Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/Reminiscences of F. X. Matthieu
REMINISCENCES OF F. X. MATTHIEU.
By H. S. Lyman.
Francis Xavier Matthieu, a pioneer of French Prairie, near the old town of Champoeg, of the year 1842, and a participant in the movement for the Oregon provisional government of May, 1843, was a French-Canadian by birth. His native town was Terrebonne, twelve miles from Montreal, and his father and mother were of pure French descent the father's family being from Normandy, and the mother's from Brittany; and both branches were very early immigrants to Canada. They belonged to the working class, and the parents of F. X. were only in the moderate circumstances of the independent farmer. Owing to this circumstance, young Matthieu was obliged at an early age to begin life on his own account. He went to Montreal when quite young, and engaged as a clerk in a mercantile house. There was, however, still earlier, while he was yet a schoolboy in his native town, a very powerful formative influence that moulded all his ideas, and though somewhat blindly as it first seemed, finally, with wonderful selective affinity, turned his course westward, and made him almost the deciding factor of free government in Oregon.
The date of his birth, 1818, brought his early life and schoolboy days into the very critical time of the patriot movement in Canada. With that disregard of political obligations for which the British government was formerly noted, such as had caused the rupture with her .greatest American colonies, the royal authority had failed to keep the promises made to the Canadian provinces; and, now restive under a rule that seemed both tyrrannous and faithless, the leaders of those Canadians were demanding their covenanted rights as they understood them. Louis J. Papineau, an orator of the character of Laurier of the present day, was leading the movement. He had drawn up the famous memorial, or bill of grievances, to the British crown. Though not a successful military leader, and, indeed, discountenancing the use of force, he was a thrilling orator, and had fired the heart of the French-Canadians with the hope of equal rights; and created the determination to acquire these, if not by agitation, then by revolution.
It happened that in the town of Terrebonne, where the little F. X. Matthieu was living, there was a highly educated civil officer, a notary public the office of notary then being a profession that required special legal, and classical education. The name of this notary was Velade; and, besides his official duties, he was schoolmaster, receiving a small stipend from the government, and nominal fees from his pupils. Velade was a student of government, and a great admirer of the United States. American liberty and law as developed in this country, he taught in his school almost to the entire neglect of the Canadian system. This he not only taught, but actually instituted. Every term his school held an election after the American plan. Some of the boys also regularly celebrated the Fourth of July, carrying American flags. This was in connection with some young men from the United States who had come to Terrebonne, and started a nail factory. With this extreme Americanism, however, the townspeople were not altogether pleased, and sometimes broke up their demonstrations.
While still a mere boy, Matthieu went to Montreal, where he was engaged in clerking, and there acquired a certain impress and manner that distinguishes him even yet from the farmer. Being already imbued with ideas of free government, it was easy for him to find and join the Sons of Liberty—a secret organization auxiliary to the party called "Democrats," who opposed the "Bureaucrats."
The Sons of Liberty, or patriots, carried their movement to the point of armed resistance. They drilled regularly in secret, using sticks for guns; and at night met in secluded places to make cartridges and mould bullets. Mr. Matthieu has preserved to this day his old bullet mould, used at that time, which he has now presented to the Oregon Historical Society. He was himself a very useful member of the Sons of Liberty, since, being a store clerk, he could procure lead and powder more easily than some others. One of the services of this company was to guard the house of Papineau, whose appeals he heard in public, and whose boldness was bringing on the threatened crisis.
As is well known, however, the movement collapsed. Before a blow was struck, many of the Sons of Liberty were placed under arrest and executed. Mr. Matthieu recalls the hanging of sixteen patriots in one market place, tied in pairs, back to back. Though then a youth of not twenty years old, he was himself in danger of the same fate and sought safety at Terrebonne. While here, almost in hiding, he was approached by a certain Doctor Frasier, a Scotchman, holding some government position, and who, as it happened, was an uncle of Dr. John McLoughlin, then Hudson's Bay chief factor at Fort Vancouver, Oregon Territory. Matthieu was asked why he did not leave Canada.
"I have no pass," he replied.
"I will give you one," said the old doctor; and immediately provided the necessary paper.
With this passport, Matthieu at once started for the American border. He would become a citizen of the United States. At the line, however, where it was necessary to present his pass, the officer looked at him sharply; "You do not correspond with the description;' he said, "this calls for black eyes, yours are blue" this inadvertence probably being due to the fact that his eyes were of that changeable color that turns dark under excitement.
"Can't help the description,' replied the young refugee, "that is not my fault. The officer then eyed his red and black diamond squared plaid, which was the patriot uniform, and which Matthieu had not thought of as unsafe while he had his passport. But instead of detaining him, the officer said, "Well, get along with you; the sooner the country is rid of you fellows, the better" probably little dreaming that the blue-eyed patriot was to turn up a few years later in Oregon to confront the British authority and help that important section of North America over to liberty as denned in the American Constitution.
