Father Felix Bucher of Grand Ronde reservation

Felix Bucher 1862-1938 was the successor to the pioneer priest Adrien Croquet at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, Oregon…

felix bucher

Image credit: Salvatorian Family

…Like “Father Crockett”, Bucher learned and used Chinuk Wawa from the time of his arrival in 1893.

To me, this is really interesting. The Jargon remained a useful language in the Native-oriented settings where Bucher was working, beyond the 1890 end of the frontier era. That’s a different situation from much of the rest of the Pacific Northwest.

Here are a couple of clippings about this less well-known missionary. One is a maybe somewhat fanciful anecdote from him, the other is an admiring biography.


gunny 2


One day in the woods of the Grande [sic] Ronde Reservation, Oregon, I came to a miserable hut. Two half-starved dogs barked furiously at me. I was undoubtedly the first white man they had ever seen. I tried to calm their injured feelings and they retreated. In the house sat a very old Indian, sunk in gloomy thought. He was in evil humor. A white man had shot his horse. Indian etiquette required that revenge be taken on the first white man who appeared. I was the lucky boy.

Preliminaries were exchanged in the Chinook language. Then the aged chief addressed his dear consort in this wise: “Put him into the gunny-sack.” Being a good, loving wife, she advanced toward the bed and was about to reach under, all the while keeping an eye on me, when I looked at here severely and then smiled. This so disconcerted her that the whole gunnysack proposition was discarded.

I was looked upon with favor, and later was found worthy to be initiated into the secrets of the Indian heaven. Long my new Indian friend chatted about what he had seen in heaven; and as he had once been there three days he had had ample time to look around and find out things. This heathen conception differed extremely from ours. He saw crowds of people. They did not wear any crowns; they did not sing any beautiful songs. Far from it! The people he saw were all like coyotes, panthers, wolves and bears.

By the way, I got even with that old Indian for threatening to put me into a gunnysack. I baptized him before he died.


— from “On the Indian Trail” in The Indian Sentinel V(1):32-33 (January 1925)






REV. FELIX BUCHER. A commanding personality in the religious and intellectual world embraced in Benton, Lincoln, and the surrounding counties of Oregon, is Father Felix Bucher, who came as a missionary to this state in 1893, and has since devoted the resources of a cultured mind and great heart to the uplifting of the Indian, and the maintenance of peace and good will among various congregations of worshippers.

…[He] was eventually ordained … September 19, 1891. For a year after his ordination he remained in the Palazzo and then undertook the long journey to Vancouver, Wash., where he remained for a short time. From there he came to Oregon as a missionary of the church, spending one year at The Dalles as pastor of St. Peters, and the next year was located at Newport, as pastor of the church there. In connection with the latter charge he visited the Siletz Indian Mission in Lincoln county, which very worth enterprise had been attending once or twice a year for some years by Father Crockett, of Grande Ronde, one of the most sacrificing and helpful of the early Indian workers, and who had spent forty years in trying to improve the condition of the red men. While at Newport Father Bucher became somewhat familiar with the work at this mission, and in 1897 took up his residence on the reservation, the church and patronage of which was donated by Mother Catherine Drexel of Philadelphia, and consecrated by Archbishop Cross. Ever since, Father Bucher has ministered to the spiritual needs of a large and increasing congregation, for the responsibilities of which he is eminently fitted, having learned the Chinook language sufficiently well to be able to converse and preach therein. He also holds services at other churches and missions, and in January, 1903, assumed charge of St. Mary’s Church at Corvallis. A scholar, linguist and man of practical and humanitarian ideas, Father Bucher exerts a wonderful influence…

— in “Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of Many Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present …” (Chicago, IL: Chapman Publishing Company, 1903.)

Bonus fact:

Another Chinuk Wawa speaker mentioned in the Willamette Valley book is a woman — Mrs. Martha (Peterson) Barnes (1836-1907), who arrived in that district with her Oregon Trail immigrant parents and siblings at the age of 9.

“She learned” (page 1080 tells us) “to speak the language of the Chinook Indians, and thus was called to maintain amicable relations with these untutored neighbors.”

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