The old settlement east of Scarborough Hill has been called Chenookville, Chenook and sometimes, Chinook, but it is not to be confused with today’s thriving settlement of Chinook west of the tunnel at Fort Columbia. Chenookville was on the tunnel’s other side, two miles east of today’s Middle Village/Station Camp National Park unit. It was a short-lived town platted by surveyor George Washington Hall, a scoundrel of the first order.
He went by the name “Washington” Hall, billed himself as a surveyor, and came to the north shore of the Columbia in 1848, a year before Dr. Elijah White’s party arrived at nearby Cape Disappointment. According to some accounts, Hall was a Scotsman and an engineer, but represented himself in the 1850 Census as 30 years old and born in Vermont.
Historians first note his presence in the Lower Columbia region at Cowlitz Prairie where he delivered a patriotic address on March 3, 1847. His audience was a group of French Canadians who had gathered to display the first American flag ever made north of the Columbia River. Shortly thereafter, Hall surveyed Lexington, which became Skipanon and is now part of Warrenton. He soon set his sights northward.
By the time of Hall’s arrival at Chinook Point, the Lower Chinook people had been living along the Columbia for thousands of years. Theirs was an abundant lifestyle centered on salmon from the river and liberally supplemented by shellfish from the nearby ocean and bay. Forests, grasslands, and marshes were rich with plant foods as well with materials for making shelters, clothing, and household goods. They had developed a sophisticated culture and were known for their great success as traders with other indigenous groups as well as with the increasing number of trade ships from Europe and New England.
For more than 50 years, the Chinooks had been well-documented by white explorers and missionaries and entrepreneurs, including American merchant sea captain Robert Gray (May 1792); Hudson Bay Company factor Dr. John McLoughlin (1825-1840); Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery (November 1805); and Jesuit Missionary Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet (1831).
In their respective reports, all made note of the Chinook people and of their various villages. Lewis and Clark labeled the Middle Village site “Chinook” on their map and estimated that 400 members of the tribe lived along the Columbia River and interior. By 1840 the Hudson Bay Company had built a store on Chinook lands and, in the years prior to Hall’s arrival, they and the Chinooks had coexisted in an amicable trading relationship.
Trouble from the beginning
In January or February 1848, Hall arrived at Chinook Point. As part of the newly established Oregon Territory, the area came under the jurisdiction of Oregon’s Provisional Government. That body’s recent introduction of Oregon’s Donation Land Claim Law was of special interest to Washington Hall. He was among the scores of men, married and single, who applied for claims. It bothered him not at all that, according to the provisions of the law, the claim would not go into effect until treaties had been ratified between the U.S. government and the various Indian tribes. Under the provisions of the DLCs, individuals were allowed 640 acres. Hall filed for his full acreage allotment on Chinook Point in 1849.
By then he was living with an Indian slave woman, Jane Methusnah, who would become the mother of his two children. They did not marry, but it was for another reason that the caste-conscious Chinook did not look upon the arrangement kindly. The issue was not a matter of marriage; it was that Hall, a free man, was in a relationship with a slave.
In other matters, however, Hall remained on good terms with the Native Americans at Chinook Point and, the following September, entered into an agreement with them — an unusual, quasi-legal document at best, but one that was perhaps meant to reassure his neighbors that his intentions were honorable. More likely, he already had the future town of Chenookville on his mind.
The agreement was witnessed and signed by whites and Indians. It specified the metes and bounds of Hall’s claim and spelled out Hall’s agreement not to sell any of the land until the U.S. should purchase title to it from the Chinook Nation. It further stipulated that he was to “use his best endeavors” to put a stop to the sale of ardent spirits and that, in accordance with the chiefs’ requests, he promised not to “molest” any salmon on the beach contrary to their wishes. Hall sealed the promise with 60 dollars in gold to the chiefs.
Whether or not Hall had any intention of keeping to his end of the bargain is not known. According to some accounts, he was soon selling land to French Canadians who were working for Hudson Bay Company. Even worse, he was also demanding that the Indians buy his whiskey in exchange for being allowed access to fresh water — water from a stream he had fenced off in an effort to drive them off “his” newly acquired land. As the Indians later told Anson Dart, the first superintendent of Indian affairs for Oregon, Hall had laid claim to the land on which their entire village stood and was making every effort to drive them away.
