The area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana is known as the Plateau Culture Region.
From north to south the Plateau Culture Region runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. The Columbia Plateau is bordered by the Northern Rocky Mountains to the east and in the west by the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges.
The plateau culture region covers an area of about 100,000 square miles (260,000 square km) in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington, Oregon, and a small part of Idaho that is mostly covered with basaltic lava flows.The mountainous regions extend into northern California, parts of Washington and northwestern Montana.
One of the most important geographic and culture features of this region is the Columbia River.
American Indian people have lived along the Columbia River in permanent and semi-permanent villages for thousands of years.
The Plateau Region has three sub-regions: the Sierra and Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Columbia Plateau, which are further divided into 14 ecoregions. At least forty-seven tribes called this area home.
Columbia Plateau and the Tribes who lived in this region
Location: Washington | Oregon | Idaho | Part of Montana | Part of California
The elevation ranges from 500 feet to 5,000 feet (60 to 1,500 m) above sea level on the plateau, and over 14,000 feet in the mountains.
The climate is semi-arid highland desert, and vegetation is limited mostly to sagebrush shrubs and grasses on the plateau. It includes nearly 500 miles (800 km) of the Columbia River, as well as the lower reaches of major tributaries such as the Snake and Yakima rivers and their associated drainage basins.
The Columbia and Snake Rivers are the major water systems in the region. Other rivers include the Deschutes, John Day, Umatilla, and Walla Walla rivers. The extensive Columbia River system drains the Rocky Mountains on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
As it flows to the Columbia River, the Snake River passes through a broad plain in southern Idaho—the Snake River plain.
The ancient Columbia River was forced into its present course by the northwesterly advancing lava. The lava, as it flowed over the area, first filled the stream valleys, forming dams that in turn caused numerous lakes to form.
A porous, volcanic bedrock lies underneath the plain, so Snake River tributaries often disappear underground, thus creating a need for irrigation.
After coursing through this plain, the Snake River flows through Hell’s Canyon—a 6,000-foot-deep gorge—before reaching the Columbia River.
This main river also carves its way through a relatively open area, the Palouse hills of Washington, another irrigated farm region.
Aside from the Palouse hills and the Snake River plain, much of the Columbia Plateau consists of mountains, such as the Blue Mountains, that lie in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains.The average precipitation in this area is only 12 inches per year, with most moisture falling in the form of winter snows in the mountains.
There are five major volcanoes in the Columbia Plateau region
Buy this Mt St. Helen Volcano T-shirt They are Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens.
Mount St. Helens had a massive eruption as recently as 1980, which blew out the side of the mountain and deposited significant ash hundreds of miles away.
All together, there are 27 active volcanic areas in the Plateau Region today, with ten volcanoes having a high probability of eruption in this century.
Also known as the Columbia Basin, and originally carved by glaciers and slowly eroded over time by the Columbia River, the basin was further sculpted about 12,000 years ago by a series of violent flows known as the Spokane Floods.
The floods left behind strange basaltic rock formations known as the Channeled Scablands. The basin is characterized by native shrub-steppe vegetation and thousands of acres of ponds and marshes created by irrigation water from the Columbia Basin Project.
Southwest Washington includes the vast wheat fields of the Palouse Hills and the rugged Blue Mountains which straddle the border between Washington and Oregon.
During the early stages of the Columbia Basin formation, granite rock was slowly created by heat and pressure deep in the crust of the earth. Then the crust was uplifted, exposing the granite, creating mountains similar to the Okanogan Highlands north of Grand Coulee Dam.
Forty to sixty million years ago the formation of the outline of the Columbia Basin was complete.
The land had subsided below sea level, and a large inland sea had formed.
The land was again uplifted and then, 10-15 million years ago, was flooded with volcanic lava. The boundaries of the flood lava were located in almost the same position as the former seashore.
Many layers of lava were needed to build up to a 5,000 feet (1500 meter) thickness and form the smooth surfaced Columbia Plateau.During the Ice Age, the old Cascade Mountains were also formed.
