6 million-16 million B.P.: The greatest outpouring of lava in the history of North America, 90,000 cubic miles, oozes to the surface of the ancient Northwest in repeated flows, forming the Columbia Plateau of present-day central Washington and Oregon and, over time, redirecting the course of the ancient Columbia River.
5 million B.P.: Salmon known today are believed to have evolved in the Columbia River Basin at about this time. Salmonid fish generally are believed to have been present in the Columbia River Basin for about 50 million years.
30,000-12,000 B.P.: Humans are believed to have migrated to the Pacific Northwest from eastern Asia across what is now the Bering Sea Strait on a land bridge known as Beringia.
15,000-12,800 B.P.: More than 40 tremendous floods of almost inconceivable force and dimension swept across large parts of the Columbia River drainage, beginning in present-day northwestern Montana and coursing to the sea, laying down the modern channel of the Columbia through Washington and the Cascade mountains to the ocean. These were the greatest scientifically documented floods known to have occurred in North America.
458: In this year, a Chinese monk named Hwui Shan, accompanied by four other monks, sailed north to Japan, then Kamchatka, then the Aleutians, then Alaska and then down the eastern Pacific coast, a region called Fu-Sang in Hwui Shan’s narrative of the voyage. It is the first recorded voyage along the eastern Pacific, and thus the first to pass the mouth of the Columbia River.
900: Roughly the beginning of a period of warm and dry climate in the Northwest that persisted for 500 years. It was followed by a period of cooler and wetter weather that lasted about 400 years, into the early 1900s.
1295: Marco Polo returns to Italy from his overland journey to China and reports that was told there is a water passage between Asia and Europe.
1493: On May 4, Pope Alexander VI issues a papal bull, the Inter catera, which divides the New World evenly between Spain and Portugal. This was the religious basis of Spain’s later claim to all lands touching the eastern Pacific Ocean, including the Northwest and the Columbia River. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas provided a legal framework to back up Spain’s claims.
1513: On September 29, Vasco Nunez de Balboa views the western sea at the Bay of San Miguel after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. He names the sea Pacific after its calm appearance.
1522: Spain conquers Guatemala a year after overthrowing the Aztec nation at Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Hernando Cortez, this year named by King Charles I of Spain as governor and captain-general of the entire area, known as New Spain, led the assault on the Aztecs. He had founded the city of Veracruz in 1519, and another, also on the Caribbean coast, in 1522. These would become important staging posts for a trade route across New Spain to the Pacific coast, where three settlements had been established that would be the launching points for expeditions to the Pacific Northwest.
1532: Cortez sends Diego Hurtado de Mendoza north from San Blas to search for the Strait of Anian. He got as far as present-day San Diego, where his ships were wrecked and he died. Mendoza was followed in 1533 by Diego Becerra and Hernando de Grijalva. They also failed, reaching no father north than the Gulf of California near present-day San Diego, California. In 1539, Cortez sent his cousin, Francisco de Ulloa, north with three ships. But the crew suffered from scurvy, two of the ships were lost, and Ulloa reached no farther north than 28 degrees, about half way up present-day Baja California.
1550: In this year, Spaniards establish the city of Acapulco in present-day Mexico, an important port in the Spanish trade between the East Indies and Spain. Goods received at Acapulco were transported by land to the Caribbean, and from there to Europe. Acapulco also was one of the home ports for expeditions, and later regular supply ships, to the Northwest.
1617: Geographic ignorance continues as European cartographers declare all of the present-day American Southwest an island. Virtually nothing is known of the Pacific Northwest.
1648: A Russian explorer, Semen Dezhnev, makes the first known trading voyage from the Arctic to the Pacific oceans, gathering furs along the northwestern Pacific coast and trading them in China. His journey influenced the later voyages of Vitus Bering to Alaska and the robust fur trade that developed between the northern Pacific, China, Europe and, still later, the United States.
1670: The Hudson's Bay Company is founded through a charter signed by Charles II of Great Britain. The founding of the Company can be seen as the formal beginning of the Northwest fur trade, which would be the basis for many future explorations of the region by land and sea.
1680: Pueblo Indians revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico, freeing Spanish horses. Over time, these horses multiplied and spread north on both sides of the Rockies. Flathead Indians have horses by about 1710; Cayuses and Nez Perce sometime after 1730. There is a legend that the first Nez Perce horse was a pregnant white mare bought from the Shoshone tribe, and that she lived in a Nez Perce village at the mouth of Asotin Creek. From this horse and foal, the Nez Perce developed their remarkable breeding and horsemanship skills.
1709: A French map of North America drawn by explorer Baron Lahontan shows a “River of the West” flowing from about the center of the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The map was based on Indian accounts.
1711: Russia invades the Kurile Islands, where the natives wore clothing fashioned of sea otter skins. Learning about the northern origin of the skins, Russians envision a trade between there and China, where the furs were prized. It was the genesis of Russia’s fur trade, which eventually included forts and trading stations along the coast of what is now southeast Alaska.
1722: Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit priest and explorer in the area west of Quebec and the Great Lakes, writes to his benefactor, the Duke of Orleans about a rumored great western river: “I have good reason to think that . . . after sailing up the Missouri as far as it is navigable you come to a great river which runs westward and discharges into the sea.”
1731: This year or in 1732, a Russian ship under the command of either Michael Gvosdeff or Ivan Federoff, crosses the north Pacific and sails along the present-day Alaska coast for two days. Spain already had settlements in present-day California and Mexico, but had not explored so far north.
1763: The Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War, leaving all of North America west and north of the Great Lakes open to exploration: and exploitation: by fur traders. British traders were the first to explore the region following the treaty.
1768: The governor of Quebec, Sir Guy Carleton, writes to the senior statesman in London in charge of trade policy, Lord Shelburne, that British traders should cross Canada from the St. Lawrence River to the Pacific Ocean where they would “find out a good post, take its latitude, longitude, and describe it so accurately as to enable our ships from the East Indies to find it out with ease, and then return the year following.” This apparently was the first proposal for a government-sponsored expedition to the Pacific to establish a cross-continental trade. In 1793, Alexander Mackenzie would become the first European to blaze such a trail, but entirely on his on initiative.
1771: Count Mauritius Benyowsky and a number of others who had been exiled to Kamchatka by Russian police seize the St. Peter and St. Paul, the ships from Vitus Bering’s second voyage now docked at Bolsheretsk on inner Kamchatka, sail them to Bering Island where they pick up more exiles, and then to the islands off Alaska where they trade for furs. The crew later sold these furs in Macao. It was the first commercial venture to acquire Northwest furs, carry them across the Pacific and sell them in China. With these furs, delivered to China by Russian pirates, the lucrative fur trade between the Northwest and China began.
1774: Juan Perez sails past the mouth of the Columbia on about July 10, according to accounts of his voyage. It is possible he missed the river because it was obscured by fog, which is common at that time of the year. Perez noted in his journal that many coastal bays were obscured by fog. More likely, though, he did not stop at the Columbia because he was not looking for it. The Viceroy of New Spain had ordered Perez to proceed directly to 60 degrees north to search for suitable harbor for settlement.
1775: The first smallpox epidemic hits Northwest coastal Indians at about this time. The DISEASE apparently was carried by fur traders in ships. Another smallpox epidemic struck in 1782, this time east of the Cascades. This epidemic apparently started in the Great Plains.
1784: American interest in maritime exploration and trade, particularly with China, is increasing as reports of the Russian settlements in Alaska and the journeys of Captain Cook circulate in New York and Boston. This year, the Empress of China, commanded by Daniel Parker of New York, sailed around Cape Horn to Canton, the first American trading ship to call in the Orient.
1788: On Dec. 23, Antonio Flores, viceroy of New Spain at the outpost of San Blas, just north of Puerto Vallarta, speculates in a letter to Spain’s minister of maritime affairs that the American colonies, now a republic, soon would be looking for a port on the Pacific coast and attempt to “sustain it by crossing the immense country of the continent above our possessions.” He suggests Spain should “employ tactics to forestall its results.”
1789: The year of the so-called Nootka Incident: Spanish seizure of British ships at Nootka Sound. The seizure initiated a five-year feud over territorial rights, which ended with Spain paying retribution and Britain and agreeing to shared possession of the outpost at Nootka Sound.
1792: On May 11 at about 4: 30 a.m. ROBERT GRAY discovers the Columbia River when he sails across the bar in his ship, the Columbia Rediviva, and then anchors near the north shore of the estuary. Gray traded with Indians, explored the estuary for nine days and named the river after his ship. In October, British Captain George Vancouver arrived and dispatched his lieutenant, William Broughton, to explore the river. Broughton traveled to a point just east of present-day Portland and there claimed the river and country to Great Britain, initiating a dispute between Great Britain and America over discovery of the river that would not be settled until 1846 in the Treaty of Oregon.
1800: By now, horses have been in the Northwest for about 60 years. The Spokane Indians were known to have large herds. Other Columbia Plateau tribes likely did, as well. The Spokanes acquired their horses through trades with the Nez Perce Tribe. With this greater mobility, upper Columbia Plateau tribes like the Spokanes were able to travel east of the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo.
