Portion of Jesuit P.J. DeSmet
map showing 'Tchinouks' ca. 1840's.
Published Brussels, 1873. Courtesy Montana Tech Library Special Collections.
Wreck of the Peacock,
from 1841 Wilkes' U.S. Exploring Expedition
Henry Eld sketch.
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript
Encampment at Bakers Bay after the wreck of the Peacock, mouth
of the Columbia River.
Sketch by Henry Eld, 1841, officer on the Peacock with the Wilkes Expedition.
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript
about the state of the various mid-to lower-Columbia tribes in the
Chinook maiden - Columbia River
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
|Fort Clatsop > Culture > Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Many factors come together to reduce the influence of the Chinook
and Clatsop people in their own homelands. Neighboring tribes establish
relations with the trading companies, reducing the economic influence
of the native people of the lower Columbia, and cycles of epidemic disease
through the 1830s and ‘40s, reduce their physical presence to a
small fraction of the numbers observed by Lewis and Clark.
Library of Congress
1830s – Trading companies and settlers are placing increasing
emphasis on salmon fishing, employing Chinooks in the work. The Chinook
bring their cargo of fish by canoe to Hudson Bay Company posts in
exchange for tickets to be used for goods at the end of the fishing season.
The fish are pickled and shipped to the Hawaiian Islands.
As the population grows, so do the number and size of canneries.
In Clatsop Country
A Catholic missionary, Fr. Blanchet, lives among the Clatsop in 1839,
leaving little mark.
In May, 1840, Methodist missionary Jason Lee, his nephew Daniel, and
a number of families arrive on the Lausanne, ready to settle
in the country of the Clatsop. Among them are six ministers, four women
physician, a cabinetmaker, farmers, and mechanics, with their children.
| Also with them is Thomas Adams, the Kalapuya boy who
had been a student of Lee’s at the mission school on the Willamette,
(Wm. Brooks), the Chinook orphan who had also traveled
with Jason Lee, had died on their journey.
When the Lausanne arrived, Solomon Smith and Rev. David Lee
“went to Chenamas, the Chenook chief, and let him know that
we wanted to go on board, as probably our people had come in the ship.
The water being rough, he launched a large canoe with a crew of fifteen
to twenty men, in which he and his wife also embarked, and we were
all soon bounding delightfully over the proud waves, and in a short
time we found ourselves alongside the good ship Lausanne, which we
boarded, and were kindly received by the captain, and soon became acquainted
with the welcome passengers, through the aid of repeated instructions,
as they thronged around us” (Lee and Frost 1844:194).
An employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company…
”who was going up to Pillar Rock to the salmon fishing, with
a boat, to take one of our canoes in tow…being favoured with
a fine breeze, we soon found ourselves at the salmon fishery. Here
we found old Skumaquea and his wife. This was a head man of a small
band of Indians a few miles above. They took charge of one of our canoes;
and encouraged us to hope that when we arrived at their place we would
obtain a crew. So after replenishing our empty stomachs, we hoisted
sail again, and with considerable difficulty reached the old man’s
lodge; but, unfortunately, all the men had just gone about four miles
up the river, to one of the Cathlamet Islands, to witness a great medical
operation” (Lee & Frost 1844:234).
The conflict of cultures is about to begin; the feats of the medicine
man were disapproved of by the missionary.
"Mr. Lee commenced reproving them for their folly; but a venerable
old doctor informed him that it would be best for him to depart before
himself in trouble. So taking the old man’s advice, we laid
in a stock of fresh dried salmon, got our crew on board, and left
to manage the remainder
of the skokoms according to their ancient mode of practice" (Lee and Frost
Trouble began in the area before the missionaries got themselves settled,
when Kenneth McKay and his young Indian helper at a fishery at Pillar
Rock were murdered.
the details of the murders and how this crime was resolved.
Solomon and Celiast Smith (daughter of Comowol) are living on the Clatsop
Plain at this time, at the site of an ancient fishery at the mouth of
Neacoxie Creek, in a small cabin near a settlement of Clatsop Indians.
