Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Village Life
Inter-Village Relations
Seasonal Round
"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
Intertribal Trade Network
Canoe People
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
Environmental History
Cultural History
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
Strangers Arrive
Maritime Fur Trade
Fort Clatsop Winter
Overland Fur Trade
Disease and Burial Customs
Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Shrinking Land Base
Making Treaties
Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited

British Naval uniform, ca. 1777 (Lieutenant)
Example of 1791 American schooner
Courtesy U. S. Coast Guard
Unusual example of clamon
Armor vest of caribou skin
covered with Chinese coins,

Tlingit, Northwest Coast, n.d.
The Field Museum, #CSA38922
1802 British seamans uniform
Courtesy British Empire website

Read Lewis and Clark's
List of Traders who
preceded them.

The Clatsops, Chinnooks, Killamucks &c. are very loquacious and inquisitive; they possess good memories and have repeated to us the names capasities of the vessels &c of many traders and others who have visited the mouth of this river... (Clark in Moulton v.6, 1990:168).

Clamon elkhide armor.
Canadian Museum of Civilization, catalogue no. VII-X-1075, #S93-13487

British Naval uniform, ca. 1800
Copper kettle, ca/. 1780
American maritime uniform, ca. 1812
Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
1779 Chart of Pacific Ocean, by Tanner, showing trade routes to China, via Sandwich Islands.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Early Fur Trade
From painting by George Lagergren. Used with permission.

Before the first ship sailed into the mouth of the Columbia, the local people had seen strangers, from shipwrecks, washed onto the shore; they called these people Tlahan’nips, “people who wash ashore”. These may have been Chinese explorers or Japanese fishermen…no-one knows. Once bearded Europeans arrived, they gained the name Suyapees, “upside-down faces”, with their hairy chins and bald heads.

L & C – 1806
1792 – 1805

Chinook Encounter New Trading Partners

Capt. Gray’s ship, Columbia Rediviva,
surrounded by native canoes.

Clatsop County Reference Information
May 11, 1792
American sea captain Robert Gray arrives at Baker Bay, preceded by his bad reputation amongst Indian tribes up and down the coast.

He hopes to establish a reasonable trade on the Columbia for furs to trade in China. He had already witnessed a significant increase in prices further north along the coast, from the absurdly low cost of a sea otter pelt for a chisel in 1787, to paying four times that within a few years. In 1792, “a skin now cost him roughly a ‘blanket’; four skins, a pistol; and six, a musket" (Fiske, cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:43).

Gray arrives amongst the Chinook ….

“Vast many canoes came off, full of Indians. they appear’d to be a savage sett and was well arm’d, every man having his Quiver and Bow slung over his shoulder. Without doubt we are the first Civilized people that ever visited this port, and these poor fellows view’d us and the Ship with the greatest asstonishment. their language was different from any we have yet heard. The Men where entirely naked, and the Women, except a small apron before, made of Rushes, was also in a state of Nature. they was stout made; and very ugly. Their Canoes was from the Logs rudely cut out, with upright ends. We purchas’d many furs and fish... (Boit in Howay 1990:395-6).

And the next day:

“Vast many Canoes along side, full of Indians. they brought a great many furs which we purchas’d cheap for Blanketts and Iron...

“This evening heard the hooting of Indians, all hands was immediately under arms, sevrall canoes was seen passing near the Ship, but was dispers’d by firing a few Musketts over their heads. At Midnight we heard them again, and soon after as ‘twas bright Moon light, we see the Canoes approaching to the Ship. We fir’d sevrall cannon over them, but still persisted to advance with the war Hoop.’ At length a large Canoe with at least 20 Men in her got within 1/2 pistol shot of the quarter, and with a Nine pounder, loaded with langerege and about 10 Musketts, loaded with Buck shot, we dash’d her all to peices, and no doubt kill’d every soul in her. The rest soon made a retreat. I do not think that they had aney Conception of the power of Artillery" (Boit in Howay 1990:396).

Gray’s outfit appears to be the first to introduce iron tools like axes and muskets. An old Chehalis chief, Kaukauan, told George Gibbs that he had traded with Gray for axes and knives, the first he had seen, along with a musket, about which they were completely ignorant.(Gibbs 1877:238)

Model 1795 American flintlock musket
Courtesy Monty Whitley, Inc.

