Author Tags: Forts and Fur
Something of the character of John McLoughlin, "father of Oregon," can be ascertained by his antipathy for Rev. Herbert Beaver, the first Anglican cleric for Fort Vancouver.
Beaver had been personally selected by Hudson's Bay Company Governor George Simpson in England during a visit there in 1835-1836. When Beaver and his wife arrived on the HBC ship Nereide, via Honolulu, on November 6, 1836, Reverend Beaver immediately disapproved of the common-law marriages of HBC personnel as concubinage. Rather than have Beaver solemnize his union with his mixed-blood wife, McLoughlin boycotted his services and chose to be married in a secular ceremony conducted by his assistant, James Douglas, as a justice of the peace. McLoughlin, a former Catholic, also didn't like Beaver's resolve to make the children of the district learn the Anglican catechism instead of Catholic exercises.
More trouble arose after McLoughlin learned that Beaver, in a private report to Simpson, referred to McLoughlin's wife as "the kept mistress of the highest personnage in your service" and "a female of notoriously loose character." Upon learning of these unwarranted slights, McLoughlin gave the clergyman a sound thrashing on March 19, 1838. Soon after his altercation with McLoughlin, Reverend Beaver returned to live permanently in England where he wrote an article in a Church of England publication condemning McLoughlin as "this monster in human shape."
Herbert Beaver has been described by bibliophile Kim Whale as "a nasty little man." Certainly he was narrow-minded and ill-prepared to cope with pioneer life, but in defence of Beaver it must be said that he also had the gumption to criticize "many acts of cruelty and murder committed upon natives, by persons in the Company's service, some of which I narrated by letter to the Deputy Governor of the Company at home, and to the Governor of the Company's foreign possessions, in the hope that a stop might be put to the recurrence of these horrible atrocities; but from both I incurred a rebuke for my undue interference in matters which did not professionally concern me." To Beaver's credit, he broke the code of silence by publicizing acts of unmitigated cruelty and genocide with the Aborigines' Committee of the Meeting for Sufferings in London.
Beaver also cited abortion and venereal disease as just two of the effects of unlimited fraternization on the Chinook people nearest the fort. "Among crimes which are certainly not indigenous, infanticide stands foremost. It is committed by the mother, or at her desire, but never when an Indian is the father, generally in consequence of the desertion of the white father. Abortion is likewise resorted to with the design of not putting him to the expense and trouble of maintaining his offspring. Yet the unhallowed connexions, which lead to these crimes, are permitted, nay, encouraged by the Company, who night easily restrain them. Infidelity in Indian women living with their natural husbands is of rare occurrence; that of those living with the lower servants of the Company notoriously common. Of its dreadful effects let the records of the hospital at Vancouver testify. Nor are the ravages of the malady alluded to confined to that spot, I believe that the blood of the whole Chinook race is tainted with it, and that through the agency of sailors it is disseminated along the coast for hundreds of miles, and perpetuated at the other posts of the Company."
Beaver, Herbert. Reports and Letters of Herbert Beaver, 1836-1838, Chaplain to the Hudson's Bay Company and Missionary to the Indians at Fort Vancouver (Portland, Oregon: The Champoeg Press, 1959). Thomas E. Jessett, ed.
[BCBW 2005] "Missionaries" "Forts and Fur"
Herbert Beaver blows the whistle
GENTLEMEN, I proceed to furnish you with such information respecting the present condition of the Indians on the northwest coast of America, more particularly as it is affected by their intercourse with foreigners, as I was enabled to obtain during a residence of more than two years, in the capacity of chaplain, at the Hudson's Bay Company's settle-ments on the river Columbia. I resided at Fort Vancouver, the Company's principal depot west of the Rocky Mountains, from the beginning of September, 1836, to the end of October, 1538, and during that time had ample opportunities of observing the moral, social, political, and intellectual state of our red brethren in its neighbourhood. From time to time I reported, to the Governor and Committee of the Company in England, and to the Governor and Council of the Company abroad, the result of my observations, with a view to the gradual amelioration of the wretched degradation with which I was surrounded, by an immediate attempt at the introduction of civilization and Christianity among one or more of the aboriginal tribes; but my earnest representations were neither attended to nor acted upon; no means were placed at my disposal, for carrying out the plans which I suggested.
I also became acquainted with many acts of cruelty and murder committed upon natives, by persons in the Company's service, some of which I narrated by letter to the Deputy Governor of the Company at home, and to the Governor of the Company's foreign possessions, in the hope that a stop might be put to the recurrence of these horrible atrocities; but from both I incurred a rebuke for my undue interference in matters which did not professionally concern me. I therefore rejoice in an opportunity afforded me by the Aborigines' Society, of bringing to light some of those hidden things of darkness, as well as of making public some statements regarding the interesting people among whom I so long sojourned, in order that humanity and religion may alike be roused to prevent their oppression end promote their salvation.
