Tillamook (Native Americans of the Northwest Coast)

Tillamook is a Chinookan word for a Tillamook place-name, possibly meaning "land of many waters" or "People of Nehalem." These people were formerly referred to by other names, such as Calamoxes.

Location The Tillamook traditionally lived along a coastal strip from roughly Tillamook Head to the Siletz River, in present-day Oregon.

Population The Tillamook population stood at about 2,200 in 1805. In 1950 it was under 250. In 1990 roughly 50 Tillamook descendants lived in and around Oregon.

Language Tillamook is a Salishan language. Its dialects included Nehalem, Nestucca, Salmon River (Nechesnan), and Siletz (Tillamook proper).

Historical Information

History History records the first contact between the Tillamook and non-natives as occurring in 1788, although iron knives and smallpox scars told of at least indirect encounters previously. They were also visited by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Regular contact with traders began after 1811. Epidemics of malaria, syphilis, smallpox, and other diseases, as well as guns and liquor, diminished the Tillamook population by around 90 percent in the 1830s and greatly reduced the number of their villages.

In 1850, the Donation Land Act opened Tillamook lands for white settlement. Indians ceded land in an unratified 1851 treaty, and the few surviving Tillamooks either remained in place, officially landless, or were removed to the Siletz or Grand Ronde Reservations. Under the leadership of the peaceful Kilchis, Tillamooks refused to participate in the wars of the 1850s. Awards from the Indian Land Claims Commission in 1958 and 1962 did little to reunite a scattered and unorganized people. Congress officially terminated its relationship with the Tillamook in 1956.

Religion Tillamooks attempted to gain power from spirits, whom they believed were more active and closer to humans in winter. Shamans renewed their power in January or February by sponsoring a ceremony that included singing a power song and dispensing food and presents to guests. During the course of this 5- to 15-day ceremony, all other "knowers" (those with spirit powers) sang their songs too. Winter was also the time for relating myth narratives. Mythological characters were particularly important because social status was dependent on one’s ability to form a relationship with a mythological personage, a natural feature, or a guardian spirit. Rituals also accompanied the first seasonal consumption of various foods.

Government Society was divided into the many free and the few slave people as well a majority of people who had acquired guardian spirits and a minority of those who had not. The elite were wealthy and experts in doctoring, war, and hunting. Women received status from their own guardian spirits or from those of their close relatives. Older women were accorded higher status.

Depending on the particular activity, different people, including shamans, headmen, and warriors, played leadership roles in the numerous small villages. Headmen were particularly skilled orators and negotiators. Most disputes, up to and including murder, were settled by arbitration and involved payment. This was often the case even with people from other villages.

Customs After a baby’s birth, the mother remained confined and taken care of for 15 days while the father forfeited sleep for 10 nights. Free infants’ heads were deformed. Infants were fed on demand and sucked elk sinew pacifiers. Children were formally named at an ear-piercing ceremony; boys also had their nasal septa pierced. This ceremony included feasting and dancing and varied according to the family’s wealth. Children were rarely punished corporally. A boy’s first food kill and a girl’s first gathered food were reserved for the elderly.

Girls were secluded at the onset of puberty and underwent a series of ritual behaviors and food taboos. One such ritual was an all-night guardian spirit vigil in the woods, during which the girl repeatedly bathed in a cold stream. Any spirits gained during this quest remained inactive until middle age. At puberty, boys fasted and undertook guardian spirit quests that also included bathing. A boy’s personal power and adult occupation were equated with the spirit song he obtained at that time. Boys, too, activated their spirit powers only at middle age.

Although marriages were arranged, the principals were consulted and respected. Bride and groom prices were commensurate with their family’s status. Initial residence was in the groom’s parents’ village. High-status men might have more than one wife. Infanticide was a common result of illegitimate births.

Corpses were painted, dressed, wrapped in a blanket, and bound with cedar bark. After a two- to three-day wake, they were buried in raised canoes. Wealthy families might reopen the grave after a year, clean the bones, and replace the grave goods.

The Tillamook recognized five types of shamans: healers (men, by drawing with the hands, and women, by sucking), poison doctors (men, with much ritual paraphernalia to send and extract poisons), spirit doctors (men who personally retrieved lost spirits from the spirit world), love doctors (women); and baby diplomats (men who foretold events by conversing with babies).

Dwellings Winter villages were usually built at the mouths of rivers or streams. They typically consisted of several houses, at least one work-and-menstrual hut, sweat houses, and a graveyard. Rectangular houses, which were occupied by up to four families, were constructed of cedar planks tied together with peeled and steamed spruce roots. Roofs were gabled with overlapping planks. Each had several fires in a center pit and sleeping platforms along the sides. Some houses were built aboveground and some were semisubterranean (with a door in the roof and entrance via a ladder). Mat partitions separated families and multiple wives. Floors were covered by ferns and rush mats. Pitch torches or fish-head or whale-oil lamps provided extra light. Roots were kept in pits beneath the floor.

Diet Salmon and other fish were the staples. Other seafood included sea lions, seals, and shellfish. Women gathered salmonberries, huckleberries, strawberries, camas, ferns, and other plant foods. Men hunted elk, beaver, muskrat, bear, and waterfowl. Many foods were either steamed in earth ovens, stone-boiled in baskets or bowls, or dried on racks.

Key Technology Canoes, bone needles and awls, and baskets were among the most important material items. Fish were caught in weirs, traps, and seine and gill nets. They were also clubbed or harpooned.

Trade The Tillamook were part of a flourishing regional trade. In general, they traded tanned beaver hides, canoes, and baskets to northern Columbia River peoples for abalone shell, dentalia, buffalo hides and buffalo horn dishes, and dried salmon. The Tillamook bought wapato roots and other items from Columbia River peoples east of the Coastal Range. They traded and intermarried with the Kalapuyas, and they also raided their southern neighbors for slaves, which they sold in the north.

Notable Arts Women made excellent wrap-twined baskets.

Transportation Canoes of several sizes and shapes were used for travel and fishing. They were single-log dugouts, painted black on the outside and red on the inside, and coated with pitch.

Dress Women wore large grass, tule rush, or shredded-bark back aprons, small front aprons, and buckskin leggings. Men wore fur or basketry caps, breechclouts, buckskin shirts, and hide pants. Beaver and painted buckskin capes and rabbit, bobcat, or sea otter fur blankets kept people warm in the winter. Footgear included both moccasins and snowshoes. Items such as menstrual pads and diapers were made of cedar bark. Both sexes painted their hair part red and wore ear pendants. Men also wore nose pendants. Women wore decorative tattoos, but men’s tattoos were only to measure dentalium.

War and Weapons Weapons included hunting equipment as well as elk hide armor. The Tillamook painted themselves for war with red and black stripes. Their enemies may have included the Chinook and the Kalapuyans. Slave raiding may have been a primary object of war.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Since termination, Tillamook descendants have declined to organize or to seek a reversal of their unrecognized status. Some are members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the Grande Ronde community.

Economy Tillamooks have no distinct economic activities.

Legal Status The Tillamook people are not recognized as a distinct native entity by any state government or by the federal government.

Daily Life Tillamooks are integrated within their native and non-native communities. There are few reminders in their daily lives of their Native American heritage.

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