During their nine days within the homeland of the Chinook, the Columbia’s crew carries on a brisk trade with the locals. Some trade values from Boit’s log:

2 Salmon = one nail
4 sea otter skins = 1 sheet copper
1 beaver skin = 2 spikes
'land' furs = 1 spike

Read more about trade values, from Boit’s log.

“Shifted the Ship’s birth to her Old Station abrest the Village Chinoak, command’d by a cheif name Polack. Vast many Canoes full of Indians from different parts of the river where constantly along side. This River in my opinion, wou’d be a fine place for to sett up a Factory. The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civill (not even offering to steal). during our short stay we collected 150 Otter, 300 Beaver, and twice the Number of other land furs. the river abounds with excellent Salmon, and most other River fish, and the Woods with plenty of Moose and Deer, the skins of which was brought us in great plenty, and the Banks produces a ground Nut, which is an excellent substitute for either bread or Potatoes, We found plenty of Oak, Ash, and Walnut trees, and clear ground in plenty, which with little labour might be made fit to raise such seeds as is nessescary for the sustenance of inhabitants" (Boit in Howay 1990:399).

In October, two more ships arrive, this time with British men on a national mission. Although they aren’t there for the purpose of trade, some trading is conducted. The Chinook traded salmon to the crew in exchange for copper.

The following summer, in August, 1793, the Spanish ship Mexicana, spends time at the mouth of the Columbia, under stressful circumstances. They fail to trade with the local people, and for reasons dealing with international relations, the Spanish never return to the area.

Price of Clamons

In May 1793, American Ship Jefferson arrives to trade along the coast, with schooner Resolution – trading that season from the Columbia to Alaska. Bernard Magee, 1st officer of the Jefferson writes in his log-book:

“Our next attention was to prepare the little schooner [the Resolution] on a voyage to the southward to the Culumby’s River in the lat. 46°55’, where we had good information of clamons to be procured, and has been purchased by several for three chisels apiece and afterward bartered skin for skin" (Ruby and Brown 1976:61).

In July, the Resolution arrives in Chinook country. Captain Burling obtains 63 sea otter skins and 27 clamons from the Chinooks. Trade values:

-one copper sheet for 2 sea otter skins and four clamons,
-a jacket and trousers for one sea otter skin
-a four-foot iron sword for one clamon; two swords for one sea otter skin
-a four-foot copper sword for one sea otter skin

1796 British light dragoon sword
Courtesy of the Lanes Armoury

The Resolution set out for the Columbia again in April 1794 carrying 378 iron swords, 52 copper sheets, 11 trade muskets, 7 pistols, 8 copper-mounted cutlasses, and 150 fathoms of dentalia, which were traded for clamons at Baker’s Bay. It was intended to be her last voyage before being sold to Chief Wickananish on Vancouver Island for 50 sea otter pelts. But she never returned from the Columbia, nor was her fate discovered. (Ruby and Brown 1976:63)

Number of Traders

It is difficult to know for sure how many traders visited the Chinook during the late 18th century, but it is probably more than Lewis and Clark might have imagined. With the arrival of twelve traders in 1794, including a Captain Moore, of the Phoenix, who wintered on the Columbia, began a pattern of trade and eventual settlement that would change the lives of Chinook people in ways they could not have imagined (Howay).

Along with trade goods came devastating epidemics, and changing relationships among tribal groups as they competed for the most significant trade goods.

Research by Howay (1930, 1931) suggests the following numbers of traders among the Chinook:

1794 – 12 traders.
1795 - 7 traders
1796 - 7 traders

One of these traders was Captain Charles Bishop, who left England in the fall of 1794 in the Ruby, and sailed to the Northwest Coast of America in search of otter furs. His journals provide some of the best early descriptions of Chinook people at the mouth of the Columbia.

May 22nd - June 5th, 1795: Bishop anchored at “Deception" [Baker] Bay,

“during which time we purchased upwards of one hundred good sea otter skins and a variety of others….nearly the whole day obliged to desist from the work and attend Soley to Guard the Ship having often more than 200 Indians alongside and on the deck and all their Cannoes Plentifully arm’d with Bows & arrows, spears and some Musketts.

“As in all probability I shall be better acquainted with these people [Chinook] before we leave the coast of America…they where very quiet and peacable but no doubt where ready to Snatch at any advantage that want of caution in us might offer.