Although the trade in peltry is undoubtedly one of the grand means of civilizing and evangelizing the North American Indians, and although the Hudson's Bay Company, in whose name and interests those of the North West Company have merged, owes its entire prosperity, nay, its very existence, to commerce with the natives of the well-nigh unlimited territory over which it exercises a nearly uncontrolled sway, yet little has hitherto been done by the Company on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, and nothing on the west side, towards advancing in the scale of creation the innumerable tribes of untold rational and immortal beings, whose most important destinies have for the last hundred and seventy years been placed in its hands.
Of the state of the aboriginal inhabitants of the eastern side of the continent, considerable intelligence has, through various channels, been communicated; none, or but little authentic, of that of those of the western; and it is only with reference to a small part of these that I can now offer the result of personal inquiry.
Taking Fort Vancouver the centre of a circle, having one of its radii extending to the sea, about ninety miles distant, there are within the circumference, about twelve distinct tribes of Indians, each speaking a different language and comprising an aver-age of two hundred souls; with two of these, the Chinook and Klickatack, I was most conversant, having freely mixed with them on many occasions, as some of both were continually in the vicinity of the fort. In manners and customs these tribes differ essentially from each other, and as a similarity in these respects to one or other of them exists among the neighbouring tribes, I conceive that an account of then may serve as a tolerable guide to an acquaintance with those of whom I could obtain but a scanty personal knowledge, from their not so much frequenting the post at which I was stationed during my residence in the country.
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 females add a kilt or short petticoat, while the Klickatack men are seldom seen without a capot shirt, and pair of leggings, 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 are those of the other. The persons too of the Klickatacks both men and women, are far mare pleasing than those of the Chinooks, who from squatting continually in their canoes, on their heels, (the posture of paddling) contract a habit of stopping, 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.
But the greatest point of difference between the two tribes relates to their moral qualities. The Chinooks, in consequence of their greater intercourse with sailors, and other lower servants of the Company, are excessively depraved. Their women, especially are as accomplished courtesans as any upon the face of the whole earth: inferior to none in profligacy, disease, and extravagance. No instance came to my knowledge, or at least but one, and that uncertain, or a Klickatack woman misconducting herself with a white man. It is true that polygamy is practiced by both tribes, and that capricious divorces sometimes take place; but this is a native custom, in which they know no harm, and vastly to be distinguished from those exotic vices, which have been implanted in the aboriginal soil.
Among crimes which are certainly not indigenous, infanticide stands foremost. It is committed by the mother, or at her desire, but never when an Indian is the father, generally in consequence of the desertion of the white father. Abortion is likewise resorted to with the design of not putting him to the expense and trouble of maintaining his offspring. Yet the unhallowed connexions, which lead to these crimes, are permitted, nay, encouraged by the Company, who night easily restrain them. Infidelity in Indian women living with their natural husbands is of rare occurrence; that of those living with the lower servants of the Company notoriously common. Of its dreadful effects let the records of the hospital at Vancouver testify. Nor are the ravages of the malady alluded to confined to that spot, I believe that the blood of the whole Chinook race is tainted with it, and that through the agency of sailors it is disseminated along the coast for hundreds of miles, and perpetuated at the other posts of the Company.
While the tide of demoralization thus overspreads with irresistible violence the only regions where he can at present exist, the efforts of the missionary must be feeble, if not altogether useless. It is an observation, never more truly exemplified than at the Company's settlements, that wherever the Gospel has been carried among modern heathen nations, there, simultaneously, has vice, before unknown, been imported; and that the lives or the professors of Christianity are the most fatal hindrances to its being em-braced by even the most uncultivated savages. The Indians, with whom I conversed, were, for the most part, intelligent and argumentative, and drew conclusions, not from what they heard, but from what they saw; and assuredly they saw no recommendation of religion in the example of the generality or the Company's servants, with whom its precepts seemed to be in almost total abeyance.
One great cause of the immorality at the place where I was stationed, and a consequent barrier to the improvement and conversion of the Indians, was the holding of some of them in a state of slavery by persons of all classes in the Company's service, and by those who have retired from it, and become settlers on the rivers Willamette and Cowlitye, but over whom the Company retain authority. The whole number of these wretched beings amounted to between eighty and ninety. They were miserably clothed and fed, nor was it possible that they could receive any instruction while they continued in their very degraded condition. I knew some of them to be flogged by order of the officer in charge of the establishment, and others to be cruelly ill-used by their owners. The women themselves, who were living with the lower class of the Company's servants, were much in the condition of slaves, being purchased of their Indian proprietors or relations, and not unfrequently resold amongst each other by their purchasers. But I forbear to add more upon this part of my subject, having communicated full information respecting it to the Committee of the Anti-slavery Convention, by whom my communication has been published.
