Chief Kiesno was one of the most powerful chiefs on the Columbia River at the time of the fur trade and American settlement. He was related to tribes throughout the lower Columbia region. He is well documented in numerous encounters with a number of explorers, fur traders, and settlers. His time spanned the whole of the early colonization of Oregon and ends in 1848, when there is a transition to Oregon as an official U.S. territory. It is probable that he is the model for the figure of Chief Multnomah fictionalized by Frederick Balch in his book Bridge of the Gods, a romanticized fictional account of the colonization of the region. Here are some of the historic quotes about him.
Chief Kiesno (his name has also been spelled Keasno, Casino, Kiyasnu, Q’iesnu, Ciasno, Cassino, and Casanov, Ke-ez-a-no) 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 Comcomly (Clatsop Chinook) died, and until his death in 1848.
The Wapato Island 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.
In 1813 the ownership of the Pacific Fur Company was bought out by the North West Fur Company. This deal eliminated the need for a military takeover of Astoria by the British in the War of 1812, who did send a warship to Astoria, but arrived after the ownership changed hands. A number of the fur traders signed on with the North West Company, while a contingent of American Fur Traders took off across the continent for the east coast. Kiesno becomes a major figure for the fur traders as the North West Company begins to expand its operations inland and meets opposition from tribes. The first account is a very detailed accounting of an event that took place at the Cascades, where several of their men were killed in a Native attack. The attackers were apparently a confederation of tribes who split the loot among several villages up and down river. Interesting is Kiesno’s role as a negotiator. Kiesno appears to have been caught being a double agent, trying to preserve some of the loot for his relatives in the Cascades which recovered a trifling of the loot. There would probably have been a payment by the tribes to Kiesno if he was successful. But Chief Coalpo’s wife, who is accompanying them, and who apparently hates the Cascades people, tells the expedition what is going on and they resort to other ways. In the Coues transcription, Coues mentions that he thinks the NWCo traders showed weakness, and Coalpo’s wife apparently agrees, saying later that they should have killed everyone in the Cascades rather than let them get away with the looting.
However, Kiesno does not suffer that much from his playing double agent. They know he is a powerful chief and they needed his help and guidance because just a month later they are asking him about locations to erect an inland fort. His answer about a recommended site is not directly identified in the text but it is described a lot like the placement of Fort Vancouver. If so then it was Kiesno who chose the site of Fort Vancouver, likely near his own territory so that he would benefit from the fur trade, which is exactly what occurred. The NWCo. did not build Fort Vancouver, and they were bought out by Hudson’s Bay Company later, and it was HBC in 1824 who did build Fort Vancouver. (This then is an interesting question and I will have to read up on the siting of Fort Vancouver now.)
The next event has Chief Kiesno standing off an invasion of Cowlitz and allies. This account suggests a lot about his wisdom as a leader and his power and position in the middle Columbia, being able to call into the river people from the Kalapuyans, the Clackamas, and likely the Cascades. This statement of his power is echoed by Paul Kane later.
Fort George (Astoria)
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, by, Henry, Alexander, 1765?-1814; Thompson, David, 1770-1857; Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899.
Alexander Henry 1814
790- Sunday, Jan 9th– two canoes coming from above… our people had been attacked at the rapids, all our property lost, Mr. A Stuart wounded, and J. Bte. Sakanakee killed…. We decided to go to the rapids with as many men and gentlemen as could be spared from this place, and get our property from the Indians- particularly the guns.
Jan 10th- at noon we embarked in four birch-rind and two large wooden canoes- 51 men and 11 passengers. Coalpo and his wife went with us in their own canoe… at 5pm we put ashore for the night at the Green Encampment
Jan11th- at 6am we embarked… at nine pm the only two canoes which were then together landed at the entrance of Willamette river, and we sent Mr. Franchere in one of them, with six men, up this river for the chief of the Willamette Tribe, called Casino or Kiersinno, to accompany us up to the rapids. It was difficult to light a fire wood being scarce and none dry in an hour one of the canoes joined us, and in another hours Mr. Franchere returned with the Chief. We held a long conference with this man, who appeared interested in our business, though he gave us to understand that the very village on the N. side of the rapids, where the affair took place, contained relatives of his. This circumstance shoe shows us the necessity of conciliatory measures, in our proceedings above to avoid incurring the ill will of the Willamette natives. At midnight Mr. Franchere went down the river in Casino’s canoe, manned by six of his slaves, in search of our canoes, and to order them up here, we being anxious to proceed, and Casino desiring to speak with his sister-in-law, Coalpo’s wife.