Their outline still remains on the western slopes of the Cascades. The uplifting mountains were not able to block the flow of the Columbia River completely, and a deep Columbia River gorge was formed.
Near the end of the Ice Age the volcanoes of the high Cascades rose to elevations of 14,000-15,000 feet (4000-4500 meters).
Older volcanoes, such as Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier, were sculpted by glaciers of the Ice Age; others such as Mt. St. Helens remained unsculpted, retaining their original volcanic form.
Eighteen thousand years ago the Columbia Basin was nearly covered by floodwaters when an ice dam at Lake Missoula in western Montana broke. Large boulders were strewn near the outlet of the Lower Coulee (Lake Lenore).
Other boulders were carried in icebergs as far as western Oregon. The floodwaters were 800 feet (250 meters) deep near Pasco and 400 feet (125 meters) deep at Portland.
After the Ice Age, the Columbia River returned to its former channel. The channeled scab lands and large coulees that had been formed were left stranded 500-1600 feet (150-500 meters) above the present river floor and serve as a constant reminder of some of the most unusual episodes in geologic history.
Plateau Culture Indian Artwork
As with other American Indian people, art was not a separate category in their lives, but was a part of everyday life. Their most important art forms were carvings, beadwork, quillwork, and basketry.Plateau tribes were very skilled in the art of basketry.
There were several different types for different purposes. These handmade baskets were used in everyday life to collect fruits and nuts, to store food, and also to cook certain foods.
While it is common for people to assume that basketry refers only to containers, the Plateau peoples often wore them as hats.
Prior to contact with Europeans, the Indian people of the Plateau area in the Pacific Northwest decorated their clothing and other items with paintings, with beads made from shell, animal teeth, bone, and other items, and with porcupine quills.
New decorative elements became available to the Indians as tradegoods and gifts from the European explorers and later traders.
Glass beads were quickly adopted into the cultures and began to replace and supplement both painting and quilling.
The Plateau Indians soon became well-known for their fine bead work.
Beaded bags are made and used throughout the Plateau area. The beaded bags are usually made from cloth and beaded on one side only.
The beadwork is an appliqué technique in which the beads lie evenly over the surface of the bag in straight rows that extend from one side of the bag to the other. The main design is beaded first and then the background is beaded around it.
A more utilitarian bag called a Sally Bag or Corn Husk Bag, was made from cornhusk, hemp, string, and yarn using a continuous weave that eliminates seams.
Originally, these bags were used for storing foods, such as roots, as the tightness of the weave keeps out dust and dirt.
Plateau Region Cultural Practices
One of the cultural practices of the Indian people of the Lower Columbia was cranial deformation: the flattening of the head.
As an infant, the child would be placed in a cradleboard which had a board that came down over the child’s forehead. The board would then be tied firmly in place.
The result was a slightly enlongated head with a high forehead. This custom was practiced especially by more prestigious members of the tribes.
The Indian nations of the Lower Columbia traditionally buried their dead in raised canoes along with all their worldly possessions. The name of the dead person was never spoken again, for fear of summoning his ghost.
The indigenous people of this area believed that everything, including inanimate objects, has a soul or a spirit. This is called Animism.
Many traditional ceremonies were held, mainly to strengthen and renew their bond with the supernatural.
Spirit quests or vision quests are an example of this. Adolescents were sent to a mountaintop for a period of 5 days without food or water around the time they reached puberty.
They were to wait there until a vision with part human and part animal characteristics appeared. This vision was said to give supernatural powers so they would be protected throughout their life.
Adults might perform vision quests multiple times in their lifetime, before important events such as going to war, or when an important decision had to be made. If they did not receive a vision the first time, they might return multiple times until one was received.
A spirit guide could also be purchased from someone who possessed it, if one was not received on one’s own vision quest. Usually only males went on vision quests, but on rare occasions, some females also received visions.