Coming to Albany, New York, (1838), he soon found employment as clerk in a store. To him, his patron was honorable; but not altogether so to his creditors, as he left the city suddenly and secretly. Matthieu was entrusted with the care of his family, and was instructed to bring them to the new scene of operations, being Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This, in course of time, led the young man to that then far western land (May, 1839). From Milwaukee he went to St. Louis, being attracted toward that old French city (August, 1839) . There he found service very soon with the American Fur Company—then officered almost exclusively by Frenchmen. His first outing was to Fort Pierre (October, 1839), on the Missouri River, among the Sioux and Dakotas—the Sioux Indians being the finest wild men that he has ever seen, whom he describes as "a great nation, fine, noble fellows.' During this period he encountered many hardships, and also much to interest a light-hearted Gallic youth. He remembers one expedition on which provisions became reduced, the daily allowance being two biscuits to the man and two ounces of dried Buffalo beef to two comrades. This lean fare was eked out, as they marched, by eating the frosted rosebuds of the Missouri meadows. As an incident of a trader's life among the Sioux, he recalls with much gusto the solemn feasts of the chiefs, which it would have been the height of impropriety not to attend, and which must be observed with all punctittio, or spoil all the bargaining. These were dog feasts, and consisted principally in eating a plateful of soup of tender dog meat boiled to a paste, into which red buffalo berries were sprinkled. To leave any of this delicacy uneaten would be a breach of etiquette too serious to allow; and the higher the trader was held in estimation, the more liberal the share placed upon his plate. Not only to a refined palate was the dog paste rather objectionable, but it often included much of the hair of the dog as well as other portions. The sharp French trader, however, avoided the difficulty. He hired an Indian chief of unquestioned appetite to clean up his plate. Thus the feast had been eaten; and etiquette was fully satisfied.A limited amount of alcohol was also used by the traders in connection with driving bargains, and Mr. Matthieu recalls one instance in which one gallon of the the article judiciously diluted procured ten buffalo robes, worth $10 each besides other trumpery. However, the better class of the traders seldom indulged the Indians beyond moderation, or only at long intervals. So great was their fondness for the stuff that even the smell of liquor often seemed to set them wild.
After a year's service in the country of the Sioux, the return to Saint Louis was made, and at that point he outfitted as a free trapper, going out on to the Arkansas to Bent's Fort (1840). George Bent, the notable trappercaptain, whom he met there, he describes as "a little bit of a man, but sharp as lightning.' On this jaunt he also met Kit Carson, who is almost as well known in the annals of the frontier as Daniel Boone of Kentucky. Carson he describes as "a terror" not as a desperado, however, but as a hunter. He was an unerring shot, and dropped many a buffalo. He was stocky and nervy in build, and had something of the Southwestern bluster of manner, yet not so offensively so as many others.
Mr. Matthieu recalls serious hardships on this expedition, passing one stretch of five days without food. But such experiences were little thought of, the trapper always relying upon his rifle without fear. In those days the Indians were very friendly.
Returning eastward the next season, he spent the winter and spring trapping in the Black Hills (1841). However, it seems that this life of a trapper, nomadic and free, and dependent only upon the unlimited bounty of nature, and the friendly offices of the generally tractable Indians, although amusing in many ways to a light-hearted Frenchman, did not wholly satisfy young Matthieu. The desire for settled society, and progressive individual life and home frequently took possession of him; and the opportunity to gratify this was apparently fortuitously afforded at Fort Laramie, early in the summer of 1842.
With his party of trappers he found there the Oregon immigrants of that season. This was the first regular immigration to Oregon across the plains, and aside from the ladies of the mission parties that had crossed in 1836-38, it was the first appearance of white women in the Rocky Mountains.
This was the party of Captain Hastings, in which was Dr. Elijah White, who had first come to Oregon with the large mission party on the bark Lausanne, in 1839-40; but had returned east, and was now coming to Oregon again, crossing the plains, holding the appointment to the position of sub-Indian agent for Oregon, and was accompanied by a party of over one hundred immigrants. Doctor White is recalled by Mr. Matthieu as "a sleek looking gentleman," and "a quick talker."
A well known member of the party was Amos L. Lovejoy, described as very light sandy-complexioned, and "more quick tempered than any man I ever knew;" Captain Hastings was of heavy build and swarthy complexion. The pioneer, Medorem Crawford, then in his young prime, was also in the company. Sydney Moss, now living as a nonegenarian at Oregon City; Thomas Sladden and —— Robb were also quickly made acquaintances. Among the women of the party Mr. Matthieu especially recalls an elderly widow, Mrs. Brown, and her daughter, who were said to have been held, previous to this time, as captives among the Comanches. There were a number of families in the train, among them being that of Mr. Smith.
The pilot of the company was Fitzpatrick, the famous guide of Wyeth's party, whom Matthieu describes as tall and spare with abundant gray hair; an Irishman of good common education, and even gentlemanly bearing; perfectly at home anywhere on the boundless prairies, or within the mountain ranges. Unlike the most of his race, however, he was very taciturn.
