The men and women who form the small Northwest Coast American Indian tribe in the
western part of Washington State are called the Cowlitz Indians. They are a group of
people rich in history and culture. For example, when Cowlitz kids reached adolescence,
they embarked on a fasting journey where they would search for a spiritual guide to
assist them in their roles as productive tribe members. On this page, you will find more
interesting facts and information on the tribe including what foods they ate, and how
they made their homes, weapons, clothing, and jewelry.
Cowlitz Indian Basketry Facts
Cowlitz were known for their beautiful, finely woven basketry which was often passed
down from one generation to the next.
The baskets were almost always made in the shape of an inverted cone and served many
purposes. These beautiful pieces of art were used for cooking, collecting fruits and other types of food, and for storage.
The Cowlitz women used materials such as cedar root and cedar bark to make the baskets,
along with dye from such things as the bark of wild cherries and alder. Each woman used
the bark from their own designated basket tree, which were red cedar trees.
Cowlitz Indian General Facts
The Cowlitz Indians get their name from the Cowlitz River.
As of 2013 the Cowlitz Indian Tribe is in the process of establishing a reservation on 152 acres in Clark County Washington State where they hope to build a casino.
The Cowlitz Indians lived in wooden plank houses, similar to longhouses, but the roofs
were always made from cedar planks.
The Cowlitz lived in two separate groups, the Upper Cowlitz and the Lower Cowlitz (who were more numerous).The Upper Cowlitz lived approximately 17 miles
(27.4 kilometers) below the peak of one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the United States, Mount Rainier.
Both groups of these Native Americans had access to natural resources that they used as medicines such as the Easter
Lilly which was used for eye wash.
Around 1816 a Canadian named Simon Plamondon encountered the Cowlitz on a leisurely
adventure as a young man. He was captured by the chief of the lower Cowlitz, Chief
Scanewa. He was released with the agreement that he would bring back items to trade. He
eventually proved himself as trustworthy and upon the chief's death, he inherited much
of his land.
The Cowlitz were spiritual people who performed sun dance celebrations where they danced and sang in fields for a period lasting three days.
Like most other Indian tribes, the Cowlitz liked to barter for goods. Popular items
included horses, hides, baskets, plants, meats and even slaves.
Cowlitz Hardship Facts
In the late 1920s many of the Cowlitz people were faced with an epidemic, believed to
be the Asian flu, which wiped out a large portion of tribe members. Today there are
approximately 1,500 living members.
With Salmon a large part of the Cowlitz way of life, it was particularly distressing to
them when the state began enforcing wildlife regulations, initially prohibiting them
from fishing. Eventually ID cards were distributed that allowed them to once again
continue with their way of life.
The Cowlitz leaders fought hard in the early 1900s to establish a designated territory
where the tribe could live peacefully off the land. They were unsuccessful in negotiating
with the U.S. government and not only were two potential treaties never signed, but much of their land was taken away.