Last year while helping a friend with a local history project I found myself at Megler on the Columbia River talking a Chinook Tribe member, Scott. After answering my questions concerning history of the area, our conversation turned to the present day and the acquisition of land at Tansy Point by the Chinook Tribe. He told me that while he was waiting to hear word that the land was now in the Tribe’s hands he got up one morning to a bright sunny day when suddenly the sky darkened and the clouds came down and touched the river. He then said to me, you know, “when this happens we believe our ancestors have come to visit and are in the clouds.” Later he heard it was during this cloudy visit that the Chinooks had received the land. I was blessed and touched by his sharing of this story.
And now I turn to the renaming of Leadbetter Point for I’m the one “eliciting squeals about political correctness and not sugar-coating history.” There are two sides to a coin. You suggest a Chinook name and that would seem quite appropriate but what about their history? You mentioned Mr. Leadbetter and his wife “had a large plantation and although neither was listed as a slave owner plantations and slavery were inseparable” so they probably had slaves but so did the Chinook Indians.
The first time I heard of slavery among the Chinook Tribe was from Charley Funk, a member of the Tribe, who taught one session of the first history class at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, of which I was attending. During his lecture he blew me away by saying that the foremost commodity of Chinook commerce was slave trade. They were a very powerful nation and had complete control of the Columbia River. No one went in or out of the mouth of that river without their knowledge. He didn’t sugarcoat it. He told it like it was.
The books, “Chinook Indians Traders of the Lower Columbia” and “Otter Skins, Boston Ships and China Goods” both paint very sad pictures of people sold into slavery. The Chinook/Clatsop kept some slaves, sold most of them to the north “where they would see their native land no more.”
“They purchased some human property from Kalapya, Modoc and Klamath Indians of Oregon, Shastas of California who had gotten them from Tribes near the Umpqua River. They also purchased slaves from their Tillamook neighbors who raided for them in the south and sometimes up the Columbia where slave trade was perhaps heavier than any other place in the Pacific Northwest.”
James Swan in his book the Northwest Coast or Three Years Residence in the Washington Territory,” states some of the same. “Slaves were purchased from the North adding the price is from one to five hundred dollars or twenty to 100 blankets valued at five dollars each. Some are higher than that and not unfrequently a valuable canoe is added to the bargain.”
“In their domestic relations they seem very fond of each other and parents seem devotedly affectionate to their children, but are apt to treat their slaves with barbarity.”
In another book called, “Notices and Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission of the Pacific N.W.,” published for the Oregon Historical Society by Champoeg Press, Reed College, Portland, Oregon in 1956 contains correspondence between Fathers Blanchet, Demers, Boldrec and Langlos coming to the Hudson Bay Company in 1838-1847.
In 1840 Father Modesto Demers arrived at the Chinook Indian village north side of the Columbia. He had traveled to Fort George and had come from Eastern Canada. He was the first “black robe” to visit the Chinook. He spent three weeks with the natives and returned by 1842, and in 1848 Father Joseph Louis Lionett established himself as resident missionary priest. There as a request by the French Canadians in the area of Fort George and the Columbia River for the need for a priest and, of course, they started to spread seeds of faith among the natives.
In the “General notes of the Territory of the Columbia” Fr. Demers writes: “Slavery and treatment of slaves exist in all their hideousness among the tribes near the sea.” The pitiful slaves of both sexes cannot be imagined. They are treated more harshly than dogs but the dogs will have food shared with them and the slaves go hungry.”
Most slaves were women and children. One enslaved woman who Fr. Demers wrote about was wanted by her master, “to become an instrument of criminal traffic.” She escaped from a winter lodge, was pursed, seized and dragged back by her hair where she was choked, whipped and the bottom of her feet were cruelly slit with a knife.”
So I’m wondering what my encounter might have been like if I was meeting Scott on the shore of the Columbia River in 1842. Would I have the same memorable experience as I did last year in 2019?
All people have their pluses and minuses and judging people from the past on today’s standards doesn’t work very well and can be unfair in some circumstances.
If the future brings a name change to Leadbetter Point, my vote is for Chris Stevens, a modern-day warrior.