatoos, Wapato Lake Indians, or simply Lakes. Their principal winter towns were about Wapato Lake near Gaston.

They had other winter centers too, and a great number of summer camp-sites, where they made their rounds of the camas meadows, berry patches and hunting grounds.(1, 2)

We are probably safe in taking most of the sites around Gaston as winter centers or towns of the Tualatins. Existence of winter towns near Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton is also fairly certain, but not the exact sites. The name of the Beaverton town, Geipi or Kaypee, meant beaver. There was also a winter town at or near Glencoe. Its name was Panaxdin or Panaghtin, pronounced to rhyme (approximately) with "tonic tin". This name may be the origin of Pumpkin Ridge, which rises behind Glencoe. Punniktin--Punkin--Pumpkin; is not the echo reasonable true?

Perhaps the only Indian rock carvings west of the foothills of the Cascades in Oregon are those 3 or 4 miles west of Gaston, north of Patton Valley Road. Fortunately, they are well guarded from vandals by the present owner of the property. The Tualatins had a story of their origin as a memorial to a brave girl who, by some well-chosen lies, was able to turn back a raiding party of Tillamooks at this point.(3, 4)

The camp behind Helvetia was the scene of a battle, probably in 1860; it is described in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1861, page 221; if you can locate this elusive government document (I can't), you may learn how Uncle Sam called on his "tame" wards, the Tualatins, then settling down at Grand Ronde, to help him repel the "wild" Columbia River Indians who liked to raid the Willamette tribes. At this late date, 1860, the Chinooks of the Columbia had been all but destroyed by disease, so the raiders from the Columbia must have been Klickitats.(5)

The Tualatins were a poor tribe, and this may seem strange to their modern white successors who live in the richest agricultural county of the state. But the Indians hereabouts were not agricultural. The lack of a salmon run in the Tualatin river (due to the salmon-stopping falls at Oregon City) made the difference between wealth and poverty to all the Kalapuyan nations. And occasional Tualatin might rise to moderate wealth in furs and shell-money or slaves, and then he would start calling himself a head man and might hope to rise further in the world by marring a wife from one of the richer tribes; Clackamas or Wishram perhaps, certainly not the hoity-toity Lower Chinook or Cathlame, who were the very summit of the salmon-eating aristocracy. Such avenues of advancement were closed to the poor common Tualatin; as Jacobs puts it, "They (the Kalapuyas) were pleasant people but you did not go to live in their country." Too confounded poor.(6)

Still, Tualatin life must have had its pleasant features; a mild climate; a wealth of roots, bulbs, and berries; birds and rodents and deer to kill; and easy-going government, practically none at all. As long as you gave surface respect to the local rich man, and avoided angering the shaman with stronger magic powers than his, and eluded the slave raiders, you might live a long and peaceful, if somewhat hungry, life.

Life grew grim, though, with the coming of the white man and the white man's diseases. One gets a hint from the scrap from Jacobs' synopsis of a Mary's River text: "...Child hears grouse on an oak, acquires grouse spirit-power. Many people now die from sickness, so the shamans bury alive the child who had grouse spirit-power."

Their practical religion consisted in acquiring, by dreams or vigils, a spirit-power from some animal or natural object which would give them magical strength and protection: this is a frequent belief in Northwest America. For theoretical religion, they had a tale of successive Myth Ages during which the features of the world were gradually accounted for. The important thing, though, was to cope with the magical spirit powers; not all were beneficial; the Thing in the Lake (Wapato Lake) might carry off your children and keep them forever, gruesomely changed, able to say only one word, "Different, different." But there was always the heroic trickster, Coyote, who in the course of his aimless and sometimes ribald adventures occasionally found time to do the Indians a favor, as when he broke Bull Frog Woman's dam so that the fish could escape and be caught by fishermen.(7, 8)

At a Tualatin wedding (says Gatschet), the wife's family got much better gifts than the husband's family, and even plundered the latter of what they were wearing and carrying; but out of politeness they returned much of this, so one gathers that there was as much sociability as greed involved in the so-called "bride price." The custom of slavery too, had been mitigated among the Tualatin and lacked the merciless features it showed further north. Still, in the Jacobs volume, we read about a rich and violent young Tualatin, Kamatch, who , having married a proud Chinookan-speaking wife and determined to make his mark in the world, goes on a slaving expedition down the valley and along the coast (Kalapuya Texts, pages 160-163).

Some of the Kalapuya Texts carry us over into the period of white contact; we notice the white farmers encroaching on sites the Indians had thought they were to keep; we hear how Joel Palmer arranged for the withdrawal to Grand Ronde; we see the head men quarreling, shooting and making up; we see a squabble over an inheritance on a Grand Ronde farm. We see, too, how the Tualatins continued to go out into the mountains at Grand Ronde, the same as back home, to seek for spirit powers which would give them magical guardianship.

