A Clatsop pioneer of 1840 recalls…


Wreck of the Peacock, drawn by A.T. Agate (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Eyewitness to a maritime disaster of the United States Exploring Expedition, the wreck of the USS Peacock

…The account of W.W. Kone, very early Methodist missionary with the more famous Mr. Frost in extreme northwest Oregon’s Clatsop Chinookan territory.

See page 306 of Frost’s 1844 memoir for a variant version, and Nathanael Philbrick’s fine “Sea of Glory”, chapter 12, for a modern historian’s understanding of the events.

A half-century’s distance, and a desire to be compensated by the government, center Kone’s telling around himself.

Kone’s use of the word “treaty” is also mighty interesting.

There’s some good Chinuk Wawa here that I suspect hasn’t been published elsewhere, and appearances by some quite notable historical figures.

clatsop pioneer


In Clatsop Nearly Fifty Years Ago.

Personal Narrative of Rev. W. W. Kone.

A Man Who Saw the “Peacock” Wrecked
In July 1841.

The following from the pen of a pioneer of 1840-41, will be read with interest. It is a verbatim narrative and relates many historic reminiscenses not previously published.

Through the courtesy of Hon. Binger Hermann THE ASTORIAN is able to lay the story before its readers:

Houston, Texas, Feb. 14 1889.

Hon, Binger Hermann, Congressional Representative of Oregon.


Your correspondent was for some time a resident of Oregon, and did some deeds worthy of remembrance, having often imperiled my life for the sake of others. In 1840. in the month of May I arrived on the Columbia river as a missionary, and proceeded to the Willamette and proceeded at once to put up a sawmill, where now the city of Salem stands, it was at that date eight miles in advance of the settlement. The mill was the first house built, and became the pioneer of civilization.

I then went to the mouth of the river within a mile of the sea; first settled on Clatsop plains, or prairies as they are more appropriately named. There were two of us, Mr. L H. Frost, and your correspondent. Through fear we left our wives with Mrs. Birney, at Fort George, which is by Americans called Astoria. We reached the prairies by way of Young’s bay, Scapanowan river, then so called. We passed the woodland and swamp, and camped in the prairie, and spentt he night without discovery. At early day light, the tribes were all at their winter quarters ten miles south — our camp fire led to our discovery — the white man’s smoke rises up in an umbrella shape, which is not the case with an Indian’s fire, he makes his fire entirely of dry stuff which makes a light scattering smoke. We moved northward three miles to the bend of the stream and pitched our tent, and at once commenced to dig a well about forty feet from the stream, and had reached the depth of a little over five feet, when my colleague looking south beheld the tribe armed and equipped for bloody work, which they were not strangers to. We at once put our dishes in a trunk and hid all from the curious eye, and lashed up our tent and stood in front, and when they wero within forty yards of us we.


And patted our hearts, saying, ”Nika tumtum klash copa mesika. [My heart is good toward you.] Then the chief Kotati, patted his heart and all the armed braves sat down with their guns crossing their laps. I then proceeded to acquaint them with our design, and soon effected a treaty.

They spent the night with us in their tents, which they brought with them, and in the morning returned to their winter quarters. The chief looked upon us as a new race, and favored us with five strong men to carry our timber out of the woods to build our cabin, and with their assistance we, in one week, reared our cabin, up to the plates, and released our helpers with presents which pleased them. After living here a few months we concluded to move up to the river shore, about six miles north. All this was a venture no one could have supposed to be possible.

The unexpected good treatment encouraged our wives to take up their abode with us as soon as the roof was on the cabin spoken of above. My wife had been badly thrown by a run away horse and greatly injured, so that we had to carry her in a chair lashed to two poles supported by straps over our shoulders. The effort was a mighty one, and withall we had to leave our bedding in the cabin, until we could return. But after leaving the prairie and passing along the sea shore, for two miles we met about a dozen natives who never witnessed such a scene before, and knowing how good a name the five mentioned above gave of us, four of them offered to do the office I was doing and the rest went back with me and brought out our bedding and other things much needed. On the arrival of Mr. Frost and son with my wife; the chief now returned to Point Adams at the mouth of the river, he and his wife ran out their best canoe and manned it


And sent all up the river at high tide and did the same for me when I arrived with my bedding and wares, for which I compensated him to his satisfaction. My wife gave the chief’s wife a Scotch plaid dress that was greatly appreciated.

We had built on the shore a double log cabin with side leans. And here we lived when the Peacock was wrecked.

A short time before the arrival of the exploring expedition there was war on the north side of tho Columbia river. The field was from Baker’s bay to Pillar rock. For three months the roar of guns was heard from the shore where I lived, a distance of about four miles. I saw that this might lead to trouble with the coming strangers, I therefore hazarded my life one whole day between the conflicting parties, The picture was sad, but I fainted not at the peril if I might secure peace, and did effectually stop it, and secured the friendship of the tribes for my fellow countrymen, while engaged in their surveys.

One Sundayin Juiy, 1841, I was preaching in the village at Tanzy point a little after 11 a. m., a native being on the grass near the bank of the river and his head toward the sea, cried out, “Sail ho.[Note: this may have been effectively a Chinook Jargon expression.] Instantly the whole village was agaze — I saw it as distinctly as I ever beheld a vessel in the offing or nearing the shore. But while we were gazing at the scene she suddenly headed off southward, and Point Adams closed the view. I hastened home only half a mile down the shore, and took three of the natives with me who, with me saw the movements of the ship, called by the natives, “Posita Canim.” [Perhaps “pástən kʰəním” — ‘American boat’.]

