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The Dalles Hotels, Oregon

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celilo falls history, the dalles, or Celilo Inn (pronounced - "Sell-I-Low") When choosing the name of our Inn, we were inspired from the rich cultural heritage of the Mid-Columbia region. Celilo, or Wyam, is defined as the "echo of falling water" and "sound of water upon the rocks." For thousands of years, Celilo Falls was the center for the economic, cultural and spiritual traditions of Native tribes who caught salmon along its basalt cliffs from wooden platforms that extended above the raging waters of the Columbia River. Celilo Falls - possibly the largest freshwater fishery in North America - drew Native people from as far away as the Great Plains and Vancouver Island to the area for trade. It is said that roar of the 40-foot falls could be heard for miles and that those who stood nearby could feel the earth beneath them tremble. Celilo Falls continues to inspire the generations of people who live and gather on the banks of the mighty Columbia River.

Discovery Center

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center is the official interpretive center for the Columbia River National Scenic Area. The 25,000 square feet exhibit details the natural phenomenon that formed the Columbia River Gorge, from the volcanic eruptions to the floods that created the Gorge. Highlights and features of this Center include supplies and equipment used on the Lewis and Clark expedition, theories about the Ice Age, and a wing devoted to the history of the inhabitants of Wasco County, past and present, in which The Dalles is located.


The Dalles, the Columbia River, and its surrounding area are rich with Native American history and the history of the settling of Oregon. The Dalles and Celilo Falls that used to roar down the Columbia are steeped in the Native American tradition and myth of the people who once populated the area. Celilo Village has been called Oregon’s oldest town, with archeological digs that took place before the completion of The Dalles Dam proving that Native Americans had been living in area continuously for over 11,000 years. Celilo Falls acted as a border between the Chinookan and Sahaption Indians, creating a key trading post for Native Americans with tribes coming as far as the Great Plains, Alaska, California, and the Southwest to trade goods.

Lewis and Clark

columbia river gorge history When Lewis and Clark passed through The Dalles on their grand expedition exploring the Louisiana Purchase it was October 25, 1805. Lewis and Clark called Celilo Falls the “Great Falls,” and found the navigation of the falls narrow and treacherous. In the area that is now present day The Dalles they saw the largest population density of their journey and described the Indian trading posts as a “great emporiums.” The explorers stopped and camped in The Dalles again on their return trip in April 1806. They called their camp Rock Fort, the site is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places and may be visited year round.

Fur Trade Opens The Oregon Trail

The Dalles was a natural stopping point for The Native tribes that inhabited the area for thousands of years, as well as for new explorers like Lewis and Clark, fur traders, artists, and writers alike. The name The Dalles was bestowed on the area by the French-Canadian fur traders that passed through, after the great amount of tumultuous water that was forced by the surrounding rocks. By the 1840’s the Native tribes of the area were being confronted with more and more settlers. There had not been issue with the transient explorer stopping by on their expeditions, but people were now showing up with domestic animals, tools, wives and children with the intent of staying.
This shift brought new tension into the area and many conflicts between Indian and settler arose. In response to the violence what is now called Fort Dalles was erected in 1850, serving as a way post for the first United States Army Troops in the area. They protected the settler’s interests as well as helping emigrants on the Oregon Trail.

The Dalles Incorporates in 1857

From the small log cabin that was Fort Dalles the town of The Dalles expanded. Wasco County was formed in 1854 and gold was discovered near by, both of these factors attributed to more and more settlers coming into the area and developing the town. The Dalles was incorporated as a town in 1857 and continued to serve as a major stopping point between Portland and Pendleton for commercial and non-commercial travelers alike.

Dam Built 100 Years Later

columbia gorge hotels As the century wore on, industry grew and by 1881 talks were already beginning regarding ways to make the Columbia River more easily navigated. In 1915 the Celilo Canal was created, offering a by-pass of the treacherous Celilo Falls. The focus shifted to hydroelectric power with the onset of WWII. The Columbia River has a heavy flow and drops in elevation over a short distance, making it extremely powerful. The Army Corps of Engineers began working on The Dalles Dam in 1952 and completed it five years later.
With the completion of The Dalles Dam, Celilo Falls was flooded and the long-held tradition of fishing the falls by native people ceased. An estimated fifteen to twenty million fish had been passing through the falls every year, and fishing had been the sustaining way of life for the Indians that lived in the area. On March 10, 1957 as observers watched the rising of Lake Celilo fishing platforms became submerged underwater and Celilo Falls was silenced.

Cultural Legacy Remains

Celilo Falls and the surrounding area still hold cultural significance for the native people. In 2007 gatherers came in thousand to commemorate the fifty year anniversary of the inundation of the falls. Architect and artist Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., is creating a work of interpretive art for the Celilo area as part of the Confluence Project. The project promotes the regions history through Native American myths and journal entries from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Celilo Falls installation was slated for completion in 2010.

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For more information visit: The Dalles Chamber of Commerce