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Kalapuya: Native Americans of the Willamette Valley, Oregon

This guide was written by former LCC librarian Don Macnaughtan. This guide is no longer being updated or maintained.

The Kalapuya are a Native American ethnic group. They are members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. The Kalapuyan traditional homelands were in the Willamette Valley of Western Oregon.

The Kalapuya were not a single homogeneous tribal entity, but rather multiple autonomous subdivisions, loosely related by dialects which were mutually unintelligible. The 13 related groups spoke three distinct languages of the Oregon Penutian language family: Northern Kalapuyan (Tualatin-Yamhill)Central Kalapuyan (Santiam), and Yoncalla (Southern Kalapuya).

Each of these bands occupied specific areas along the Willamette River and its tributaries. The various Kalapuyan bands were hunter-gatherers, gaining food by fishing and hunting by the men, and gathering of nuts, berries and other fruits and roots by the women. The tribe made use of obsidian (obtained from the volcanic Cascade ranges to the east) to fashion sharp and effective projectile points, including arrowheads and spear tips.


Prior to contact with white explorers, traders, and missionaries, the Kalapuya population is believed to have numbered as many as 15,000 people. Robert Boyd estimates the total Kalapuyan population between 8,780 and 9,200 for the period between 1805-1830.

Catastrophic epidemics of malaria, smallpox, and other diseases accompanied the entry of Euro-Americans. Some accounts record tales of entire villages empty of people. By 1849 the population had dropped to around 600.

Social structure

Kalapuya bands typically consisted of extended families of related males, their wives, and offspring. These bands would occupy a year-round village throughout the winter, with some members splitting off into smaller groups and departing to gather seasonal food and raw materials during the spring and summer. Bands would frequently have a single leader — generally the most wealthy male — who would resolve arguments, settle collective debts of the community such as those incurred gambling, and would provide food for feasts.

As was the case for many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the Kalapuya practiced slavery, with slaves generally obtained through trade or as gifts. Northern Kalapuya groups, such as the Tualatin and Yamhill, would obtain slaves through conquest, raiding bands located on the coast or further south in the Willamette Valley. Slaves were considered a form of wealth and were used for the purchase of desired commodities, including beads, blankets, and canoes.

Slaves lived with the families who owned them, working side-by-side in daily tasks and performing mundane chores such as the collection of firewood and water. Slaves were often free to marry and their freedom could be purchased through their own accumulation of property or through sufficient payment to the owner.

In addition to the patriarchal and wealth-driven differentiation of Kalapuyan society, there were also special shamans. These were believed to possess supernatural predictive or healing powers and might be either male or female, free individual or slave.

Labor was differentiated within Kalapuyan society according to gender. Males engaging in fishing, hunting, and warfare, as well as tool manufacture and the construction of canoes. Women gathered and prepared the staple plant foods (especially camas) that were the basis of the Kalapuyan diet, set up temporary camps, and constructed baskets and other craft products. During the summer months, the women of the band would prepare food products for winter storage, generally staying in the main village to complete the task while others gathered the foods from afar.


In Oregon, there were two main treaty cycles which concerned the Kalapuya: those in 1851 and those in 1854–1855. The 1851 treaties were negotiated by Oregon's Superintendent of Indian Affairs Anson Dart, and those in 1855 by Dart's successor Joel Palmer. The 1851 treaties were never ratified, but those in 1854–1855 were ratified.

On April 12, 1851, at the Santiam Treaty Council in ChampoegOregon Territory, the leaders of the Santiam Kalapuya tribe expressed strong opinions over where they were to live. The Santiam leaders Alquema and Tiacan maintained their desire to remain on their traditional territory, between the forks of the Santiam River.

In the Treaty of Calapooia Creek, Oregon, (November 29, 1854), the Umpqua and Kalapuyan tribes of the Umpqua Valley ceded their lands to the United States.

In the Treaty with the Kalapuya at Dayton, Oregon, (January 22, 1855), the Kalapuya and other tribes of the Willamette valley ceded the entire drainage area of the Willamette River.


Most Kalapuya Indians were removed to the Grand Ronde Agency and reservation, although some ended up at Siletz ReservationWarm Springs Reservation, or even Yakama Reservation. Grand Ronde Reservation was settled in 1855 as a temporary reserve and was then called the Yamhill River Reserve. It was officially renamed and set aside as a reservation as the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1857 by Executive Order.

Life at Grand Ronde was difficult for the tribes, with at least 27 tribes removed to Grand Ronde. The reservation was managed by the Department of War, and Fort Yamhill was established to oversee the Indians. Later management was taken over by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and still later by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There was a day school established at Grand Ronde which was managed and taught by the Catholic Church under United States approval. The day school was an on-reservation boarding school where children were at times forcibly removed to stay at school throughout the school year. Many children were later sent to off-reservation Indian boarding schools, like Chemawa in Salem. Most children were taught only service work like blacksmithing, farming, sewing, etc. at the boarding schools.

The First Catholic missionary to establish a church, St. Michaels, was Rev. Adrien Croquet, of Belgium.

Sanitation and health care at the reservation was poor and mortality was high. By 1900 only about 300 remained of the original 1,000 people that had been removed to the reservation.

Termination and restoration

All of the bands and tribes of the Kalapuya descendants were terminated in 1954 along with all other Western Oregon tribes, in the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. Final termination occurred with most lands of the reservation sold, all services removed, and final rolls published in the Congressional record in 1956.

The Kalapuya descendants were restored through the restoration of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz (1977) and Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (1983).

The descendants of the Kalapuya tribes and bands married extensively into other tribes throughout the Northwest and within the reservation, and most now have multiple native ancestries. Most Kalapuya descendants are enrolled at The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community. There are an estimated 4,000 Kalapuya descendants.

Kalapuya groups (defined by language)

blue pin the Northern Kalapuya Language consisting of:

  • the Tualatin dialect spoken along the Tualatin River, Lake Wapato, and the lower Willamette River (northern Willamette Valley)
  • the Yamhill dialect spoken along the Yamhill River (northwestern Willamette Valley)

blue pin the Central Kalapuyan Language consisting of:

  • the Ahantchuyuk dialect spoken along the Pudding and Molalla Rivers (northeastern Willamette Valley)
  • the Santiam dialect spoken along the Lower Santiam River (central Willamette Valley)
  • the Luckiamute dialect spoken along the Luckiamute River (central Willamette Valley)
  • the Chepenafa dialect spoken along Mary’s River (central Willamette Valley)
  • the Chemapho dialect spoken along Muddy Creek (central Willamette Valley)
  • the Tsankupi dialect spoken along the Calapooia River (southeastern Willamette Valley)
  • the Chelamela or Long Tom dialect spoken along the Long Tom River (southwestern Willamette Valley)
  • the Winefelly and Mohawk dialects spoken along the Lower McKenzie, Mohawk, and Coast Fork Willamette Rivers (southeastern Willamette Valley)

blue pin the Southern Kalapuyan (Yoncalla) Language consisting of:

  • two or three (?) dialects along Elk, Yoncalla and Calapooya Creeks and the middle Umpqua River (southwestern Oregon interior)
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