Wallace House, The First American Building in the Willamette Valley; and the Taking of Fort Astoria

Fur traders with the Pacific Fur Company, an American company, left Fort Astoria in 1812, 23rd, October (Franchere), for the Willamette Valley to establish a fur trading outpost.  The intent was to establish a fur trading post close to the Kalapuyan tribal villages and form positive relationships with the tribes.  Wallace House was built by William Wallace and Stephen Halsey in December 1812 with the help of fourteen other men included Donald McKenzie (Henry, et al. 1897). Wallace house became the first American building in the Willamette Valley and was occupied until at least 1814.

The first information the fur traders had heard of the Willamette Valley was on their first excursion up the Columbia where they visited Indian villages of the Skilloot, Cowlitz, Cathlapolt, they passed the entrance to the Willamette and heard “there was a considerable fall, beyond which the country abounded in deer, elk, bear, beaver, and otter,”(Franchere 111) suggesting that there was great opportunity for hunting and trading  furs in the valley. This appears to have been the first foray of Americans into the Willamette Valley. One other visit was to a Chinookan village of Cathlanamininim in the Willamette Slough occurred November 21-22, 1811, to capture and pay the ransom of some escapees (Franchere 135-138, note the text does not mention where on the Willamette the village is, but there is a similarly named village on the Lewis and Clark maps of this name in the slough). The first canoe trip into the Willamette, that is recorded, being in 1806 when Clark travels some 10 miles up the Willamette main stem, with a Clowewalla Native as guide, and learns about Willamette Falls and the Calapooia Indians.

Clark’s map of 1805-1806, portion of the map, North Wapato Island, showing the likely Chinookan/Wapato Island tribal village of Cathlanamininim where Franchere had to stay overnight and pay ransom of the escapees,

In the Fall, the tribes in the vicinity of Fort Astoria would leave their villages on the Columbia, to take up residence on the interior streams. This was likely a way to avoid the harsh winter winds and storms of the Columbia, where living conditions could be extreme. The fur traders at Fort Astoria did not do this, in fact they had spent a good year building up the fort, and making it completely secure from attack by the neighboring tribes, the Clatsop and other Chinookans. Word had reached the fur traders that there were designs “of surprising us, to take our lives and plunder the post,” (Franchere 123)  when they were distracted or lightly manned. An attempt was even made to trick the fur traders to leave the fort by faking tonsillitis of Chief Comcomly (Franchere 128).

On January 15, 1813, Donald McKenzie returns and passed on the news that the United States and Great Britain were at war (Franchere 165-166). Interestingly, the Astorians then had a large meeting of the officers and some staff, a council of war, and noted that they were almost all British subjects yet were employed by an American company. They decided then to abandon the establishment in the beginning of summer 1813 (Franchere 167). In September 1813 the fur traders get news that Great Britain has sent the Isaac Todd and the Phoebe to seize Fort Astoria (Franchere 191). A protracted discussion commenced over several months between the North West Company (a British fur trading company) and the Pacific Fur Company at Fort Astoria. a Bargain was struck on October 23rd 1813, with agreements to pay the salaries of the present fur traders and the arrears owed to the traders. The Northwest Company then employed the majority of the fur traders in the Oregon Territory. (Franchere 192-194). November 30th the British sloop-of-war Raccoon, commanded by Captain Black (Franchere 197). This act caused Fort Astoria to become politically under the British flag as a possession of Great Britain. They subsequently renamed Astoria, Fort George.

H.M. Sloop of War, Racoon, Nov. 30, 1813, at Baker’s Bay. Courtesy Hewitt Jackson, Oregon Historical Society, Ori-99184

For about a year, the trading post had year-round inhabitants from the Pacific Fur Traders at Astoria, and was closed and abandoned in September 1813 when they received word of the eventual abandonment of Fort Astoria. In other explorers accounts there are hints that the house may have still been somewhat used until it degraded.

