During the last five months we have featured articles regarding the history of the tribe during the pre-white contact period of time. We will now begin a series telling the historical stories of the nineteenth century and the arrival of the white man.
Captain Robert Gray, an American Boston trader, was the first to discover the Columbia River and give it its name, but he never journeyed upstream discovering its territory.
The first white men to arrive in Cowlitz Indian country were probably those on board His Majesty’s Ship, The Chatham, which was commanded by the British naval officer, Lieutenant W. R. Broughton, who paused and journeyed up the Columbia checking out Captain Robert Gray’s report. The Lieutenant was second in command to Captain George Vancouver. He put a crew into the ship’s cutter on October 26, 1792 and headed up the Columbia River into Cowlitz territory, but they never set foot on Cowlitz land; although, they discovered the mouth of the Cowlitz River.
He named geographical features he encountered along the way: a towering rock covered with Indian dead, which he appropriately named “Mount Coffin,” and two rivers emptying into the Columbia from the north. Vancouver related that the westernmost was named River Poole, and the easternmost Knight’s River, the latter honoring a friend who was captured along with Broughton after the second battle of Bunker Hill. Many of Broughton’s names (Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Vancouver Point Tongue Point, and others) endured, but these two rivers came to be known eventually by their native names.
Thirteen years later the American exploring party headed by Lewis and Clark floated down the Columbia and gave the westernmost by its Indian name, the “Cowliskee” (Cowlitz).
Lewis and Clark were no doubt the first white men to actually set foot on Cowlitz land. Their logs reveal that they camped on the Cowlitz River March 27, 1806. It is interesting to note that only twelve years after Lewis and Clark, fur trappers were shooting and killing Cowlitz Indians; but the Cowlitz were powerful and repulsed any further fur trapping activity for a number of years.
Gabriel Franchere was a young Frenchman who shipped out with the Astor expedition that sailed to establish an American fur trading post at the mouth of the Columbia. Shortly after the post was established, Franchere set out with Tom McKay, aged 15, Robert Stuart and Ovide de Montigny. Like Franchere, they were clerks” or junior partners in the expedition. They set out with a boat crew to see what was up the river.
The Gabriel Franchere party ascended the Cowlitz River in 1811 and intercepted Cowlitz and Chinook war parties in a confrontation with each other. These Cowlitz and Chinook warriors had never seen white men before, and they were filled with astonishment and curiosity. They lifted the legs of the trousers of the white men and opened their shirts to see if the skin of their bodies resembled that of their faces and hands.
Franchere’s party claimed to have navigated for 260 miles among the Cowlitz Nation. Since the river is not that long, they must have counted the miles of exploring each bank of the river, both going upstream and coming back downstream, along with exploring all its tributaries.
Chinook Jargon phrase for the week: “Naika mamook muckamuck,” meaning, “Me prepare food”, or “I will prepare some food.”