Since Time Immemorial


Cathlapotle, settled approximately 450 years ago, was one of the largest Chinookan villages encountered by Lewis and Clark. Other village sites on the Refuge date back as far as 3,000 years. Cathlapotle is theorized to be the most contemporary in a series of villages at the confluence of the Columbia, Lewis, and Lake Rivers.

In October 1792, William Broughton produced the first European documentation of what is now believed to be Cathlapotle.

Photo Courtesy U.W. Geological Survey

Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark recorded visiting the “Quathlapotle Nation” on November 5, 1805. Seven canoes from the village accompanied them a few miles down the river. On March 29, 1806, Lewis and Clark visited Cathlapotle and traded with the Cathlapotle people for several hours. They camped
nearby at a place now called Wapato Portage, near present day Carty Lake.

“…I observed on the Chanel which passes on the Stard Side of this Island a Short distance above its lower point is Situated a large village, the front of which occupies nearly ¼ of a mile fronting the Chanel, and closely Connected, I counted 14 houses in front here the river widens to about 1 ½ miles…” (Clark, November 5, 1805).

–William Clark; Cathlapotle Village; November 5, 1805. The expedition later returned to the area and meets members of the Cathlapotle Village on March 29, 1806.

European Settlement & Fur Trade


In the 1820’s and 1830’s, “White Man’s Diseases” such as malaria and small pox devastated the Native population along the Lower Columbia River.

Fort Vancouver, the first Euro-American trading settlement in the Northwest, was established by the Hudson Bay Company in 1825 and served as a center for fur trade and other commerce. The Cathlapotle people and other native people of the Columbia River were frequent visitors to the fort.

The Carty Family claimed the land upon which Cathlapotle and the Wapato Portage site are situated in 1839 or 1840. By this time, the Cathlapotle Village had been abandoned by the Chinookan Poeples who called it home.  The family used the land for farming, cattle grazing, hunting, fishing, and logging. They also built a homestead in the vicinity of the present day Plankhouse. The Cathlapotle archaeological site was left untouched until the early 1990’s.

Contemporary Cathlapotle

20150329_blessing_ryToday, Cathlapotle is one of the few archaeological sites on the Lower Columbia River that has withstood the ravages of flooding, looting, and development. A decade of archaeological research — the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chinook Indian Nation, and Portland State University — has produced a wealth of information about the Chinookan people who lived on the river long before Lewis and Clark first observed Cathlapotle in 1805.

This contemporary plankhouse was built based on findings from the archaeological site as well as additional sources of information. Built by more than 100 volunteers over the course of two years, the 37′ x 78′ cedar plankhouse is constructed largely from timber donated by local landowners and national forests. Grant funding, private donations and diverse community partnerships have built a feature for the past on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

This full-scale Chinookan-style cedar plankhouse on the Refuge serves as an outdoor classroom for interpreting the rich natural and cultural heritage preserved on Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and is used by the Chinook Indian Nation for various cultural events throughout the year.  See Support & Sponsors for a list of the organizations that contributed to the building of the Plankhouse and the continued support of our grant funded education programs.

See the Timeline and the Additional Information resource page for research on the site, and visit the Volunteer page to see how to get involved!