Chelan County Resources

Click here for a history of Chelan County
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Helpful Chelan Links

Chelan County embraces the drainages of the Wenatchee River, the Entiat River, and Lake Chelan, and the Chelan River for a total of 2,920 square miles. Irrigation has transformed the arid valleys into agricultural treasure houses and the home to Washington apples and the ubiquitous Aplet and Cotlet confections. Hydroelectric development has lived up to the Wenatchee Daily World’s claim, first made in the 1920s, that the region is the “Power Belt of the Great Northwest.” Almost 90 percent of the county is owned by the state and federal governments.

First Peoples

The Wenatchee tribe (also spelled Wenatchi) lived along the Wenatchee River, which flowed from the Cascades into the Columbia. They spoke a version of the Salish language, also called Salishan and Interior Salish, which they shared with the peoples of Puget Sound and northern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Wahnaachee is the name given the tribe by the Yakimas (later, Yakamas), who passed it to explorer Captain William Clark in 1804. Wenatchee is a Sahaptian word for “water coming out” (Ruby, 266). The people called themselves Pisquoses.

The Chelans got their name from the writings of fur trader Alexander Ross who described them as the “Tsill-anes” (Ruby, 17). They lived along the south end of Lake Chelan and the short river that drained the lake to the Columbia. Chelans would paddle canoes 50 miles to the head of the lake and trek over the mountains to trade with the tribes of Puget Sound.

The culture and economy of the tribes centered around fishing, but the members also gathered roots and berries and hunted game. Early fur traders taught them to cultivate potatoes. Extended families generally spent winters in permanent settlements of mat-covered longhouses and then dispersed from spring to autumn to fish and hunt. The Wenatchee shared the Wenatshapam Fishery in the Wenatchee Valley with Yakimas. In the late 1700s, the tribes acquired horses for transportation and for food.[1]  

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