Celilo Falls and The Dalles Dam Historic Viewer

This historic viewer shows the dramatic transformation of the Columbia River and the inundation of Celilo Falls after the construction of The Dalles Dam in March 1957. The base photograph is a combination of two images taken by Gladys Seufert and her son Frank Seufert in 1940 and 1956. These photographs show the Oregon Trunk Railway bridge, The Dalles-Celilo Canal, an auto bridge across the canal on the lower left, and Celilo Falls on the right (click on the thumbnails to see images of Indians fishing at Celilo Falls from the early 1900s to the 1950s). The overlay photograph, also taken by Gladys Seufert in 1972, shows the inundation of Celilo Falls and the conversion of the Columbia River from rushing white water, to a placid reservoir. What other changes in the landscape can you find by comparing these photographs? How do you think industry has changed the look and function of the Columbia River? What perceptions do you think whites and Indians had of the Columbia River and how have these perceptions changed over time? These are questions to keep in mind as you analyze the photographs and read the essay below.

The Dalles Dam inundation one of the most productive Native fisheries in North America. Archaeological evidence suggests that Native peoples have lived and fished at The Dalles for more than 11,000 years. Prior to Euro American settlement, the area was the center of a vast regional trade network that stretched from present-day British Columbia south to California and east to the Great Plains. Every year during the height of the salmon runs, thousands of Natives peoples gathered in The Dalles-Celilo area to fish, trade, and socialize. Lewis and Clark called it the "great mart" of the Columbia River.

It was not long after whites settled in the area that the Columbia's once abundant salmon runs began to decline. Overfishing and the destruction of habitat in the tributaries due to mining, livestock grazing, urban pollution, and a host of other activities led to a notable drop in fish populations by the early twentieth century. The federal government's construction of a series of multiple-purpose dams on the mainstem of the Columbia from the 1930s to the 1970s reduced salmon populations ever.

The federal government offered the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes a modest monetary settlement to compensate for the loss of tribal property rights at Celilo Falls when The Dalles Dam flooded The Dales-Celilo area in 1957. Residents who lived in Celilo Village were forced to relocate and many families left the locality to look for employment. Indian leaders protested the building of the dam, and many said that no amount of money would be sufficient replacement for Celilo Falls. Indians throughout the region continue to mourn the loss of Celilo Falls.