Tumwater committee supports adding Cowlitz to Oregon National Historic Trail

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Tumwater’s General Government Committee forwarded to the city council a resolution supporting the inclusion of the Cowlitz Trail segment of the Oregon Trail in the system of National Historic Trails during the committee’s meeting held on Wednesday, November 9.

Dave Nicandri of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission explained that the National Park Service adopted a 2020 study showing how several segments branched off from the Oregon National Historic Trail. The study included the Cowlitz Trail segment, which starts from Fort Vancouver at present-day Vancouver, Washington and ended in Brewery Falls in Tumwater

First Nations came first

Committee and city council member Leatta Dahlhoff recommended that the resolution should be modified to reflect that the Squaxin Island Tribe was already present in the area before emigrants moved in.

“[The resolution] talks about how Tumwater was initially known as New Market when Squaxin Island Tribes have been here for millennia,” Dahlhoff said. “How could we zhoosh that a little bit because Squaxin Island peoples are completely removed from this.”

 “[The emigrants] didn't invent this [trail],” Nicandri agreed. “They followed well-worn hunting or communal travel pads, so language along that line would be helpful and welcome. It's certainly not inimical to the underlying premise of the resolution.”

The resolution also stipulates that the city council will urge the Thurston County legislative delegation to pass a similar resolution for the adoption of the State Legislature. This resolution will then be forwarded to the Washington State congressional delegation.

“Were the Congress to adopt the Cowlitz Trail segment, what that would mean is that the Washington State Department of Transportation would be able to mark what is effectively old Highway 99 … up to and including Brewery Falls,” Nicandri said.

The resolution explains that the George Bush and Michael Simmon’s party took the Cowlitz Trail because Bush, an African-American, was discouraged from settling with other pioneers in the Willamette Valley. Other emigrants had not traversed the trail when the Bush-Simmons party used it.

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  • RondaLarsonKramer

    Thanks, Councilwoman Dahlhoff, for the excellent recommendation. I am excited to hear about this recognition, especially because I discovered only last week that an old railroad grade on some forestland I own on Sheldon Road (off 93rd) was part of the Cowlitz Trail, and then it was a major thoroughfare for settlers coming to the Puget Sound region. But I didn’t previously make the connection that the Cowlitz Trail was part of the famous Oregon Trail, so thank you for giving me perspective. (In the area of Old Highway 99 that I refer to, Cowlitz Trail is slightly west of 99, which becomes clear by looking at the 1853 cadastral survey. Also, in 1853, the survey map seems to indicate that Deschutes River may have flowed about where 99 presently sits, in this particular area.)

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