Jan. 12th– at 4am, Mr. F. returned with the canoes.. it was five o’clock before we got off. Casino embarked with us, we having given him two blankets, and sent a letter by his slaves up Willamette River, advertising William henry of the Unfortunate affair at the rapids, that he might be on his guard. … put ashore for the night on Point Vancouver, about three miles above Quicksand river.
Jan 13th– violent storm- at eleven we set off… 2 pm when we landed on the N. side to put our arms in order… we had another conference with Casino, who knows more on the subject than we imagined. He informed us that the principal instigator of that affair was a chief called Canook, of the Cathlathlaly, village on the N. This fellow it seems, on seeing our party of two canoes only passing up river, formed a plan to pillage them. He assembled the warriors of the two villages below and made a long speech, telling them that we never traded anything of consequence with them, but took our property further up, to their enemies the Nez Perces, and that here was a favorable opportunity to better themselves. They agreed, and all went armed up to the Cathlayackty village, where the harangue was repeated. That village too joined the party and crossed over to the Cathlayackty village on the S. where a similar speech was made and that village also joined. Then they all came down to meet our people at the portage on the S. With Canook as their war chief. Another village, of the Thlamooyackoack tribe, situated a few miles above the portage on the N., was invited down to join, which they soon did.. Early in the affair a chief of the latter village and one belonging to the Cathlayackty village were both killed; these two were all that fell.
Jan 14th– 6 am we embarked… at ten came nearly abreast of the Soto village… directly opposite the village we crossed over to a stony beach… in which some natives were posted behind trees in a posture of defense, armed with bows and arrows, clubs and axes- bows bent and arrows across them, ready to let fly; all was still as death. We did not land, but desired Casino to assure them of our pacific disposition. After some time a chief came to the edge of the woods and made a long speech with many gestures, as if violently agitated. Finding that none of them could be induced to leave the woods, we put Casino and Coalpo’s wife ashore to go to the village to demand the guns and kettles. The natives then retired from the woods to the village, where a long parley was held. An old woman was the first person who ventured down to the canoes; but a man soon followed her example. We proposed to trade with them for dogs, to which they readily agreed. For this purpose we dropped down to a sandy beach near the village, and some of us went ashore. We soon secured 16 dogs, and then crossed over to the S., where we made a fire, as by this time we were benumbed with cold. While here we saw two horsemen set off at full speed for the village above, as we presumed, to carry the news of our arrival. Having warmed ourselves we returned to the village, where they delivered to us nine loaded guns; this was all the property we could recover here. They assured us all the rest was in the hands of the natives above. We then assembled them on the beach and presented the pipe, hoping to allay all suspicion by this pacific measure, that we might find the upper villages off their guard and be thus enabled to seize this famous Canook and keep him, prisoner, until all the property should be returned. For the present we demanded only guns and kettles without mentioning other goods- the guns being our principal object.
At 1 pm we continued our voyage…We soon came in sight of the second village, which was that of the Cathlathlaly tribe, and could see the natives hurrying to the woods with their baggages, while others in their war garments posted themselves behind trees and among rocks. We loaded our guns and put everything in order to pass up the rapids along Strawberry Island. On coming abreast of the village we could see the natives stationed on the hill behind trees and rocks, and thence as far up river as we could see along the portage, all armed for defense; but scarcely a soul was seen moving in the village itself, where all was quiet. While we lay here a canoe with six men came down river singing their war song, and landed at the village. An old woman was standing on the bank, singing the same song and dancing. We were given to understand by Coalpo’s wife that she was related to one of the Indians that our people had shot at the portage [Cascade Rapids]. Such a menace was more than we expected, considering our pacific measures at the first village; and we feared that, on our pushing over the village, they would shoot at us in desperation, and thus oblige us to fire upon them- a thing we ardently wished to avoid. However, we could not but go over, which we did after Casino had made a short speech to them. None moved from their lurking places while we were crossing to the N. shore. Casino went up to the village, and soon the natives seemed to leave the woods and assemble at Canook’s house, where a long parley was held, with the result that casino came back to us with four loaded guns and 30 armed men accompanying him. None of us left our canoes, but we desired them to be seated on the beach. They did so, but their looks were suspicious, for they had their bows bent and arrows ready to let fly in a twinkling. A pipe was filled for them, and we pretended friendship. Canook smoked and then came to the water’s edges, but with the eye of a hawk, watching our every movement. After a long parley we crossed the river to Strawberry island and camped on an open, level spot where formerly a village stood, taking our canoes and baggages to the top of the bank, although it was a rugged, rocky shore. Here we prepared for defense in case of attack. Casino, whom we had left at the village to collect property, soon brought two more guns. Two men and some women, relatives of Casino, came over to see us…
Jan.15th– at eight we loaded our canoes and went over to the village, where we traded nine dogs and one horse for food; the digs were knocked in the head with an ax, and the horse was shot through the head. Here we lay three hours, exposed to a heavy rain, before we set off with our stock of provisions. At the decharge one of our canoes narrowly escaped being lost…. We then crossed and went to the portage on the S. on approaching which we saw some armed natives in the skirts of the woods…. This portage is 600 paces long… Casino asked permission to go up to the village of his relatives to demand the property, which we granted. At the E. end of the portage we found the remains of our basket of kettles, hoops and staves, etc. and a quantity of wet powder was strewn on the sand. On the spot where the Indian fell whom Mr. Mckay shot some blood was still to be seen. I also traced over the portage many spots of blood, which I presume fell from Mr. Stewart’s wounds on his retreat.
