Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Twin Sisters, Washington"
Includes ... Twin Sisters ... "Two Captains" ... "Chimney Rocks" ... "Cayuse Sisters" ... "Two Sisters" ... "Hell's Smoke Stacks" ... "McKinzie and Ross Rocks" ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2004, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.


Twin Sisters ...
The "Twin Sisters" is a distinctive basalt feature within the Wallula Gap at Columbia River Mile (RM) 313.5, just upstream of Port Kelley, Washington. The Twin Sisters are located on Washington State Route 730, two miles south of U.S. 12 between Pasco, Washington, and Umatilla, Oregon. While Lewis and Clark made mention of the Wallula Gap, they did not make separate note of this distinctive rock formation.

Geology ...
The Twin Sisters are a part of the massive outpouring of Columbia River basalt lavas which were eroded by the Missoula floods.

Image, 2004, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.
Image, 2004, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.


The Legend ...
According to a Native American legend:

"Coyote, the mischievous spirit hero of many native stories, fell in love with three sisters who were building a salmon trap on the river near here. Each night Coyote would destroy their trap, and each day the girls would rebuild it. One morning coyote saw the girls crying and found out that they were starving because they had not been able to catch any fish in their trap. Coyote promised them a working fish trap if they would become his wives. They agreed, and coyote kept his promise; however, over the years he became jealous of them. He changed two of the wives into these basalt pillars and turned the third into a cave downstream. He then became a rock nearby so he could watch over them forever." [Washington State Chapter, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, April 2000 Newsletter].

In the writings of Paul Kane, written about his journey in 1847 (see below), the legend is similar, however the "Wolf" is the spirit.

"... Now the great medicine wolf of the Columbia River -- according to the Walla-Walla tradition, the most cunning and artful of all manitous -- ..."

Image, 2005, Twin Sisters from Port Kelley, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters from, Port Kelley, Washington. Looking upstream from Port Kelley at one of the Twin Sisters. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Early Twin Sisters ...
This feature throughout history has acquired many names. The "Sisters" have been known as the "Two Captains" after Lewis and Clark, "Chimney Rocks" by early explorers, "Twins Sisters" or "Cayuse Sisters" by Indian legend, and even occasionally "Two Sisters", "Hell's Smoke Stacks", and "Twin Pillars".

Paul Kane in 1847 wrote:

"... These are called by the voyageurs the Chimney Rocks ... The Walla-Walla Indians call these the 'Rocks of the Ki-use girls' ..."

In a 1940s photograph J. Boyd Ellis called them "McKinzie and Ross Rocks" (see The Golden Age of Postcards below), presumably after two early explorers in the Pacific Northwest, Alexander MacKenzie and Alexander Ross.

In 1979 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Twin Sisters" the official name.


Views of the Twin Sisters ...

Image, 2005, One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap. View from the west from turnoff on Highway 730. The Columbia River is visible on the left. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap. View from the west from turnoff on Highway 730. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
One of the Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap. View from the east from turnoff on Highway 730. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Paul Kane, 1847 ...

"... Many Indians followed us for a long distance on horseback along the shore. I obtained one of their horses, and, accompanied by an Indian, took a gallop of seven or eight miles into the interior, and found the country equally sterile and unpromising as on the banks of the stream. The bend in the river, which the boats were, of course, obliged to follow, enabled me to come up with them a very few miles further; the ride, although uninteresting as regarded landscape -- for not a tree was visible as far as the eye could reach -- was still a delightful change to me from the monotony of the boats. As we approached the place where the Walla-Walla debouches into the Columbia river, we came in sight of two extraordinary rocks projecting from a high steep cone or mound about 700 feet above the level of the river. These are called by the voyageurs the Chimney Rocks, and from their being visible from a great distance, they are very serviceable as landmarks. ...     The Walla-Walla Indians call these the "Rocks of the Ki-use girls" ...

It must be borne in mind that all Indian tribes select some animal to which they attribute supernatural, or, in the language of the country, medicine powers: the whale, for instance, on the north-west coast; the kee-yeu, or war eagle, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, supposed to be the maker of thunder; and the wolf on the Columbia River. Now the great medicine wolf of the Columbia River -- according to the Walla-Walla tradition, the most cunning and artful of all manitous ...

On arriving within a few miles of the Walla-Walla, he saw three beautiful Ki-use girls, whith whom he fell desperately in love: they were engaged in carrying stones into the river, in order to make an artificial cascade or rapid, to catch the salmon in leaping over it. The wolf secretly watched their operations through the day, and repaired at night to the dam and entirely destroyed their work: this he repeated for three successive evenings. On the fourth morning, he saw the girls sitting weeping on the bank, and accosted them, inquiring what was the matter: they told him they were starving, as they could get no fish for want of a dam. He then propsed to erect a dam for them, if they would consent to become his wives, to which they consented sooner than perish from the want of food. A long point of stones running nearly across the river is to this day attributed to the magic of the wolf-lover.

