Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Long Narrows and Short Narrows"
Includes ... Long Narrows ... Short Narrows ... Fivemile Rapids ... Tenmile Rapids ... "The Dalles" ... Lake Celilo ... National Register of Historic Places ...
Image, 2005, Mount Hood and Browns Island, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Browns Island with Mount Hood in the distance. View from upstream on Washington State Highway 14. The location of the "Short Narrows" or "Tenmile Rapids" was on the Oregon side (left in image) of Browns Island. Image taken May 24, 2005.

The "Long Narrows" and the "Short Narrows" ...
The filling of Lake Celilo, the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam, not only inundated the impressive Celilo Falls, but also two difficult stretches of the Columbia River at The Dalles often referred to as the "Long Narrows" and the "Short Narrows".

The "Long Narrows" was known as the Fivemile Rapid, with it's foot at today's Spearfish Lake near Columbia River Mile (RM) 193, and it's head downstream of Horsethief Butte at approximately RM 194. On their trip down the Columbia in October 1805 Lewis and Clark called this "the great Shute".

The "Short Narrows" or Tenmile Rapid was the channel which passed Browns Island, which was not an island at the time. Browns Island is at approximately RM 197.

For early trappers and explorers, the "Long Narrows" and the "Short Narrows" were called "The Dalles", a term later taken as the name of the Oregon city located just downstream of the rapids.

The Dalles - Celilo Canal and Locks ...
The The Dalles - Celilo Canal was completed in 1915, creating a steamboat waterway around the Fivemile Rapids ("Long Narrows"), Tenmile Rapids ("Short Narrows"), and Celilo Falls. It provided a clear journey to Lewiston, Idaho. The canal was 8.6 miles long with it's lower end located 3.3 miles above The Dalles The end of the canal came with construction of The Dalles Dam and Locks.

National Register of Historic Places ...
In 1974 the Fivemile Rapids site (also known as 35 WS 4) was added to the National Register of Historic Places (Site #74001719), for it's nearly continuous record of human occupation from at least 9000 BCE to 1820 CE.

Lewis and Clark, April 1806 ...
From the Journals:

"... The long narrows are much more formadable than they were when we decended them last fall, there would be no possibility of passing either up or down them in any vessel at this time. ..." [Clark, April 19, 1806]

"... a clear cold morning a little Snow fell on the hills last night. all hands went at packing the baggage past the portage which is about 2 miles towards evening we got all the baggag and canoes carried to the head of the narrows above the village & Camped carried our firewood past the portage also as it is so hard about the village that the Savages value it high. Capt. Clark bought 3 or 4 more horses this day. Capt. Clark and 3 men Set out this evening to go up to the Short narrows at a village in order to purchase horses untill our arival. ..." [Ordway, April 19, 1806]

"The Dalles" (the Rapids) ...
Early trappers were the first to apply the name "The Dalles" to an area of two rapids located at the "Big Eddy", just upstream of today's "City of The Dalles", and continuing to just downstream of the now-under-water Celilo Falls. Those rapids, also under the waters of Lake Celilo, were later known as "Long Narrows" and "Short Narrows", or "Fivemile Rapids" and "Tenmile Rapids".

"... The narrows of the river were generally known as The Dalles of the Columbia, and this collective term described the geographic features from the Big Eddy on the west to Celilo Falls on the east. All these rapids were inundated in March 1957, when The Dalles Dam was completed, forming Lake Celilo. Just east of Big Eddy was Fivemile Rapids, formerly known as the Long Narrows, The Dalles, or The Great Dalles. Further east was Tenmile Rapids, formerly known as the Short Narrows, Little Narrows, or Les Petites Dalles. ..." [McArthur and McArthur, 2003]

"The Dalles" was a term derived from the French. Historians give various meanings to the name. Some historians say "les dalles" or "dalles" means rapids running through a narrow gorge. Others translate the meaning as a corruption of "d'aller", meaning the raceway of a mill, a narrow chute which is used to transport logs quickly. And yet other historians translate the name from a French word for "flagstones" or "slabs," referring to the huge slabs of basalt constricting the channel.

According to Oregon Geographic Names (McArthur and McArthur, 2003) the first use of "dalles" in print was from Gabriel Franchere's writings of April 12, 1814, where it is used to describe the Long Narrows.

"... On the 12th, we arrived at a rapid called the Dalles: this is a channel cut by nature through the rocks, which are here almost perpendicular: the channel is from 150 to 300 feet wide, and about two miles long. The whole body of the river rushes through it, with great violence, and renders navigation impracticable. The portage occupied us till dusk. ..." [Gabriel Franchere, April 12, 1814, Narrative]

In 1825 John Work used "Dalls" along with "Dalles".