While this company was waiting at Laramie, provisioning, Matthieu and his comrades quickly decided to go along with them to Oregon. They had their rifles and their horses; what more was required? The very first night, however, they discovered that more was needed. They went supperless, game having failed during the day; and they could not but look on with a little envy and self-commiseration at the various campfires where the immigrants were despatching fried bacon and mountain biscuit and drinking coffee. Mr. Matthieu says, however, that the immigrants could not be blamed or called inhospitable for neglecting to entertain them, as they knew as yet nothing of the trappers who had joined their caravan, and every head of a family felt obliged to guard his little store of provisions, scant at the best.
The incidents of the journey are vividly recalled by Mr. Matthieu, though now after a lapse of fifty-eight years. These should be mentioned here, some being serious and some being laughable, whether recorded elsewhere or not, as they afford light upon the individuality of this important member of the group of Oregon pioneers, of the era of the provisional government.
One of the first serious affairs after leaving Laramie occurred at Independence Rock. This was the incident of the capture of Hastings and Lovejoy by the Sioux Indians. At this point, a noted rock, or high ledge, with a perpendicular front, about the space of a mile (F. X. M.) from the Sweetwater River, the immigrant train was delayed in order to bury a man, one of a company of Germans, who, in drawing his gun from a wagon accidentally caused the discharge of the piece with the result that he was fatally shot in the groin.
Taking advantage of this delay, Matthieu and his comrades went buffalo hunting. From the actions of the buffaloes that were at length discovered, he was suspicious that there were Indians in the neighborhood. The buffalo herds were constantly in motion, as was the case when the Indians were stalking them. This, however, caused him no uneasiness, and it was not until two o'clock next morning that he returned to the train.
The journey was resumed about daybreak, but sometime in the forenoon it began to be passed around that Love joy and Captain Hastings were missing; and this caused anxiety. Matthieu suspected Indians and scanned the plains, now ablaze to the distant horizon in the summer sunshine. At length he caught far in the distance, a distinct glance of light. This was thrown, as he surmised, from one of the little zinc-framed lookingglasses that the Indian braves frequently wore attached around their necks. Waiting for no further sign, he hastened to the train, telling the immigrants to halt and get ready, as the Indians would soon be upon them. To them this was rather mystifying, as the young Frenchman took no trouble to explain how he knew this. But upon his advice the wagons were halted, and everything was placed in readiness to receive the Indians, who might be hostile. In the course of a few hours a great band of Sioux appeared in sight, developing out of the prairie, and galloping in wild fashion upon their ponies —or in large part running on foot. They numbered about five hundred and were in full war dress and paint. Lovejoy and Hastings were among them, being held as captives and looking very much crestfallen. They had delayed, as it seems, in boyish spirit, to inscribe their names among others on the face of Independence Rock; and having just completed their task, had turned to go only to find themselves in the embrace of some very large Indians.
Matthieu, however, who knew personally some of the chiefs,' soon saw that they were good natured, as they now moved around the train, and were only wishing to drive a good bargain to let their captives go. They were a war party and wanted ammunition. When this was made known, the men of the train exclaimed "What! shall we give them ammunition to shoot us with?" Matthieu, however, advised giving it. "They have enough ammunition already,' he said, "to shoot us. They do not wish to fight us, but only desire supplies for fighting other Indians.' Accordingly, the ammunition was given them, along with other things, and the captives were released. This, however, was not the last of Indians. The next day a band, or rather a host, of about five or six thousand (F. X. M.) of the Blackfoot Sioux, under a great war chief, appeared. By this immense multitude, the train was compelled to halt, and to be inspected by band after band of the curious savages. The Indians being in such overwhelming force, were very free in their ways. They were especially curious to look at the women of the train. Mr. Matthieu relates the following amusing incident: "The family of Mr. Smith was especially annoyed by the curious braves, who came continually to their tent, and pulling the flaps apart, gazed in silent admiration upon his wife and daughters, or spoke to one another in their own language.' By this behavior Mr. Smith, who was of a very irascible temper, was so much annoyed that he came at length to Matthieu, asking him to send them off, as he could do nothing with them. When Matthieu arrived and discovered what it was the Indians wanted, and the thoroughly irate Mr. Smith desired to know, the Frenchman said: "You must be very quiet; you must make no commotion.' Mr. Smith agreed. "I am almost afraid to tell you," continued Matthieu, "you will not like it.' Mr. Smith insisted. "They wish to buy one of your daughters to present to their great chief," said Mr. Matthieu. At this Mr. Smith sprang to his feet in great excitement, ready to drive the intruders away by force. "Softly, softly," said Matthieu. "You will have the whole band down upon us." Then to the Indians he explained how their white brother regretted his inability to meet their wishes; but according to the customs of his people, it was impossible to sell her. When satisfied entirely with this information, the braves retired. However, the fondness of the Indians to see and even possess the white women, was a real source of danger, with which the immigrant parties had to reckon. I't was not simply an annoyance. It was apprehended by some that American families could never cross the plains safely. The Indians, it was said, would seize their women at all hazards. That they did not do so, but respected the white man's customs, even when, as in this case, they were in greatly superior numbers, shows they had a certain native morality, often not found among the whites.
