Lower Chinook and Clatsop
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  Since Time Immemorial
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"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
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Canoe People
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Fort Clatsop > Culture > Celiast and Ilchee
Celiast, Daughter of Coboway (Komowool) Chief of the Clatsops
 
Dick Basch tells the story of his great-great grandmother, Celiast.
"Celiast was a daughter of a well-respected chief of this area. And status was built on relationships. So, the three daughters of Coboway were married off to Frenchmen —trappers-- who later went into different kinds of businesses.
image
Dick Basch, great-great grandson of Celiast.
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Fort Vancouver and Vancouver Barracks in 1855,
lithograph from original by Gustavus Sohon.
Courtesy of Teresa Langford, Fort Vancouver
National Historic Site.

 

"Celiast and her husband moved to Fort Vancouver, and she went through a lot of abuse from him. As it turned out, he was married, as were many other Frenchmen who married local Indians. He was married and had a family back in Quebec. John McGlaughlin, who was head of Hudson's Bay Company here, made sure that he went back to his wife, and that left Celiast with no husband, but three kids.

 

"Celiast is often times portrayed as a victim, as a mild mannered native woman, who was just sort of drug through a non-Indian society and life. However, she was well versed in the world of trading and making things work to her advantage. I really feel that that's what she did when she found herself in this mess. I think she got a grip on herself and discovered that her brothers-in-law, for example, turned out to be well-to-do in the non-Indian society. And she used the family relationship to find a new husband that would support her and her children. That man turned out to be Solomon Smith, who was a teacher and a missionary, new to the area around Fort Vancouver.

"Solomon actually liked the fact that the sister-in-law of this wealthy Frenchman needed a husband and wanted to be rescued, or so he thought. They were married at Fort Vancouver. John McLaughlin gave Solomon and Celiast a wedding present of a set of dishes from the Hudson's Bay Company, and we have the last remaining plate.

"The law was passed that Indians and white folks could not be married. However they were and they continued being married. Indian people were, were looked down upon of course. However, her being married to Solomon Smith kept her at a kind of almost untouchable level. But Solomon Smith was tested many times by the local people about being married to a squaw, being married to a full-blood. But, because of her status with her tribe, there was nothing he could do but protect her.

"Not only did Celiast find a new husband, but she also took control of her destiny by enabling or facilitating, her and her missionary teacher husband to come back to Clatsop County which was her home. Non-indian people were taking over the area, and horrible things were happening to her people. She felt that if she could come back in the status of being married to a missionary teacher, she would really be able to have some control over what happened to her people.

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Celiast with her husband Solomon Smith and one of their children.
From original daguerreotype, used with permission from Diana Jean Parks, great-great granddaughter of Celiast.

That's what they did. They moved back, settled out here, in the Clatsop Plain and ended up having a total of seven children. They farmed. They had a big house and in that house there was an Indian room. Nothing went on in that room, except her hosting or welcoming tribal folks, the rest of the house was an Anglo house through and through. But this one room was, was reserved for meeting with, helping, consulting with Indian, the local Indian folks. That was a place for her to receive the shot in the arm that she needed for retaining what she needed culturally. Because of that she was able to survive or maintain that marriage for many years.

"And so it was a win-win situation for Celiast.

"Many years after Solomon died, Celiast went back to speaking just her native language and living the Indian way. She lived until she was ninety, which is real survival. She used the Chinook-Clatsop culture of trading and knowing how to work a deal and expanded it to a macro-level, working it for her life and her people" (Dick Basch interview: 2002).


Ilchee, Daughter of Comcomly – Chief of the Chinook
 

Story of Illche, as told by Chief Cliff Snider (Cliff Snider Interview, 2002):

"My grandfather Comcomly had several daughters; of course, he had a lot of wives, a lot of slaves in those days. One of his favorite daughters was called Ilchee, the Moon Woman. And she married the first chief factor of the Astor Fur Trading Company, at Fort Astoria. His name was McDougal, a Scotsman, and this is the story of how they met…
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Chief Cliff Snider

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Ilchee, statue on the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA.
Sally Thompson photo

"…All the trading people, during those days, thought they could go out in the Columbia River in their canoes, but they didn't know how to operate them like the Chinook Indians did. Of course if anybody's been out fishing on the Columbia, they know that that's not a place to be unless you know what you're doing. Well, McDougal and his men were out there on the river and the canoe overturned and all the men fell into the water.

"Comcomly and his men saw them so they went out and rescued them all, and took them over to their village on the north shore. Well once they got there, McDougal saw Ilchee, and she was probably a young teenager at the time, and he fell madly in love with her. He got back to the fort and decided he wanted to marry her. So he asked Comcomly for her hand. Of course, the dowry was quite extensive.

"McDougal had to come up with money, with property and all the trade goods that they could get, and finally Comcomly agreed to it. Ilchee and McDougal were the first people to be married at Fort Astor. Ilchee and her family came across the Columbia with a flotilla, and when they arrived, muskrat skins had been laid out all the way up to the fort, and that was for her to walk on to get married.

"Well, somebody brought a horse down there for her to ride, and so the horse is the one that got to walk on the muskrat skins.

"That marriage only lasted a couple of years. In those days the white traders would return to their homes, leaving their Indian families behind.

"After McDougal left, Ilchee came upriver, to the area that is now Vancouver, Washington, to marry Casino, who was a chief in this area. Eventually there was a fight to see who was going to get all of the trade between Comcomly and Casino, even though they were kind of relatives now, because of Ilchee's marriage. But other difficulties made threatened the relationship.

"Ilchee was not Casino's only wife. One of his boys died, and Casino blamed Ilchee for that. He thought maybe that she should be killed, and go to "the happy hunting grounds" with the boy. Well she didn't like that too much so she went for protection to McLaughlin, the chief trader over at Fort Vancouver, run by Hudson's Bay Company. McGlaughlin took care of her for awhile, until it was safe for her to return to the protection of her family at the mouth of the Columbia.

 
Background: Peterson: 1991