Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Umatilla River, Oregon"
Includes ... Umatilla River ... "Youmalolam River" ... "Umatallow R." ...
Image, 2003, Umatilla River looking towards the Columbia River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, looking towards mouth. Umatilla River, looking downstream towards its confluence with the Columbia River, as seen from the Highway 730 bridge crossing the Umatilla. Image taken September 29, 2003.

Umatilla River ...
The Umatilla River is located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 289. The river is three miles downstream from the McNary Dam and the town of Umatilla, Oregon. Plymouth, Washington is located across the Columbia on the Washington side. Downstream of Umatilla and the Umatilla River is Irrigon, Oregon, the location of Lewis and Clark's campsite of October 19, 1805.

Umatilla River Drainage ...
According to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website (2004), the Umatilla River drains an area of nearly 2,290 square miles, and originates in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon. It flows north and west to enter the Columbia River. Elevations in the Umatilla River drainage range from about 5,800 feet near Pole Springs on Thimbleberry Mountain to 260 feet at the mouth of the Umatilla River. The south and east portions of the drainage lie on the steep, timbered slopes of the Blue Mountains within the Umatilla National Forest. The remainder of the drainage consists of moderate slopes and level terrain.

Many Names ...
Umatilla ... Umatilah ... Umatillah ... Umatella ... Umatallow ... Utalla ... Utilla ... Emmitilly ... Ewmitilly ... Eu-o-tal-la ... Youmalolam ... You-matella ...

Early Umatilla River ...
Lewis and Clark passed through the area on October 19, 1805, and missed the Umatilla River. On their return trip on April 27, 1806 they once again passed the river, and once again they fail to mention it in their journal. Nicholas Biddle's inserted notes in the journal:

"... passed above our camp a small river called Youmalolam riv. ..." [Lewis, April 27, 1806]

The text from the Biddle/Allen publication:

"... We were detained till nine o'clock, before a horse, which broke loose in the night, could be recovered. We then passed, near our camp, a small river, called Youmalolam, proceeded through a continuation, till at the distance of fifteen miles, the abrupt and rocky hills three hundred feet high, return to the river. These we ascended, and then crossed a higher plain for nine miles, when we again came to the water side ..."

The river is marked on Lewis and Clark's route map [Moulton, vol.1, map#75] as the "You ma lol am R", their spelling of the Indian name for the river. Lewis and Clark camped across from the mouth of the Umatilla River on April 26, 1806.

In 1838 the "Map of the United States Territory of Oregon West of the Rocky Mountains, Exhibiting the various Trading Depots or Forst occupied by the British Hudson Bay Company, connected with the Western and northwestern Fur Trade. Compiled in the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, from the latest authorities, under the direction of Col. J.J. Abert, by Wash: Hood." had the river labeled "Umatallow R.". Upstream the Wallula Gap area of the Columbia River was labeled "Gt. Bend.".

In 1836 naturalist John Kirk Townsend visited the Umatilla River. He called it the "Utalla" or "Emmitilly" river.

"... July 26th. -- At noon, to-day, we arrived at the Utalla, or Emmitilly river, where we found a large village of Kayouse Indians, engaged in preparing kamas ..." [Townsend, July 26, 1836]

In 1841, Charles Wilkes, on his "Map of the Oregon Territory", listed the river as "Umatilla R." on the main map of the territory, and "Umatilla or Utilla" on the inset map of the Columbia River. Other various spellings of the name exist. Alexander Ross gives "You-matella" and "Umatallow" and John C. Fremont give "Umatilah". Other names appearing on early maps were "Utalla", "Ewmitilly", "Eu-o-tal-la" and "Umatella".

Views ...

Image, 2006, Umatilla River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, at Interstate 82. View from Umatilla River Road, looking downstream. Image taken September 29, 2006.
Image, 2006, Umatilla River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, at Interstate 82. View from Umatilla River Road, looking downstream. Image taken September 29, 2006.
Image, 2003, Umatilla River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, looking upstream. Umatilla River, looking upstream, as seen from the Highway 730 bridge crossing the Umatilla. Image taken September 29, 2003.
Image, 2003, Umatilla River, Oregon, at mouth looking across the Columbia River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, at mouth looking across the Columbia River. Plymouth, Washington is on the Washington bank. View from the Highway 730 Bridge crossing the Umatilla. Image taken September 29, 2003.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 19, 1805 ...
we Set out which was not untill 9 oClock A M. [from their camp at Spring Gulch]    we proceeded on passed a Island, close under the Lard Side about Six miles in length [islands near Juniper Canyon, now under the waters of Lake Wallula] opposit to the lower point of which two Isds. are situated on one of which five Lodges <of Indians> vacent & Saffolds drying fish    at the upper point of this Island Swift water.     a Short distance below passed two Islands; one near the middle of the river on which is Seven lodges of Indians drying fish [across from Boat Rock and Hat Rock],     at our approach they hid themselves in their Lodges and not one was to be seen untill we passed, they then Came out in greater numbers than is common in Lodges of their Size, it is probable that, the inhabitants of the 5 Lodges above had in a fright left their lodges and decended to this place to defend them Selves if attackted there being a bad rapid opposit the Island thro which we had to pass prevented our landing on this Island and passifying those people, about four miles below this fritened Island we arrived at the head of a verry bad rapid [Umatilla Rapids, today the location of the McNary Dam]

