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New park: ‘It’s a miracle that it’s happening’

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Middle Village and Station Camp open house ceremony attracts crowd

By REBECCA SEDLAK

 Reprinted with permission from The Daily Astorian of Astoria, Oregon

McGOWAN, Wash. — Middle Village and Station Camp Park held its grand opening Saturday after more than a decade of planning and collaboration.

The park is part of the National Park Service’s Washington expansion of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Located between the north end of the Astoria Bridge and Chinook, Wash., along U.S. Highway 101, the park has been in the works since 2002, during the preparation of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s Bicentennial.

“For some of us, it’s a miracle that it’s happening,” said Jim Sayce, the Middle Village and Station Camp project liaison with the Washington State Historical Society. “To build a park in the middle of a recession is just amazing. It just tells you that there are things worth doing. This is for the future. This has incredible worth across cultural lines.”

The project is the result of a partnership between the Chinook Indian Nation, the Washington State Historical Society, the McGowan–Garvin family, the National Park Service, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“We all had to stick together and get to know each other really well to get here. It’s so satisfying when you cross the line hand-in-hand with a bunch of other people,” David Szymanski, superintendent of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, said of the partnership.

The park and its dedication

Saturday’s dedication began with a traditional Chinookan blessing given by Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Nation. Numerous dignitaries and project partners gave short speeches in honor of the opening.

The 280-acre park features several lookout points to view the Columbia River, 2,400 feet of walking paths, three concrete canoe sculptures for children to play in, an unfinished traditional Chinook Indian plank house and numerous exhibits. Plans include connecting the trails to Fort Columbia and installing traditional Chinookan artwork.

“To me the Middle Village/Station Camp project represents the best of two worlds,” said Jennifer Kilmer, director of the Washington State Historical Society. “Through interpretive panels and exhibit-like structures we have the educational aspects of a great museum. Through its sweeping views of the Columbia River, walking paths and recreated beaches, we have the elements of a beautiful recreational experience. The combined experience is truly special.”

The Washington State Historical Society awarded Ray Gardner, chairman of the Chinook Nation, its Peace and Friendship Award during the ceremony.

The dedication ended with the cutting of an elk-hide leather rope to declare the park officially open. Afterward, the Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark hosted a reception in the Chinook School gymnasium.

Other attendees of Saturday’s dedication included David Nicandri, past director of the Washington State Historical Society; Karen Snyder, chairwoman of the Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark; Carolyn Glenn, the co-chairwoman of the Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark; Brian Baird, the former U.S. representative who represented the 3rd District; state Rep. Dean Takko, who represents the 19th district; state Sen. Brian Hatfield, who represents the 19th district; Sid Snyder, the former state senator who represented the 19th District; Bob Andrew, mayor of the city of Long Beach; Dale Jacobson, former mayor of the city of Long Beach; Schuyler Hoss, a representative from Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office; David Hodges, a representative from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office; Kimberly Pincheira, a representative from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office; Chip Jenkins, the superintendent for North Cascades National Park who was at Fort Clatsop during the bicentennial; Christine Lehnertz, the pacific west regional director of the National Park Service; other National Park Service staff; other members of the Chinook Nation; members of the McGowan-Garvin family; and representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation..

The history of the site

“This is a place that has many stories, many meanings, and is important to many people for many different reasons,” Gardner said.

The Chinook people occupied the site for thousands of years.

“Our people, the Chinook people, were here to meet every new person who came into the area,” Gardner said.

When Capt. Robert Gray successfully entered the Columbia River in 1792, he traded with the Chinook. In the next 13 years almost 90 ships from Europe and America crossed the Columbia River Bar to trade.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent 10 days at Middle Village in November 1805. The Chinook had moved to their winter village, so the site was unoccupied. The short visit is where the term “Station Camp” comes from: William Clark used it as a survey station to create a map of the mouth of the Columbia River, the most detailed and accurate map produced during the expedition. The Corps of Discovery voted on Nov. 24, 1805 to find a winter camp on the south side of the river – a vote that included the Lemhi Shoshone woman Sacajawea and the African-American York.

