What Is the History of the Tillamook Indians?


Quick Answer

The Tillamook people form a Native American tribe that historians also refer to as Nehalem. They are members of the Salish linguistic group. The first Tillamook settled an area from Cape Lookout to Cape Meares at the mouth of the Necanicum River, along the northwestern Oregon coast during the 1400s. By 1700, the Tillamook population grew to about 2,200. The first contact with Europeans is documented in 1788 by Robert Haswell, a second mate aboard a British ship.

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Full Answer

The Lewis and Clark expedition made contact with the Tillamook in 1805 while setting up winter quarters at Cape Clatsop. The explorers heard of natives harvesting blubber and oil from a large whale carcass that had washed ashore and sent a team to negotiate trade. The team returned with 300 pounds of blubber in exchange for random goods that helped sustain them through the winter. Lewis and Clark’s journals describe the tribe as living in a village of approximately 1,000 people in about 50 cedar plankhouses.

The Tillamook were skilled anglers, canoe builders and basket weavers. They lived on salmon, shellfish, elk, berries and plants, and caught enough fish during salmon runs between April and October to last them through the winter. Successive smallpox epidemics in 1824 and 1829 and European encroachment reduced their numbers from 2,200 to 400 by 1840, and to 200 by 1850. The federal government grouped the tribe with 27 others and relocated them to the Stiletz Reservation in 1856, where it became impossible to trace them as an individual nation.

The last Tillamook speaker died in 1970, making their language extinct, although there are efforts to revive it. The Tillamook population was estimated at 50 in the 1990 census, and the tribe no longer has federal recognition.

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