Portrayals tell of Hudson’s Bay impact on region

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WALLA WALLA — Living History re-enactments are on tap this weekend at Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road, that will show some of the impact the Hudson’s Bay had on the region and its people.

The portrayals will be at 2 p.m. in the pioneer settlement area.

On Saturday, Sam Black, a Hudson’s Bay Company man, will be portrayed by Tom Williams.

Fort Walla Walla was the name of the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post from 1821-1855. Before 1821, the post near today’s Wallula on the Columbia River was known as Fort Nez Percé.

Black, a tall, powerful, rawboned man, was the master of Fort Nez Percé from 1825-1830. He was 46 when he assumed charge of the Walla Walla post.

The governor of the departments of the Hudson’s Bay Company, George Simpson, wrote in his “Character Book” that Black was “The strangest man I ever met.”

Black first came to North America from Scotland about 1810. He eventually worked for the North West Co. as “muscle.”

From 1812 to about 1820, Black and Peter Skene Ogden specialized in intimidating their Hudson’s Bay Company competitors at Lake Athabasca and Lake Ile-a-La Crosse, in the modern-day Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan respectively.

When the Hudson’s Bay and North West Companies merged in 1821, changing the post’s name to Fort Walla Walla, neither Ogden nor Black was rehired.

They both made a trip to London to meet the Hudson’s Bay Company Committee. Ogden and Black convinced the Committee to rehire them.

They found themselves reduced in rank to clerks, but still officers in Company structure.

Black was transferred from Fort Walla Walla in 1830 to Fort Kamloops, located at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers at modern-day Kamloops, British Columbia. He remained there until his death in 1841.

Because of Black’s writings, there exists a vocabulary of the Cayuse language that became the foundation for later efforts to revive the extinct language; historians and anthropologists also gleaned much other cultural and ethnographic information about regional Indian people from Black’s writings.

Black was easy to irritate. He once challenged famed botanist David Douglas to a duel at Fort Kamloops in the 1830s. He was killed by an 18-year-old Sushwap Indian at Fort Kamloops in 1841.

Accounts differ as to the circumstances of his death; some claim that he was hated among the Indian people, while others claim he was respected and well-liked.

On Sunday there will be a Frenchtown reunion with a number of area historical figures, including Father J.B.A. Brouillet, Louis Tellier, A.D. Pambrun, William McBean and Suzanne Cayuse Dauphin.

Re-enactors portraying these people will be Jeannot Poirot, Jean-Paul Grimaud, Sam Pambrun, Rich Manacelli and Judith Fortney.

Frenchtown was located roughly between Touchet and College Place where French Canadians, often with their Indian wives, settled after working for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Frenchtown settlement began about 1823, and by the time Marcus and Narcissa Whitman arrived in 1836, numbered more than a dozen cabins.

In December of 1855, following the Walla Walla Treaty Council in June, the four-day Battle of Frenchtown, also called the Battle of Walla Walla, took place in the area.

The fighting resulted in the killing of Walla Walla Chief Peopeomoxmox while a hostage of the volunteers, and an end to Indian control of the Walla Walla Valley.

In 1876, the St. Rose of Lima Mission and cemetery were established on a portion of the battlefield nearby.

Though the mission was later abandoned, of the recorded burials of approximately 60 French Canadians and several Indian wives at the site, there is no evidence any has been removed.

An interpretive park developed by the Frenchtown Historical Foundation encompasses approximately 50 acres of land adjacent to current Highway 12 that includes the cemetery site, the grounds of the Catholic mission and area where the 1855 battle took place.

Visitors are encouraged to question the re-enactors about their lives and times.

The Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free to Fort Walla Walla Museum members, eligible service personnel and their families through the Blue Star Museums program, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute’s Inwai Circle cardholders, enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and all children under 6. Paid admission for children ages 6-12; seniors 62 and up and students are $6 and adults are $7. Membership begins at $27.

For more information, call 509-525-7703 or email info@fortwallawallamuseum.org.

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