Natítayt Oral History
Ten thousand years ago, when mammoths and saber-toothed cats still roamed the Earth, there were already people living on the land that would one day be the Oregon Trail. Scientists have found fossils, tools, and other remnants from that time and can tell us what the world was like. But we also have clues about ancient life from another source—oral history.
There are stories in the oral history of early Native Americans that are still told today. One story explains how the rivers flooded, but the people found safety on Rattlesnake Mountain. Anthropologists and archaeologists today refer to this as the Missoula floods, which happened over 9,700 years ago. That means this one story, passed from generation to generation, has lasted almost ten thousand years!
Today, some of the ancestors of those early Native Americans are part of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes, who together form an alliance known as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. These three Tribes identify as the Natítayt (Nut-it-tight), which means “the people” in their languages. The history of these Tribes is closely tied to the history of the Oregon Trail because the trail intersects their homeland (which they call Nixyawaiim), an area that spans across Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho.
The early interactions between the American settlers and the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla peoples were largely positive. The Native people traded produce from Tribal gardens, salmon, roots, and fresh stock with the Americans in exchange for other goods. The American settlers also learned survival skills and valuable information about the land from the Native people.