The Port of The Dalles lies on the south bank of the Columbia River in Wasco County, Oregon, within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Port of The Dalles is about 78 nautical miles upriver (125 kilometers or 78 miles east) of the Port of Portland. Part of the Columbia River Waterway System, the Port of The Dalles is also about 45 nautical miles downriver (76 kilometers or 47 miles west-southwest) of the Port of Arlington. When The Dalles Dam was finished in 1960, the Port of The Dalles became a stopping point for ocean-borne vessels from the Pacific Ocean carrying fruit, grain, lumber, wool, meat, and oil. The 2010 US Census reported that over 13.6 thousand people call the Port of The Dalles home.
People have lived in the area that would become the Port of The Dalles for at least ten thousand years. The indigenous people of the area include the Wasco, the Walla Walla, and the Paiute. Today, these tribes are the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs living at the Warm Springs Reservation to the south of the Port of The Dalles.
The Wascoes lived on the Columbia River and depended on fishing and trade with other tribes in the region. The Walla Walla (now called the Warm Springs) were hunters and gatherers in the future Port of The Dalles area, although salmon was an important part of their diet. Trade between the Wascoes and Warm Springs led to frequent contact between the two peoples. The Paiutes lived to the southeast and led a high-plains life where hunting was their primary activity. They did not trade much with the Wascoes and Warm Springs. In fact, they had frequent skirmishes with them.
European settlers began arriving in the future Port of The Dalles during the 19th Century, forever changing the native people's way of life. In 1855, the superintendent for the Oregon Territory was ordered to remove the Indians from the land. One of the many treaties that followed established the Warm Springs Reservation just south of the Port of The Dalles. While the Wasco and Warm Springs tribes turned over about ten million acres to the settlers, they kept their rights to harvest game, fish, and other foods outside reservation lands. Once on the reservation the old way of life was no longer viable, and many tribal members abandoned their traditions. In 1879, members of the Paiute tribes began to move to the reservation.
In 1937, the three tribes on the Warm Springs Reservation created the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The following year, they formed a corporation for tribal business and started pursuing financial self-sufficiency. In 1942, they established the Warm Springs Lumber Company, and Warm Springs Forest Products followed in 1966. In 1964, they created the Kah-Nee-Ta Village, a resort and spa, adding the Lodge (with rooms and suites) in 1972. In 1982, the Warm Springs Power Enterprise began operations. The Museum at Warm Springs (about 80 kilometers or 50 miles south of the Port of The Dalles) was opened in 1993, the same year that Warm Springs Composite Products was created. The Warm Springs Plaza opened in 1995, and the Indian Head Casino opened in 1996 about 92 kilometers (57 miles) south of the Port of The Dalles.
In late 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped near Mill Creek in what would become the Port of The Dalles. In 1814, Gabriel Franchere, a fur trader, first referred to the area as The Dalles after the long series of rapids in the Columbia River where the Port of The Dalles would one day be located. British fur traders from the North West Company started visiting the area in 1811. The rapids at the future Port of The Dalles forced fur traders traveling the Columbia to unload their boats and move cargoes overland.
In 1838, a branch of the Methodist mission run by Jason Lee was established at the future Port of The Dalles. Two years later, settlers from the United States who took the Oregon Trail west to where it ended at The Dalles. Their wagons could not go further west than the Port of The Dalles.
In 1850, the United States Army established a small post at the site of the earlier Methodist mission, eventually naming it Fort Dalles. The fort was the center for the Port of The Dalles as it developed along the waterfront. The post office was established in 1851, and the City of The Dalles was incorporated in 1857. For a short time, a United States mint was located in the Port of The Dalles to mint coins from the gold found in Canyon City to the southeast. Today, the Erin Glenn Winery occupies the old mint building in the Port of The Dalles.
In 1984, the first known 20th Century bioterrorist attack occurred at the Port of The Dalles when people from the Rajneesh Movement tried to take over the local government by placing salmonella in ten Port of The Dalles restaurants. More than 750 Port of The Dalles residents got sick.
Internet giant Google built a major data center in the Port of The Dalles in 2006, taking advantage of the ample hydroelectric power and under-used fiber optic network. The project created hundreds of new jobs in the Port of The Dalles area.