I called out Mr. Frost and a settler by the name of Tibitts, and down we went to the point in great haste, a run of but one mile. And when we looked out upon the sea no vessel could be seen above the the horizon, and was charged by the two whitemen with an illusion of the eye. The three natives averred that all at Tanzy point saw it. Then I contended that it was a mirage, and after a few minutes I was with my face up the northwest coast, and there I saw a ship running down the coast followed by another of smaller size, “There,” said I, “is the identical ship.”


I began to reason of the great probability of a wreck, and that seemed inevitable from the fact that they were too near the shore by which they would inevitabley [sic] mistake McKenzie’s bluff for Cape Disappointment. I therefore proposed to run out of the south channel to the main channel and hoist a white flag to draw them from danger, but I could find none to assist me,

I then proposed to cross over to Baker’s bay [on the present-day Washington State shore], to this they consented; and when about half way over, the Peacock headed inward when a mile from the channel. I lifted up my hands in horror and exclaimed, “She is wrecked,” and in two minutes she struck the north sand bar. The sails flapped hard against the masts. I hastened to the bay shore with two white men, above named, and raised a smoke to attract attention from the wreck, to afford tbem some evidences that the shore would be watched by civilized men, to afford assistance.

I then descended to the shore, entered my canoe with my three trusty natives from Tanzy point. The bearer of dispatches from Captain Wilks [Wilkes] to Com. Hudson, arrived and although he was an Australian his sympatny for Com. Hudson, officers and crew, was so great that he wished to assist me in my hazardous endeavor to board the wreck with a pilot, who was a native Chinook and was well acquainted with the channel. When we passed out of the channel and moving towards the wreck, signals were hoisted. I asked the bearer of dispatches what it meant. He replied that it was an order to the Flying Fish. a schooner of war. to take us aboard, but when I saw the Flying Fish “about ship” and standing for deeper water, I understood it to signify “keep away.” Then followed my hazard a fog came down and shut out the view of both land and wreck. My helpers became alarmed, and said”Klosh nesika kalapi,” that is, it is good for us to go back. We were tossed upon the waves with apparent great danger, but I remained calm in order to prevent confusion. I perceived a black streak at the water’sedge, and concluded that to be the base of the Cape, and then looking to my right I saw a bright streak from what I conceived to be the shore at Point Adams. I took courage, and by perseverance we safely arrived in the bay. I then made arrangements with the gathering natives to watch through the night and aid any who might float ashore, and I left plenty of salmon. I made arrangements with the Chinook chief to take his best canoe and at daybreak


And encourage them to come ashore, that they would meet with friends. He did so, and brought ashore with him the purser, Mr. Speiden. I spent the whole night cooking for the sufferers. When it was day a messenger from the Point came up and informed me that the vessel had gone to pieces. I hastened off with my loaded canoe, towards the bay, and when midway I passed the spar deck going towards Astoria upon the flood tide. I saw no one clinging to it and I hastened onward, and found that about 120 or 125 had safely landed. I was speedily ushered with a hearty welcome to headquarters, with a national banner floating over me. I spread mats within the tent, and put down my tablecloths, and arranged for a hearty breakfast.

The commodore was the last man that was saved, and when the boat arrived with him, within forty yards of the shore he arose and shouted “Huzza!” three times, and was responded to from the officers and crew on shore with three times three. He stood before the spread meal and said, with uplifted hands: “Who could have expected such a reception, from a wreck on the northwest coast of America. Such a reception!” He and the officers sat down, the scientists with them, and enjoyed the unexpected repast. After eating awhile and drinking some coffee, the commodore unbuttoned his coat and out tumbled his prayer book, then said he : “Thank God I saved my prayer book.” Lieut. Emmons then drew out his bible from his bosom, where he had concealed it, because they were ordered to save nothing but what they stood in, and he “thanked God that he had saved the bible his grandmother gave him when he entered the service.”


Safely, and afforded valuable assistance to the unfortunate officers and men. I often had the opportunity of doing service for the officers while on their duty there. I was obliged to go 150 miles for a replenished larder, and was gone three weeks, during which time my poor wife suffered much from fear of the savages. A Killamook Indian watched to avail himself of things, such as wash basins, etc. She suffered from hernia, from a violent throw from horse-back. I was compelled to take her to the Sandwich Islands for surgical aid, and after tarrying there with her for months, her attending surgeon said that there was no hope for her, unless I would take her to the Massachusetts general hospital, America,

The distance was 16,000 miles. I repined at my hard lot, for I saw that I would lose all I had gained in Oregon. I saved the lives of three officers, but do not wish to make a statement of the affair.

The tribes were made angry, and knowing that they tarried at my house during and after their crimes, held me responsible. At another time I furnished an outfit for the pursuit of an absconding soldier, a marine.

And now, when old age has unfitted me for work, and greatly in need, I asked of the secretary of the navy for aid, and am willing, if called upon, officially. And to you I appeal to unite with Judge Hare, M. C., Col. Chas. Stewart, Hon. Joseph Seyeres, and others who have been written to by myself and others.

Yours respectfully,


— from the Astoria (OR) Daily Morning Astorian of April 25, 1889, page 3, columns 2-4