While reading the passages below, keep these questions from the Library of Congress in mind:

  • Who created this primary source?
  • When was it created?
  • What was happening during this time period?
  • What is their relation to the subject of the document?
  • What was the creator’s purpose in making this primary source?
  • What was this primary source’s audience?
  • What feelings and thoughts does the primary source trigger in you?
  • What questions does it raise?
  • What biases or stereotypes do you see?
  • What cultural biases does the writer have?
  • How does this source differ from other accounts, and why?

Examine the accounts that follow, drawing from the primary source analysis questions above. What do they tell you about the Chinook? Why are the accounts different from one another?

Account of the Chinook by Captain Charles Bishop of the Ruby, 1795

Charles Bishop, captain of the merchant trader, Ruby, visited Chinook homelands in 1795, one among many merchant traders to encounter the Chinook prior to American occupation. While anchored at Baker Bay, Bishop provided some of the most detailed early accounts of the Chinook. Below, Bishop describes the dress of Chinookan women.

“They wear a short Petticoat reaching down to the knees, composed of the inner rind of the Birch tree splitt into strong Fiberes and Placed over a Strong Sinnew of the Wale, which ties round their Waist, but not Plaited. This with a few small Skins Sewed together or a loose Piece of Cloth thrown over their Sholders form the Whole of their Dress. They are fond of rings of Brass round their wrists and fingers, and the young Women Daughters of the Chith have a load of Copper ornaments and beads about their necks,—the Women are very modest and reserved in their Manners” (Bishop 1967:126).

Account of the Chinook by John Boit’s Log, 1792

John Boit sailed with the American, Captain Robert Gray. His account provides some of the earliest written records referring specifically to Middle Village, a site which has been excavated by archaeologists.

“Shifted the Ship’s berth to her Old Station abrest the Village Chinoak, command’d by a chief named Polack. Vast many Canoes full of Indians from different parts of the river where constantly along side. Capt. Grays named this river Columbia’s, and the North entrance Cape Hancock, and the South Point Adams. This river in my opinion, wou’d be a fine place for to sett up a Factory. The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civill (not even offering to steal). during our short stay we collected 150 Otter, 300 Beaver, and twice the Number of other land furs. the river abounds with excellent Salmon, and most other River fish, and the Woods with plenty of Moose and Deer, the skins of which was brought us in great plenty, and the Banks produces a ground Nut, which is an excellent substitute for either bread or Potatoes, We found plenty of Oak, Ash, and Walnut trees, and clear ground in plenty, which with little labour might be made fit to raise such seeds as is necessary for the sustenance of inhabitants, and in short a factory set up here and another at Hancock’s River in the [34] Queen Charlotte Isles, wou’d engross the whole trade of the NW Coast (with the help [of] a few small coasting vessels.” [May 1792, entry #18](Ruby and Brown 1976:63).

Account of the Chinook by fur trader Alexander Ross, describing the arrival of the Tonquin in 1811

Alexander Ross arrived in Chinook Country aboard the Tonquin. Among the early Astorians, Ross kept personal journals that he used as the basis for his popular memoirs, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River (1849)and The Fur Hunters of the Far West (1855).

“We had on this occasion a specimen of Chinooke navigation. While crossing the river in an Indian canoe, on our way back to the ship, we were suddenly overtaken by a storm, and our craft was upset in the middle of the passage. The expertness of the natives in their favourite element was here put to the test. At this time we were upwards of two miles from the shore, while eight persons unable to swim were floating in every direction; coats, hats, and everything else adrift, and all depending on the fidelity of the four Indians who undertook to carry us over; yet, notwithstanding the roughness of the water, and the wind blowing a gale at the time, these poor fellows kept swimming about like so many fishes, righted the canoe, and got us all into her again, while they themselves staid in the water, with one hand on the canoe and the other paddling. In this manner they supported themselves, tossing to and fro, till we bailed the water out of our frail craft, and got under weigh again. Here it was that the Indians showed the skill and dexterity peculiar to them. The instant the canoe rose on the top of a wave, those on the windward side darted down their long paddles to the armpits in the water to prevent her from upsetting; while those on the leeside at the same moment pulled theirs up, but kept ready as soon as the wave had passed under her to thrust them down again in a similar manner, and thus by their alternate movements they kept the canoe steady, so that we got safe to shore without another upset, and with the loss of only a few articles of clothing; but we suffered severely from wet and cold.” (Ross, 1849: 85-87).

Letter from Reverend Herbert Beaver to the Aborigines’ Protection Society, 1842.

Anglican minister Herbert Beaver wrote the following letter in 1842 and addressed events that occurred from 1836-1838, while he was at Fort Vancouver. London authorities of the Hudson’s Bay Company sent Beaver to Fort Vancouver, the HBC Headquarters of the Columbia District.

“The Chinook is a fishing tribe, dwelling on the banks of the river, and using canoes; the Klickatack is a hunting tribe, dwelling in the plains, and using horses. The latter is a much finer race than the former, both in appearance and disposition. The common dress of the Chinooks, both male and female, is a blanket, to which the female add a kilt or short petticoat, while the Klickatack men are seldom seen without a capot shirt and pair of legging, and the women are not unfrequently clothed in coarse cloth gowns. The Chinook women wear nothing on their heads, and those of the men are often without a covering; but the female Klickatack has always a cap of plaited grass, and the male one of fur or some other material. The arms and accoutrements of the one are also kept in a much more cleanly and efficient style than those of the others. The persons, too, of the Klickatacks, both men and women, are far more pleasing than those of the Chinooks, who from squatting continually in the canoes, on their heels (the posture of paddling), contract a habit of stooping, and a very inactive gait, while the others are upright and walk with an elastic step. The figures of the Chinook women are often disgustingly obese; those of the Klickatack are generally straight and sometimes almost beautiful.”

Source: Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 32. No. 4 (Dec., 1931) pp. 332-342.

Now, examine an account of the American landing in Chinookan homelands in 1792 written by John Boit and edited by Frederic Howay in 1941.

What does this account tell you about “Reading the Record”?

Or, Practice Reading the Record with Images and Photographs