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Festivities Along the Columbia

When the Yakama, Cayuse, and Umatilla men and women arrived at Yellepit’s camp to celebrate the Americans’ visit, they believed they were forging a valuable new relationship. During the first part of the festivities they listened to the soldiers play their fiddles, but then they assembled into a circle and began to dance, jumping up and down in place in time to a drum. Soon, the crowd began to move sideways in a circle while some of the “most brave” men repeated this step in an inner ring.

Although Edward Curtis took this photograph in the early twentieth century, it gives us a good idea of the festive garb that was probably worn in 1806 when the Walulas and their guests danced with the Americans. While trade beads would have been less common at that early date, the decorative geometric pattern on the girl’s buckskin shirt reflects her community’s ties to plains hunting tribes living east of the Rockies, ties that began with the arrival of the horse in the middle of the eighteenth century. Her shell necklaces and earrings reveal the Umatillas’ trading relationships with coastal communities like the Chinooks. Her conical, twined basketry hat is also a traditional form.

Edward S. Curtis. “Umatilla Maid,” in North American Indian Portfolio, 1907-1930.

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