Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/The Number and Condition of the Native Race in Oregon When First Seen by White Men

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Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1  (1900) 
The Number and Condition of the Native Race in Oregon When First Seen by White Men by John Minto


The first estimates we have of the number of the native race in the valley of the Columbia were by Lewis and Clark, who gained their information while exploring the river from its sources in the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Based upon information derived from the natives, their estimate was forty thousand. This was in 1805-6.

Forty years later, Rev. C. G. Nicolay, of King's College, Oxford, and member of the Royal Geographical Society of London, writing in support of England's right to the country created by the assumed moral benefits to the natives effected by the trade influences of the Hudson's Bay Company and, doubtless, with all the information that company could furnish estimated the number at thirty thousand, including all the country from the Caliifornia line north to 54 40'. Noting that the second estimate is for the wider bounds, and yet twenty-five per cent, less, the numbers seem strongly to indicate that the native race was rapidly decreasing between the dates mentioned.

In looking for the causes of this decrease of population of the native race, we find at the outset diseases common to, but not very destructive to civilized life, are, nevertheless, terrible in their effects on people living so near the plane of mere animal life as were the natives of Oregon especially those of them in the largest valleys, and near the sea, when first seen by white men. The first American explorers received information from the Clatsop tribe of Indians during their stay near them in the winter of 1805-6, that some time previous to that a malady had been brought to them from the sea, which caused the death of many of their people. As they reached the Lower Willamette Valley, on their return eastward, they found living evidence that the malady had been smallpox, and the remains of capacious houses within the district now covered, or being rapidly covered, by the white race, which indicated that the disease had swept out of existence, or caused to flee the locality, large numbers of the natives. A woman was seen by Captain Clark in the company of an old man, presumably her father, sole occupants of a building two hundred and twenty-five feet long and thirty feet wide, under one roof, and divid'ed by narrow alleys or partitions into rooms thirty feet square. Other buildings, empty or in ruins, were found near this. This woman was badly marked with smallpox; and from her apparent age, and information the old man endeavored to convey, this disease had killed many people and frightened others away about thirty years previously.

Information received from natives by signs cannot be deemed reliable; but no writing qan be plainer than the human face marked by smallpox. We have, then, from the journal of Lewis and Clark, traditional information from the Clatsop natives, and in the appearance of this woman—presumably of the Multnomah tribe—evidence of the presence of smallpox one hundred miles in the interior; and fifty years later we have from the Yakima chieftain, Kamiakin, at the Walla Walla council held by Gov. I. I. Stevens, intimations that the suffering of his people from smallpox in former times was one reason for his objection to whites' settling in his country.

Whatever truth there may be in these earlier traditions of the natives, the rapid decrease of the tribes on the Lower Columbia and in the Willamette Valley, between 1805 and 1845, and the decaying condition of those found here at the latter date, are facts which cannot be called in question. Those writers who are predisposed to blame the white man for all the results of the commercial and social contact between the races will see only the fearful and repulsive effects upon the ignorant native—supposed to be innocent—of drunkenness and debauchery, which the white man's avaricious trade and licentiousness ministered to. While, beyond question, these were destructive agencies, they, in my judgment, never were but a small moiety of the cause of the general decay of the race west of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges, from Alaska to Lower California. As to the licentious intercourse between the sexes, the natives were ready and sought opportunity to participate in the destructive commerce. And their customs, which were their only laws, left womanhood—especially widowhood—an outcast, where she was not held as a slave. It was a fact well known to pioneers yet living that a woman of bright, kindly disposition, of natural intelligence, which made her a natural leader of her sex, who was in 1840 the honored wife of the chief of one of the strongest coast tribes, and as such styled a queen by some writers, was in 1845 a leader and guide of native prostitutes, who watched and followed ships entering the Columbia from the time they crossed the bar in until they crossed out. And between opportunities of this kind, she went from camp to camp of white settlers on the Lower Columbia, thus seeking trade without the least sign of shame. The customs and usages of the race, for which the leading men were responsible, debar us of any just right to hold native womanhood responsible for a social system which deemed a female child the best trading property—valued high or low according to the status of the male portion of her family. The husband bought his wife, and might, where she did not suit, send her back to her people and claim a return of the property given for her, ostensibly as presents.[1] This, if her family had any pride or courage, would probably lead to trouble. A native husband could dispose of an unsatisfactory wife. He could kill her by personal ill-usage,[2] or keep her to labor for means to purchase and support another wife, or as many more as his means and desires induced him to buy.[3]