1801: Smallpox ravages Columbia River Indian tribes, the third epidemic to sweep through the Columbia River Basin since 1782.
1803: This year the United States buys more than 827,000 square miles of land, the Louisiana Purchase, from France for $15 million. The vast area stretches from New Orleans to the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains.
1804-06: The Lewis and Clark expedition explores the Missouri and Columbia rivers, acquiring vast geographic, ethnographic and taxonomic information about the West.
1805: Indians who lived near the mouth of the Columbia River use salmon as a form of exchange with fur traders.
1805: On August 12, Meriweather Lewis, scouting ahead of the main body of the western expedition he led with William Clark, crosses the Continental Divide in the Bitterroot Mountains and enters the drainage of the Columbia River. The next day he tastes his first Pacific salmon, prepared and given to him by a Lemhi Shoshone Indian. The salmon convinces him the expedition had reached a river that would lead them to the Pacific.
1806: Jacques (“Jaco”) Raphael Finlay blazes a horse trail west from the South Saskatchewan River across the Rocky Mountains and down to the Columbia River and builds a canoe for use by David Thompson the following year. This was one year after Lewis and Clark reached the Columbia.
1807: David Thompson crosses the Continental Divide west of present-day Calgary, Alberta, and arrives at the north-flowing Columbia River. He doesn’t know it is the Columbia, and he names it the Kootenae. He establishes a fur-trading post, Kootenae House, near the outlet of Windermere Lake, one of the Columbia’s two headwater lakes.
1807: Smallpox spreads among Interior Salish Indians in the Columbia Basin, probably the result of contact between European fur traders and coastal Indians.
1808: David Thompson explores the Kootenay River from his post near the Columbia River headwaters south into present-day Montana. He names the river McGillivray’s River.
1809: Thompson establishes two trading posts on the Clark Fork River. One, on the lower river near its outlet at Pend Oreille Lake, he names Kullyspel House. The other, 40 miles upstream near present-day Thompson Falls, Montana, he names Saleesh House.
1810: Fur-traders are arriving frequently at the mouth of the Columbia River. In this year, for example, the Albatross crossed the bar on May 26. Small groups of Indians visited the ship daily, bringing furs and salmon to trade. The captain of the Albatross was a man named Jonathan Winship of Boston. He decided a permanent settlement was possible on the river. About 60 miles upriver, near present-day Rainier, Oregon, on the river’s south shore, Winship and his crew attempted to establish the first American settlement on the Columbia. They planted a garden, but it was washed away by floods. This failure, and encounters with hostile Indians, convinced Winship to abandon his brief experiment and continue his trading mission to China.
1810: The North West Company establishes a fur-trading post among the Spokane Indians on the Spokane River about a half mile upstream from its confluence with the Little Spokane River.
1811: With the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s supply ship Tonquinat the mouth of the Columbia in March, and the arrival of a land expedition 11 months later, the New York financier establishes fur-trading routes to the Northwest by land and sea. His employees build a fort and call it Astoria.
1812: Robert Stuart, who had arrived at Astoria on the Tonquin, returns by land to the East with news that the party had reached the mouth of the Columbia. On this journey he discovers South Pass, which would be used later by thousands of immigrants crossing the Rockies on the Oregon Trail. In his journal, he praises the Salmon of the lower Columbia River and the Salmon Falls River of present-day south central Idaho.
1813: Faced with dwindling supplies and concerned that the British might seize their fort and its assets as a result of the War of 1812, Pacific Fur Company employees of John Astor sell their outpost to the North West Company, a rival Canadian firm, on October 23 for $58,291. A month later, a British warship arrived, officially claimed the area for Great Britain and renamed the outpost Fort George in honor of the King, George III.
1823: By this year the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had merged with its rival North West Company, is packing salmon at Fort George, the former Pacific Fur Company trading post at Astoria. The North West Company bought the fort from Astor’s employees ten years earlier.
1825: The Hudson’s Bay Company dedicates Fort Vancouver as the headquarters of its Columbia River Department. Also this year, the Florentine silk top hat is introduced in Paris, and soon many gentlemen would prefer hats covered in silk to those covered in beaver, depressing the market for beaver skins.
1827: The Hudson’s Bay Company begins commercial LOGGING at Fort Vancouver. It is the beginning of the Northwest logging industry.
1835: Missions Marcus Whitman and Samuel Parker arrive at the confluence of the Walla Walla and Columbia rivers in search of sites for missions they intend to build among the Nez Perce, Walla Walla and Cayuse Indians.
1836: The Beaver, the first steam-powered vessel on the Columbia River, arrives at Fort Vancouver. The ship, built in London, is owned and operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
1838: Methodist missionaries Jason and Daniel Lee, who established a small settlement in the Willamette Valley south of Portland in 1834, establish the Wascopam Methodist Mission at The Dalles in 1838. It was the first permanent non-Indian settlement in the Columbia River Gorge.
1844: On June 27, the provisional government of the Oregon Territory established the Vancouver District, which later would become Clark County, Washington, the oldest county in the state. Washington would not become a state for 45 years.
1846: The Treaty of Oregon establishes the 49th parallel as the border between British Canada and the United States.
1847: 4,500 people come west on the Oregon Trail. A measles epidemic spreads among Indians of the Columbia Plateau. Missions Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and others at their mission, are killed by Cayuse Indians in November.
1848: In August, Congress creates the Oregon Territory. Commercial exporting of logs begins, from a mill at Oregon City.
1850: The federal Donation Land Act, passed by Congress this year, boosts non-Indian settlement of the Northwest by making available large tracts of land to people willing to settle on it. The law expired in 1855, by which time more than 7,000 settlers had filed on more than 2.8 million acres in Oregon. This was before any treaties with Indians had been ratified.
1850: Two steamships, the Columbia and the Lot Whitcomb begin regular service on the Columbia River. The Columbia, a 90-foot side-wheeler, was the first built on the river. It was put into service between Portland and Astoria. The Lot Whitcomb, which was larger, was built soon after. The following year, the Jason P. Flint was brought in sections from the East, assembled at the Cascades and operated between those rapids and Portland.
1850: There are now 37 sawmills in the Northwest, most of them near the mouths of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.
1851: Hardin Chenoweth builds the first railroad along the Columbia River, a portage tramway around The Cascades falls on the northern shore of the river. With a mule and one cart, Chenoweth moved freight and passengers around the rapids for 75 cents per 100 pounds.
1852: Washington settlers petition Congress to create a separate Columbia Territory. The following year, Congress responded by creating a vast Washington Territory encompassing all of present-day Washington, Idaho roughly north of the Clearwater River and that portion of northwestern Montana west of the Rockies. Oregon Territory was to the south. Congress gave Oregon and Washington concurrent jurisdiction over the Columbia River.
1853: Congress approves funding for the Topographical Corps to explore the best route for a railroad to the Pacific Ocean. ISAAC I. STEVENS, the new governor of Washington Territory, is appointed to lead the northern survey.
1853: The steamship Eagle is assembled at the upper end of the Cascades rapids and put into service between the Cascades and The Dalles. Other steamships were built in this era, as well. These included the Mary and the Wasco in 1854 and 1855, respectively, which also were built above the Cascades for service between the Cascades and The Dalles.
1855: ISAAC I. STEVENS, governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory, and Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, negotiate treaties with some of the Columbia River Basin Indian tribes. At Walla Walla, treaties are concluded with the following groups of tribes: Yakama, June 9; Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla, June 9; Nez Perce, June 11; and the Middle Tribes of Oregon, June 25. A similar treaty was concluded on July 16 at Hellgate, in present-day Montana, with the Flathead, Kootenai and Upper Pend Oreille tribes. The treaties established reservations and obligated the tribes to move onto them. The treaties with the Yakama, Walla Walla, Cayuse, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Flathead, Kootenai and Upper Pend Oreille tribes were ratified and proclaimed by Congress in 1859. The treaty with the Tribes of Middle Oregon was ratified and proclaimed in 1867.
1855: About this time, gold is discovered near Fort Colville, located at the confluence of the Colville and Columbia rivers in present-day northeastern Washington. Soon, prospectors moved into the area. In 1862, some $7 million in gold was shipped through Fort Walla Walla from the Colville-area.
1856: A lighthouse begins operating at Cape Disappointment on the Washington side of the mouth of the Columbia River, in October.
1856: In March, the Cascades of the Columbia was the site of a deadly skirmish between settlers and Indians tribes. The Indians opposed the treaties of 1855 and were angry over intrusions by settlers onto Indian lands. They hoped to seize the fort and block movements of troops, settlers and freight up and down the river. The siege lasted three days; several settlers and several Indians were killed. The Indians retreated when soldiers arrived from The Dalles.
