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Total population
Unknown (Not separately enumerated after joining the Siletz Reservation in 1856)
Regions with significant populations
 United States

English, Tillamook


traditional beliefs

Related ethnic groups


The Tillamook are a Native American tribe from Oregon of the Salish linguistic group. The name Tillamook is a Chinook term meaning "people of Nekelim (or Nehalem)" and is also spelled Calamox, Gillamooks and Killamook



The Tillamook initially spoke Tillamook, a Salish language, but gradually began to use English in greater amounts. The last speaker of Tillamook died in 1970, rendering the language extinct.[1] However, between 1965 and 1972, in an effort to prevent the language being destroyed, a group of researchers from the University of Hawaii interviewed the few remaining Tillamook and created a 120-page dictionary. [2]


The traditional location of Tillamook people was between the Necanicum River and the eponymous Tillamook Bay, with villages and subdivisions at Nehalem, Nestucca, Chishucks, Chucktin, Kilherhursh, Kilherner and Towerquotten, with Chucktin being the southernmost village[3]. As a coastal group of Native Americans, the word "Tillamook" actually means "Land of Many Waters" in their language, and was initially used to refer to the area itself rather than the tribe that inhabited it.

According to anthropological and archaeological research, the first ancestors of the Tillamook settled in that area in the 1400s, living in an area ranging from Cape Lookout to Cape Meares.[4]. NAHDB calculations estimate the population at about 2200 in at the beginning of the 1700s.

The first documented western encounter with the Tillamook was in 1788 by Robert Haswell, second mate on Robert Gray's ship. A second encounter was in late 1805 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition while wintering at Fort Clatsop. A whale was washed ashore near Necost, and the Tillamook quickly stripped it of flesh, saving the blubber as food and saving the oil for later use. After hearing of this, Lewis and Clark led a party to trade for blubber, receiving 300 pounds and some oil in exchange for trade goods. [5] Lewis and Clark described a village of around 1000 people living in about 50 houses[6], estimating the entire population at around 2200. According to the expedition, The staple food source of the Tillamook was salmon, which they caught during the annual salmon run of April to October and used throughout the year, preserving it by drying it and grinding it into a powder.

1824 and 1829 saw a pair of smallpox epidemics, and combined with the arrival of Oregon Trail settlers in 1841 and the resulting conflicts led to the 1845 estimate by Wilkes showing only 400 Tillamook remaining. [7]. This was further reduced, with a 1849 estimate by Lane of only 200. In 1856 the Tillamook and more than 20 other tribes were placed on the Siletz Reservation, meaning that further population estimates are impossible since they are not separately enumerated. In 1898 the Tillamook became the first tribe to sue the US government for compensation for the lands they had taken, along with the Clatsop. In 1907, along with two other tribes, they were awarded $23,500.


According to the work of Franz Boas, The culture of the Tillamook tribe was significantly different from that of their Salish neighbors, evidently influenced by the tribes of northern California.[8]

The Tillamook were skilled basket-weavers[9], and had a detailed mythology with links to existing events; the Story of the Thunderbird and the Whale, for example, reflects the large earthquake in that region in 1700. The Tillamook divided their mythology into three categories; the earliest was the Myth Age, followed by the Age of Transformation, when the "South Wind" remade the land. The third age is the "period of true happenings", or events that happened in what the Tillamook considered recent history. Despite this, stories from the third age were considered just as much of a myth as those from the first or second.

Further reading

  • Boas, Franz. (1898) Traditions of the Tillamook Indians, Journal of American Folklore, V. 11, pp. 23-38. The Thunder-Bird
  • Jacobs, Elizabeth Derr. (1959) Nehalem Tillamook Tales, University of Oregon Books, Eugene, Oregon, p.216
  • A Tillamook Legend p. 23-27




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