This great band of Indians also could hardly be made to believe that the immigrant train had no liquors, and begged insistently for the firewater. Fitzpatrick, the pilot, both with this band and that at Independence Rock, refused to be made known, not wishing to implicate himself as a leader of white people through their country; and remarked that all the prairie was home to him, and he could drop off anywhere.,Matthieu, therefore, having learned the custom of the Sioux, and knowing some of them personally, was able to help the immigrants, and to greatly reduce the liability of trouble. "I actually believe," he says, "that they might not have got through without me.' These Sioux, being of the Blackfoot division of the nation, were at this juncture on a great expedition to cross the Rocky Mountains and attack the Snake Indians.
At Fort Hall, the exact date of reaching which is not remembered by Mr. Matthieu, the immigrants delayed, some for a shorter, others a longer time. The object was to change from their wagons to pack saddles. Mr. Matthieu does not recollect that the Hudson's Bay commandant there offered to purchase any wagons, and thinks this improbable. "The Hudson's Bay Company had no use for any wagons,' he observes.
The commandant, Grant, is well remembered as very large and fine looking "as big a man as Dr. John McLoughlin"—which is as grand a comparison as could be made by a McLoughlin admirer. Grant assured the immigrants that it was impossible for wagons to. cross the Blue Mountains into Oregon. This, Mr. Matthieu believes, was said because he thought it true, and he was simply representing what was generally understood as the fact. Mr. Matthieu remarks, however, "we all know very well that the Hudson's Bay Company was not favorable to immigration to Oregon;" and, though only a young man at the time, he understood that the British expected to hold the Columbia Kiver as their boundary line. As to bringing the wagons on to the Columbia River, he says that this could have been done, as wood and water and the grass were in most places abundant, and though in some places the trail was very difficult, it was not impossible to American teamsters.
He and his comrades remained about eight days at Fort Hall, and then came on with the Hudson's Bay express by the horse trail, crossing the Blue Mountains, and descending upon the valley of the Umatilla, and then going by Whitman's farm at Waiilatpu to old Fort Walla Walla. At Waiilatpu he remained fifteen days waiting for the other immigrants to come in; as the trip from Fort Hall to Whitman's was made in small parties, or even by families, as they were able, the later ones following the tracks of the earlier. There was here no danger of Indians, and the semi-military organization with which they started was entirely abandoned.
With Doctor Whitman and his place, Mr. Matthieu was very favorably impressed. The farm was neat and well cultivated, having a large garden, a field of grain and a small grist mill. Doctor Whitman himself he describes as "a very nice man," of unbounded hospitality. "His garden and grist mill he threw open' 1 to their use, and for what they had need of "he would not take a cent.' In person he recalls Whitman as not very tall, rather slender in build, and of strongly Yankee style. His hair was then dark. Though very favorably impressed, however, with Whitman, the Yankee missionary bore, in Matthieu 's estimation, no comparison with Doctor McLoughlin, who was his beau ideal of the natural-born leader of men.In this connection Mr. Matthieu states that he had the following incident directly from some employees of the Hudson's Bay Company at Vancouver, which illustrates Doctor McLoughlin's disposition toward Whitman. In 1841 the Cayuse Indians formed the intention of killing Doctor Whitman. But they feared the punishment that Doctor McLoughlin would visit upon them, if he disapproved the act. They devised the plan, therefore, of discovering his feeling, as if by accident. A number of the leaders were sent to Fort Vancouver, and there stationing themselves by the bank of the river, they began to talk to one another of destroying Whitman. Doctor McLoughlin was passing and they were purposely overheard by him. Instantly confronting the Cayuses the old Doctor raised his great cane and cried out in a terrific voice, "Who says you shall kill Whitman?' and threatened condign punishment if such a massacre should take place. The Indians scattered and immediately gave up their evil plan.
Before leaving Mr. Matthieu's account of Ms experiences on the plains, perhaps the following story may be told as throwing a side light upon the character and ways of some of the people who crossed. It is in regard to an Irishman called Pat, who was with the party but had no outfit and no money, and was little better than a camp follower. He obtained his day's provisions by going from camp to camp, or mess to mess, asking for anything that might be put into his pot, which he then boiled over the fire making a sort of soup. Once while he was thus cooking he had the misfortune to drop his pipe into the savory mess, which turned it so much against his stomach that he would not eat it. "Give it to B.," suggested a bystander, "he will eat anything." B. was another camp-follower, less-liked than Pat. B. enjoyed his meal, but afterwards regretted his precipitancy. Pat always endeavored to return the courtesies of his patrons by doing little favors around the camps, especially in helping the w r omen about their wood and fires, and became rather a favorite. Reaching Oregon, and finally going to California, he prospered and became a wealthy man.
The trip over the Cascade Mountains was the most difficult of any part of the journey, and involved the most suffering. The route was by the old Indian trail at the base of Mount Hood, on the north side. A snowstorm was encountered here, and by this fourteen of the horses were stampeded and took the back trail for The Dalles, where there was an abundance of grass. Matthieu, however, managed to keep himself comfortable during the storm by kindling an immense fire in the timber, and retained his horses by tying them. On this part of the trip he was accompanied by Hugh Burns, a well-known Irishman, who made himself useful as cook.
