Although I’ve always known Native Americans lost much of their land to white settlers, I was appalled to discover recently that Edward Warbass, who established a townsite in 1850 south of today’s Toledo and called it Warbassport, had jumped the Donation Land Claim of Simon Plamondon Jr., the son of the first white settler in Western Washington.
I learned about the claim-jumping during a Toledo Historical Society meeting at the library earlier this month that featured independent historian Robert Foxcurran, of Seattle, who co-authored an article for the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly on the history of the Plamondon family with one of its descendants, Michael Hubbs of Winlock.
It was titled “Ethnic and Linguistic Complexities Persist Following Partition of the PNW — the Cowlitz Tribe and the Plamondon Family.”
Warbass built a hotel and store and opened the Cowlitz post office in 1854. He became Lewis County’s first auditor, serving until 1856. According to Foxcurran and Hubbs, during the Indian war of 1855-56, he confiscated and destroyed guns belonging to Cowlitz natives who relied on them for hunting. Warbass then sold his land and moved north to Whatcom County during the Fraser River gold rush and later settled on San Juan Island. William Winlock Miller bought the property in 1861 along with interest in 16 other Donation Land Claims, Foxcurran said.
He discussed the contents of a June 16, 1908, letter translated from French into English in which Simon Plamondon Jr. testified about the claim jumping. He was born on March 30, 1830, to Simon Plamondon and his wife, Chief Scanewa’s daughter, Thas-e-much. According to his letter, he “was always shown as a peaceful and friendly Indian, and often rendered valuable services to the government of the United States by acting as interpreter ... by interpreting the Indian language with the French language.”
Plamondon Jr. traveled to Oregon City in 1848 and filed a 640-acre Donation Land Claim with the Oregon Provisional Government for property on the west side of the Cowlitz River. He was legally entitled to file a claim as someone of mixed ancestry, known then as a sitkum siwash, Foxcurran said. (Full-blooded Cowlitz were prohibited from staking such claims until the Indian Homestead Act of 1884.) He built a log house, but when he left for Fort Victoria, he returned to find his land taken over by Warbass, who threatened to kill him if he entered the cabin or stayed on the property.
He was forced to give up the land and moved west to a homestead above Olequa Creek near a Metis village where he built a cabin in 1867, farmed with his wife, Metis Marianne Farron, and raised three sons. His cabin, which is still standing today, would be fabulous to preserve.
He signed his testimony seeking restitution for his stolen property with an X.
Was he ever compensated for his loss? Unfortunately, he died only a few years later, Jan. 14, 1911, at Little Falls. His uncle, Chief Atwin Skookum, aided his appeal, but he died Nov. 30, 1912.
However, Foxcurran said Simon Plamondon Jr.’s petition later helped the Cowlitz Tribe in its fight for a property settlement from the federal government — land they thought had been promised in the 1850s.
Isaac Stevens, the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs and later Washington Territorial governor, held meetings in 1854 and 1855 with tribal leaders throughout the territory to discuss relocating the Native Americans. According to James Swan, a friend of Stevens’ who wrote “Three Years on the Northwest Coast,” a Chinook chief, Narkarty, expressed a willingness to sell land, but they refused to leave their ancestral homes where their fathers and mothers were buried. They didn’t want to live on a reservation among other tribes, he said, because they’d soon be killed.
According to Foxcurran, Kent Richards, a biographer of Stevens, said the territorial governor considered Southwest Washington tribes unimportant and figured they could be brought under a treaty later.
While the Quinault and Quillayute tribes eventually signed treaties, the Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Chinook Indians never did.
In October 1855, war erupted in Washington Territory, but the Cowlitz didn’t join in the uprising against the whites. Simon Plamondon Sr. served as Indian subagent, and Foxcurran said his land became a temporary reservation. Militias formed and men constructed blockhouses and military roads.
At the time, Cowlitz Chief Atwin Stockham, Chief Scanewa’s son, understood his tribe would receive a reservation if they remained peaceful, according to historian Judith Irwin, but that promise never materialized.
In 1857, Sidney S. Ford urged the U.S. Secretary of Interior to forge treaties with the Indians living in Southwest Washington, but he never did.
Eleven years later, the Cowlitz attended a meeting with Superintendent T.J. McKenney, but he said they refused to accept goods or provisions, believing that any acceptance would be construed as surrender of their lands on the Cowlitz River.
In 1973, the Indian Claims Commission ruled that the Cowlitz tribe’s 1,200 members had been deprived of 1.79 million acres without compensation and offered to pay 90 cents an acre but held the money in trust until the tribe was formally recognized. That didn’t happen for 27 years because the Quinault tribe challenged the decision, saying some Cowlitz members owned allotments on the Quinault Reservation.
It took nearly 150 years for the Cowlitz Tribe to gain federal recognition, which occurred Feb. 14, 2000. That decision affecting nearly 4,000 members was reaffirmed in 2002, and in 2015, the tribe was granted a reservation near the La Center exit from Interstate 5, not far from the confluence of the Lewis and Columbia Rivers. The tribe opened a casino there in 2017 called ilani, which means “sing” in Salishan Cowlitz.
However, the battle isn’t over for the other main tribe in Southwest Washington. The Chinook Nation received federal recognition in 2001, but it was rescinded 18 months later after opposition from the neighboring Quinault Indian Nation. Many Chinook women married outside the tribe, either to Canadians, Americans or men from other tribes. The battle continues for the nearly 3,000 descendants of the Chinook Nation to receive recognition and compensation for the loss of their land.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.