Among the county’s founders
Meanwhile, Hall focused his energies in Dr. Elijah White’s dream city at Cape Disappointment. Hall first surveyed the area for White’s DLC and then surveyed and drew up the extensive Pacific City plat. Soon, he placed his name among the 35 citizens who successfully petitioned the Oregon Territorial Legislature to create Pacific County. And he, along with Cornelius W. White and James Holman, was elected to the first Board of County Commissioners for the County of Pacific. It is not clear, however, whether he supported Pacific City to the extent that he bought property there.
In September 1850, Hall surveyed for the town of Chenookville. Although his first Pacific County survey had been at Pacific City for Elijah White, the survey map for Pacific City has never been found. “The survey map for Chenookville, however is the first plat map filed in Pacific County Records,” according to the late Larry Weathers, Pacific County historian. “It was inserted in Record Book A with other miscellaneous papers.” Perhaps the confusion with the plats and their filing was nothing more than early County growing pains.
The long-awaited treaty negotiations took place in the summer of 1851. Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory, Anson Dart, camped at Tansy Point, near present day Hammond, Oregon, from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9 to meet with various Chinook chiefs. His instructions were to secure the title to Indian lands and prepare the native inhabitants for removal to a reservation east of the Cascade Mountains, far from their coastal villages.
However, the U.S. had failed to consider the Chinook attachment to their ancestral homelands. Before the Lower Chinooks would agree to parley with Anson Dart at Tansy Point that summer, they presented him with a second agreement signed by Washington Hall stating that he would confine his activities to his own land and that he would allow the Chinooks to draw water from the stream.
This second agreement had been made just months before Anson Dart was scheduled to negotiate with the Lower Chinook. He would be asking them to cede large portions of Pacific County. The Chinook made it perfectly clear that without such an agreement they would not parley and that removing Washington Hall from their land would be a key stipulation of the treaty. Both of their signed agreements, dated 1848 and 1851, were made part of the negotiated treaty.
The treaty negotiated with the Lower Chinooks at Tansy Point on Aug. 9, 1851 was not ratified by the government. It is a situation that has become more complex as the years have passed and restitution is still being sought by the Chinook Tribe.
Hall stayed on. White settlers seemed to ignore his conduct toward their Indian neighbors and treated him with deference. His townsite encompassed not only the traditional site of one of the tribe’s primary fishing villages, but also the well-established Hudson Bay Company store. It was an ideal location for taking advantage of the salmon fishery and was at the natural debarkation point for settlers having business at Astoria.
Chenookville comes of age
By 1852, there were 22 white inhabitants in Hall’s village, mostly French Canadians as well as the manager of the Hudson Bay Company Store. Hall required all of them to purchase the land on which to build their cabins. And, he continued to make every effort to drive the Indians from their long-established homes. When Pacific City residents received their orders to move out on February 26, 1852, Hall seemed poised to offer his Chenookville in substitution.
The following October a U.S. Post Office was established at ”Chenook” and Washington Hall was named postmaster, a position he held for the next five years. In addition, he continued as county commissioner, surveyor, and notary. Two months later, in December 1852, county records were transferred from Pacific City to Chenookville where Hall planned to establish the second headquarters for the county. In short order the Washington Territorial Legislature did, indeed, name Chenookville the official County Seat.
Chenookville, increasingly referred to as “Chenook,” was rapidly becoming the hub for white settlers traveling between Astoria and Shoalwater Bay. One of those settlers was 34-year-old James Gilchrest Swan, who had recently taken up residence at Stony Point on Shoalwater Bay. He was the area’s earliest historian/anthropologist and from 1852 to 1855 he conscientiously described the lifestyle of the Chinook peoples and the activities of the early settlers.
Several months after his arrival in the area, he had occasion to visit Chenook and chronicled his impressions in his book, “The Northwest Coast or Three Years Residence in Washington Territory”:
“… Chenook has always been celebrated for its salmon fishery, and it was to prosecute this business that induced the whites to first settle there. It is, however, so favorably situated as a place of landing or debarkation for persons having business either at Astoria or up the river, that it is most generally the point resorted to by the settlers of Shoalwater Bay, and has grown to be a little village of considerable importance; and no one seems to take a greater interest in its welfare than the worthy postmaster, Washington Hall, Esq., who was one of the first to settle there.”