The site continued to play an important role in trade in the lower Columbia Region until 1820.

“I don’t think there’s any site more significant than this one,” Szymanski said. “It’s a place where the world changed over 30 years; it changed dramatically.

“Archaeology and history tell us that we had one of the most sophisticated pre-contact cultures in North America here along this river. That’s gone. And we want people to know it was here.”

In 1848 a Catholic Mission was built at the site and later abandoned.

Oregon pioneer Patrick J. McGowan purchased the mission grant and 320 acres of land in 1853. He established a cannery and a small community. In 1904, McGowan donated land for St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was built on the station camp site and now lies within the park.

“This place forces you to think about the past,” Bill Garvin, a descendent of McGowan, said at the ceremony Saturday. “What happened here was both uplifting and catastrophic. It’s one of those rare intersections where cultures collided.”

Only two families have owned the Middle Village and Station Camp Park site: the Chinook people and the McGowan-Garvin family.

“There have been visitors,” Gardner said. “There are people that have come and been here for a few days, and they’ve moved on. But the constant has always been those two families.

“I think all of us, no matter who we descended from, we all need to work to honor our ancestors because without them none of us would be here,” Gardner said. “I think we’ve got a place that’s a good beginning. There are more stories to be told here and they will as time goes on.”

Station Camp and Clark’s Dismal Nitch

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Clark’s Dismal Nitch

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson dispatched Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery on a mission to find a water route across North America and explore the natural resources of the uncharted American West.  Little did Lewis and Clark realize that the time they would spend on the shores of the lower Columbia River would be counted among the most discouraging, dangerous, and disagreeable experiences faced during their expedition.

Imagine this: it’s early 1805, the fresh food had run out. The clothes were literally rotting off the backs of the members of the Corps of Discovery. They were traveling as fast as they could down the Columbia River, hoping to meet one of the last trading ships of the season. If they made it, they’d send a set of journals and some collections home as requested by President Jefferson. But foremost was the chance to use an unlimited letter of credit from the president, a chance to “charge” all the goods the tired explorers needed [plus perhaps get a little rum] from the trade ship.

What the Corps didn’t realize, however, was that it was about to run into some of the journey’s most treacherous moments. A fierce winter storm forced the Corps off the river and pinned the group to a north shore cove consisting of little more than jagged rocks and steep hillside. On November 10th, as the party paddled past Grays Point, they saw that the steep, forested shoreline consisted of a series of coves, or “nitches”, each divided from the next by a small point of land.  They passed present-day Dismal Nitch (also known as Megler Cove), but as the weather again worsened, the party retreated to a sheltered cove upriver from the Dismal Nitch, [approximately 600 feet north / northeast of the eastern end of the present-day “Dismal Nitch Safety Rest Area”].

Rain soaked the expedition party that night, and it continued at intervals throughout the next day, November 11, 1805.  Conditions worsened on November 12th; on top of rain, wind and cold came thunder, lightning and hail.  Clark describes their move from the unnamed cove to the Dismal Nitch:

“As our situation became Seriously dangerous, we took the advantage of a low tide & moved our Camp around a point a Short distance to a Small wet bottom at the mouth of a Small Creek (Megler Creek), which we had observed when we first came to this cove…”

The rain continued on November 13 and 14.   For only the second time in the expedition, Clark said he was concerned for the safety of the Corps. “A feeling person would be distressed by our situation,” he wrote in wet misery, as the expedition became in danger of foundering just within a few miles of its destination – the Pacific Ocean.  Finally, the storm broke and allowed the group to move on. It missed the trading ship, but eventually achieved its exploration goals. On the morning of November 15 Clark awoke to calm weather for the first time in 10 days.  Clark describes the party’s escape from what became known as “the Dismal Nitch”:

“About 3 oClock the wind lulled and the river became calm, I had the canoes loaded in great haste and Set Out, from this dismal nitich where we have been confined for 6 days…”