At 2 pm we went up to the Cathlayackty village by land, the men en canot [sic]; where we found on the beach Casino, with seven natives, who delivered to us one gun, a few kettles, and two cotton shirts. This village consisted of only three houses. Nothing more was expected by fair means, we crossed the river to the other Cathlayackty village, consisting of eight houses. The natives were all indoors, except one old women who was singing, crying, and dancing on the bank; she was a near relation to the other fellow that had been killed. We landed casino, who parleyed with them while we went in search of a camp on an island about a half a mile above the village, telling him to bring the kettles and guns to us there. Having landed on this island and set camp for the night, we fired all our guns and the brass swivel which we then reloaded. Seeing four loaded canoes cross on the S., we began to suspect casino’s fidelity, fearing he was acting a double part in sending some of his friends to the village, which he supposed we would not molest on his account; but it would have been imprudent to show any suspicions of him. He soon came to us with 16 natives, who brought five guns, some kettles, balls, and a few trifling articles, besides some dried salmon….
Sunday Jan. 16th– I sent a canoe with eighth men to the village to trade dogs; they returned with nine… went down to the Cathlayackty village in the N. All was quiet excepting the old women, who was still singing her doleful ditties, lamenting the death of her relation. The few men stirring were armed. This filthy village is well situated for defense, on rising ground with a pond behind and on one side. We demanded horses to trade, which they sent for; and Canook arrived on horseback with seven others from below. Several armed men on foot appeared from behind the houses; but they kept at a distance, forming a line along one of the largest houses, the Canook at their head. The horses being thus brought in we all embarked, excepting those who were to trade and butcher the horses. I counted only 20 armed men; but when the first horse we brought was shot, the report of the gun brought to view 50 armed men, who deployed along the house in such a manner that their guns could have done little injury, had we been inclined to fire. Our intention was to seize Canook, but he kept in the crowd and could not be prevailed upon to approach, though he and all the others were invited to come and smoke.
… we pushed over to the Cathlayackty village on the S. which is situated in the woods, at some distance from the river. The chief, whose house we entered, was a portly old man. Who looked more respectable than any other I had seen on the Columbia. He was very civil to us, and spread down near the fire a clean white biche-skin [deer] for us to sit upon. The houses appeared in a state of confusion, everything have been removed but a few old wattap cooking utensils… We talked with the chief for some time, but to no purpose; no property was produced, and he appeared uneasy in our presence. We then went down to the portage, where we camped for the night on the spot where the scuffle had happened. Shortly afterward Casino brought as a few more kettles which he said, were all he could get. He asked to be allowed to sleep at the village, under a pretense of getting more property, Strict watch was kept as usual…
This evening we received information from Coalpo’s wife respecting Casino’s duplicity. He even tried to bribe her at the last village, this afternoon, by offering her two fathoms of red strouds and other things, but she rejected the offer and upbraided him for his double-dealing. Had we known as much on landing at this portage yesterday as we do now, we probably would have recovered every article there was in both villages; but we placed confidence in Casino, whose good behavior at the first village below threw us entirely off our guard.
