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Posts Tagged ‘Chief Comcomly’

Editorial: Astoria has a long memory

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Friends of MacDonald tend the flame of a great 19th century adventurer

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 9:11 a, Daily Astorian

In the pantheon of 19th century adventurers, Ranald MacDonald’s story is one of the more astounding. Born at Fort Astoria in 1824, MacDonald was the child of a Scotsman and a Chinook Indian princess, daughter of Chief Comcomly. He went to sea on a whaling vessel, with the intention to be shipwrecked in Japan, which had excluded foreigners for some 200 years. MacDonald’s plan worked, and he brought the English language to Japan.

Writing in Eminent Astorians, Frederik L. Schodt says MacDonald: “ … is a classic example of an individual who, overcoming great odds, did something heroic then fell through the cracks of history.”

Over lunch last Saturday at the Bridgewater Bistro, the Friends of MacDonald held its 25th annual meeting. The Friends group had its genesis following the 1988 placement of a memorial stone at Fort Astoria park. On that marker, MacDonald’s story is told in English and Japanese. Local leadership from then-Astoria librarian Bruce Berney and Japanese money were the winning combination.

The Japanese make a bigger deal of MacDonald than we Americans. A woman from Kyoto traveled to the Friends of MacDonald lunch, as did the Japanese Consul from Portland.

It is said that through biography we give life to the dead. Reminding Astorians that a story of global accomplishment began here is important. The Friends’ gathering reminds us that the Columbia-Pacific region has long been a cultural crossroads.

Cities are living things. They are in a constant cycle of deterioration, death and renewal. And they have memories.

Ranald MacDonald’s World – Chief Com’comly and the Tsinuk of the Lower Columbia

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

To help us appreciate the First Peoples of the Columbia River Basin …

(Chinook, from Tsinúk, their Chehalis name).  The best-known ‘tribe’ of the Chinookan family claimed the territory on the north side of the Columbia River from its mouth to Grays Bay, a distance of about 15 miles, and north along the seacoast as far as the north part of Shoal-water bay, where they were met by the Chehalis, a Salish tribe. The Chinook were first described by Lewis and Clark, who visited them in 1805, though they had been known to traders for at least 12 years previously(1) ~

“… This Chin nook Nation is about 400 Souls inhabid the Countrey on  the Small rivrs which run into the bay below us and on the Ponds to the N W of us, live principally on fish and roots, they are well armed with fusees and Sometimes kill Elk Deer and fowl. our hunters killed to day 3 Deer, 4 brant and 2 Ducks, and inform me they Saw Some Elk Sign. I directed all the men who wished to See more of the main Ocian to prepare themselves to Set out with me early on tomorrow morning. The principal Chief of the Chinnooks & his familey came up to See us this evening …” [Clark, November 17, 1805]  “… found maney of the Chin nooks with Capt. Lewis of whome there was 2 Cheifs Com com mo ly & Chil-lar-la-wil to whome we gave Medals and to one a flag. …” [ Wm. Clark, November 20, 1805 ]

Ft. Columbia History

Com’comly, grandfather of Ranald and the principle Chinook Chief of the time, received the Lewis and Clark expedition hospitably when it emerged at the mouth of Columbia River in 1805, and when, in 1810, the J.J. Astor Expedition arrived to take possession of the region for the United States, Com’comly cultivated a close friendship with the pioneers, even giving his daughter [Ilchee] as wife to Duncan McDougal, a Canadian fur trader who was at their head and who took part in the founding of Ft. Astoria in 1811.

Yet Com’comly may have been an accomplice in a plot to massacre the garrison and seize the stores. When a British ship arrived in 1812 to capture the fort at Astoria, Com’comly, with 800 warriors at his back, offered to fight the’ enemy’. The American agents, however, had already made a peaceful transfer by bargain and sale, and gifts and promises from the new owners [the North West Company] immediately made Com’comly their friend.(2)  Writing in Aug., 1844, Father De Smet(3) states that in the days of his glory Com’comly, on his visits to Vancouver, would be preceded by 300 slaves, “and he used to carpet the ground that he had to traverse, from the main entrance of the fort to the governor’s door – several hundred feet – with beaver and otter skins.”(4)

The Chinookan nation was one of the most powerful native groups in Oregon. It included those tribes formerly living on the Columbia River, from The Dalles to its mouth (except a small strip occupied by the Athapascan Tlstskanai), and on the lower Willamette as far as the present site of Oregon City, Oregon. The family also extended a short distance along the coast on each side of the mouth of the Columbia, from Shoalwater bay on the North. to Tillamook Head on the South.