Besides these standing evils, to which the Aborigines are subjected by their intercourse with the Hudson's Bay Company, several most atrocious outrages, committed upon them by persons in the Company's service, came to my knowledge. Soon after my arrival at Vancouver I was informed by many persons, one of whom had nearly been an eye-witness of the transaction, having been invited to assist in holding down the unhappy sufferer, that in the month of February 1835, a most infamous outrage, which cannot here by more particularly described, was committed upon the person of an Indian, not however as a necessary surgical operation, by the surgeon of tin establishment, but with the connivance and permission, if not by the order of the officer in charge.
About the middle of the summer 1836, and shortly before my arrival at Vancouver, six Indian were wantonly and gratuitously murdered by a party of trappers and sailors, who landed for the purpose from one of the Company's vessels on the coast somewhere between the mouth of the river Columbia and the confines of California. Haying on a former occasion road the particulars of this horrid massacre, as I received them from an eyewitness, before a meeting of the Aborigines' Society, I will not now repeat them. To my certain knowledge the circumstance was brought officially before the authorities of Vancouver, by whom no notice was taken of it, and the same party of trappers, with the same leader, one of the most infamous murderers of a murderous fraternity, in annually sent to the same vicinity to perform, if they please, other equally tragic scenes. God alone knows how many red men's lives have been sacrificed by them since the time of which I have been speaking. He also knows that I speak the conviction of my mind, and may He forgive me if I speak unadvisedly, when I state my firm belief tint the life of an Indian was never yet by a trapper put in competition with a beaver's skin! The very way in which the Aborigines are spoken of by the trappers and leaders of trapping parties goes far to prove the correctness of my assertion. "Those d--d," "those rascally," "those treacherous" Indians, are the unmerited appellations, by which the race is universally designated.
In the former part of the same year, I was credibly informed, that the same party killed one Indian, wounded another, supposed mortally, and threw a child into a fire, in consequence of a quarrel respecting a knife, which was afterwards found upon one of themselves. And during the year before, they put four Indians to death for stealing their horses, which might be pleaded as some excuse for the brutality, but that they afterwards killed ten or twelve more in cold blood, and set fire to their village. The Indians lived in such constant dread of this party, that they were unable to descend into the plains from their fastnesses in the mountains, to procure their usual modes of subsistence. Do not these things imperatively demand inquiry and interference? Is not such treatment as I have narrated of their red brethren unbecoming to persons who profess the religion of the Prince or Peace, and to persons, who, ignorant themselves or the precepts of Christianity, may be in the service of such professors? Yet these acts are not only committed and winked at, but opportunities are even furnished for their recurrence It should never be forgotten that the Hudson's Bay Company are but as invaders of the soil, on which these excesses are committed by their servants, and that as such, the least they can do is to restrain all unnecessary violence towards the rightful possessors, both of it and or the furs which it produces, not for the benefit of the Aborigines, but for the promotion of far distant mercantile interests. If it be asserted that resistance against Indian aggression is indispensable, or that retaliation is necessary to insure future safety, I maintain that the white man has no right to intrude himself into a country against the wishes of its inhabitants. If it be said that they make no use, or not a proper use, of its productions, I would ask, have they not a right to do what they will with their own? But I apprehend that if the Indian had always been treated as he ought to have been by the white man, he would never have resorted to acts of violence to expel from his country him, whom constant ill-usage has taught him to regard as his natural enemy. And with respect to the furs of that country to rob their lawful owner of them, by taking possession or them, either with no payment; or a most inadequate one, is surely not a legitimate method of teaching him their proper use and value. Of articles bartered by the Company for peltry and other native produce, one half may be classed as useless, one quarter as pernicious, and the remainder as of doubtful utility; for I cannot but consider of very questionable utility, in the real sense of the word, even that clothing, for which the, natives are servilely dependent on the Company, and for which they have long since discarded the vestments which their own country spontaneously affords.
Were I to dilate upon the ruinous consequences to our red brethren, which have ensued upon their intercourse with whites, and to narrate all I heard and knew of their ill-usage by the latter; I should far exceed the limits of this communication. I have attempted to embody the information, or which I am possessed in a publication which I hope will soon be ready for the press. In the mean time I have to express my readiness to reply most fully and freely to any inquiries which may be made with a view to ameliorate the condition of the Aborigines of the northwest coast; nor may it be. Irrelevant from the designs of a society formed for their protection, if I were to state some facts relative to that of the Sandwich islanders in the Company's service.
