Dr. Meredith Gairdner, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the employ
of the Hudson's Bay Company, went to Ft. Vancouver in 1832 to help
Dr. McLaughlin. In 1835, in order to ease his own health problems
he traveled to Fort Walla-Walla. During that summer he recorded
some important details about life around the fort, twenty years
after the establishment of the fur trade in this area.
"The Indians here are a quiet, sedate race compared with
the Chenooks and Sehalataks, and have a more noble and
manly aspect. They are generally powerful men, at least 6 feet high.
None of the women come about the fort.
"I have endeavoured to obtain from the interpreter some
explanation of the appellations given to the different nations
on the Columbia, such as Nez-perces, Flat-heads, Black-feet,
&c; but no one knows the origin of these terms, as their
own names, Silish, Shahaptenish, have no significance of
kind. The Nez-perces are divided into two classes, the
Nez-perces proper, who inhabit the mountains, and the Polonches,
inhabit the plain country about the mouth of Snake River.
The nations of the plain on the other side of the Rocky Mountains
are celebrated for their warlike incursions on the Black-feet,
Big-bellies, Ciries, and Piegans or Blood Indians on this
side. Of these Indians, the last are the most numerous.
"The Rayouse Indians, of whom I have now seen several,
are quite a different race of men from the Walla-wallas; they
are stouter, and more athletic, being generally 6 feet high.
They have a dignity in their gait and a gravity in their
demeanour, not possessed by the latter. They also consider it
as a degradation
to marry the Walla-walla women, although the Walla-walla
men make frequent marriages with the Rayouse women. The Rayouse
do not muster more than 78 men; the Walla-wallas, including
women and children, about 200.
"May, 1835.-Two Snake Indians arrived at the Fort. They
have not the tall stature and noble air of the Rayouse. The
Snake tribe, who come to the Grande Ronde for trade,
muster 1000 to 1200 strong, and are not now as formerly, merely
with bows, but have obtained by theft and trade with
the Americans, an abundant supply of arms and ammunition. Though
about 50 Indians round the Fort, with everything open
to them, and nobody in but Pambroon, H.B.C.'s clerk, the interpreter,
one or two boys and myself, all is quiet. In the evening the
Indians say their prayers under one of the bastions,
and have the same religious ceremonies as the Walla-wallas.
"I attended the religious services of the Walla walla Ind.s.
The whole tribe, who are here at present, men, women and children,
to the number of about 200, were assembled in their craal,
squatted on their hams; the chief and chief men at the
head arranged in a circle: these last officiated: towards this
circle the rest of the assembly were turned, arranged in regular
ranks, very similar to a European congregation. The service
began by the chiefs making a short address, in a low
tone, which was repeated by a man on his left hand, in short
as they were uttered by the chief. This was followed
by a prayer pronounced by the chief standing, the rest kneeling.
At certain intervals there was a pause, when all present gave
a simultaneous groan.
"After the prayer there were fifteen hymns, in which the
whole congregation joined: these hymns were begun by five
or six of the men in the circle, who acted as leaders
of the choir: during this hymn, all were kneeling, and kept moving
their arms up and down, as if to aid in keeping time. The
airs were simple, resembling the monotonous Indian song
which I have heard them sing while paddling their canoes. Each
somewhat different from the other. All kept good time,
and there were no discordant voices. The hymns were succeeded
by a prayer, as at first, and then the service ended.
"My ignorance of the language prevented me from
observing much of this service; but I was struck with
the earnestness and reverence of the whole assembly.
All eyes were cast down to the ground; and I did not
see one turned towards us, who must have been objects
of curiosity, as white chiefs and strangers. It is about
five years since these things found their way among
the Indians of the Upper Columbia. All were dressed
in their best clothes, and they had hoisted a union-jack
outside the lodge. The whole lasted about three-quarters
of an hour" (Gairdner: 1841:256-257).