1858: This is the year of the Battle of Spokane Plains, which broke out after a small group of Palouse Indians stole some U.S. Army cattle. Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Indians fought U.S. Army troops near present-day Rosalia. The Indians surrendered after soldiers killed hundreds of Indian horses near Spokane and destroyed stores of food. The battle prompted Congress to finally ratify Indian treaties in 1859, four years after they were negotiated.
1859: The first large-scale irrigation project in the Columbia River Basin is built this year in the Walla Walla River valley. Irrigation projects soon followed in the Umatilla, John Day and Hood River valleys of Oregon.
1859: On September 17, members of the Palliser expedition note many dead salmon from the mouth of Braeberry Creek to Windermere and Columbia lakes. An explorer named Hector saw two Kutenai Indian families drying salmon caught from Columbia Lake.
1859: The Colonel Wright is the first steamship launched above The Dalles. The boat was built at the mouth of the Deschutes River and was used to carry freight between Celilo and old Fort Walla Walla. The same year, the Colonel Wright probed 50 miles up the Snake, and during the gold rush of 1861 the ship went up the Clearwater to within 12 miles of its north and south forks. Two other boats joined the upper river trade in 1860, the Tenino and the Okanogan.
1859: The state of Oregon is created with its current boundaries. This added southern Idaho and a portion of western Wyoming to Washington Territory. In 1863, Idaho Territory was created, encompassing all of present-day Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. This left Washington Territory with the boundaries of the current state. Washington would become a state in 1889, as would Montana. Idaho would become a state in 1890.
1860: Gold is discovered on the Clearwater River in Idaho by Elias Pierce. A gold rush begins the following year and lasts through 1870. Gold also was discovered at about this time in the Cariboo region of south central British Columbia, and many miners passed through the Columbia Plateau region on their way north.
1861: Commercial fishing is now an industry on the lower Columbia. Two entrepreneurs, Rice and Reed, are packing salted salmon at a site 60 miles below Portland.
1861: The non-Indian population in Washington Territory east of the Cascade Mountains now surpasses that on the west side of the mountains.
1862: Railroads portages are now operating on both shores of the Columbia at the Cascades, making passage much easier for settlers arriving from the East. In this year, the Oregon Steam Navigation Company gains control of portage roads and equipment on the Oregon side, securing its monopoly on river transportation.
1862: Congress enacts three laws intended to open the West: 1) The Homestead Act, which provided 160 acres of western land free to any citizen or alien intending to become a citizen providing the owner makes certain improvements and lives on the land for five years; The Morrill (land grant) Act, which establishes public colleges and universities throughout the country, and The Pacific Railroad Act, through which the United States makes grants and loans to aid construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Between 1862 and 1871 the railroads receive 174 million acres of public land.
1863: The United States negotiates a treaty with the Nez Perce Tribe that supplements and amends the Treaty of 1855 to reserve certain springs near, but not contiguous to, the reservation established in the 1855 treaty for the exclusive use of the tribe. The 1863 treaty was ratified and proclaimed in Congress in 1867. The treaty was amended in 1868, and ratified the following year, to extend military protection to Nez Perces who lived outside the reservation boundaries and allow them to graze animals on unoccupied land..
1863: This spring, work is completed on a portage railroad around The Dalles and Celilo Falls. Called the Dalles and Celilo Railroad, its first locomotive was named after John C. Ainsworth of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, which owned the railroad.
1864: The first telegraph link between Portland and the East Coast is completed.
1864 : Congress charters the Northern Pacific Railroad this year. Because of the high cost of the Civil War, a cash subsidy for each mile of track laid is not possible. Instead, Congress provides the largest land grant in American history: 60 million acres from Lake Superior to the Pacific, a vast checkerboard of alternating one-mile squares of government and railroad land.
1865: The Forty Nine, a steamboats loaded with hopeful miners and their equipment, shoves off from Fort Colville at the confluence of the Colville and Columbia Rivers, headed for the Big Bend of the Columbia in British Columbia where gold had been discovered. It was the first steamship to cross the 49th parallel on the river.
1866: Disappointed by the steadily decreasing salmon runs in California's Sacramento River, where they established the first salmon canneries in North America on a river barge in 1864, brothers George W. and William Hume, and Andrew S. Hapgood this year move their business to a place they called Eagle Cliff on the Washington side of the Columbia 50 miles from the mouth of the river. This was the first salmon cannery on the Columbia River. The site was in present-day Wahkiakum County. That year they packed 4,000 cases of salmon, 48 one-pound cans to the case, by hand.
1866: This is the year of the first U.S. Army Engineers civil works project in the Pacific Northwest, clearing Willamette River snags near Portland.
1866: The first load of wheat from the Palouse is transported by boat down the Snake and Columbia rivers to Portland.
1866: The Crown colony of Vancouver Island, established in 1849, and the Crown colony of British Columbia, established in 1858, combine under the name British Columbia, with the capital in Victoria. British Columbia would join the Canadian confederation in 1871 as the sixth province
1870: The census this year shows the POPULATION at The Dalles is down to 942 as the Clearwater River gold rush of the early 1860s subsided. The city had 1,340 residents in 1860, just before the gold rush began.
1871: British Columbia becomes a province of Canada.
1871: Present-day Spokane founded.
1871: The Appropriation Act of March 3, 1871, effectively terminates treaty making with Indian tribes. The statute, 25 USCA 71, provides that no tribe should be recognized as an independent nation for treaty making purposes (existing treaties were not affected). Reservations created after 1871 were established either by specific statute or by executive order (Congress ended that practice in 1919).
1872: R.D.Hume introduces Chinese labor to American canneries. The Chinese were efficient and hard-working and would accept low pay. Most of the fishing for the canneries was done by local Indians. The Chinese were not allowed to fish. By this year, Hume is operating several canneries on the lower Columbia River, and others are being built.
1872: The Oregon Legislature finances a wagon road through the Columbia River Gorge.
1875: Two boats with a combined capacity of 250 tons are handling the rapidly growing wheat shipments from Wallula, at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers. It’s a struggle to keep up with the demand for transportation.
1876: Work begins on the Cascades lock and canal.
1877: In this year, cannery operators, worried about the decline of the prized spring chinook runs, organize the Oregon & Washington Fish Propagation Company, raise $21,000 in donations, and build a hatchery on the Clackamas River, the first in the Columbia River Basin.
1877: This year, and in 1880, 1883 and 1885, gill net fishermen organized strikes and acts of violence against cannery operators over the prices paid for salmon. This led to the establishment of the Columbia River Fishermen's Protective Union in 1886. The CRFPU successfully bargained for higher prices, which more than doubled between 1886and 1888, from 55 cents per fish to $1.25 per fish.
1877: Congress approves a Navigation channel from the Portland/Vancouver area to the mouth of the Columbia.
1877: Washington’s territorial legislature attempts to regulate the Columbia River salmon fishery by closing it on that side of the river for all or parts of March, April, August and September. In 1878, Oregon did the same, but left April open except on weekends. In 1881, Washington reopened the fishery in September. Throughout, enforcement was lax.
1877: Plans are completed for the 7,200-foot Cascades Canal that would bypass the Cascades rapids 45 miles east of Portland. Plagued by lack of funding, labor problems and difficulties of engineering and construction, the canal was not completed until November 1896.
1878: Rainfall at the Cascades, where the bypass canal is being constructed, totals 57.28 inches between February and June. A New York firm, Ball and Platt, is doing the initial excavation. Living conditions are primitive. The chief engineer reports that he used a sewing needle and silk thread to close a deep gash on a worker’s face.
1878: The Oregon Fish Commission is established. Also this year, Oregon imposes its first fishing gear regulation (Washington’s was in 1866).
1878: The Bannock War in southern Idaho ends, last of the Northwest Indian wars.
1879: FISH WHEELS begin operating on the Columbia. By 1889, there would be 57 operating between Bonneville and Celilo Falls. Fishing with fish wheels continued in the Columbia for 55 years. 1879 also was the first year fish traps were utilized on the Columbia. By 1886 there would be 156.
1880: Commercial fishing pressure is so intense in the lower Columbia River that just 20 miles inland from the ocean there are so few salmon that cannery fishers are forced to move to the river’s mouth to ensure they catch enough to satisfy the demand at canneries.
1880-81: A severe winter kills LIVESTOCK on the Columbia Plateau.
1882: A rail line is completed between Celilo and Wallula, at the confluence of the Walla Walla and Columbia rivers. With this link, a continuous line now exists between Portland and Walla Walla, allowing eastern Washington grain to be delivered to ocean-going ships in Portland.
1883: On September 8, Henry Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, drives a golden spike at Independence Creek, 60 miles west of Helena, Montana, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad through the Northwest. Other transcontinental lines soon followed. In 1884, the Oregon Short Line linked to the Union Pacific, and the Great Northern Railway was completed in 1893. Portland now was linked by rail to Spokane, St. Paul, Omaha, and points east. In Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in November 1885 at Craigellatchie, a few miles west of Revelstoke, British Columbia.
1886: By this year, Pendleton, Oregon, and Dayton and Pomeroy, Washington, all have railroad connections.
