First Peoples

48. A Mixed Race Culture in the Pacific Northwest

The courtly politics of the Hudson Bay Company, a front for a private, aristocratic state within Britain that circumvented parliament…

….the courtly politics of the Mexican province of California, that sought to delegate control of territory by out-sourcing violence and amplifying aristocratic allegiances…

New Helvetia, Alta California

…and the Utopian fantasies of Old Oregon’s Willamette and Wailatpu Missions came up against bloody genocidal realities in the 1840s, in a story connected to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.

Fort Vancouver in 1845. Source

In the decades before 1845, two schools for Indigenous children were part of the HBC enterprise on the Columbia (as well as three American ones.) The American ones were mission schools, designed to bring Indigenous children to Christianity through education, farming and obedience. The plan was to create fertile ground within them for the seed of God to be planted, which could then by nourished by reason and obedience to God’s representatives on Earth, the cultural and political structures of the state. This was the plan of a country with a culture of independent farmers, beholden to each other for community and integrated into a military and mercantile state, that both protected them and helped them expand. These schools were the Whitman Mission at Waillatpu’u, the Spalding Mission at Lapwai and the Willamette Mission (by 1840, The Cheketas Mission, which together drew off most of the missionary donations of the United States for a dozen years yet showed only, perhaps, one convert each. The Whitman and Willamette Missions eventually used their missionary funds to advocate mass American immigration instead, partially with the hope that a vibrant American colony could achieve what they could not.

Willamette Mission

Engraved illustration based on sketch made by the U. S. naval espionage expedition in 1841. Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1845), Vol. IV, page 374.

The agricultural project worked, but only obliquely.

Waillatpu’u Mission

Artist’s conception of Waiilatpu in 1847, looking from the south. It is somewhat idealized, as the hills are nowhere near so tall.

The land surrounding all three missions, even Lapwai which is on Nez Perce treaty lands, is farmed by White American farmers today.

Lapwai Mission

Spalding’s Mission in Lapwai in 1837.

Lapwai Mission in 2015. My Photo.

There were also a small number of Catholic missions. I’ll discuss them when we arrive at the causes for open war a few posts further along.

As I covered earlier, one of the two Hudson Bay Company mission schools was in the colony of Assiniboia on the Red River…

…used by its aristocratic backers to create a loyal British state east of the Great Lakes, to block American expansion into the Hudson Bay Company’ fur trade networks to the north and align the métis of the Red River, the children of the fur trade, with British Foreign policy. You can have a second (or first) look at my earlier posts on this history here:

The other school was at Fort Vancouver, where the Hudson Bay Company had its Western headquarters.

The HBC School at Fort Vancouver

A sturdier enterprise than Spalding’s do-it-yourself amateurish carpentry.That’s what indentured French Canadian help can do for you.

We will return to this school shortly, and its role in this story of a war for the continent, a largely cold one fought using the leverages of race and education as strategic weapons. Regarding race, New France…

New France

Bigger than the Lower 48 US States are today. Source

…had a policy of integration, which allowed, in part, for kinship relations to increase trade relationships. When New France collapsed, it left behind a new people. Here’s one:

One Nemaha Descendant of New France in the USA, Joseph De Roin (Joe King)

As refined a European as any who claimed he was an “Indian”.

To understand race in this context just a little, compare the subtle differences in his dress (his pipe? and tobacco pouch?) to that of another European, Oscar Wilde, going wild a couple generations later.

The very stylish Oscar Wilde, who was no more stylish than de Roin.

The reality of integration across races and cultures remains inspiring. The practical reality was troubling:

  • the United States had a habit of removing land from British control,
  • the métis moved freely between areas claimed by both Britain and the United States,

The Buffalo Hunt, Paul Kane, 1850

A cross-border métis enterprise. Well, actually, there was no border.

and, most importantly…

  • as there were more children of New France in the United States than to the North, they were not viewed as necessarily reliable subservient partners of the British (which was at war with France)…

And anyone (like de Roin) dressing in the English style of the 1830s (right) is going to show both English and French roots to American sensibilities, too.

