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The Methow Indian's Footprint on the Valley

By E. Richard Hart

First in a series of essays & interviews on the Methows in collaboration with KTRT radio.

The territory of the Methow encompassed most of the drainage of the Methow River, which, in turn, drains into the Columbia River. As many as ten Methow village sites have been identified. At least one Methow village with a name meaning "Bluff at the Mouth of the River" was located near the location of today's town of Pateros, at the mouth of the Methow River where it flows into the Columbia. Upstream on the Okanogan from the mouth of the Methow, there was also a village, or cluster of villages, near today's towns of Malott and Chilowist. This group of villages made up the Chilowist band of Methows. They lived on Chilowist and Loup Loup Creek and occupied a portion of the banks of the Okanogan where rapids made salmon more readily available.  Anthropologist Jay Miller translated the name of their main village, from which the English word Chilowist was derived, to mean “Bluff with Holes.”  In 1938 anthropologist L.V. Walters also located villages on Chilowist and Loup Loup Creeks and shows three Chilowist villages along the river.

Miller also identified an additional eight villages on the upper Methow River tributaries. One was located just upstream from where Benson Creek flows into the Methow. Another was located where the Twisp River flows into the Methow. A summer village was located on Buttermilk Creek, a tributary to the Twisp, and along the trail that goes over Sawtooth Ridge to Chelan territory, and then on through the Cascades to Skagit country. An important village was located near today’s Winthrop, where the Chewack River flows into the Winthrop. A settlement also existed where Eight Mile Creek flows into the Chewack. Two summer settlements were located on the upper Methow, near today’s Mazama and one at Goat Wall. Small fall camps for fishing, berrying and hunting were also located on War Creek.

Methows fished for salmon on the Columbia, Okanogan, Methow Rivers, and all of the major tributaries of the Methow, including the Chewack and Twisp. Spears and three-pronged leisters were used in the Columbia, Methow and Okanogan. Fish traps were constructed on the Methow just below the current town of Twisp, near Buttermilk Creek on the Twisp River, at a spot just above today’s Winthrop on the Methow, and near Monse, Malott and Omak on the Okanogan. Dip nets were also used in several locations.

Hunting and gathering also took place throughout the Methow watershed. Bitterroot and Indian potatoes were gathered at Twin Lakes. Mountain goats and deer were hunted in the Goat Peak area. Many other plants were found throughout the Methow Valley and hunting took place up and down the various tributaries to the river.

Although some writers have grouped the Methow with either their southern or their northern neighbors, they were a distinct tribe with their own leaders. Miller commented:

Methow occupied an intermediate status between these two chains, but historically was becoming more like those upriver. Some Methows insist that their language was once much more distinct from either chain.

The Chilowist group of the Methow, in particular, were sometimes grouped with the Southern Okanogan, or Sinkaietk. They were Methow, however, with close links to the villages that lived in the Methow valley. Walters noted the following:

A group of Methow...people winter on the Okanogan River between Sand Point and Malott, Washington. They are called the, taking their name from the principal creek in their territory. These people speak a variety of the Okanagon language that is more similar to the Chelan dialect than to Sinkaietk [Southern Okanogan]. For this reason the Sinkaietk consider them members of another tribe, although they are wedged geographically between two Sinkaietk bands, possess similar customs, and intermarry with the Sinkaietk.

Because the topography on the lower Methow made travel up the valley very difficult during much of the year, the trail from the Chilowist settlements to the Methow Valley was especially important. Chilowist trail went from the mouth Chilowist Creek up over the Three Devils Mountains and down the Benson Creek drainage, past the Methow village there and on to the Methow River. Many people used this trail frequently during the year, sometimes traveling back and forth ten or more times. The first white mail carrier to the Methow Valley recalled using the Chilowist Trail to deliver the mail during the winter, even though he lived close to the mouth of the Methow. He also described the people living at the Methow villages on Chilowist Creek and on Benson Creek both the east and west ends of the trail.

Like their neighbors, the Methows' population was severely depleted after the smallpox epidemics that began in the lake 18th century. Population was said to be cut in half during the first half of the 19th century, and then depleted by half again by 1900. In 1883 there were a little over 300 Methow, which indicates that pre-contact population may have been as high as 1,200.

On May 1, 1886, by Executive Order, the Moses Columbia Reservation was opened to non-Indian settlement. Under an agreement between the government and the Indians reached three years earlier, the Indian people living on the Moses Columbia Reservation had the choice of moving to the Colville Reservation or staying on the Columbia Reservation. If they stayed "each head of family or male adult" was entitled to an allotment of one mile square.

However, when government agents carried out allotment on the Columbia Reservation, they did not provide allotments to every male adult, or even to each head of household. Instead, for the most part, they grouped allotments so that tribal village sites were kept in trust. One of the government agents, Captain Frank D. Baldwin, explained that with their villages protected, and with the ample fish and game still available on the reservation, they could survive: "They are rich in ponies which they are willing to exchange for domestic stock and agricultural implements, and they already grow a sufficient amount of grain to enable them to live comfortable with the aid of fish and game."

Eventually, a total of forty Moses Columbia allotments were issued, scattered throughout the Columbia Reservation, and with a total acreage of over 25,000 acres. The government agents only allotted Methows on lands near and on the Columbia River. Methow allotments were associated with three settlements, the Antwine Creek settlement, near today's Wells Dam, Captain Joe's Settlement, near the mouth of the Methow, and the Peter In-perk-shin settlement, located between Wells Dam and the mouth of the Methow. A total of ten allotments were issued to Indians in these three villages.

By the turn of the century most Methow people had moved, or been moved, to the Colville Reservation. Eventually almost all of the allotment acreage went into White hands. Today, portions of three of these Methow allotments remain in trust. Only one Methow family continues to live on a Moses Columbia allotment, on Moses Columbia Allotment number 27, located on the Methow River near its junction with the Columbia.


posted April 2, 2010

Qualified as an expert witness in the disciplines of history and ethnohistory E. Richard Hart has testified on numerous occasions for a number of Native American tribes and has appeared before the US Claims Court, federal district courts, state courts, and US congressional committees. He is the author or editor of six books and has published more than fifty articles and essays. Richard makes his home in the Methow Valley with his wife Lynette Westendorf.

Originally published as “Methow Indian Allotments” in Heritage, the journal of the Okanogan County Historical Society, Spring, 2005. A fully footnoted copy of this article is on file at the Wilson Research Center, Okanogan County Historical Society.