The Dalles is the county seat and largest city of Wasco County, Oregon, United States. The name of the city comes from the French word dalle (meaning either "sluice" or "flagstone" and referring to the columnar basalt rocks carved by the river, in voyageur French used to refer to rapids), which was used by the French-Canadian employees of the North West Company to refer to the rapids of the Columbia River between the present-day city and Celilo Falls. The population was 13,620 at the 2010 census. Also in the same area was the Petite Dalles or Little Dalles, or Short Narrows.
The site of what is now the city of The Dalles was a major Native American trading center for at least 10,000 years. The general area is one of the continent's most significant archaeological regions.
Lewis and Clark camped near Mill Creek on October 25–27, 1805, and recorded the Native American name for the creek as Quenett. The first use of the name Dalles, according to Oregon Geographic Names, appears in fur trader Gabriel Franchère's Narrative, on April 12, 1814, referring to the long series of major rapids in the river. By 1814 several overland groups of the land components of the Astor Expedition of 1810–1812 would have passed by and explored the vicinity of the rapids. In 1811 British fur trader of the Montreal-based North West Company (NWC) began traveling through The Dalles area. In July 1811 David Thompson of the NWC voyaged down the Columbia River, reaching the partially constructed Fort Astoria of the American rival Pacific Fur Company. When Thompson's party returned upriver a small Astorian party accompanied him as far as the rapids at The Dalles. The Astorian party went on to found Fort Okanogan. The War of 1812 led to the 1813 sale of Fort Astoria and the entire Pacific Fur Company to the North West Company.
In 1821 the North West Company was absorbed by the giant London-based Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). Fort Vancouver, built in 1824, replaced Fort Astoria as the regional fur trade headquarters. The HBC's trading network made extensive use of the Columbia River. The rapids of the Columbia River at The Dalles was the largest and longest of the four "great portages", where fur trading boats had to unload and transship their cargoes. Sometimes, during high water, boats traveling downriver would "shoot the rapids" instead of portaging, although the practice was dangerous and many people died as a result over the years.
In 1838 a branch of Jason Lee's Methodist mission was established at The Dalles. It was called "Wascopam", after the native Wasco people. In the early 1840s American settlers began to arrive in significant numbers, traveling overland via the Oregon Trail. The trail ended at The Dalles. It was not possible to take wagons farther west due to steep cliffs that fell straight into the Columbia River. Until the construction of the Barlow Road in 1846, the only way to reach Fort Vancouver and the Willamette Valley was by rafting down the river from The Dalles.
In 1848, at the start of the Cayuse War, the mission buildings at The Dalles were occupied by volunteer militia. In 1850 the U.S. Army founded a small post at the site of the old mission. In 1853 it was named Fort Drum and shortly after, Fort Dalles. The post became the nucleus of the town of The Dalles, which began to develop along the waterfront. In 1855, at the end of the Cayuse War, the Native Americans living near The Dalles were forceably relocated by the U.S. Army to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
In 1864, the U.S. Congress appropriated money to build a U.S. mint in The Dalles that was to use gold from Canyon City for coinage. The supply of gold from Canyon City began to dwindle, however, and other problems, such as cost over-runs, workers leaving to work the gold fields, and flooding from the Columbia River, also contributed to the project running two years behind schedule and led eventually to its demise. In 1870, the State of Oregon received the property from the U.S. Government and the building was put to other uses. The mint is now home to Erin Glenn Winery.
In 1924, Bobbie the Wonder Dog stopped briefly in The Dalles while on his 2,600 mile journey home by foot from Indiana to Silverton, Oregon. Emaciated and tired, he was aided by members of the community before moving westward through the Columbia Gorge.
In 1982 a curly-coated kitten was born on a farm in The Dalles owned by Linda and Dick Koehl. The Koehls used this kitten and her offspring to develop a new breed of cat called the LaPerm, which went on to become a popular, established, championship pedigree cat breed around the world.