Human History


Pre-1948 History of the region that includes the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

For millennia, humans have been in relationship with the land in the area now known as the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

Early Human Presence

In the Pacific Northwest, archaeological discoveries at Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon indicate humans were present at least 14,500 years ago; carbon-14 dating of projectile points from the Cooper's Ferry site in present-day Idaho indicate human presence 16,000 years ago. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, human history is complicated by the Missoula Floods, repeated hydrologic cataclysms unleashed when the ice dams that formed and reformed glacial Lake Missoula in the upper Columbia  periodically burst, perhaps as many as a hundred times, 15,000-13,000 years ago. Each rupture released in a geologic blink ten times the combined water volume of all the rivers on Earth, temporarily transforming the Willamette Valley into a 400-foot-deep lake. Any archaeological sites existing prior to these floods would, therefore, be buried beneath deep layers of sediment and soil transported downstream and deposited on the valley floor each time the floodwaters receded. Consequently, archaeological sites in the Willamette Valley do not record the presence of humans prior to 11,500 to 10,500 years ago. 

The native people occupying the Willamette Valley landscape south of Willamette Falls at the time of European contact were bands of Kalapuya. The Molala were the inhabitants of the western Oregon Cascades. In the upper drainages of the McKenzie and Santiam Rivers, Kalapuya and Molala people passed seasonally along high ridges to gather foods, hunt, trade, and collect obsidian. A volcanic glass created when molten lava cools and solidifies, obsidian can be flaked and worked into tools including knives, projectile points, scrapers, axes, drills, awls, and more. The Obsidian Cliffs site in the upper McKenzie River watershed was a major location for the material. Obsidian obtained from the site has been recorded hundreds of miles away and was traded widely in the region.

Ridgelines offered the best travel routes in the mountainous and heavily forested landscape.  At lower elevations, vegetation (Douglas-fir, cedar, and mountain hemlock) formed a dense canopy making travel difficult.  Ridgeline meadows  above 3,500 feet offered access to huckleberries and other important resources. Native people from east and west of the Cascades intersected on berrying grounds and other places in the mountains.  In the Lookout Creek watershed, there are a few lithic scatter sites and projectile point/point fragments that have been found on the high ridges from Carpenter Mountain to Frissell Point and Lookout Mountain. Sites in the high country were seasonal, with people moving to permanent dwellings at lower elevations during winters. Travel routes just outside the Lookout Creek watershed, particularly along the Blue River corridor, were used to travel between the main stem McKenzie River valley and the McKenzie/South Santiam River divide where a segment of a major pre-contact travel route called the Molala Trail was located. Archaeologists have found seasonal camps throughout the Willamette National Forest. Archaeological remnants from an excavated hearth in the western Cascade mountains of Oregon reveal a carbon date of 8,800 years ago.

In the late 1780s, tribes along the Oregon coast contracted smallpox from passing ships. This was the first exogenous disease to infect native people in the Northwest and was soon joined by others, including malaria and tuberculosis. Because native people lacked immunity, these diseases were catastrophic to tribes. While wintering on the lower Columbia in 1805-1806, Lewis and Clark noticed pock-mark scars on the local Clatsops. For the Kalapuya, Molala, and tribes along the lower Columbia and south along the Oregon Coast, the most cataclysmic of the introduced diseases was malaria. The “fever and ague” first appeared in the vicinity of Fort Vancouver in August 1830, returning seasonally to ravage native and white people alike. While whites became ill and usually recovered, the disease was often lethal for native people. When malaria had run its course in 1833, it had killed thousands of native peoples in the Willamette Valley and lower Columbia. Estimates suggest the disease killed 90 percent of the Kalapuya people.

Colonization, Land Cession, and US Forest Reserves

Following the Kalapuya’s catastrophic decline, a trickle of white Americans began arriving in the Willamette Valley in the late 1830s. This trickle became a floodtide in the next decade. Upon entering and occupying a landscape mostly devoid of people, the growing number of immigrants pressured the United States to settle the disputed claim on the land with England, accomplished in 1846. Congress created the Oregon Territory in 1848 and ordered treaties to be signed with tribes to free land for American settlers. Joel Palmer, Oregon Territory’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs, negotiated nine treaties between 1853 and 1855, including the Kalapuya Treaty in January 1855 (aka, Treaty of Dayton, Willamette Valley Treaty), which Congress ratified in March. The treaty described the boundaries of land ceded to the United States and included the territory that would become the Willamette National Forest and H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

The treaty transferred legal title to the United States, making a vast area part of the Public Domain and subject to federal land laws—the Oregon Donation Land Law, federal land grants for military roads, railroads, land-grant colleges, and entries under the Homestead Act in 1862.