At Oregon City, which he reached about the twentyfifth of September (F. X. M) the first man that he met was Father Waller, the well-known member of the Methodist Society. By this kindly gentleman, Matthieu was at once and very pressingly invited home to supper. "He wanted to hear all about my journey." Matthieu, however, felt rather delicate about accepting his hospitality. After his hard journey over the last range of mountains he felt outrageously hungry; but, for this very reason, was timid about partaking a "company dinner," so he began apologizing: "I am looking rough and very dirty," he said, "Had you not better excuse me?"
" No, no," said Father Waller, "you must come."
The neat house, the supper table with its snowy cloth and shining dishes, and the care of the lady, Mrs. Waller, to have a nice repast, greatly impressed the hungry immigrant. But particularly was his appetite whetted, if that were possible, by the sight and smell of potatoes an article of food he had not seen for months. When seated at the table he was hardly able to restrain himself; he was taken not a little aback, however, when, instead of proceeding to the meal at once, the good missionary began by asking a blessing, which he extended into quite lengthy devotions. "It was the longest prayer I ever heard," says Mr. Matthieu.
Learning at Oregon City that there were French Canadians on the prairie fifteen miles up the Willamette, he proceeded to Champoeg. Arriving there he found that the settlers in that region numbered nearly three hundred all told. Stopping off at the old landing, he found near this point, about a mile and a half up the river, living upon the river bank, Etienne Lucier, and remained with him during the winter. French Prairie is the borderland between the originally heavily timbered country of the lower Willamette and the more open lands of Marion County and the big prairies of the upper valley. Matthieu found the country of the French settlers even more beautifully diversified than at the present, the practice of the Indians, then but recently discontinued, of burning the prairies over, having brought the whole country for miles together to the condition of a park. Stately groves of fir and oak, or belts of deciduous timber along the water courses, broke the monotony of the grassy levels, while from almost any point of view the panorama of distant mountain scenery was uninterrupted. The Butte, as it was called, which escarped upon the Willamette just below the landing, and from which Butte ville takes its name, formed a sightly highland and became a well-known landmark to the voyager of the early day. The name Champoeg, says Mr. Matthieu, is simply a corruption of the French term, Champment Sable—the camp of the sands.
With this Willamette country, however, Matthieu was not at first thoroughly pleased. The deep moss that gathered on the trees and buildings, and the general mildness and moisture of the winter weather, suggested disease, such as fever and ague. He anticipated a hot, sickly summer which, however, he afterwards found was not the characteristic of Oregon.
Life in this region was entirely Arcadian. The Hudson's Bay servants had been encouraged to settle upon the rich prairie lands and raise wheat. Doctor McLoughlin, a most shrewd business man, foresaw (F. X. M.) that the Willamette and Columbia valleys would ultimately cease to be fur-bearing country, and sought privileges to the north. His agreements with the Russians of New Archangel, allowing him to trade with the Indians of Alaska, provided, also, that he should supply that post with fifteen thousand bushels of wheat per year. To meet this requirement, the old Hudson's Bay servants who had served out their time, and by their articles of agreement were to be returned to their native land, were retained as employees of the company, and they were provided, also, with an outfit to begin farming. This consisted of a two-wheeled cart, oxen, plows, a cow, and necessary household furniture, which was to be paid for in wheat the ordinary currency of the country. The cattle were to be returned; the increase kept. A double outfit was allowed to those who would settle north of the Columbia River. This, as Mr. Matthieu understands, was for political reasons; the British wishing to secure that section by actual settlement and occupation. The convenience, the beauty, and the fertility of the Willamette Valley, however, outweighed in the minds of the farmers the greater liberality of the offer on the north, and most of the Hudson's Bay people came to French Prairie.
