British Naval uniform,
ca. 1777 (Lieutenant)
Example of 1791 American
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
Lewis and Clark's
List of Traders who
“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,
Clamon elkhide armor.
© Canadian Museum of Civilization, catalogue no. VII-X-1075,
British Naval uniform,
Copper kettle, ca/.
American maritime uniform,
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.
|1792 – 1805
Chinook Encounter New Trading Partners
|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
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
2 Salmon = one nail
4 sea otter skins = 1 sheet copper
1 beaver skin = 2 spikes
'land' furs = 1 spike
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
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
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
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
“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
-a four-foot copper sword for one sea otter skin
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).
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]
“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
Bishop’s crew returned in October to Deception Bay, “where
we intend Passing the Severe Winter months" (Bishop (Roe, ed.)
“...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"
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
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
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
|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.
jumbo Padre "Chief" beads.
Photograph by O.
|“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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
maritime trade. American entrepreneur, John Jacob Astor, plans to beat
the Russians and the British in their efforts by establishing a “fur
the Columbia. He sends one group by sea and another by land, initiating
the overland trade in 1811.