Umatilla, Walla Walla & Cayuse
Traditional Culture
  Who's Who
Since Time Immemorial
Homelands
All My Relations
Camp Life & Seasonal Round
Horses, Trade, & Travel
Cultural Continuity
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Sovereignty & Tribal Government
Arts and Artists
Language
Education
Recommended Web Sites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Lewis & Clark and the Early Fur Trade
Establishment of Fort Nez Perces
Life at Ft. Walla Walla
Missionaries and Early Settlers
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Line drawings on this page were generously supplied by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Special thanks to Kay Barton and Anne Pressentin Young. Sharon Torvik and the late Harold Cramer Smith are the artists, and their work is displayed here with respect and gratitude.
 

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Cecilia Bearchum
Food Storage
 
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Sandhill crane
 
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Blue Camas, along side the Zumwait-Buckhorn Road above the Wallowa Valley.
K. Lugthart photo
 
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Northern shoveler
 
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Swan
 

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Martha Franklin
On the Return of the Salmon
 
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Otters
 
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Chewing beaver
 
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Blue winged teal

Umatilla > Culture > Camp Life & Seasonal Round
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© Lynn Kitagawa -used with permission
 
The yearly cycle for Natítayt reflects the intimate relationship that they share with the land. Before being forced to live a sedentary life confined to the reservation, they moved seasonally throughout a vast region, in a pattern based on available foods. Year after year the many riverine villages were occupied when the salmon were running, and other locations were favored when berries were ripe, or when roots were ready to be harvested, or when elk or other animals were available. image
Curlew
 
Winter
 
In the days before dams, when snow began to fall, many Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse set up large villages, nisayct, along the Columbia River. In the largest villages, several hundred people gathered to spend the winter season fishing, hunting, making clothing and tools, and listening to the stories of the elders and adventurers.
 

Women were responsible for setting-up and dismantling the tule, tk'ú, (Great bulrush, Scirpus lacustris) mat longhouses, which varied from a 20 foot circle and up to 150 feet long. The winter lodges could accommodate an entire extended family unit. They also constructed small round storage huts in shallow pits, to store dried roots, berries, meat, and fish. Mud baths and sweathouses, used separately by the sexes, were also an important part of village life. Some of these structures also served as seclusion for elder women to instruct young girls.

Men used dip nets, twaluut'as, from their canoe-like vessels, wasas, and from platforms to catch steelhead (šušaynš), lamprey eel (k'suyas), coho salmon (sinxw), whitefish (simay), sturgeon (wilaps), suckers (xuun), and other fish. Some brought out their bearpaw snowshoes and went in parties to hunt elk (wawukya) and deer (yaamas), and occasionally antelope (wawataw), big horn sheep (tnuun), bear (yaka), and other game in the Blue Mountains. Hunting provided meat for food, hides to make clothing, and bones and antlers to be shaped into tools.

Winter is a time to celebrate, dance, sing, and to tell stories of their families, history and beliefs. The winter solstice is celebrated as the beginning of the new year. Paica?sa, the winter solstice gathering, is a time for prayer, dancing, and singing. There were also Winter Spirit Dances, wánptša, where shamans and young apprentices sang and danced.

From the dark of winter, new life emerges with the first shoots of wild celery. This is a time of celebration. In March, Umatilla peoples hold a xásya feast to welcome the ka`uyit, "in the beginning, when new things start", of wild celery (Lomatium grayi). Today, this annual tradition continues.

 
Spring
 

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Cecilia Bearchum
The Spring Run
By the time of the vernal equinox many important roots and salmon are ready for harvest. Each April a thanksgiving feast, kauite, is held to celebrate the return, or the beginning, of the salmon and roots. April is known as the moon of the gegi`t roots (Lomatium canbyi). Soon the roots of the cous, xamsi, (Lomatium cous) along the Blue Mountains are ready to be harvested. Until the reservations were established, the men had to keep a lookout for raiders from surrounding tribes while women and children dug the roots out of the ground with their digging sticks.
 

The waters of spring were teeming with salmon, in one run after another. Many large villages, sprang up along the shores and islands of the Columbia River to harvest the abundant salmon. Friends and relatives from various bands came together for this effort.

 

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Cecilia Bearchum
The Root Feasts
Along the shores of the raging river, the men moored canoes together to use them as platforms from which to catch spring Chinook, nusux, (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). They used harpoons (tayxay), dip nets (twaluut'as), and gaff hooks (kiyák). Elder men repaired and made fish traps, sapaxaluutas, and other equipment for the younger men to use. A good day's catch for each fisherman was approximately 100 fish!
 

Women worked hard to dry the vast numbers of fish brought in each day. They cleaned them, then dried them using smoke, sun, and wind.

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Drying eels
Maj. Lee Moorhouse. PH 36, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, #M5555.
 
As the days grew longer and the snows of the high country melted into the valleys, the women took down the steep-roofed tk'ú mat lodges and, in their place, families constructed flat-roofed structures on raised platforms. The raised platforms kept their houses protected from the high waters of the spring runoff and the flat roofs provided lots of space for drying salmon. Because wood was a scarce commodity, timbers for the platforms were re-used year after year.
 
