Site History

Land Use and Vegetation History


The Brandis property contains some of the last vestiges of native savannah oak and other prairie plants in the Dixon Creek basin, due in part to its hilly nature and distance from past residential developments and transportation corridors.  Prior to white settlement the property was maintained with regular broadcast burning by local Chepenafa Indian families, probably for the production of nuts, bulbs, roots, fruits, and seeds, among other purposes.  Beginning in the late 1840s and continuing until the 1950s, the land was owned by individuals or families who used it primarily for pasturage (see Appendix D).  From that time until the present the land has been mostly fallow, becoming dominated by invasive Douglas-fir trees and Brachypodium grass during the last few decades.  There is little evidence of past construction on the site, other than a buried city waterline, a number of unofficial and poorly maintained farm roads and trails, old fenceline segments around the perimeter, and some scattered lumber that may have been a tree house or lean-to.


Precontact time 


During the past several ice ages, no glacier is known to have entered the Willamette Valley from western Washington to the north, or from the Cascade Mountains to the east.  Marys Peak, the highest point to the west, is only 4,000 feet in elevation and probably has experienced little, if any, glaciation during the millions of years of its existence.  Likewise, the series of catastrophic Bretz floods that repeatedly filled the Willamette Valley with water, rocks, ice, and mud between 15,000 years ago and 12,800 years ago, occurred at lower elevations and did not directly affect animals and vegetation at the project site.  In addition, there have been no volcanic eruptions in the area for millions of years, so local plant populations have not been affected by that means, either.  Native plants have likely persisted in this location through several ice ages--affected principally by wind, fire, and climate--until the arrival of people (and daily fire) at some time more than 10,000 years ago.

This site apparently has a long history--perhaps millions of years--of serving as a refugium for native plants during times of catastrophic changes in climate, geology, and--in more recent times--human use, and culture.  During the past 10,000 years both human and wildlife populations have benefited from stable patterns of diverse native food plants cultivated and harvested throughout the Willamette Valley; likely including Dixon Creek basin lands as well.  For those reasons, among others, it is an excellent candidate to continue serving as a native plant refugium into the foreseeable future (at least for some species), and with human users and managers as a necessary component. 


Historical Time


The written history of north Benton County, including the project area, can be said to have begun with the preserved journals of David Douglas and Alexander Roderick McLeod, who pioneered a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) pack trail through the area during the first week of October, 1826.  Many individual oak trees, camas patches, and other native plant populations noted by Douglas and McLeod have continued to persist in the environment to this time, forming a significant cultural bridge from precontact time to the present.  California condors, grizzly bears, and white-tail deer have disappeared from the environment since being noted by the early journalists, as has nearly the entire native oak savannah that was home to these animals.

It is very likely that the populations of people noted by Douglas and McLeod in the Willamette Valley during the 1820s was only a small fraction of the numbers that had lived here in the 1770s and in earlier times.  The principal reason for the decimated populations was disease.  Native people had little or no immunity to the variety of diseases introduced by European, American, and African sailors in the 1770s and 1780s and died by the thousands when they were exposed to small pox, malaria, the flu, and other illnesses common to the new visitors.  In 1788, Robert Haswell noted the appearance of smallpox scars on Indians he encountered off the Oregon Coast; less than 70 miles due west of the property and nearly 40 years before the arrival of HBC horses and mules at Dixon Creek.  In 1805, Lewis & Clark noted abandoned communities and a pockmarked individual that had survived a small pox epidemic that had occurred about 20 years before their arrival (ca. 1775).  Lewis and Clark's observations took place about 70 miles due north of the project area, and about 20 years before the arrival of the HBC. 

In October, 1826, Douglas noted several Kalapuyans (probably Luckiamutes) in the Berry Creek area of southern Polk County "gleaning a miserable existence" by digging camas bulbs in an area surrounded by miles of burned prairie and groves of savannah oak trees.  Based on significant archaeological data and other considerations, these were likely the devastated remnants of a large, stable community once based in the immediate vicinity--but which had been lost to epidemic disease.  The evidence for the Dixon Creek basin is similar; that it had once served as a major source of camas for a Chepenafa community or campground located in the vicinity of present-day 29th Street, and for a much larger community based near the mouth of the Marys River.  While flatlands remaining from Bretz flood deposits were largely dedicated to camas production, hillsides were major sources of strawberries, acorns, roots, bulbs, and seeds; likely including tarweed seeds roasted on the stalk in late summer or early fall. 

The transition from ownership and management of the Dixon Creek basin by Chepenafa Kalapuyans began gradually with the 1826 HBC contacts, and ended abruptly in 1846 with the arrival and private property claims of white American immigrants, most notably the Mulkey family (see Appendix D). The new settlers brought hogs, cattle, horses, chickens, and sheep with them, and began to aggressively use the former root and bulb fields, nut orchards, berry patches, and prairie lands to pasture their herds and flocks.  Indian trails leading to the project area were quickly converted to farm use as a method of herding animals from one pasture to another, or to and from markets stretching from northern California to SW Washington.

This abrupt change in land use--from centuries of regular burning and tillage to intensive grazing by domestic animals--continued for about 100 years, until sometime after World War II.  By the mid-1950s, most grazing in the Dixon Creek basin had been halted and the land began to be used primarily for specialized farming and housing developments (see Appendix D).  After grazing was stopped, the project area became fallow and began to be populated with oak saplings and invasive Douglas-fir seedlings.  The trees were soon followed by Brachypodium in the shaded understory and began displacing the remaining native shrubs, forbs, and grasses that had persisted through long-term pasturage.


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