The Old Spanish Trail and the Indian Slave Trade

In the late sixteenth century, Spain began its formal colonization of what would become New Mexico. Juan de Oñate led a large colonizing party—129 soldiers and their families, 15 Franciscan missionaries, 83 wagons, 7,000 cattle, sheep, and goats—into New Mexico and established a colony at San Juan in the upper Rio Grande valley. The Spanish brought with them over 1,500 head of horse and mules: 1007 horses, 237 mares, 137 colts, and 91 mules.

The Spanish met with leaders from 30 pueblos, and Oñate took formal possession of New Mexico for the Spanish. The Spanish colonists ignored any possible Indian ownership of the land. In his book Pages from Hopi History, Harry James writes:  “Without any consideration of the Indians living in the area, he took possession of their lands in the name of the King of Spain and for the benefit of any of the Spanish colonists with him who might want to exploit them.”

In 1604, a group of 30 Spanish soldiers under Juan de Oñate set out to find a route from New Mexico to the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). They crossed Arizona and followed the Bill Williams fork to the Colorado River. They then followed the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. Oñate concluded that Baja California was an Island.

Spanish colonists had been established in New Mexico for a century and half before Father Junípero Serra established a string of missions in California. As the Spanish colonies in California expanded, the idea of connecting the colonies in New Mexico with those in California had some appeal. It was proposed to create a trail from New Mexico to California through present-day Utah. In an article in A History of Utah’s American Indians, Dennis Defa writes:  “It was believed that if these two areas of colonization, separated by some 1,200 miles, could be connected, Spain could dominate a vast land area and add substantially to her empire.”

While the Old Spanish Trail was established as a trade route, it was a trail rather than a road. Wagons were unable to cross the full length of the trail and this meant that trade items were limited to what could be carried by mule or horse. The primary trade goods were guns, powder, blankets, and knives. One of the highly desirable trade items carried along the Old Spanish Trail was Indian slaves. Spanish slave traders would capture Indian women and children—most often Navajo, Paiute, and Ute—and then sell them at the slave markets in New Mexico and California. Indian slaves could be easily transported along the Old Spanish Trail. Once sold, the Indian slaves were often taken farther south in Mexico where they were put to work as household servants, ranch hands, concubines, and miners. Dennis Defa writes:  “Captured women and girls usually found their way into the more wealthy households as domestic servants, while men and boys were put to work on ranches and farms.”

Children were very desirable as slaves as it was easy for them to learn Spanish and the duties which they were expected to carry out. In A History of Utah’s American Indians, Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie report:  “As much as $200 might be paid for a young girl who could be trained as a domestic, while boys were worth only half that much.”

With regard to the Indian slave trade, Nancy Maryboy and David Begay, writing in A History of Utah’s American Indians, report:  “It is estimated that during the early 1800s more than 66 percent of all Navajo families experienced the loss of members to slavery. Navajo children were taken from their families and sold at auction in Santa Fe, Taos, and other places.”

When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 the trade in Indian slaves continued. Nancy Maryboy and David Begay write:  “Skirmishes, slave raids, and massacres occurred with increasing frequency. The Mexicans condoned and even increased raiding and slave-taking efforts.”

The trade in Indian slaves continued after the United States acquired dominion over the Southwest. The legal nature of the slave system changed as young children would be taken from their Indian homes to be “adopted” into non-Indian homes so that they could become “civilized” and Christianized while they worked as virtual household slaves. Able-bodied Indian men could be acquired through the legal system which allowed non-Indians to acquire prisoners as “indentured servants” by paying their fines.

Indians, Iwo Jima, and the American Flag

During the World War II, 24,521 American Indians served in the military and received the following awards: Air Medal (71), Silver Star (51), Bronze Star (47), Distinguished Flying Cross (34), and Medal of Honor (2). More than 480 Indians were killed during the war. In the Pacific, two American Indian Marines were involved in raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima, a part of the prefecture of Tokyo, was heavily fortified and the Marines suffered high casualties. Mount Suribachi is a 546-foot high dormant volcanic cone located on the southern tip of the island. Raising an American flag on this mountain in the Japanese homeland was a major propaganda coup for the United States.

Louis Charlo:

 Louis Charlo, the great-grandson of the Bitterroot Salish Chief Charlo, was born in Missoula, Montana in 1926. One month after his 17th birthday in November 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Marines.

