In 1845 Alexander Hamilton McQuinn and his family settled on Sauvie Island in the Oregon Territory but they were by no means the first to discover this fertile land.
A Little History
On April 2, 1806
Captain William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was on his way back home after
successfully discovering a route to the Pacific Ocean. He back tracked some 20 miles down the
Columbia River after a group of Shahala Indians informed Clark that they lived at the falls of a
large river the expedition had just passed by. Clark did not want to miss mapping and exploring
such a large river so he back tracked. Lewis and Clark mapped an island there, in October and
again in April. On both occasions they passed by the island on the north and never did realize that
the river the Indians had described lay on the south side of the island. The Shahala called this river
the Multnomah but today we call it the Willamette River. The Willamette flows into the Columbia
on the south side of the island. While on Sauvie Island in 1805 Lewis and Clark recorded the
Indian village of Multnomah and applied that name to all the local Indians. The name Multnomah
is derived from nemathlonamaq, probably meaning "downriver".
Lewis and Clark named the island Wappato Island. The island was a major source of the Wappato plant. Although the Island offers many unique types of aquatic vegetation the Wappato Plant (Sagittaria latifolia) once grew in great abundance on the island. The Physical appearance of Wappato can best be described as leaf blades in the shape of arrowheads with flowers in whorls of 3. Typically, in the wild you will find the leaves partially submerged and the flowers extended upward. Wappato is commonly called Arrow Leaf or Duck Weed. It once flourished in the many flooded waters of the island's channel ways. Wappato was the main source of staple food for the local Native Americans. It was harvested and traded among all the lower Columbia natives and the newly arriving white settlers. Harvest of Wappato was mainly the responsibility of the native women. They used specially designed canoes which were from seven to eight feet long and of very shallow draft. The women would wade nude in the back waters to about chest deep, then they would loosen the tuber-like root structure with their toes until it floated to the surface. Once gathered, the Wappato was taken back to camp and dried for later use. The advent of flood control and increasing pollution problems has just about wiped out the Wappato but the careful observer can still find a few colonies on the west side of Sturgeon Lake.
Long before surveyed boundaries existed to create what had become known as the Oregon Territory, thousands of indigenous peoples, speaking scores of different languages, lived with nature and practiced a totally different concept of what we call "agriculture." The Indians of the Oregon Territory had developed a tried and true approach to hunting, trapping, harvesting, and preserving that seemed primitive and incomprehensible to the Euro-American entrepreneurs, settlers, and missionaries. Attempts to "civilize" the native peoples ended in miserable failure.
In 1824, the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Vancouver, under the direction of Dr. John McLoughlin. The Fort, in an effort to be self-sustaining, commenced farming operations that included the planting of grain and orchards, and the raising of sheep and cattle. Within a year of its establishment, supplies of seed corn, barley, oats, peas, potatoes, and wheat arrived. Pigs, chickens and other livestock had come in by other Hudson's Bay posts, or by sea from California. On Wappato Island a complex of dairies was created to supply needed milk, butter, and cheese. The Hudson Bay Company employee operating this complex of dairies was named Laurent Sauve'. Hence forth the island became known as Sauvie Island.
Half of Sauvie Island lies within Multnomah County but the upper unpopulated half lies with Columbia County. Multnomah County was created on December 22, 1854. It was the thirteenth county created in Oregon Territory. The land was taken from the eastern portion of Washington County and the northern part of Clackamas County. The borders remain relatively untouched today.
Multnomah County was created when the people living in Portland found it difficult to travel to Hillsboro to conduct business at the county seat of Washington County. They also thought that they were paying too much in taxes to support the farmers in rural areas surrounding Portland. In 1854, Portland businessmen petitioned the Territorial Legislature for a new county and Multnomah County was created during the subsequent session. The county was named after the Multnomah Indians who were part of the Chinookan tribe that lived on the eastern tip of what is now Sauvie Island. The city of Portland was chartered in 1851 and made the county seat in 1854. The Multnomah County Commissioners met for the first time on January 17, 1855, four years before Oregon was granted statehood. Oregon entered the Union on February 14, 1859, as the 33rd state.
In 1858 James F. Bybee built the first
plaster house on the island. The house still stands today and is preserved with a focus on pioneer
life. Pioneers planted apple seeds on part of what is now the 100-acre Howell Territorial Park.
