Clatskanie was named after the Tlatskanai tribe of American Indian, who lived in the hills south of the Clatskanie River in the upper Nehalem Valley. The Tlatskanai, linguistically an Athapascan tribe, originally lived in the flat lands bordering the Chehalis River in Washington State. As game became scarce and their food supply diminished, they left the area, heading south, and crossed the Columbia River to occupy the hills traditionally occupied by the Chinook Indians, who were a large Indian tribe living along the Oregon Coast.
After driving away the more peaceful Chinook Indians, the Tlatskanai established themselves within the Clatskanie-Westport area, and extended their numbers into the head of the Nehalem.
The word "Tlatskanai" was used by these Indians to denote the route they took to get to a particular meeting place, applying to particular steams and not to others. White men carelessly applied this work to the name of the steam. One source lists "Tlatskanai" as meaning "swift running water." The Clatskanie is indeed a swift beautiful steam. Other names that existed for the Tlatskanai were the Clackstar, Klatskanai and Klaatshan, among others.
In 1810, Captain Nathan Winship established the first settlement in Columbia County along the Columbia River, across from what is now known as Oak Point, Washington. Because of the unfriendliness of the Tlatskanai and local flooding, Winship was forced to abandon this location and relocate further down river.
The first settlement of the Hudson's Bay Company in Oregon was at a farm in Scappoose in the 1830's. They found the Tlatskanai so warlike and formidable that the company's men dared not pass along the river in groups of less than sixty armed men. When the first settlers, spurred by the Land Donation Act of 1850, came to this area, they found Chief Chewan with hundreds of Tlatskanai. Soon after the settlers began homesteading the area, the tribe, which was at one time up to 3,000 members, was reduced to three men and five women by a smallpox epidemic. It is believed that the surviving Indians then moved north for their own safety, to be adopted by another tribe. The Tlatskanai tribe has since become extinct.
In 1852, Thomas Hodkins, E.G. Bryants, Enoch Conyers and Isaac Waggoners traveled by boat down the Columbia River to settle this area. They were greeted with thickly forested hills encompassing a small grassland area. E.G. Bryant and his wife laid out their property in these grasslands and named their "town" Bryantville. It became part of Clatskanie when Columbia County was formed from part Washington and Clatsop Counties in 1854.
Other settlers who immediately followed were the Blood, Lee, Murray, and Barr families. Clatskanie was shown on the official post office list as early at 1871, with Enoch Conyers as the first post master. What is believed to be Clatskanie's first home was built by Conyers.
The Conyers' home served as a stop over for many of the early settlers as they entered or left the area. As Clatskanie began to take form, these early pioneers began to dot the landscape with buildings.
It was in 1878 that Conyers built Clatskanie's first steam boat, named the Novelty. It made regular trips out to the Columbia River where it connected with larger river boats. This was the only mean of "distance" transportation at this time. The Novelty carried passengers, mail, lumber and supplies and took produce to market. Other steam boats, most of them sternwheelers, soon followed their way down the Clatskanie River were the Sara Dixon, the Manzanetta, the G.W. Shafer, the Minnie Hall, the Gazelle, and the Beaver.
Clatskanie's first church was the Methodist Church. It was built about 1895. Later, in 1904, the Presbyterian Church was constructed.
In 1898 a new mode of transportation was introduced into the area. It was the Astoria-Portland Railroad. Then, in 1918, the Columbia River Highway was completed, linking Clatskanie to Portland and Astoria.
Industries which have played an important part of the Clatskanie's growth have been mainly those concerned with logging. A leading figure in this industry was Simon Benson, who financed and supervised logging operations, mills and the Benson log rafts. Another key figure in the field was O.J. Evenson, who was a partner with Benson in the construction of the ‘revolutionary'cigar- shaped log rafts used to transport timber to San Diego. Evenson eventually bought out Benson, and the Evenson family members continue in the logging industry in Clatskanie today. Other prominent figures in the Clatskanie were T. J. Flippin, Stout Bryant, W. K. Tichenor, Henry Colvin, W. E. Conyers and the Salders. Please visit our local library to read all about the exciting contributions these families made to our fledgling town.
Overshadowed by the logging industries have been other prominent occupations, such as commercial fishing, farming (cattle, mink, wheat, and grass crops), and the sawmills. Today the population of Clatskanie is increasing as new industries are established and old ones expand. Clatskanie's future looks bright indeed.
The Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce, reactivated in 1992 after a dormant period, is the central agency that corrals the forces of the community for its improvements and development in business, in industry and in the professions. Anyone interested in the betterment of Clatskanie, from business owners to private citizens, is welcomed to join the Chamber of Commerce.
For more information on joining the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce, please feel free to attend our monthly meeting, call at (503) 728-2502, or write to us at PO Box 635, Clatskanie, OR 97016.