Lucier, Matthieu found, was one of the oldest of the Oregonians, having preceded him by about thirty years. He was one of the old trappers that came with Hunt's party, of the Astor expedition. In person, this now old man was short and stocky, and of a dark complexion. He was about sixty, and was living with his second wife. The first family of three children were then grown. His second family consisted of two boys, both of whom are now living on French Prairie, one having a family of several children. Among the subjects of conversation with Lucier were the laws and customs of the United States. The old Hudson's Bay trapper was quite suspicious, and had been told that our government imposed very heavy duties such as placing a tax upon windows. Matthieu, however, was able to tell him that this was entirely a mistake . The laws of the United States were just and liberal, and under them all men were equal; there was no tyranny. Lucier, who was a very saving and industrious man, and at the end of Ms service with the company had to his credit the respectable sum of 400, was finally well satisfied with these representations. All the settlers of the Prairie he found to be hospitable in the extreme; they were willing to share with the stranger anything they had. The most of them had native wives, or at least of mixed blood; a number of whom were from Clatsop or Chinook. They were an industrious people and entirely honest. The incident is related that by some mistake as to ownership three sacks of potatoes were once left on the river bank at the portage at Oregon City. There they remained three months, no one disturbing them. The following story also is told of McLoughlin and his wheat buyer: It was the custom of the agent who bought wheat to strike the measure—the wheat not being very well cleaned requiring to be settled in order to give full weight. Seeing him give the measure a number of slow, gentle taps, McLoughlin exclaimed, "Tut, tut,' and gave it one heavy blow; but to his chagrin, and the vast enjoyment of the bystanders, the doctor's heavy stroke instead of settling the grain only shook it up, and he instantly admitted that the buyer's way was the best, and with that the farmers were all well pleased, because thereby they sold the best weight—which illustrates not only their simplicity, but their desire to act on the square with the great chief factor.Names of French-Canadians on French Prairie when Mr. Matthieu first went there, and who all, as he remembers, took part in the provisional government meeting they are collected from his ledger of the business carried on by him with George Le Roque, at Butteville, beginning in 1850:
ANDRE LA CHAPELLE
LOUIS B. VANDALLE
JEAN B. DU CHARME
PIERRE DE LORD
LOUIS A. VANDALLE
ANDRE DU BOIS
PIERRE LE COURSE
JEAN B. DALCOURSE
JEAN B. AUBICHON
JEAN B. PANPIN
The following were Frenchmen who came to Oregon in the spring of 1842, except Matthieu, who came in the fall. They were at the meeting at Champoeg. This list has, perhaps, never been published:
F. X. MATTHIEU.During the first months of the year 1843, the question of organizing an independent or provisional government, until the United States should extend its authority over Oregon, was much discussed. Debates were held at Oregon City, and the project was the matter of ordinary conversations at Salem and Tualatin Plains. The leaders of the movement, as is well known, saw the necessity of the whole community participating, and devised a plan that would interest all. The French Canadians could not be interested in the general question of a new government; being quite contented as they were, and having unlimited faith in McLoughlin, with whom they did all their business, and from whom they obtained all the counsel and protection they felt needed.
"The idea of organizing a provisional government was then," says Mr. Matthieu, "to give the United States a reason for taking possession of Oregon."
The device of the "Wolf Meetings," however, for providing protection against the wild animals, brought them out and the greater question of forming a government was gradually from this brought to a focus. With this preliminary work, however, Matthieu had nothing to do, and his sentiments were not known to the Americans, or even to the Canadians, except Lucier. He was not at the meetings of February and March. He attended the meeting at Champoeg. This was held, according to his recollection, in a Hudson's Bay building, just over the bluff, at the landing; the embankment of the river here being high and steep. The meeting, however, was very informal, being called to order in the house, but the final vote being taken out of doors.
The details of this important meeting need not be here entered into, except so far as concerns the recollection of Mr. Matthieu. The ability of the common people to organize and maintain a sufficient government, in a remote corner of the world, in the midst of numerous and even in some cases of powerful and cunning bands of Indians; and in opposition to the interests and business policy of a great corporation—was to be tested. The character and calibre of the men who constituted the "people' is a matter of the highest and most lasting interest. What items Mr. Matthieu recollects of them are worthy of the most careful preservation. He remembers W. H. Gray as one of the most active and strenuous of the Americans at the meeting . "Gray took part," he says. "He wanted to organize the worst way—he would not give up to any other notion." G. W. Le Breton, whom he describes as very popular, both with the French and with the Americans, and who acted as secretary, was not less alert. He remembers Le Breton as a young man, short in person, but very active. "He never stood still a minute.' He recollects Rev. J. S. Griffin of Tualatin Plains as present, but not as taking a very active part. Robert Shortess, with his tall, slim figure and strongly Roman profile, was also among the number. Sydney Smith, from Chehalem, was there too. Mr. Matthieu recalls of Smith that he once hired him to assist in filling out a bill of logs, contracted to be delivered at Oregon City. To Matthieu's dismay—he was inexperienced as a lumberman the first cut, which was from a white fir, that he had rolled into the river, sank out of sight in the water. Smith used a strong expression implying lack of sense on the part of the person to whom it was applied, and then exclaimed "I will show you.' Then he bored a hole in a log to be rafted and inserted a large cedar plug, or chunk, which just floated the white fir. Thomas Hubbard was also at the meeting. Others whom he recalls were Amos Cook and Francis Fletcher of the Yamhill Fords, near La Fayette; and George Gay, who was formerly an English sailor, but took leave of his ship at Monterey, California, and came to Oregon in the well known party with Doctor Bailey, and became a large landholder near Dayton, building the first brick house in the valley, and becoming famous for his hospitality to travelers. Others were G. W. Ebbert, Wilkins, Doctor Newell and Joseph L. Meek, of the Tualatin Plains, and Messrs. Babcock, Hines, Doctor Wilson, Alanson Beers, and J. L. Parrish of the Methodist Society.
Matthieu understood that there were three parties in reference to organizing a government. These were the strongly American for it, led by Gray and others, and the Canadian settlers who opposed, or at least did not favor it; and Dr. McLoughlin and his near friends, who really favored an independent government and expected to become citizens of it, but who thought the movement at that time premature. Mr. Matthieu does not recall that Bishop Blanche t was present at the meeting. A memorial had been prepared by the Bishop, on the part of the Canadians, to show that organization was unnecessary and inadvisable. At the critical juncture, however, after there had been some discussion and the meeting was becoming confused, and, indeed, was in danger of breaking up without action, he remembers well how old Joe Meek strode forth, and by the simple power of voice and example gained control after parliamentary tactics had failed. He cried out, as he would to a company of militiamen: "All in favor of organization, come to the right." One hundred and two men were present. Fifty of these quickly went over to the right, in favor of independence. The other fifty-two, all Canadians, remained as they were, or withdrew in the other direction.