The general relations between the husband and wife among the native races in Western Oregon were that the husband should kill the game or catch the fish, as the subsistence was from game or fish. The dressing of skins for clothing, the weaving of rush mats for camp covers or for beds, the preparation of cedar bark for clothing, nets and ropes, and the digging of roots, gathering of berries, etc., were all left to the wife and the slaves at her command, if there were any. The husband and wife seemed to have separate property rights as to themselves, and on the death of either the most valuable of it, and often all of it, was sacrificed to the manes of the dead. Sometimes living slaves were bound and placed near the dead body of a person of importance in the tribe.[4]

Under this custom, when a leading man like Chenamus, Chief of the Chinooks, died, the body was carefully swathed in cedar bark wrappings; his war canoe or barge of state was used as his coffin, and his second best canoe, if he had two, was inverted and placed over the body as a defense against the weather or wild beasts; a small hole was made in the lower canoe and it was placed in a slanting position to facilitate complete drainage. No money reward would induce an Indian of the Lower Columbia to enter and labor in a canoe that had been thus used for the dead. Thus the best and generally all the property worth notice was rendered useless to the living. The wife in such a case might be owner of slaves in her own right, or of a business canoe, and in some cases of a small canoe used on the Lower Columbia root gathering, or by the husband or sons in hunting water fowl. Such a wife becoming a widow—supposing her dead husband a chief, succeeded by a son by another of his wives, or by a brother, unfriendly and jealous of her influence,—would not be a totally helpless outcast. She would have the means of gathering her own subsistence. This, however, was above the common lot of native widows. The same custom of destroying the property of the dead prevailed amongst natives of the Willamette Valley when the American home builders first came; and it was a common sight to come upon a recently made grave and scare the buzzards or coyotes from feasting on carcasses of horses slain to the departed, the grave itself being indicated by the cooking utensils and tawdry personal adornments of the deceased. Under this custom there was no property left for distribution by the average native. A chief, living with thrifty care for his family, might leave slaves to be divided among his sons or daughters, as some few did, but often when the heirs were sons or daughters of different mothers bitter family feuds were a natural result, and the law of might decided. There was no marriage record, no law to distribute fairly what might justly belong to the widow and the fatherless, no individual ownership of land, no definite boundaries to districts claimed by tribes. Thus the whole polity of the native race here limited the exertions of the people to seeking a present subsistence, or, at the most, enough to tide them over from one season to another. Diversity of seasons has a much more intimate relation to the food supply of the wild life than to a people who have arrived at the agricultural stage of evolution. Many wild animals and feathered game have sufficient of the instinct of the passenger pigeon and squirrel of the Atlantic seaboard to induce them to migrate from districts in which their food fails as a result of untoward seasons and go to others where there is plenty.[5] The native tribes west of the Cascade Range could not do that, and therefore must have often been reduced in numbers by bad seasons, before they were known to the white race.

The condition of the natives as to surplus food and the scarcity of large game in the Columbia Valley, as found by Lewis and Clark, shows that the normal season left the then population little they could spare. The party may be said to have run a gauntlet against starvation in their journey from the Rocky Mountains to the mouth of the Columbia. They saw few deer, and no antelope or elk. Salmon and dogs were their chief purchases from the Indians, and they ate of the latter till some of the men got to prefer dog flesh to venison. The salmon grew rancid and mouldy under the influence of the warm wet winter, and made the men sick. Their hunters, in what was forty years later the best elk range in Oregon, often failed to meet their daily wants, and sometimes killed their game so far from camp that it spoiled in the woods. So that when they learned that a whale had been thrown on the beach, at the mouth of the Nehalem, they went thirty miles, aiid with difficulty succeeded in the purchase of three hundred pounds of whale blubber.

They stayed at their winter camp until the latter part of March, 1806. The game had left their vicinity; they exhausted the surplus of the Indians near them, so they started on their return journey in order to reach the Chopannish "Nation," with whom they had left their horses, before the natives would leave for their spring hunt for buffalo east of the Rockies.