In 1945, Charlo was a part of the 28th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division in their assault on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima. Interestingly enough, the Marines were transported on the U.S.S. Missoula, a ship named for his home town.

The battle for Iwo Jima started on February 19, 1945 and four days later Private Charlo and seven other Marines reached the summit of Mount Suribachi. At 10:20 AM, Charlo and the other Marines used a 20-foot section of pipe to raise an American flag from Missoula at the top of the mountain. This flag, however, was too small to be easily seen from the beaches. Several hours later, this flag was replaced by a larger flag. The raising of the larger flag was captured photographically by Associated Press cameraman Joe Rosenthal. The original flag is now in the U.S. Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Virginia.

On March 2, 1945 Private Louis Charlo was killed by Japanese sniper fire and his role in the flag raising was soon forgotten. Today the story of his role in raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi is memorialized in a display at the Rocky Mountain Military Museum (see photos below), in a song by Blackfoot poet and singer Jack Gladstone, and in the oral traditions of the Flathead Indians.

Ira Hayes:

While the first flag was being raised over Mount Suribachi, the Second Platoon, Easy Company was laying a telephone wire to the top of Mount Suribachi. These Marines reached the summit about noon. Among these Marines was Ira Hayes.

Ira Hayes was born in 1923 on the Gila River Pima Indian Reservation. He enlisted in the Marines in August, 1942. On top of Mount Suribachi, he was one of six Marines photographed raising the larger American flag. Three of these six were killed in action before the island was secured.

Unlike Louis Charlo, Ira Hayes not only survived the Battle of Iwo Jima, but he became famous because of the photograph. President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the photograph and felt that it would be a good symbol for a war bond drive. He ordered the flag-raisers to be identified and sent to Washington, D.C. One of the surviving flag-raisers identified four others in the photograph, but refused to identify Hayes because Hayes had asked not to be identified. Under pressure from the Marine Corps which was under pressure from the President, Ira Hayes was identified as one of the six.

The three surviving second flag-raisers, including Ira Hayes, met with President Harry Truman and then went on a bond tour. Hayes, however, had drinking problems during the tour and was ordered back to his combat unit.

When he was discharged in 1945, he returned to the reservation in Arizona where he found that the Pima still lacked water for their crops. He worked on his father’s farm, picked cotton, drank a lot, and spent some time in jail. Under the Indian Relocation Program designed to remove Indians from reservations and place them in distant cities, Hayes was sent to Chicago. Hayes was greeted at the train station as a hero, but was soon jailed for being drunk. He returned to the Gila River Reservation.

Hayes was not comfortable with fame. In 1955, he died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning. Ira Hayes was memorialized in a motion picture and in a folk song written by Peter LaFarge. The song was recorded by a number of people including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Kinky Friedman. Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, in her biography of Ira Hayes in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, writes:  “A media-created hero of World War II, Ira Hayes symbolized two postwar realities in American society: the return of thousands of veterans to civilian life, and the impoverished status of Indian peoples relative to Anglo-American prosperity.”


The Cherokee Trail of Tears

By the first part of the nineteenth century, many non-Indians in the United States, particularly in the southern states, felt strongly that there should be no Indians in the United States. They felt that all Indians should be forced to move from their ancestral homelands to new “reservations” located west of the Mississippi River. In general, the concept of removal stemmed from two concerns of the Southern non-Indians: economics and race. Southerners lusted for the farm lands held by Indians and Indians were felt to be racially inferior.

The primary argument in favor of Indian removal claimed that European Christian farmers could make more efficient use of the land than the Indian heathen hunters. This argument conveniently ignored the fact that Indians were efficient farmers and had been farming their land for many centuries. Historian David La Vere, in his book Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory, writes:  “It mattered little that the Southeastern Indians had long been successful agriculturalists; in the government’s eyes they were still ‘savages’ because they did not farm the ‘correct’ way, as women still controlled the fields and farming.”

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The Act passed 28 to 19 in the Senate and 102 to 97 in the House. In making the case for Indian removal, Lewis Cass, the Secretary of War, wrote in the North American Review:  “A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community.”

In 1838, General Winfield Scott began preparation for the removal of the Cherokee. He explained to the Cherokee that there would be no escape: his troops were to gather up all Cherokee. If they attempted to hide in the forests or mountains, he told them that the troops would track them down. He drew up plans to gather the Cherokee in a few locations prior to sending them west. Brian Hicks, in his book Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears, writes:  “Soldiers were told to swarm Cherokee houses without warning, giving the Indians no time to put up a fight or even pack their belongings. Families would be taken at once and brought into one of several camps. The men must be polite and not use profanity.”