Jan 17th– at 7 am we began to carry over the portage… we then embarked and at 11 am came down to the village, where we put Casino ashore and crossed over to our former camp on Strawberry Island. At noon Casino came over on a canoe, accompanied by a chief, a boy; and a woman… we determined to take him [chief], having given up hope of getting hold of Canook. Three men, Deslard, O’Connor, and Bell, were ordered to seize him. They did so; his bow and quiver were taken, and his arms and legs bound. He appeared surprised, but not terrified, and said not a word. Casino, who was sitting near him, started up instantly, but we desired him until our property was returned; that not only the guns and kettles were wanted, but every article they had taken from us; that we had heretofore been trifling, but were now in earnest, must have our goods, and were ready to fight is necessary. The boy and women were told the same, and then allowed to go over to the village to communicate our intentions to the natives, while Casino made a long speech to them from our camp…. At the village there was a great bawling and hurrying about. We fired the swivel to show them we had such a thing, and the report the Indian retired to their houses…We paraded all our people on the field facing the village, fired a round of musketry, and marched and countermarched; Mr. Franchere acting as drill sergeant. We then called out to the Indians that we were ready for peace or war, as they thought fit. Horsemen were dispatched above and below to the several villages, and a large canoe was sent down river with six persons. Two wives of the prisoner soon brought us three guns and 13 kettles, and then all was quiet. Later on 12 armed men arrived from below, and two canoes also armed men. The women again came over, with nine guns and a few articles of bale goods. During a long conference between them and the prisoner, both parties appeared much affected, sobbing and crying. He desired them to collect the property quickly, and we told them we would wait two nights to give them time, when, if the goods were not returned, we would take him to the seas with us…
Jan. 18th– Same two women… brought over a few more bale goods ; several harangues were made by the prisoner and casino, to expedite our business, but the natives answered that all the property in their possession had been given up, and what was deficient must be in the villages above. Messengers were accordingly sent on horseback.
Jan. 19th– …the women ask us to remain one day longer, which we agreed to do. We now determined to send Casino to the village of his relations, to get back what he could from them. We had little hopes of him, as he had deceived us; still, we thought he might do some good, as it was his own wish to go. We promised him that if he brought us the total we would reward him with a bale of goods. This we hoped, would be a more tempting bribe that anything the natives could offer. We promised the same reward to Coalpo’s wife. Having sent Casino off with the women, we embarked with the prisoner and drifted to the lower end of Strawberry Island, where we camped to await the results.
Jan. 20th – We remained all day, during which the women and Casino brought us a few articles…
Jan. 21st– the women came over with a few trifles, and told us they had nothing more; they had even sold a slave to Canook for beads. However, we sent Casino with Mr. Franchere and a party of armed men to harangue the village once more, while we breakfasted on lead horseflesh and fat seal… Mr. Franchere returned with their answer, which was that we must be a bad lot, to want all our property back after killing two chiefs, and they would give no more. … This closed the business. We therefore dropped down to the Soto village with the prisoner, accompanied by a canoe of his own, in which were his two wives and some other relations. Nobody was stirring; smoke same from only two houses, the others being abandoned and barricaded with logs. We landed Casino and Coalpo’s wife, who went up to the houses, and soon saw armed men coming from the woods, where they had been concealed. Having made a harangue to the prisoner, which was loudly repeated [interpreted] by Casino to the natives on the beach, we gave him two blankets and a few other articles, including a N.W.Co. flag and then turned him loose… Mr. Franchere went in a canoe with Casino and eight men to the village to buy dogs…
Jan. 22nd– [Henry] with Mr. Matthews and eight men started up the Willamette. … it was dark before we saw the village on the S., near a small but rapid river on our left, called the Clukemus [Clackamas], from the numerous tribe who dwell up it. They are great rogues, who live in houses, and every summer come down here for the salmon fishery. Shortly after passing this river we came abreast of the village, in hearing of the falls, and saw six lights, which we supposed issued from the same number of doors. These Indians called Clowewallas, are numerous, and tolerably well disposed toward the whites, their chief is a good old man, much respected by his people.
Jan. 31st– [Fort George] We paid Casino for accompanying us to the rapids and made him an annuity as chief. A flag also was given him, and he was spoken to on the subject of our building at the entrance of the Willamette…
Feb. 7th– Mr. Franchere, with 10 men in a birch canoe started up the Willamette to Mr. Wm. Henry’s. and the rest of us went down to examine the banks narrowly all the way to Fort George, in hopes of finding some suitable spot to build. Casino sent an Indian with us down to their salmon fisheries, to point out a spot which he said might answer our purpose.
