Indian fishing operation, 1946

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Photo measuring 2.75 x 4.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Written on the back in pen is Sep. 28, 1946 / Indians fishing with dip-net for Salmon at Salada Falls, Ore.


By “Indian” I mean, of course, Native Americans, not those of the Asian Subcontinent.  This is not the most thrilling or pretty picture, but I found it an interesting look at a vanishing (if not fully vanished) way of life.  If it weren’t for the writing on the back, I would not have guessed this was a fishing operation, even despite the big fish hanging there.  It’s interesting that it seems to be such an elaborate operation, while apparently retaining traditionally “simple”, non-electronic tool methods.  Mysteriously, I can’t find “Salada Falls, Oregon” anywhere.  (I’m sure one of my readers will find it instantly, but there you go.)  I did find an old Native fishing site called Celilo Falls along the Columbia River.  The handwriting clearly states “Salada”, but perhaps the writer made a mistake?  Or perhaps, since Celilo Falls refers to an area that contains multiple falls, Salada is one of them?  Hard to say.  In any case, here is more information on Celilo Falls, including other pictures of this fishing method.  And if this really is the Celilo Falls area, then not only has this style of fishing operation disappeared, but the whole region literally vanished in 1957 when The Dalles Dam submerged the area.

6 comments on “Indian fishing operation, 1946”

  1. Okay, I took the bait and I couldn’t find Salada Falls either. As you mentioned Celilo Falls is well documented as a native American Fishery. I would guess that the person who owned the picture spelled it phonetically to how he heard it said.

    I did watch a you tube video that showed dip net fishing back in 1957. Those planks are very wobbly, requiring great balance over strong rushing water which was hard to see that in the photo.

    • Yay! I’m glad I have a baitable reader or two. 🙂 Thanks for looking. I’m happy it wasn’t just me. Celilo Falls seems like a likely candidate, and it’s possible whoever made the note simple misheard the name. Still, it could be another location. Hard to be sure in a case like this.

  2. A couple of other facts to go with the picture, presuming it was Celilo Falls.
    The Indians were moved to a safe location when the dam flooded and later they were settled with the government and got millions of dollars in compensation and forfeited their right to any future lawsuits.

    There is still dip net fishing occurring , even today. See link.

    • Thanks for the link. I figured there were still Native Americans doing net fishing, but the few examples I found (and I admit I didn’t look very hard) showed people on modern boats with electronic winches and things. The link you provided suggests that some of the more traditional methods are being used in places, which is interesting.

  3. Hey Matt,
    My family settled in The Dalles in the late 1800s. The town is a few miles to the west of what was Celilo Falls. Here’s a photo from 1956 that is similar to yours (I hope my copied link works!):
    Fishermen at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River
    There seems to be a collection of color photos from 1956 on flikr from an OSU archive:
    I remember seeing a dramatic picture much older than these photos and any others I’ve found online of native americans dipnet fishing on precarious platforms and ladders with the white falls rushing past. I wish I could remember where I’ve seen it. Might be in my cousin’s bookstore in town.
    I also remember, during a visit to the family farm on the Columbia in the mid 70s, a native american coming to my great-grandmother’s house with a gift of a huge salmon that he had just caught off the small beach at the farm.
    Sad to think of the loss of the falls and the native lifestyle that went with it when you learn that folks had lived there very well for 11,000 years. The salmon fishing was so good that people could live in the area year-round. And seasonally, The Dalles area was a huge trading post for natives from hundreds of miles away. Nowadays the salmon are raised in hatcheries and can’t really survive and thrive in the Columbia basin like they had for thousands of years.
    Some interesting history:
    Thanks for the photo connection to my family!

    • Oh, that’s right, I forgot about your The Dalles connection. Thanks for the personal stories, and those links! So much history and information there. It’s wonderful that so much is accessible to us these days online.

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