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 that 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.
Kamaiakin and the Klickitat Wars of 1855-56
One of the more interesting characters from this era was the Klickitat leader, Kamaiakun who resided with his bands in the proximity of Mt. Rainier. Although their upland territory was not the target of Euro-American expansion, the huge influx of settlers into the northern Willamette and extending northwards were putting pressure on the Yakima Nation, among whose major tribes were the horse riding Klickitat Indians.
In a remarkable travelogue, The Canoe and The Saddle written by the twenty-four year old New Englander, Theodore Winthrop, we get a first-hand report on the character of this Klickitat leader. He describes how they meet by chance during the late August of 1853 in the highlands near the 4,800 ft. high Naches Pass. In this account Winthrop writes about the quiet dignity of this Yakima chieftain who would go on to launch a war on the white settlers only two years later.
Winthrop had only recently graduated from Yale in 1848 and was “touring” the Pacific Northwest. His book, although riddled with the contradictions and prejudices of the New England aristocrat, is one of the best early travel narratives to describe the raw beauty of the region, and the natives that he encountered.
“Enter, then, upon this scene Kamaikin, the chiefest of the Yakimah chiefs. He was a tall, large man, very dark, with a massive square face, and grave, reflective look…his manner was strikingly distinguished, quiet and dignified.
Kamaiakin, in order to be the chiefest chief of the Yakimah’s must be clever enough to master the dodges of the salmon, and the will of the wayward mustang…he must know where the kamas bulbs are mining a passage for their sprouts, or he must be able to tramp farther and fare better than his fellows; or by a certain ‘tamanous’ (magic) that is in him, he must have power to persuade or convince to win or overbear. “
At the meeting Winthrop asks Kamaikin for a guide that will get him to The Dalles, where he is anxious to meet fellow travelers bound eastward. Kamiakin introduces Winthrop to the guide that will ultimately deliver him to his rendezvous. Not surprisingly, Winthrop, in his adieu extolls his host as the “prudent and weighty” chief.
In retrospect, we can see how Theodore Winthrop is himself a symptom of the seismic shifts affecting the Pacific Northwest. Whites are tramping all over the region, surveyors are planning railroad routes through the Cascades, miners are befouling the streams, the settlers’ pigs are destroying the Indians camas fields, river navigation is literally wrecking the Indians’ fisheries and land speculators are selling the Indians’ patrimony right out from under their feet. Simultaneously, the region is beset with new outbreaks of smallpox, measles and malaria that reduce the Indian population of the Lower Columbia from 15,000 in 1830 to less than 2,000 in the mid-1840′s. Winthrop is a witness to this epic transformation, but he is unapologetic for its consequences to the indigenous cultures. After a brief encounter with a group of road builders, he boasts that he “could ride more boldly forward into savageness, knowing that the front ranks of my nation were following close behind.”
Given the wide ranging impacts wrought by the increasing inflow of settlers on the existing Indian way of life, it should come as no surprise that this “prudent and weighty” chief would be at the center of Klickitat resistance to the the white setters’ encroachments. Within twelve months of this chance encounter in the woods, Kamaikin was sending messengers to his allies East of the Cascades warning them to fight to retain their home hunting grounds and the lands where their ancestors were buried.
Deadly confrontations with miners, and the murder of the Yakimah chieftain, Peu-peu-mox-mox’s son by white settlers had seriously degraded relations with the Klickitats on the Columbia Plateau. In 1855, the settlers tried to buy their way out of the impending conflict, but Peu-peu-mox-mox would have none of it. Realizing the seriousness of this refusal and the likelihood of further violence, A.J. Bolen, the Indian agent in charge of relations with the Yakimahs met with one of the Yakimah sub-chiefs to warn them against further conflict and threatened to send the soldiers up to kill them if they misbehaved. Incensed by these demands, Bolen was followed on his return trip and killed by some young warriors. They subsequently burned his body and that of his horse, dancing on his scalp as the carcasses were reduced to ashes.
This frightful ritual of revenge reported back to the whites, who immediately dispatched all the women and children by canoe to the safety of The Dalles. At the same time the ranking officer in The Dalles, Major Haller mobilized 107 mounted soldiers and set off with enough supplies to conduct a month-long campaign against the errant Yakimah’s. Two days out they skirmished with the Indians. One soldier was killed and seven wounded, but Haller’s command was surrounded by over 700 angry Yakimahs. The soldiers retreated to a nearby ridge. A scout was successfully dispatched to sneak through the Indian lines to summon help, but the next day the Indians managed to kill two soldiers and wounded 13 more. The situation was perilous, but fortunately the scout managed to find a route down the steep bluff and the soldiers quickly abandoned their rocky redoubt to flee back to The Dalles.
Kamaiakin sued for a negotiated peace, but the Governor of the Washington territories Isaac Stevens wanted to use the conflict to force the Indians into reservations. Responding to Kamaiakin’s offer, he wrote that,
“the whites are as the stars in the heavens, or the leaves in the trees in the summer time. Our warriors in the field are many , as you must see; but if not enough, a thousand for every one more will be sent to hunt you and to kill you; and my advice to you, as you will see, is to scatter yourselves among the Indians tribes more peaceable and therefore forget you were ever Yakimahs.”
The settlers began building forts everywhere marginalizing the Indian attacks. It was a slow deliberate approach but it forced the Indians to seek unity, which in turn polarized the Indian community. Smaller tribes that tried to evade the conflict soon found that their horses were raided, and their tribal chieftains killed as power struggles rent the tribal society. In the end the Nez Perce whose participation might have changed the outcome, stood aside and refused to join the growing rebellion. Those more inclined to negotiate with the emerging American civil and military authority ultimately gained the ascendancy. The saturation of forts across the inland plateau country of the Pacific Northwest effectively heralded the futility of militant resistance. In the end the “prudent and weighty” chieftain, Kamaiakin was forced to flee into exile – just as Isaac Stevens had recommended.
Nonetheless, 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 descended upon these hapless Calapooyan villages following their longstanding tradition of raiding distant villages to increase their complement of slaves.
But times were changing. Not only did this distress the Calapooyans, but it greatly alarmed the increasing number of 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. By the late 1820′s the Fort in Vancouver had become a net exporter of fish to Hawaii. This was soon augmented by a thriving export of fresh butter to the Russian colonies in Southern Alaska. Vancouver was unique in the sense that it was the only HBC establishment that was both profitable and mostly self-sufficient in foodstuffs – a good thing considering how long it took to resupply this outpost on the “far side” of North America.
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 in the early 1830’s brought brought between 400 and 600 Hawaiians to perform the basic labor of the Hudson Bay Company’s venture on the Columbia River. To house this workforce, a sizable “Kanaka village” soon sprang up outside the fort.
The Hawaiians soon became intermediaries between the European and the local Indians, often taking local wives and living with the tribes. The status of these Polynesian guest-workers put them somewhere between the indigenous population and the Euro-Americans. They were employed by the Euro-Americans, but they could not buy or hold title to land. Yet they were, and continue to be, accepted as brethren by the indigenous peoples. Eventually some of them began to attract followers from the remnants of the Indian society and they established new villages that were more closely integrated with the ever increasing number of white settlers.
It is thought that “Chief Cowaniah” whose band lived in the Tualatin Range near Logie Trail was such a “Owyhee” transplant. It was apparently, the polynesian chief that rallied the exasperated white settlers in an effort to repel the Klickitat raiding party. They pursued the raiders across the heights that separate the Tualatin lowlands from the lands along the banks of the Columbia River. Eventually, they 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 from view 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 Yakima tribes on the Yakima reservation in Eastern Washington.