Apr. 9th– The Cowlitch [Cowlitz] to the number of 100 men had a battle with Casino at the lower entrance of the Willamette, a few days ago. They fired at each other for some time, but at a great distance; no blood was spilled, the affair was settled, and the Cowlitch returned home
Apr. 19th– …the late battle. They said the Cowlitch and their allies formed a party of 40 canoes and 300 warriors. Hearing of their approach casino assembled his friends and allies, and sent for the Indians at the falls of the Willamette, the Calipuyowes, etc. The enemy was stationed across from the channel, directly opposite the C. village. Casino desired to put off the battle until his allies should join him, but to this the enemy objected. The enemy had no firearms; Casino’s party had, and opened fire at long range, without intending to kill anybody, for fear of rendering the enemy desperate, as in that case they might rush in and fight at close quarters; and he was aware that, unless blood were spilled, he had no danger to apprehend from them. Several parleys took place, but to no purpose; as Casino always wavered, and would not consent to make the enemy any present, not give them any honorable reparation of the injury they had sustained, matters of course could not be settled. The enemy by some means got possession of one of his slaves, for whom they allowed him only two blankets; thus offending him, and he then wished them to understand that he would give them no satisfaction whatever. They retired immediately, and are now plotting to attack him at night in a clandestine manner, and take ample revenge according to savage custom- to burn his village and destroy as many of his people as they can. This is their resort when the offending party will give no proper satisfaction in a public manner, and it occasions much intrigue. The Cowlitch are now endeavoring to win over Casino’s allies by presents of goods and slaves. Tatelicum assisted him in the late affair, and may do so again; but it is doubtful whether he can find means to so supply his other allies while they await the surprise attack. We fear he will be killed before this business ends. He is brave and avaricious, and depends much on his own people and himself; but enemies are numerous and may overpower him, if they surprise him. He is a useful man to us, and I shall be sorry if he is killed. Spring is the season when all international disputes are adjusted, so as to allow full scope for the salmon fishery, to provide for the ensuing winter without molestation. They are not bloodthirsty; it is merely a point of honor. But when just reparation is refused, they are entitled to desperate measures; surprises and stratagems are then lawful.
Pioneer Days of Oregon History, 1905.
By Samuel A. Clarke (both transcription of the story and a critical response)
This story is narrated with a romantic and a superior demeanor as is common with the histories of this era. Samuel Clarke here appears to have narratived schemas which may have not even occurred and assigned thoughts and feelings to the characters in his story when he did not witness the events first hand. His source was very young at the time of this story and got details the story second hand from Mcloughlin himself and so this is a third-hand retelling. This does not mean the events did not happen, but that the fictionalizing of this story under their clear romantic biases is really a problem with historians in this era. More comments below and intext.
The removal of the headquarter of the Hudson’s bay Company from Astoria to Vancouver caused other changes, one being that the trading post at The Dalles was removed to Walla Walla, one hundred miles up Snake River. This was deeply resented by the Wascopum tribe, who lived at The Dalles and fully appreciated having a trading place at their very doors.
They decided to equip an hundred great war canoes, fill them with warriors, well provisioned, then go down the majestic river, lay siege to Fort Vancouver and possess all its present wealth and its coming cargoes.
The Cascade chief was friendly with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and quietly started a light canoe with messengers to inform Governor McLoughlin of what he might expect… Governor McLoughlin was exceedingly amused to know that the Wascoes were on the War Path… he sent for Kiesno, chief of the Multnomahs, who lived in one of the villages near by on the Columbia, to have him get together as many of his war canoes and warriors as possible, fully armed and equipped, and come to Vancouver to the rescue.
That same afternoon Kiesno’s war fleet of thirty canoes and hundreds of warriors was safely hidden in an inlet below Vancouver. McLoughlin sent down plenty of good food for their use, while Kiesno himself was cordially received and hospitably entertained at the fort.
This story was told me by Dr. William C. McKay, about 1885, who was the Grandson of Mrs. McLoughlin, he was then a little boy, not over four years old, and was brought up at Fort Vancouver. [This information suggests that this event happened in 1828, as he was born in 1824.] He was a favorite with Dr. McLoughlin and told me that he stood on the bank of the Columbia that late afternoon and saw that great fleet of war canoes come floating down. When they were in sight of the fort they formed a single line that reached all the way across. Leaving the canoes to float with the current, they came slowly down; they used the paddles to drum on the sides of the canoes, that gave a hollow sound; they blew conch shells, beat drums and sand Indian war songs, that all made a horrid din.
On came the fleet, floating with the current, while the fort lay in deepest silence. Not a human being was visible- save the little boy who stood alone on the shore. The only thing in motion was the flag of Old England that waved over the ramparts. It was a sight the lad never forgot and related with fervor. The question was: What would the Wasco fleet try to do? That was solved when, coming abreast of the fort, at a signal, it whirled, as on a pivot, and landed on the south shore of the Columbia. They had been brave in anticipation, but the day was nearly gone and it did not seem prudent to make the attack that afternoon. It may have occurred to wiser one that they had been too precipitate, that the broad-spread fort, with heavy stockade and frowning bastions, could not be easily captured with a bow and arrows.