The United States Army rounded up the Cherokee who were living in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama. Mounted soldiers, using their bayonets as prods, herded the Cherokee like cattle. One of the soldier-interpreters for the Army wrote:  “I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes and driven at bayonet point into stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and headed for the West.”

If there were no adults home when the soldiers came to the Cherokee farms, then the children were taken in the hopes that their parents would follow. The vacant farms were then occupied by non-Indians who took over the Cherokee houses, used Cherokee furniture, utensils, and tools, and harvested the crops which the Cherokee had planted and tended. They also robbed Cherokee graves, stealing the silver pendants and other valuables which had been buried with the dead. One non-Indian observer wrote:  “The captors sometimes drove the people with whooping and hallowing, like cattle through rivers, allowing them no time even to take off their shoes and stockings.”

There were 3,000 regular soldiers and 4,000 citizen soldiers who assisted in the expulsion of the Cherokees. These soldiers often raped, robbed, and murdered the Cherokee. Some of the soldiers who were ordered to carry out the forced removal refused to do so. The Tennessee volunteers went home, saying that they would not dishonor Tennessee arms in this way. Many civilians who witnessed the treatment of the Cherokee signed petitions of protest.

The Cherokee were herded into animal corrals with no sanitary facilities. The stockades were so overcrowded that it was difficult to find room to sit down. They were not provided with adequate food and water. Brian Hicks writes:  “These stockades were like fortresses, two hundred feet wide and five hundred feet long with walls between eight and sixteen feet high. There was a single gate. Inside each of these camps a few small cabins ringed a great field.”

The Cherokee were then force-marched some 1,500 miles to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River (now the state of Oklahoma.) During this march, 8,000 Cherokee died. The Cherokee call this episode in their long history Nunna daul Isunyi, which means “trail where we cried”. Others call it the Trail of Tears and often refer to it as the most disgraceful event in American history and as one more piece of evidence about the genocide which was attempted against American Indians.

The Cherokee were not at war with the United States. At this time, there was no American who could remember any unprovoked violence by the Cherokee. The Cherokee were known to be good neighbors and had adopted much of the European manner of living, including Christianity.

In Georgia, however, the press reported on the Cherokee removal with these words:  “Georgia is, at length, rid of her red population, and this beautiful country will now be prosperous and happy.”

The Cherokee were not the first tribe that was moved in this fashion, nor were they the last. The Trail of Tears was not an event which suddenly happened: rather it was the culmination of more than 30 years of actions and attitudes. It was an expression of states’ rights; it was an expression of greed for land; it was a denial of Native American tribal sovereignty; and it was an expression of the government’s inability to understand Indian people. One of the important points of conflict was the government’s concern for individually owned land and the Indian view that land was not to be owned by the individual, but by the tribe.

We talk about the Trail of Tears and similar events so that others may not repeat the errors of the past. It is important that we remember and that we talk about this today. In many ways the political climate of the United States today is similar to that which led up to the Trail of Tears. Let us recall these things now so that we can say: “Never again!” Never again should the United States act in such a callous manner toward those who gave this country so much of its heritage.

Ancient America: Quarry Sites in Montana

One of the common ways of making stone tools throughout the world is by breaking and flaking: a process commonly called flintknapping. Tools made by flintknapping included points (both spearpoints and later arrowpoints), knives, scrapers, and other cutting implements. The process of breaking stone to form tools is not a random process: it is not simply a matter of banging two stones together. The toolmaker will take a piece of stone and shape it into a culturally acceptable form. Thus, in a culture the same basic tool shapes appear over and over again.

One important thing to understand about stone tools is that not all stone can be used in tool-making. In flintknapping, Indian people needed stones that would break in a predictable fashion and would provide a sharp edge. Albert Goodyear, in his research monograph A Hypothesis for the Use of Cryptochrystalline Raw Materials Among Paleo-Indian Groups of North America, reports:  “It is a general geological fact in most places of North America and probably throughout the world that lithic raw materials of even minimal suitability for flaking do not occur evenly over the earth’s surface. In fact, some environments such as coastal plains and alluvial valleys have no lithic raw materials whatsoever.”