There is a considerable number of them in the service scattered all ever the continent, from twelve to twenty being imported about every other year from their native country, which is three or four weeks sail from the Columbia River, and few ever returning home again. Their condition is little better than that of slavery, being subject to all the imperious treatment which their employers may think fit to lay on them, whether by flogging, imprisonment, or otherwise, without a possibility of obtaining redress. Each of then, before embarkation in their own country, receives a small advance of money, part of which their chiefs seize as a bonus for permitting them to have it, and for relinquishing all future claim to their services. The remainder is usually squandered; so that when they arrive in a colder climate they are destitute or adequate clothing, the supply of which generally consumed the whole of their wages for the first year. Nor are they afterwards able to save much of the value of the goods in England; whereas only fifty per cent. Addition to the prime cost is charged to the other servants of the Company. This difference is made in order to compensate the Company for the nominal payments to the Sandwich islanders of higher wages than are given to their other servants of the same class. While others receive seventeen pounds per annum they receive thirty pounds, or ten dollars per month; by which tempting offer this simple but amiable people are induced to enter the service. In reality, therefore, they are worse paid than others, although their ignorance of the value of money, and their confiding disposition, prevent than from being fully cognizant of the deception and imposition thus shamelessly practised upon them.
But these are not all the grievances of which they have to complain. During my residence at Vancouver, one of them was confined there in irons for the space of five months and four days, during which he was never released from his handcuffs, and this for no fault at all only for a supposed dereliction of duty, which afterwards turned out not to be the case. At the commencement of his imprisonment for the same imputed offense, he received forty lashes on his bare back; and during the continuance of it he was attacked with intermittent fever, which being reported to the officer in charge of the establishment, his humane reply was, "Let him shake and be d-d!" nor was the poor fellow released from his irons even under that afflictive circumstance. The same man had been flogged on a previous occasion for accidentally losing a canoe, the value of which was charged against his account, being thus made to pay for the same fault, if it was one, both in his person and in his pocket.
I knew another Sandwich islander to be severely flogged, though bearing a general good character, for making a trifling mistake, unattended by any injury to the service, with respect to some orders which he had received, and which, from his ignorance of the language in which they were conveyed, he probably had not understood. I knew another die in the hospital; as was generally supposed, in consequence of a wound inflicted on his head by tho commander of one of the Company's vessels. His countrymen made a complaint to the officer in charge, by whom it was not entertained, nor was any investigation instituted. The surgeon affirmed that he died of apoplexy. I will not put my judgment in competition with the professional; I will only state that from the time when the poor man came into the hospital until that of his death, which was several days, he was continually convolsed, having a sort of paralytic motion, or catching of the head and neck.
In the year 1832, as I was informed by the commander of the vessel in which he was proceeding to his native country, as well as by several others, A Sandwich islander died on board, and that his death was attributed to a flogging which he had received for stealing a pig. But I have said enough to prove the oppression practised towards these helpless people. Perhaps the most deplorable part of their condition is that they soon lose the Christian instruction which has been imparted to them by their excellent missionaries at home; they revert to the abominable practices of their idolatrous times and form connexions with the Indians, to whose level they speedily sink. On my second visit to Oahu, I had the satisfaction, in consequence of my representations and those of some of their subjects who had returned, of learning that the king and the chiefs had issued a decree that no more of them should enter the Company's service. How long cupidity may permit the observance of this decree, I am unable to conjecture; but even should it be acted upon, there will still remain in the Company's service a sufficient number, with their offspring, of those interesting islanders to attract the attention of the humane.
Should the Society desire it, I shall have much pleasure in communicating the plans which I have suggested, and which I should wish to see adopted, for the improvement or their condition, and likewise for the improvement of that or some of the aboriginal tribes of the northwest coast, particularly the Klickatack, to which I chiefly directed my attention and that of the Company, as being most likely to benefit by missionary enterprise.
Since writing the above, I have learned from good authority that in the month of August 1840, an Indian was hanged near the mouth of the Columbia river, and several others shot, and their village set on fire, by a party in the employment of the Hudson's Bay Company, under the command of chief factor M'Loughlin, who led them from Fort Vancouver; thus indiscriminately to revenge the death of a man, who lost his life in an affray while curing salmon.
(Signed) HERBERT BEAVER
Letter of Herbert Beaver, relating to the Indians on the north-west coast of America, to the Committee of the Aborigines' Protection Society. Published by the Direction of the Aborigines' Committee of the Meeting for Sufferings. London, Edward Marsh, 84, Houndsditch, 1842.