Charles “Chuck” Otis Williams II, of The Dalles, Ore., passed on April 24, 2016 in Goldendale, Wash., after a short illness. Chuck was born on July 20, 1943 in Portland, Ore. He grew up in Petaluma, Calif., and attended Petaluma High. Chuck and his relatives are descendants of the Cascade (Watlala) tribe of Cascade Rapids within the Columbia River Gorge. Chuck was a direct descendant of the Chief Tumulth of the Cascades Tribe, who signed the (Ratified) 1855 Treaty of the Willamette Valley, which included the Cascade homelands up to the crest of the Cascades.
Chuck attended Sonoma State University and worked for NASA as an engineer for a time. He lived in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 1970s, and later moved to Oregon to engage in environmental activism in the Columbia River Gorge, the homelands of his people. Chuck worked tirelessly to preserve the Columbia Gorge for over 35 years, and was the first director of Salmon Corps, and later worked with Columbia River Intertriba Fish Commission. He worked with regional politicians to preserve the Gorge by initiating the Columbia Gorge Scenic Act. Chuck spent much of his time attending and testifying at various government hearings, working to keep the Gorge environmentally pristine and healthy. Chuck’s environmental work combined with his Cascade Native heritage when he wrote Bridge of the Gods, Mountains of Fire, which he self-published in 1980 with Friends of the Earth. His book features both his scholarship and his photography.
Chuck was a professional photographer, and for over 40 years would photograph festivals throughout the West. Chuck’s photographic collections feature images of Tribal events, popular musicians, and unique cultural gatherings, like the Oregon Country Fair. He photographed most every Nationl Park in the USA during his long career.
Chuck had a dream to open a vast gallery, the American West Archives, and he would sell his photos as postcards and calendars to fund this dream. Chuck’s last major publication was his contribution of the story of the Cascades Tribe to a chapter in Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia (2014), and his last major talk was delivered in February 2016 at the University of Oregon’s Knight Library where he discussed the heritage of his family in relation to the Virginia Miller photos on display in a Portland Art Museum exhibit. The last few weeks of his life were full of plans to continue and raise funds for his various projects, to publish a second edition of his book, to open the Chief Tumulth Heritage Center, and to preserve his legacy of over 140,000 photographs, manuscripts, publications, and activism papers.
Chuck is preceded by his parents A. Clyde Williams and Bettye J. Williams. He is survived by his sister, Anne White of Santa Rosa, Calif., niece, Pam Rungo of Cotati, Calif., and nephew Pete White of Petaluma, Calif. In addition, Chuck has many cousins living in Oregon and Washington. For over 30 years Chuck was a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde until his recent disenrollment.
Chuck will be missed by the thousands of people he knew in the region who loved him and respected his personal sacrifices so that we all could live better lives. In addition to his book, Chuck’s true legacy is that he actually changed the world in his lifetime through his work to preserve the Columbia Gorge for future generations.
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