The Nehalem or Tillamook are a Native American tribe from coastal Oregon of the Salish linguistic group. The name “Tillamook” is a Chinook language term meaning “people of Nekelim (or Nehalem).”
Estimated to have 2200 people at the beginning of the 18th century, the Tillamook lost population in the 19th century to infectious disease and effects of encroachment by European Americans. In 1849 they were estimated to have 200 members. In 1856 they were forced to the Siletz Reservation with other small remnant tribes. In 1898 the Tillamook and the Clatsop, another Coast Salish people, were the first tribes to sue the United States government for compensation for land it had taken from them. They were paid a settlement in 1907. Their descendants are now considered part of the Siletz, as generations of people have intermarried.
According to anthropological and archaeological research, the first ancestors of the Tillamook settled in their historic territory in the 15th century, living in an area ranging from Cape Lookout to Cape Meares. The Native American Historical Data Base (NAHDB) calculates that the population was about 2200 in at the beginning of the 18th century, based on written historic accounts.
The first documented encounter of Europeans with the Tillamook was in 1788 by Robert Haswell, second mate on Robert Gray’s ship. A second encounter was in late 1805 by the American Lewis and Clark Expedition, who were wintering at Fort Clatsop. They had reached the Pacific Coast while exploring the extent of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase for President Thomas Jefferson.
A whale was washed ashore near Necost, and the Tillamook quickly stripped it of flesh, saving the blubber as food and the oil for later use. After hearing of this, Lewis and Clark sought to trade for blubber. They received 300 pounds and some oil in exchange for trade goods. Lewis and Clark described a village of around 1000 people living in about 50 houses, estimating the entire population at around 2200. According to the expedition, the staple food source of the Tillamook was salmon. The people caught salmon during the annual salmon run of April to October, when the salmon went upstream in freshwater rivers from the ocean to spawn. The Tillamook ate some fresh and processed much of the fish to use throughout the year, preserving it by drying it and grinding it into a powder.
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