Cabinet secretaries and officials of the General Land Office pressured Congress to withdraw forest land from public entry to protect it for future use. Edward Bowers, in the General Land Office, and Bernhard Fernow, head of the Forestry Division, successfully introduced legislation in Congress in 1891 granting the president powers to create federal forest reserves. President Benjamin Harrison established six forest reserves in 1891, and President Grover Cleveland created the huge Cascade Range Forest Reserve of 4,492,800 acres in 1893, extending along the Cascade Range from the Columbia River to Klamath Lake. The General Land Office in the Department of the Interior oversaw the reserve until March 1907 when the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture took charge of the new national forest system. The Forest Service created the Oregon, Cascade, Umpqua, and Crater national forests in 1908 from the old Cascade Reserve. Three years later the Santiam National Forest was created from portions of the Oregon and Cascade national forests. The Forest Service combined the Santiam and Cascade national forests in 1933 to form the Willamette National Forest. 

Continued Presence of Indigenous People

Early supreme court decisions (e.g., the Marshall Trilogy, 1823-1832), U.S. District Court decisions (e.g., the Boldt Decision of 1974), and Acts of Congress (e.g., the Indian Tribal Justice Act of 1993), recognize tribal sovereignty and grant Tribal Nations the right to hunt and gather in their usual and accustomed places. Securing those rights has, to this day, presented a challenge to Indigenous people. The region has a continued presence of Indigenous tribes, notably the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.  

See the program history page for the history of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and Long-Term Ecological Research program. 

Sources on the history of the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest and the Blue River region

We thank William G. Robbins, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History, Oregon State University, and Tim Fox, Archaeological Technician, Willamette National Forest, McKenzie River Ranger District, for their research and text on the human history of the region.  This information was compiled in 2022-2023.


  • Connolly, T.J., C.E. Skinner, and P.W. Baxter. 2015. Ancient Trade Routes for Obsidian Cliffs and Newberry Volcano Toolstone in the Pacific Northwest. In Toolstone Geography of the Pacific Northwest, edited by T.L. Ozbun, and R.L. Adams, pp. 180-192. Archaeology Press, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
  • Cornett, William. Jan. 2, 2023. “Paisley Caves.” Oregon Encyclopedia.
  • Davis, Loren G., et al. 2022. “Dating of a large tool assemblage at the Cooper’s Ferry site (Idaho, USA) to ~15,785 cal yr B.P. extends the age of stemmed points in the Americas” Science Advances. Vol 8, Issue 51. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.ade1248
  • Land, William L.  “Joel Palmer (1810-1881)” May 9, 2022. Oregon Encyclopedia.
  • Lewis, David. “Willamette Valley Treaties” March 10, 2022. Oregon Encyclopedia. willamette_valley_treaties/
  • Lindberg-Muir, Catherine. 1988. “Obsidian, archaeological implication for the central Oregon Cascades.”  MS Thesis. Oregon State University.
  • Long, Jonathan W.; Lake, Frank K. 2018. “Escaping social-ecological traps through tribal stewardship on national forest lands in the Pacific Northwest, United States of America.” Ecology and Society. 23(2):10.
  • Loy, William G. 1976  “Atlas of Oregon”. University of Oregon
  • Minor, Rick and Audrey Frances Pecors. 1977. “Cultural Resource Overview of the Willamette National Forest Western Oregon.”  Report submitted to the Willamette National Forest, Eugene, Oregon.  University of Oregon Anthropological Papers No. 12.
  • Minor, Rick, Paul W. Baxter, Stephen Dow Beckham, and Kathryn Anne Toepel. 1987. “Cultural Resource Overview of the Willamette National Forest:  A 10-Year Update.  Heritage Research Associates Report 60, Eugene, Oregon.”
  • Robbins, William G. 2020. “A Place for Inquiry, A Place for Wonder” The Andrews Forest.” Oregon State University Press.
  • Snyder, Sandra L. 1987. “Prehistoric Land Use Patterns in the Central Oregon Cascade Range.  Dissertation.  University of Oregon, Eugene.”
  • Williams, Gerald W.  Nov. 22, 2022 “National Forests in Oregon, 1892 to 1933” Oregon Encyclopedia.