Areas in which there were good stones for making stone tools were important to ancient Indian peoples. They would not only return to these sites regularly to obtain tool-making material, but they would also trade this material to other bands. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “At quarry locations, hunter-gatherers would often shape the stone into the rough form, or preform, of a tool. By producing preforms at quarries, they reduced the amount of stone they had to carry with them when they left the quarry

Obsidian, a natural glass produced by volcanic action, was a valued natural resource for many tribes. In some places it is found in massive flows but is difficult to extract. An active trade in obsidian was going on for several millennia prior to the European invasion. The obsidian used by the Indians at the Hogback Homestead site (24GN13) near present-day Philipsburg, Montana came from the Centennial Mountains in Idaho and from the Teton Pass in Wyoming.

Briefly described below are some of the quarry sites in Montana.

Horse Prairie Valley: By about 13,000 BCE, Indian people had established a quarry at Horse Prairie Valley to obtain chert for stone tools. Tools made from this stone were used by people 200 to 300 miles from the site. Indian people continued to mine chert from this site for about 5,000 years.

Otter Creek: By about 8500 BCE, small bands of about 25 people began to inhabit the Otter Creek area in the southeastern portion of the state. The people existed on a diversified diet of local vegetation and wild game. They camped along canyon rims, on the tops of buttes, and along drainages. One of the reasons for the occupation of this area was porcellanite, a native stone created when burning coal seams bake the surrounding dirt into rock. The porcellanite is easily knapped and was used by the people for tools such as arrowheads, scrapers and lance points.

South Everson Creek: About 7400 BCE, Indian people were using a quarry on South Everson Creek to obtain stone material for the manufacture of tools.

Big Springs: By about 5000 BCE, Indian people were using the quartzite quarry at the Big Springs site (24CB77) in the Big Pryor Mountains. They were using side-notched projectile points similar to those found at Mummy Cave, Wyoming. The quarry was heavily used and Indian people were digging mining pits 3 to 4 feet deep and about 5 feet in diameter.

The quartzite at Big Springs occurs in large nodules. Archaeologist Kent Good, in his M.A. Thesis at the University of Montana, reports:  “Probably a combination of heat and water were used to crack the nodules so as to expose the inner material. Abundant wood and water available at the site would have enabled peoples to use this process.”

Once the inner material is obtained, hammerstones and/or batons are used to manufacture blanks from which blades can be struck. Archaeologist Kent Good also reports:  “While utilizing the quarry material to blank out preforms, the people may have carried on daily activities such as hide preparation and hunting.”

Bowman Creek: By about 1000 BCE, the Kootenai were quarrying chert for making stone tools about 3 miles upstream on Bowman Creek from its confluence with the North Fork of the Flathead River.

Ancient America: Montana Prior to 6000 BCE

While the region of North America known today as Montana entered into written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

With regard to the archaeological record for Montana, In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:  “The raw material for archeology in Montana consists largely of campsites (most often entirely lithic in content), workshops, scattered hearths and tipi rings, bison kills and traps, trailside offertory stone heaps, burials, and pictographs. Chipped stone work, often found out of meaningful association, is common while ground stone is rare.”

Briefly described below are a few of the ancient sites which have been uncovered by archaeologists.

Anzick Rockshelter:

 By about 9550 BCE, Indian people were using the Anzick rockshelter (24PA506) near present-day Gardiner for burials. Interred with the burials were finely made bone projectile points as well as both finished and unfinished Clovis-like stone points. Archaeologists uncovered more than 100 stone artifacts and a number of bone tools in this collapsed rock shelter. The artifacts had been covered with a heavy coating of red ochre.

Archaeologists also found human remains at the site. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, write:  “The remains of a toddler consisted primarily of skull fragments, and the artifacts were all stained with red ochre. The other individual has been shown to be unassociated with the Clovis materials.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel writes:  “The application of a blood-colored pigment to the corpse may have been a symbolic restoration of life.”

Since the children buried here were accompanied by stone tools, it is assumed that these items were gifts rather than items the deceased had used while living. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “It seems fairly clear that they were placed with the infant as part of a ritual or ceremony.”  The stones had come from a variety of different locations.

Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley report: “Eleven bone rods were among the artifacts collected from the disturbed deposits of the site: two complete rods, four fragments with beveled ends, and five midsections.”

DNA from the remains show that they are related to most modern American Indians.

