Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
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"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
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  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
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Fort Clatsop Winter
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Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited

Statue of Ilchee, daughter of Concomly, on banks of Columbia at Vancouver, WA.
Courtesy Vancouver-Clark Parks & Rec.
Celiast Smith, daughter of Comowoll (Peterson:1991)

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Leadership
Chiefs and Village Leadership

Privileges and Responsibilities

Lewis and Clark may have underestimated the power of a chief. In their understanding, the chief’s “authority or the deference paid him is in exact equilibrium with the popularity or voluntary esteem he has acquired among the individuals of his band or nation."

Early explorers to the lower Columbia region greatly misunderstood the complexity of leadership among the region's diverse tribal populations. In the following interview, Ray Gardner (Chinook) discusses Lewis and Clark's perception of Comcomly and his influence in the region, and the role of other leaders such as Huxvelt and Gobaway who Lewis and Clark overlooked. As a result of these misconceptions, Lewis and Clark grouped all people of the region together as Chinook, despite their distinctive characteristics.

"...Each village has its chief, but that chief does not seem to exercise a great authority over his fellow citizens.' These are the word of Franchere written in 1819 with reference to the social organization of the Lower Chinook'" (Franchere 1854:250).

Emma Luscier (Ray: 1938)

Mrs. Luscier, a Chinook leader of the early 20th century, describes chiefs with the power to take whatever they want at will, yet, a man who pushed these privileges too far might be removed from their leadership role.(Ray 1938:56)

Broughton (1792:40) told that the “friendly old chief…had sufficient authority to demand part of the Sport every Hunter or Fisherman had met with." From the excess the chief was able to help their European visitors in times of need.

In Clatsop country, after a hunter returned to camp with an elk, “…according to custom, the most of it was taken to the lodge of the chief." (Lee and Frost 1844:283), then a feast was prepared for the village.

Anecdote about Celiast and McDougal passed on to Lee from
Mr. James Birnie who had been in charge of the post at Astoria

Robert Stuart of the Astorians understood that the chiefs were responsible to determine fault in controversies and to punish offenders. (Stuart 1953:36)

Women Leaders

"Chinook women really have a very important role in our society and while most of the time, men were headmen, that is actually not entirely true. Women could also hold the position of head-person. In one of our main villages here, in fact-- the village of Comcomly, the head person that was very famous in Lewis and Clark's time-- his mother was the head person there, and that's who he inherited that right from.

"Chinooks inherit rights from our parents and you inherit rights equally from your mother and father. Much of our culture that we have inherited is the result of some very strong women" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).

From Charles Wilkes' narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition in 1841, we have this account of another head woman:

"...the next morning Mr. Colvocoressis went, with the sergeant and boy, to an old squaw chief, who had promised, at Nisqually, to be their guide to the Sachal river, and to furnish horses and men to cross the portage. They returned at an early hour, without either horses or Indians, but with a promise that they were to be furnished the next day. The next morning they found that the chief had arrived, with five horses and a number of Indians, and was ready to transport the baggage. Some time, however, elapsed before an arrangement could be made for the large canoe, which was though to be too heavy to transport; but this was finally settled by the same personage offering another in lieu of it, which, though of smaller dimensions, was accepted. Ten Indians were furnished to transport it and the rest of the articles, and they were soon in a condition to move. This dispatch was principally owing to the directions and management of the squaw chief, who seemed to exercise more authority than any that had been met with; indeed, her whole character and conduct placed her much above those around her. Her horses were remarkably fine animals; her dress was neat, and her whole establishment bore the indications of Indian opulence. Although her husband was present, he seemed under such good discipline, as to warrant the belief that the wife was the ruling power, or, to express it in more homely language, "wore the breeches."

"... By 6 p.m. they had carried everything across and embarked; but the river was full of sand-bars, shallow rapids, and sunken snags, which often compelled them to drag the canoe over by main force. The land on both sides of the river is flat, marshy, and well wooded. Among the trees were many ash. They stopped for the night at an Indian camp…

"…When they had proceeded some distance, they were overtaken by the squaw chief and her husband, who passed them quickly in a light canoe. During the day they saw several deserted native huts, situated on small prairies, extending back some distance from the river, and in the rear, on either side, were seen hills rising to the height of about fifteen hundred feet.

"... On the 31st, after passing two elbows in the river, the cape on the south of the entrance to Gray's Harbour was seen. The flood-tide was very strong against them, so that they made but slow progress, and as they opened out the harbour and entered it, they found a strong southwest wind blowing, which caused a short and disagreeable sea, that very nearly swamped their small canoe, and obliged them to run for the lee shore. Here all the things were taken out and placed to dry, on one of the huge trees that had been brought down by the freshets. From this awkward situation they were relieved by the old squaw chief, who had preceded them for Nisqually. She came over in her large canoe, with ten Indians, and offered to carry the party over to the weather shore, where they could encamp in a less exposed place. The offer was gladly accepted, and they were taken over to the village (Wilkes: 1845).

Succession of Chiefs

Chinook Chiefs

1792 - Polack, chief of Chinook Village (Boit in Howay 1990:398)
1795 - Taucum (Stockum), a first chief Shelathwell and Concomly, secondary chiefs Chinini and an unnamed chief who recovered from temporary insanity (Bishop 1967:116, 118)
1806 - Taucum, Shilarlawit, Concomly, Chinnini and Norcarte and Delashalwit
1812 - only three villages mentioned by Henry, and only two chiefs –
Concomly and Stockum. (in Coues 1897 2:754, 825)
David Thompson (Glover 1962:362) reported that Concomly was acting as chief of the Clatsop village across the river from his own.
1824-25 - Concomly on the north side of Columbia and Coalpo on the south (Ft. George District Report of 1824-25) According to Scouler (1905:276-77), the village at Pt. Ellis had been the “favorite residence" of Concomly and his people until it was abandoned out of grief for the many family members who had died recently and were buried nearby.

Read about Chief Concomly's power.

The Succession of Concomly

Concomly, about sixty years old in 1824, had conferred his name and the chieftainship on his son Shalapau, so had taken the name of Madsu for himself" (Scouler 1905:167, 169, 277). Shalapau later died along with one of his brothers. Cassicus, the eldest son, according to some, became Concomly’s successor. He may be the same man noted as chief of the Lower Chinook in 1839, under the name Chenamus (Hinds 1839:505[Hajda 1984: 188]).

According to others, Ranald MacDonald became known as Concomly and was considered the heir after the old chief died in 1830 (Dunn 1844:131). Ranald was the grandson of Concomly through a daughter and the son of the trader, Alexander MacDonald. Many of the white traders considered the inheritor of Concomly’s chieftainship to be Casino, the powerful leader from the area of Fort Vancouver, and husband of Concomly’s daughter, Ilche.

Clatsop Chiefs
1802 -
Three years before Lewis and Clark arrived at the mouth of the Columbia, the Clatsop population had been decimated by smallpox. Several hundred people died, including four chiefs (Moulton V.6 1990:285).
1805-6 -
Stillasha, Comowoll, Shanoma, Warholott, and Cuscalah (Moulton V.6 1990:73,120,154)
1811+ -
Coalpo (treated as principal chief by the Astorians, noted by some to be Chinook, although a south-side village)
1812 -
Comowoll (Henry in Coues: 1897) Concomly noted as chief of village across from where David Thompson was living (see map of Belcher expedition (1843)
1824-25 -
Coalpo-chief of village near Ft. George Wahhoola- chief of a village on Pt. Adams
Background: Emma Millet Luscier (Ray: 1938)