For a long time he lived happily with the three sisters (a custom very frequent amongst Indians, who marry as many sisters in a family as they can, and assign as a reason that sisters will naturally agree together better than strangers); but at length the wolf became jealous of his wives, and, by his supernatural power, changed two of them into basalt pillars, on the south side of the river, and then changed himself into a lark rock, somewhat similar to them, on the north side, so that he might watch them for ever afterwards. I asked the narrator what had become of the third sister. Says he, "Did you not observe a cavern as you came up?" I said that I had. "That, " he replied, "is all that remains of her!". ..."

Source:   Paul Kane, July 11, 1847, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, published in 1859.



"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, Washington, ca.1920, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Twin Sisters ("Hell's Smoke Stacks"), Wallula Gap, Washington, ca.1920. Penny Postcard, ca.1920, "Hell's Smoke Stacks. One of the Wonders of Oregon's Scenery." Image Copyright Weister Co., Card #392. Published by Lipschuetz & Katz, Portland, Oregon. Today this basalt outcropping is called the "Twin Sisters", part of the Wallula Gap. It is located in the state of Washington, on the south side of the Columbia River. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Twin Sisters, Wallula Gap, Washington, ca.1940s, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Twin Sisters ("McKinzie and Ross Rocks"), Wallula Gap, Washington, ca.1940s. Penny Postcard, ca.1940s, "McKinzie and Ross Rocks, Wallula Cut Off". Ellis Photo, Card #2861. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 18, 1805 ...
This morning Cool and fare wind from the S. E. ...     Took our leave of the Chiefs and all those about us [from their camp, the location of today's Sacajawea State Park] and proceeded on down the great Columbia river     passed a large Island at 8 miles about 3 miles in length, a Island on the Stard. Side the upper point of which is opposit the center of the last mentioned Island and reaches 3 miles below the 1st. Island and opposit to this near the middle of the river nine Lodges are Situated on the upper point at a rapid which is between the lower point of the 1st Island and upper point of this; great numbers of Indians appeared to be on this Island, and emence quantites of fish Scaffold     we landed a few minits to view a rapid which Commenced at the lower point, passd this rapid which was verry bad between 2 Small Islands two Still Smaller near the Lard. Side, at this rapid on the Stard. Side is 2 Lodges of Indians Drying fish, at 2 miles lower and 14 below the point passed an Island Close under the Stard. Side on which was 2 Lodges of Indians drying fish on Scaffolds as above

[Today this reach has been inundated by the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. The Burbank Slough - part of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge - dominates the eastern bank of the Columbia and two islands which remain offshore of Wallula are Crescent Island and Badger Island.]    

at 16 miles from the point [junction of the Snake River with the Columbia, location of today's Sacajawea State Park] the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts [Wallula Gap] which is on <both> the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across those of the Stard Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered wth black rugid rocks [Columbia River Basalt],     at the Commencement of this high Countrey [Wallula Gap] on Lard Side a Small riverlet falls in [Walla Walla River] which appears to passed under the high County in its whole cose     Saw a mountain bearing S. W. conocal form Covered with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon].    passed 4 Islands, at the upper point of the <first> 3rd is a rapid, on this Island is two Lodges of Indians, drying fish, on the fourth Island Close under the Stard. Side is nine large Lodges of Indians Drying fish on Scaffolds as above [Yellepit area]; at this place we were called to land, as it was near night and no appearance of wood [Lewis and Clark are in the Port Kelley area, where today the islands offshore are under the waters of Lake Wallula.],     we proceeded on about 2 miles lower to Some willows, at which place we observed a drift log     formed a Camp on the Lard Side [Spring Gulch] under a high hill nearly opposit to five Lodges of Indians; Soon after we landed, our old Chiefs informed us that the large camp above "was the Camp of the 1st Chief of all the tribes in this quarter [Chief Yellepit], and that he had called to us to land and Stay all night with him, that he had plenty of wood for us &" This would have been agreeable to us if it had have been understood perticelarly as we were compelled to Use drid willows for fuel for the purpose of cooking, we requested the old Chiefs to walk up on the Side we had landed and call to the Chief to come down and Stay with us all night which they did;     ... we made 21 miles to day.





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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

Sources: National Libary of Canada and National Archives of Canada website, 2004, Canadian Institute of Historical Microreproductions; U.S. Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) website, 2006. Washington State Chapter Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, April 2000 Newsletter.

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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Images are NOT to be downloaded from this website.
February 2006