Mill Iron Site:

 While Clovis points are both well-known today and highly distinctive, there were other lithic technologies being used more than 11,000 years ago. Indian people at the Mill Iron Site (24CT30) were using well-made, bifacial projectile points with a concave base which were neither fluted nor made in a Clovis-style. Archaeologists have classified these large lanceolate projectile points as Goshen. Goshen culture is often associated with bison hunting.

 While contemporaneous with Clovis, Goshen projectile points are not fluted or basally thinned. The Mill Iron site contained 1,709 stone tools. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald reports: “Most of the raw stone at the site was obtained locally.”

The Indian people at the site killed at least 30 bison, all adults and mostly cows, at a spring or early summer event. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:  “Low-value animal parts dominate at the kill site, suggesting that the hunters took the best parts of the animals with them when they left.”

MacHaffie Site:

By 9000 BCE, Indians using Folsom technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic tool kit included points (including the classic Folsom style), knives, scrapers (several kinds), gouges, and choppers. In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:   “The absence of grinding stones at the MacHaffie site indicates a lack of concern with seed gathering and seems to indicate that the early hunters at the site gathered nuts, roots, and berries that did not require grinding to make them palatable.”  The Indians at this site were hunting deer.

By 4900 BCE, Indian people using Scottsbluff technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic toolkit included points, knives (including a stemmed knife), scrapers, choppers. Richard Forbis reports:  “The MacHaffie site yielded a wide range of Scottsbluff artifacts. Like Folsom, Scottsbluff sites may share little more in common than the distinctive projectile points from which their name is derived.”

Some other sites:

False Cougar Cave: Indian people occupied the False Cougar Cave in the Pryor Mountains by about 12,600 BCE. DNA analysis of a hair from the site is associated with haplogroup X.

Lindsay Site: The Lindsay site (24DW501) was a mammoth kill site which was occupied about 11,000 BCE.

Indian Creek Site: Indian people occupied the Indian Creek site (24BW626) prior to 9000 BCE. This site represents a Folsom adaption to a higher elevation.

Baron Gulch Site: By 7400 BCE, Indian people at the Barton Gulch site (21MA171) were gathering and processing a variety of food plants, including slimleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium leptophllum) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). They were using roasting pits to process these foods.

Pictograph Caves: By 7100 BCE, Indian people were using Pictograph Caves near present-day Billings.

Myers-Hindman Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Myers-Hindman site near Livingston. They were hunting pronghorn, deer, elk, and sheep. They also had dogs.

Dawson County: By 7000 BCE, Indian people using Goshen projectile points were occupying site 24DW272 in Dawson County.

Some Complexes and Tool Traditions:

A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

Goatfell Complex: The Goatfell Complex spread throughout southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana by 9000 BCE. In her M.A. Thesis for the University of Montana, Mary Collins reports:  “It was defined by a preference for black metamorphosed siltstone, large stemmed lanceolate and leaf shaped spear points, and large flake blanks and tools. Biface manufacture was characterized by the removal of large expanding flakes with acute angled, faceted striking platforms.”

Hell Gap Complex: The cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains about 7600 BCE. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. The sites tend to be short-term campsites.

Pryor Stemmed Projectile Point: By 6300 BCE, Indian people were using Pryor Stemmed Projectile Points in the Pryor and Bighorn mountain area as well as in parts of central Wyoming.

Cody Complex: The Cody Complex, which included an assemblage of projectile points, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, hammer stones, and bone tools, was associated with bison kill and processing sites. This complex first appears about 8000 BCE. By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools were using the Mammoth Meadow site for the production of stone tools. They were killing bison as well as other mammals.


While the first Native American-European fur trade exchange happened about the year 1000 with Norse (i.e. Viking) entrepreneurs from Greenland, the fur trade didn’t really have a major impact on Native cultures until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fur trade not only brought new goods into Indian nations, but also resulted in the emergence of a distinct cultural group known as Métis in Canada.

The French approach to American Indians was very different from that of the English, Spanish, and Russian invaders. The French viewed Indians as trading partners and potential markets for their goods. Instead of requiring their Indian partners to learn European ways as a prerequisite for trade, the French learned Indian ways.

Trade between nations was nothing new to American Indians: they had been engaged in trade for thousands of years by the time the French arrived. In what is now Canada, Indian trade involved both ceremonies and kinship. French traders understood this and became participants in the pipe ceremonies and gift giving that preceded formal trading. Since the French traders, all of whom were men, did not belong to any Indian clans, they had to acquire kinship connections through adoption and/or marriage.

