Wasco Tribe

Wasco Indians (from the Wasco word wacq!ó, ‘cup or small bowl of horn,’ the reference being to a cup-shaped rock a short distance from the main village of the tribe: from the tribal name Galasq!ó, ‘Those that belong to Wasco,’ or ‘Those that have the cup,’ are derived many of the forms of the name that follow in the synonymy. The derivation of the name from the Shahaptian wacq!ú, ‘grass,’ lacks probability). A Chinookan tribe formerly living on the south side of Columbia River, in the neighborhood of The Dalles, in Wasco County, Oregon. This tribe, with the Wishram (also known as Tlakluit and Echeloot), on the north side of the river, were the easternmost branches of the Chinookan family. These two tribes were practically identical in language and culture, though they have been removed to different reservations. On the north east, and south they bordered on Shahaptian tribes, on the west on closely related Chinookan tribes (White Salmon and Hood River Indians, Mooney’ a Chiluktkwa and Kwikwnlit). Morse, in 1822, estimated the number of the Wasco at 900. They joined in the treaty of 1855, and removed to the Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, where about 200 now reside. The Wasco occupied a number of village, some of these being used only for wintering during the salmon runs. The names of these villages and fishing stations from east to west are:

  • Gahlentlich
  • Gawobumat
  • Gayahisitik
  • Gechgechak
  • Hlgaktahlk
  • Hlgaliacha
  • Hliapkenun
  • Hliekala-imadik
  • Hliluktik
  • Hlilwaihldik
  • Igiskhis
  • Itkumahlemkt
  • Kabala
  • Natialalaik
  • Skhlalalis
  • Tgahu
  • Wasko (a few miles above the present town of The Dales)
  • Watsokus
  • Wikatk
  • Winkwot (at The Dalles)
  • Wogupan

Wasco Tribe Culture

The Wasco were a sedentary people, depending for their subsistence mainly upon fish (several varieties of salmon, suckers, sturgeon, eels), to a less extent upon edible root berries, and, least important of all, game. Salmon were caught in the spring and fall, partly with dip-nets, partly by spearing; smaller fish were obtained with hook and line or by means of basket traps. Definitely located fishing stations were a well-recognized form of personal property; the capture of the first salmon of the season was accompanied with a ceremony intended to give that particular fishing station a good season’s catch. Pounded salmon flesh was often stored away for winter use; it also formed an important article of trade with neighboring tribes, the chief rendezvous for barter being the falls a few miles above The Dalles. Also berries were dried and preserved for winter use. The most notable of their industries were work in wood (bowls, spoons), horn (spoons, cups), and twined basketry bags, various fortes of stiff baskets). Coiled basketry has been learned since closer contact with the Klikitat; the chief materials used in twining are cedar roots and various grasses, of late also trader’s cord and yarn. Realistic figures are carved in wood and horn; while the basket designs are partly geometrical, recalling the basketry art of north California, and, as in that area, hearing conventional pattern names, partly realistic, though crudely so (angular figures of men, eagles, and deer are characteristic of the basketry art of the lower Columbia). The latter designs may be plausibly explained as an adaptation of forms familiar from woodcarving to twined basketry with its straight line and angular patterns. The original Wasco costume consisted of blanket robes (the pelts of bear, deer, wolf, coyote, raccoon, and mountain goat in summer), sleeveless shirts of raccoon or coyote skin, breechcloths of raccoon skin, and moccasins of deerskin; bats and gloves were made of coyote skin. Two types of house were in use-the partly underground winter house, roofed with cedar hark and having board platforms about the walls for beds, and the summer house with frame of fir poles and covering of tules or cedar bark; the latter type might have several fireplaces, accommodating three or four families. Sweat-houses were frequently used and were of quasi-supernatural significance.

In childhood the bead was flattened by pressure on the forehead, and the ears were punctured with five holes in each ear; adults whose heads were not flattened were derided as no better than slaves. As regards naming, the most interesting fact is perhaps the absolute impossibility of translating a single Wasco name, the Chinookan dialects differing in this respect from the vast majority of American languages. Puberty ceremonies were observed in the case of both girls and boys; the former were subject to the usual taboos, after the fulfillment of which a menstrual dance was held, while the latter “trained” for the acquirement of strength and one or several guardian spirits. Burial was on boards put away in “dead people’s houses”; slaves were sometimes buried alive to accompany a chief to the next world. Three classes of society were recognized: chiefs (the chieftainship was hereditary), common folk, and slaves (obtained by capture). There was no clan or totem organization, the guardian spirits referred to being strictly personal in character; the village was the main social unit. Religious ideas centered in the acquirement and manifestation of supernatural power obtained from one or more guardian spirits. The main social dances were the menstrual dance, the guardian spirit dance, in which each participant sang the song revealed to him by his protector, and the scalp dance. The most striking fact in the mythology of the tribe is the great role that Coyote plays as culture-hero and transformer.

Chinook, Wasco,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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