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."