Thus an important part of the French-Indian fur trade involved the marriage of the French fur traders into the Indian tribes. The French fur traders adopted many aspects of Indian culture and became as Indian as they were French. William Eccles, in his chapter on French exploration in North American Exploration. Volume 2: A Continent Defined, writes:  “These marriage alliances were regarded favourably by the Indians, since they strengthened the bonds between the two races, but they were frowned on by the royal officials and the clergy, who maintained that the offspring of these marriages combined the worst features of both races.”

One of the consequences of marriage is often children. The children of these fur trade marriages grew up in bilingual, bicultural households and often became important players in the expanding fur trade. While the fathers were often French, there were also Scots and Irish traders who married Indian women. The mothers most frequently came from Algonquian-speaking tribes, most often Cree or Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). Historian Barry Gough, in his biography First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie, writes:  “The descendants of these families became a distinct and important people in Canadian history, the Métis.”

Dan Asfar and Tim Chodan, in their biography Louis Riel, write:  “The Métis were a French-speaking people living in western Canada who drew their ancestry from both whites and Natives. They were the offspring of French fur traders and Native women who married during traders’ sojourns in Rupert’s Land.”

Rupert’s Land refers to the area granted to Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Asfar and Chodan also report:  “Over time, the Métis (French for “half-caste”) formed a distinct population. They developed buffalo-hunting practices of their own and competed against bordering Natives for hunting grounds.”

From the Native American perspective there was no such thing as race, and thus the Métis were not viewed as an interracial group. Culturally and linguistically, the Métis blended European and Native American features into a new culture. As with other indigenous people, there were a number of different Métis cultural variations. Josephine Paterek, in her book Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume, reports:“The Southern Métis were the offspring of the French coureurs de bois and Ojibway or Cree women; they were typically Catholic and lived in and around the Red River Valley. The Northern Métis, in the vicinity of the Saskatchewan River, were the offspring of Scottish and English traders and Athapaskan women and usually followed the Anglican religion.”

One of the characteristics of Métis men was the wearing of a red, finger-woven sash which was usually about 60 inches in length.

During the nineteenth century there were a number of conflicts between the British and the Métis. In 1814, for example, a conflict known as the Pemmican War broke out in Saskatchewan when the governor attempted to stop the pemmican trade.

After Rupert’s Land became a part of the Canadian Federation and was opened to homesteading, the Métis system of land distribution—narrow, river front lots—did not mesh with the Canadian homesteading squares. The Métis during the 1880s repeatedly petitioned Ottawa for official recognition of their lands and their concerns were ignored.

By the twentieth century, Canada recognized the Métis as a distinct people. In 1901, for example, the Canadian government offered land script to Métis who had been born between certain dates. As a result, many Canadian-born Metis returned to Canada from the United States.

In Canada today, the Métis are recognized as an indigenous people. The United States, with its obsession for race expressed in the concept of blood quantum, does not recognize the Métis.


Ancient America: The Lower Columbia River Area

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made its way down the lower Columbia River. This area, from Celilo Falls near the present-day Oregon city of The Dalles, to the Wapato Valley (the Portland Basin), to the mouth of the river, was inhabited by numerous Chinookan-speaking Indian nations. The many villages along the river were linked through trade and through intermarriage. As Lewis and Clark traveled along the lower Columbia River, they found that villages and towns were numerous.

The lower course of the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast adjacent to its mouth have changed significantly over time. During the past 5,000 years dunes have formed, creating a ridged topography. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, explain:  “The Clatsop Plains is a ridged landform of stabilized dune sand stretching between the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. The sand derives primarily from Columbia River sediment that is returned to the outer coast due to high energy waves.”

Earl Dune Site:

 American Indians first began using the Earl Dune site (35CLT66) about 1,350 years ago. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The initial occupation appears to have been on an open sandy beach on the ocean side of the dunes, where marine fishes (primarily hake and sculpin) were harvested, and razor clams were opportunistically collected.”

Occupation of Earl Dune site was short-term. As the dune accumulated more sand, occupation of the site became less frequent and use of the site ended about 1,200 years ago.