The Prez in the arms of his sphinxes.

Two “Incroyables” (left) in Paris during the Napoleonic period. Anyone dressing like this was not likely to be seen as an American.

In other words, de Roin was not exactly dressing as an American, like, say President John Quincy Adams (left).

Of course, this wasn’t a war over fashion. It was, however, a war conducted by appearances. In Assiniboia and in the Pacific Northwest, the two contested border regions between British claims and American ones as the influence of New France’s assimilation with Native peoples began to finally collapse in the 1830s and 1840s after the sale of Louisiana to the United States in 1803 (to finance Napoleon’s war with Britain)…

  • the presence of the Hudson Bay Company, a royalist mercantile organization to which was delegated a British land claim, had so far deterred American expansion by the threat of war with Britain, a great world power…

The HBC Maximum after 1821. Source.

Note how Assiniboia (centre) and the Pacific Northwest (left) infringe on tidy lines. That’s trouble in the making, that is.

  • …even though the company was not run out of the British parliament and did not contribute funds to it. That would be like a major oil company owned by the powerful and wealthy getting the American government (or the Russian one) to pay for a war (and fight it) on their behalf, while the government used the business arrangements of the corporation to justify their aggression. Nice.

Note, here’s how that kind of thing looked two decades ago.

Here’s how it looks today:

Everything was bluff. The thing is, though that locally in Cascadia it was no bluff, but here’s the thing.

Things started well at first.

Lewis and Clark, those intrepid American spies were led by the French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea (and shortly their baby son, Jean Baptiste.) They weren’t wandering into a wilderness. Even after Toussaint died, she kept them alive.

Sacajawea Showing the Boys the Way

Things continued to go well when her cousin, Shoshone chief Cameahwait, sold them horses, without which they would have been up the creek. When they met the Nimiípu’u, Canadian connections helped again. As Frances Hunter relates in the blog Frances Hunter’s American Heroes:

Supposedly, some warriors decided that the prudent course would be to kill Clark and his men. Watkuweis, a Nez Perce woman who had been kidnapped as a young girl, caught wind of the scheme. Declaring, “Do them no harm!”, she dramatically recounted the long-ago kindness of Canadian fur traders who had helped her return home, thus persuading the warriors to spare the lives of the white strangers.

More like Canadian heroes, actually.

However, as I said, this was war. To whit:

Neither the Nez Perce’s fondness for beads nor Watkuweis’s testimony should give the mistaken impression that the Nez Perce were naive red children of the forest. In fact, these Indians were likely not very surprised to encounter Lewis and Clark, and may even have been on the lookout for them. Some of the warriors had recently returned from a trading mission to the Knife River Villages, near Lewis and Clark’s winter fort in North Dakota. They’d heard about the white men and their spirit quest across the west, and also about the guns and ammunition they were promising to the tribes who agreed to become their allies. The Nez Perce were tired of being bullied by Blackfeet and Atsina with British firearms.

By British guns was meant guns traded by the Northwest Company. A summary of how the Pacific Northwest was still being kept free of Euroamericans by the Blackfoot control of the Northwest Company (and the remains of New France) in 1805 can be found in two of my earlier posts:

In other words, the Americans were entering history, not creating it. What’s more, this history was tied to Canada, not to the United States. A couple earlier posts dive into this territory, with the coming of Catholicism to the Flathead Country with David Thompson’s Kahnawake Boatman, Ignace La Mousse in 1809, who stayed. It is a story that appears to be even older than that, wrapped up with a girl who was a slave in Montreal, then a catholicized wife, and then came home to the West. You can catch up or refresh your memory on Old Ignace here:

Old Ignace will become vitally important again in 1831. First, Lewis and Clark made it to the Pacific in 1805 and back in 1806 with a lot of help from the Nimiípu’u (Nez Perce) and Sacagewea. William Clark left a son behind. According to Allen V. Pinkham and Steven R. Evans, in Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce...

… there was love as well.

Pinkham and Evans, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce.

