First Peoples

35. The Long Arm of New France: War By Other Means, Part 2

In the previous post, I showed how even the simplest concepts of property and individuality from the settlement era in the Pacific Northwest (180 years ago) have determined much of the world we live in today. I included the present in this discussion of the past, working from the observation that we are in one expanding moment, just as the land is.

12,000 Years All at Once

Lower Similkameen Grassland, South Foot of Kruger Mountain

Here is a link to the post, if you wish to have another look (or a first one:)

Beside, if we follow a traditional historical narrative, focussed solely on linear time, we will miss stuff along the way. Stuff like this, perhaps:

Trash disposed of at the Chamna Fish Camp (Now a Nature Preserve)

Right into Peopeomoxmox’s city.

Today, I hope to bring the last 34 posts into focus, around the failures of linear history. By the end, I hope you will see how relevant all this information is to a history we are living today in the North Okanagan.

North Okanagan Culture

Could an artist in a gallery have done better? And that “green” roof. We invented it here, folks.

So, with that in mind, let’s continue with a simple image and a few villages. First the image, to show just how far one can diverge from Western thinking without losing individual or creative values, always a good thing to keep in mind when talking of ancient cultures living on in the present:

Art by Other Means (Twaíuutas)

This is a form of diplomacy, but not between human groups. When rocks break up naturally like this, one doesn’t have to invent a tradition of art, to create memorable artworks. One just has to find them where the Earth has created them, and read them in place. That’s the world that the Northwest Company men entered at Wallula in 1819, at the beginning of this story. Quite different from the armchairs.

One can extend the recognition that the rock speak of in many ways. Here’s one:

Writing on the Land. Literally.

Buffalo Eddy

To place that approach to the land’s call in a Euroamerican concept, it is also this:

Cow, Fence, Weeds and Fall Rye near Goldendale

All graphics on the land as well, although the 12,000 years (or longer) are much more obscure now.

The results for land and community are quite different, although the goals, power and its concentrations across boundaries of social space are related. Why shouldn’t they be. People have common needs. With that in mind, let me show you a couple maps. These are additional variations on the lithograph I showed you above. First, a snake at Buffalo Eddy, on the Snake River…

… then a salmon been caught there:

Other kinds of maps are more common today. Below is a hybrid map, using settler technology to represent Indigenous geography. The map is of the villages around the mouth of the Walla Walla (Walúula), where Ross and MacKenzie set up camp, and the mouth of the Snake (Naxiyam, at the top):

The map below continues this urban sprawl to the mouth of the Yakima, where Father Charles Pandosy was sent by Chief Peopeomoxmox during the Cayuse War. His approach to spiritual work with the Yakama he met there was to build a church out of cottonwood logs, even though he had never built anything out of wood before. It was a popular local pastime to sit on the south shore of the river and watch him go at it.

Source for these maps:

The three major villages of this urban complex were at the mouths of the Táptat (Yakima), the Pik’dunin (Snake) and the (Walawála) Walla Walla. The map immediately above shows the village complex at the mouth of the Táptat.

MacKenzie and Ross missed this alternate map-making, these way of writing human social bodies on rock by both individual and group means. So did Pandosy a generation later, even though, supposedly (as a priest), he had the tools to do a better job, and even though he had been invited to come on that expectation.

Chamna Today

In the end, what stuck of Euroamerican settlement was the transportation that got them there. Fascinating!

There’s a link with the misfit between today’s grassland ecosystem and the first incursions into it in 1818. At that time, Ross was affronted to be asked to pay for timber and to adhere to salmon-harvesting protocols. He was in need of an education. It was offered, too, but he missed it. The offer came when Cayuse chief Tumatapum returned from a raid on the Snake Plain. Ross’s first lesson came on his return.

This war party was reported to us to consist of four hundred and eighty men. Their hideous yells, mangled prisoners, and bloody scalps, together with their barbarous gestures, presented a sight truly savage. I only saw nine slaves.

Alexander Ross: The Fur Hunters of the Far West [Ross is infamous for exaggerating, so be wary of his figures.]

