Simon Plamondon was born April 1, 1800 at Francois Du Lac, District of 3-Rivers Province of Quebec, Canada, son of jean Baptiste and Catherine Gill Plamondon. He grew up on an island in the St. Lawrence River n ear Montreal. Abenaki Tribal records reveal that the Simon Plamondon family in Quebec carried a certain amount of Abenaki blood quantum; consequently, today’s descendants of Simon also have a percentage of Abenaki blood.
Twice each year a friend visited the family home, bringing tales life as a trapper in the west. Young Simon was captivated by these stories and desired to follow the trail. His family attempted to dissuade him, but he began as a boy trapping small creatures. At an early age he set out to follow the footsteps of his friend. He spent some time on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, then with two companions, followed the trail to the Columbia. After crossing the Rocky Mountains the young men traded their six ponies for a canoe and continued down the river as far as the portage of The Dalles. From there, Simon went on to Fort George (Astoria). Passing the mouths of the Lewis and Cowlitz Rivers, he sensed a strong desire to explore them some day.
Simon Plamondon arrived at Fort Astoria in 1816 from Canada with his older brother Joseph, and was hired as a trapper at the age of sixteen. The voyageurs who were his companions seldom had plans to return to their old homes. When they had been a good many years with the company and no longer relished the hardships of the trail, they were encouraged to retire to farms. Most of them went to French Prairie, near Gervais, Oregon. Simon went there for a short time, but he continued to long for the Cowlitz country. He made his first trip up the Cowlitz in 1818 and was captured by Chief Scanewa who was a Lower Cowlitz chief.
His great-granddaughter, Mrs. Anna Catlin, told the story this way: “It was while he was on an exploratory trip up the Cowlitz River that he met Chief Scanewa at the present site of Toledo. It was strictly unplanned. As he was traveling up the river with his eyes alert for signs of inhabitants, he spotted an opening in the dense growth at the river’s edge at what is now Toledo. It appeared to be the only landing. Eager to see what lay beyond, he drew up his canoe and disembarked.
Immediately he was surrounded by a number of braves who guarded this entrance to Chief Scanewa’s domain. He was taken to the chief who made it quite plain that he was expected to stay. Scanewa admired the splendid physique and recognized the fine personality of Simon. He then and there schemed to keep him in his tribe.”
Simon gained his freedom by promising Chief Scanewa that he would bring back trade goods to exchange for furs. Two armed warriors accompanied him to make sure that he would come back. When the trio reached Astoria, Simon requested that his guards be shown every courtesy. Then with trinkets and blankets, he returned to Cowlitz Prairie and joined in the activities of the tribe. Although he was frequently away on long journeys, he was under surveillance for a long time.
After some time, Chief Scanewa saw the advantages of binding Simon to the tribe with ties less harsh than he had been imposing. “I have found you to be a man of your word,” he said, and offered Simon one of his three daughters in marriage. He married Thas-e-muth, a daughter of Scanewa, in 1821. The marriage was performed by the bride’s father, Chief Scanewa, in accordance with the Cowlitz Sun Rites in a grove of trees on the north bank of the Cowlitz River. Sun dancing in the Cowlitz Tribe was quite different from the Sun dancing of the plains tribes. Sun Dancing was a time of celebration wherein the Sun Dancers would dance in an open field for three days.
In the custom of the times, Simon was gifted with twenty braves of his own by the father of the bride. Later, when missionaries came to the prairie, Simon’s wife was baptized and named Veronica. When Chief Scanewa died in 1826, Simon inherited the bulk of his property and made his permanent home on Cowlitz Prairie. The site of his home was on the current Plamondon Road near Toledo.
Four children were born to this marriage: Sophie, Simon, Jr., Theresa, and Marianne. Theresa became Mrs. Elie Sareault, the mother of John Sareault who later became chief of the Cowlitz Tribe. The current Sareault Road on Cowlitz prairie is named after this family.
In 1827 Simon Plamondon staked out a 640 acre claim on the Cowlitz River near the present site of Toledo. By 1867, records indicate that he had sold nearly 400 acres of that land to non-Indians
His wife died in childbirth in 1828, and he was so grief stricken that he went to the Yukon for two or three years. From time to time he returned to his farm and his children. He remained on the Hudson’s Bay payroll to as late as 1837. Only gradually did he break away from his life as a voyageur.
In 1838, the Hudson Bay Company established the Puget Sound Agricultural Company as an agricultural subsidiary. They opened a 4,000 acre farm at Cowlitz Landing under the supervision of Simon Plamondon.
Meanwhile, other French-Canadian company employees took up land: Antoine Gobar and Marcel Bernier soon after Plamondon, Oliver Bouchard at La Camas Prairie, Joseph St. Germain at Jackson Prairie, Louis LaDue at LaDue Prairie and Pierre Charles at Boisfort Prairie. Many of today’s Cowlitz trace their ancestry back to these early French-Cowlitz Indian families.
