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History of the Columbia River Gorge

There’s much about the history of the Columbia River Gorge that isn’t known. We don’t know, for example, who the first inhabitants of the Gorge were, but we do know that they chose to live in the Gorge long before the time of the settlers. They were truly the first pioneers, and the first to recognize the Columbia River Valley for its remarkable attributes.

An ancient hearth, buried under gravel deposits of ice age floods, indicates that the first inhabitants of the Gorge lived some 12,800 years ago. Whether or not these people truly understood the scenic beauty of the area they inhabited is not important; it’s their presence that allows us to begin shaping the history of the Columbia River Gorge.

Unlike the later inhabitants of the Gorge, the builders of the hearth knew nothing of the gun violence, and likely lived in a simple, peaceful time. It is our hope to restore the Columbia River Gorge to the same, serene society that was seen in the earliest days of the Gorge.

A wide variety of Native American peoples witnessed the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Gorge, many of whom spoke separate languages and dialects. Despite the language barrier, these tribes coexisted along the river to share the bounty of the annual salmon run.

With the colonization of the West came the introduction of firearms, disease, and disaster. Armed with new weapons, various Native American tribes launched vicious attacks against one another. Smallpox (among other diseases) swept through the area, killing off as many as 90% of the members of some tribes.

Fur trappers and traders flooded into the Gorge, dreaming of riches and claiming the land that once belonged to the Native Americans. This was (and still is) a very dark time in Columbia River Gorge history, and is frequently mourned as a time of loss and decimation.

As immigrants began to arrive, the West soon expanded, and the Gorge was flooded with thousands of weary travelers from the Oregon Trail. Missionaries, too, followed the trail to the Gorge, and with them they brought churches and much-needed peace to the area. The first permanent school in the region was St. Mary’s Academy, making it clear that the Gorge was not simply a point to pass through: it was a place to call home.

The steamship and the railroad were revolutionary introductions to the Gorge area. The first steamship above the Cascades, the Eagle, was built in 1853, while the first railroad opened to Portland in 1883.

Overfishing, trapping, and habitat loss changed the industry of choice to timber, which soon evolved into wheat ranching. Highways began to form and the land began to transform and larger communities, like Lyle, Hood River and Stevenson began to develop.

As the rapids of the Cascades were slowly tamed and developed, so was the surrounding land. The development of Interstate 84 and the 1986 passage by Congress of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area served as the final component in encouraging large-scale movement of traffic.

The Gorge soon became a popular destination for tourists, travelers and explorers, encouraging a large demand to preserve the beauty and historic integrity of the Gorge. New fishing, hunting and trapping regulations were put in place in order to prevent further loss, and various laws were enacted in order to protect endangered plants and animals.

Since then, there has been a great deal of emphasis placed on the preservation of the historic aspects of the Gorge, primarily those that were lost so long ago, back when the earliest inhabitants called the Gorge their home.

As a part of the Columbia River Valley, Carson Hot Springs Resort hopes to allow many generations to enjoy the silence and solitude of the Gorge by maintaining its natural integrity. Through remembrance of the historic aspects of the Gorge and ensuring that the land and its occupants are treated with respect, it is our goal to show others just how rejuvenating immersing oneself in nature can be.

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