Whispers from the past: Why Whychus?

 

Last updated 8/31/2022 at Noon

SUE STAFFORD

The creek that runs through Sisters has had several names — and Whychus is its most historic one.

The name of Whychus Creek was recorded in the 1855 Pacific Railroad Reports, indicating that was its historic name. Whychus, meaning “the place we cross the water,” comes from the Sahaptin language. In those days, the creek flowed freely and ran wild. The Native Americans in the area fished its waters and followed it up into the mountains in the summer to gather berries and herbs, hunt deer, and pick pine nuts.

Since that time, settlers, farmers, and the Army Corps of Engineers have tried to tame the creek, turning it into one large irrigation canal, spreading its waters out over the farmland every summer. By 1912, sections of Whychus Creek were hot and dry, leaving the creek no longer habitable by native cold-water fish populations. For many years, any water running in the creek was considered a waste.

Cultural and historic perceptions have changed from a century ago, and the importance of Whychus Creek has been firmly established in multiple arenas. The uppermost 15 miles of the creek have been designated as Wild and Scenic under the Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1988.

Over the past two decades, the creek’s importance has been re-established with the removal of 17 barriers to fish passage, the restoration of more water flowing in the creek year-round, creating cooler water temperatures, and major projects that have restored shaded pools and gravel reaches, in a meandering creek giving rise to meadows and greatly improved habitat for fish and wildlife.

With the arrival of white settlers to the area in the late 1800s, the name of the creek was changed to Squaw Creek, a moniker that lasted for well over 100 years. Many local geographic features and developments incorporated that name into their designations, such as Squaw Creek Canyon Estates.

Over the past two decades, with urging from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, multiple groups have worked collaboratively with the Tribes to change the name of the creek. After three years of deliberation, the historically correct name of Whychus was chosen. “Choosh” means water and recalls the sound the creek makes as it tumbles over boulders.

Thanks to efforts by the Deschutes Land Trust, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Three Sisters Irrigation District, local farmers and ranchers, the Tribes, Portland General Electric (Pelton-Round Butte dams), private citizens and school children, and other groups and funders, the monumental restoration work on Whychus Creek has restored it from a mere summer trickle to an abundant, free-flowing creek that is able to begin welcoming back native fish.

Note — Clarifications re: “Whychus restoration project completed,” The Nugget, August 24: The number of riparian plants to be planted in October will total 2,700 and the split-rail fence will be constructed in September by a crew of teenagers from Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

 

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