026 Cascade Locks

Columbia River, West, From HCRH State Trail Trailhead (2013)
Historic Columbia River Highway. Cascade Locks. May 9, 2013

Steamboats in rapids, approaching Cascade Locks, Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Sawyer Scenic Photos, Inc. Steamboats in Rapids, Approaching Cascade Locks, Columbia River Highway, Oregon. Sawyer Scenic Photos, Inc, c. 1920.
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Oregon State Archives - A 1940 Journey Across Oregon:

CASCADE LOCKS, 145.8 m. [West of Hwy. 730 Junction] (120 alt., 1,000 pop.). Here in 1896 the Federal Government built a series of locks around the treacherous Cascades rapids. It is said by geologists that these rapids were caused by avalanches that slipped from the heights of Table Mountain impeding the free flow of the river. From earliest times the Indians of the region were noted for their ugly and thievish natures. Lewis and Clark, on their return from the mouth of the Columbia, noted that, "the Wahclellahs we discovered to be great thieves . . . so arrogant and intrusive have they become that nothing but our numbers saves us from attack . . . We were told by an Indian who spoke Clatsop that the Wahclellahs had carried off Captain Lewis's dog to their village below. Three men, well armed, were instantly dispatched in pursuit of them, with orders to fire if there were the slightest resistance or hesitation. At the distance of two miles they came within sight of the thieves, who, finding themselves pursued, left the dog and made off. We now ordered all the Indians out of our camp, and explained to them that whoever stole any of our baggage, or insulted our men, should be instantly shot."

Washington Irving, in writing of Robert Stuart's passage of the rapids in 1812, calls the Cascades "the piratical pass of the river," and that "before the commencement of the portage, the greatest precautions were taken to guard against lurking treachery or open attack." However, in 1824, Sir George Simpson wrote in his Journal: "Left our Encampment at 2 A.M. and got to Cascade portage. . . . Here we found about 80 to 100 Indians who were more peaceable and quiet than I ever saw an equal number on the other side of the mountain; it was not so many years ago as on this very spot they attempted to pillage a Brigade under charge of Messrs. A. Stewart and Ja Keith when the former was severely wounded and two of the Natives killed; but since that time they have given little trouble and this favorable change in their disposition I think may be ascribed in the first place to the prompt and decisive conduct of the Whites in never allowing an insult pass without retaliation & punishment, and in the second to the judicious firm and conciliatory measures pursued by Chief Factor McKenzie who has had more intercourse with them than any other Gentleman in the Country."

Skilled Indian paddlers or French Canadian boatmen were sometimes able to shoot the Cascade rapids successfully, particularly during spring freshets, but customarily even the most daring disembarked and portaged their cargoes. Prior to the building of the Barlow road in 1846 all travelers seeking passage to the lower Columbia or Willamette Valleys halted at The Dalles, dismembered their wagons, loaded them upon rafts, and steering the rude barges down the Columbia to the Cascades, docked at the Cascades and portaged wagons and goods around the dangerous white water. Ropes, used as shore lines, guided the rafts to safety.

The Columbia River water route continued popular both for passengers and for freight, and a portage road was constructed in 1856 to accommodate traffic. Rather than following the water level, later used by the railroad portage, the original wagon road around the Cascades, climbed 425 feet, a steep ascent for the plodding oxen used to draw cumbersome wagons. Toll roads later permitted the passage of cattle and pack trains, but it was not until 1872 that the Oregon legislature made an appropriation to construct a road through the gorge. The present highway has been developed from the narrow, crooked road built with that appropriation. A serious barrier to quantity freight transportation during the era when mining booms in Idaho and eastern Oregon made steamboat transportation on the Columbia a huge business, the Cascades were again mastered, this time at water level by a wooden railed portage tramway over which mule drawn cars, laden with merchandise, rattled from one waiting steamer to another. This proved so profitable a venture that steel rails replaced the wooden ones, and the Oregon Pony, first steel locomotive to operate in Oregon and now on exhibition at the Union Station grounds in Portland, was imported to draw the cars. The importance of the Columbia River as a traffic artery being established, the locks were later built by the Federal Government being established, the locks were later built by the Federal Government. Nard Jones' novel, Swift Flows the River, is based on the steamboat era of the Columbia centering about the Cascades.

Between 1843 and 1845, thousands of settlers took to the Oregon Trail...  At the Great Chute, present day Cascade Locks, Indians helped them portage their belongings for a price. (Durbin 15-16)

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Video (By Others...)