Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Old Postcard Wednesday--Salmon Canning, Astoria, Oregon

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.

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.

- excerpt from: BLUE HIGHWAYS - A Journey Into America,
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



Kim said...

Yet another great Old Postcard Wednesday! So idyllic.

Looking to the Stars said...

I love the postcard! I knew nothing about this city. I found the history fascinating. Leave it to the white man to have no respect for other beliefs. Thanks for sharing :)

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Very nice indeed. Love it!

Melinda said...

I agree with the other that said 'another great postcard Wednesday.' Truly it is. I really love Oregon--and need to get up there to explore some more. We used to go to Oregon seaside nearly every summer when I was growing up. I could easily see myself living there.


Lydia said...

@Kim- Thanks! I hope everyone will now turn their attention to your post that I featured in my sidebar where the Voltaire quote welcomes readers....

@Looking to the Stars- Glad you found this interesting. It was strange to read the passage that - in 1982 - described Astoria as an industrial center. It is a port city and also becoming a tourist draw for its charm. I love the place and could happily live there if it wasn't quite so gray so many months of the year. Still, when it's a sunny day there it's hard to beat it for its beauty.

@Phivos- I remember that you wrote that your wife visited friends in Astoria. I'm glad you saw the post and wondered if she could see a difference in how the town is now in comparison to the old postcard scene. :)

@Melinda- That's fun to hear that the Oregon coast was a family summer place for you. I can't wait until Labor Day has passed and the tourism tapers off. When you live nearby you can get awfully spoiled by having a beach all to yourself.
I can also see myself living there, and Mike sure can since he lived in Brookings as a kid. We've priced real estate. Now's the time to buy if you can, but he's not even close to retirement yet and the commute would be outrageous! Wish we could afford to keep our home in the valley AND have a little bungalow at the beach.



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