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Multnomah (tribe): Wikis


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The Multnomah were a tribe of Chinookan people who lived in the area of Portland, Oregon, more specifically Sauvie Island, in the United States through the early 19th century. Multnomah villages were located throughout the Portland basin and on both sides of the Columbia River. The Multnomah spoke a dialect of the Upper Chinookan language in the Oregon Penutian family.



The Multnomah and the related Clackamas tribe lived in a series of villages along the river near the mouth of the Willamette River on the Columbia (the Willamette was also called the "Multnomah" in the early 19th century). According to archaeologists, the villages in the area were home to approximately 3,400 people year-round, and as many as 8,000 during fishing and wappato-harvesting seasons (wappato was a marsh-grown plant like a potato or onion and a staple food).

One of the larger villages, Cathlapotle was located in present-day Clark County, Washington at the confluence of the Lewis River with the Columbia and was visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. According to their journals, Lewis and Clark found 14 houses in the village, most of them ranging from 14-by-20 ft (4.3 m by 6.0 m) to about 40-by-100 ft (12 m by 30 m). They reported that approximately 900 people lived in the villages.

In 1830, a disease generally thought to have been malaria devastated the Multnomah villages. Within five years, Cathlapotle was abandoned and was briefly inhabited by the Cowlitz tribe.


The houses of the Multnomah, like the other Chinookan peoples, were largely longhouses made of Western Redcedar planks. The size of a home depended on the wealth of the owner, with the larger houses furnishing living quarters for up to 100 people. Within each house, a particular family had a separate cubicle separated by woven mats that was approximately the size of a stall in a modern barn. Each family had its own fire, with the families also sharing a communal central fire in the household.

The Multnomah diet included salmon, eels, sturgeon, elk, water birds and especially wapato.

Further reading

  • Ruby, Robert H.; John A. Brown (1992). A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.  




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