Under date of March 31, their journal reads: "Several parties were met descending the river in quest of food. They told us that they lived at the great rapids (the cascades), but the scarcity of provisions had induced them to come down in hopes of finding subsistence in the more fertile valley. All living at the rapids, as well as nations above, were in much distress for want of food, having consumed their winter's store of dried fish, and not expecting the return of the salmon before the next full moon which would be on the second of May. This information was not a little embarrassing. From the falls (The Dalles) to the Chopannish Nation, the plains afforded neither deer, elk, nor antelope, for our subsistence. The horses were very poor at this season, and the dogs must be in the same condition, if their food, the dried fish, had failed." These considerations compelled the party to go into camp, and send out their hunters on both sides of the Columbia, from its north bank, opposite the quick sand (Sandy) river. Their purpose being to obtain meat enough to last them to where they had left their horses, and this they did, with the addition of some dogs and wapatOs they were able to secure from the natives by hard bargaining. The eight days they thus delayed they used to good purpose. Captain Clark, acting on information by an Indian of the existence of a large river making in from the south, which they had passed and repassed without having seen it, because of a diamond shaped island lying across its mouth, hired an Indian guide, and returning down the south shore, penetrated the Multnomah (Lower Willamette), to near the present location of Linn ton, and saw evidences in ruined buildings of a much denser population than then existed there, and in the two hundred and twenty-five foot building already mentioned, saw the woman marked by smallpox. Here, also, were met Clackamas and other Indians from the falls of the Willamette.

Elk, deer, and black bear were the large game their hunters killed. Some of the deer were extremely poor. They do not mention having seen flesh of any kind in the hands or camps of natives, much less a successful native hunter of such game.[6] Neither do they mention seeing a horse west of the Cascade Range. The receiving of one sturgeon from a native is mentioned, and some dried anchovies (smelt) . But the chief wealth of this richest part of the district—the most inviting to settlers in their estimation of any they had seen west of the Rocky Mountains, is the wapato—"the product of the numerous ponds in the interior of Wapato" (Sauvie's) Island. This was almost the sole staple article of commerce on the Columbia.

This bulb, the root of the arrowhead lily (sagittaria variabilis) is described by Lewis and Clark as "never out of season," and as being "gathered chiefly by the women, who employ for the purpose canoes from ten to fifteen feet long, about two feet wide, nine inches deep, and tapering from the middle. They are sufficient to contain a single person and several bushels of roots, yet so very light that a woman can carry them with ease. She takes it into a pond where the water is sometimes as high as the breast, and by means of her toes separates this bulb from the root, which, on being freed from the mud, immediately rises to the surface of the water and is thrown into the canoe. In this manner these patient females will remain in the water for several hours, even in the dead of winter."[7]

This first party of the white race, thirty-six in number, were thus detained eight days gathering a sufficiency of food to make it prudent to risk a journey of ten days through the heart of the great and fertile Columbia Valley, then so devoid of large game as to make it reasonable to assume that at some period not very remote from the time of their visit the population had slaughtered the elk, deer, and antelope, and driven the buffalo to the east side of the Rockies. The practice of large parties of the strongest tribes passing that backbone of the continent every summer to hunt this noblest of North American game is good presumptive evidence that it had at no remote period ranged in the valley of the Columbia. In 1806, then, we have the fact of a population, roughly estimated at forty thousand, ekeing out a hand-to-mouth living, from salmon chiefly, with the additions of wokas kouse (wapato and camas), the latter much the more generally distributed from the Pacific Ocean to the summit flats of the Rocky Mountains by going across those mountains annually for game. They had, of course, to go in parties sufficiently strong for defense against the hated, dreaded and destructive Blackfeet. The taking of such journeys proves their necessity. The tribes unable through weakness or situation to make such expeditions, as were all those of Western and Southwestern Oregon, had to gather their precarious living from the plants mentioned, grass seeds, the small native fruits, of crab apple, haw, huckleberries, cranberries, etc. Looking over a recent report of the Division of Botany, United States Department of Agriculture a contribution from the United States Herbarium, Vol. V, No. 2, by Frederick V. Coville—I find one hundred plants described as used by the Klamath Indians, forty-six of which—as seeds, fruits or roots—were used as food by that tribe. No effort has yet been made to enumerate all the kinds of flesh, fish, and insect life used by the native race for sustenance. Lewis and Clark found evidence that the coast native sometimes resorted to searching the beach for fish cast up by the tide. The tribes on the south bank of the Snake River, and southward, used to fire the high, arid plains, where possible, and collect the crickets and grasshoppers thus killed. As late as 1844 these insects were dried and made into a kind of pemmican by pestle and mortar. The Rogue River natives used the grasshopper meal as a delectable food as late as^ 1848, and as late as 1878 the writer saw the chief medicine man of the Calipooyas collecting in a large mining pan the tent caterpillars from the ash trees within four miles of Salem. He asserted most emphatically that they were "close muckamuck' (good food).