In a ceremony, called the whipping ceremony, young boys from 5 to 10 years old were whipped by an Indian doctor because it was thought that this would prevent them from becoming sick during the winter months.
There were also celebrations for reaching puberty, catching a first fish or game, and getting married.
Although men and women had separate daily duties, they were considered equals. Each had a right to their own opinion and women were allowed to serve on councils. They were socially and economically equal in every way.
Plateau Culture Area Languages
The Chinook, Clatsop, and Kathlamet languages all belong to the Chinookan language family. The Tillamook language, spoken farther south, belongs to the Salish language family, and the Klatskanie language, spoken to the east, belongs to the Athapascan language family.
Plateau Indians Housing
Warmer months were spent living in teepees while winters were spent in larger, more fortified villages or camps.
These Indians lived in partially underground houses during the winter in a style of housing called pit houses. They were sometimes connected to one another by a series of tunnels.
The Indians of the Lower Columbia River lived in villages of 5 to 20 permanent longhouses.
The houses, made from cedar planks and cedar logs, ranged in size from 20 to 60 feet in length and from 14 to 20 feet in width. The roof was a pitched gable with a long overhanging eve.
The houses were built over a pit that was 4-5 feet deep and roughly the same size as the dwelling.
Plateau Tribes Subsistance Methods
The Plateau Indians relied mostly on fishing for protein, but they were also hunters. The men trapped the animals with lassos or other types of weapons and then used either harpoons, clubs, spears, slings or their primary hunting weapon, a bow and arrow to make the kill.
If necessary they would also use fire to trap their prey or drove them into the water to be killed.
Salmon was one of the most important foods of the Plateau Indians.
Another staple of the Plateau Indian’s diet was berries.
The women were responsible for gathering blackberries, huckleberries and wild strawberries. Their diet also consisted of various roots, bulbs, and other wild vegetables.
They relied heavily on stored and dried food during the cold winter months.
Plateau Region Weapons and Tools
In addition to a variety of knives, they also used several other tools. A pebble tool was a smooth, water-worn tool. It was often used for cutting, chopping, crushing, cracking, shredding, pulping, scraping, and smoothing.
The ulna tool was a type of pointed knife made from animal bone, usually deer. It was made in many different sizes and shapes. The knife was used for splitting everything from fish to trees.
Bone points were used mainly for hunting and fishing purposes. They varied in size and were essentially sharpened bone pieces that could be attached to hooks or fishing lines.
Plateau Culture Region Tribes
- Clackamas, OR
- Clatsop, OR
- Kathlamet (Cathlamet), Washington
- Wasco-Wishram, OR and WA
- Watlata, WA
- Coeur d’Alene Tribe, ID, MT, WA – Indian villages were numerous and permanent. Each village and the people there had a distinct name in their ancestral language. Collectively, members today call themselves, “Schitsu’umsh,” meaning “Those Who Are Found Here.”
- Entiat, WA
- Flathead (Selisch or Salish), Idaho and Montana
- Colville Confederated Tribes
- Methow, WA
- Nespelem, WA
- Nlaka’pamux (Thompson people), BC
- Nicola people (Thompson-Okanagan confederacy)
- Okanagan (Siylx), British Columbia & Washington (Dialects: Northern and Southern)
- Secwepemc (Shuswap), British Columbia
- Sinixt (Lakes), BC, ID, and WA
- Sinkiuse-Columbia, WA (extinct)
- Spokane people, WA
- St’at’imc (Lillooet) , BC (Upper Lillooet)
- Lil’wat, BC (Lower Lillooet)
- In-SHUCK-ch, BC (Lower Lillooet)
- Wenatchi (Wenatchee)
- Sanpoil, WA
- Cowlitz, (Upper Cowlitz, Taidnapam), Washington
- Nez Perce, Idaho and Washington
- Tenino (Tygh, Warm Springs), Oregon
- Umatilla, Idaho, Oregon
- Walla Walla, WA and OR
- Wanapum, WA
- Wyam (Lower Deschutes)
- Yakama Nation, WA – The Yakamas have lived in Central and South Central Washington since time immemorial. The lands of the Yakama extended in all directions along the Cascade Mountain Range to the Columbia River and beyond.