Summer
 
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Camas field in bloom
K. Lugthart photo
Salmon fishing continues in early summer, and the men also catch lamprey eel, a favorite food. Women's work shifts from fish-drying to root-digging. Everyone celebrates the ripening of blue camas, xmaas, (Camassia quamash) roots.
Xmaas was such an important food in the days before grocery stores, that the fields were well maintained and vigorously defended.
 

Using crutch-handled hardwood digging sticks women pried up the entire plant, took only the large bulbs, and then replaced the plant so that they would be able to return to the stand again. Poisonous death camas (Zigadenus elegans) was weeded out when the plant was in bloom, the white blossom could easily be distinguished from the blue flower of the edible form.

In the old days, a woman could gather up to 90 pounds of camas bulbs, two sacks full, in a half-day! The root was baked into bread or biscuits in a stone-lined earth oven along with wild onion and/or berries. It was also cooked into a mush in baskets with hot stones for boiling. Other roots, such as bitterroot, pyaxi, (Lewisia rediviva) and Indian carrot were gathered as well. An edible black lichen, collected off pine and fir trees, was also baked in a stone-lined earth oven to make a cheese-like substance. Women still gather roots and lichen, but not nearly so many.

Everyone welcomes the sweet fruits of summer. A sequence of berries ripens from mid-summer into the fall. Women and children pick wild strawberries, serviceberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, blueberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, chokecherries, and wild currents. These fruits are eaten raw or spread on mats to dry in the sun or before a fire. In the past, dried berries were used in mush, soups, or made into pemmican by pounding berries into dried fish and meat for flavoring.

Out from the summer camps, in pre-reservation days, groups of hunters would form lines and drive prairie chickens, sage hens, or jackrabbits into net enclosures. They would then club the small prey, which added wonderful variety to the daily fare and the soft skins of rabbits were used to make clothing and blankets.

Some of the Umatilla, Cayuse and Nez Perce took their horses and joined relatives and allies from other Sahaptin and Salishan bands on summer expeditions to the plains to hunt the buffalo. The horse provided them the means to travel many hundreds of miles over difficult terrain, and to become part of the world of buffalo people.

Trade was greatly enhanced by the horse. Throughout the fishing season, people from all over the Northwest, from the shores of the Pacific to the Great Plains, gathered at major fishing areas to trade goods. At Celilo Falls, near the junction of the Deschutes River on the lower Columbia River, buffalo meat was traded for dried fish and goods such as obsidian projectile points or knives and marine shells. Celilo continued to be one of the largest trade sites and a great fishing spot until 1957 when a The Dalles Dam was built, flooding the falls. Despite the loss of the falls, fishing and the annual First Salmon Feast continues, usually celebrated on the second weekend of April, and is open to the public.

 
Fall
 
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Gathering tule
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Weaving tule
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Constructing tule mat lodge
 
Photos courtesy of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute
 

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Cecilia Bearchum
Tule Mat Lodges
After months of intense work to procure food on the Columbia, fall was a little more restful and fun. As huckleberries ripened in the high country, extended families followed them. They set up camps at the edges of the Blue Mountains where the women and children collected berries and the men hunted. With deer-head decoys, they lured in their prey. They also hunted elk, which they enticed to come within bow range by the magical flute-playing of a man endowed with those particular powers. Teams of hunters would burn underbrush in the forests to drive deer, antelope, bear, and other game toward those waiting with bow and arrow in stands or mounted on horseback. Each family needed the meat from 20-30 deer and 6-10 elk to meet their winter needs. When the hunter had killed enough for his family and contributed to the needs of widows and elders, he took no more.

 

 
Women were responsible for butchering the game animals, drying the meat, and packing it into parfleches for storage. They tanned and smoked hides for clothing, moccasins, and parfleches. They also continued to pick berries and dig roots.
 
Intertribal groups gathered for trade, fishing, gambling, and games. Young men and women courted and women told each other of their lives since they were last together. Everyone enjoyed watching or competing in foot races and horse races. Everyone played games. They gambled and traded.

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"Indian Horse Race"
Courtesy of Washington State Univ. Libraries
 

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Cecilia Bearchum
Preperation of Foods for Winter
During the fall these bands would send out horse-raiding parties to their traditional enemies, especially the Bannock, Northern Shoshone, and Northern Paiute. They also had to be on the lookout for raiders from other tribes, out on their own horse-raiding expeditions. These enemy tribes also came to take captives for the slave trade.
 
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Maj. Lee Moorhouse. PH 36, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, #5419
When heavy frost greeted them in the morning, and the snows began to blanket the high peaks of the Blue Mountains, it was once again time to set up the large winter villages along the Columbia River. The cycle of life continued as it had since time immemorial, until the people were confined to reservations and the rivers were dammed. Even now it continues.
 
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Snow on the Blue Mountains (from the Wallowa Valley)
K. Lugthart photo
 
Background: "Indian Horse Race" by E.B. Quigley
Courtesy of Washington State University Libraries