Solomon brings substantial numbers of horses and cattle with him to the
Although much has changed, much continues as it has always been, such
as the mode of transportation and the seasonal round. Two settlers from
the Willamette visit the Smiths by crossing Youngs Bay in a canoe, then
following the Skipanon River as far as they could (a few miles), then
crossing the Clatsop Plain by walking to the beach at the southern end
of the plain, where sat the Smith’s cabin. (Ruby &Brown 1976:206)
Rev. Frost visits Clatsop families near Youngs Bay in the spring, where they
have gathered for salmon fishing and to hunt ducks and geese, as their ancestors
have done since time immemorial.
In July, 1840, Solomon arranges for local people to help with the construction
of the mission on Youngs Bay, and the Smith family relocates to be part
of the effort.
“Kotata, the head man of the Clatsop clan, now made his appearance,
in company with a number of his men. After we explained to him the
object of our coming to settle among them, and the course we designed
to pursue in all our transactions with them, he promised to use his
influence with his people to prevent the commission of crime among
them for the future, and expressed a desire to be instructed with reference
to those things which pertained to their peace; and decided that it
was good for us to build a house, and live among them.
"Six or eight
of the men now went with us to the woods, and commenced carrying logs,
while we continued to cut down the trees form six to ten inches in
diameter, cutting them off at proper lengths; and before sunset we
had all the logs cut for the body of the cabin, which we designed to
be twenty feet long by eighteen wide.
"Being now fatigued, we returned
to the tent, where we found a very inviting supper in readiness, consisting
of brant, a species of the wild goose, and wild ducks, the roasting
and broiling of which presented another evidence of the consummate
skill of our excellent cook. The wild fowls were purchased from the
Indians, who were exceedingly pleased at having a market so near at
"After replenishing our stomachs with this welcome supply of
fresh provisions, we attended family devotions outside of the tent,
praying in Indian, and interpreting a word of exhortation from us to
our neighbours, to which they grunted assent; and then all hands lay
down to rest,--we in our tent, and the Indians around the fire before
the door” (Lee & Frost 1844:286).
"Although the Clatsops have traded with whites for many years,
this is the first experiment in living as neighbors after the brief interlude
with Lewis and Clark. The missionaries have only two white neighbours, “one
on the Clatsop Plain, and the other at Astoria, across Young’s
Bay; and during the storms, which are now almost incessant, this bay
cannot be crossed in a canoe without endangering life” (Lee & Frost
Soon after establishing the mission, Rev. John Frost records in his
diary about trouble among the Clatsops, resulting in the death of a number
of them. Skirmishes with muskets were daily events. Life was chaos
Many of the customs of the Clatsops are judged as barbaric by the settlers.
They have come at a time when tension is great for the Clatsops due to
their great losses from disease, the introduction of alcohol into their
lives, and the clashing of cultures right in their midst.
Reverend Frost describes what he learned about the abduction and value
of slaves in the early 1840s:
“ Their slaves are such as are taken prisoners in time of war,
or, perhaps, more properly, such as are stolen from other tribes. For
instance, a band of Killemooks go into the south, and falling in with
a weaker clan of their southern neighbours, they make no further ado,
but fall upon them, gun and knife in hand; some they kill, the remainder
they take prisoners, and convey them to the north, and sell them to
their Clatsop, Chenook, or Checalish neighbours, when they become slaves
for life, and their children after them. What they call a good man
slave is worth as much as a horse, that is, from ten to twelve blankets,
and so one, according to their size and qualifications. The female
slaves are worth less, from the fact that they are not able to perform
so much drudgery” (Lee & Frost 1844:102).
Relations between Indians and Whites are rapidly deteriorating. Indian
homelands are overrun by aliens, many of whom were racist and cruel.
Tensions grow between the Chinook and Clatsop, as well, and reach a peak
in 1844 when Clatsop headman Kotata murders his young Chinook wife. The
Oregon Mission is forced to close this same year and thereafter the two
races, after a half century of trade and intermarriage, begin to live
completely separate lives.
“The Chenooks who reside on the north side of the Columbia,
in plain sight and hearing of the writer, while he resided on the south
side of the river, during the summer of 1842, were at war among themselves,
and they were not at peace when he left the country. During the summer
referred to, you could hear the muskets and rifles firing, some days,
from morning till night; and that clan will soon be in the condition
of the Kilkenny cats, of whom it is reported that they continued to
fight until they devoured each other all but the tails.
