First Peoples

21. Father Pandosy, Slave-in-the-Making and White Poster Boy

On November 5, 1847, a year after the end of the Mexican-American War, a young Oblate Catholic acolyte, Charles Pandosy, stepped into this story of water at Fort Nez Perce, at the confluence of the Walla Walla and N’chi’wan’a (Mid-Columbia) Rivers.

Fort Nez Perce, 1853 Source

Note that it sits under the Two Cayuse Maidens, a land form at the heart of Cayuse and Walla Walla life.

It is the windiest spot in a windy land of volcanic buttes and bristling shrub steppe and grassland. Strangely enough, even though there are few trees for many, many miles, it is the site of a pulp mill today, where the trees of the Nimíipu’u are converted into cardboard boxes. It is a bit of irony. The fort was originally constructed by the Northwest Company in 1818, using rafts of trees floated down by French Canadian workers from the Blue Mountains, one of the Nimíipu’u homelands.

“The Gibraltar of the Columbia”

The Original Fort (and its stolen trees) in 1818, as seen from the river. The Cayuse burnt it down a couple times. The fort Pandosy came to was built of adobe. They burnt that down, too.

The Northwest Company’s refusal to pay for the trees nearly got them all killed. (We will get to the history of the fort later, once I show you how Pandosy became a slave. It’s best to understand that clearly first.)

Bleach for the Mill

The Wallula Gap is scarcely changed from 1853, but the river shore where the fort sat (behind the tree to the left) is now under water impounded by the McNary Dam.

Pandosy is in this story, because he is credited with being the first White settler in the Okanagan Valley, an advertising image created for the promotion of the sale of land for an orcharding industry in 1898 and still widely popular, and not a little distasteful, given that he came with two accomplished half blood men, Cyprian Laurence and William Peon. Peon’s role in the development of Washington and British Columbia is as strong as Pandosy’s, if not stronger, but he wasn’t White so didn’t fit the new narrative. Pandosy also tried to keep the peace in a time of war, which eventually put him at odds with the U.S. Army, American settlers, the Yakama, the Catholic Church, the Government of British Columbia, his Catholic brothers and the Syilx. It was a hard life, full of impossible contradictions inflamed by depression, idealism and stubborness, and it aged him.

Pandosy died in Penticton in 1891. He was 67.

On that first November day, Pandosy was neither a priest nor a slave, however. He was just a hungry young man who had come in off the Oregon Trail and had no place to live. For the moment, he was a guest of the deeply Catholic and by all account racist Hudson’s Bay Company managing clerk William McBean and his Indigenous wife.

Photo: Frenchtown Historical Site

By the way, McBean was a clerk, not a chief trader. There was no trade by that point, only shipping.

The next day, in a hope to secure living quarters before winter, Pandosy and his four oblate campanions rode 24 miles upriver to Waillatpu in the Walla Walla Valley. It was a busy and very political day: a full day’s ride upriver through French-Canadian farmland, spare horses in tow for the long ride back, a polite stop at Waillatpu Mission, the busy compound of their rivals, the Presbyterian missionary Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa, and an all-important meeting with Cayuse chief Peopeomoxmox in his Waillatpu winter village. All of this had to be negotiated between dawn at 6 a.m. and dark at 5 p.m. It wasn’t a lot of time for determining the future of Catholicism in the Pacific Northwest. Peopeomoxmox’s permission was essential.

Cayuse Chief Peo Peo Mox Mox

There was some hope. The chief wanted the Catholics around, as he was contemplating evicting the Whitmans for providing mission service to thousands of American streaming over the Oregon trail without paying rent or saving his people from invasion and disease. He was hoping for some spiritual power. He was also cautious (possibly because of the ridiculous speed of the negotiations!) and decided to keep the Oblates at a bit of a distance from Whitman and the village — close enough to keep them in his orbit and not so close that he would have to decide his political and spiritual moves right away. He sent them to the Chamna fish camp at the Paxçu Ford.

The Productive Confluence of the Snake, Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla Rivers. Now the racially and class-segregated Plutonium City of Tri-Cities.
  • Pink Star: Pandosy eventually built the St. Rose Mission in approximtely this spot.
  • Red Star: Fort Nez Percé. Peopeomoxmox’s village is 24 miles east.
  • Purple Star: Koatsutspa fish camp.
  • Green Star: Ford (approximate)
  • Blue Stars: East and West ends of the Chamna Fish Camp. It was big. The prestige location was at the west end.

It was late in the year. Fishing was over. It’s possible that the site had the added benefit of lying under sacred Rattlesnake Ridge. Maybe there one could see who had the stronger spirit: Indigenous ancestors or these new Catholics. At any rate, this was land that Peopeomoxmox shared with his cousins, the Wanapum, Sinkiuse, Umatilla, Wallula and Yakama. Technically it was his, but practically it was theirs. Plus, it was across the Columbia. The river could control them, like a rope around a horse’s neck. Slavery for Pandosy was not far off. Of all of this, Pandosy knew nothing. He was new in town.

Owl at Chamna (2015)


Next: more on how Peopeomoxmox used Pandosy’s ignorance and the rivers to bind him.

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