The much-storied Campement du Sable (Sandy Camp) was established originally by Pacific Fur Traders in 1812, but soon after became the property of the North West Company Fur Traders. Its purpose was primarily for hunting for the Astorians and fur trade with the natives. PFT sold out to NWFC before their property could be taken by the British in the War of 1812. Later Hudson’s Bay Company utilized the encampment as a port on the Willamette River. The location of this camp is much debated. Various historians have located the camp at Champoeg while others locate this camp at least two miles downriver (North). Its characteristics are a sandy beach area where canoes could easily land and trading could commence with the Kalapuyans.
The first recordation of a camp in the vicinity of the Campement du Sable is in the Henry and Franchere accounts. Henry places the camp, the first camp of the Fur Traders on the Willamette, 3 hours journey upriver by canoe past the junction of the Pudding (Molalla) river on the Willamette River. The Franchere account does not allow an easy identification as to the location of the trading house, only that it was managed by William Henry and that its intent was to supply deer and elk meat to the main fort, at Astoria.
Jan. 23rd 1812 11 am- we passed a small stream on the left, called by our people Pudding River. At 2 pm we noticed some wooden canoes on our left-hand side, at the foot of a bank about 30 feet high, up which was a winding path. We of course, supposed our people to have built somewhere near this place, though none of us knew exactly where they were. Ascending the hill, and passing through a wood for 300 paces, I came to a delightful prairie, on which I saw the house, 150 paces off. This plain is about two miles long and a quarter mile broad; along the middle runs a rising ground from E. to W., on which the house is situated. Here I found Mr. William Henry in charge, with Mr. Seton, 30 men, and two huts of freemen and Nepisangues as hunters. The Natives of this quarter were also at the house. They are called Calipuyowes, and appear to be a wretched tribe, diminutive in size with scarcely any covering… (Henry, 813-814).
The description of the plains appears to match that of a plain to the north of the village of Champoeg. In this vicinity is a vast prairie with all of the elevation markers noted. (Noted by the Park Ranger at Champoeg State Park, quoting archaeologist David Brauner).
This attribution of the location of the camp in several historical sources has created the impression that the encampment was at the Village of Champoeg. Most recently stated by Melinda Jette.
Jette 2015- Following the expansionist efforts of the HBC in the Oregon Country, the Ahantchuyuk village site at Champoeg known to English speakers as Sandy Encampment and to the French Speakers as Campement du Sable, served as one of the staging areas for the expeditions to the coast, the Umpqua region and California. (45)
Hussey offers a variety of interpretations of whether the two names are the same location (Champoeg Place of Transition, 1967). Hussey discussed the mis-associations of Champoeg with Campement du Sable. He appears to attribute much of the lack of clarity with the assumptions made by pioneers as to the word origin of Champoeg. Some pioneers thought that the word Champoeg came from the designation of Campement du Sable. While too many other historians (Hussey 17-19) and probably the most important source Louis Labonte (Lyman, OHQ vol.1,no.2), they and area linguist’s correctly associate the word Champoeg with the Kalapuyan word for a root-food, yampah root or ámpuik (Zenk, Henry 2006 The Kalapuyan Presence in Oregon’s Geographic Names, online). Cha-, Che-, or Tsa- is a common Kalapuya village and placename designation, (ex: Chemawa, Chemeketa, Chafin).
Hussey suggests as well that the term Campement du Sable “dates back to the explorations of the Astorians or to the time of the North West Company”, and that it may relate to a “general vicinity on the south side of the river” (Hussey:18). Unfortunately, in this notion, Hussey does not reference his ideas to an actual record. It is likely he is referencing the Henry and Franchere journals.
Hussey also does not appear to have made use of the Wilkes journals in his research. Wilkes clearly located the Campement du Sable at least two miles downriver (north) and as Charles Wilkes and his expedition were trained in surveying and mapping the land, it is unlikely they would have made a mistake about the location of the Sandy Camp and Champoeg. Still, in the 40 years of Fur trading in Oregon, there were many changes to the region. New settlers would come in and settle in a location for a time, then move on. It may be the case that there were many “sandy beaches” along the river and any one of them could have been the Sandy Camp for a period of time. The location of Champoeg is more secure, offering a ready workforce of natives, who would have had food and shelter.
Charles Wilkes arrived in the region in 1841 to survey the Pacific coast and its principal waterways, for the United States, noted the location thus,
Wilkes 1841- It was raining quite hard when we passed Camp Maude [Campement] du Sable, a sandy point just at the opening out of the Willamette Valley, which was one of the points originally occupied when the river was first explored by the whites. About two miles further up the river is Champooing, eighteen miles above the falls, which we reached at about 4 p.m. Here we found a few log houses, one of which belonged to a Mr. Johnson, who gave us a hearty welcome.
Wilkes’ definition in fact matches well with Brauner’s, Franchere’s, and Henry’s, that the house was part of a large 2 mile long plain, at the far northern range of the plain, which would then place the village of Champoeg two miles away.
It is likely that in this area of the Willamette River that there were several Kalapuya villages and it would have been expedient to locate a trading post next to a Native village as the tribe would offer day laborers for all manner of tasks, and trading opportunities. As well, Native people commonly located their villages in the best locations on rivers, and later settlers would commonly settle in the same location and eventually overwhelm the area with the development of their own towns and road systems. This is the pattern we can document throughout the West.
The fur traders used other Indian labor extensively. They brought guides, scouts and hunters with them from other lands. Hawaiians, Nepissangs (Chippewa Indians), as noted in the Henry account, and other Metis (mixed blooded French and Indians) from the far east.
In all likelihood, the location of the Campement du Sable was not at Champoeg as some historians have (loosely) suggested, but instead 2 miles to the north, in a grassy plain, as described in Henry and Wilkes. The Kalapuyans at the Henry house were likely from the Kalapuya Village of Champoeg. The William Henry house was probably established not long after the Wallace house built in 1811-1812 at Keizer-North Salem (the building date of the Henry house has not yet surfaced) and constituted a place for the fur traders to stop over before they would continue their journeys overland.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.