OregonScape: Winter 2016

Issue 117:4

For thousands of years the Columbia River has supplied people with fish, especially salmon. Fishing has taken many forms, including Native Americans fishing from platforms at Celilo Falls and Willamette Falls and fish wheels operating twenty-four hours a day. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Astoria’s canneries were supplied by fishermen using seine nets pulled through the water of the Columbia River by horse teams. The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) library collections have many photographs of this horse-drawn fishing method. The OHS film archive includes 1920s newsreel footage of the horses in action and of the salmon being gaffed from the nets into small boats for transport.

During the fishing season, these fishermen and their horses often lived in a small village, much like the one in this photo, on Sand Island, pictured in the background of this photograph. The island has been involved in controversy since the first maps were made of the mouth of the Columbia River. Formed by silt washing down the river until it meets the sands being pushed by the tides of the Pacific Ocean, the island’s location, size, and shape have often changed. In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempted to correct the hazards created by the island’s shifting into the navigation channels across the Columbia River bar by building several dikes, or wing dams, on the ocean side of the island. This succeeded in stabilizing it in its current location, but the horse-seining areas were no more, and scenes like this one passed into history.

— Mikki Tint, former special collections librarian, OHS Research Library