These settlers pondered the problem of rearing their children in the Catholic faith, the religion they had known in Eastern Canada. Three different years, they and members of the French Prairie Colony sent petitions to the nearest Catholic mission at the Red River of the North in Manitoba. Finally, Simon Plamondon made a pilgrimage east and persuaded the church authorities to send the Rev. Francis Blanchet and the Rev. Modeste Demers to the Pacific Northwest with instructions to found a mission on the Cowlitz “Where it would not be on the ground whose ownership was disputed by Great Britain and the United States.”
He married Emilie Fenlay in 1837. She was a daughter of Peter Bercier and Josephte Cree. There were five children from this marriage. His only white wife was Louise Henrietta Pelletier, a niece of Father Blanchet. This marriage took place in 1848, and there were two children from this marriage before they separated. Simon and Kitty Tillakish lived together in a common-law marriage, and had one child.
Evelyn Byrnes’ grandmother was Mary Ann St. Germain, Simon Plamondon’s youngest daughter. Evelyn descended from Simon on both her mother and her father’s sides of the family. Mary Ann St. Germain became quite indignant when a supposedly authentic document said that her father had been married 19 times and had 73 children. “Soisante dix et trois enfants!” she exclaimed, “Et mon pere!” “As a matter of fact, he was married but three times and had eight children all told, and all his descendants would not number 70.” She claimed that he was 99 years and 9 months old when he died.
Chinook Jargon phrase for the week: “Ikta maika mamook?” Meaning, “What you make? Or, what are you making (or doing)?”
Next week: 1820-1829
THE TOWN CRIER
History of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe
The nineteenth century and the arrival of the white man
Roy I. Rochon Wilson
Article number twenty two
Pub. Date: 04/03/13
Jedediah Morse was in the area in 1820, as he reported on seeing three of the Cowlitz villages on the Lower Cowlitz River 62 miles from the Columbia. It is of interest to note that he had to have passed numerous other Lower Cowlitz villages before he got that far up the river.
In 1824, John Work reported at or near Cowlitz Landing (near present day Toledo, Washington), “A canoe was hired from the Indians to carry us to the fort. The upper part of the river (the first part downstream from Cowlitz landing) is very populace, I counted 30 houses to the forks, all built of planks.”
Doctor Scouler told a story in 1825 about a Chinook Chief who had eaten “at the house of a Kowlitch (Cowlitz) Chief who was famed for his skill in medicine.” The visitor died and the Chinook killed the Cowlitz Chief.
George Simpson explored the Cowlitz River in 1828 in a ten man
boat when he descended the river on his trip from Puget Sound. He found large encampments of Indians along its banks, but the following year a fever had nearly wiped out all the inhabitants of those Indian camps, and they traveled all day past silent shores and came upon only one camp of survivors. He described the country as crowned with dense forests. He spoke of stately cedars and pines, many reaching without a branch or a bend for 150 feet; some of them rising to 300 to 400 feet, while five feet from the ground their girth was 30 feet, and by actual measurement, one fallen trunk, by no means the largest, was found to be 250 feet long and 25 feet around at 8 feet from the root. Loggers today would delight in getting into a setting like these Cowlitz trees in 1828. He reported that they saw driftwood in trees 30 to 40 feet above the stream level, indicating what mighty floods the Cowlitz was capable of. He also witnessed seeing a large rock with writing on it.
Simpson visited the two farms owned by the Hudson Bay
Company: the Cowlitz Farm, and the Puget Sound Farm. He described them as:
“At the Cowlitz Farm they raised wheat, wool, hides, and tallow for transport. There were 1,000 acres under cultivation, besides a dairy, extensive park for horses, and the crops had amounted to 8,000 to 9,000 bushels of wheat, 3,000 of oats, potatoes, etc. The Puget Sound Farm had 6,000 sheep, 1,200 cattle, besides pigs and horses. In addition to these there was a Catholic Mission with 160 acres under the plow.”
In the fall of 1829, infested blankets were given to the Cowlitz and other Salish Tribes at the forts and trading posts. A tremendous epidemic broke out. Some say that this was an epidemic of measles and small pox, but others argue that it was a strain of influenza not necessarily dangerous to Caucasians, but deadly to the non-immunized Native American population. One report from the Hudson Bay records, estimated the population of the Cowlitz, before the epidemic, to be in excess of 50,000; and thirty days later there were only about 2,400 still alive. Entire villages were wiped out, so that no one was left to bury the dead. The people would come down with the fever, and would go to the sweat lodge. After that, they would take their spirit bath in the river, and many died of pneumonia on the banks of the river. A number of the villages were never lived in again after that epidemic. The few left living in some of the villages regrouped themselves, thus leaving more villages unoccupied. The white man killed more native people with these deceased blankets than they ever killed with the rifle.
It has been suggested that, while only a small percentage of the full-blood Cowlitz survived, many of the Cowlitz who did survive were the descendants of the mixed-blood marriages which was by and large French; thus the Caucasian blood gave them the needed immunization to survive. Many of today’s Cowlitz are of mixed Cowlitz-French blood.
Chinook Jargon phrase for the week: “Naika mamook piah,” meaning, “I make fire.”
Next week: 1831-1838
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