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

Portion of 1821 map of the Columbia by Alexander Ross.
Courtesy Ellensburg Public Library.

Courtesy O. N. Eddins

Read John Dunnís description of dentalium

Hudsonís Bay trunk.
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Wa.
Tomahawk pipe, trade item.
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Wa.
Fort Vancouver of 1845,
painting by Richard Schlecht.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service, Fort Vancouver

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Overland Fur Trade

Showdown with the Albatross

Intruders - The Astorians

Alien Establishments in Chinook Country
Showdown with the Albatross

In early June, 1810, the Chinooks with some Chehalis allies, arm themselves and set out to confront a group of Suyapees who are cutting trees and clearing ground, presumably to create a settlement. No-one is going to be allowed to settle upstream from the Chinooks and usurp their role in the upriver trade! The crew of the Albatross, led by Bostonian, Nathan Winship, have started building a trading establishment 40 miles above the mouth of the Columbia. The Americans quickly ascertain that they are no match for the angry locals. The captain’s assistant, William Gale, understands that these people are:

“…in the habit of purchasing skins of the upper tribes and reselling them to the ships which occasionally arrive at the River…[making them] afraid and certainly with reason, that the settlement being established so far up, will tend to injure their own trade, and they are no doubt determined to prevent it if possible” (Gale, cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:121).

The Chinook and Chehalis men succeed in driving the Americans back down the river and, as soon as they move, trading begins. The “Boston Men” give up on their plan to establish a trading house, recognizing that the country belongs to the Chinooks.

Intruders – The Astorians
Astoria as it was in 1813 (Franchere: 1854)
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

April, 1811 -- A ship arrives and anchors in Bakers Bay. Chief Comcomly observes two of the men exploring the south bank of the Columbia. He warns them not to attempt to cross back over to the ship in Bakers Bay due to the weather, but the men ignore him and capsize. Chinooks rescue the men, take them to Chinook Village where they dry their clothes and extend them every kindness. The men stay with their rescuers three days. When the weather calms, two large canoes arrive at the ship, bearing the two lost men. The ship is the Tonquin, sent by John Jacob Astor to establish a trading fort at the mouth of the Columbia. Although this first encounter with the Astorians is friendly, relations become tense as these newcomers establish the first permanent settlement in the country. They locate this establishment on the south shore, in Clatsop territory, across the Columbia from Chinook Village. Thirty-three men from the Tonquin occupy Astoria.

Robert Stuart, one of the partners in the trading venture, assesses the numbers of fighting men among the local tribes and reports on their trade goods:

“The Chinooks and Clatsops are the only Tribes in the immediate vicinity, the former can bring 214 and the latter 180 fighting men into the field.—About 40 miles to the Northward, along the Coast, live the Chi-hee-leesh, 234 men, and about the same distance to the southward are the Callemax, in number 200; these four nations generally come directly to the establishment, with what Furs &ct. they have to trade, which for the most part consist, of Sea Otter, Beaver, River Otter, Bear Skins, dressed Elk skins, Muskrats, Salmon, and Roots – but the Chinooks are more especially the intermediate traders between the whites and inland Tribes, particularly those to the northward.

“The Coast near the mouth of the River, produces a few Sea Otter, and some scattering Beaver, which the Natives, both from inexperience and indolence, seem as yet little inclined to reduce in number, altho’ their sole dependence for sustenance is upon Fish, Roots, and what few Animals they can kill” (Stuart 1953:28-29,32).

In May, Clatsop Chief Coalpo agrees to lead a party of the Astorians upriver. They go as far as the Dalles, but he refuses to lead them further.

David Thompson and his party of the Canadian North West Company, in 1811, cross the Rockies and descend the Columbia to its mouth in July, where they find the Astorians already established on the south shore.

Another Astorian trading party sets out an upriver expedition, July 12, 1812. Again, they use a Clatsop interpreter. Midway, the interpreter has a change of plans:

“…our Clatsop interpreter, meeting with two Indians from above, expressed a wish of returning to the rapids to procure the assistance of a friend, without whom he could not precisely interpret the language of the natives at the Falls.—his request was reluctantly granted, and he set off with a promise to rejoin us next day—“ (Stuart 1953:55-57).