Now came out Matthieu 's republican training, which he had received in his schoolboy days, under Velade, at Terrebonne. His "mind was made up,' he says, "ever since I left Canada. I knew what it was to live and die a slave under British rule.' And he was still carrying the picture of Papineau, the liberator.
Now that a time for action had come, he was not wanting. He said, therefore, to the Canadians that he was going with the Americans. He knew w r hat he was doing, and was fully decided which was the right side.
Old Lucier, the trapper of 1811, followed him, and now the vote stood fifty-two for, and fifty against organization. Then went up the shout, led by Joe Meek and his mountain men.
The Canadians, though defeated, were entirely satisfied with the result, and had not favored the movement principally because they did not understand it, and, like Lucier, had obtained incorrect ideas. But when the vote prevailed, they acquiesced cheerfully, and became among the best citizens of the little republic the smallest, probably, since the days of the Pilgrim fathers, who organized their government in the cabin of the Mayflower.
After organization was effected, and a body of laws was framed, Matthieu was called upon to take part in affairs, and was elected justice of the peace for Champoeg County, an office which he says he filled to "the satisfaction of everybody.' He settled disputes by inviting the complaining parties to sit down with him to a good dinner, and after an hour's cheer and pleasant chat, he sent them away well contented with his findings.
He had some trouble with distillers, who sometimes set up little stills in out of the way places, and made liquor to intoxicate the Indians. He recalls one case in which he and Doctor Wilson, the judge, traced a distiller out into the woods, back of French Prairie, at DePot's, and found him over a teakettle, which he used as his still, manufacturing what was called "blue ruin" a liquor made out of Sandwich Island molasses, and was an article so destructive as to almost relieve the authorities of the necessity of estopping the manufacture the juice being the executioner of its producer.Of all the characters of the early day, McLoughlin stands out foremost, and overtops all others, in Mr. Matthieu 's recollection. The old chief factor had some of the elements of greatness: "He was the finest man I ever knew," says Mr. Matthieu, "and there will never be another like him. He did what no other man would do." With Doctor McLoughlin, Doctor Whitman, whom he greatly respected, he says, "bore no comparison.McLoughlin had the immense physique, the great voice, and the commanding manner, and also the positive and decisive mind that carried all before him.
Many are the incidents that Mr. Matthieu relates illustrating his qualities. Once, he says, an Indian was brought to him charged with committing a gross offense. "Is he guilty?' asked the doctor. "Yes," they replied, ,and presented the proof . "Tie him to that cannon," he replied, pointing to one of the two pieces of artillery that commanded the entrance to the fort. When this was done, he said, "Give him fifteen lashes.' Soon after a white man was brought, charged with the same offense. Doctor McLoughlin made the same inquiries, and finding him guilty administered the same punishment. This illustrates why his authority was so absolute among the Indians. His administration exactly filled their conception of justice.
The services of McLoughlin to the immigrants of the year '42, and later, until he resigned his position as chief factor, are fully vouched for by Mr. Matthieu. The doctor advanced everything needed, and furnished the use of bateaux to any in distress. The concluding portion of the immigrants' journey, that from The Dalles to Oregon City, was often virtually provided for by McLoughlin. For all these advances, he was held to the last penny by his company, and as Mr. Matthieu learned, he was obliged to render every cent not paid by the immigrants a sum so large as to very nearly bankrupt the man.
Upon the return of Mr. Matthieu, in 1858, for a visit to his home in Canada, he took the pains to visit some of Doctor McLoughlin 's relatives at their place of business in Quebec, whom he found to be men of much the same magnificent physical mould as the chief factor. He inquired of them as particularly as he dared as to Doctor McLoughlin 's fortune, venturing to remark that he supposed he was very rich. "He was wealthy at one time," was the reply, "but his company required the payment of large sums that he advanced on credit, and that left him with little."
Mr. Matthieu understands that besides his salary of ₤2,500 per year, he held two shares in the stock of the company, the largest allowed to one individual outside the chartered corporation. His business also included, besides the fur trade of Oregon, extensive operations in British Columbia and Alaska, salmon export to the Sandwich Islands, and milling at Oregon City. At one time he made a proposition to build the canal and locks at the Willamette Falls, at his own expense; but was refused the charter. (F. X. M.)
Returning to Mr. Matthieu's first years in Oregon: He remained with Lucier until 1844. For two years afterwards he lived on French Prairie proper, which is some six miles back from the river. He was engaged in labor during this time, building houses, and making wagons for the settlers. Life he found carried on here in simple style, log cabins being the rule, furnished with big fireplaces, made of sticks, plastered over with the tough black clay found underneath the prairie sod. Few had stoves, and the cooking was done mainly over the coals, or in kettles swung on a crane.
