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. Also in the same area was the Petite Dalles or Little Dalles, or Short Narrows. The population was 13,620 at the 2010 census.
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. Starting in the 1810s European descendants passed by what became The Dalles, active in the North American fur trade as employees of either the American Pacific Fur Company (PFC) or the Canadian North West Company (NWC). Men like NWC officer David Thompson voyaged both down and up the Columbia, traveling through Celilo Falls. The War of 1812 led to the 1813 liquidation of the PFC, its properties like Fort Astoria sold 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 Celilo Falls, named the Wascopam Mission, after the native Wasco people. In 1850 the U.S. Army founded a small post at the site of the old mission, being eventually named Fort Dalles. Fort Dalles 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 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.
A post office was established within the boundaries of the current city in 1851, and The Dalles was incorporated as a city in 1857. It has been the major commercial center between Portland and Pendleton since. The city was originally named just "Dalles". In 1853 it was changed to "Wascopum," then, in 1860, to "The Dalles".
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 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.
In 1984 The Dalles was the site of the first and single largest bioterrorism attack in United States history.