Is slavery what Ross wants his audience to remember, though? No. This is: 

In the charming security of a temperate atmosphere nature here displays in her manifold beauties, and at this season the crowds of moving bodies diversify and enliven the same. Groups of Indian huts with their spiral little columns of smoke, herds of animals give animation and beauty to the landscape. The natives in social crowds outdid each other in coursing their gallant steed, in racing, and swimming, with other feats of activity. Wild horses in droves sported and grazed along the boundless plains. The wild fowls in flocks filled the air, and the salmon and sturgeon incessantly leaping ruffled the smoothness of the waters. The appearance of the country in a summer’s evening was delightful beyond description. 

Alexander Ross: The Fur Hunters of the Far West

Culture is powerful. It has prevented Ross from seeing the landscape as an active player here. He sees only the creatures that live on it, human and otherwise.

Owl at Chamna

For another, he sees horses as either human property or wild, not as the creatures that they were, mediating between those two realms as great spiritual beings.

Actually, the other creatures were that as well. This pelican, for instance.

Even more practically, Ross saw wild horses, even though those horses weren’t wild. They were the wealth of a people. Many were slaves (so to speak) taken in raids. To keep that in perspective, humans were also taken as slaves. Here is Ross’s report of the return of a Nimíipu’u raid from the next year:

One evil often leads to another, for the Shaw-ha-ap-tens had no sooner got back than a Snake party were at their heels; but happening to gall in with a few stragglers frolicking among the bushes gathering berries, belonging to the Walla Walla camp, not three miles from our fort, they killed one man, four women and five children, then re-crossed the mountains and got off clear, carrying along with them the scalps of their victims and two young women and a man as slaves. The two captive women as well as the man being of some rank caused a tremendous commotion at this place.

Alexander Ross: The Fur Hunters of the Far West

Ross misunderstood. His fort was in a village, yet did not treat the village people as his own. Instead, he watched as they were killed and imprisoned. He reports this strange scene as savagery. Was it, though? At least in the way his Scots upbringing imagined it? It makes little sense. This murder was taking place among relatives. That seems a bit costly. It would make more sense if the people killed were slaves, or even if the murder was an effort to separate Ross from any Cayuse chiefs willing to trade furs for lower prices than offered by the Americans. The loss of a couple slaves would be an economic blow. Would it make dealing with Ross too expensive? I think it might. I mention these possibilities, because they did happen later. There’s no reason that strategy had to come out of the blue. Whatever was going on, though, Ross missed his chance for alliance with both sides by insisting on disrespectful trade terms, ones that benefitted the Company yet drove wedges between people. It was not that he could have been ignorant about owning slaves, either. As Gray H. Whaley points out in his study of the collapse of the Indigenous world of the Pacific Northwest, 

Fur expeditions often had a Native woman at the helm. Although the actual power they had varied considerably, all legitimated the colonialists’ presence to the local Native population in any given area. Also…they provided the slaves. Slavery both enabled power and exhibited it. Slave raiding and trading spread with the fur trade, and, by the late 182s, people from the southern periphery were increasingly common among the slave population of the lower Columbia as well as from points north and east where Chinooks traded them.

Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee: U.S. Empire and the Transformation of an Indigenous World:

Ross had been on many such expeditions. He knew the score. In fact, he was on one of those expeditions right then, in a time in which most European work crews contained indentured servants and enslaved native people. It’s hard to believe that he did not know on some level that the show had been put on for his education. Or was he part of a cover-up? We should consider it, at least. After all, manipulations of the story continue to this day:

Fort Nez Percé Marker, Wallula

Note “From this post traders and trappers pushed into the rich Snake River basin.” Note as well: “The fort was abandoned by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the start of the Indian War in 1855.” Neither are really quite completely totally true. We will visit that history later. For now, I think it’s enough to say that it does show how powerful narrative approaches are at determining what can and cannot be told.