“This dispute and consequent war arose among them in precisely the same
way that the most irreconcilable disputes and exterminating wars have arisen
in other hereditary monarchies among their Christian neighbours. Chenamus, their
chief, was called upon by death to abdicate the ancient throne upon which Comcomly
once sat in dignity and pomp when his white son-in-law bore rule to Astoria:
and now, as it generally goes, his son, the “heir apparent,” would
needs ascend this sear of ancient honour; but in this he found a rival, for another
salmon-eater, who perhaps felt a drop of “royal blood” running through
his veins, would be chief also, which was, of course, a sufficient cause of war"
(Lee and Frost 1844:97-98).
Clatsops number no more than 200 in 1840-41. By 1850, they are under
100 individuals. (Peterson 1991:18)
In Chinook Country
In 1853, James Swan reports on the efforts of a French priest living
west of Chinook Village. Father Le Pretre, a French priest “had
resided at Chenook for several years, devoting his time to the conversion
of the Indians, but with indifferent success, the whole known fruits
of his labors consisting in the various names he had baptized them with.
This fact he afterward acknowledged in a letter written by him, on his
return to France, to the postmaster of Chenook” (Swan 1969:102).
“The present state of the Indian population  in Oregon
and Washington does not reflect much credit on their Christian acquirements;
and although, in times of peace, they are willing to flock round
missions, and receive spiritual as well as temporal food, yet no
sooner does an opportunity occur when they can raise the war-whoop,
find these Christian converts among the most ruthless of the savages
in their horrid deed of blood.
“The Indians can see but little or no difference between their
system of Tománawos and our own views as taught them. For instance,
the talipus, or fox, is their emblem of the creative power; the smispee,
or duck, that of wisdom. And they say that the Boston people, or Americans,
have for their Tománawos the wheark, or eagle, and that the King
George, or English people, have a lion for their Tománawos” (Swan
Before Le Pretre, the two French Catholic missionaries who had established
the mission in 1847 abandoned Chinook Village in 1852, saying, “At
this moment our savages are few in number and several of them who remain
are now traveling so that there are only small numbers to whom I teach the
catechism” (Lionnet cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:219). “All of
them [the natives] had a general idea of the Christian religion, but not
one believed it” (Swan 1969:192-3).
In assessing the state of things for the Chinook, Lionnet concludes
that “...their greatest obstacle that we hold against this nation
is their drinks which they get in abundance from the Americans” (Lionnet
cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:218).
By mid-century, white settlers are concentrated on both sides of the
Columbia, extending many miles above the mouth, exploiting natural resources
for the international market, and particularly for the growing San Francisco
market due to the California gold rush. Away from this hub of activity,
local Indian people continue their lives as well as they can. By the
time James Swan arrives in 1852, the impacts of white settlement are
obvious. Farms, canneries, and mills can be found along the river where
once only Indian villages could be seen.
At Shoalwater [Willapa] Bay, in 1852, James Swan finds “a few
settlers… who were located there…for the purpose of procuring
oysters for the market of San Francisco,” an activity that had
started the previous year (Swan 1969:25). Nearby, along the banks of
one stream, Swan notes loggers at work to send timber to San Francisco.
Whereas the native residents of this bay have enjoyed its bounty for
their own use since time immemorial, they now work for the “oystermen”.
Mr. Russell’s house serves also as a trading post and a local hub
where Chinooks from the south and Chehalis and Quinaults from the north, “camped
around the house in little tents made of mats or their canoe-sails” (Swan
Swan’s description of old Chief Toke
James Swan travels from Willapa Bay to the Columbia and back in early
June of 1853, experiencing the life of the Chinook homeland. Wherever
he encounters Indian people, he is treated with kindness and hospitality.