Trade Map of the Pacific Northwest

The region occupied by Chinookan tribes seems to have been well populated in early times. Lewis and Clark estimated the total number at somewhat more than 16,000. In 1829, however, there occurred an epidemic of unknown nature, which, in a single summer, destroyed four-fifths of the entire native population. Whole villages disappeared, and others were so reduced that they were, in some cases, absorbed into other villages.  It can be assumed that it was the result of contact with a “white man’s” disease for which they had no immunity.  The epidemic was most disastrous below the Cascades. In 1846 Hale estimated the number below the Cascades at 500, and between the Cascades and The Dalles at 800. By 1854 Gibbs gave the population of the former region as 120 and of the latter as 236. They were scattered along the river in several bands, all more or less mixed with neighboring stocks.  In 1885 Powell estimated the total number at from 500-600, for the most part living on Warm Springs, Yakima, and Grande Ronde reservations in Oregon.

Most of the original Chinookan bands had no special tribal names, being designated simply as “those living at (place name)” This fact, especially after the epidemic of 1829, made it impossible to identify all the tribes and villages mentioned by early writers.  Their language served as the basis for the Chinook Jargon which became the principal means of communication for the Indians from California to the Yukon, as well as trappers, traders and the majority of other individuals living and surviving in the territory.(5)

[1] Chinook Indian Tribe Online Records http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/chinook/index.htm [2] Bancroft, N. W. Coast; Irving, Astoria[3] Chittenden and Richardson, De Sinet, i1, 443, 1905 [4] Chinook Indian Chiefs and Leaders  http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/chinook/chinookchiefs.htm [5] Northwest Indian Tribes http://www.oregonpioneers.com/tribe.htm

The Marriage of Ilchee and Duncan McDougal

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

On July 20, 1811, Duncan McDougal, Chief Factor for the Pacific Fur Company at Astoria, Oregon, and Ilchee, daughter of Chief Comcomly of the Chinook Tribe, married, becoming the first couple to be married in Astoria.

Washington Irving in his narrative Astoria (published in 1836) tells the tale:

“… M’Dougal, who appears to have been a man of a thousand projects, and of great, though somewhat irregular ambition, suddenly conceived the idea of seeking the hand of one of the native princesses, a daughter of the one-eyed potentate Com’comly, who held sway over the fishing tribe of the Chinooks, and had long supplied the factory with smelts and sturgeons. Some accounts give rather a romantic origin to this affair, tracing it to the stormy night when M’Dougal, in the course of an exploring expedition, was driven by stress of the weather to seek shelter in the royal abode of Com’comly. Then and there he was first struck with the charms of the piscatory (sic) princess, as she exerted herself to entertain her father’s guest.

The “Journal of Astoria,” however, which was kept under his own eye, records this union as a high state alliance, and great stroke of policy. The factory had to depend, in a great measure, on the Chinooks for provisions. They were at present friendly, but it was to be feared they would prove otherwise, should they discover the weakness and the exigencies of the post, and the intention to leave the country. This alliance, therefore, would infallibly rivet Com’comly to the interests of the Astorians, and with him the powerful tribe of the Chinooks. Be this as it may, and it is hard to fathom the real policy of governors and princes, M’Dougal dispatched two of the clerks as ambassadors extraordinary, to wait upon the one-eyed chieftain, and make overtures for the hand of his daughter.

Ilchee on the Columbia

The Chinooks, though not a very refined nation, have notions of matrimonial arrangements that would not disgrace the most refined sticklers for settlements and pin-money. The suitor repairs not to the bower of his mistress, but to her father’s lodge, and throws down a present at his feet. His wishes are then disclosed by some discreet friend employed by him for that purpose. If the suitor and his present find favor in the eyes of the father, he breaks the matter to his daughter, and inquires into the state of her inclinations. Should her answer be favorable, the suit is accepted and the lover has to make further presents to the father of horses, canoes, and other valuables, according to the beauty and merits of the bride; looking forward to a return in kind whenever they shall go to housekeeping.

