Part 5 of 5
Oscar Wilde once wrote that, “History is nothing but unreliable gossip.” I have pointed out many times in my amateur historian career that what really happened in the Pacific Northwest has been distorted so often by Hollywood, and outright liars as U.S. Army officers Bonniville, Sheridan, and O.O. Howard, whose accounts were turned into fact by Ivy League professors — that to really understand the culture of a place , one needs to travel to where something actually happened. Fort Vancouver was such a watershed of events that I suggest following footsteps of moccasins, or british brogans, or even Nikes, through the reconstructed gates to stand before the McLoughlin house to listen upon the wind for the truth.
To HBC Chief Factor Sir George Simpson, Fort Vancouver Factor Dr. John McLoughlin was a traitor. And, as the rumor suggested (perhaps also Simpson inspired) an adulterer who allowed house guest Narcissa Whitman to have her way setting up a Protestant mission at Walla Walla.
American Dr. Whitman who traveled back and forth to the the U.S. struggling for recognition for Walla Walla —a profitable trading post in competition with the HBC— felt God was on his side in developing a leadership authority equal Simpson’s, though the Spanish mission system system used to bring “civilization” to California.
The “Sabbath keepers” Whitman Mission is well known today among native Americans for leasing the land for four years from the Cayuse, and then refusing to give it back after “missing” a payment. The fact that the Whitmans were supposedly abolitionist was curiously reflected by “saintly wife” Narcissa’s instance that “surely Indian workers” be whipped. The “Good Doctor,” also had professional problems in that the tribal shaman did not concur with the liberal use of mercury based medicines, given the effect it had on the long term health of his people. The Whitmans reaped what they had sown.
History has the murder of the Whitmans as a massacre. When what may have even been self defense was spin-doctored by controlling into open warfare with the natives of the Northwest. The short term effect of this supposed manipulation was slowing the flow of immigrants. Unfortunately, free trappers turned settlers as Joseph Meek who had been born in the United States, and had married a Nes Pierce actually related to the respected matriarch who had saved the starving Lewis and Clark expedition— were caught in a bind.
This in part led to the “rebels” outside of the fort calling for a democratic vote to form an government of their own, that many wanted to keep independent, following the lead of self-destiny by Texicans. The count at the retired engagé village of Champoeg was 52 for Oragun being self governing, to 50 holding for the continued control, and financial dependance, of the HBC.
It was said that the descendant of a Scot freedom fighter who had survived being shipped to the colonies in chains to be sold into seven years servitude, stepped across the line shouting with a long lived hatred of things English, “take that.” It was also said that a Scottish John McLoughlin also tipped the vote by arranging “early” retirement of dissident French-Canadians engagés who voted voicing the very same sentiment in French.
Today, I learned the truth. John McLoughlin turned away from the HBC best interests, which is why history has him listed as, “The Father of Oregon.” What really drove the McLoughlins to support the “Americans” was yet another murder involving a “native” that wasn’t acknowledged as such.
Here in his own words ( Sorry: The actors of living history at special events —see www.fortvancouver.gov for when they appear — are so good I almost forgot what century this is.) Dr. and Mrs. McLoughlin were so distressed that the death of their ‘breed’ son, a factor at a much smaller HBC post, was so inconsequential that Simpson would not even hold an investigation, brought about their resignation, and move to Oregon City. I don’t have it recorded, here, but can’t you almost hear another, “ Take that!”
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