Tribal elders say their distance of travel sometimes took them as far north as Canada and as far south as California. The Yakama Nation includes these bands:
- Klickitat, Washington
Other or both
- Cayuse, Oregon, Washington
- Celilo (Wayampam)
- Cowlitz, WA
- Klamath, OR
- Kalapuya, northwest OR
- Atfalati (Tualatin, northwest OR
- Mohawk River, northwest OR
- Santiam, northwest OR
- Yaquina, northwest OR
- Kutenai (Kootenai, Ktunaxa), BC, ID, and MT
- Lower Snake people: Chamnapam, Wauyukma, Naxiyampam
- Modoc, formerly California, now Oklahoma and Oregon
- Molala (Molale), OR
- Nicola Athapaskans (extinct), BC
- Palus (Palouse), ID, OR, and WA
- Upper Nisqually (Mishalpan)
Upper Chinookan (Dialects: Clackamas, Cascades, Hood River Wasco, Wishram Kathlamet, Wishram, Cathlamet, Multnomah)
Columbian (Dialects: Wenatchee, Sinkayuse, Chelan) Washington, Oregon
The Spokane Tribe (sqeliz – meaning The People) is comprised of five bands: sntu/t/uliz, snzmeme/, scqesciOni, sl/otewsi, hu, and sDmqeni. Their traditional homelands spanned most of present day Eastern Washington: north to Canada, east to Idaho, south to the Columbia River, and as far west as the Cascades.
Salish nations inhabited the upper Columbia River and middle Fraser River regions of the Cordillera, and were separated from the coastal region by the Cascade and Coast Mountains, through which the Columbia and Fraser Rivers flow.
They include the Flathead and Pend d’Oreille nations of present-day Montana; the Coeur d’Alene of Idaho; the Kalispel, Colville, Spokan, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Methow Penskwaus, Wenatchee, Okanogan-Similkameen, and Sintaiekt of Washington; and the Lakes Sinixt, Okanagan-Similkameen, Secwepemc, Nlakapmx, and St’at’imc of British Columbia.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is a combination of the Umatilla (Natítayt, meaning The People) , Walla Walla, and Cayuse tribes of Oregon.
The Colville Confederated Tribes are made up of 12 plateau bands which include the Moses-Columbia, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Methow, Entiat, Colville, Lakes, Wenatchee (Wenatchi), Chief Joseph’s Band of Nez Perce, Palus, Southern Okanogan, and Chelan.
Their ancestral lands incorporated approximately thirty nine million acres in Central Washington and Southern British Columbia.
Arctic | California | Northeast | Great Basin | Great Plains
NW Coast | Plateau | Southeast | Southwest | Sub Arctic
- Cayuse Indians
- Chinook Indians
- Coeur d Alene Indians
- Colville Confederated
- Kalispel Indians
- Klamath Indians
- Kootenai Indians
- Nez Perce Indians
- Yakima Indians
A number of battles occurred in the wake of the Oregon Treaty of 1846 and the creation of Oregon Territory and Washington Territory. Among the causes of conflict were a sudden immigration to the region and a series of gold rushes throughout the Pacific Northwest. These conflicts are grouped into eight Indian Wars.
The Cayuse War
The Whitman massacre of 1847 triggered the Cayuse War, which saw fighting from the Cascade Range to the Rocky Mountains. The Cayuse were defeated in 1855, but by then the conflict had expanded and continued in what became known as the Yakima War, 1855–1858.
The Yakima War
One of the triggers of the Yakima War was the creation of Washington Territory and the effort of its first governor, Isaac Stevens, to compel tribes to sign treaties ceding land and establishing reservations. The Yakama signed one of the treaties negotiated during the Walla Walla Council of 1855, and the Yakama Indian Reservation was established.