December 10th, Bishop writes:

“On the I0th: we where visited by Taucum the chief of the Chinnook Tribe, with several inferieor chiefs. We have hitherto been successful in trading with the Natives and which has been conducted with the greatest Harmony. Their Former disposition to theiving is much abated. We have lost, nothing, but when any of the inferiour people contrived to perloin a Knife or any article, upon aquainting the chiefs we generally have had it restored the next day. One of the Rubys People stole an Arrow, and upon its being Discovered, he was tied up and got a severe Flogging, this and several other circumstances has given these people great confidance in us. A trifling Present now and then gratifies their Desires, and which is generally returned by a Present of Fish or Cran­berries, nor do they withhold their Daughters, some of whom are well Featured young Women " (Bishop 1967:116).

Bishop’s crew returned in October to Deception Bay, “where we intend Passing the Severe Winter months" (Bishop (Roe, ed.) 1967:112).

“...they where hospitable, and kind to us and we never entered their houses, but fish and that of the best quality they bad, was cooked and placed before us, and they seemed to feel a disapointment if we did not eat heartily of it, and would also delight in feeding, even, our Dogs and rendering every assistance or amusement to the People Employed on shore. Thus we passed upwards of three months, mutually pleased with each other

“The Sea otter skins procured here, are of an Excellent Quality and large size, but they are not in Abundance and the Natives themselves Set great value on them. Beaver and two or three kind of Fox Skins, Martin and River Otter are also bought here—but the best trade is the Leather War Dresses, articles to be disposed of, on other Parts of the Coast, to great advantage. We Procured such a Quantity, that at the least Estimation is Expected will Procure us near 700 Prime Sea Otter Skins. These dresses are made from the Hide of the Moose Deer which are very large and thick. This is dressed into a kind of White leather, and doubled, & is when Properly made up, a compleat defence against a Spear or an Arrow and Sufficient almost to resist a Pistol Ball" (Bishop 1967:128).

Trade Items 1804 - 1805

“ Ship Caroline of Boston, May 21, 1804"
     (Inscription carved in a tree at the mouth of the Columbia.)

Crew of the Caroline traded for 450 beaver skins and 145 clamons (Ruby and Brown 1976:83). By 1804, Indians were receiving larger numbers of guns and more alcohol. The Caroline carried 650 gallons of rum. The Chinook favored the blue glass beads brought by these boats, calling them “chief beads". They also acquired knives, copper and brass kettles, armbands, blue robes, cloth, and buttons which they traded upriver for pounded salmon, beargrass and roots.

In April, 1805, while Lewis and Clark started their trek into the uncharted lands beyond the Mandan villages, Captain Samuel Hill, of Boston, arrived in Chinook country to trade for furs and clamons. The crew of the Lydia obtained clamons and beaver skins in addition to a wide variety of pelts from land animals, probably acquired through trade with tribes up the Columbia. They continued to trade their staple items of salmon and roots to feed the crew. (from Ruby and Brown p 88-90, taken from various unpublished sources)

Iron had already glutted their market, and these wealthy native peoples had less need for European goods than the Europeans had for furs.

Lewis and Clark document ongoing trade with whites, 1806
Meriwether Lewis, January 9, 1806

“This traffic on the part of the whites consists in vending, guns, (principally old british or American musquits) powder, balls and Shot, Copper and brass kettles, brass teakettles and coffee pots, blankets from two to three point, scarlet and blue Cloth (coarse), plates and strips of sheet copper and brass, large brass wire, knives, beads and tobacco with fishinghooks buttons and some other small articles; also considerable quantity of Sailor’s cloaths, as hats coats, trowsers and shirts" (Lewis in Moulton V.6 1990:187).

The Northwest trade gun. smoothbore, fowling piece, or single barrel shotgun.
Photograph by O. N. Eddins.
String of jumbo Padre "Chief" beads.
Photograph by O. N. Eddins.