We have more than once had occasion to speak of the shrewdness of Com’comly;  but never was it exerted more adroitly than on this occasion.  Com’comly was a great friend of M’Dougal, and pleased with the idea of having so distinguished a son-in-law; but so favorable an opportunity of benefiting his own fortune was not likely to occur a second time and he determined to make the most of it. Accordingly, the negotiation was protracted with true diplomatic skill. Conference after conference was held with the two ambassadors. Com’comly was extravagant in his terms; rating the charms of his daughter at the highest price, and indeed she is represented as having one of the flattest and most aristocratical (sic) heads in the tribe.

At length the preliminaries were all happily adjusted. On the 20th of July, early in the afternoon, a squadron of canoes crossed over from the village of the Chinooks, bearing the royal family of Com’comly, and all his court.

That worthy sachem landed in princely state, arrayed in a bright blue blanket and red breech clout, with an extra quantity of paint and feathers, attended by a train of half-naked warriors and nobles. A horse was in waiting to receive the princess, who was mounted behind one of the clerks, and thus conveyed, coy but compliant, to the fortress. Here she was received with devout, though decent joy, by her expecting bridegroom.

Her bridal adornments, it is true, at first caused some little dismay, having painted and anointed herself for the occasion according to the Chinook toilet; by dint, however, of copious ablutions, she was freed from all adventitious tint and fragrance, and entered into the nuptial state, the cleanest princess that had ever been known, of the somewhat unctuous tribe of the Chinooks.

From that time forward, Comcomly was a daily visitor at the fort, and was admitted into the most intimate councils of his son-in-law. He took an interest in everything that was going forward, but was particularly frequent in his visits to the blacksmith’s shop; tasking the labors of the artificer in iron for every state, insomuch that the necessary business of the factory was often postponed to attend to his requisitions. …”

Paul Kane wrote about Ilchee and Duncan McDougal in his Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America, published in 1859:

“… [Ilchee] was the daughter of the great chief generally known as King Com’comly,  so beautifully alluded to in Washington Irving’s “Astoria”.  She was formerly the wife of a Mr. McDougall, who bought her from her father for, as it was supposed, the enormous price of ten articles of each description, guns, blankets, knives, hatchets, &c., then in Fort Astoria. Com’comly, however, acted with unexpected liberality on the occasion by carpeting her path from the canoe to the Fort with sea otter skins, at that time numerous and valuable, but now scarce, and presenting them as a dowry, in reality far exceeding in value the articles at which she had been estimated. On Mr. McDougall’s leaving the Indian country she became the wife of Casanov . . .” In 1813, when Astoria was turned over to the British, McDougal left. Ilchee eventually traveled up the Columbia to the Vancouver area and married Chief Casino (often seen as “Casanov”), a Chinook chief and successor to Chief Com’comly, before returning to her home at the mouth of the Columbia.

~~~

In 1823, in the ‘custom of the country,’ Archibald McDonald took a Native wife, Princess Raven – Koale’Koa – daughter of the influential Chinook chief Com’comly. Early in 1824 a son, Ranald, was born to them.  Raven did not long survive the baby’s arrival, and Ranald was sent to live with his mother’s sister, Ilchee, in Com’comly’s lodge.

~~~ photo of Ilchee by Mas Yatabe

July 2010 ~ FOM Annual Meeting

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

The day was fair, the turn-out was gratifying and the conversation lively at the annual membership meeting of the Friends of MacDonald held in Astoria, OR over the weekend.  We greeted many old friends and welcomed several new members while enjoying a delicious lunch at the “Baked Alaska” restaurant (shameless plug) on the waterfront overlooking the wide mouth of the Columbia River and the blue-green hills of Cape Disappointment and Chief Comcomly’s Chinook territory in Washington — the same view eyed by the likes of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805-06 as well as Ranald’s father, Archibald McDonald in November of 1821, the year he arrived at (then) Fort George.

img_0017-cropped_1

We were honored to welcome Consul General of Japan in Portland, Takamichi Okabe and his wife, Kozue.  According to Richard Read of the Oregonian newspaper, Mr. Okabe spent three months in Baghdad as an involuntary “guest” of Saddam Hussein during 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. [He had been serving as first secretary in Japan’s embassy in Kuwait.] During his next foreign assignment – in Kenya – Mr. Okabe and a colleague braved warfare in Somalia to investigate opportunities for humanitarian aid there. Later in Nepal, Mr. Okabe was posted in Kathmandu when members of the royal family were massacred at the palace.  Most recently Mr. Okabe served four years as Consul General of Japan in Auckland, New Zealand.  In Portland, he is joined by his wife, Kozue, and we all hope that Mr. and Mrs. Okabe will have the opportunity to enjoy the peace and beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

