PORTLAND, Ore. — The Archaeological Conservancy has purchased a 1.6-acre site along the Columbia River believed to have been the site of an Indian village visited by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
In his journal in 1806, Clark estimated that about 100 people were living in the Chinookan village called Nechacolee — meaning “stand of pines.”
Nechacolee was one of 19 known village sites in what is now the Portland metropolitan area, said Kenneth M. Ames, professor of anthropology at Portland State University.
The purchase was funded with a $20,000 donation from Jack Creighton, former president and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Inc., and his wife, Janet.
“We’re delighted to have this important site,” said Lynn Dunbar, western regional director for the Albuquerque, N.M.-based conservancy. “This will ensure that the cultural resources there are protected.”
The site, sold by Jeffrey J. Miller, co-owner of 2KG Contractors Inc., has been farmed for many years.
But an archaeological research company, Heritage Research Associates Inc. in Eugene, used augers to take soil samples down to 8 feet.
Many artifacts were found, including stone bowl fragments, projectile points and tools.
“We think it’s highly likely that this was a village site,” said Kathryn A. Toepel, an archaeologist with Heritage Research. “When you look at other sites in the area, this one really stands out.”
Dunbar said Miller could have made more money if he had sold the land for commercial development.
“I got involved hoping to participate in the process that would meet the needs of all the parties involved — as a potential developer on one hand and the Native American peoples and their desire to preserve culturally important sites that are important to them,” said Miller, whose company plans to develop part of the five acres adjacent to the archaeological site.
Ames said the site could provide clues about how Chinookan people lived in the Portland area.
Nearly all the other sites have been obliterated by river erosion, development or looting, he said.
In the past few years, Ames has led an excavation of Cathlopotel, a village of about 900 people on the Columbia River about 25 miles north of Portland in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
Lewis and Clark visited Cathlopotel on March 29, 1806 — on their return journey from the Pacific Ocean — five days before they reached Nechacolee.
Clark described Nechacolee in his journal entry of April 3,1806: “At 3 PM. we arrived at the residence of our Pilot which consists of one long house with Seven apartments or rooms in Square form about 30 feet each room opening into a passage which is quit through the house. ...”
Radiocarbon dating show Cathlopotel was inhabited as early as about 900 A.D. “We know it was abandoned in about 1830 because of malaria,” Ames said. “Smaller towns like Nechacolee may have been abandoned earlier.”
June Olson, a cultural resource specialist with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said the site is the former territory of the Calapooia, a member tribe of the Grand Ronde confederation.
The Archaeological Conservancy requested that the precise location be kept secret to prevent looting of artifacts.