The treaties were poorly received by the native peoples and served mainly to intensify hostilities. Gold discoveries near Fort Colville resulted in many miners crossing Yakama lands via Naches Pass, and conflicts rapidly escalated into violence.
It took several years for the US Army to defeat the Yakama, during which time war spread to the Puget Sound region west of the Cascades.
The Puget Sound War
The Puget Sound War of 1855–1856 was triggered in part by the Yakima War and in part by the use of intimidation to compel tribes to sign land cession treaties. The Treaty of Medicine Creek, signed in 1855, established an unrealistically small reservation on poor land for the Nisqually and Puyallup people.
Violence broke out in the White River valley, along the route to Naches Pass, which connected Nisqually and Yakama lands. Although limited in its magnitude, territorial impact and losses in terms of lives, the Puget Sound War is often remembered in connection with the 1856 Battle of Seattle and the execution of a central figure of the war, Nisqually Chief Leschi.In 1858, the fighting on the east side of the Cascades spread.
The Coeur d’Alene War
This second phase of the Yakima War is known as the Coeur d’Alene War. The Yakama, Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur d’Alene tribes were defeated at the Battle of Four Lakes in late 1858.
Rogue River Wars
In southwest Oregon, tensions and skirmishes between American settlers and the Rogue River peoples, starting about 1850, escalated into the Rogue River Wars of 1855–1856. The California Gold Rush helped fuel a large increase in the number of people traveling south through the Rogue River Valley.
Gold discoveries continued to trigger violent conflict between prospectores and indigenous peoples. Beginning in 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in British Columbia drew large numbers of miners, many from Washington, Oregon, and California, culminating in the Fraser Canyon War.
Although this conflict occurred in what is now Canada, the militias involved were formed mostly of Americans. Due to the discovery of gold in Idaho and Oregon in the 1860s, similar conflicts arose that culminated in the Bear River Massacre in 1863 and Snake War from 1864 to 1868.
The Nez Perce Wars
In the late 1870s another series of armed conflicts occurred in Oregon and Idaho, spreading east into Wyoming and Montana. The Nez Perce War of 1877 is known particularly for Chief Joseph and the four-month, 1,200-mile fighting retreat of a band of about 800 Nez Perce, including women and children.
As with the other wars in the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce War was caused by a large influx of settlers, the appropriation of Indian lands, and a gold rush—this time in Idaho. The Nez Perce engaged 2,000 American soldiers of different military units, as well as their Indian auxiliaries.
The Nez Perce fought “eighteen engagements, including four major battles and at least four fiercely contested skirmishes.” Although finally defeated and captured, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were much admired for their conduct in the war and their fighting ability.
The Bannock War
The Bannock War broke out the following year for similar reasons.
The Sheepeater Indian War
The Sheepeater Indian War in 1879 was the last conflict in the area.
Major Pacific Northwest Coast and Plateau Indian Wars
- Cayuse War
- Yakima War (Yakama War)
- Puget Sound War
- Rogue River Wars
- Spokane – Coeur d’Alene – Paloos War
- Snake War
- Nez Perce War
- Bannock War
- Sheepeater Indian War
The Plateau Indians were those who lived within the broad region of highlands now called the Columbia Plateau. This area extended from west to east between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and north to south from the Fraser River in British Columbia down to northern Oregon and Idaho, with a small strip reaching into northern California.
Through this region flows the 1,200-mile-long Columbia River, in addition to innumerable rivers and streams fed by the drainoff from the flanking mountains. Tall coniferous trees grow in the mountains and river valleys, while the flat plains and rolling hills in between are covered with grasses and sagebrush.
The Plateau Indians lived by the seasons
The Plateau tribes went wherever they would find food most abundant. With access to very little big game but many rivers, they were primarily fishermen who supplemented their diets by hunting small game and by gathering roots, berries, and wild vegetables. In warm weather they built temporary, bulrush-mat-covered lodges alongside the rivers and on the plains. In cold weather they lived near the rivers in earth-covered, sunken pithouses.
