Oregon as it was: By an old pioneer (big Métis-Grand Ronde connection)

I loved finding this article where an oldtimer tells what Métis life was like in the early settlement era — leading into the early reservation era — in Grand Ronde’s neighborhood.

Something that strikes me forcefully is the careful description of these folks’ carts as a culturally specific trait…surely to be connected with the famous Red River carts!

red river cart

Red River cart (image credit: Wikipedia)

We even learn some good, and valuable, new Jargon, such as what Dr. McLoughlin was called and the word for a grain “fan mill”!

Oregon as it Was 1



[Written for the Oregon Statesman.]


The earliest settlements in Oregon Territory were those of Tualatin Plains, Prench Prairie, and Baker’s Prairie, on the Molalla. The most extensive ones was [sic] in French Prairie. These were all in the Willamette Valley. Thero was, north of the Columbia, on Kowlitz, a settlement called the “Kowlitz Farm.” This was under the auspices of the Hudsons Bay Company.

The French settler was, generally, a man of family; his wife being a “native,” and, of course, his children half-breeds. These French settlers had, in most instances, been employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who, after serving the Company many years, and having families, retired from active service, to farming. The Company encouraging and giving them a start, by furnishing them with materials to farm with. They grow wheat for “Old man Doctor, copa Cachutehut.” (Dr. McLaughlin, at Fort Vancouver) and did their trading mostly at “Ole Cachutehut,” or old Fort Vancouver, until a trading house was established at Champoeg, and Oregon City. Occasionally a mountain man came along, and settled in these settlements of the Willamette. The earliest settlers, therefore, were a mixed society, if indeed, you will apply that civilized term to a “mongrel mass,”

Oregon as it Was 2
Let me record, lest it be lost, how these primitive farmers managed to cultivate, improve, haul wheat, etc. Tbe rails were from 12 to 13 feet long, made of fir, which happily surrounded the prairies, were small, and but little worm [sic, meaning “zigzag”, also called “snake”] given [to] the fence. Gates then, were few; there were houses built “French fashion,” and barns similarly built. The wheat was bound with hazel thongs, in large bundles — they never thought of binding with the wheat stalks itself [sic]. They soon learned better from the “Bostons.” [Americans]

Their carts, O yes, their carts! Well, the felloes were wood — no tire — large and strong; the spokes were large, in big hubs, on wooden axles, wooden shafts, and wooden box, or body — all wood. You could hear them squeak half a mile. They worked one horse — sometimes two — one before the other. The harness was of “raw-hide,” the hames of wood — no iron about them. In these carts these “primitive farmers” hauled their wheat, rails, wood and went courting in, and to church, the Catholic Church. They worked “cultus Cayuse cuitans,” [no-good Cayuse horses] made ’em “git” in the cart and under the saddle. Their plows! O, yes, their plows! These were small,-narrow, of both iron and wood. With these they cultivated the fertile soil of French Prairie. They plowed small, narrow lands, as the dead furrows answered as a ditch to carry off the surplus water so as not to “drown out ” the wheat. They grew very fine “white wheat” and “big side out.” [Do any of my readers know the meaning of that idiom? — DDR] There ought to be preserved, among the archives of the State, an old French plow, harness, harrow or drag, and cart, sickle or old cradle.

Oregon as it Was 3
They beat out their wheat with a flail, in their barns. Sometimes they “tread out” the wheat with a lot of “le moro cultus cuitans,” [“wild no-good horses”] turned loose on the wheat, set up on ends, in the barns, or in a coral, driving the animals around like “le junbe[le jaube] or the devil. And then the fan-mill was “la wind,” [a newly discovered Chinuk Wawa and/or local French word] or an old piece of cloth driven backward and forwards, and thus remove the chaff from the grain. This was “primitive fanning” [farming?] 30 years ago, in the French Prairie.

These Canadian-French, with their Shoshone, Cayuse, Nez Perce, Walla Walla, or Calapooia wives, called, “siwash cluchman,” or Indian ladies, and “sitcum Puriuke tenas,” [… Pusiuks…] half French children, were among Oregon’s earliest pioneers. They had hogs, some chickens, a few purian [Puritan] cattle, furnished by “the man Doctor” of Vancouver.

These French and their descendants spoke the “classical,” and almost universal jargon, or chinook. If you saw an Indian, a half-blood, or a Puriuke [Pusiuks], speak tbe classical language of the country and you were well respected. This all understood. Hence it was almost universally spoken. The missionary preached in jargon, prayed in jargon, sung [sic] in jargon, wrote books in jargon, taught the Indians in jargon. It was very useful as a medium of communication among all classes in those early times.

— from the Salem (OR) Willamette Farmer of January 12, 1877, page 5, column 3


Fanning mill (image credit: Ancient Point)


Worm fence (image credit: Louis Page)