The Warm Springs Museum, located in Warm Springs, Oregon, is impressive inside and out. As you approach the building, note the interesting architecture that echoes some of the structures local tribes lived in. Be sure to view the building from the back as well. The building honors the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Northern Paiute tribes that reside in the Warm Springs Reservation area. There is a ¼ mile long interpretive trail behind the Museum.
Historically, the Paiute lived in a large area of Southeastern Oregon and traveled far in search of food. The Wascoes, or “river people”, lived east of The Dalles along the Columbia River and were primarily fishermen. The Warm Springs people lived in a large area in the vicinity of the current reservation. They moved between summer and winter villages and were more dependent on game, roots, and berries. There was a lot of trading that went on between the tribes for food and other resources.
Tribes looked to their elders for guidance and passed on traditions to their children. The family was the center of learning. Children learned subsistence skills such as basket making and hunting but also learned the value of traits such as patience and commitment.
Each tribe chose their own chief. They respected the values and traditions of other tribes. For example the seven drum religion of the Wasco was shared with other local tribes.
When white men entered the scene in the 1700’s, the importance of trade increased. Coffee, sugar, cloth, and especially beads, were valued trade items. Unfortunately the settlers also brought diseases that native people had very little immunity to. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, the numbers of Native Americans had plummeted due to many succumbing to various diseases.
Exploration of the area by early settlers continued into the 1800’s. The Indian Removal Act was approved in 1830. In the 1840’s immigrants began moving to the area on the Oregon Trail. From 1840 to 1860, 250,000 settlers traversed the Oregon Trail. John C. Fremont explored the area that would become the Warm Springs Reservation in 1843.
In 1855 Native Americans were forced onto reservations. Most of their ancestral lands were ceded to the U.S. The Wasco and Warm Springs tribes ceded ten million acres.
The Northern Paiutes fought against scouts, soldiers, settlers, and other tribes in an attempt to keep their lands. They were finally defeated by General George Crook between 1866 to 1868 and forced on to the reservation.
The tribes were forced to give up their culture. Certain traditions were outlawed. Children were forced to attend boarding schools. If they were caught speaking their native language they were given demerits.
The Warm Springs Museum preserves part of the past and passes on valuable information to future generations. A short film on the history of local Native Americans plays as you enter the exhibit hall. You learn that water was important to all tribes and was referred to as the “blood of life”.
As you make your way through the Museum you will see an impressive collection of artifacts and recreations that give you a glimpse into the various tribes’ way of life. Many of the items are decorated with tiny seed beads that show an amazing amount of detail and artistry. Belts, bags, buckskin clothing, and war bonnets all feature intricate beadwork.
Re-creations of a wickiup and tule mat lodge invite visitors to look inside the structures local Native Americans lived in. A small, rustic cabin stands nearby. Tools of daily life are visible inside the structures.
There are a few parts of the exhibit that are interactive. A camera films you as you attempt to use a hoop and copy the moves playing in a video of the hoop dance. Another display features recordings of the languages of the three tribes living on the reservation.
The small gift store is a great place to browse for local products. There are several books on regional topics. Jewelry, bags, and colorful prints are also available. Huckleberry jam and syrup are tempting to buy for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Boldly patterned Pendleton blankets are neatly tucked into shelves patiently waiting for someone to wrap themselves in their warmth.
If you are interested in the history of the Central Oregon area, consider a stop at this Museum. It is nicely laid out and has some remarkable artifacts in its collection. The information provided with the displays is interesting and may pique your curiosity into learning more. That is always a sign of a great museum.