1886: On May 8, Captain Frank Armstrong launched the first steamboat on the upper Columbia River, at Golden, British Columbia. The boat was called the Dutchess.
1887: Seufert’s No. 5, the most famous fish wheel on the Columbia, is constructed this year on a point of rock jutting into the Columbia on the Oregon side of the river at the head of Fivemile Rapids, about five miles upstream of The Dalles. It operated until 1926, when Oregon voters banned fish wheels, and averaged 146,000 pounds of salmon per year.
1889: Some 400,000 acres are under irrigation in the Columbia River Basin. Although some irrigation involves pumping groundwater, the earliest and simplest irrigation involved diverting water from streams.
1889: There are 121 fish traps in Baker Bay, near the mouth of the Columbia. In all, about 400 traps are being operated on the river. Traps were fixed nets attached to poles driven into the river bed.
1889: With chinook salmon runs declining and public demand for canned salmon high, canneries on the lower Columbia begin processing sockeye salmon and steelhead. A few years later, the canneries would add coho and chum salmon.
1890: Largely as a result of the completion of transcontinental railroads, POPULATION in Idaho, Washington and Oregon jumped from about 251,000 in 1880 to 705,000 in 1890.
1891: Between 1891 and 1895, Columbia River salmon canneries pack an average of 486,000 cases (48 pounds per case) each year.
1892: The Coulee City News reports on a proposal to irrigate the Big Bend country of central Washington state with water diverted into the Grand Coulee from a large dam on the Columbia River. Probably this is the first published proposal for a dam at Grand Coulee.
1893: A special committee appointed by the Oregon Legislature in 1887 to review fishery problems on the Columbia releases its report this year. The report concludes that claims of overfishing by wheels, traps and seines are based on “prejudice and misinformation” and recommends that fishing gear restrictions be repealed.
1894: “It does not require a study of the statistics to convince one that the salmon industry has suffered a great decline during the past decade, and that it is only a matter of a few years under present conditions when the chinook of the Columbia will be as scarce as the beaver that once was so plentiful in our streams. For a third of a century Oregon has drawn wealth from her streams, but now, by reason of her wastefulness and lack of intelligent provision for the future, the source of that wealth is disappearing and is threatened with annihilation . . . Salmon that ten years ago the canners would not touch now constitute 30 to 40 percent of the pack.” — From the 1894 report of the Oregon Fish and Game Protector.
1894: Upper Columbia Basin salmon runs decline, such as those in the Spokane River and the fish that normally passed Kettle Falls on their way to spawn in northern Washington tributaries and in British Columbia. Fish were abundant at Kettle Falls as late as 1878 but had been steadily decreasing since 1882, according to the United States Fish Commissioner, who cites commercial overfishing in the lower Columbia as the primary cause.
1895: Washington builds the Chinook River Hatchery on a lower Columbia tributary using money from fishing license sales. In the five years between 1895 and 1900, 14 hatcheries were built in Washington. Production of salmon tripled. In 1900, 23 million eggs and fry were released. In 1905, 62 million were released. Washington’s hatchery system eventually grew to be the largest on the West Coast.
1896 : Cascade Locks and Canal is completed, allowing continuous navigation through the treacherous Cascades. Previously, steamboats usually only ran the Cascades during low water. Still unfinished when opened, the Canal cost $3,793,496.94 to that point. On November 5, steamboats carried several hundred excursionists through the locks to view the work. The steamer Sarah Dixon fired cannon salutes at appropriate intervals. The canal immediately benefited river commerce. Between 1898 and 1920, the value of freight through the canal exceeded the construction cost in most years. The locks and canal were used until 1938, when they were covered by the water behind Bonneville Dam.
1896: “There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has studied the question, that the future propensity of our salmon fisheries depend largely upon artificial propagation . . . I am convinced that not more than 10 percent of the ova spawned in the open streams are hatched, owing principally to spawn-eating fish that prey on them . . .while from artificial propagation 90 percent are successfully hatched. What more need be said in favor of fish culture?” — From the Oregon State Fish and Game Protector’s annual report, 1896.
1896: Gold is discovered on the northern half of the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington, and two years later on the southern half.
1898: On July 31, Portland banker Joseph Paquet catches the first largemouth bass in the Columbia, near Portland. Largemouth bass brought from California had been released into the Willamette River about 10 years earlier. The Willamette is a Columbia tributary that flows into the Columbia near Portland.
1898: Lower Bonnington Falls Dam is completed on the Kootenay River, a Columbia tributary in British Columbia, the first dam on the Kootenay and the first on a Columbia tributary in British Columbia. The dam did not block anadromous fish, however, as they never had been able to migrate past the falls.
1899: Congress authorizes a 25-foot-deep navigation Channel in the Columbia from the mouth to Portland.
1899: The number of FISH WHEELS on the Columbia River peaks at 76.
1900: Natural resource industries are booming. Between 1900 and 1910, large-scale LOGGING occurred in the Columbia River Gorge. By 1900, nearly 500,000 acres of farmland in the Columbia River Basin is being irrigated.
1901: Oregon Fish Commissioner Henry Van Deusen laments the lost salmon production from 1882-1886 that resulted from the closure of the Clackamas River hatchery. He says closing the hatchery was one of the biggest mistakes made by the fishing industry.
1902: The federal Reclamation Act, passed by Congress this year, authorized the government to aid the development of irrigation for agriculture and allowed settlers to own 160 acres for the purpose of irrigating crops.
1903: The dredge Grant arrives at Portland, followed in 1904 by the dredge Chinook.
1903: According to a report in Pacific Fisherman magazine, the continuing decline of spring chinook salmon becomes apparent to fishers in the lower Columbia River. To compensate, some of the harvest shifts to fall chinook, which the canneries consider inferior fish.
1905: Cascade Locks and canal has its busiest year, used by 1,417 boats.
1906: The most productive FISH WHEEL on the Columbia, the No. 5 wheel of Seufert Brothers Fish Company, has its biggest year. Located in a chute about five miles upstream from The Dalles, Oregon, No. 5 captures 209 tons of salmon. The wheel began operating in 1887 and fished until 1926, when Oregon banned fish wheels.
1907: Transcontinental railroads now are operating on both sides of the Columbia River. This is the year the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad was completed, improving transportation between Portland and the East.
1907: 325 years after Richard Hakluyt first speculated about the Strait of Anian in his book Divers Voyages, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen proves the existence of a NORTHWEST PASSAGE when he sails his ship, Gjoa, from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean.
1908: President Theodore Roosevelt, in his State of the Union Address to Congress, says the salmon fisheries of the Columbia River “are now but a fraction of what they were 25 years ago, and what they would be now if the United States government had taken complete charge of them by intervening between Oregon and Washington.” He proposes that the federal government take over regulation of the fishery.
1908: The first automobile bridge across the Columbia River is completed, at Wenatchee, Washington. It opens to the public in January of this year. The campaign to construct the bridge was headed by the Wenatchee Commercial Club.
1909: The United States and Canada sign the Boundary Waters Treaty, which establishes the International Joint Commission and gives it jurisdiction over water projects that would change the levels of boundary waters or would result in flooding in the other country. The treaty sets limits on water levels affected by dam operations on transboundary rivers in the Columbia River Basin, including the Kootenai and the Columbia.
1910: 2.3 million acres of farm land in the Columbia River Basin are now irrigated, up from 500,000 acres in 1900.
1911: Little Falls Dam is completed on the Spokane River at that location. While there was a fish ladder, there was some dispute about whether it was effective.
1911: This is the peak year for salmon landings (all varieties combined) from the Columbia River, 49.5 million pounds.
1912: The commercial fishery intensifies in the lower Columbia River with the beginning this year of ocean commercial trolling, towing hooks and lines from a boat: for chinook and coho salmon. By 1915 there would be 500 trolling boats, and by 1919 more than 1,000.
1912: The federal River and Harbor Act of this year authorizes a 30-foot-deep navigation channel from Brookfield, Washington, across the river from Knappa, Oregon, in the Columbia River estuary, to Portland.
1913: Several federal agencies, including the Bureau of Chemistry, join national canning industry officials to celebrate the first National Canned Salmon Day, on March 14. A promotional effort, National Canned Salmon Day was timed to coincide with the beginning of Lent.
1915: There are now 2,856 gill net boats on the lower Columbia River, the peak number in the history of the fishery.
1915: The states of Washington and Oregon form the Columbia River Fish Compact to regulate commercial fishing in the river. The compact provides that neither state may change its fishing regulations, which are identical, without the consent of the other. Congress approves the Compact in 1918.
1915: The Columbia River Highway is completed on the Oregon side of the Columbia River between Portland and The Dalles; tourists flock to see the engineering marvel.
1915: The Army Engineers complete a canal and locks around river obstructions above The Dalles, opening river navigation between Astoria, Oregon, and Lewiston, Idaho. The Celilo Canal took nearly 12 years to construct. It was 65 feet wide, eight miles long and eight feet deep and had periodic turnouts to allow boats to pass each other. Today it is under the water behind The Dalles Dam.
