Native Kinships and Wealth among the Middle Chinookans

Native kinships are incredibly complex. They do not follow the nice neat patterns of kinship that Americans have adopted from their European ancestors. Native peoples did not marry inside their own tribes, but were influenced by societal norms to marry someone from outside of the tribe. People born of royalty were encouraged to or arranged to marry royalty in other tribes and in this manner leadership roles and genealogies were kept within certain families. It can safely be said that all of the tribes in a particular region are all interrelated with one another by Native laws of marriage.

But where is there proof that native people intermarried with other tribes? The proof is in a number of key ethnographic documents, journals and letters which document kinship in the time before reservations.

De Girardin in 1840s at Willamette Falls, with Native Longhouse in foreground

One such document is a letter written by Joel Palmer in 1855 that addresses how various chiefs of the Chinookan tribes, Clackamas, Cascades, and Clowwewalla people are related.

January 30, 1855 (some 8 days after the signing of the Willamette Valley Treaty.)

You will perhaps recollect that the Clackamas chief enquired of me where Thomas was, that he (the chief) had included Thomas and family in the number of his band. John the Chief of Linn City side [Oregon City John] supposed Thomas would be at the payment [Treaty payment?], and finding he had not come, inquired of Thomas the cause.

The cause was high water, he made two unsuccessful attempts and finally in the evening went to the Clackamas Village stayed all night and early on Sunday morning with the chiefs, went to Oregon City to see you but you (as they understood) had gone.

Thomas, the Clackamas Indians, and John the Linn City chief; are all related on their mother’s side, and were of the tribe north of the Columbia River about eight miles below the Dalles on a small stream Thlat-en-cat [Cascades?} . Thomas’ father was of the Dalles tribe, and Thomas wife of the Cascade Tribe, so you find the relationship much “mixed up.” As Thomas has lived (as suited him) at those places, these Indians recognize his right of possession; John the Linn City Chief says Thos. right is as good as his (John).

Heretofore, there has been a kind of jealousy between these two bands who should claim Thomas and family. Thomas claims his possessory right with the Linn City Indians although he has lived with me for three years and has been permanently in the Willamette since the Cayuse difficulty, and  before that time occasionally here and there as suited him.

John of Linn City wished me to say to you as I have written and further, that he wishes to see you on the subject, he seems to have much interest in the matter.

I believe the statement as above is correct and that Thomas and his family is justly entitled to their proportion of the annuities. As I have stated above, this is at the request of John unsolicited by Thomas.

B. Jennings to Joel Palmer S. Indian Affairs

A memorandum from Mary Ann Michelle suggests deeper connections between the Clowewalla and the Cascades. In fact all of the chiefs at Oregon City were the sons of Tamaquin, one of the great chiefs of the Cascades tribe.

I am writing about my Grandfather, Oregon City John, chief. I am using the name he went by in the tribal roll That’s what the white people named him. Oregon City John was born at Cascade. That’s where his father, Tamaquin, belonged. Oregon City John lived with his parents till he became of age. He had one brother younger than him.

Then their grandfather died, their mother’s father. His name was Kwyshyawhesuschk. He was named after the Tumwater falls. That was the name of Oregon City before the white people came in this state. So Oregon City John had to take charge of Tumwater. It became his fishing ground. He had his village, his servants, and his wives. The chiefs always had three or four wives. He had to take charge of all the Clackamas. Quite a few Mollala inter-marriage with the Clackamas and some Klamath married in Clackamas and lived along the Clackamas River. Then Oregon City John’s mother died and his brother had a family living at the Dalles. Then his father Tamaquin died, then Oregon City John had to take the whole responsibility. He had to take over the two fishing grounds.  (Smoke signals., March 01, 1988, Page PAGE 7, Image 7)

and this unattributed statement,

…Here is something else. Oregon City John and his three sons were all named by white people. When John’s first son was born it was curiosity to white people. They had to see the Indian baby (Waschams) and the man by the name of Joseph Apperson asked John if he could give his name to the baby, John accepted. When the second son was born, the white people had to see the baby (Tamaquin). This time a man, Hommer Hoffer. And when the third son (Wannexke) was born, the whites were back there again. This time Joseph Apperson’s brother Moses Apperson gave the baby his name. That’s what made it look so odd. Homer and Moses were full brothers. Joseph was their half brother, Joseph’s mother was Cowlitz and Homer and Mose’s mother was Wishram tribe and Kwyshyawhesuschk, this is Oregon City John’s name, he was named after his father. None of them ever used the right name. They just went by the names the white people named them and thats the names they go in the Tribal rolls. It makes it so odd… (Smoke signals., March 01, 1988, Page PAGE 7, Image 7)

With kinship came rights to fish, hunt and gather in the family’s claimed lands. People could inherit that right, buy the right, or be invited to help with the harvest. In the narratives above we see interconnections between the Clackamas, Cascades and Wasco peoples. With these marriages came rights to fish and hunt. The relatives from many tribes may have rights to fish at Willamette Falls or at Celilo based on this intermarriage.

Drucker recorded some notes about the kinships in the 1930s. This is a partial transcription of the notes.