He provides a detailed account of this journey and his arrival at Chinook
“…The head-quarters of the once powerful tribe of Chenook
Indians is bustling with the traditional activity of salmon fishing,
except now there are more whites than Indians. The “village proper” consists
of “some twelve or fourteen houses, occupied by whites, and nearly
the same number of Indian lodges… From a large and powerful tribe
in the days of Comcomly, the one-eyed chief,” … “the
scourges to the human race, measles and small-pox, have swept them off
in such numbers that at present they number but little over a hundred
persons,… men, women, and children” (Swan 1969:102, 110).
With the passing of Comcomly in 1835, Chenamus, becomes chief. He
and his wife live at the village of Qwatsamuts on Bakers Bay, and they
continue their family’s leading role in the trade. This Chinook
leader meets Dr. Richard B. Hinds, from the British ship, the Sulphur,
in 1839. Hinds is invited to go to the village of Qwatsamuts with the
chief’s wife “Sally”, (Aillapust), where he is shown
great hospitality. He is impressed by the split-wood, twenty-family longhouse
where the chief often sits on a platform at the rear, “backdropped
by a board painted in high relief of colored rings, and behind this,
a gigantic red and black figure against which he customarily sat to cast
off evil spells” (Hinds in Ruby & Brown 1976:198-199). Within
a few more years this traditional men’s craft of painted carving
is no longer done.
Their population is greatly reduced, but those remaining live their
lives according to the availability of seasonal foods, much as they always
have. Swan observes the Chinook women curing the salmon in the old way,
some for winter consumption and some for trading. “When perfectly
cured, it is packed in baskets for winter’s use or for trading,
and stored in a dry place. For trading with the interior Indians, the
salmon is frequently pounded up fine, and firmly pressed into baskets
of ten or twelve pounds each” (Swan 1969:112).
“ ...These people live principally upon roots, Salmon and clams the latter
they get at Shoalwater Bay. Of salmon they catch vast quantities, and of a quality
unsurpassed by any in the world. They are taken in small seines, and preserved
for winter use by drying and smoking, also by pounding in stone mortars quite
fine and pressing into small baskets, this is eaten in winter with the oil of
the fish which is generally preserved in the stomach of a seal” (Tappan
cited in Beckham 1987:21).
The Chinook people, by mid-century, have learned to live in both worlds.
Swan’s account of ‘personal decoration’ practices.
“The women are expert with the needle, and fashion and make
their dresses with great rapidity, imitating as near as they can the
of the white women they may have seen. They prefer calicoes with
small figures on them; and a blue ground, with little white dots or
seems to be the most in demand. White blankets are usually preferred,
but some will wear blue or green, and a few buy red ones; but white,
with a very narrow black stripe across the ends, is the favorite.
“Before the introduction of blankets and calicoes among them,
they used the dressed skins of the deer, bear, and sea-otter. The women
wore a sort of skirt or tunic, made from the inner bark of the young
cedar, prepared by beating till it was soft, and then spun into a yarn-like
thread, which was woven thickly on a string that passed around the body,
the ends hanging down like a thick fringe reaching to the knees. This
garment is still used by old women, and by all the females when they
are at work in the water, and is called by them their siwash coat, or
Indian gown” (Swan 1969:154-5).
“They are very eager to get the camphor-wood trunks that come
from China, covered with bright red or green paint, and studded with
brass nails. Into these they will stow every thing they can get” (Swan
When Governor Stevens arrives at Chinook Village in the season of the
Chinook Salmon in 1854, “The Chinooks still occupy the lands at
the mouth of the Columbia, the stronghold of their fathers” (Tappan
cited in Beckham: 1987). A member of the expedition brings into focus
the changes that have occurred along the Columbia:
“… but six or eight houses containing one hundred and twenty six
souls now mark the place where a few years ago lived a great and Happy tribe.
The ruins of their houses are still visible for miles along the shore. As nearly
as can be ascertained this tribe has been reduced within the last two years from
three times its present population Small Pox swept off many of them, though many
die annually from fever and ague... This tribe has no head or recognizable chief...” (Tappan
cited in Beckham 1987:21-22)
In addition to the Chinooks at Chinook Village, Tappan notes another
nine or ten families of Chinooks residing on Willapa Bay, part of a total
population of 151 - which excluded 35 slaves. Chinook women married to
whites are not counted in his figures (Beckham 1987:23).
Background: Map of Clatsop
County, Library of Congress