1915: Long Lake Dam, with no fish ladder, is completed four miles above Little Falls Dam (completed in 1911) on the Spokane River, effectively ending salmon passage. Spokane River settler D.L. McDonald later wrote: “It was a sad day for the settlers who had grown to depend on the salmon as one of their staple foods. But for the Indians, it was a catastrophe.”
1916: Between 1916 and 1920, Columbia River salmon canneries reach their peak production. The annual pack averages 550,000 cases, at 48 pounds per case.
1917: Washington and Oregon outlaw purse seines in the Columbia River. The same year, Washington begins licensing hook-and-line fishing.
1918: On July 18, the Wenatchee World newspaper, Wenatchee, Washington, publishes a story about the idea for a dam at the Grand Coulee of the Columbia. It was not the first time such a dam had been proposed, but it was the story that energized people about the potential for such a dam. It is the story that is considered the genesis of Grand Coulee Dam.
1918: Entrance channel of the Columbia River is dredged to 40 feet.
1918: Congress ratifies the formation of the Columbia River Compact between Oregon and Washington for the purpose of regulating commercial fisheries in the Columbia River.
1919: A fishway is constructed around Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River between Stanley and Challis, Idaho. The dam, about 20 miles downstream from the headwaters of the Salmon River at Redfish Lake, was built in 1910 to provide electricity to the Yankee Fork mining district. Fears of dwindling fish runs prompted construction of the fishway. In 1934, Idaho blew a hole in the dam, and private interests later blew it up again, widening the hole. In the 1980s it was blasted a third time to make the hole wide enough for rafters.
1920: Washington Highway 14, the north bank road, is completed through the Columbia River Gorge.
1921: Beginning this year, the harvest of chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River begins an annual decline that would continue until 1958. As the river catch decreased, the ocean catch increased, but the number of salmon landed at Columbia River ports continued to decline overall. Fishery managers in Oregon and Washington recognized that hatcheries failed to reverse the steady salmon decline and ignored scientific evidence of the stock structure of salmon populations. Despite this, hatcheries continued to be the primary tool to mitigate the impact of the dams.
1922: On July 26, the Federal Power Commission grants a preliminary permit to the Washington Water Power Company to build a dam at Kettle Falls. It never was built.
1926: The Oregon Legislature outlaws fish wheels. Meanwhile, 506 fish traps are in operation on the Columbia River, the most ever.
1927: Inland Power and Light Company completes Lewiston Dam on the Clearwater River (at River Mile 4) near Lewiston, Idaho. There is a fish ladder, but it is inadequate. Lewiston Dam virtually eliminated chinook salmon runs into the Clearwater Basin. Steelhead were able to negotiate the ladder, but their numbers declined dramatically, too. Washington Water Power Company of Spokane acquired the dam in 1937 and, two years later built two additional fishways. Improvements were made to all three ladders in the mid-1960s. The dam was removed in 1973 as part of the Lower Granite Dam project so that there would be enough water to allow barge traffic to Lewiston.
1928: The number of haul seines in the Columbia River commercial fishery reaches its peak: 108.
1932: A federal report on river planning, Columbia River and Minor Tributaries (House Document 103-73/1), proposes construction of eight dams on the Columbia River, including Bonneville and Grand Coulee.
1932: Presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt promotes Columbia River hydropower development in a speech in Portland on September 21.
1932: Japan begins high seas gill net fishing for salmon. It was discontinued during World War II and resumed in 1952. Japan remains the only Pacific Rim nation with sizeable fishing fleets to fish for salmon in the high seas. However, regarding stocks of United States origin, this would have to occur within the 200-mile zone under provisions of the Fishery Conservation Management Act. Beyond the 200-mile zone, U.S. salmon may not be lawfully harvested.
1933: Rock Island Dam, the first to cross the Columbia River, begins operation. Built by a company that later became part of Puget Sound Power and Light Company of Bellevue, Washington, Rock Island is a low dam with three gently inclining fish ladders to allow migrating adult salmon to pass. Today, the dam is owned and operated by the Chelan County Public Utility District. Location: river mile 453.4.
1933: On September 5 construction of Grand Coulee Dam officially begins, but it was September 9 before engineers set the stakes that marked the center line of the dam. On November 6, site preparation work began at Bonneville Dam.
1934: On March 19, Congress passes the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (amended in 1946 and 1958), which required the federal government to take fish and wildlife into consideration in the planning of federal water development projects. It was the beginning of efforts to mitigate the impact of federal Snake and Columbia river dams on fish and wildlife.
1935: Washington outlaws fixed gear, such as fish wheels and pound nets, for commercial fishing on the Columbia River. Oregon banned fixed gear in 1949.
1937: In January, the monthly mean flow of the Columbia drops to its lowest level since 1927, when regular records began to be kept. The monthly mean flow of 39,160 cubic feet per second, measured at The Dalles, Oregon, remains the lowest natural flow on record in the Columbia (the flow at The Dalles was lower, briefly, in the late 1950s when the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam was filling).
1937: On August 20, President Roosevelt signs the Bonneville Project Act, which creates a new federal power bureau: The Bonneville Power Project. The new bureau is assigned to market and transmit power from federal dams and “. . .give preference and priority in the use of electric energy to public bodies and cooperatives.”
1938: On May 11, Congress passes the Mitchell Act (Public Law 75-502). The law is intended to mitigate the impacts to fish from water diversions, dams on the mainstem of the Columbia River, pollution and logging. Initially, the Act paid just for a census and survey of lower Columbia tributaries. Later it was amended to pay for facilities to protect salmon spawning habitat, such as screens on irrigation diversions.
1938: Congress authorizes seven dams in Oregon’s Willamette River Basin as flood control projects. The dams, built between 1946 and 1960, were Detroit, Big Cliff, Lookout Point, Dexter, Cougar, Green Peter and Foster.
1938: Bonneville Dam begins operation on June 6. The dam has a fish ladder, and for the first time the number of adult salmon and steelhead crossing the dam can be counted. The 1938 total is 469,027 fish, primarily chinook (271,799). Steelhead, sockeye and coho also were counted.
1939: On December 20, the Bonneville Power Administration signs its first industrial power sales contract. The customer, the Aluminum Company of America, built a smelter on the north bank of the Columbia a few miles west of Vancouver, Washington.
1940: The Bonneville Power Project, created by the Bonneville Project Act in 1937, is renamed the Bonneville Power Administration.
1940: In June, the Colville tribes host the “Ceremony of Tears,” a three-day event at Kettle Falls to eulogize the impending inundation of the falls and the loss of the salmon and steelhead fishery from the construction of Grand Coulee Dam about 100 miles downstream. At the time, the reservoir was filling; it would cover the falls in July 1941.
1942: The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in Tulee v. State of Washington, that the state cannot charge license fees to Yakima Indians exercising treaty fishing rights.
1943: The Bonneville Power Administration receives an urgent request for a large block of power to serve a secret load in the desert between Richland and Yakima.
1943: Congress approves the Columbia Basin Project Act, sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Interior Department. The Act replaced the Anti-Speculation Act of 1937, which President Roosevelt had sought as a means of guaranteeing people who settled in central Washington to take advantage of the irrigation and the power from Grand Coulee Dam would not be subject to inflated prices from land speculation. The Columbia Basin Project Act required the Bureau of Reclamation to sign contracts with three irrigation districts that had been established within the project. Power revenues would subsidize irrigation.
1944: With the approval of Montana’s governor, Congress authorizes construction of Hungry Horse Dam on the South Fork Flathead River as a Bureau of Reclamation project. Hungry Horse was the first of many upstream dams in the U.S. and Canada that control summer and winter flows for maximum power generation at the larger dams downriver.
1944: Brilliant Dam is completed on the Kootenay River, a Columbia tributary in British Columbia. Brilliant was built by Cominco, a company that operates a smelter on the Columbia River at Trail about 15 miles south. The dam, located less than a mile up the Kootenay from its confluence with the Columbia, blocks salmon from reaching the Slocan River and Slocan Lake.
1944: This year the first offspring of fish that once spawned above Grand Coulee Dam return to spawn in tributaries above Rock Island Dam where their parents had been released in experiments that began in 1939 and continued through 1947. It was the first evidence that Columbia River fish runs might be relocated.
1944: The United States and Canada ask the International Joint Commission to investigate the potential of the Columbia for greater use and development. In 1959, the governments would ask the IJC to investigate how to apportion downstream benefits of power generation and flood control, and the resulting report helped the two countries in negotiations that culminated in the Columbia River Treaty in 1961 (ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1964).
1945: The federal River and Harbor Act of 1945 authorizes construction of McNary Dam on the Columbia, 146 miles upriver from Bonneville Dam. The 1945 Act also authorized construction of the Lower Snake River Project of dams in southeastern Washington. Specifically, Public Law 14, passed by Congress on March 2, 1945, authorized the Corps to “construct such dams as are necessary” to provide slackwater along the lower Snake River from its confluence with the Columbia to Lewiston. The decision on how many dams were necessary was left to the Corps. Eventually, the Corps decided on four: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite.