Nations living in the eastern region of the Columbia Plateau (primarily the Nez Perce and Flathead (Salish) Indians) owned large herds of horses that they used to cross the Continental Divide to hunt buffalo in the Great Plains.
By contrast, the Indians in the western area were watermen whose main transport was the canoe, which they used to trade down to the coast. The rivers of the region, especially the Columbia, were a means not only of subsistence but also of trade and social intercourse among the Indians.
A huge trading network was centered around Celilo Falls and The Dalles, which teemed with Indians from numerous nations whenever the salmon were running.
There were two main language families, Sahaptian and Salishan, as well as other dialects.
The Corps of Discovery met many Sahaptian speakers among the Plateau tribes, including the Klickitat, the Nez Perce, the Palouse, the Tenino (Warm Springs), the Umatilla, the Walla Walla, the Wanapam, and the Yakama (Yakima).
Of the Salishan speakers, apparently only the Flathead had any interaction of note with the corps.
Other Salishans include the Coeur d’Alene (Skitswish), the Columbia, the Colville, the Kalispel, the Lake, the Shuswap, the Spokan, and the Wenatchee, among others. The Cayuse, the Klamath, the Modoc, the Kootenai, and the Stuwihamuk spoke different dialects, while the Chinookian-speaking Wishram are also grouped with the Plateau Indians.
The expedition’s dealings with the Plateau Indians they met were uniformly friendly.
Many of the nations had never before encountered white men; yet they greeted the explorers warmly, traded with them, shared food, and provided valuable assistance in the form of information or guides. When Meriwether Lewis characterized the Walla Walla as “the most hospitable, honest, and sincere people that we have met,” he could well have applied this description to many of the other Plateau Indians who helped to make the expedition a success.
The area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana is known as the Plateau Culture area. From north to south, it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations. This is an area which is drained by the Columbia River.
While much of the Plateau Culture Area constitutes a dry region characterized by a sagebrush-Juniper steppe area with pine forests at the higher levels, there are portions of the area which do not fit this description. In the northern portion of the Plateau Culture Area, there is a temperate rainforest with higher precipitation. At the headwaters to the Columbia River in British Columbia, the terrain is cut by steep mountain ranges with long, narrow lakes in the valleys.
Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians , James Chatters and David Pokotylo report: “For the past 4,000 years, most Plateau cultural adaptations have emphasized the mass harvest and long-term storage of three key resource groups: fish (usually anadromous salmonids), edible roots, and large ungulates.”
Archaeologists generally divide the prehistory of the Plateau into three broad periods: (1) Early (before 6000 BCE); (2) Middle (6000 to 2000 BCE); and (3) Late (2000 BCE to 1720 CE). In the section below, we will look at the Plateau during the Late-Early Subperiod (2000 BCE to 500 BCE).
Just prior to this subperiod, in 2500 BCE, regional temperatures began to decrease. With this there were glacial advances and a decline in the temperature of the Columbia River. By 2000 BCE, the Indian people in the Plateau area were adapting to this climate change with storage-dependent collector activities. In some areas, small villages began to appear.
In 2000 BCE, Indian people began using Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in present-day Idaho as a salmon spearing station.
In 2000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Alpowa site in present-day Chief Timothy State Park.
At Kettle Falls, Washington, there was an increase in population about 1600 BCE. This marks the beginning of what the archaeologists call the Skitak period.
Around 1500 BCE, the period which archaeologists call the Early Riverine phase began. In his book Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau , archaeologist James Keyser reports: “During this time, pit house villages become commonplace, roots, salmon, and shellfish were the primary good sources for Columbia Plateau groups.” Long-distance trade also increased. Wood- and bone- working became more important.
At this time, refugees from the retreating boreal forests in the north begin to enter into the Plateau area, bringing with them some new cultural items. These new items include the stone pipe, copper objects, stone carvings, effigy figurines, and the use of burial mounds.
In southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana, the period which archaeologists call the Inissimi Complex began about 1500 BCE. The Inissimi stone points have an expanding stem, a convex base, pronounced shoulders and excurvate blade edges.
In the Kalispell Valley of Washington, Indian people began a more intensive use of camas (a bulbed plant used for food). In addition, fishing became more important.
In Idaho, Indian people began year-round occupation of the Middle Salmon River canyon area. There was also an increase in the hunting of buffalo and mountain sheep.
In the Plateau area of British Columbia, the archaeological period known as the Shuswap Horizon begins. This is a period of cold, wet weather. Mike Rousseau, in his chapter in Complex Hunter Gatherers: Evolution Organization of Prehistoric Communities Plateau of Northwestern North America , reports: “small, moderately mobile bands established winter residential base camps on valley bottoms where food and material resources were abundant and varied.”
In his University of Montana M.A. Thesis A Timeline in Stone: Lithic Indications of Social and Economic Change at Housepit 7 of the Keatley Creek Site, Terrence Godin reports: “It signifies the first regular, widespread use of semi-subterranean winter pithouses on the Canadian Plateau.”
The houses are relatively large with an average of nearly 11 meters in diameter up to a maximum of 16 meters. They are circular to oval with flat-bottomed, rectangular shaped floors.
According to Terrence Godin: “Shuswap people utilized elk, deer, mountain sheep, black bear, numerous species of small mammals, fresh water mussels, salmon, trout, and various species of birds, but did not rely on plant resources to any great extent.” Their projectile points were generally lanceolate and/or triangular in shape. They were probably used on thrusting spears or atlatl darts.
Along the Middle Snake River in Idaho, hunting began to be more important about 1000 BCE.
In 1000 BCE, Indian people were burning large areas to encourage the growth of good deer forage and to improve oak groves for acorns. In the mountain areas of northern Oregon and southern Washington, Indian people were burning areas to maintain the huckleberry patches.
In 1000 BCE, the Kootenai were hunting mountain sheep high in the mountains of what is now Glacier National Park. At this time, the Kootenai were quarrying chert for making stone tools about 3 miles upstream on Bowman Creek from its confluence with the North Fork of the Flathead River.
At Kettle Falls, Washington, the period which archaeologists call the Takumakst period began about 800 BCE. This is associated with Salish people. The material culture at this time included steatite tubular pipes with thin, flaring bowls. People were living in pit houses which were dug one to two meters deep. They were cooking with earth ovens and used pits for storing food.
People in southeastern Oregon were using pole-and-thatch huts or windscreens about 625 BCE. These structures are described by archaeologist Luther Cressman in the Handbook of North American Indians: “Paired vertical willow branches were placed at intervals around a shallow, dish-shaped depression about 5 m in maximum diameter, forming a circular framework. Bundles of grass, laid horizontally, were then attached by U-shaped willow pins to these uprights.” The structure was then shingled with bundles of grass placed vertically. Rock slabs anchored the structure.
In the Plateau area of Washington and Idaho, villages became larger about 500 BCE with some of them having as many as 100 pit houses. However, the pit houses tended to be somewhat smaller than they were previously. These larger villages were on rivers such as at Kettle Falls in Washington and in the Hells Canyon area of Idaho.
Along the lower Snake River in eastern Washington, the Harder phase began to replace the Tucannon phase about 500 BCE. The people were using fairly large—20 to 40 feet diameter—pit houses. As in the Tucannon phase, the subsistence pattern was based on hunting and fishing. They were now hunting mountain sheep and had domesticated dogs.
In the southeastern Plateau area, the Nez Perce occupied a number of villages by 500 BCE. Historian Alvin Josephy, in his book Nez Perce Country , reports: “Most of the settlements were small, containing from one to three structures.”
At this time, the people had intensified their hunting of buffalo, which were found in great numbers in the area.
In the Kalispell Valley of Washington, the use of camas decreased in 500 BCE because of drought damage to the moist meadows. The Indian people of this area began to use fire as a tool to increase food production in the higher elevations.