Cayuse Tribe

Cayuse Native American Indian

This article contains interesting facts, pictures and information about the life of the Cayuse Native American Indian Tribe of the Columbia River Plateau region.

The Cayuse Tribe
Summary and Definition: The semi-nomadic Cayuse tribe were fishers, hunter-gatherers and traders of the Plateau cultural group. The Cayuse lived in parts of present-day Washington and Oregon. The Cayuse came into conflict with the white settlers when the Oregon Trail was opened. They fought against the US in the Yakima War (1855-1858) and in the Cayuse War 1847–1855 led by Chief Five Crows.

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Facts about the Cayuse Native Indian Tribe
This article contains fast, fun facts and interesting information about the Cayuse Native American Indian tribe. Find answers to questions like where did the Cayuse tribe live, what clothes did they wear, what did they eat and who were the names of their most famous leaders? Discover what happened to the Cayuse tribe with facts about their wars and history.

What was the lifestyle and culture of the Cayuse tribe?
The Cayuse tribe were one of the most numerous and powerful tribes of the Plateau Culture area. They lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle fishing, hunting, or gathering wild plants for food. The Cayuse were given the name by French-Canadian fur traders, who called them Cailloux, meaning "Rock People," because of the rocky environment of parts of their homeland. The introduction of the horse in the 1700's brought about a change in lifestyle and many of the Cayuse people traveled to the Great Plains to hunt buffalo. They adopted some of the ideas of the Great Plains native American Indians including the use of the tepee which were covered with buffalo hides and some items of clothing made from buffalo hides. The grasslands of the Cayuse territory enabled the tribe to become horse breeders and traders and bred the Cayuse horse breed.

Who were the allies and enemies of the Cayuse tribe?
The allies of the Cayuse tribe were many of the other Native American Indians who inhabited the Plateau region including the Perce Nez, Walla Walla, Spokane, Coeur D'Alene, Yakama and Palouse tribes. The main enemies of the Cayuse tribe were the Great Basin groups to the south, including the Shoshone and Northern Paiute.


Where did the Cayuse tribe live?
The Cayuse are people of the Plateau Native American cultural group whose territories covered hundreds of miles across Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington. The location of the Cayuse tribal homelands are shown on the map. The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Cayuse tribe.

  • The Cayuse territory extended from the mountains eastward to John Day River across the Blue Mountains to the Grande Ronde.
  • Land: Fast flowing rivers, lakes, forests and prairies
  • Climate: Warm summers and cold, snowy winters
  • Animals: The  animals included elk, deer, bear, mountain goat, groundhog, coyote, raccoon, porcupine, fox, weasel, beaver and hare
  • Fish: Salmon, trout
  • Natural Resources: Berries such as blackberries, strawberries, huckleberries, bulbs, bitterroots, onions, nuts and seeds

Map showing Plateau Indian Tribes

Map showing location of the
Plateau Native Indian Tribes


Picture of a Cayuse TepeePicture of a Tule-mat lodge

What did the Cayuse tribe live in?
The Cayuse were semi-nomadic and needed shelters that were easy to erect and take down. The Cayuse lived in one of three shelters, depending on the season. The types of shelters were  a semi-subterranean pit house, a tepee or a tule-mat lodge.

  • Pit houses were shelters that were built with logs and sealed for insulation with dirt and grasses. Pit houses were built below ground with an entrance and ladder at the top and were generally used during the cold, winter months.
  • The summer shelters were above ground: the tepee and tule-mat lodge. Tepees were covered with animal skins but the tule-mat lodge was covered with mats of strong, durable, tule reeds (bulrushes).

What language did the Cayuse tribe speak?
The Cayuse tribe spoke in their own language unlike the Sahaptian dialect spoken by the neighboring Plateau Native Indian group. They call themselves 'Nimiipu', which means "the people".

What transportation did the Cayuse tribe use?
When the Cayuse tribe inhabited the Plateau region they used dugout canoes built from the hollowed-out logs of large trees. The men hollowed logs with controlled fire that softened the timber so they could carve and shape their canoe to have a flat bottom with straight sides. The dugout canoes were important to the way of life of the Cayuse as semi-nomadic fishers and hunters and was a perfect means of transportation for travel along fast streams and shallow waters of the John Day River. 

Dugout Canoe

What food did the Cayuse tribe eat?
The food that the Cayuse tribe ate included salmon and other fish and a variety of meats from the animals that they hunted. About half their diet was fish, and the other half came from large game animals and small birds. They supplemented their protein diet with seeds, roots, nuts and fruits.

What weapons did the Cayuse use?
The weapons used by the Cayuse were spears, knives, bows and arrows and clubs. The Cayuse also used shields for defensive purposes.