Blue glass beads,
Photograph by O. N. Eddins.
“The natives are extravegantly fond of the most common cheap blue and white beads, of moderate size, or such that from 50 to 70 will weigh one penneyweight. the blue is usually pefered to the white; these beads constitute the principal circulating medium with all the indian tribes on this river; for these beads they will dispose any article they posess.- the beads are strung on strans of a fathom in length and in that manner sold by the bredth or yard" (Lewis in Moulton V.6 1990:187).
1807 – 1811
Intense Competition

Competition for furs during the first decade of the 19th century is very steep. During the two years that Lewis and Clark travel the West, American vessels trade for “17,445 sea otter, 140, 297 seal, and 34,460 beaver skins” along the Northwest Coast, to be sold in China (Ruby & Brown 1976:111). Soon after Lewis and Clark depart the country, three American firms dominate the Columbia fur trade – Lyman, Lambs, and Perkinses – but not without struggle.

In July, 1807, British ships fire on American vessels, and force American captives to serve in their navy. (Ruby & Brown 1976:114) President Jefferson decides to place an embargo on American shipping, hoping the European desire for American goods will reverse the situation. During the year it lasted, “The ban helped raise the price of prime sea otter skins from thirty dollars in 1808 to fifty dollars the following year, but the price fell again when the ban was lifted” (Ruby & Brown 1976:114).

During the 1808 embargo, a Lyman ship (Guatimozin) is buying furs in the Columbia, and a Lambs ship, the Derby, trades along the coast for furs, as well. The company owners instruct Benjamin Swift, the captain of the Derby, about trading, as follows:

“…Such violations of the principals of humanity have been exhibited towards the Natives by some of our Countrymen as to call for Government interference. A cautious behaviour and endeavours to conciliate the affections of the Indians will better subserve our interests. We would, however, recommend that you do not place your person, or your ship in their power. Revenge burns in their bosoms…” (Briggs, cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:115).

Regarding specifics of trade on the Columbia, Swift is told to “…Go to Columbia River to dispose of your Copper tea kettles, sheet Copper, thin Cloths & Tobacco” (Briggs, cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:115). In order to get clamons sufficient to trade with the Haidas of the Queen Charlotte Islands, Swift was instructed by company owners to stay on the Columbia at least six to eight weeks, during the winter (Ruby and Brown 1976:115).

Captain Bumstead of the Guatimozin manages to acquire one of the medals Lewis and Clark had left with the Chinooks and Clatsops (Ruby & Brown 1976:114). It seems strange that one of these treasured medals would have been lost to the fur trade. Perhaps this loss can be attributed to the introduction of liquor by these unethical traders.

Within two short years of the Lewis and Clark period, the native people of the Columbia have been introduced to liquor. Clark, in his journal, makes clear that the use of alcohol was unknown to them.

“…these people do not appear to know the uce of sperituous liquors, they never having once asked us for it; I presume therefore that the traders who visit them have never indulged them with the uce of it...”(Lewis in Moulton V.6, 1990:179).

Not only the British challenge the American claim to the Columbian furs. The Russians, in 1808, claim the coast from Alaska to the Columbia. The Russians compete for the Columbia trade until 1823, after which time they claim territory north of 51 degrees North latitude.

Slave Trade

The maritime traders of the early 19th century start to carry a new commodity to trade for clamons – slaves. Slave-trading isn’t new to the Chinooks, William Clark had been offered a boy for beads and guns during their winter at Fort Clatsop, but it expands with the intensified trade network.

Slaves are acquired from the Chinooks, who raid neighboring tribes, and these Indians are traded to Russians, by at least one American captain. Chinooks also trade their clamons for slaves from these maritime traders, who acquire men, women and children on Vancouver Island and other northern locations. In 1811, one ten year old boy is traded to the Chinook for 15 clamons, 4 otter skins, and 2 blankets (Furgerson cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:116). Chinooks get guns, powder and shot, steel knives, and axes for slaves.

Market Changes

By 1810, competition for the Columbia country is intense and, at the same time, fur prices drop in Canton, as their market becomes saturated with furs, prices escalate on the Pacific shore because of dwindling numbers of fur-bearers, especially otters. The reduced demand for goods from China and greater demand for beaver pelts from Europeans helps turn the tide of history away from the maritime trade. American entrepreneur, John Jacob Astor, plans to beat the Russians and the British in their efforts by establishing a “fur colony” on the Columbia. He sends one group by sea and another by land, initiating the overland trade in 1811.

Portion of Vancouver’s 1798 chart, showing the mouth of the Columbia River.
Courtesy Early Washington Maps.