As soon as the fort is established, local Indians are always around. The fort becomes a gathering place and stays that way until the end of July where numbers drop off significantly. It seems probable that the Chinooks are reacting to the competition the Astorians have established. Their July expedition upriver resulted in a short-lived trade relationship with some upriver tribe, who previously had traded with Comcomly. No wonder relations become strained!

Although five of the Astorians - Ross Cox, Alexander Ross, Gabriel Franchere, Robert Stuart, and Peter Corney—write books describing life at Astoria, none of them mention the Chinooks during the winter of 1811-12, probably due to the arrangement of winter villages and the absence of trade and travel during this season. Trade resumes in the spring, with rates established by the Company. Their ship, the Beaver, arrives with new goods, deemed inferior by Indians and traders alike.

Trade Rates in 1812

One half-axe = four beaver
Hatchet = two beaver
Yard of cloth = four beaver
Yard of cotton = two beaver
Large knife = two beaver
Five leaves of well-twisted tobacco = one beaver

Astor’s Pacific Fur Company's outpost is short-lived. Natives, further north along the coast had blown up the Tonquin on its first voyage, and supply ships are few and far between. The War of 1812 impacts the trade and makes the traders nervous. They undertake several expeditions into the interior for furs, but their business is not enough to make a profit for the company. Astor, fearful about being attacked by the British because of the War of 1812, sells out to the North West Company.

Duncan McDougall’s Marriage to Ilche is perhaps the best known, but a number of the Astorians married daughters of high-ranking Chinook and Clatsop families. Some of them left their families behind when the Nor’westers took over the trading establishment, while others settled in Oregon and raised their families.

Alien Establishments in Chinook Country

The Northwest Company

In October, 1813, an overland party of Nor’westers arrive to assume command of the fort. In December, their ship, the Raccoon, arrives, bringing much confusion to the Chinooks. Concomly reports to his son-in-law, McDougall,

“See those few King George people who come down the river: they were poor; they have no goods, and were almost starving; yet you were afraid of them, and delivered your fort and all your goods to them; and now King George’s ships are coming to carry you all off as slaves. We are not afraid of King George’s people. I have got eight hundred warriors, and we will not allow them to enslave you. The Americans are our friends and allies” (Ross cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:_).

On December 13, 1813, the fort is officially transferred to the Northwest Company who name it Fort George, for King George III of England.

"sperituous liquors" and the Chinook

Lewis notes in January, 1806:

“ 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)

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George Lagergren

The Hudson’s Bay Company Years

Fort Astoria changes hands a number of times through these early years and the local people just adapt to the new traders, whether British, Canadian or American. Eventually the profit-driven, British, Hudson's Bay Company emerges as the winner of a bloody competition with the North West Company and takes over the Columbia fur trade in 1821. The Hudson Bay Company leadership establishes a policy of peace with the Indian tribes, and pays fair prices for furs secured through trade. These policies, along with a well-capitalized and organized effort, allow them to expand upriver with success, where earlier attempts failed.

Goods are introduced to native people all along the coast from the Hudson Bay Company’s coastal maritime trade system. They employ a steam-powered side-wheeler, the Beaver, to bring manufactured items to native villages all along the Pacific coast to Alaska. But what is gained cannot begin to make up for what is lost.

The Company operates a lumber mill on the north bank of the Columbia, selling lumber at their retail outlets in San Francisco and Honolulu. They also sell salted salmon from fisheries on the river, including one right at Pillar Rock. They also clear land to establish farms from which they sell produce throughout the region. The home of the Chinooks and Clatsops is changed forever by these endeavors.

Needing to feed nearly 600 men and their families, the Company develops a network of self-sufficient posts. Fort George continues to operate in the territories of the lower Chinook and Clatsops; but, in 1825, a new hub, Fort Vancouver, is established near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Other forts are built on all the major rivers in the region.

1825 - Establishment of Fort Vancouver

After four years at Fort George, Superintendent, George Gaylord Simpson, decides to move the headquarters upriver. Whereas in 1811, the Chinooks would not allow “Boston men” to settle above them on the river, ten years later Comcomly wept at the news, but made no move to stop it. The Company hoped that all the inter-relationships between the two cultures would allow this move to proceed without any serious disturbance to the trade. But for Comcomly this move has great significance. The key role Comcomly has played in the trade now shifts upriver to Chief Casino.

Background: Portion of 1841 WilkesU. S. Ex. Ex. map detail of Columbia River.