The Upper Cowlitz villages were numerous and relatively small. They extended far upriver, nearly to Mount Rainier, this being possible because of the nature of their valley and the fact that Mount Rainier is an isolated peak rising from a low base, not a high point on a mountain range. Ignorance of this fact on the part of persons lacking total knowledge has resulted in some confusing and bizarre misconceptions about the Upper Cowlitz Indians. The term “Stik Injun” means an Indian who is a member of a tribe in an upriver location. It is a simple descriptive term comparable to “Coast Indian.” However, at the hands of imaginative early writers, and some later ones too, the Upper Cowlitz “Stik Injuns” became wild and fearful dwellers of mountain fastnesses, a different kind of Indian from those of the lower country, and much feared by the latter. All this is fiction and can be dismissed as such. The fact is that the Lower Cowlitz mixed with the Upper Cowlitz in the same way that fellow tribesmen always do. Their social and economic welfare demanded that it be so. There were minor sub-cultural differences in living patterns, but these were never the occasion for anything more than an interested comment. In an area generally lacking in inter-tribal conflict, it is perhaps unnecessary to say that there is no history or tradition of internecine war.
However, it is of interest to comment further on the setting of the Upper Cowlitz villages. Mount Rainier is a peak of 14,408 feet elevation, only a few feet lower than the highest mountain in the continental United States. Nevertheless, Upper Cowlitz villages were situated only seventeen miles from the mountains highest point, and the elevation of those villages was only a thousand feet above sea level. No mysterious mountain dwellers were these Upper Cowlitz Indians.
Wa-sa was an Upper Cowlitz village located where the city of Morton now stands. The village of Koapk was situated at the present site of the Cowlitz Falls Dam, between Morton and Randle. The Cowlitz group who lived there was known as the k’wolama. A large number of Upper Cowlitz lived in a village where the present town of Packwood stands. The Kiona family was a large portion of this community. Those living at Kiona Creek were known as the ceq’klama. The Cowlitz boundary line above the Kiona area followed the ridgeline of the Sawtooth Range overlooking the Nisqually River. According to legend, a “wrong” power inhabited the Nisqually River, which allowed only animals to swim across. During warfare between the tribes, this power became extremely evident, forcing the opposing enemies to remain on opposite shores. A hunter, following a wounded animal would discontinue the search if the prey crossed the river. Those who lived on the Cispus were known as the cispaclama.
Nesika was the home of Jim Yoke, which site is now submerged under the waters of Riffe Lake. He maintained two homes, one where Coal Creek enters the Cowlitz, and the other located northwest of the present town of Packwood. Jim, who was born about 1840 and died about 1943, was said to have practiced Indian medicine. He was an uncle to Mary Kiona.
La Wis Wis was a traditional place where Upper Cowlitz women collected cedar roots for their famous baskets. The lekla’lwit group of Cowlitz lived near this great camp site, which was a great fishing place. Here the milky glacial waters of the Ohanepecosh River, flowing from Mount Rainier, are confluent with the waters of the Clear Fork, flowing from the Great Rocks near Tilton Pass. The prized cedar roots were less than an inch in diameter, and long with no knots. Here at La Wis Wis also grows the alder that provided the red dyes for the cedar baskets. Medicines were also here, such as the Easter lily bulb that was used as an eye wash when mixed with the milk of a mother’s breast. Eye wash helped to heal the irritations of wind and smoke. Here was also found the little fern that is good for asthma and the special little yellow violet that hides in the bush which, when the leaves are boiled and drunk, help to make for a big, nice, strong baby.
Nearly everything that has been said about the Upper Cowlitz applies also to the Lewis River Cowlitz. They too, were Taidnapam Sahaptin of speech. In geography and ecology their habitat was comparable in nearly all respects. The Lewis River also has its source in a high peak, Mount Adams. This mountain was outside their territory, but some of its tributaries flowed from another isolated peak, Mount St. Helens that is about thirty miles from the main Cascade Ridge, and is located inside Cowlitz country. The height of Mount St. Helens was only 9,671 feet (now considerably lower since the May 1980 eruptions), but the resources it provided the Lewis River Cowlitz were generally similar and equal to those of the Upper Cowlitz. Lewis river elevations are comparable to those of the Upper Cowlitz, adjacent to the peaks, but the Lewis River Valley is narrower and the best village locations were lower on the river. The city of Kalama, at the mouth of the Kalama River, now stands on the site of the ancient Cowlitz village of Thlakalamah.
The Kwalhiokwa Band in the Willapa Hills area called their principal village Wilapahiu, while the Lower Cowlitz called them Ohwilaph, or Swilaumsh. Salish names for some of the other Kwalhiokwa villages were Nomakum and Tsahwasin. The prairie at Boisford was called Talaln.