1946: Congress authorizes construction of Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia at River Mile 545, 51 miles downstream from Grand Coulee. The authorization was in the 1946 River and Harbor Act. Originally called Foster Creek Dam, the initial survey work was not funded until 1948 (the same year Congress renamed it Chief Joseph), and then only for $42,000, but additional funding followed and construction got underway in 1949. The main dam and intake structure was completed in 1955. The first 16 turbine units went into service between 1955 and 1958. The project was completed in 1961. The L-shaped dam is 5,962 feet long in an area where the river is 980 feet wide. The design maximizes hydropower production. The powerhouse, at 2,039 feet one of the world’s longest, originally contained 16 turbine generators capable of producing a total of 1,078 megawatts. Today, the powerhouse has 27 generators and a capacity of 2,069 megawatts.
1947: Construction begins at McNary Dam on the Columbia River near Hermiston, Oregon, on April 15.
1947: On March 20, the Georgie Burton makes a run from Portland to The Dalles, the last trip for the 41-year veteran steamboat. It may not have been the last steamboat trip on the Columbia, but the press reported it as such. Certainly, it was one of the last, as highways and railroads steadily eclipsed river transportation.
1948: In November, the Corps of Engineers opens its Walla Walla District office to supervise construction of the four dams of the Lower Snake River Project.
1948: In late May and early June, a Columbia River flood destroys the city of Vanport, Oregon.
1949: A census shows that POPULATION of the Northwest grew 44 percent since 1940. During the same period, the nation’s population grew 13 percent. Net immigration to the Pacific Northwest was more than 1 million. Oregon led all states with a 59-percent population increase.
1949: The Lower Columbia River Fishery Development Program is established by Congress, based on a 1946 amendment to the Mitchell Act that authorized the federal Interior Department to use the facilities and services of state fish and wildlife agencies to develop and conserve Columbia River Basin salmon. The state agencies had signed the participation agreement in 1948. Federal agencies sought $1 million to pay for improving fisheries in the Columbia basin.
1949: In a survey of Columbia River tributaries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identifies the Cowlitz River, a Columbia River tributary in southwest Washington, as a potentially important salmon-bearing stream that should not be developed for hydropower development. The report is a precursor of a political battle that would rage in future years over hydropower development on the Cowlitz between the city of Tacoma’s municipal utility, Tacoma Power, and salmon advocates including state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and associations of commercial and sport fishermen.
1950: A total of 559,606 salmon and steelhead are counted crossing Bonneville Dam.
1950: The federal River and Harbor and Flood Control Act of 1950 authorizes construction of The Dalles and John Day dams on the Columbia and two upstream water storage projects on Columbia tributaries: Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River near the Idaho/Washington border and Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana. The Act also reconfirms authorization of Chief Joseph Dam.
1950: In this year, drift gill nets are declared the only legal commercial fishing method on the Columbia River for non-Indians. Fixed gear, such as fish wheels and pound nets, was outlawed in Washington in 1935 and in Oregon in 1949.
1951: The 18th and final generator at Grand Coulee Dam begins operation. This completes both powerhouses at the dam.
1952: Congress adopts the International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean on May 9. Known as the Trilateral Pacific Salmon Treaty, the agreement between Japan, the United States and Canada embodies the “abstention principle,” which holds that the nation where anadromous fish originate has authority to prohibit high seas fishing on those stocks. Accordingly, Japan was prohibited from fishing on Canadian or United States salmon east of a line drawn roughly along the 175th meridian.
1952: On May 29, the first irrigation water from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam starts to flow into the canals of the Columbia Basin Project.
1953: President Dwight Eisenhower shifts the nation’s power policy from one of encouraging federal dams to one of encouraging local utilities to build dams on major rivers. Three public utility districts in central Washington, aided by investor-owned utilities, take advantage of this shift and built four huge dams on the Columbia during the 1950s and 1960s: Priest Rapids (originally authorized as a federal dam), Wanapum, Rocky Reach and Wells.
1953: This year President Eisenhower appoints George Boldt, a Tacoma, Washington judge, to the U.S. District Court, Western Washington District. Twenty-one years later, in 1974, Boldt would author one of the most important legal decisions in the history of Northwest salmon recovery efforts, ruling that Northwest Indian tribes that signed treaties with the United States in 1855 are entitled to half of the harvestable surplus of fish that return annually to the tribes’ usual and accustomed fishing sites.
1954: A total of 998 adult sockeye are counted at Redfish Lake, Idaho, in the headwaters of the Salmon River. In 1991,the Redfish Lake sockeye would be declared an endangered species.
1954: McNary Dam on the Columbia River at river mile 292, near Hermiston, Oregon, begins operation. President Eisenhower dedicates the dam on September 23.
1954: On April 24, the steamboat era on the Columbia River comes to an end when the SS Minto, launched 56 years earlier, ties up for the last time at the river town of Nakusp, British Columbia. No longer able to pay its way hauling freight and passengers, the Minto was sold by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to the local Chamber of Commerce for $1.
1955: About this time, or perhaps in the late 1940s, walleye are introduced into the Columbia River system. Walleye, a game fish, are predators of young salmon. Walleye are not native to the Columbia River but got there either by direct planting in Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee Dam, or by inundation of Devil’s Lake by the adjacent Banks Lake, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Banks Lake is the Columbia Basin Project irrigation reservoir and has a direct connection to Lake Roosevelt. The fish steadily spread downriver. The first walleye was caught below Bonneville Dam in 1966 near Oneonta, Oregon. Populations became established in the Columbia between Bonneville and McNary dams in the 1970s. Later, populations were established below Bonneville and in the Willamette River below Willamette Falls.
1955: This year 2,069-megawatt Chief Joseph Dam begins operation on August 28. Owner: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Location: river mile 545.1. There is no fish passage at this dam about 90 miles upstream from Wenatchee. Thus Chief Joseph is the upper extent of salmon and steelhead migration in the Columbia, blocking access to about 670 miles of the mainstem Columbia and all the associated tributaries where salmon historically spawned.
1957: The Dalles Dam, a federal project operated by the Corps of Engineers, begins operation this year. The Dalles Dam is at the city of The Dalles, Oregon at river mile 191.5. On March 10 the flood gates closed, and the reservoir behind the dam quickly filled, inundating the historic Indian fishery at Celilo Falls. At this time, prior to the construction of John Day Dam, McNary Dam at river mile 292 was the next dam upriver from The Dalles.
1959: The Oregon Moist Pellet is developed. It remains the standard food at salmon hatcheries. Along with improvements in disease control and water quality in hatcheries, the improved diet made hatchery programs more cost-effective. As a result, fish production began to accelerate. By the late 1960s, hatchery production of salmon and steelhead, particularly chinook and coho, overtook and then far surpassed natural production. By 1974, hatchery releases from the 40 federal, state and tribal hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin reached 155 million, five times the number of juvenile fish released from hatcheries in 1960. [Wilkinson and Conner, Page 82]
1960: The population of the four Northwest states continues to grow and now stands at 5,964,000, an increase of 884,000 since 1950 and 2,058,000 since 1940. Salmon and steelhead harvests in the Columbia River continue to decline, as does the number of fish counted at Bonneville Dam. In 1960, 492,100 fish were harvested from the river between the dam and the ocean, and 3,900 fish upriver from the dam. Ten years earlier, the harvest was 717,500 fish below the dam and 157,200 fish above it. A total of 433,732 salmon and steelhead eluded capture in the lower river and were counted crossing Bonneville Dam in 1960, compared to 560,683 in 1950. [Sources: United States Census; ODFW/WDFW Status Report, 1938-1998, Pages 126 and 135; Fish Passage Center]
1960: A total of 432,706 salmon and steelhead are counted crossing Bonneville Dam. This year, the commercial salmon harvest above Bonneville Dam was 3,900 fish totaling 45,200 pounds. The next year the harvest jumped about threefold. The commercial catch below Bonneville Dam in 1960 was 401,300 salmon totaling 4,458,900 pounds, and 90,800 steelhead totaling 649,800 pounds. The Indian commercial dip net fishery at Celilo Falls ended in 1957. [Status Report, 1938-1998, Pages 126 and 135]
1961: Between 1961 and 1964, annual production at Columbia River salmon canneries drops to its lowest level since about 1870: 90,000 cases, at 48 pounds per case.
1961: Three major dams -- two on the Columbia and one on the Snake -- are completed this year. Ice Harbor Dam is on the Snake at river mile 9.7. Ice Harbor, which was placed in service on December 18, is a federal dam operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rocky Reach Dam, located on the Columbia River just north of Wenatchee at river mile 473.7, was placed in service on June 13. It was built by a consortium that included the Chelan County Public Utility District (Wenatchee), Puget Sound Power & Light Company (Bellevue, Washington), Portland General Electric (Portland, Oregon), Pacific Power and Light Company (Portland), Washington Water Power Company (Spokane) and the Alcoa aluminum company, which built a smelter in Wenatchee. Puget Power received the largest share of the electricity, 45.5 percent. The dam is operated by the Chelan PUD. The same year, Priest Rapids Dam, owned and operated by Grant County Public Utility District, is completed. The dam is at river mile 397.1 The dam, along with Wanapum Dam upstream (river mile 415.8, 1963), also owned by the PUD, was financed by "slice" contracts that required utilities (both public and private) in the region to pay for construction costs in exchange for a portion (slice) of the output. Priest Rapids is dedicated in 1962.