What clothes did the Cayuse men wear?
Originally Cayuse clothes were made of shredded cedar bark, deerskin, or rabbit skin. However with the influence of the Great plains tribes they began to use buffalo hides to make their clothes.  The clothes worn by the men varied according to the season but generally they wore breechcloths and leggings, shirts, moccasins and robes. Blankets and gloves were frequently used to keep out the cold. It was customary to decorate their clothes with fringes.

Breastplates were worn for decoration purposes as were armbands, wristbands and anklets. Headdresses were made of feathers, some used a 'standup' design of headdresses others were magnificent feather headdresses that trailed to the floor. The Cayuse horseman wears a halo style headdress with bison horns. Their hair was kept long and decorated with beads and plaits for special occasions.

Clothes and headdresses of the Cayuse Tribe


What clothes did the Cayuse women wear?
The women of the Cayuse tribe wore long dresses that covered them from the neck to their ankles. The women also wore knee length moccasins during the winter. Cayuse Clothes were decorated with beads made from a variety of materials that included shells, pebbles, claws, bones, nuts, seeds, porcupine quills, horns, pieces of metal and bird talons.

What was the religion and beliefs of the Cayuse tribe?
The religion and beliefs of the Cayuse tribe was based on Animism that encompassed the spiritual or religious idea that the universe and all natural objects animals, plants, trees, rivers, mountains rocks etc have souls or spirits.

Who were the most famous leaders and chiefs of the Cayuse tribe?
The most famous leaders and chiefs of the Cayuse tribe included Chief Egan.

Cayuse History Timeline: What happened to the Cayuse tribe?
The following Cayuse history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks and battles fought by the Cayuse Nation. The Cayuse history timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe.

Cayuse History Timeline

  • 1750's: The Cayuse acquire the horse and their lifestyle is changed

  • 1805: Contact was made between the Cayuse and the Lewis and Clark expedition

  • 1812: A trading post known as Spokane House was built near the confluence of Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers

  • 1818: Fur trader Alexander Ross (1783-1856) described the Cayuse tribe as "by far the most powerful and warlike" of the tribes on the Columbia Plateau

  • 1825: The Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver as a trading post

  • 1836: Henry Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding founded a Presbyterian mission at Waiilatpu  among the Cayuse Native Indians

  • 1843: The first major migration along the Oregon Trail took place in 1843 which led to violent conflicts with the white settlers who traveled along the Oregon trail in wagon trains

  • 1845: The white settlers bring various diseases to the Native Indians who lived in the surrounding areas of the Oregon Trail

  • 1847: More than 4,000 settlers came into the Cayuse lands with the wagon trains

  • 1847: Half the tribe are wiped out by a devastating measles epidemic

  • 1847: The Whitman Massacre led to the outbreak of the Cayuse War

  • 1847: The Cayuse War, led by Chief Five Crows and Chief War Eagle, was fought from 1847 to 1855

  • 1855: Isaac Stevens (March 25, 1818 – September 1, 1862) , governor of Washington Territory, negotiated the Walla Walla treaty with the Cayuse. The tribe ceded most of their tribal lands, reserving the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation with the Umatilla and Walla Walla people

  • 1855: In the Walla Walla Treaty the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla agreed to cede 4,012,800 acres of land in return for $150,000, the creation of a 512,000-acre reservation and the retention of traditional hunting and fishing rights.

  • 1855: The Yakima War (1855-1858) erupted, fought by members of the Native Indian alliance including the Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes

  • 1856: The Grande Ronde River Valley Massacre occured in June 1856 when Washington Territorial Volunteers led by Colonel Benjamin Shaw attacked peaceful settlements of Cayuse and Walla Walla Indians on the Grande Ronde River in Oregon. 60 Indians, mostly women, old men and children were killed

  • 1859: The treaty was broken, the US gave only half of what was promised

  • 1878: The Cayuse tribe, led by Chief Egan, supported the Bannock and Yakama in the Bannock War

  • 1887: Dawes General Allotment Act passed by Congress leads to the break up of the large Indian Reservations and the sale of Indian lands to white settlers

  • 1949: The Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes joined together as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation

The Story of the Cayuse
For additional facts and information refer to the legend and the Story of Chief Egan.


  • Interesting Facts and information about the way the people lived
  • The clothes worn by men and women
  • Description of the homes and the type of food the tribe would eat
  • Fast Facts and info about the Cayuse
  • Names of famous chiefs and leaders
  • Interesting Homework resource for kids on the history of Native American Indians
  • Clothes, food, weapons and shelters

Pictures and Videos of Native American Indians and their Tribes
The Cayuse Tribe was one of the most famous tribes of Native American Indians. Discover the vast selection of pictures on the subject of the tribes of Famous Native Americans such as the Cayuse nation. The pictures show the clothing, war paint, weapons and decorations of various Native Indian tribes, such as the Cayuse tribe, that can be used as a really useful educational resource for kids and children of all ages. We hope you enjoy watching the video - just click and play - a great social studies homework resource for kids .


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