Blanchet’s Mission to the Cascades, 1841

Blanchet’s mission to the Cascades is perhaps his first visit to this location. His interactions with Tamakoun, also later called Tomaquin, are quite revealing of the tribe and its divisions. The notation about villages on the two banks suggests a different leadership and some division in the tribe. Tamakoun does not suggest that the attentions of the Methodists or the Catholics are in any way undesirable only that there is a difference, yet he had become coverted to Catholic by this account.

It is in this location that Blanchet’s ethnographic notes really show the tribal culture. His notes about the somewhat slow and gradual movements of the Cascades to the west to eventually inhabit the islands by Vancouver are quite revealing. The tribe’s annual movements away from the cold Columbia Gorge to a much warmer climate during the winter is a planned and gradual activity, where resources are gathered along the way at specific sites. They appear to travel for a day, then stop for several days while fishing or gathering, then in a week they will move further west. This suggests that the Cascades had really two main village sites, one at the Cascades, and one on the islands in the Columbia near Vancouver, or across from the entrance to the Willamette. The model appears to be seasonal main villages along the Columbia River, a truly unique model of seasonal round lifeways.

The Clatsops have a different pattern. During the Lewis and Clark stay at Fort Clatsop, the corps are forced to trade with the Clatsops for food, as they do not know how to acquire food in this foreign land in the middle of the winter. So they have to trade with the Clatsops, who agree to remove from their winter quarters, a winter village inland up a river and away from the Columbia. Their winter village us a river is, therefore, a refuge from the extreme cold and winds of the Columbia River estuary and the Pacific Ocean in the midst of the winter.

Virginia Miller daughter of Tomaquin, by Eastman

Then Blanchet notes the use of the bell to attract people to the sermon. He then notes that Tamakoun had been provided with his own bell. This may be the origin of the use of the bell in the tribal Seven Drums ceremonies that are now practiced at Warm Springs, Yakima, Umatilla and other reservations in the region. Some years ago I had visited the Warm Springs and as they always open with a ceremony, a Seven Drums ceremony, I noted the use of a bell, a musical instrument not of native origin in this form. I asked when the bell became part of the ceremony and someone said it had always been there. For the practitioners of the Seven Drums, the bell has likely indeed always been there, but then Seven Drums is assumed in scholarship a recent melding of some elements of Christianity and Native religion, likely more native than not, and the bell is now an integral part of it. The bell was then introduced to the tribes on the Columbia River through the Catholic priests and became endemic in their culture from 1840 and thereafter. Tribes had bell-like gongs they made for ceremonies. The Kalapuyans made a gong from a well-dried, perhaps fire-hardened, slab of cedar, which they hung and would bang as a gong or bell. It is perhaps an instrument like this that the bell replaced due to its clear metallic sound.

Fort Rains, North Cascades, University of Washington Libraries

Finally, Tamakoun himself is a remarkable chief. he is clearly interested in learning from Blanchet and speaks with him for long hours about religion. He had accepted Catholicism and denounced Methodism. But his appearance in 1841 is truly remarkable, as we see him still the main chief of the tribe in other ethnographic texts into the 1850s and is the main figure signing The Willamette Valley treaty for the tribe in 1855. His tenure is quite long which is itself interesting. Chiefs tended to only last in this era for 5-10 years at most. Tamakoun appears to have been the chief here for some 30-35 years. Chiefs Concomley (Clatsop) and Kiesno (Multnomah/Wapato) also had long tenures but they are anomalies. One reason for Takakoun’s long life may be related to some of the rumors that he was a grandson of a Spaniard shipwrecked on the Washington Coast in the 1800s. This Spaniard “Soto” sired a son who became a Chief in his own right, who had a village on the Columbia. Tamakuon is said to have come from tribes that were on the coast, which is the same origin as Soto, who had been enslaved, had at least one child and tattooed his name on the son’s arm, to be seen and visited by at least two sets of explorers, James Swan being one. If the story is true, then Tamakoun could have inherited immunity to European diseases and malaria that helped him survive through the malaria epidemic. Regardless the story is compelling.

Cascades territorial claim in 1855

The Mission to the Cascades

Having brought a bark canoe, I left on the 14th of September for the Cascades. On the 16th we were assailed by a violent tempest that compelled us to slack up. This mischance annoyed me greatly. However, the vows which I addressed to heaven were heard favorably; having taken another route, we arrived at about two miles of the native camp. In the eagerness that I felt to evangelize those poor infidels, I wanted to set foot immediately; but not knowing the way, the darkness forced me to retrace my steps. The following day, leaving my people to mount the rapids by canoe, I made my way to the camp by a trail outlined on the right bank. I reached the camp of the idolaters about 8 o’clock in the morning, armed with the token of our salvation. The good Tamakoun came before me to clasp my hand; the rest imitated him. After this greeting I had my tent raised, and I set out anew to visit the lodges scattered on the shore. In the evening I began to explain the Catholic ladder, etc., in the presence of forty persons who repaired to me at the sound of the bell. This new village which I wanted to conquer for J[esus] C[hrist] was composed of some thirty families. There were only young people in it, all the elders having been cut down by the fevers.

