|LOCATION:||The Cayuse tribe lived on the Columbia Plateau in what is now southeast Washington and northeast Oregon, along the tributaries of the Columbia River.|
|POPULATION:||Before European contact, the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla population was estimated at 8,000. In 1990 they were among the smallest tribes in the United States, numbering a mere 126 members.|
|LANGUAGE:||Cayuse Language, Waiilatpuan. This is no longer spoken today, yet some tribal members speak Nex Perce, the language of their neighbouring tribe.|
The Cayuse were a nomadic tribe who lived on the Columbia Plateau. The tribe have a close relationship with water and moved to the Columbia River during the fishing seasons which provided salmon, the tribe’s main food source. Everyday life consisted of hunting, gathering, and procurement of food and raw materials for tools. Other important foods included deer, small game. Fish, roots and berries were gathered seasonally and dried for winter subsistence.
With the arrival of the horse and gun, the Cayuse became famous horse breeders and traders. The tribe developed a strong warrior tradition to protect their way of life. The geographic placing between the Great Plains and the Pacific Coast established the tribe as middlemen of trade. Trade goods from the plains would consist of buffalo meat and hides, obsidian from the south as well as abundant seafood, plants, and medicines from the Pacific Northwest coast. Basketry was used to record stories and symbols becoming a survival tool and art form.
Julius Brenchley accounts extensive interactions with the Cayuse tribe on his journey through the Rocky Mountains between the Grand Rond, Oregon and the Dalles. Brenchley accounts that he met with a Cayuse man, who knew a little English, who ‘vaunted the character of his tribe… great and good, friendly to white men, averse to rapine and unlike in this particular to the Shoshone and other Indians.’ The Cayuse is decribed by Brenchley as a ‘topping fellow’ and stated ‘the Cayuse were very rich, wanted for nothing, have a quantity of cattle, maize, and potatoes, and whenever they require money, clothes, paint they exchange horses for them at Fort Wallawalla or Willhamette. Brenchley accounts the Cayuse as hospitable who invited him into their wigwam. Brenchley met the Chief of the Cayuse who is described as ‘a horse-man riding towards him, completely armed, richly clad in Indian style, with a bright green blanket hanging from his shoulders. This man was travelling to meet with the ‘chief of the whites’. Finally, while travelling Brenchley met with several Cayuse Indians who were returning from a bartering trip at the Dalles. Brenchley accounts the bands method of making bread from maize and camash roots which when eaten caused Brenchley to suffer an ‘extraordinary and painful distension of the stomach…to the great astonishment of the Indians’. (Taken from Journey to Great-Salt-Lake, Volume 2, p.508-509).
By 1855 the Cayuse settled on reservations. This was shortly after Brenchley had travelled Today the tribe shares a reservation in north-eastern Oregon with the Umatilla and the Walla Walla tribes as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The reservation is located near Pendleton, Oregon at the base of the Blue Mountains.