The orchard still produces many types of apples today.
In 1947 The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began acquiring land for the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area. There are now about 12,000 acres of land in the Wildlife Area, mostly on the northern half of the island. Agriculture and cattle still make up the major land uses on the private southern half of the island.
American Avocet, Riley Pond, Oregon
Copyright © 1996, Don Baccus (email@example.com)
Sauvie Island is a major
wintering area for waterfowl. Additionally, many more birds stop on the island during migration.
Tens of thousands of Canada Geese, Mallards, Northern Pintails and American Wigeons use the
island. Two dozen other species of waterfowl may be found. Several hundred Snow Geese winter
on the northern and interior portions of the island.
A main attraction is the Sandhill Cranes. About one thousand stop on the island in the fall on their way south to California. A few dozen may remain all winter. Starting about mid-February small flocks arrive on the island from the south. They remain until early April, increasing in number. They mill about the entire island, but are most easily seen on the road out to Oak Island. They stage on the island until they are all ready to leave. One day they all decide to migrate north to the arctic in large noisy flocks.
With all the ducks and surrounding fields and ponds, the area attracts a high number of raptors in winter. Up to two dozen Bald Eagles also winter on the island. Red-tailed and Rough-legged hawks soar over open paries hunting rabbits and other small mammals, while Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks hunt small birds in the woods. Peregrine Falcons hunt waterfowl and Merlins chase small birds.
Lower water levels in late summer and fall attract migrant shorebirds to feed on the extensive mudflats. Good places to find them are Coon Point, the end of Rentenaar Road and the Narrows at the north end of Oak Island. Late July to early October you can find thousands of Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, Western and Least Sandpipers. Many Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers visit. Rarities such as American Avocets, Stilt Sandpipers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers or others show up each year. There is a spring shorebird migration as well when the water levels are high.
Winter flocks often contain White-throated Sparrows among the more common White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Fox, Lincoln's and Song Sparrows. Swamp Sparrows may be found in the wet areas along Rentenaar Road. Large sparrow flocks also build up in the blackberry tangles at the entrance to Oak Island. This is also a good place to look for the rare Harris' Sparrows.
The refuge is closed from December to March most years to protect wintering waterfowl. Fortunately, however, many species can be seen from the public roads. Hunting too, may close parts of the island without permit.
Virginia Lake at the Wappato Access Greenway Park is rather marshy and supports Virginia and Sora Rails, Green-winged and Cinnamon teals and other water birds in late spring and early summer. Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens abound. Pileated Woodpeckers, Brown Creepers and Willow Flycatchers are among the more unusual birds that nest here. In the ash trees lining the bank of Multnomah Channel a small colony of Red-eyed Vireos have nested in recent years.
Wintering gulls abound at the pellet plant just south of the Sauvie Island Bridge - the only entrance to the island. The largest majority of gulls here are Glaucous-winged, Herring and Thayer's California, Mew and Ring-billed Gulls are not rare. A few Glaucous Gulls show up each winter. Western Gulls are rare this far inland but some are usually seen. Oregon's only two records of Slaty-blacked Gull came from the pellet plant. Eurasian Wigeons often join the American Wigeons in the field here.
A 428-acre area north of the Sauvie Island Bridge along the west side of the Multnomah Channel has been set aside to benefit wintering waterfowl and associated wetland wildlife. The area is known as the Burlington Bottom Wildlife Viewing Area.
The gulls, waterfowl, hawks and shorebirds are gone in the summer but Oak Island - in the very center of Sauvie Island - can be very pleasant and supports quite a few species. Common birds in the oaks include: Black-headed Grosbeaks, Downy Woodpeckers, House Wrens, Bullock's Orioles, White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Bewick's Wrens, Western Scrub-Jays, Bushtits, Western Wood-Pewees, Black-throated Gray Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Warbling Vireos, California Quails and others.
Birding is very productive on Sauvie Island all through the year. Many non-birders enjoy the Island just for its beauty. A parking permit must be purchased on the island before parking in the Wildlife Area. Fees go to maintain the roads, outhouses, and clean litter from the beaches on the Columbia River. Only 10 miles from downtown Portland, Sauvie Island is one of the most visited wildlife areas in the state - and rightfully so.
Places of Interest in the Portland Area
Oregon Museum of Science
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