The Wascos and Multnomahs were friends and had much trade together. Hardly had they made camp when Kiesno and some of his men went over to visit them. They were having a friendly chat when suddenly a dull roar sounded from the six-pounder in the lower bastion and a rumbling reverberation went roaring among the hills. The Wascoes were terrorized, demanded the cause, and were told that bit was only King George’s men making thunder and lightning; that they did so whenever they felt in the humor. Before the Multnomahs crossed back to their own camp that evening, they had filled the Wascos full of very strange tales of things King George’s men could do and their power over the elements.
When morning came they heard the sunrise salute and thought it even louder than the evening gun. They had hot half so much interest I the capture of Fort Vancouver as they had in the outset, but concluded to make the best of the situation and visit McLoughlin. Their canoes reached the north shore just as a messenger came down from the governor, who sent then a kind greeting and invited three of the head men to visit him at the fort, but the rest were to remain at the river shore, where he would send them a feast. This was rather cool treatment of such a redoubtable war party, but they had conceived new ideas from Kiesno as to the white man, and no longer desired the capture.
McLoughlin had heard from Kiesno all that occurred, so was prepared to lay down the law.
[much of the following assigns thoughts to the chiefs when seeing and hearing the Highlanders is completely romantic conjecture on the part of the author] The three Wasco chiefs wended their way from the landing to the big postern, where they found a magnificent Highlander standing guard- who took no notice of them however. He wore kilt and tartan, broadsword and a fierce look, and they thought him invincible; passing inside they were taken to the great reception room and told to wait there until McLoughlin could come. There they found Collin Fraser, another six-foot Highlander, who was the company’s piper. As he marched to and fro he took not the least notice of them. They thought he was making medicine, and wondered if there was any way to make stronger medicine than that strange man was squeezing out of his wind-bag.
It was an hour before McLoughlin arrived, and all the time the bagpipes were making them feel weaker and weaker. When he did appear, the pride of Wasco was at low ebb; its chiefs and warriors [an error in the text here, as only three of the Chiefs were in the fort] had concluded that they were no match for the men of King George. The governor was pleased and sociable with them, but not familiar; he told them just what he intended to do- and what they must do; he ordered many things to be brought and distributed among them, so they went back to their canoes after they had been treated to the best there was to be had. The men at the shore were also treated kindly and they and the Multnomahs were furnished a bullock to have a barbecue. Presents were sent to the women at home, so there was no cause for complaint.
The women of Wasco were not satisfied with the limited supplies sent them, but had to accept the men’s excuses, that there was no medicine man in all Wasco who could set up the practice of diabolism with the skilled men who did that business for King George.
I have yet to find another version of this story, clearly, large sections of it are fictionalized by Samuel Clarke in about 1905 when the book is published. The style of this “history” is closely related to that of Frederick Balch’s Bridge of the Gods. Balch in his admittedly fictionalized account seems to create people and events and in a highly stylized romantic tradition, the shipwrecked half Asian woman turns white when colonization occurs, and “Chief Multnomah” helped and aided the white to take his land, seemingly happily. Here Clarke shows a similar history, perhaps an account that Balch heard as well and heavily altered, of how Kiesno, the “Multnomah Chief” helped the British best the Wascos by tricking them in a game of impressing them with the super-human abilities of the British, and thus demoralizing them. Clearly, such an event may have occurred, there probably was a fleet of Wascos, they may or may not have been a war party, or perhaps a trading party, investigating the newly installed Fort Vancouver (1824) and the great wealth inside. But Clarke assigns all manner of feelings and thoughts to people who likely were never asked what they thought, but may very well have been impressed by a 6 inch cannon blast, and the array of guns, the strange dress of the newcomers and the imposing walls of the fort. Native peoples on the Columbia did not build walled towns, like they did in the upper NW coast, because there was less warfare, and were more trade-based relationships. This point suggests that perhaps Clarke and even McKay were inaccurate when they suggest that the intention was war, rather than to open trade relations in a big way. As well, if any travelers went up the Columbia, on their way to Walla Walla, in this period, they always had to stop at the Cascades and The Dalles for portages, so the Wascos would always have been trading with the travelers during such portages. In light of this point, the premise of the story falls apart. This “History” then does not do justice to the original story because of the biases inserted into it, depicting a large fleet of canoes as an act of “war”, the imposition of thoughts and feeling on native peoples, the crafty and clearly “superior” power of the British to impress/frighten/demoralize the natives, and the sort of two-dimensional blind support from Kiesno for Fort Vancouver, which is the character of Chief Multnomah in Balch’s book as well.