[The islands and rapids in this area between Spring Gulch and the Umatilla Rapids are now under the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. Today's locations passed by Lewis and Clark include Sand Station, Warehouse Beach, and McNary Beach, all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Areas, and Hat Rock State Park and nearby Boat Rock. Hat Rock was mentioned by Captain Clark in his first draft but not in his final draft.]

we came too on the Lard Side to view the rapid [Umatilla Rapids] before we would venter to run it, as the Chanel appeared to be close under the oppd. Shore, and it would be necessary to liten our canoe, I deturmined to walk down on the Lard Side, with the 2 Chiefs the interpreter & his woman, and derected the Small canoe to prcede down on the Lard Side to the foot of the rapid which was about 2 miles in length     I Sent on the Indian Chiefs &c. down and I assended a high clift about 200 feet above the water [upstream of Umatilla. Today there is an overlook above the McNary Dam] from the top of which is a leavel plain extending up the river and off for a great extent, at this place the Countrey becoms low on each Side of the river, and affords a pros of the river and countrey below for great extent both to the right and left; from this place I descovered a high mountain of emence hight covered with Snow, this must be one of the mountains laid down by Vancouver, as Seen from the mouth of the Columbia River, from the Course which it bears which is West I take it to be Mt. St. Helens, destant <about 120> 156 miles [actually Mount Adams, Washington, visible on a clear day]     a range of mountains in the Derection crossing [Cascade Mountains], a conacal mountain S. W. toped with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon]     This rapid I observed [Umatilla Rapids] as I passed opposit to it to be verry bad interseped with high rock and Small rockey Islands [today these islands are under the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam], here I observed banks of Muscle Shells banked up in the river in Several places, I Delayed at the foot of the rapid about 2 hours for the Canoes which I could See met with much dificuelty in passing down the rapid on the oposit Side maney places the men were obliged to get into the water and haul the canoes over Sholes- while Setting on a rock wateing for Capt Lewis I Shot a Crain which was flying over of the common kind. I observed a great number of Lodges on the opposit Side at Some distance below [Lewis and Clark's map show 44 lodges lining the Washington shore from Plymouth, Washington, downstream to across from Irrigon, Oregon.] and Several Indians on the opposit bank passing up to where Capt. Lewis was with the Canoes, others I Saw on a knob [Sillusi Butte] nearly opposit to me at which place they delayed but a Short time before they returned to their Lodges as fast as they could run, ...

[This area today is the location of Umatilla, Oregon, and Plymouth, Washington, and is spanned not only by McNary Dam but also my the Interstate 82/395 Bridge. The Umatilla Rapids are below the waters of Lake Wallula, the waters behind McNary Dam.]

proceeded on passed a Small rapid and 15 Lodges below the five,

[Lewis and Clark have missed spotting or commenting on the Umatilla River, located 3 miles downstream of the town of Umatilla.]

and Encamped below an Island Close under the Lard Side [near Irrigon, Oregon] nearly opposit to 24 Lodges on an Island near the middle of the river [the majority of the islands in this area are now under the waters of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam.], and the Main Stard Shor     Soon after we landed which was at a fiew willow trees [today much of the shoreline on both sides of the Columbia is within the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge] about 100 Indians Came from the different Lodges, and a number of them brought wood which they gave us, we Smoked with all of them, and two of our Party Peter Crusat & Gibson played on the violin which delighted them greatly ...     This day we made 36 miles

Clark, April 26, 1806 ...
This morning early we proceeded on [from their campsite at Alder Creek, Washington] and at the distance of three miles entered a low leavel plain Country of great extent.   :  here the river hills are low and receed a great distance from the river this low Country Comenced on the South Side about 10 miles below our Encampment of the last night [Alder Creek], those plains are Covered with a variety of herbatious plants, Grass and 3 Species of Shrubs.     at the distance of 12 miles halted near Some willows which afforded us a Sufficient quantity of fuel to cook our dinner which Consisted of the ballance of the dogs we had purchased yesterday evening and Some jerked Elk....     the roads dusty ...    after dinner we Continued our march through a leavel plain near the river 16 miles and encamped [near Plymouth, Washington, across from the mouth of the Umatilla River] about a mile below 3 Lodges of the fritened band of the Wallah wallah nation, and about 7 miles above our encampment of the 19th of Octr. last. [near Irrigon, Oregon] ...     made 28 miles

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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

  • Center for Columbia River History website, 2005;
  • Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2004;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • Moulton, 1991, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, vol.7;
  • U.S. Army website, 2005;
  • U.S. Library of Congress "American Memories" website, 2004;
  • Walla Walla County Emergency Management Department website, 2005;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";
  • Washington State University website, 2005, "Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection";

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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November 2011