Chatakuin “The Place of the Big Trees” 
Five Oaks

Chatakuin, “the Place of Big Trees  (Five Oaks Gathering Place)

Five Oaks  


Chatakuin  “The Place of the Big Trees”

The first settlers to arrive did not tame a natural wilderness; they inherited a parkland. In those early times, there stood a circle of oak trees which was a landmark for the Atafalati. They held meetings and camped under  Chatakuin, “the Place of Big Trees,” during the spring/summer/fall of their seasonal rounds. (Winter encampments for some Atfalati were cedar-planked longhouses around Wapato Lake.)


The Atafalati had been burning the fields in the fall for thousands of years. The open meadows were dotted with small groves of huge oak trees, because the fire had little effect on them. Finding ripe acorns after the summer grasses were burned made it easier for gatherers. Forests and other trees grew in the foothills. However, in order to insure an abundance of plants and animals essential to their diet, Atafalati used fire to maintain the grasslands. The burning encouraged the growth of camas bulb, an important plant in their diet. The fire helped keep the forests from taking over. So it went on for years. Robert L. Benson, “The Tualatin Valley, A Talk for Schools.”


The Place of the Big Trees eventually became known as the “Five Oaks Gathering Place.” First used by the Atfalati, they were later joined by the trappers who had become farmers. When the Mountain Men settled down after the 1840 hardships in the fur trade, they called this area under the five oaks, their Rocky Mountain Retreat.  Joseph L. Meek famed “Mountain Man” and his fellow trappers would hold reunions here each year in the far west, recalling their earlier years of trials and tribulations in the Rockies. It was a “Western Rendezvous” under the trees.  


                                                                            Joe Meek

Five Oaks Gathering Place.

Pioneers used the five oaks are as a gathering place and for picnics.  It became the social center for the first community settlement established by independent American farmers (unconnected with missions or fur companies) in the West.  Fourth of July picnics, horse races, and religious revivals were held in this central setting.  At least one court session was held there too.  Robert L.Benson, Pioneer Landmarks of Washington County, Oregon.

Five Oaks Middle School is named for this historic area.


Washington County Museum photo