The next two accounts are those of Townsend and Kane. As suspected now for generations of scholars, Kane apparently copies, nearly verbatim Townsend’s account into his own book. This is an early example of plagiarism even though its also clear that Kane had his own adventures among the tribes.
October 25th 1833- Several weeks ago the only son of Ke-ez-a-no, the principal chief of the Chinooks, died. The father was almost distracted with grief, and during the first paroxysm attempted to take the life of the boy’s mother, supposing that she had exerted an evil influence over him which had caused his death. She was compelled to fly in consequence, and put herself under the protection of Dr. McLoughlin, who found means to send her to her people below. Disappointed in this scheme of vengeance, the chief determined to sacrifice all whom he thought had ever wronged his son, or treated him with indignity; and the first victim who he selected was a very pretty and accomplished chinook girl, named Waskema, who was remarkable for the exceeding beauty of her long black hair. Waskema had been solicited by the boy in marriage, but had refused him, and the matter had been long forgotten, until it was revived in the recollection of the father by the death of his son. Ke-ez-a-no dispatched two of his slaves to Fort William, (where the girl was at that time engaged in making moccasins for Mr. W. and where I had seen her a short time previously,) who hid themselves in the neighborhood until the poor creature had embarked in her canoe alone to return to her people, when they suddenly rushed upon her from the forest which skirted the river, and shot two balls through her bosom. The body was then thrown into the water, and the canoe broken in pieces on the beach.
Tapeo the brother of Waskema delivered to me a letter from Mr. W. detailing these circumstances, and amid an abundance of tears which he shed for the loss of his only and beloved sister, he denounced the heaviest vengeance upon her murderer. Thes threats, however, I did not regard, as I knew the man would never dare to raise his hand against his chief, but as expression relieves the overcharged heart, I did not check his bursts of grief and indignation.
A few days after this, Ke-ez-a-no himself stalked into my room. After sitting a short time in silence, he asked if I believed him guilty of the murder of Waskema. I replied that I did, and that if the deed has been committed in my country, we would be hanged. He denied all agency in the matter, and placing one hand upon his bosom, and pointing upwards with the other, called God to witness that he was innocent. For the moment I almost believed his assertions; but calling to mind the strong and undeniable evidence against him, with a feeling of horror and repugnance, I opened the door and bowed him out of the house.
Dr. W. Fraser Tolmie, a letter, Transactions of the Twelfth Annual Re-union of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1885
At Vancouver, in summer 1840, a young hunter fom Kiesno’s village, Wakanasissi, known to the whites as “the fishery,” a few miles below Vancouver, very early one morning paddling up stream in quest of deer, observed in a sleeping camp of Calapooyas on Vancouver beach, lying still, under a faded green blanket, a middle aged woman he was under contract with the Tuality Indians, to kill at sight. He shot the woman, and coolly continued his hunt. The Doctor (Barrows) got Kiesno to bring the murderer to the fort, and had him in irons; for it was considered an affront to the whites for Indians to fight or to kill each other near a company’s post. Everywhere such acts were frowned on, but in this single instance, to my knowledge, was the murderer meddled with. From 1836 to 1841, at Vancouver, and until 1859, when I removed from Nisqually, W.T., to Victoria B.C., the evil practice continued.
Paul Kane (Wanderings of an Artist)[i]
Those in the immediate vicinity of the fort [Fort Vancouver] are principally Chinooks and Klickataats, and are governed by a chief called Casanov… Casanov is a man of advanced age, and resides principally at Fort Vancouver. I made a sketch of (No.8) of him while staying at the fort. Previously to 1829 Casanov was considered a powerful chief, and could lead into the field 1000 men, but in that year the Hudson’s Bay Company and emigrants from the United States introduced the plough for the first time into Oregon [likely first settlement in the valley, as HBC had began farming at the fort in 1824] ; and the locality, hitherto considered one of the most healthy, was almost depopulated by the fever and ague [malaria]. His immediate family, consisted of ten wives, four children, and eighteen slaves, were reduced in one year to one wife, one child, and two slaves. Casanov is a man of more than ordinary talent for an Indian, and he has maintained his great influence over his tribe chiefly by means of the superstitious dread in which they held him. For many years, in the early period of his life, he kept a hired assassin to remove any obnoxious individual against whom he entertained personal enmity. This brave, whose occupation was no secret, went by the name of Casanov’s scoocoom [not sure what this statement intends, Skookum means strong so perhaps head of security.] or, “the evil genius.” He finally fell in love with one of Casanov’s wives, who eloped with him. Casanov vowed vengeance, but the pair for a long time eluded his search; until one day he met his wife in a canoe near the mouth of the Cowlitz River, and shot her on the spot, and at last procured also the assassination of the lover.