We now had two sets of family alliances, in the time-honoured nature of Indigenous (and French) diplomacy, in the Pacific Northwest, as both Old Ignace La Mousse and David Clark left sons to two neighbouring nations. Here are Clark and his son Halax Túuqit:

Pinkham and Evans, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce.

In Indigenous tradition, out of such connections come alliances. William Clark was family. In Nimiípu’u tradition, he would help his own.

Halaftooki (Daytime Smoker) in middle age. As an old man, he went on the Nimiípu’u exodus (the Nez Perce War) in the hope that his Whiteness would be of use to keep the peace.

Two more alliances mingled with these, to create a powerful social movement. The first was the creation of a generation of Indigenous leaders adept at both Indigenous and White spiritual traditions by sending them for schooling at the Hudson Bay Company colony of Assiniboia. You can refresh your memory of this story here:

To sum up, with what were to all purposes slave names, they were:

Spokan Garry (Slough-Keetcha): Named after Nicholas Garry, Deputy Governor of the HBC from 1822-1835.

Kootenais Pelley:. Named after John Henry Pelley, Governor of the HBC from 1822 to 1852.

Kootenay Collins: Presumably name after Antoine Collin, HBC. Colonial Governor George Simpson’s chief canoe maker, métis, previously of the Northwest Company.

Spokan Berens: Named after Henry Hulse Barens, a member of the HBC managing commitee.

Cayuse Halket: Named after John Hackett, who brokered peace between the métis and the HBC in Assiniboia.

Nez Perce Pitt: Named after Thomas Pitt, member of the HBC governing board during the struggles with the métis over pemmican.

Nez Perce Ellice (Son of Walamottinin [Twisted Hair], who originally helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition survive in 1805-1806 and grandson of Xáxaac ‘ilpilp [Red Grizzly Bear]): Named (after Edward Ellice, a member of the HBC Board of Directors, and the prime mover behind the British Reform Bill of 1832, that gave the vote to small landowners.) He was Hálax túuqit’s cousin and thus William Clark’s nephew.

All were the sons of chiefs. All were symbolic gestures at unity and peace in the Pacific Northwest, on the model of the forced peace after the wars between the Northwest Company and the Hudson Bay Company, with an eye on the métis, suggesting that they, too, had a role to play in a new country, whether that was a free one or not.

The second alliance took place at Jason Lee’s American Wallamut Mission School in the Willamette Valley. 

Wallamut Mission

A boy was sent there among the people his people had previously protected for tribute by his father, the Liksiyu chief Peopeomoxmox. The boy’s name was Toayanu. His father’s reasons for sending him to the Americans rather than to the British, as his cousins had done with their sons, were complex, but likely included some salient facts:

  • The Hudson Bay Company School at Fort Vancouver was a hotbed of disease and abusive teaching. children were either dying or fleeing.
  • The HBC had destroyed Piupiumaksmaks’s Liksiyu empire in their fight to prevent the Louisiana French and French Canadians of the American Fur Company and their employer John Jacob Astor (who had already bested the Northwest Company in the Columbia District in 1809), from continuing the war with the Northwest Company that nearly destroyed the HBC and through it Britain’s tenuous remaining claim on North America. More specifically, the Northwest Company’s enforcer, Peter Skene Ogden, one of the brutal driving forces in the war between fur companies, and his assignment to destroy all beavers in the territories of the Nimíipu’u, Liksiyu, Shoshone, Bannock and Utes, a scorched earth policy to keep Americans out of the Pacific Northwest. It essentially enslaved all those peoples to the company. You can refresh the history of this tragedy here:
The image shows Ogden’s wife, Julie Rivet. Like Sacagewea, she went along. She concluded her life living off the mercy of strangers at Lac La Hache in Secwepemc Territory, far to the north.

The post also includes the story of the next pressure on Piupiuaksmaks. At Fort Nez Perce, on Piupiumaksmaks’s territory, the HBC was attempting to drive a wedge between the Liksiyu and the Nimíipu’u, in Nimíipu’u favour, in order to push down fur prices by alliance bondage to counter a price war with the US, eager to see the HBC gone. One of the strategies was to put the other Northwest Company murderer and enforcer, Samuel Black, in charge of the fort.