For years before and after the last mentioned date the writer knew Joseph Hudson (Pa-pe-a, his native name), the lineal chief of the Calipooyas, who signed the treaty of cession of the east side of the Willamette Valley to the United States . He was the only native of Western Oregon the writer ever talked with who seemed to comprehend, or care for, the consequences to the natives of the appropriation of ownership of the soil by the white race. He had judgment to perceive that the latter had agencies of power and of progress with which his people could not have coped, even at their best estate—which family tradition had handed down to him. This pointed to a time when his people had numbered eight thousand, as he estimated, at which time and later, to the time of his grandfather, Chief San-de-am, his people used the circle hunt, driving the deer to a center agreed upon, by young men as runners, the point to drive to being selected as good cover to enable the bowmen to get close to the quarry. From him the information was gained as a family tradition that about 1818 eight men, carrying packs on their backs and coming from the north, reached his grandfather's village, near where the town of Jefferson now is. They were set across, and, going southward, they conveyed to other natives that they had crossed San-de-am 's river. The whites shortened the name to Santiam, as they did Yam-il to Yam hill. These eis;ht men returned after several ~ months and brought the first horses the Calipooyas ever saw. They sold a mare and colt for forty-five beaver skins. Joe, as he was familiarly called, a man of truth and honor, could not but mourn the fate of his people. Being in a small way his banker for small loans ( he working for me) I know he was kept poor by the general worthlessness of his tribe, as it was one of the functions of a Calipooya chief to help the weak and good for nothing members of his tribe. This man honestly performed any rough and common contract labor (he would never work for day wages), carrying his burden of sorrow for his people's condition to where the wicked and low can no longer trouble. The writer received from him many hints and plain statements as to the mental capacity or mode of reasoning of the native race. Custom led them to appeal to him in troubles resulting from drunken rows. A young dandy of the tribe, getting into the power of the law for knifing a woman in a camp fray, would appeal to Joe, as chief, for financial help, with no more sense of shame than an Irish landlord who had wasted his property in riotous living would have in spunging off his former tenants to a green old age. There are many people of the white race who cannot help being participants in the results of the change of racial dominion which has taken place on the North Pacific Slope within the past century. They feel they are participants in a gigantic act of robbery. A lady whose writings on any subject it is a delight to read, in the June number of the Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, shows the origin of land titles so far as the English race of men have made them . It would be an instructive addition to her able paper if some one, w^ell read on the effects of guarded land titles in sufficient area to support family life on each allotment, would describe their influences upon a community so blessed.

Already enough has been said to indicate that prior to the visit of Lewis and Clark, the native race was in a condition of decline; that in a normal or average season a body of forty men, or less, found it difficult to avoid starvation while moving from place to place in a country estimated to contain forty thousand.

It may be admitted, because it is true though shameful, that the licentiousness of trade had sown the seeds accelerating the decay of the native race in Western Oregon, from the Columbia River to the Umpqua, and from its mouth to Fort Hall. Within these bounds, but especially near the chief lines of commerce, the missionary even had as much need of a medical book as he had of his bible, as far as the people he had come to guide in the way of life was concerned.

Abundant reason had Dr. John McLoughlin (that livingcopy of the great heart of Bunyari's matchless fancy) for giving welcome to the American missionaries. He knew the value of a clean mind or soul in keeping a clean and healthy body; though with a wise physican's care he kept the hospital at Vancouver open to any white sick, whom the resident doctor the Hudson's Bay Company maintained there recommended to it.

