The great sea reach of the Columbia ranges in width from about three miles to ten miles and was bridged just recently at Astoria. When it comes to fall and force, no other American river can match this one; near its mouth, sudden whirlings of water will suck logs under only to spit them forty feet into the air. The Columbia, once called the Oregon, gets its name from the ship of Captain Robert Gray, the first American to sail over the dangerous bar at the mouth. The Bostonian thought the new name would help claim the territory for the United States then contending Britain for it. Gray's primary mission, however, wasn't to stake claims; rather it was to buy valuable sea otter skins (an iron spike for a beaver pelt, but a sheet of copper for an otter skin) to use in the lucrative China trade. In that way, the Chinese helped Americans claim Oregon territory --- the only parcel of the United States never under European dominion. The Northwest came directly from the Indians.- excerpt from: BLUE HIGHWAYS - A Journey Into America,
Astoria, the oldest city on the river and now an industrial center, began as a trading post established by John Jacob Astor's fur traders. Soon after the founding, Indians gathered to annihilate the white men; one of Astor's partners, a devious man named Duncan McDougal, thought to save the company by threatening to uncork a black vial that he said held smallpox; the tribes quickly agreed to peace and Astoria survived. It was smallpox, of course, that did more than repeating rifles to subdue the American Indian. But McDougal's ruse came back to haunt later settlers. The story of the vial spread among the natives, and years later when smallpox did break out (partly from infected blankets deliberately given tribes), Indians began massacring pioneers in an effort to eradicate little black bottles.
McDougal sought to solidify the company's position--and his own--by marrying an esteemed daughter of the Chinook chief. On the wedding day, the princess arrived made up in red clay and anointed with sacred fish oil. The horrified whites, ignoring the affronted Indians, scrubbed her down. Washington Irving describes it in his book Astoria:By dint of copious ablutions, she was freed from all adventitious tint and fragrance, and entered into the nuptial state, the cleanest princess that had ever been known, of the somewhat unctuous tribe of the Chinooks.
by William Least Heat Moon, 1982
A line art drawing of a Chinook Salmon by Bob Savannah for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Other names for this salmon include: king salmon, tyee salmon, Columbia River salmon, black salmon, chub salmon, hook bill salmon, winter salmon and blackmouth.
My two previous posts about Astoria, one of my favorite places:
Images: a poem
Flat Stanley on the Oregon Coast