It is interesting that Swan’s appraisal of Hall is considerably different from the bits and pieces of commentary left by others. Furthermore, he was uncharacteristically harsh when describing the Chinook peoples living in the village, demeaning them for their ‘depraved licentious, drunken” ways but turning a blind eye to the possible causes for their diminished condition. He does speak highly of the construction techniques they employed in building their lodges and he meticulously described their method for curing salmon.
Not an easy transition
Although Chenook was gaining in importance as a transportation hub, it did not seem to meet the necessary requirements as a gathering place for the politically minded. Perhaps Hall had counted on the leading citizens of Pacific City to make a seamless transition from the county’s first seat of government to its second. Most, however, settled elsewhere in the county.
Of his two fellow commissioners, Cornelius White already lived in Chinook and James Holman moved to his own DLC in the area that would become Ilwaco. Sheriff Job Lamley took up a 301-acre DLC in the area that would become Knappton, and sawmill owners Loomis and Stuart would move to Oysterville and Bruceport, respectively.
Several commissioners’ meetings were held in Hall’s village, but it was difficult to get a quorum, particularly during the stormy, winter months when travel from distant settlements was especially onerous. No business was accomplished until Aug. 4, 1854 at which time, “It appearing to the court that there being no seal for the court ordered that the clerk of the county use the eagle side of a quarter of a dollar American coin for the seal until a proper seal be provided.” Clearly, county government was makeshift at best.
On March 6 and 7, 1855, the commissioners met at J.D. Holman’s Schoolhouse on Baker’s Bay and, after much deliberation, chose Oysterville on Shoalwater Bay as the next county seat. Chenookville’s opportunity was lost.
Nevertheless, Hall continued his illegal sale of Chenook lots. In 1855 he prepared a document deeding all his remaining donation claim and his town lots to his four-year-old son Sylvester, and his two-year old daughter, Elizabeth. Also left to the two children were one feather bed, one stove, three tables, five chairs, all his books and papers, all household and kitchen furniture, three thousand feet of sawed lumber, six windows, all his farming tools, and two barrels of salted salmon. Stripped of all his worldly possessions, he reserved “the full right of being the said legal agent for Sylvester and Elizabeth Hall.”
His stated motive for this unusual transfer of property was that he wished to protect the rights of his children, knowing they would be debarred by territorial law from becoming his heirs because he had been living with their mother, a native woman, without benefit of marriage. However, that was not the entire story.
Chicanery in Chenook?
Hall’s unusual “gift deed” was written in July 1855 but not recorded until Sept. 17. Between those two dates, Joseph Brown brought a judgment against Hall for $16.60 and $10.55 in costs. An order, also dated Sept. 17, directed the sheriff to levy on Hall’s goods and sell them. When that order was filed a year later, it was marked: “Returned. No property found.”
Hall continued selling lots “on behalf of his children” for cash or in-kind amounts ranging up to $1,000 per lot. One lot sold for a ten-dollar barrel of salmon. Another sold for $96 in board and another for 2,000 shingles. Perhaps the most unusual sale was to George Dawson, clerk of the court, “in consideration for making a perfect record of Chinookville town plat on the county books.”
By the following October, Hall was serving a 10 days’ sentence on a road construction crew, there not yet being a jail facility at the new county seat of Oysterville. He had been sentenced by the district court for not choosing either to marry Jane Methusnah or to return her to the tribe. His obligation to the court was to work out his term on road construction at the rate of three dollars for every day’s labor.
Apparently, there was no loss of face connected to his sentence. Soon afterwards he was licensed to keep a grocery store at Chenookville and not much later was appointed justice of the peace. For another five years he continued recording sales of lots by Sylvester and Elizabeth and then, as suddenly as he had arrived in the area twelve years previously, Washington Hall disappeared. Some speculated that he had moved to Idaho where the gold fields held promises for promoters and speculators and men with nefarious ambition.
As for Chenookville, its post office was discontinued in December 1860 and, in 1870, the first salmon cannery in Pacific County was established there by Ellis, Jewett and Chambers. Ten years later, the settlement was being overshadowed by nearby McGowan and, perversely adding injury to insult, erosion was rapidly removing Chenookville buildings from the shrinking river bank.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the name “Chenookville” disappeared from area maps, and from 1948 to the late 1950s the high ground behind the eroding beach was called Derbyville, the name derived from the annual Salmon Derby held at the campground located there. In January 1965, the plat of Chenookville was finally vacated at a county commissioners meeting. Chenookville (not to be confused with today’s Chinook) was no more.