Eventually, though, we are informed from other quarters that so many of the Oregon Indians have become Christian church members that the proportion is higher than among Oregon whites.

Two maps have come down to us from the 1850, when the Indians of Western Oregon were being moved to reservations. The more interesting, the Gibbs-Starling map of 1851, shows that the first plans called for several reservations dotted about the Willamette Valley. The Tualatins were to have a 12-mile square surrounding their favorite centers at Gaston. But the Rogue River wars of the mid-fifties caused such ill feeling against any and all Indians that the friends of the Tualatins persuaded them that a move to Grand Ronde, far from the tide of American settlement, would be safest for them. By 1860 or so it is safe to say that all the surviving Tualatins were at Grand Ronde, except for a few wives of white men and perhaps an Indian man or so who could turn farmer or cowboy among the whites.

THe Tualatins had never been numerous, and had suffered as much as the average tribe from the white man's diseases. At Grand Ronde the toll of disease continued, and the story of the Indian's decline became to sad to dwell upon. We white Americans never give it a thought, but we may be sure that it is not left out of the picture of American which our opponents present to the peoples of Africa and Asia. "You've heard what the Americans say; now listen to what they do!"

Yet there are few bright spots in our treatment of the Indians, and the thoughtful among us will take care that these bright spots increase and do not diminish.(9, 10, 11)


  1. The historian J. Nielson Barry, relying chiefly on Hodges' Handbook of North American Indians, has made a map showing the principal named camp-sites in our county, and this can be consulted at the Washington County Historical Museum in Hillsboro. We will try to reproduce something similar herewith.
  2. We will lean heavily upon the principal publication on the Tualatins; it appeared in 1945. This is Part Three of Kalapuya Texts, by Melville Jacobs and others. Without this performance our sources would be slender indeed, limited to a few passing mentions in pioneer accounts, and a short article by the early-day linguist A.S. Gatschet.
  3. See the descriptions in Cressman's Petroglyphs of Oregon, U. of Oregon Studies in Anthropology, Eugene, 1937, page 12; he quotes Mallery's Pictographs of North American Indians, and Mallery, citing Gatschet, relays the information that the old Tualatin settlement was probably not more than 2 1/2 miles east of the carvings, which would put the settlement a mile or so west of Gaston.
  4. See also Walter Schuck's short account, with photograph, in Screenings, August, 1957. Mr. Schuck mentions a Mr. Callahan, who lives nearby, and knows considerable about the old campsites.
  5. These, as employees or allies of the Chinooks, had raided the Tualatins and others for slaves from earliest times. They would descend on a sleeping camp at night or just before dawn, signaling with imitation owl cries. After their setback, the Klickitats withdrew to their Washington homes and are still a vigorous group on the Yakima reservation.
  6. See the article, Historical Perspectives in Indian Languages of Oregon and Washington, by Melville Jacobs, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, January, 1937, page 65.
  7. Admittedly, Jacobs' publication on the Tualatins is much less than we could wish. "It was a last-hour salvage job," He tells us. Gatschet had collected and Frachtenberg had partly edited a group of texts many years before, but by the time these were placed in Jacobs' hands for possible publication, all but one of the speakers of Tualatin had died. This one speaker of Tualatin, Louis Kenoyer, passed away after having commented on only four of the Tualatin texts. The rest of the texts, fragmentary and faulty, were also published, but 50 pages account for every scrap. See pages 145-198, Kalapuya Texts, by Melville Jacobs, U. of Washington, Seattle, 1945.
  8. The Gatschet article is also brief, and duplicates some of the text material, especially that concerning the exchange of presents between two families at a wedding. See the article The Kalapuya People, by Albert S. Gatschet, Journal of American Folk-Lore, 1899, volume 12, number 46, page 212.
  9. The writer of this paper solicits details about Tualatin sites from anyone who may have come across a number of relics and its discoverer has passed on, it may be lost to history unless someone records it, and I'm willing to serve as recorder.
  10. Mr. Elmer Guerber has pointed out to me where the Indian trail from the Tualatin plains to Belvetia crosses his farm; the packed earth is still noticeable at plowing time. Other neighbors are helping me to recover other parts of the trail. It crossed my property, I am told.
  11. At the head of one of my canyons is a little open place where a single camas plant flowers each May, many miles from the proper lowland home of the camas. An Indian woman on the old trail may have reached into her pack long ago, stooped to plant a bulb, and said "There maybe it will grow."