1963: Mayfield Dam on the Cowlitz River, a lower Columbia tributary, begins operation this year. The 162-megawatt dam (initially three units totaling 121.5 megawatts, with the fourth unit added in 1983) was built by the City of Tacoma, Washington, Department of Public Utilities (Tacoma Power). It is located at River Mile 52.
1963: Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River is placed in service on September 1, 1963. Built by a consortium of four private and five public utilities, the dam is operated by the Grant County Public Utility District. Location: river mile 415.8. Like Grant County PUD’s other dam, Priest Rapids, the utility receives 36.5 percent of the output of the dam, and the other financing partners share the remainder. Of these, the largest shares go to Portland General Electric (Portland, Oregon) and Pacific Power and Light Company (Portland), which each receive 18.7 percent of the output.
1964: In late December, severe floods sweep through Washington, Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge.
1965: This summer, Roald Fryxell, a geologist with Washington State University’s Laboratory of Anthropology, discovers 9,000-11,000 year-old bones in a rock shelter near the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers. The property is owned by farmer Roland Marmes, and the site: which yields the oldest human bones found in North America to that time: becomes known as the Marmes Rock Shelter. Before the site could be fully excavated, it was flooded by the rising waters of the reservoir behind Lower Monumental Dam.
1966: In order to protect dwindling runs of summer chinook above Bonneville Dam, the Oregon Fish Commission asks the Oregon State Police to strictly enforce the law forbidding non-Indian commercial fishing upriver from Bonneville.
1966: Some 6.5 million acres of farm land in the Columbia River Basin are now irrigated, up from 3.5 million in 1928.
1967: Wells Dam on the Columbia River begins operation on September 1. Owner: Douglas County Public Utility District. Location: river mile 515.1. The dam has an unusual design as the result of the underlying geologic formation. Because the most solid ground was at the center of the river channel, the dam was constructed with its heaviest components, the turbines and spillways, in the middle. This design, known as a hydrocombine, has the spillways built over the top of the powerhouse. Typically, the spillways and powerhouse are side by side. Later, this design would prove to be very effective at passing juvenile fish over the dam — more effective, in fact, than at any other mainstem dam on the Columbia or Snake.
1967: Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River begins operation on October 23. Owner: Idaho Power Company. Location: Snake River mile 247. By the time this dam began operation, the salmon and steelhead runs that spawned in the river and its tributaries upriver from the dam had diminished from an estimated 1 million adults per year to an estimated 38,100 fish. The prime reason for this decline, according to the Idaho Power Company, was the construction of 15 federal dams above Hells Canyon between 1904 and 1947. The company argued the decline was not attributable to its Hells Canyon Complex of three dams: Brownlee, Oxbow and the newly completed Hells Canyon, even though the dams had blocked anadromous fish passage since the late 1950s when the first of the three dams, Brownlee, was completed.
1968: Several large dams in the Columbia River Basin are completed and begin service this year. In April the Corps of Engineers completes John Day Dam on the Columbia River at River Mile 215.6. In British Columbia, Duncan Dam on the Duncan River, which flows into the northern end of Kootenay Lake, was completed at a site about 26 miles north of Kaslo, B.C. It is one of four dams authorized by the Columbia River Treaty of 1964 between the United States and Canada to increase water storage in the Columbia River system and maximize hydropower generation. Also in 1968, Mossyrock Dam on the Cowlitz River, a lower Columbia tributary, began operation. The 300-megawatt dam was built by the City of Tacoma, Washington, Department of Public Utilities (Tacoma Power). It is located at Cowlitz River mile 65.5.
1969: Hugh Keenleyside Dam, named for the first director of B.C. Hydro, is completed on the lower Columbia River in British Columbia at River Mile 780, a short distance upstream of Castlegar. It is one of four dams, three of them in British Columbia, authorized by the Columbia River Treaty of 1964 between the United States and Canada to increase water storage in the Columbia River Basin and maximize hydropower generation. Keenleyside, which raised the level of the Arrow Lakes behind it, was built without generators, but the Columbia Power Corporation, a subsidiary of the Columbia Basin Trust, added a two-turbine, 185-megawatt power plant, completed in 2002.
1970: Little Goose Dam on the Snake River begins operation on May 19. Owner: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Location: Snake River mile 70.3.
I973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act. The forerunner of the Act, House Resolution 37, includes this statement of purpose: “From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interests of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations. The reason is simple: they are potential resources. They are keys to puzzles that we cannot yet solve, and may provide answers to questions that we have not yet learned to ask.”
1973: Mica Dam is completed on the Columbia River in British Columbia at River Mile 1,018. It is the last in the progression of Columbia River mainstem dams that begins at Bonneville Dam, at River Mile 146, and the closest to the headwaters, which are about 200 miles south at Columbia Lake. Capable of generating 1,840 megawatts of electricity, Mica stores up to 12 million acre-feet of water in Kinbasket Reservoir. Mica is one of four dams authorized by the Columbia River Treaty of 1964 between the United States and Canada to increase water storage in the upper Columbia basin and maximize hydropower generation downstream in the United States.
1974: Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River begins operation on September 18. Dworshak, located east of Lewiston, Idaho, inundated 16,970 acres of riverine habitat for wildlife and also blocked fish passage in the North Fork. Anadromous fish passage above Dworshak Dam ended.
1974: U.S. District Judge George Boldt of Tacoma refines an earlier federal court decision regarding Indian fishing and rules that Indians are entitled to 50 percent of the harvestable surplus of salmon and steelhead in Northwest rivers. Thus, Indians whose ancestors signed treaties with the United States in which they reserved the right to fish at their usual and accustomed places “in common with” citizens of the United States are entitled to half of the catch, and non-Indian fishers are entitled to the other half.
1975: The Corps of Engineers awards a contract to build the second powerhouse at Bonneville Dam. It was completed in 1982. The second powerhouse was shut down during the spring fish migration beginning in 1985 because it killed so many smolts. A new fish collection and bypass system, completed in 2003, is intended to improve juvenile fish survival at the facility.
1975: Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River begins operation on April 15, the last of the major dams to be constructed on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Operator: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Location: Snake River mile 107.5. This makes Lewiston, Idaho, 32 miles upstream and 465 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River, a port for deep-water barges.
1976: Three more turbine units are added to Ice Harbor Dam, at Snake River Mile 9.7, raising the generating capacity to 603 megawatts.
1976: On June 24, the Bonneville Power Administration issues a Notice of Insufficiency to its preference customers, which are publicly owned electric utilities in the Northwest. The notice states that seven years in the future, by June 30, 1983, Bonneville no longer would be able to meet their demand for new power supply. Bonneville Administrator Don Hodel blames the anticipated shortage on delays in construction the five nuclear power plans of the Hydro-Thermal Power Program.
1976: The Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 creates the Pacific Fishery Management Council and seven other regional councils around the nation, to develop, monitor and revise fishery management plans for the area between three miles and 200 miles off the United States coast. The Pacific Council, based in Portland, develops plans for Pacific Ocean fisheries off California, Oregon and Washington. The North Pacific Council includes Alaska and is based in Anchorage.
1976: Congress authorizes the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan in the Water Resources Development Act of 1976 (90 Stat. 2917; Public Law 94-587) to mitigate and compensate for fish and wildlife losses caused by the construction and operation of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River — Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite — primarily through the construction and operation of trout, salmon and steelhead hatcheries.
1977: Four Indian tribes with treaty fishing rights on the Columbia River form the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to coordinate fish management policies and objectives. The participants are the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation.
1977: This is the driest year on record to date in the Columbia River Basin. The January-July Columbia River runoff, measured at The Dalles Dam, is 53.8 million acre-feet (Maf). The average for the January-July period is 103.2 Maf. Most of the Columbia River runoff occurs between January and July. The average runoff for the year, measured at The Dalles, is 138.7 million acre-feet. The average annual discharge at the mouth of the river, which includes discharges from major lower-basin tributaries including the Willamette and Cowlitz, is about 180 million acre-feet.
1980: In December, Congress approves and President Jimmy Carter signs into law the Northwest Power Act, which authorizes the four Northwest States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington to form the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (the agency was known until 2003 at the Northwest Power Planning Council) and gives the Council three distinct responsibilities: 1) prepare a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife, and related spawning grounds and habitat, of the Columbia River Basin that have been affected by hydropower dams, while 2) assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply, and 3) informing the public about energy and fish and wildlife and involving the public in decision-making. The Council met for the first time in April 1981.
