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The name comes from a Kathlamet Indian village located on the north bank of the Columbia River near the present town of Cathlamet. Chief Wakaiyakam, whose name the village took, is buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Cathlamet. Wahkiakum means "tall timber" in Chinook.
Wahkiakum County is the smallest county (by total area) in the state, and has the third-smallest land area (behind San Juan County and Island County).
The county seat is the town of Cathlamet, which is also the county's largest and only incorporated community. The County operates the Wahkiakum County Ferry, which connects Cathlamet to Westport, Oregon, across the Columbia River. Cathlamet was sighted in 1792 by Lt. W.R. Broughton, while verifying Capt. Robert Gray's reported discovery of the Columbia River.
In 1805, the Lewis & Clark Expedition found the Kathlamet and Wahkiakum tribes living here during their Northwest Expedition and they camped at the present day Vista Park in Skamokawa where they traded with the Indians.