Dismal Nitch

Although the Corps met “near disaster” at Dismal Nitch, they arrived “in full view of the ocian” at Station Camp. [It was at Station Camp that the famous vote was taken that included all members of the party and the party decided to move the south shore of the Columbia River where they would spend the winter before beginning their long journey home: more about this later.] However, both before and after Captains Lewis and Clark established Station Camp, the site was a vital and thriving Chinook Indian village.  The Corps spent just 10 days here, but used Station Camp as a departure point for an overland trek to their first view of the Pacific Ocean and an exploration of the area. Together with nearby Dismal Nitch, Station Camp helps greatly to tell the Lewis and Clark story in Washington – and the ultimate effect the Corps of Discovery had upon the indigenous First peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

For thousands of years, the Chinook people have lived along the Columbia River and their home near the river’s mouth was strategically located to provide abundant food, such as salmon and shellfish. In addition, the nearby forests were home to game animals and the grasslands and marshes provided ample materials for making shelter, clothing and trade and household goods. The river provided a way for Chinook traders to travel to the south shore and up and down the Columbia.

Generations before the White Explorers came, the Chinook had already developed a sophisticated, rich culture and enjoyed great success as traders. The waterway near Station Camp became a virtual trade “water highway.” During the 10 years before Lewis and Clark arrived overland at this spot, almost 90 trade ships from Europe and New England are documented to have crossed the Columbia River Bar to trade with Native Americans. These ships brought metal tools, blankets, clothing, beads, liquor and weapons to trade for beaver and sea otter pelts. By the time the Corps reached the site, the Chinook’s had moved to their winter village and this village was unoccupied. The explorers spent almost two weeks there.

Several significant events took place, including the decision to spend the winter across the river, in what is now Oregon. It was Nov. 24, 1805, and the explorers desperately needed to lead the Corps to a winter campsite, one rich with game and near friendly tribes who would trade for supplies. A majority of the Corps, including the Indian woman Sacagawea and the African American York decided to cross the Columbia River to look for such a place. Because of this poll and decision, some historians call Station Camp “the Independence Hall of the American West.” It would be more than fifty years before African Americans could vote, and more than 100 years before the right was extended to women.

Station Camp

History of “Dismal Nitch”

The Dismal Nitch area is located within the traditional territory of the lower Chinookan people.  Through common usage, the term Chinook has come to refer to all speakers of the Chinook language family who inhabited the territory from the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to The Dalles and along the lower Willamette River to present-day Oregon City.

Of the many Chinook villages along the north shore of the Columbia River, two known summer villages were located in the vicinity of the Dismal Nitch.  Approximately 1.25 miles southwest of the Dismal Nitch was Qaiitsiuk, later called Chinookville or Chenook, just west of present-day Point Ellice.  The Lower Chinook were known for their canoe-building prowess, and their vessels helped them establish their reputation as traders well before Europeans set eyes on the region.

The Lower Chinook were first described in writing by Captain Robert Gray, who sailed into the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792, and by Captain George Vancouver, who also sailed into the area that year.  By the time Lewis and Clark descended the river in the fall of 1805, the presence of Europeans on the lower Columbia River was not uncommon.

Today, the Chinook Indian Nation is made up of five separate tribes, including the Chinook, the Willapa, the Clatsop, The Kathlamets, and the Wahkiakum.  All five tribes are Chinookan speakers.

The State of Washington is developing a park at Middle Village – Station Camp, focusing on the Chinook history, as well as telling the story of the Corps’. In 2005, archeologists found abundant physical evidence to support the importance of the site as a Chinook trade village. More than 10,000 artifacts were uncovered, including trade beads, plates, cups, musket balls, arrowheads, Indian fish net weights and ceremonial items. The European artifacts are from both before and after the Corps’ visit in 1805, and attest to the vitality of the Chinook social and economic life at the site. Station Camp eventually will encompass about 280 acres and be operated by the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Station Camp http://www.nps.gov/lewi/planyourvisit/stationcamp.htm
History of "Dismal Nitch” http://www.nps.gov/lewi/planyourvisit/dismal.htm

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