|Fort Clatsop > Culture > Overland Fur Trade
|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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
The Hudson’s Bay
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
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
Background: Portion of 1841
WilkesU. S. Ex. Ex. map detail of Columbia River.