FOM was happy that Mac Burns,scan0005 Executive Director of CCHS was able to take time away from his busy schedule to attend the meeting.  Mac, who was fresh off the “Goonies 25th Anniversary” celebration the week before, noted that over 100 Goonies fans showed up for the grand opening of the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria the previous Saturday, and mentioned that people had come from all over — France, Japan, and from across the United States.  Mac also passed out buttons and other information about the upcoming “Astoria 1811-2011 Bicentennial Celebration” happening next year.  A link to that website can be found here: http://www.astoria200.org/ .  If you have never visited Astoria, FOM encourages you to do so – it is a sleepy little coastal town with a lot of secrets and surprises, not to mention a rich history.

Mr. Tadakazu Kumashiro, Charter Member of the Friends of MacDonald, was also in attendance. After his retirement, Mr. Kumashiro, or “Kuma” (the Bear) as he likes to be called, joined the Peace Corps in 2001 and was stationed in Namibia for a couple of years working for the Namibian government where he promoted AIDS education by visiting schools.  Kuma-san gave talks to students, teachers and school principals about what they should be doing to prevent an AIDS pandemic.  Kuma-san reports that he had to be hospitalized himself four times while he was there – probably, he noted, because of the unfamiliar germs he encountered.  Mr. Kumashiro rather depreciatingly says he thinks he became ill because of his “old age” – he was 67-69 at the time – but having met him myself I have to say he is one of the most vigorous and energetic “seniors” I have ever met [both mentally and physically].

A big “thank you” to Jim Mockford for bringing his laptop so the group could access the new web page. It was the first time most of the FOM members had seen it (we hope it won’t be the last time!)  We all appreciated that the Baked Alaska staff worked so hard to make sure their wireless network was workable for us.  And we missed the presence of Bruce Berney, who was back in Portland celebrating his grandson’s birthday.

During the meeting an interesting, if not recurring, question was presented by Consul General Okabe, e.g., what was the status of Ranald MacDonald’s “citizenship” at the time of his landing on Rishiri Island in 1848?  A second comment [also in the form of a question] was presented by Mr. Okabe and was definitely food for thought – was Ranald MacDonald really the first teacher of English in Japan?

Will Adams, map of Japan circa 1600Map of Japan drawn by William Adams, circa 1600

The Consul General’s second question referred to one William Adams, who, as the British pilot major of the Dutch trading ship Liefde (“Love” or “Charity”) landed off the island of Kyushu in April 1600.  [The true story of Will Adams was the basis of the romantic novel Shogun, written by James Clavell and published in 1975; Adams’ adventures were also documented in the historical novel Daishi-san written by Robert Lund in 1961.]  According to one source “ … soon after Adams’ arrival in Japan, he became a key advisor to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and built for him Japan’s first Western-style ships. Adams was later the key player in the establishment of trading factories (in Japan) by the Netherlands and England. He died in Japan at age 55, and has been recognized as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period.

William Adams – known in Japan as Miura Anjin –  may have been the first Englishman [Briton] to set foot in Japan; from historical information [including writings from Adams’ own journal] it seems likely that it was the Anjin who needed an interpreter [the ever-present Portuguese Jesuits, in this case] to make himself understood. Prudence dictates that circumstances – and the Japanese people – taught their language to Will Adams, rather than the other way around.

Regarding Ranald MacDonald being the firsranald-ca-1853t American to “set foot in Japan” [the way Will Adams was the first Englishman to do so] we know this just isn’t so.  There were Americans who had visited Nagasaki while in the service of the Dutch during the late 1700’s.  In the mid-1800’s there were scores of American whaling ships in the Sea of Japan, and historical record tells of some crew members that had either been shipwrecked off the Japanese coast or had deserted their vessel to seek their fortunes ashore.  As far as is known, however, Ranald MacDonald was the first American to intentionally go to Japan for the express purpose of learning about the Japanese people and their language and to teach English to them, and to perhaps ‘work’ as an interpreter.  As to the question of Ranald’s citizenship, regardless of the fact that Fort George was under a British flag in 1824, it cannot be denied that half of Ranald’s DNA came from a Chinook Indian mother, a fact that made him a truer “American” than any geographical accident of birth.  Later in his life, through both choice and residence, MacDonald became sufficiently “American” enough to justify that we may say that Ranald MacDonald was the first American to leave his mark upon the people and the nation of Japan, and the first native-English-speaking individual to teach the English language there.

***