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image: Umatilla Indians
Photograph of Umatilla Indian from Corbis
Umatilla Indians

First Noted by Expedition
October 19, 1805

The Umatilla lived beside one of the world's richest salmon fisheries in what today is northern Oregon and southern Washington State, along the banks of the Columbia and the river named after them.

The Umatilla depended on the great numbers of salmon found in the rivers for food and trade, even using the dried fish for fuel. Dried salmon served the same purpose corn and buffalo products did throughout the North American plains as an integral part of the local trade.

When Lewis and Clark's men first encountered the Umatilla, the terrified Indians hid in their homes or abandoned them at the strangers' approach. Determined to placate the Indians, Clark forced his way into one of the lodges and convinced the inhabitants of his good will through the liberal distribution of gifts.

Years later Clark explained that the Umatilla told the Corps members that they thought the Americans were sky gods and feared that the spirits meant to kill them. Apparently, as Clark approached the villages on the day of the first encounter he had casually killed a crane. The band associated the loud noise of the gunshots, the dead crane, and the sudden appearance of strangers as bad signs.

The Umatilla were also frequently raided by neighboring Paiute and may have chosen to hide to avoid such a confrontation.

By 1855 the Umatilla were settled with the Cayuse and Walla Walla Indians on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon. As of 1990 there were more than 2,300 members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

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