Palmrose Site:

The Palmrose site (35CLT47) is located at the southern end of the Clatsop Plains. The site was first occupied about 3,900 years ago and by 2,700 years ago the people had constructed a large rectangular plank house. This is the earliest plank house known on the southern Northwest Coast Culture Area. This house was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) wide and at least 12 meters (40 feet) long. The house was probably similar to the plank houses that early European and American explorers saw in the area.

The Palmrose site was a permanent site and is characterized by a large shell midden. The people who lived here were harvesting horse clam, butter clam, and littleneck clam. Archaeologists also found evidence of 23 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and 14 species of mammals. The remains of mammals included both sea mammals (whales, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals) and land mammals (deer and elk were most common). In general, it appears that sustenance was largely based on marine and littoral resources.

With regard to tools, the archaeologists found a variety of projectile points, atlatl weights, mortars, stone mauls, antler digging stick handles, antler splitting wedges, composite bone harpoon points, and shark-tooth pendants.

Archaeologists also found a number of carved bone and antler artifacts with motifs similar to those found farther north. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “These similarities show clearly that close contacts were being maintained over great distances up and down the coast by 2,700 years ago. These ancient connections may be a factor in the presence of Salish languages in Oregon, which otherwise dominate the Washington and southern British Columbia coasts to the north.”

The Palmrose site was abandoned about 1,600 years ago.

Par-Tee Site:

 Indian people were occupying the Par-Tee site (35CLT20) near present-day Seaside, Oregon by about 1,400 years ago. The people were exploiting sea mammals as well as fish and shellfish. They were also hunting elk. Some of their tools were made out of modified whale bones. Houses at this site appear to have been circular.

Avenue Q Site:

While Indian people first began occupying the Avenue Q site (35CLT13) about 3,500 years ago, the most intense period of occupation was between 1,700 years ago and 1,000 years ago. In modern times, the site’s shell midden, which was about 10 feet deep, was mined to obtain material for road building.

Indian people at this site had a subsistence focus on marine environments. Fish, particularly halibut, lingcod, and cabezon, predominate. Among the mammal bones found by archaeologists at the site, 73% were from marine mammals (sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and whales).

Eddy Point and Ivy Station:

About 25 miles upstream from present-day Astoria are the Eddy Point (35CLT33) and Ivy Station (25CLY34) sites. Both of these date back about 3,000 years. While deer and elk bone was common at both sites, there were also some harbor seal bones. Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of fish (salmon, sucker, sturgeon, and marine fishes), waterfowl (swan, duck, goose), and marine shellfish. While archaeologists found no evidence of house structures, they feel that both of these were village sites.

 Meier Site:

 At the Meir site (35CO5) archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Chinook-style plank longhouse. It is estimated to have been 14 meters wide and 35 meters long. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was initially constructed about 700 years ago and that it remained occupied until historic times. The archaeological data shows that the main wall and roof support members had been shored up and/or replaced about eight to ten times during the life of the house.

Down the center of the house were a series of formal boxed hearths. The ethnographic record shows that each of these hearths would have served from two to four related families. Houses of this type were generally occupied by several related families. Each family would have a bedroom area which was a platform attached to the outside wall.

The longhouse at the Meier site had storage pits or cellars along both sides of the hearth area. These pits had been dug, filled, and re-dug many times during the centuries that the house had been occupied. When in use, the pits were probably covered by flooring planks. With regard to the archaeological evidence in the pits, C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The pits yielded an abundance of fire-cracked rock and tens of thousands of bone fragments from elk, deer, salmon, sturgeon, and other animals, the remains of food that was stored, cooked, and eaten in the house.”


When Lewis and Clark journeyed through the Lower Columbia River area, they encountered the village of Cathlapotle which was across the river from the Meier site in what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Washington. They reported that this was a large village with about 14 houses and a population of about 900. Archaeological investigation of the site began in 1991 and continued until 1996. Dating shows that the site was occupied from the mid-1400s until the 1840s.

The archaeologists found six house sites in two parallel rows on a ridge above the river’s high water level. The houses ranged from 60 feet to 200 feet in length and from 24 feet to 36 feet in width.

As with the longhouse at the Meier site, archaeologists found large storage pits or cellars in the longhouse sites. Some of these were six feet deep and when the houses were occupied, they would have been beneath the sleeping platforms that lined the walls.

With regard to the Cathlapotle site, Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, report:  “So long as a site is not threatened by disturbance, such as from land development or erosion, today’s archaeologists deliberately study only part of it. They leave the rest for the future, a time sure to have new insights, new investigative techniques, and new research questions.”