Chief Cowaniah and the Klickitat Raiders

The Klickitats:

The story of Klickitats’ ascendency during the European penetration into the Pacific Northwest is one of the most vivid examples of how outsiders could take advantage of the social turmoil amongst the Indians and turn it to their advantage.

It is said the this tribe originated in the southern or western sloped of the Rockies, but were pushed out by the Cayuse eventually resettling in Southern Washington in the vicinity of Mt. Adams and along the White Salmon and Klickitat rivers.  We know these peoples by their Chinook name, “Klickitat”, that recognized their home territory in the foothills of Mt. Adams. A secondary meaning of the word also suggests their origination “beyond the Cascades”. And it was this heritage that gave them their fearsome reputation amongst the Indian tribes of the Lower Columbia.

The Chinook, the Clatskanie and the Clatsops of the Lower Columbia were know as “Canoe Indians” whose proximity to the Columbia made them fluent in river travel, but somewhat less adept at horsemanship. This is understandable since western Washington and Oregon are interlaced with deep forests not well suited to equestrian travel. By contrast the Indians hailing from the sparsely wooded eastern slopes of the Cascades were known for their prized horses and their weaponry, which made them renowned hunters, and raiders.

The Klickitats would often cross the Columbia to hunt in the Willamette Valley, but after the epidemics of the 1820’s and 1830’s they were able to take advantage of the decimated populations and strengthen their control over the valley. During the early 19th century they extended their reach as far south as the Umpqua Valley, and as far west as the Puget Sound and into Oregon’s Coastal range. Amongst the tribes of the Lower Columbia, and the early settlers they acquired a reputation for being robbers and plunderers. Using guns acquired from the Hudson Bay Company in the 1840’s the Klickitats under the leadership of their chieftain Socklate Tyee engaged the Umpqua Indians in the Rogue Valley. A decade later, under his successor, Quatley (aka Quarterly”) the Klickitats served as scouts and auxiliaries to the US Army during the Rogue Wars. Thereafter they tried unsuccessfully to sue in the US courts for the restoration of their Willamette Valley holdings.

As late as 1860 the Klickitat’s were still raiding into Oregon’s Coast Range. In that year a party of Klickitat raiders swam the Columbia and ascended Logie Trail to raid the Calapooyan villages of Chakontweiftei at the western end of the trial, Chapanakhtin located near current-day Pumpkin Ridge and Chatakwin located at Five Oaks. Operating from the heights these marauders would descend upon these hapless Calapooyan villages in the longstanding tradition of raiding distant villages to increase their complement of slaves.

Not only did this distress the Calapooyans, but it greatly alarmed the early settlers in this region, including the Hudson Bay Company’s dairymen that maintained a large herd of cows in the vicinity of Dairy Creek. Their salvation came from a most unlikely source.

One of the settlers in the area was a Hawaiian who had left the employ of the Hudson Bay Company. One of the least known aspects of the Hudson Bay Company’s operation in this region is the fact that the HBC imported much of its labor from Hawaii. Fur trapping quickly diminished as the mainstay of the Hudson Bay Company’s economic presence in the Pacific Northwest. Under the direction of Chief Factor, John McLaughlin, the fort began to grow, process and later export both food and lumber to the Russian settlements in Nootka, and also to the Hawaiian Islands and China. Hawaii was not only a transit port for the China trade, but it was also the resupply depot for the large North Pacific whaling fleet. It was this export of salted fish and wood that made Fort Vancouver so economically successful – not the fur trade.

Starting as early as 1829 the HBC began to shift their focus from the fur brigades to food and timber production. But the HBC’s traditional French-Canadian and Iroquois voyageurs were ill suited to this kind of land-based labor. To remedy this the Hudson Bay Company contracted to bring between 400 and 600 Hawaiians to work as trappers and builders in the early 1830’s. To house this workforce a village soon sprang up outside the fort whose population eventually exceeded 600 people – most of who were Hawaiians.

The Hawaiians soon became intermediaries between the European and the local Indians, often taking local wives and living with the tribes. Eventually some of them began to attract followers from the remnants of the Indian society that was being ravaged by disease. It is thought that “Chief Cowaniah” whose band lived in the Tualatin Range near Logie Trail was such a transplant. Thus, it was that he rallied the exasperated white settlers in an effort to repel the Klickitat raiding party. They eventually encountered the intruders in a hollow west of present-day Upper Bishop road.

Facing determined opposition for the first time, the Klickitats fled amidst a hail of gunfire. As the escaping raiders crested the ridgeline the final warrior paused to pepper the pursuers before slipping over the ridge and disappearing into history. And in so doing, this nameless Klickitat managed to shoot Cowaniah’s horse out from under him ending the pursuit in a tangle of tumbling bodies.

It may not have been the proudest moment of local military achievement, but it did mark the end of Indian warfare as it had been practiced over the preceding millennia. A mere five years later this era ended when the Klickitats were removed from their home range to join with the Yakama tribes on the Yakima reservation in Eastern Washington.

About Jim

Love to spend time getting lost in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest with Zoe, my Siberian Husky.
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