"... Dry weather a fine breeze from the N. W. Continued our journey at a little past 3 oclock with a nice sail wind and reached the lower end of the Dalles about two and got boats & foods about half way across the portage. We were detained more than two hours at breakfast below the portage, as Mr. McKay left his boat with two men, and the pieces had to be put in the other boats. On approaching the Dalls the current was very strong and the boats being deep laden it was difficult getting them up. My boat was caught in a whirlpool and very near sunk, she was wheeled around three times before the men got her out. There are a good many Indians on the portage we reckon from 400 to 500, however they were very peaceable. Gave them a little Tobacco to smoke and bought as much salmon as we required at equally as low a price as at the Cascades. ..." [John Work, Friday, June 24, 1825]

In 1845 John C. Fremont wrote about the Dalles of the Columbia, and described his passage in November 1843.

"... In a few miles we descended to the river, which we reached at one of its remarkably interesting features, known as the Dalles of the Columbia. The whole volume of the river at this place passed between the walls of a chasm, which has the appearance of having been rent through the basaltic strata, which form the valley of rock of the region. At the narrowest place we found the breadth, by measurement, 58 yards, and the average height of the walls above the water 25 feet; forming a trough between the rocks --- whence the name, probably applied by a Canadian voyageur. The mass of water, in the present low state of the river, passed swiftly between, deep and black, and curled into many small whirlpools and counter currents, but unbroken by foam, and so still that scarcely the sound of a ripple was heard. The rock, for a considerable distance from the river, was worn over a large portion of its surface into circular holes and well-like cavities, by the abrasion of the river, which, at the season of high waters, is spread out over the adjoining bottoms. ..." [Fremont, November 4, 1843, published in 1845]

In 1857 James G. Swan wrote:

"... From the point of junction of these two branches, the course of the Columbia is generally westward to the ocean. A little below that point it receives the Walla Walla, and then, in succession, the Umatilla, John Day's River, and the Chutes, or Falls River, all flowing from the south, and some others of less size from the north. Near the mouth of the Falls River, eightly miles below the Walla Walla, are situated the Chutes, or Falls of the Columbia, where the great stream enters a gap in the Cascade range of mountains. Four miles farther down are the Dalles (a corruption of the French D'aller, a term, as I was informed, applied by the Canadian French to the raceway of a mill, which this part of the river resembles). The Dalles are rapids formed by the passage of the water between vast masses of rock; and thirty miles below these are the Cascades, a series of falls and rapids extending more than half a mile, at the foot of which the tides are observable, at a distance of a hundred and twenty miles from the Pacific. ..." [Swan, The Northwest Coast, or, Three years' residence in Washington Territory, published in 1857]

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 24, 1805, first draft ...
a fine morning [Lewis and Clark's camp of the 23rd is near Wishram] the Indians approached us with caution. our 2 old Chiefs deturmin to return home, Saying they were at war with Indians below and they would kill them we pursuaded them to Stay 2 nights longer with us, with a view to make a peace with those Indians below as well as to have them with us dureing our Delay with this tribe. Capt Lewis went to view the falls [Celilo Falls]     I Set out with the party at 9 oClock a m at 2 1/2 miles passed a rock which makes from the Stard Side 4 Lodges above 1 below and Confined the river in a narrow channel of about 45 yards     this continued for about 1/4 of a mile & widened to about 200 yards, in those narrows ["Short Narrows" or Tenmile Rapids] the water was agitated in a most Shocking manner boils Swell & whorl pools, we passed with great risque It being impossible to make a portage of the Canoes, about 2 miles lower passed a verry Bad place between 2 rocks one large & in the middle of the river here our Canoes took in Some water, I put all the men who Could not Swim on Shore; & Sent a fiew articles Such as guns & papers, and landed at a village of 20 houses on the Stard Side in a Deep bason where the river apprd. to be blocked up with emence rocks [near Browns Island]     I walked down and examined the pass found it narrow, and one verry bad place a little <below> in the narrows

I pursued this Chanel which is from 50 to 100 yards wide and Swels and boils with a most Tremendeous manner; prosued this channel ["Long Narrows" or Fivemile Rapids]     5 ms & returned found Capt Lewis & a Chief from below with maney of his men on a visit to us ...