Marriage- awewe tcuk tcun- “carry wood” intermediate who arranges mar. Man sends to prospec. & In law- day set for mar. Groom’s people come there- line up at a little distance- sing-boys carry money & dance etc on sticks- Gradually approach- then payments given across- recipients return about 1/2 value. then girl carried across by old female on back raised up few times- paid for this. [portion of marriage ceremony]

Informant for this John Wacheno, who had Mollalla, Cascade, Chinook, Klickitat, Warm Springs, and Shoalwater Bay relatives. Wives were 2 sisters from Warm Springs, 1 from Wakanassissi, 1 Yamhill Kalapuya, 1 Oregon City [Clowewalla].

partial page from Drucker’s notes showing family tree

Klikitat could marry kin, but the Clackamas couldn’t marry any kind of kin. Parents arranged mar.- principals have to obey (Drucker 4516-78)

Arranged marriages were quite common as many of the elite royalty wanted to keep the power concentrated in their family. They would not allow for marriage of their sons and daughters to just anyone, and would seek to marry their children to leaders who had wealth and influence. Marriage to wealthy people or people who were skilled and would become rich, was quite common. People with unique powers, like calling for a run of salmon, or canoe carvers were highly sought after, as they would become quite wealthy with these skills.

Chief Kiesno

Chief Kiesno is an example of how kinship worked on the Columbia. Chief Kiesno (his name has also been spelled Keasno, Casino, Kiyasnu, Q’iesnu, Ciasno, Cassino, and Cassinov) was an important Multnomah-Wakanasisi Chinookan leader in the Wapato Valley (Portland Basin). Throughout the fur trade era (1810-1840’s), he had the respect of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Pacific Fur Company, and the North West Company. Well connected through intertribal marriage to other groups on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, he was the highest profile leader west of the Cascades from 1830, when Chief Concomly (Chinook) died, until his death in 1848. He has wives from several tribes, the most significant was Ilchee, who was a daughter of Chief Comcomly. Ilchee left her first husband Duncan McDougal, a fur trader, to marry Kiesno. This marriage united the lower Columbia under Kiesno, as Comcomly had previously been the most powerful chief.  Kiesno inherited much of that power because of his prominence from the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition,  to his work with the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. For nearly 40 years Kiesno benefited from the fur trade

The Wapato Valley people occupied a large area at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, including the Multnomah and other villages on Wapato Island (today’s Sauvie Island) and Cathlapotle and its neighbors in present-day Clark County, Washington. Kiesno’s principal village was Gatlakmap (Cathlacumup, Wacomapp) in the vicinity of present-day St. Helens. He also had direct influence over Nayaguguwikh (Niakowkow, Nayakaukauwi) at the mouth of Multnomah Channel and Wakanasisi on the north bank of the Columbia, downriver from Fort Vancouver.

Kiesno maintained political influence over the Wapato (Chinook) people and had ties with neighboring groups—including the Clackamas Chinook near Willamette Falls, the Cascades Chinook at Cascade Rapids, and the Tualatin Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley—taking advantage of those connections when needed. In August 1813, for example, the Cathlacumups and “70 warriors from some of the neighboring tribes” fended off an attack by seven canoes of Clatsop-Nehalem. In April 1814, when an incursion of forty canoes of Cowlitz and their allies entered the Columbia River, Kiesno called for aid from “Indians at the Falls of the Willamette, [and] the Calleporeyours,” and the defense of the Wappato Chinook territory was successful. (see accounts in Alexander Henry’s New Light in the Early History of the Northwest).

Kiesno perhaps represents the last of the traditional power of the tribes when he passed in 1848. Afterwards, the tribes lose much of their power through invasion of their lands by American settlers, and are forced to move to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation.

Kinship on the Columbia, for the region is interconnected with trade. The Columbia River Trade network was an immense trading region where products from the Ocean and the Plains were available for purchase and trade in key villages. The kinship relationship buttressed the trade network. Trading partners were sought after, and the lead traders, the principal chiefs of each village, would be the most wealthy. Being interrelated helped with communication, with coordination, and with peaceful relationships. In fact the tribes sought peace on the Columbia to maintain the good trade relationships with one another and with the Americans and British fur traders.

Fort Astoria

In a example of the practice of the peaceful trade on the Columbia, there is an account of Kiesno at Astoria. In 1812, a group of Kalapuyans, who are assumed to have been Tualatins, visited Fort Astoria to establish relations with the American fur traders there. There, the Kalapuyans took advantage of the absence of the Americans to raid and take the food stores of the Astorians. When the Americans returned, with Chief Kiesno, and found their stores gone, Kiesno confronted the Kalapuyans and directed them to return the food, as the tribes in the region were cultivating a trade relationship with the Americans based on trust.  Kiesno, the more astute trader, perhaps because of the well-developed and extensive trade culture of the Columbia River, held quite a bit of sway with the Kalapuyans. It is in this encounter that we see the policy set towards the fur traders on the Columbia, a policy which Kiesno followed until his death in 1848. He more than any other Native figure may be responsible for the acceptance of fur traders in Oregon, because of the lack of resistance toward their settlements and trade. They brought a lot of wealth and he wanted that wealth. (I also wonder if he influenced the location of Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, very near to his central villages at Wapato Island.)

Kinship and intermarriage between tribes was managed by a complex system. Most times people could not marry within their own village. Many marriages were arranged for political and economic reasons. Marriage and kin relationship helped secure good trade, wealth accumulation, and political power among many tribes. Ultimately the vast interrelations among many tribes helped secure a long-term peace with all trading partners. This peace may be interrupted by raids from tribes from outside the region, but helped establish political support and partnership in wartime situations. Ultimately it may be that we own the relative peace of the fur trade to individuals like Kiesno. It may be that this same attitude was practiced in some regions towards settlers because of the benefits they brought, and their obvious wealth.


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