In 1826, when preparing for his trip to the Umpqua Valley, David Douglas notes,

Sept. 1st, 1826- “Mr. McLeod left on Friday to go by land to Mackay’s abandoned establishment on the Multnomah, fifty-six miles from its junction with the Columbia, where he is to remain until joined by the remainder of the party…” (Douglas Journal, 212) . Keizer, Oregon, where Wallace house had been located, is 56 miles from Portland. McKay was only the builders of the house.

wyeth 1832
Background of Wallace House, report submitted by Vickie Hilgamann & Don Upjohn to Mission Mill (online)

The Wallace House was located at North Salem, within the Chemawa-Chemeketa (Tcha-mikiti) tribal region, at the northern edge of the Chemeketa Plains. The tribe controlled a vast area from the Lake Labish area to just south of the Salem Hills. The Chemeketa village was noted by Tribal members at Grand Ronde as being associated with the Santiam (Halpam) tribe of Kalapuya Indians. The Santiams had a landclaim that ended at Chemeketa Creek. The tribe north of Chemeketa creek was the Ahantchuyuk tribe of Kalapuyans. The village at Chemeketa Creek, extended south about a mile along the river and so its likely this was an autonomous village that could align politically with either tribe. The major resources of this region was noted as camas prairies, where many tribes would come to Chemeketa to dig camas, and the vast amount of wetland resources of Lake Labish. Because there was so much camas here, this was likely a seasonal root gathering encampment site  where the Chemeketa village was normally some 200 individuals may have swollen to 500 or more in the vicinity in June and July due to root digging activities.

Example of how the Wallace House may have appeared, this example is the fur trading Rocky Mountain House in Canada
Example of how the Wallace House may have appeared, this example is the fur trading Rocky Mountain House in Canada

In 1811 word of a possible attack by the tribes caused less trade of food from the tribes. By February 1812, provisioning to the fort by local tribes commenced again, with plenty of fresh fish (Franchere 151). In April 1812, Donald McKenzie and a party of six other men set out to explore the Willamette valley (Franchere 153). On October 23rd 1812 Halsey and Wallace are sent with fourteen men to establish a trading post on the Willamette (Franchere 163).  Fur traders Reed and Seton returned from Wallace House on March 20, 1813 with a “supply of dried venison,” (Franchere 168). The Willamette valley was described as “charming, and abounding in beaver, elk and deer…” and that, “Wallace and Halsey had constructed a dwelling and trading house, on a great prairie, about one hundred and fifty miles from the confluence of that river with the Columbia,” (Franchere 168-169). September 1813 McKenzie, Wallace and Seton set out to carry supplies to Wallace House, and to collect their furs to send them back to America. They are then notified about the eminent takeover by the British of Fort Astoria.

In October of 1812, Franchere led an expedition to trade for food and furs up the Columbia in their schooner. They secured “great quantity of swans, ducks, foxes etc… venison, wild fowl, bear meat… seven hundred and fifty smoked salmon, a quantity of Wapto root… and four hundred and fifty skins of beaver and other animals,” (Franchere 162). A second trip was less successful. By January 1813 their provisions were running out and the men at the fort were on strict rations. By late January a portion of the men were sent to “Wallace House” where there was plenty of food for the remainder of the winter. This alleviated the need to feed so many mouths at Fort Astoria (Franchere 168). Franchere then set out to establish a fishing camp at Oak point to fish for Sturgeon, which was noted to be running. This expedition proved fruitful; as canoe-loads of fish were sent back to the fort (Franchere 168).

Wallace House had a significant role in provisioning Astoria.  A few explorers mention trying native foods like camas and wapato, but the fur traders really made their primary diets on venison, elk and fowl. Later, they began gardens with European vegetables but meat with rare native vegetables, wapato and camas, was their mainstay. Their gardens produced potatoes and radishes; the radishes all eaten by mice, and the potatoes some fifty bushels in 1813 (Franchere 232). The trading post in the Willamette Valley was in the center of a vast range-land for deer and elk and the post was looked to for providing meat along with the furs. Meat was preferred by fur traders because it was easily dried and preserved for traveling over long distances in fur trading. Meat and dried or smoked salmon traveled well.

For the fur traders at Fort Astoria, they disadvantaged themselves by not planning for a year round supply of food. They did not have crops or any agriculture of significance, and relied completely upon the foods available through tribal trade. When the trade dried up, they had to fish and hunt for themselves. But in Oregon, the most consistent source of food were vegetables. The tribes knew this and planned their yearly activities around harvesting vegetables, and storing them for the long harsh winters. By doing this the tribes did not rely upon fishing and hunting year-round, but only when it was convenient and out of necessity. The Fur traders did not plan well for the Oregon seasons, did not know them well and as such had extreme period of starvation in the mid-winter. They relied in large part on shipments from their owner, Philip Astor to send shipments of supplies to them at Astoria from the east coast, or by sending trading vessels out to a few better established forts  for supplies. The only shipment of merit came direct from Hawaii, from their long missing man, Hunt, who took a circuitous route returning to Astoria with pork and taro, not even returning on the same ship. This lack of knowledge, understanding, and preparedness for the Oregon seasons left the fur traders at a supreme disadvantage as they allowed their desire for early success in fur trading to override their need to secure their supply routes and food sources.