On Sunday high mass was sung in the midst of a large gathering of men, women, and children, who maintained themselves in a respectful silence, I might say religious, although the most were seeing a priest for the first time. Tamakoun told me that those of the left bank that had embraced the Methodist sect had rejected it a year since. They were, without doubt, of a number of 500 converts that Messrs. Lee and Perkins had won in 1840, and whom they had brought to notice in a New York paper; as if to listen to a few of their words and to help a few days at their prayer was a sufficient matter to ensure the conversion of a native. Mr. Ermantinger, arriving from the Snake country, delivered a letter to me from the reverend Mr. De Smet which announced to me the arrival of three Jesuit Fathers among the Flatheads. Happy tidings!

On the 20th the natives made preparations for departure; they leave the summer encampments and move to winter on the Vancouver islands. Where the cold is less rigorous and hunting more abundant. I followed these emigrants to the foot of the falls, where they were to spend some days before advancing farther. Every day I had to visit lodges. That talk was imposed on me by the indifference of a large number whom I was obliged to hunt up in order to bring them to the instruction. Fever afflicted the tribe and I lacked remedies. The sick had recourse to an old woman who was reputed to be skillful in healing. The old woman would rub her hands, apply them to the sick, then bring her mouth close to them and utter strange sounds and whistles. The pus issuing from her mouth was expelled with the same ceremony; which was, she claimed, the patient’s malady. She earned her living by this trade which she exercised quietly; but they tell me that these charlatans ordinarily make a frightful uproar for entire days and nights, accompanied by a thousand gestures and contortions which are to serve in the healing of the sick one. It will be difficult to put an end to this disorder; for the natives have faith in the words of the charlatans; but woe to the doctor if the sick one dies, for he is accused of having killed him, and his life is in danger.

Tamakoun, whose docility and confidence I wondered at, spent entire evenings talking about religion with me. He told me that he had only been two Sundays to hear Minister Perkins, and that having seen our ladder since 1839, he had constantly refused since then all promises from the Methodist side.

The natives being on the point of starting again, I had to terminate my mission; so that in order to make it more fruitful, I was obliged to reiterate my instructions and to prolong them some three hours in a row. After having distributed several chronological ladders, which I had to do during the night as long as I had any candle. I made my usual recommendation for prayers, regretting not having more rosaries to distribute. The chief, who had already for a long time been provided with a bell for the summons, received a ladder of which he was charged to give the explanation. Although little versed in prayers, my catechumens knew at least how to do the sign of the cross in their language and to recite the offering of the heart. They named the sacraments, recited the words of baptism, and had even learned to sing five canticles in the jargon. However feeble these beginnings might be, I had nevertheless to thank heaven for what I had done. I flattered myself that prayer would only cause to be fortified the wall of separation which my mission had raised between these natives and Methodism; and that this moderate but divine sowing which I had cast in passing would later produce a hundredfold.

I estimate the number of natives of this mission at 150 to 200. I did not have the time to make a count of them. I left thirty-four children baptized: The adults yet not being sufficiently instructed to receive this favor. Tamakoun merited it; but his wife not being sufficiently instructed, I awaited an opportunity to baptize them both, and then marry them in the course of the winter; which I have not yet been able to carry out.

The 27th, which was the tenth day of my mission at the Cascades, was that of my departure. I left all my provisions for the sick; I distributed powder and balls to the more distinguished ones, and set out. Toward the close of the day I arrived at Vancouver where I had the pleasure of meeting Governor McLoughlin, who showed me a letter he had just received from Reverend Father De Smet; and in return politeness, I communicated to him the one I had received from that respectable missionary.

Chief Tomaquin


this book is on

Landerholm, Carl , tr., Demers, Modeste Bp. 1809-1871., Blanchet, Francis Norbert 1795-1883. Notices & voyages of the famed Quebec mission to the Pacific Northwest: being the correspondence, notices, etc., of Fathers Blanchet and Demers, together with those of Fathers Bolduc and Langlois. Containing much remarkable information on the areas and inhabitants of the Columbia, Walamette, Cowlitz, and Fraser Rivers, Nesqually Bay, Puget Sound, Whidby, and Vancouver Islands, while on their arduous mission to the engages of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the pagan natives, 1838 to 1847. With accounts of several voyages around Cape Horn to Valparaiso and to the Sandwich Islands, etc., Oregon Historical Society [by the Champoeg Press, Reed College] 1956. (pp 80-120)

The letters are directly transcribed by me form the English translation offered by Carl Landerholm. There were a few errors in the printed text, which were corrected in this text. All transcription errors are mine alone.

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