Clark, October 24, 1805 ...
The first pitch of this falls [Celilo Falls] is 20 feet perpendicular, then passing thro' a narrow Chanel for 1 mile to a rapid of about 18 feet fall below which the water had no perceptable fall but verry rapid ...     It may be proper here to remark that from Some obstruction below, the cause of which we have not yet learned, the water in high fluds (which are in the Spring) rise <nearly> below these falls nearly to a leavel with the water above the falls; the marks of which can be plainly trac'd around the falls. at that Stage of the water the Salmon must pass up which abounds in Such great numbers above- below thos falls are Salmon trout and great numbers of the heads of a Species of trout Smaller than the Salmon. those fish they catch out of the Salmon Season, and are at this time in the act of burrying those which they had drid for winter food. ...    Capt Lewis and three men crossed the river and on the opposit Side to view the falls which he had not yet taken a full view of-     At 9 oClock a. m. I Set out with the party and proceeded on down a rapid Stream of about 400 yards wide at 2 1/2 miles the river widened ito a large bason to the Stard. Side on which there is five Lodges of Indians. here a tremendious <heigh> black rock Presented itself high and Steep appearing to choke up the river [the future Browns Island] nor could I See where the water passed further than the Current was drawn with great velocity to the Lard Side of this rock at which place I heard a great roreing. I landed at the Lodges and the natives went with me to the top of this rock which makes from the Stard. Side; from the top of which I could See the dificuelties we had to pass for Several miles below; at this place the water of this great river is compressed into a Chanel [the "Short Narrows" or Tenmile Rapids] between two rocks not exceeding forty five yards wide and continues for a 1/4 of a mile when it again widens to 200 yards and continues this width for about 2 miles when it is again intersepted by rocks. This obstruction in the river accounts for the water in high floods riseing to Such a hite at the last falls. The whole of the Current of this great river must at all Stages pass thro' this narrow chanel of 45 yards wide. as the portage of our canoes over this high rock would be impossible with our Strength, and the only danger in passing thro those narrows was the whorls and Swills arriseing from the Compression of the water, and which I thought (as also our principal watermen Peter Crusat) by good Stearing we could pass down Safe, accordingly I deturmined to pass through this place notwithstanding the horrid appearance of this agitated gut Swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction (which from the top of the rock did not appear as bad as when I was in it;[)] however we passed Safe to the astonishment of all the Inds: of the last Lodges who viewed us from the top of the rock [this high rock became Browns Island when the waters of Lake Celilo inundated the valley]. passed one Lodge below this rock and halted on the Stard. Side to view a verry bad place, the Current divided by 2 Islands of rocks the lower of them large and in the middle of the river, this place being verry bad I Sent by land all the men who could not Swim and Such articles as was most valuable to us Such as papers Guns & amunition, and proceeded down with the Canoes two at a time to a village of 20 wood housies in a Deep bend to the Stard. Side [area of Horsethief Butte and Horsethief Lake] below which a rugid black rock about <the> 20 feet hiter <of> than the Common high fluds of the river with Several dry Chanels which appeared to Choke the river up quite across; this I took to be the 2d falls or the place the nativs above call timm, The nativs of this village [vicinity of today's Wishram] reived me verry kindly, one of whome envited me into his house, and the first wooden houses in which Indians have lived Since we left those in the vicinity of the Illinois, they are scattered permiscuisly on a elivated Situation near a mound of about 30 feet above the Common leavel [Wakemap Mound], which mound has Some remains of houses and has every appearance of being artificialó ...    I dispatched a Sufficent number of the good Swimers back for the 2 canoes above the last rapid and with 2 men walked down three miles to examine the river Over a bed of rocks, which the water at verry high fluds passes over, on those rocks I Saw Several large Scaffols on which the Indians dry fish; as this is out of Season the poles on which they dry those fish are tied up verry Securely in large bundles and put upon the Scaffolds, I counted 107 <Scaff> Stacks of dried pounded fish in different places on those rocks which must have contained 10,000 w. of neet fish, The evening being late I could not examine the river to my Satisfaction, the Chanel is narrow and compressed for about 2 miles [the "Long Narrows" or Fivemile Rapids], when it widens into a deep bason to the Stard. Side ["Big Eddy", today the location of Spearfish Lake], & again contracts into a narrow chanel divided by a rock [head of Threemile Rapids] I returned through a rockey open countrey infested with pole-cats to the village where I met with Capt. Lewis the two old Chiefs who accompanied us & the party & canoes who had all arrived Safe; the Canoes haveing taken in Some water at the last rapids. here we formed a Camp near the Village [near Horsethief Butte and Horsethief Lake] ...

Clark, undated, winter of 1805-6 ...
"Estimated Distances in Miles Ascending the Missouri, Crossing the Rockey Mountains & decending the Kooskooskee [Clearwater River], Louises River [Snake River] and the Columbia River of the remarkable places and Latitud partially anexed. ...

[reformatted here from original entry, for information only]
  • Towahnahiooks River from the Lard Side 180 yd" [Deschutes River]
  • 4 miles to the Falls of the Columbia of 37 feet 8 ins near which is 40 Mat Lodges of the E-Nee-sher Nation [Celilo Falls]
  • 2 miles to the Short Narrows of 45 yds. wide ["Short Narrows", or Tenmile Rapids]
  • 4 miles to the E che lute Town of 21 large wood houses at the long narrows [head of the "Long Narrows", or Fivemile Rapids, Horsethief Lake area] of from 50 to 100 yds wide

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • National Register of Historic Places website, 2011;
  • and many other sources, not listed;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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August 2011