Doctor McLoughlin instituted the first hospital in Oregon for white people here prior to the overland immigration of family life from the Missouri border in 1843. The native race then were' being removed rapidly by a disease they themselves called the "cold sick,' which had raged among them from 1832 . Some of the symptoms indicated a malarial cause, but quinine and other ague remedies had no effect upon the Indian sick. Like the plague now raging in India, it was confined, seemingly, entirely to the natives; also, almost entirely to the fishing villages on the large rivers. I have long had a theory which I confess being unable to give an intelligent reason for; that that plague had its origin in eating filth. The natives themselves found that to thrust their arrow points through the putrid liver of a deer or elk would enable them to kill their enemies by a slight wound by blood poison. Is it not, then, possible that eating putrid flesh, or fish the garbage cast up by the tide, the spent salmon from the river shore, or those wallowing in death throes on its surface, could not be done with impunity?

In times of famine the natives, on the sea coast and on the rivers, did eat such food; as the inland tribes, like the Klamaths, sometimes sustained life by eating black moss, and the bark of certain trees. These latter foods, however, were not putrid.

To support the theory that this cold sick plague, which began on the Lower Columbia in 1832, and which kept the wail for the dead sounding along its banks till 1844, may have originated in poisoned food, we have the statement of Lewis and Clark's journal that salmon pemmican which they purchased in quantity at The Dalles moulded, and made the men sick, in the damp and warm winter camp, near the sea. But, whatever the cause, the effect was to depopulate, or cause the abandonment of once populous villages.

In 1805, the central seat of the Multnomahs, near the east end of Wapato (Sauvie's) Island, had a population of "eight hundred souls' noted, "as the remains of a large nation," surrounded by kindred near-by tribes, aggregating two thousand two hundred and sixty souls. In 1845 the site was without human habitation. "The dead were there,' in large numbers, swathed in cedar bark, and laid tier above tier on constructions of cedar slabs about four inches thick, and often four feet wide, causing the observer to wonder how the native, with such agencies as he possessed, could fell and split such timber. At this time so many as two hundred natives, could not be seen on the banks of the Low r er Columbia, between the mouth of the Willamette and Clatsop Point, w r ithout special effort at counting the few living in the scattered villages, often separated by several sites once inhabited by large numbers apparently. This w r as particularly noticed on the south bank, at Coffin Rock, and the main shore, between that and Rainier. "The dead were there," in abundance, but no life but the eagle, the fish hawk, the black loon, and the glistening head of the salmon-devouring seal, then very, numerous. There was a village of the Cowlitz tribe on the south bank, below where Rainier now stands. The people looked poor, ill fed, and worse clothed. The chief had come to us in the stream to invite us to camp near, exhibiting a single fresh hen's egg as inducement. We did so, and visiting their camp had the first sight of life in a native fishing village. Some of the children were nearly naked. Though it was midwinter, the adult females, with one exception, were dressed in the native petticoat, or kilt, as second garment, the other being a chemise of what had been white cotton; one was engaged in the manufacture of cedar bark strings used in the formation of the kind of kilt she wore. The exception in the camp was_ a young woman of extraordinary personal beauty, a daughter of the chief family of the Cathelametts. She had recently been purchased, or espoused, by the heir-apparent of the Cowlitz chief. She seemed to be indifferent to the life around her, and shortly after was, presumably, the cause of tribal war. She was permitted a few weeks later to pay a visit to her own tribe, accompanied by an old woman of her husband's. They both joined a party of the women of her tribe in a wapato gathering expedition. The old duenna did not return, her body was found next day near the wapato beds, horribly mutilated by a knife murder. The natural fruit of the Chinooks' polity of marriage. A short tribal war resulted.

In order to show the measure of manhood this system produced in a different phase from that of Chiefs Kalata's and Chenowith's, I will relate from memory a short visit at the lodge of the Cathelamett chief:

As one of a party of the employees of Hunt's mill, making our way from Astoria to the mill, we were approaching Cathelamett Point, the village of the tribe, on the south shore. We were hailed from the shore and found ourselves near the women and girls of the tribe, having a good time gathering the newly risen stems of the common fern and preparing it for food in earth ovens over heated rocks. They voluntarily told us they had no prepared food, but pressed us to go on to their village, and "Lemiyey" (old mother) (pronounced in a tone that conveyed love and respect) would gladly entertain us. They made no mistake in this. The old lady seemed proud of the opportunity to act as hostess, and without ostentation put her help to work and gave us a bountiful meal of fresh salmon and wapatos, and afterward put on what had evidently been often used as a robe of state, and passed back and forward in illustration of scenes she had been part of. Her son, apparently utterly oblivious to the spirit of his mother's eye and movement, continued repeating the offers to sell to us his tribal claim to the lands lying between Tongue Point and Cathelamett, that he had begun on our arrival. He was but a youth, not so tall as his stately old mother appeared in her robe ( of what I afterwards concluded was badger skins, but may have been mistaken), and he seemed mentally incapable of appreciating the influences then forming around him and his people, which appropriated their lands, while not one of them had the spirit to assert a right or raise the question of justice against the action of the white race. This was, with perhaps one exception, the cleanest, most self-respecting body of natives left on the Lower Columbia in 1845, where Lewis and Clark had, only forty years before, enumerated, by information from the natives, thirteen thousand eight hundred and thirty below the cascades and between that and the ocean. I do not believe that thirteen hundred could be found w T ithin the same limits at the latter date. There was not in all that distance, to my knowledge, a single man of the race who had the intelligence and public spirit combined to appear before the authorized agents of the United States ten years later and plead for the rights of their people in the treaties made south of the Columbia. It is questionable whether there was one in all the country north of Rogue River who would have done so of his own motion, had not the humane General Palmer and J. L. Parrish, as agents, advised the Indians to act. It is not to be understood from this that all good and all beauty had departed from the native life. When J. L. Parrish was in charge of Methodist mission property, in 1845, a white man from Oregon City appeared temporarily at Solomon S. Smith's to solicit the hand of a young woman named Oneiclam in marriage. The young woman civilly and modestly declined the honor, saying such a marriage could not secure the respect of either the man's people or the woman's, and would fail in conferring happiness. She was clean enough and good enough to secure the personal friendship and advice of Mrs. J. L. Parrish, which proved her a rare exception to her class. Such marriages soon ceased after the American home-builder assumed dominion over Oregon, the white mother thus arriving being strongly against inter-racial contracts. Doubtless the hopelessness of the struggle against race prejudice has borne heavily on the heart of many a man and woman on both sides of the race question, but the fight is over now and many a heart broken in the struggle (as I think was that of my friend Joseph Hudson, last Chief of the Calipooyas) is at rest. The responsibility for the red race is now the white man's burden. He carries it well, while already the light of a brighter day than the red man of fifty years ago could forecast is piercing the prejudices and hates of that time. The white man brought the surveying compass, the book in which to record titles to land, another for the record of marriages, still another to record the rights of property to the results of wedlock. Schools are open to the native race and every generous mind wishes it well. But, while our sympathies may go out toward the ignorant or incompetent race in a conflict of power, we should not fail to note the services to all races rendered by the victor.

A glance at the changed conditions of life within the bounds of old Oregon: Instead of forty thousand persons ill-fed, ill-clad, living from hand to mouth, often bordering on famine, unable to support forty interesting visitors passing through their country, we have now, perhaps, fully one million, and the surplus of foodstuffs and clothing material they send out to the markets of the world, would feed well four millions. And, it is not extravagant to say that the territory to which the Oregon trail was made fifty-eight years ago will some day be made to support forty millions in comfort.

This paper, it will be observed, has dealt entirely with the native race in Northwestern Oregon, because this was the field of the race contest. The point to which the guiding minds of the white race looked as most desirable. Jefferson said, and Benton repeated: "Plant thirty thou- sand rifles at the mouth of the Columbia." The first ex- ploring party sent out by the former selected as the most interesting region in which to make excursions, the dis- trict now containing the first and second chosen commer- cial centers,— Vancouver and Portland.

The native race amid whom these were planted were described in their average manhood as mean, cowardly and thievish . Forty years later, to this description might be added ignorant, superstitious, and utterly without pub- lic spirit. The tribes east and south from this district were, excepting those located at the great fishing centers on the Columbia, less thievish, and much more bold and spirited in self-defense.

To the recent and valuable historical description of those tribes, including the natives in what is now Western Washington, I am indebted to the life of Isaac Ingalls Stevens, by his son, Hazard Stevens, for the number of natives west, as well as east, of the Cascades treated with by Governor Stevens in 1855, just before the natural lead- ers of the native race made their only united effort to stem the tide of inflow of the white race.

