Julie McDonald Commentary: Historian Describes Washington’s Early Settlement


Nearly three dozen people packed the Toledo Community Library April 11 to learn about the early Cowlitz Tribe and the first white settler, a trapper named Simon Plamondon Sr.

The speaker was Robert Foxcurran, an independent historian from Seattle who worked 30 years as an economic analyst and project historian for Boeing. He co-authored “Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific,” published in 2016. While his extensive research spans western migration across Canada and the United States, including the founding of Detroit, Saint Louis and New Orleans, Foxcurran focused his presentation on what became Washington Territory.

He collaborated with Michael Hubbs, of Winlock, on a September 2019 article in the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly entitled “Ethnic and Linguistic Complexities Persist Following Partition of the PNW — the Cowlitz Tribe and the Plamondon Family.”

Hubbs is the fifth great-grandson of Chief Scanewa of the Cowlitz Tribe and fourth great-grandson of Simon Plamondon, a French-Canadian trapper who arrived in Lewis County in 1820 and married the chief’s daughter, Thas-e-muth, also known as Veronica, who was described as a beautiful woman known for her horsemanship. He lived on Cowlitz Prairie the remainder of his life, which spanned nearly a century. Thas-e-muth died in 1834, leaving her four children without a mother until Simon married his second wife, Emilie Finlay Bercier, who also had Native American ancestry.

The Pacific Northwest would look much different without the French-Canadians — those who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Catholic priests who established missions to convert the natives to Christianity, and trappers and traders who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and later its subsidiary, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company on the Cowlitz Prairie near Toledo.

When Plamondon ventured up the Columbia River and followed a tributary, the Cowlitz, he arrived at the Cowlitz village of Tawamiluhawihl, near present-day Toledo. It was a center for trade between the tribes of the Lower Columbia who spoke Chinook and the northern tribes like the Salishan-speaking tribes like the Cowlitz and Chehalis. Hubbs said across the river sat another Cowlitz village, Matup.

Later, more French Canadians arrived in what became Lewis County as did First People from Canada and Native Americans from east of the Rockies including Cree, Iroquois, Abenaki and Ojibwe.

A malaria epidemic struck the Cowlitz village of Tawamiluhawihl in the early 1830s. Foxcurran said that’s about the time when Jean Baptiste McLoughlin, chief factor of the Hudson Bay Company, began plans for the 5,000-acre Cowlitz farm operated by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.

Toledo’s place in Washington history is significant. Lewis County, the mother of all counties, once stretched into British Columbia until smaller counties were carved out of it. The prairie north of town is where Father Francois Norbet Blanchet of Quebec first celebrated Catholic Mass Dec. 16, 1838, in the elder Plamondon’s home. Foxcurran said the Hudson’s Bay Co. brought Blanchet and Father Modeste Demers from Montreal with the understanding that they would live north of the Columbia River at Cowlitz Prairie, where he established the first Catholic mission, St. Francis Xavier Mission.

Languages of the region included French, Salishan, Chinook-based trade jargon, and later English. Among Lewis County’s early settlers in 1841 were Hawaiians, Canadians, Métis (natives from Canada) and members of the Cowlitz, Chehalis and Nisqually tribes. Early family names on the prairie were Cotenoire, Charles, Bouchard, Laussier, Provost, Farron, Lamoreaux, St. Martin, Ladue, Gobin, Dauphin, Brulais, Sarreault, Rochbrune, Thibeau, Delaunais, LaPlante, Chalifoux and Gravelle.

Simon Plamondon Sr., who operated the region’s first sawmill, was elected in 1845 to the Oregon Provisional Government’s first legislative assembly. (Two years later, he also hosted the first Lewis County Court, according to Foxcurran.)

On June 15, 1846, the United States and Britain signed a treaty settling the boundary between the two nations, giving the Americans the land north to the 49th parallel. That forced the Hudson’s Bay Co. north to what today is British Columbia, but its subsidiary, the Puget Sound Agricultural Co., retained the right to operate the Cowlitz Farm. The U.S. Army didn’t arrive in Oregon Territory until 1849.

Foxcurran spoke about the participation of Simon Plamondon, the only Canadian, at the 1851 Cowlitz Landing convention and the one the following year at Monticello, now known as Longview.

When settlers north of the Columbia River broke away from Oregon in 1853, they formed Washington Territory and reconfirmed the voting rights of Canadian settlers and their children of mixed Native American and white ancestry. They could also own property, but Foxcurran said full-blooded Cowlitz and other Native Americans were prohibited from doing so until passage of the Indian Homestead Act in 1884 (which required them to adopt “the ways of civilized life”).

In 1854, when the first Washington Territorial Assembly took place in Olympia, Native Americans outnumbered whites in Washington Territory more than three to one. Their numbers grew even by about 1860, he said. Native American rights were hotly debated at the first assembly.

Foxcurran shared quotes published in the “Pioneer and Democrat” newspaper of Olympia from the debate over voting right for what those attending the assembly referred to as “American half-breed Indians.” While some supported the rights of suffrage, contending they deserved them no matter their skin color, others denounced natives as illiterate, contending they couldn’t understand what was happening if they served on a jury.

The amendment granting mixed-blood men the right to vote was passed with nine aye votes and four nays. During subsequent debate, one man asked if Negroes of mixed-race were excluded from voting, and the response was that only 10 or 12 lived in the territory so they didn’t constitute a class and weren’t “original proprietors of the soil.”

Of course, George Washington, founder of Centralia, was one of them. So was George Bush of Tumwater. They were prohibited from voting.

By the time the assembly approved the measure, though, Foxcurran said, much of the prime land had already been claimed by Americans.

Only a few years later, in 1859, Oregon became a state, three decades before Washington achieved statehood.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.