If Ross had accepted the lesson offered him, it would certainly have changed trading relationships, and perhaps even pelt price. That is an issue that was going to plague the fort in the near future, as it tried to maintain prestige-based relationships with native people against the increasing racism of its administration and pressures from a price war with American fur traders, tracking the success of the Northwest Company at trapping furs itself rather than waiting to trade them. In 1821, the Northwest Company was forced to merge with the HBC, after their competition with each other became debilitating and opened the way for American competition. By 1823, American fur traders were moving into the mountains out of St. Louis, by the hundreds. The HBC monopoly in The Columbia District was at risk of being lost to them.

The Old Choteau Mansion in St Louis

The fur trade in St. Louis dated back to 1764, when Pierre Laclède Liquest came from New Orleans and began trading on the Missouri. By the turn of the century, trade was controlled by two families, his relations the Choteaus and the Lisas. By Ross’s time, they had partnered with the American Fur Company and were moving west, a move that had been denied the French because of slave-trading relations under both French and Spanish rule. Lewis and Clarke stayed in this house while provisioning themselves for their trip west in 1805.

Ross was sent up the Snake River in 1823, to trap its beavers before American traders did, so that the Hudson Bay Company could maintain an unchallenged monopoly: a desperate move, as it threatened to alienate the company’s own native clients. It’s best to remember, though, that most everyone was French: the American mountain men were French, the Canadian mountain men were French, and the administrators (such as Ross) were neither. It was a play for a continuation of a way of life. They shot at each other for their employers. HBC men defected, sometimes with backloads of furs, for the greater profits offered by the Americans. Native peoples shot at them all. To give an idea of how French this all was, here’s Ross’ crew in 1823:

Add 11 French Canadian Indentured Servants and that’s 54 men (and their wives and perhaps children), only one of which is not French: Alexander Ross. The John Grey mentioned was a Scots-Iroquois.

Ross failed dismally. The next year, the HBC chose a different tactic to keep prices up and the 200 American freemen in the mountains out: it chose one of the toughest men on its payroll, Samuel Black, to run the fort. He was such a dangerous man that in his private “character book” (an assessment of his employees, for determining their future assignments), company administrator George Simpson had this to say about him in 1832: 

The strangest man I ever knew. So wary & suspicious that it is scarcely possible to get a direct answer from him on any point, and when he does speak or write . . . so prolix that it is quite fatiguing to attempt following him. A perfectly honest man and his generosity might be considered indicative of a warmth of heart if he was not known to be a cold blooded fellow who could be guilty of any Cruelty and would be a perfect Tyrant if he had any power. . . . 

Simpson on an Inspection Tour, Oregon Historical Society Research Library photo. 

He had a habit of showing up unannounced, taking the prettiest mixed race girl in the community to bed, which their father’s tolerated because of the high status it gave them and an edge in trade over other tribes or factions, then dumping her when she was pregnant.

Black was violent and cunning. Along with his equally violent partner, Peter Skene Ogden, he made competition between the HBC and the Northwest Company so violent that the British Government forced their merger in 1821 lest the Americans take over the whole continent.

Peter Skene Ogden in 1848

The game of geographic dominance was now being played at Fort Nez Percé. Once the HBC’s mortal enemy and now a prize weapon in its arsenal, Black was being pitted against the Americans. The logic went something like this: 

  • Since the HBC was bleeding financially, threatening the renewal of its monopoly…
  • And members of the Montreal-based Northwest Company (French) had tried to break the Hudson’s Bay Company stranglehold on the North American fur trade from 1779 to its forced merger in 1821
  • By packing in overland directly to fur-harvesting villages, instead of
  • Building forts that the villagers had to travel to after the HBC model,
  • All by harassing HBC posts and freight expeditions (Black and his friend and co-enforcer Peter Skene Ogden specialized in this work),
  • Butchering an Indigenous HBC employee (a common euphemism for “slave”), as Ogden had done,
  • Burning down the HBC post at Île-à-la-Crosse in 1811 (Black’s work), and
  • Shooting it out with an HBC company in 1815 (four HBC men died; Black’s work), then
  • Black was the perfect man to keep the Americans out.