Total number found west of the Cascades
Total number with whom treaties were made
Total number east of the Cascade Mountains
Total number treated with
Total number found in Washington Territory
Total number treated with
For Governor Stevens' success in getting the eastern section of the native race into treaty relations he was indebted solely to the steadiness and good faith of the Nez Perces, the tribe which was always conspicuous for its care of its womanhood.


  1. This custom of purchasing wives seems to have extended through many of the interior tribes, and amongst some the privilege seems not to have been confined to the men. It is related of a large war party of Sioux who, near Independence Rock, in 1842, found Messrs. Hastings and Lovejoy, and good humoredly gave them up to their fellow travelers, taking a small present of tobacco as ransom; that, seeing a grown daughter of one of the few white families of the Oregon immigrants, they came repeatedly in increased numbers to look at her, until her father was annoyed and indignant at their visits, and wrathful and threatening when he learned that the brawny braves desired to purchase the girl to give her as a present to their war chief. These grown up children of nature went off like gentlemen when informed by one who knew their customs that it was not a custom of white fathers, or the white people, to sell their daughters. IJMatthleu's Reminiscences, Vol. I, No. 1, Quarterly of the Ore. Hist. Soc.] In 1844, while GilHam's train lay over one day at Fort Laramie, for trade purposes, in close neighborhood to the tepees of a considerable camp of Sioux, three female members of the tribe visited the camp of R. W. Morrison, captain of one of the companies into which the train of eighty-four wagons was divided. The captain had two assistants, and the Sioux women seemed to conclude that Mrs. Morrison was blessed with three husbands. Their proposition, made by signs by the two elder women, was that the third, apparently a widow, though young, was willing to give six horses for one of the younger men. It took Mrs. Morrison and the choice of the young widow some time to convince her two friends that they had made a mistake, and they departed with all outward signs of sadness over the failure of their mission. These proposals 'to secure connubial happiness by purchase were made, one four and the other two years, before Francis Parkman, Jr., arrived at Laramie to join a Sioux camp in order to get material for his Oregon and California Trail.
  2. Late in 1844, Katata, Chief .of the Clatsop Tribe, murdered his youngest wife, then but recently espoused from a leading family of the Chinooks. The latter made war upon him for the act. J. L. Parrish, in charge of the Methodist mission at the time, refused Katata his hand after learning of his deed. The brutal chief made an effort to be revenged for what he deemed an insult, but failed in his attempt.
  3. The kind of chivalry the system bred was illustrated by Chief Chenowith, supposed instigator of the Cascades massacre in 1855, who was tried and condemned for fighting with the Klickitats and Yakimas. "He offered ten horses, two squaws, and a little something to every tyee, of (for) his life, boasting that he was not afraid of death, but was afraid of the grave in the ground." [L. W. Coe in Native Son Magazine for February, 1900. Mr. Coe acted as interpreter at the execution].
  4. In 1844 the Chief of the Wascopams died at The Dalles, and was succeeded by his brother, who was somewhat under the influence of Rev. Alvan Waller, of the Methodist Episcopal mission there. A young slave boy was bound and secured in the dead house with the body of the dead chief, in accordance with the customs of the tribe. Mr. Waller continued pleading for the release of the boy for three days and got the new chief's consent to take the boy out of his horrible situation on condition that it be done secretly and the boy taken away, so that the people of the tribe would never see him. He was taken to Mr. J. L. Parrish, at Clatsop mission, and remained a member of his family till, in 1849, he went to the California gold mines.
  5. The writer has observed this instinct manifested one season by wild ducks. The oak trees in the vicinity of his residence south of Salem, of which there were considerable areas, bore a heavy crop of acorns. The wild ducks by some means found it out, and must have by some means informed each other, as the flocks of them passing over my farm from a large beaver dam pond, where they rested at night, to their feeding grounds daily rapidly increased from day to day, and as rapidly decreased when the supply of acorns was consumed.
  6. The writer has had his home fifty-five years in the Willamette Valley, and has never seen or known of a native to kill a deer. He has known one spend a day hunting to kill five wood rats.
  7. This extract illustrates the condition of womanhood. Lewis and Clark write of the production of wapato in this locality as though it grew nowhere else; but it grew yet grows on the margins of ponds and bayous of most of the streams flowing into the Columbia west of the Cascades.