1980: The Bonneville Power Administration is paying $6 million a month on Washington Nuclear Plant 2 debt. The uncompleted plant is now three years behind schedule (it was not completed until 1984, the only Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) nuclear plant that was completed). This year Bonneville announces a wholesale power rate increase of about 90 percent in response to the cost of financing its share of the WPPSS nuclear plants.
1982: In an attempt to control indiscriminate fishing in the ocean and conserve depleted stocks of fish, more than 60 nations sign the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention in October. Article 66 deals with anadromous fish and says that the State of origin of anadromous fish stocks “. . .shall ensure their conservation by the establishment of appropriate regulatory measures for fishing in all waters landward of the outer limits of its exclusive economic zone . . .”
1983: About 1,200 pounds of Oregon chinook salmon are shipped to California for a banquet honoring the visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
1983: B.C. Hydro completes Revelstoke Dam on the Columbia River at River Mile 934, just upstream from the city of Revelstoke. The dam's generating capacity is 1,800 megawatts.
1986: This is the first year of below-average precipitation in the Columbia Basin that continues into 1994.
1987: The first houseboats are launched on Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam, beginning a popular recreational pursuit.
1987: Congress creates the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which incorporates nearly 90 miles of the Gorge, ridgetop to ridgetop, beginning about 15 miles east of Portland..
1988: The commercial catch of Columbia River salmon and steelhead totals 985,000 fish (14,198,900 pounds), the highest commercial catch, in terms of weight, between 1960 and 1990. More fish were caught in 1986 (1,360,700), but the total weight was less (12,277,900 pounds).
1988: In June, the three mid-Columbia public utility districts in central Washington, Grant County PUD, Chelan County PUD and Douglas County PUD, which own and operate five dams on the Columbia River (Wells, Rocky Reach, Rock Island, Wanapum and Priest Rapids), agree to operate the dams in a manner that protects fall chinook salmon that spawn at Vernita Bar Agreement, a gravel bar just downstream from Priest Rapids Dam. Vernita Bar is at the head of the 50-mile Hanford Reach, the last free-flowing section of the river in the United States and an important spawning area for one of the largest and healthiest salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin.
1988: Snake River coho salmon are considered extinct.
1990: On April 9, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, Idaho, petition the National Marine Fisheries Service to list Snake River sockeye salmon as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. On June 7, the National Marine Fisheries Service receives a petition from Oregon Trout, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, American Rivers and the Idaho and Oregon chapters of the American Fisheries Society to protect Snake River spring, summer and fall chinook, and lower Columbia coho salmon under the Endangered Species Act. This year all of the returns of Snake River salmon are low; a single sockeye returned to Redfish Lake.
1990: Some 7.3 million acres of farm land in the Columbia River Basin are now irrigated, down slightly from 7.5 million in 1980.
1991: “He believed in the right to be on the river as long as the salmon are on the river. If they quit taking the salmon, then the salmon were going to quit, too.” Wilfred Jim, Sr., commenting on the life of his close friend, Indian fishing advocate David Sohappy, who died in Hood River, Oregon, May 6.
1991: In April, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposes to list Snake River sockeye as an endangered species. In June, the Service proposes to list Snake River spring/summer and fall chinook as threatened species. The Service declines to list lower Columbia coho on the grounds that the population was so infused with the genetic material of hatchery-bred coho that no truly wild coho remain.
1992: In the spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts a test DRAWDOWN of the reservoir behind Lower Granite Dam, in reponse to direction from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, to assess the impacts to shorelines, shoreline structures and river flows. As anticipated, river velocities improved, suggesting that drawdowns could help move juvenile salmon and steelhhead through the reservoir more quickly. Minor impacts were observed alon the shore, including some bank sloughing, collapsed pavement and damages at a marina as docks settled onto the exposed river bottom.
1994: In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases a draft of its System Configuration Study, in which it analyzes options for improving the survival of ESA-listed juvenile Snake River salmon and steelhead, including 10 drawdown scenarios for the four lower Snake River dams. Of these, only the natural river option, or DAM BREACHING, “warrants further analysis,” according to the report, which continues, “This determination is based on the fact that this option was the only four-reservoir drawdown alternative to identify any anadromous fish benefits [for spring chinook and steelhead only].”
1994: In April, responding to predictions that salmon runs are crashing, the Pacific Fishery Management Council shuts down non-Indian salmon fishing off the coasts of northern Oregon and all of Washington, reserving only a small fishery on Klamath River salmon and tribal fishing off the coast of Washington. In addition, the Council banned all coho fishing off the entire West Coast. The Oregon State Police ordered tribal fishers off the Columbia after state fishery managers reduced their estimate of the spring salmon run. In response, the Yakama Nation asserted a treaty right to fish for salmon at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River south of Portland. Oregon disputed the claim but reluctantly allowed a limited fishery at the base of the falls.
1995: On March 2 the National Marine Fisheries Service issues a new Biological Opinion on the effect of operations of the eight federal dams in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers on the survival of Endangered Species Act-listed Snake River spring, summer and fall chinook salmon and sockeye salmon. The 1995 Biological Opinion was significant because, for the first time, the federal government acknowledged that dam operations: essentially, continuing the status quo, would jeopardize the future survival of the salmon.
1995: In May, British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly approves the Columbia Basin Trust Act, which established the Columbia Basin Trust “. . .to help create a prosperous economy with a healthy and renewed natural environment.” The Trust is “. . .an autonomous and independent organization of communities,” according to its literature. Through the Trust, millions of dollars will flow into the Canadian Columbia River Basin from the sale of electricity in the United States: the “downstream benefits”: made possible by the operation of storage reservoirs behind the three Canadian dams of the 1962 Columbia River Treaty.
1996: On January 9, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, the three federal agencies that operate (Corps and Bureau) and sell the power generated at (Bonneville) the federal dams of the Columbia and Snake rivers, issue their final environmental impact study of dam operations. Five years in the making, the System Operation Review was intended to develop a system operating strategy for the dams, but it was too late, usurped by the 1995 Biological Opinion on hydropower operations issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service the year before. Not surprisingly, the preferred operations strategy in the System Operation Review is similar to the preferred alternative for dam operations in the Biological Opinion.
1996: On August 10, late in the afternoon, during a period of high temperatures and high demand for electricity, a major transmission line failure in Oregon started a series of cascading blackouts and brownouts that affected 4 million people in eight West Coast states. In many areas, power was out for more than eight hours.
1997: In October, a self-appointed committee of Northwest fish and wildlife and utility experts issued a report optimistically titled Fish and wildlife recovery in the Pacific Northwest: Breaking the Deadlock, which culminated a six-month effort to resolve the policy deadlock over how to move forward with salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin. The committee recommended, in the words of the report, a “streamlined, deadline-driven and intensely facilitated effort by state, tribal and federal entities together to devise a fish and wildlife plan that vests coordination responsibilities for recovery in a single entity; improved coordination among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation; and creation of a new mechanism for ensuring that [Bonneville] can meet its financial obligations to all Northwest stakeholders at the lowest feasible cost.” But the group could not reach agreement how to do that and so also recommended that “policy leaders at the highest level” commit to the concepts in the report and designate a single entity to “oversee and coordinate implementation of the plan” by March 1998. The committee suggested that the so-called “Three Sovereigns” process, an attempt to find common ground among state, federal, and tribal governments, could facilitate the process of identifying the single entity and drafting the coordinated plan, but the Three Sovereigns process also failed, and the effort was dropped.
1999: Congress authorizes deepening the Columbia River channel to Portland to 43 feet to handle larger ships.
2000: A total of 1,033,946 salmon and steelhead are counted crossing Bonneville Dam, an increase of more than 400,000 fish from 1999 and more than twice the number counted in 1938, the first year fish were counted. In 2001, the count double again, to 2,100,038 fish.
2000: In December, NOAA Fisheries, the agency formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, releases its latest revision of the Biological Opinion on Operations of the Federal Columbia River Hydropower System. The opinion, like its several predecessors dating to 1993, prescribes river and dam operations for federal agencies to follow to avoid further jeopardizing Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. The 2000 opinion relies heavily on habitat improvements, as opposed to major changes in dam operations. A coalition of environmental groups successfully sued NOAA Fisheries, claiming the opinion relied too heavily on habitat improvements that would be carried out by non-federal entities. A U.S. District Court judge remanded the opinion to NOAA Fisheries and asked for a revised opinion by June 2004. Later the court extended the deadline to November
2001-2004: Salmon and steelhead returns to the Columbia River are far above recent 10-year averages. Some, such as the returns in 2003, are the highest since record-keeping began at Bonneville Dam in 1938. In 2003, more than 920,000 chinook salmon were counted crossing Bonneville Dam, where the 10-year average count was 399,000. A number of factors appeared to be contributing to the increased run sizes, including improved fish passage at dams, improved spawning and rearing habitat, and improved feeding conditions in the ocean. In 2004, as strong runs continued, scientists at NOAA Fisheries who monitor the runs said it appeared the runs would stay high at least through 2006.