Astoria 1813

1812- on March 20, Messrs. Reed and Seton, who had led part of our men to the post on the Willamette, to feed them, returned to Astoria. These gentlemen described the country of the Willamette as charming and abounding in beaver and deer, and they told us that Messrs. Wallace and Halsey had built a trading house on a great prairie about 150 miles from the mouth of that river. Mr McKenzie and his party left us again on the thirty-first, to tell the gentlemen who were wintering in the interior the decisions that had been made at Astoria… On the twenty-fifth, Messrs. Wallace and Halsey returned from their winter quarters with seventeen packets of skins and thirty-two bales of dried meat. The latter articles were welcomed with much pleasure, … (Adventure at Astoria 1810-1814, Gabriel Franchere.)

There was an extensive indigenous trade network in operation in the Northwest well before the fur traders arrived.  The trade network passed goods from the coast into the interior on the braided river highways navigated by the extensive canoe culture of the Northwest Coast.  The Kalapuyans had extensive hiking trails that crossed the Coast Range northwesterly through the Tualatin region, and trails called “Klamath trails” into the Cascades. The Trail to the coast was how the Kalapuyans from Tualatin got to Astoria to visit with the Pacific Fur Company Traders and establish personal relationships. The Kalapuyans were peripherally part of the Columbia Trade network, and it was the Chinookan tribes of Chief Concomly and Chief Kiesno who established first trade relationships and grew rich as middlemen in the fur trade. The Kalapuyans in fact had to be corrected by Chief Kiesno when they stole supplies from a poorly guarded storehouse at Astoria. Kiesno had to tell then to return the supplies, and to treat the Fur Traders well, for all of their benefit.

27th Saturday (1813)- During their absence the natives near at hand, in considerable numbers (whom he denoted Calapoyas) visited the place and finding only those two to guard it, rob’d and took away all the principal goods, as blankets, cloths, etc., etc., without offering any violence to the S. Islanders, who probably being overpowered in numbers made no resistance. On the return of Wallace and party he, with most of his number repaired immediately to the lodges of Indians in order to secure the goods, who, instead of offering to return them, were all assembled with bows and arrows ready for an assault. On discovering this movement, the whites proceeded instantly amongst them, seizing some and broke their bows or cut their strings, which brought a general scuffle. Wallace’s party it appeared had taken the precaution to load their muskets with powder only, and on perceiving the extremity to which they were reduced fired among the Indians which instantly frightened and dispersed them, and greater part of the goods were obtained. Ka-es-no, chief of the Cathlakamps, hearing of what had taken place repaired immediately to the Calapoya, harangued them, pointed out the great impropriety of such conduct and the consequences that would follow, told them in what manner himself and other chiefs on the river treated with the whites and the goods effects arising from it, and exhorted them without delay to return the remaining articles stolen. After hearing him, they followed his counsel, the things were all brought, and him (Keasno) charged the mediator to return them and make up the beach. (Annals of Astoria, The Headquarters log of the Pacific Fur Company on the Columbia River, 1811-1815, Robert F. Jones)

Chief Kiesno

When Astoria was taken by the British, Alexander Henry and some hunters, remained living at Wallace House on the Willamette. On February 7th 1814, Franchere and other men who were not employed under the new company, North West Fur traders, left Fort George, to go to Wallace house and join Alexander (Franchere 222). Franchere left his men at Wallace House with Henry, being unable to effectively smoke the meat as he did not have salt, and so not able to procure venison to return to Fort George (Franchere 227-228). This so far is the last we hear about the Wallace House.

The fur traders likely had formed good relationships with all of the neighboring tribes.  The Santiams as well as the Yamhill, Luckiamute,  Tualatin and the Ahantchuyuk  all would have been trading partners. The insertion of this trading post in the Kalapuya area changed tribal society and economies forever. The tribes began extensive fur trapping to acquire metal tools and weapons, beads, and clothing. Blue and white beads were especially coveted by the tribes.

It is likely that the Kalapuyans had some idea that changes would be taking place soon. Oral histories retold by Santiam leader John (Mose) Hudson Jr.  (Santiam) mention that changes to the earth would be occurring soon and that newcomers would be turning over the camas prairies forever with plows. Other regional stories by Chinookans,  spoke of large ships coming to the coastline. These stories, now called Oral history were big parts of the tribal trade networks, as news from throughout the region would have been passed by word of mouth while trading for essentials.