A few years before my arrival at Fort Vancouver, Mr. Douglass, who was then in charge, heard from his office the report of a gun inside the gates. This being a breach of discipline he hurried out to inquire the cause of Casanov’s slaves standing over the body of an Indian whom he had just killed, and in the act of reloading his gun with apparent indifference, Casanov himself standing by. On Mr. Douglass arriving at the spot, he was told by Casanov, with an apology, that the man deserved death according to the laws of the tribe, who as well as the white man inflicted punishment proportionate of the nature of the offense. In this case, the crime was one of the greatest an Indian could be guilty of, namely, the robbing the sepulcher canoes [burial canoes]. Mr. Douglass, after severely reprimanding him allowed him to depart with the dead body. Sacred as the Indians hold their burial places, Casanov himself, a short time after the latter occurrence, has his only son buried in the cemetery of the fort. He dies of Consumption- a disease very common amongst all Indians- proceeding no doubt from their constant exposure to the sudden vicissitudes of the climate. The coffin was made sufficiently large to contain all necessities supposed to be required for his comfort and convenience in the world of spirits. The chaplain of the Fort bread the usual service at the grave, and after the conclusion of the ceremony, Casanov returned to his lodge, and the same evening attempted, as narrated below, the life of the bereaved mother, who was the daughter of the great chief generally known as King Comcomly, so beautifully alluded to in Washington Irving’s “Astoria.” She was formerly the wife of a Mr. McDougall, who bought her from her father, for, as it was supposed, the enormous price of ten articles of each description, guns, blankets, knives, hatchets, etc, then in Fort Astoria. Comcomly, however, acted with unexpected liberality on the occasion by carpeting her path from the canoe to the fort with sea otter skins, at that time numerous and valuable, but now scarce, and presenting them as a dowery. In reality far exceeding in value the articles at which had been estimated. On Mr. McDougall’s leaving the Indian country, she became the wife of Casanov.
It is the prevailing opinion of the chiefs that they and their sons are too important to die in a natural way, and whenever the event takes place, they attribute it to the malevolent influence of some other person, whom they fix upon, often in the most unaccountable manner, frequently selecting those the most dear to themselves and the deceased. The person so selected is sacrificed without hesitation. On this occasion Casanov selected the afflicted mother, notwithstanding she had during the sickness of her son been one of the most assiduous and devoted of his attendants, and of his several wives she was one he most loved; but it is the general belief of the Indians in the west side of the mountains, that the greater the privation they inflict on themselves the greater would be the manifestation of their grief, and the more pleasing to the departed spirit. Casanov assigned to me an additional motive for his wish to kill his wife, namely that as he knew she had been so useful t her son and so necessary to his happiness and comfort in this world, he wished to send her with him as his companion on his long journey. She however, escaped into the woods, and the next morning reached the Fort imploring protection; she was accordingly secreted for several days until her own relations took her home to Chinook Point. In the meantime a woman was found murdered in the woods, and the act was universally attributed to Casanov or one of his emissaries.
184- The dress which Casanov is represented as wearing, in the picture, being one that was presented to him by a friend from Walla-walla
George Gibbs would gather information on Kiesno in 1854. “Ca-se-no the great chief of the Upper Chinooks died in the fall of 1849 at a very advanced age, & having survived nearly all his people. His proper Tribe at Sauvie’s Island and Scappoose once numbered 4 or 5000. He was Klikatat on the mothers side.” Gibbs would later correct the assertion that Kiesno was Klikatat. “Kéh-as-no’s house was always at Scappoose, not at Wiltqua [mouth of Lewis River].
John Wacheno would testify in 1906 that “Old Chief Keosnose who lived on the Columbia River owned a good many slaves. He died before the Indians moved in here but his wife Mary Ann came here.”[ii]
[i] Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America. Longman and Roberts, London, 1859, page 175.
[ii] Roll of Indians Belonging to Grand Ronde Reservation. Superintendent Grand Ronde School to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, January 25, 1905. Department of Interior, United States Indian Service. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Tribal Archives, Grand Ronde, OR. Page 36.
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.
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