As Tolstoy put it in his afterword to War and Peace, his novel of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia

What causes historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the collective will of the people transferred to one person. Under what condition is the will of the people delegated to one person? On condition that that person expresses the will of the whole people. That is, power is power: in other words, power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand.

We might as well say a blade of grass is a blade of grass, when it is a drop of water.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass Mixing Earth and Sky

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

I think Piupiumaksmaks and Xáxaac ‘ilpilp understood the principle well. At any rate, by the mid-1830s, the fur trade was done, yet the slavery of the land and its people remained incomplete. For example, in 1832 the administrator of Fort Nez Percés, Simon McGillivray…

Simon McGillivray, 1785-1840

Courtesy of the Library & Archives Canada

…was removed (on his own request) after he took no action to stop a Liksiyu man, Wide Mouth, from killing a native slave, Shasty, owned by the fort. The killing had been a political message: tit-for-tat retribution for McGillivray having ordered Shasty to shoot a cow that belonged to a local Cayuse man who hadn’t wanted to sell it when McGillivray had wanted to buy it. The retributive death of the slave was Indigenous justice, and it troubled Dr. John John McCloughlin, head administrator of the Columbia District. From his post in Fort Vancouver, he wrote to McGillivray:

“The killing of Shasty is murder yet with these Indians it is considered no greater offence than killing a horse; and perhaps not so bad as shooting the Cow.” 

Dr John McLoughlin, Chief Factor, Fort Vancouver

Jean-Baptiste McLoughlin
October 19, 1784
DiedSeptember 3, 1857 (aged 72)
Oregon City, Oregon Territory

Dr. McCloughlin was a practical man. He wanted English law, but realized that

“even if we did kill [the Cayuse man], it might be the cause of deranging all our business [along the Columbia.]”

He backed off into an unsteady peace. The next administrator, Pierre Pambrun, was initiated differently to rituals of violence. In 1834, he refused to raise the price of furs to match those of American traders, especially Benjamin Bonneville, keen to put the Company out of business. 

Right: Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun, 1792-1841

Left: Benjamin Bonneville

BornApril 14, 1796
near ParisFrench First Republic
DiedJune 12, 1878 (aged 82)
Fort SmithArkansas, United States

It was a Face-off between New World and Old World French, working for different English- Speaking Masters

Now, this was frustrating. In retaliation, three young cousins, the Liksiyu and Nimiipu’u men, Allalimya Takanin (Looking Glass, chief of Asotin, a lamprey fishery on the Snake River), The Prince (brother of an important Liksiyu chief on the Walla Walla River and given the nod for future greatness), and Tauitau (Young Chief, son of Liksiyu Head Chief Peopeomoxmox), seized Pambrun and his interpreter Jean Toupin, threw blankets over them and beat them severely. 

This is how the Liksiyu broke horses and subdued slaves. If you like, you can refresh your memory on the history of Indigenous slave-taking and its role in diplomacy and control of land here:

I know it’s a lot, but it’s such an important topic. Without it, no history of the West makes sense.

Pressured by McCloughlin not to give in, Pambrun responded by blacklisting the influential families of Allalimya Takanin, the Prince and Tauitau from the fort. That was even more frustrating. You couldn’t remain an influential family without gunpowder and bullets, and those you couldn’t buy from the Americans, who wanted a monopoly on violence. Everyone sat around, waiting for someone to blink. The solution, when it came, was neither British nor American. When Allalimya Takanin, Prince and Tauitau returned, looking for compensation for the affront of being denied trade and status, Pambrun offered gifts rather than revenge or punishment. He had a house built for Tauitau on the Umatilla River and another for The Prince at his village of Pášx̣apa. It’s not recorded if Pambrun offered a house to Alllalimya Takanin as well. It’s likely, though, because in 1840, he was (still) boasting that he had tied Pambrun and made him a slave. And why not boast about that? Just as John McCloughlin had been unable to try Wide Mouth for murder because of being unable to control a likely retribution, Pambrun needed his attackers as much as he needed them. Unlike the British or the Americans, though, who were fixated on European law, Pambrun understood the nature of the negotiation. By rewarding his captors, Pambrun had adapted Liksiyu horse culture (itself an inspired adaptation of Liksiyu slave culture) instead of suppressing it. It was eminently practical. As Robert H. Ruby and John Arthur Brown note in The Cayuse Indians: Imperial Tribesmen of Old Oregon:

The Cayuses [Liksiyu] were superb horsemen, a skill they learned rapidly after obtaining their first animals from the Snakes.  Breaking colts provided them both enjoyment and challenge. When they lassoed an animal, they choked it down, tied both sets of feet, and threw a wolf or bear skin over its head, leaving it in this condition until it was exhausted and sometimes nearly asphyxiated. Then they loosened its feet. If the animal continued to lunge and tug at the rope, the breakers repeated the process until it became docile. 

Robert H. Ruby and John Arthur Brown. The Cayuse Indians: Imperial Tribesmen of Old Oregon.

Pambrun had accepted his docility — less, perhaps, because he believed in it than that he needed furs. The same ones that Ogden had trapped out. What do you think of that, Peter?

Ogden: Oops?

Is that it

Ogden: Yeah, I think that’s all I got.

Harold Rhenisch Interviews Peter Skene Ogen, April 20, 2023

The Prince’s cabin has survived. It anchors the whole Frenchtown Historic Site west of Pášx̣apa. It is classically French Canadian and the oldest building in Washington. 

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

Due to building code requirements for earthquake safety, visitors are not allowed inside it. You can stare in the windows, though, and see the Great Basin Wild Rye grass reflecting back, green and tossing in the wind.

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

Notice as well how it is a scale model of the HBC school:

Frenchtown, where it sits, was a Liksiyu settlement that stretched for 20 miles along the Walla Walla river, from Fort Nez Percés at the river’s mouth to the Methodist mission at Waillatpu’u and on to Pášx̣apa.

Frenchtown in 1872

Its inhabitants were Liksiyu women and their French Canadian husbands. What the map does not show is how these Canadian log houses were intermingled with Liksiyu villages and winter houses. It was, however, a splendid re-creation of Assiniboia in the Pacific Northwest.

Here is one of its highways today, to give you a feel of the place:

The Walla Walla River (south of Touchet).

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

This intermarriage and its alliances was good politics to Piupiumaksmaks. He might have been miffed at the HBC, but with all these ex-employees leaving the company to join with his nation, he might also have felt that he had the HBC in the bag and could branch out to the Americans, the newcomers in town. Truth is, he already had, by granting the Waillatpu’u mission a site in Frenchtown. There were logical reasons for reaching further:

  • On Piupiumaksmaks’s home territory, the Waillatpu’u Mission was using a lot of land, while producing no positive results.
  • Traditionally, Piupiumaksmaks’s empire had controlled the great fishery at Cellilo, and through it the economy of nearly half the continent, through a system of alliance and protection. This opportunity came after the great traders of the N’ich’i’wan’a, the Tsinuk and their allies the Kalapuyans of the Willamette, were almost completely destroyed by malaria brought in on an HBC ship. Allying with the new power in Kalapuyan Territory, the methodists of the Wallamut Mission, in addition to those of the Waillatpu’u mission, could have been an attempt to re-create his empire. I go into this history in depth here:

And so Piupiumakmaks sent his son Toayanu to Jason Lee’s Wallamut Mission School on the Willamette River, dreaming the same dream as the chiefs who had sent their sons to the HBC in Assiniboia: if Toayanu could learn the magic of the Christian religion, he could bring his people power and survival. There was, however, another possible reason for sending Toayanu there:

  • The Willamette was also a French Canadian-Indigenous settlement. It was similar to Frenchtown and was called French Prairie. When the Americans started coming in 1835, the Canadians took them in and showed them the ropes. Effectively, at least on the surface they integrated them into integrated Indigenous-Canadian culture. The story is well told in Melinda Marie Jetté’s At the Hearth of the Crossed Races: A French-Indian Community in Nineteenth-Century Oregon, 1812-1859. For her, it is a family story.
  • Not only that, but a new language had been created in the mixed race French Canadian community at Fort Vancouver, where the surviving women of Kalapuyan culture and their Canadian husbands mixed with Liksiyu, Nimiípu’u, Cree, Carrier and Salish women and their husbands in a culture of Englishmen, Scots, Iroquois, Hawaiians, Blacks, Indigenous slaves, French Canadians, and a Caribbean creole, among others. This language is called Chinook Wawa. It developed and spread rapidly and became the means of communication between cultures in the Pacific Northwest deep into the 20th century. You can read more about it here:
In this post, I follow Wawa through its roots in the spirit communication of S’lahal, the stick game (over 13,000 years in play on this coast) and with the languages of the land itself as they weave with human ones.

A bunch of bison after losing at the stick game on the Firehole River. From my post above on the right.

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

The Canadians even asked for a church, and received one, originally served from Assiniboia, not out of depth of religious feeling, but to establish law and order in the wilderness, which is to say security of inheritance and property rights for their families: multi-generational life insurance, shall we say:

A model remains.

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

Here it is today:

St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, St, Paul, Oregon.

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

  • Another form of integration was the manner in which the French Canadians of French Prairie had first brought cattle north from Spain (Alta California) for the HBC farms at Vancouver and further north in the other French Canadian settlement in Colville (Kettle Falls) and then made another expedition south to bring cattle home for themselves. Cattle were, like, the AI technology of the day.

Note the Spanish cattle on the right. And, well, the Spanish horse, too, well-integrated by this point..

This sketch by A.B. Roberts, now in the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site museum collection, shows the fort’s employee village. In the background, the fort and Mount Hood. USNPS photo. Source.

  • The world was knitting together nicely, with new people and exciting new technologies being integrated into the Liksiyu empire.

And things did go well. As I pointed out in my previous post…

…Lee had been so pleased with Toayanu’s progress at memorizing Christian material that he gave him the name of the Methodist bishop who had sent Lee west to preach to the Nimiíipu’u: 

Bishop of the Methodist Church 1824-1852

Despite all the good cheer, there were signs of trouble to come. This was, after all, a war. We haven’t fully met all the players. It’s time to meet the Catholics and the slavers of New Spain. Everyone was jockeying for position. While I prepare that for you, here’s a picture of the heart of French Prairie today. This is Champoeg,

An image of time and power.

(Photo by Harold Rhenisch)

You can see the old French Canadian farm in the bottom land, and the new American palace on its vineyard above.

Champoeg (pronounced Shampoo-ee) is commonly defined like this:

William Bright, Native American Placenames of the United States

That’s one theory. Mine is that it is a Canadian name, The Champs Pays, the Grassland Country. Perhaps, it is both.


Next, let’s go to Pierre’s Hole and then follow Toayanu to New Spain, where this multiracial world explodes.

4 replies »

  1. Thank you, Harold. As always, a fascinating journey. Confirms once again that history is in the telling and context.

    “The land surrounding all three missions, even Lapwai which is on Nez Perce treaty lands, is farmed by White American farmers today.”

    I visited the Lapwai Mission Cemetery on my trip to Idaho this summer past. Evocative and eerie how the well-groomed park setting, the memorial messages on gravestones, the reconstructed mission cabins convey the rigors of pioneer times, impressing upon contemporaries a tale of lives now at rest in settled – everlastingly peaceful – historical, biological resolve.

    “Allalimya Takanin (Looking Glass, chief of Asotin, a moray eel fishery on the Snake River)”

    Asotin was surely a lamprey fishery not a moray eel fishery. Lamprey, technically not an eel or fish, were then and still are a traditional food source of Native Nation peoples. Anecdotally: I met two indigenous youngsters atop Moscow Mountain last summer who knew of the lamprey by the name “devil fish” but were unaware of their place in Native Nation history and culture. They were much interested in all I knew about lamprey, but of course, it was a bit sad that they were not educating me.

    In the spirit of a final edit. “John McCloughlin”, not “John McLaughlin” as it often appears in your text.

    Warm regards. Looking forward to future posts.


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