Coastal Indians

The Flattened Heads

sketch of Chinook woman

On March 19, 1806, only a few days before leaving Fort Clatsop, Meriwether Lewis took pains to finish his notes on the habits and appearances of the neighborly Clatsop Indians. The most remarkable trait in their physiognomy, he wrote, was the flatness and width of their foreheads, which they artificially created by compressing the heads of their infants, particularly girls, between two boards.

Coastal Woven Hats

Top Hat

During the time they spent in the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark observed a number of basketry hats made and worn by the Chinookan-speaking people who lived in the region. The explorers described and illustrated some of these hats in their journals, commissioned others for their own use, and collected hats as souvenirs, which were carefully preserved during the long march back across the continent. Today five hats at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (PMAE) at Harvard University have a provenance that potentially associates them with the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Clatsop Cone Hats

Cone hat with decorations of a whale and canoe full of Indians

By the time the Corps of Discovery arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River in early November 1805, the clothing they started with had long since worn out, and the leather replacements they had lately made were rotting quickly in the rainy coastal winter. They made new shirts, pants, and moccasins from the hides of the elk they killed for meat, but they could come up with nothing in the way of a head covering that was nearly as practical as the style perfected by the Clatsops and Chinooks.

Comcomly's Tomb

A burial site that looks like a canoe elevated by four large posts

Comcomly was a prominent Chinook citizen and leader whose people lived on the north side of the Columbia estuary, on the shore of Haley's Bay. On November 17, 1805, he introduced himself to Lewis and Clark at Station Camp . . . .

Another Trail of Tears

The Tillamook Indians, cordial hosts and friends to the visiting Americans in 1806, may have numbered about 2,200 persons at that time. Early in the 1850s most of the survivors, along with the remnants of about 15 other Indian nations in northwestern Oregon, were marched from their homes to a 69,000-acre Coastal Reservation on Oregon's Salmon River . . . .

Map from Clatsop Information

Interactive map of northwest Oregon showing historic coastal tribes

This map was drawn by, or with the assistance of, an unidentified Clatsop Indian early in January of 1806. It bears no resemblance to any other map from that time to this. Nevertheless, it is another piece of the material evidence of many Indians' willingness to help the visiting Americans.