Costume of a Callapuyan, Agate 1841, This man exhibits trade items
Costume of a Callapuyan, Agate 1841, This man exhibits trade items

By 1812, Kalapuyans eagerly began participating in the new trade opportunities of Wallace House, to gain new and valued products like their wealthy Chinookan neighbors. They would have changed their economy to increasingly hunt beaver and other small fur bearing animals because of the new value they fetched at the trading post.  In addition, many Kalapuya women married fur traders, increasing their interactions in the fur trade. Tribal accounts suggest the Kalapuyans were still managing to trade extensively despite a great amount of sickness and death in the area, due to malaria and other introduced diseases.

In the 1830s, there were devastating epidemics such that by 1850, some 95-97 percent of the Kalapuyans were gone.  Regionally, there were stories of epidemics as early as the 1780s and 1790s. Evidence of this early epidemic was seen on the Columbia River by Lewis and Clark on the pock-marked faces of the remaining Chinooks devastated by small pox (Lewis, et al. 1961). Death by influenza and malaria, and secondarily pneumonia  led to whole villages becoming deserted, causing the remnant tribal people to congregate together at fewer large villages.

The Kalapuyans never went to war against American encroachment, and probably could not, having already been devastated by diseases. There are some accounts of thefts, and raids, on settler’s homesteads  attributed to Kalapuyans.  Many of the attacks and thefts were proven to have been perpetrated by visiting Native peoples, like the Klamaths and Klickitats. Both of these tribes were known to regularly, seasonally, visit the Willamette Valley and reside for months  while they hunted for deer and elk.

Location of the Wallace House site, 2016 Google Maps
Location of the Wallace House Park site in Keizer, Oregon, 2016 Google Maps

In the 1840s and later, the area around the Wallace House was called Wallace Plains. In 1856, following treaty ratification, about 600 surviving Kalapuyans were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. The Santiam heritage is preserved in the area with the place names Chemeketa (Tcha-Mikiti), Chemawa and Santiam, and the many Grand Ronde tribal members who remain part of the communities in the Willamette Valley.


Douglas, David. Journal Kept by David Douglas 1823-1827. Wesley, 1914.

Henry, Alexander, David Thompson, and Elliott Coues

1897  New light on the early history of the greater Northwest. The manuscript journals of Alexander Henry … and of David Thompson … 1799-1814. Exploration and adventure among the Indians on the Red, Saskatchewan, Missouri and Columbia rivers. 3 vols. New York,: F. P. Harper.

Lewis, Meriwether, et al.

1961  The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Philadelphia,: Lippincott.

Annals of Astoria, The Headquarters log of the Pacific Fur Company on the Columbia River, 1811-1815, Robert F. Jones

original essay was submitted to Keizer Times Newspaper, 2012, Edited and updated March 2015, June 2016.

Franchere, Gabriel, Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811,1812,1813, and 1814. Redfield  1854.


5 thoughts on “Wallace House, The First American Building in the Willamette Valley; and the Taking of Fort Astoria

  1. Hey I just posted this on Facebook/CowCreeksForChange:


    I have reached the conclusion through sad experience that Indian Country everywhere has been corrupted by corporate greed. Everywhere one looks, the same corporate mentality that always created destruction among our people, flourishes. The unbridled greed of our Tribal Leaders alongside their business and political cohorts is directly assaulting our people, our culture, killing our very spirits. We have no protections against the hostile takeovers going on in our Tribes. No Federal Agency is protecting us, the people, and no private organizations exist that can. Honorable Natives today are exiting their reservations, their governments, and all holdings of their Tribes – either by force or by choice. Many Tribes today are not being run by, or even inhabited by, true Natives. Making that trend of non-Native Tribes become 100% is now our only chance of survival. Once there are no true Natives left in what is called ‘Indian Country’ today, then Federal agency-overseers will declare these entities the fraudulent organizations that they are, and finally shut them all down. Only then will we TRUE NATIVES have a viable chance at re-establishing life and spirit- sustaining communities for our own people, spiritually free of the horrible abuses of human and civil rights that currently plague our Tribes and all of Indian Country. I challenge any Native to prove me wrong. Staying = Becoming Them / Losing Who We Are.

    On Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 6:05 PM, NDNHISTORYRESEARCH | Critical & Indigenous Anthropology wrote:

    > David G. Lewis’ Ethnohistory Research, LLC posted: “Fur traders with the > Pacific Fur Traders Company, an American company, left Fort Astoria in 1812 > for the Willamette Valley to establish a fur trading outpost. The intent > was to establish a trading post close to the Kalapuyan tribal villages and > form posi” >

Leave a Reply

The Quartux Journal