As Simpson noted later, Black was

A Don Quixote in appearance Ghastly, raw boned and lanthorn jawed, yet strong vigorous and active. Has not the talent of conciliating Indians by whom he is disliked, but who are ever in dread of him, and well they may be so. as he is . . . so suspicious that offensive and defensive preparation seem to be the study of his Life having Dirks, Knives and Loaded Pistols concealed about his Person and in all directions about his Establishment even under his Table cloth at meals and in his Bed.

In short, instead of alliance in trade with the Wallulas, with the Snake expedition of 1823, with Black’s appointment, and with the reinstatement of the Snake River project under the leadership of Peter Skene Ogden in 1824, the company set out to destroy the land it was claiming as its own, just so that the Americans didn’t get it. Like Ross’s before him, Ogden’s team included John Grey.

Ignace Hatchiorauquasha, aka John Grey, son of a Scottish soldier of the American Revolution and a mohawk woman. He was born in 1795 and became a trapper and grizzly bear killer. He was raised at the Kahnawake Mission in Montreal, but his allegiances weren’t precisely English, a troubling fact which hadn’t escaped Ross’s notice. I’m guessing that he is one of the 5 Iroquois boatmen named Ignace (After St. Ignatius, a name conferred at Kahnawake) who abandoned David Thompson’s expedition in the Bitterroot Valley in 1809. I will keep digging around into that and let you know what I find.

Adding to the drama was that:

  • Ogden was the son of a United Empire Loyalist, who had opposed the Americans during the Revolutionary War and had fled to Quebec. 
  • He oversaw the French-Canadian work force of, first, the Northwest Company, and then the Hudson’s Bay Company,
  • Not to mention the French-speaking métis sons of French-Canadians.
  • Black was a Scot, who oversaw the same lot.
  • With the 1818 settlement of the British-American border on the 49th Parallel, which drove the Northwest Company North, and created violent opposition, not in British Interests,
  • In 1821 the two companies were directed to merge. 
  • After that, both Ogden and Black oversaw the English-speaking métis sons of former Scottish employees,
  • While the Americans were French-Canadians from the Northwest and Louisiana, cut off from France in 1803 by the Louisiana Purchase and from Quebec by the War of 1812, 
  • And more specifically were the métis sons of French-Canadians.
  • The employees of Fort Nez Percés were largely French Canadians, Hawaiians and Iroquois, long the partners of the French in the fur trade and largely reaching west a generation before the French followed.

To understand the political complexity of all of this, one of the members of Ross’s company was the interpreter Francois Rivet, who had accompanied the American explorers Lewis and Clarke across the Snake Country to the Pacific in 1805 and had stayed on. His family, 15 horses and a tule mat lodge came with him. When Ogden redoubled efforts to kill all beavers in the Snake Country (and down to Utah) in 1825, he brought along his wife, Rivet’s adopted native daughter Julie, for whom he had paid a bride price of 50 horses.

Julie Rivet Ogden

Is that a cane?

In other words, this was a struggle by the sons (and daughters) of a long-lost New France, struggling to maintain their freedom of passage by working for both the Americans and British. The violence this work threw them into (the Snake Expedition was hotly contested and full of bloodshed) meant that almost none of them survived. This guy did, though, putting a name to Ross’s fears:

Frederick Remington’s Indian Trapper. We’ve already met him. His name is John Grey.

He did a lot to destroy British chances of success:

John Grey led the group. Source.

Theme of French half-blood sons, French rebellion, perceived French insubordination and a battle for land in the Columbia District were going to haunt Pandosy and all the grasslands, very, very soon. The battle for this West was very French. It was the Battle for Quebec (and the French and Indian Wars that preceded it), continued by other means. It would be easy to say, “Oh, how Canadian,” but it is American, too, which makes it all the more powerful.

Next: War by Other Means: part 3. The French story at Fort Nez Percés and in the Walla Walla Valley gets more intense.

Until then, an image of interconnected struggle:

George Washington was a young English Lieutenant on one of these ships. He went on to being an American Revolutionary General after totally botching up a peace plan during the French and Indian War. The citadel in Quebec only fell because of a strategic error of colossal proportions, and a bit of betrayal. By the time of our story, mistakes of this kind were still being made. People are like that.

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