By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
This was a stop that was a town today – The Dalles, Oregon. Those who live here, and many others, say that this is the end of the Oregon Trail. Why? Because beyond this point travelers either took the Columbia River and ferried their wagons and stock to the west coast, or continued on The Barlow Road, hacked out of the woods to make overland passage possible to the west coast. Despite learning that my birth mother and family have roots there (and they also came over the Oregon Trail) I side with my birth father’s ancestors and many others who call the end of the Oregon Trail Oregon City, where I also have family today. Ferrying on The Columbia was treacherous, often fatal. But slugging it along the harsh terrain on The Barlow Road was no walk in the park. We learned later on how treacherous that route was as we hit unimaginable slopes and drops and barriers.
Whichever camp you find yourself in, The Dalles is an important stop on the trail, final or not. This site was a major Native American trading center for at least 10,000 years, according to our friends at Wikipedia. It is a significant archaeological area. At the beginning of the 19th century, Lewis and Clark had camped near here and recorded the Native American name for the creek there at Quenett. In 1814, French fur trader Gabriel Franchere called the place The Dalles because of the long series of major rapids in the river. Shortly after, several overland groups of the Astor Expedition explored the rapids, as did others from the North West Company, Hudson Bay’s Company and Pacific Fur Company. The rapids of the Columbia River at The Dalles was the largest and longest of the four “great portages”, where fur trading boats had to unload and transship their cargoes. Sometimes, during high water, boats traveling downriver would “shoot the rapids” instead of portaging, although the practice was dangerous and many people died as a result over the years.
In 1838 a branch of Jason Lee’s Methodist mission was established at The Dalles. It was called “Wascopam”, after the native Wasco people. In the early 1840s American settlers began to arrive in significant numbers, traveling overland via the Oregon Trail. The trail ended at The Dalles. It was not possible to take wagons farther west due to steep cliffs that fell straight into the Columbia River. Until the construction of the Barlow Road in 1846, the only way to reach Fort Vancouver and the Willamette Valley was by rafting down the river from The Dalles.
In 1848, at the start of the Cayuse War, the mission buildings at The Dalles were occupied by volunteer militia. In 1850 the U.S. Army founded a small post at the site of the old mission. In 1853 it was named Fort Drum and shortly after, Fort Dalles. The post became the nucleus of the town of The Dalles, which began to develop along the waterfront. In 1855, at the end of the Cayuse War, the Native Americans living near The Dalles were forceably relocated by the U.S. Army to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. In 1857, not long after my Everest ancestors pass through The Dalles, it was incorporated as a city. It has been the major commercial center between Portland to the west and Pendleton to the east since those times.
Established in 1850 to protect immigrants after the Whitman massacre, Fort Dalles it was the only military post between the Pacific Coast and Wyoming. The only building left of Fort Dalles now is the Surgeon’s Quarters, which has been incorporated into the Fort Dalles Museum. Fort Dalles Museum features a collection of military artifacts, household goods and old medical equipment. It’s a favorite stop on The Dalles Old Town walking tour. Oregon’s oldest bookstore, Klindt’s (315 E 2nd St), is also part of the tour. Established in 1870, it contains the original wood floors, and oak and plate glass display cases, as well as a selection of books well worth browsing.
It was odd for us to stop at a town that was a point on The Oregon Trail – we had not done that for a long time. This place was sunny and warm the day we were there. It is a popular recreational location for land and water sports and boasts it is the best place to learn windsurfing on The Columbia River. We didn’t do that, but we walked around a bit and watched some kids playing in the part that bore the sign End of The Oregon Trail over its entrance.
We took pictures, looked at the map, figured out our next stop, were glad we didn’t need to ferry down The Columbia River, and took off west, glad that our journey was nearing its end. It wasn’t just reaching Oregon City and the end of our stops, its was visiting my Everest family that I hadn’t seen for a long time. We would be at Mom and Dad’s the same day as we hit Oregon City and we were getting anxious to see them. By this time, Karin had been away from home for a year. I had seen Mom and Dad while she had to be out of the country for nine months, but we were both eager to get to Salem and see them.
There’s lots of family history for me in Oregon – I am learning my Everest family history and the Oregon Trail history that I found I share with my birth mother’s ancestors too. Who could have guessed? Next stop – Dufur and The Barlow Road, East Entrance.
Find out more about The Dalles at:
To find out about your ancestors on the Oregon Trail, check out the names database site at:
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