In 1846 he was married, and took a square mile of land a mile from the river, back of the Butte, upon which he has lived now for fifty-four years. It is a noble old place, having both prairie and woodland, and abundant water, and commands beautiful prospects in every direction. His wife was Rose, a daughter of Louis Osant, a Hudson's Bay employee and trapper. The earliest recollections of Mrs. Matthieu are of journeyings on horseback with the parties of her father or of Michel La Framboise, one of the most trusted leaders of the Hudson's Bay trappers. She recalls how, on one of these jaunts when she was a mere tot of three years, and she had for a comrade a little daughter of La Framboise, they were delighted as they passed under the expansive oaks of the Sacramento Valley to hear the dry leaves rustle under their horses' hoofs. It was a Gypsy life that the trappers led, and those that made the trip to California, like La Framboise and Osant, had the pleasantest road to travel of all the parties.
The mother of Rose having died, the girl was brought up in the family of Pierre Belaque, who occupied a house near Lucier's. A patriarchal family, fourteen in number, were born to these pioneers, ten of whom are now living:
Mr. Matthieu has lived as a farmer of Oregon, having been able to provide his family with life's advantages, and himself performing the duties of the good citizen. Besides filling the office of Justice of the Peace in the Provisional Government, he was in 1874 and again in 1878, elected to the Oregon Legislature from Marion County. In 1849 he made the trip to the California gold mines, but was so virulently attacked by fever there as to be compelled to return without making a fortune. In 1858 he took a trip to Canada, by way of Panama, and in 1883, went with the pioneer excursion on the Northern Pacific Railroad. He is now at the age of eighty-two, in good health, of unimpaired memory, good hearing, and unchanged voice; though, having suffered in early life from snow-blindness in the Rocky Mountains, has somewhat lost the use of his sight. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, of high degree. He was in the mercantile business for many years, after 1850, at Butteville, with George Le Roque, and in all business relations and in public affairs has maintained a reputation for unquestioned honesty.
IN REGARD TO INDIAN TRIBES, THEIR ANTIPATHIES, ETC.
Mr. Matthieu says: "I have forgot a great deal. Of the Sioux, where I was, there were the Blackfeet—a large nation; then there were the Ogalallahs. Their chief, when I was there, was called Yellow Hair. His hair was not yellow, but lighter than some others. He was a big fellow, and you could hear him grunt like a grizzly. Then there was a little tribe, the Broken Arrows. They were the meanest set they would get liquor, and kill each other. I do not suppose there were twenty of them when I left. The Crow nation lived west of Fort Pierre, about one hundred or two hundred miles, and one division of them was the Gros Ventres. The Pawnees were the terror of the Sioux; there were many halfbreeds among them. The Sioux did not all have horses. The poorer ones went on foot. But all had buffalo meat. Those that had horses would surprise a herd, and drive them to the Bad Lands, and force many of them over a precipice or into a crevice. Buffalo, when they are stampeded, do not stop at anything, but go over a bluff or into a river. When a crevice is filled full of their bodies the main herd passes on as over a bridge; then the poorer Indians came and helped themselves to the meat.
"West of the Rocky Mountains the Indians were entirely different. It was a new creation. The Snakes, Piutes and Bannocks seemed very much alike—a poor set. The Cayuses were the most powerful, and the meanest. They were strapping big fellows, and rich. I was told by Hudson's Bay men that they frequently had three or four packs of beaver skins to a tent. That was money. Each pack weighed ninety or one hundred pounds, and the skins were worth $4 or $5 a pound. Some of them had five hundred horses apiece part work horses; part riding or running horses. When I was among the Snakes I bought a white horse for a buffalo skin and a shirt. But in Grande Ronde I was stopped by a Cayuse chief, who said that the horse was his. I told him I bought it. He said it had been stolen. There was a man traveling with me; his name was Russell. Russell said I had better pay the Cayuse something. So I put down a buffalo robe, a shirt and a handkerchief, and said: 'You can take whichever you please these or the horse.' He took the things, and I took the horse.
"The Cayuses often came into the Willamette Valley to trade horses for cattle. They had some race horses that they would not sell for $500. They were not a large tribe, not able to muster over two hundred or three hundred fighting men at the farthest. They were well armed with guns, but even with bows and arrows could shoot a man through the heart at fifty yards. They were proud and cruel, and showed it in their faces. The Nez Perces had much better faces than the Cayuses. The Sioux did business on honor. If any of their tribe was mean or dissipated he was regarded as a clown; he was not respected.
AS TO SLAVERY AMONG THE INDIANS.
Among the Sioux., where I was, all captives were regarded as slaves; so I was told by a chief. I saw but one slave—a woman. Men were not often taken alive.
NEGRO SLAVERY IN OREGON.
This question did not make much stir on French Prairie. The idea was this: Indians were much cheaper and better labor than negroes. For a blanket that cost $3 you could hire an Indian a month- or perhaps two months; and many of the Indians were good workers. They could handle an axe like a white man; and on the river they were the best boatmen. They would paddle all day in a canoe, or on a bateau, and want only a little meat and a salmon skin.
Some Southern people who brought their negroes with them wanted to keep them as slaves; but the people of Oregon opposed this and made the law that no negro should come to Oregon. It was never enforced.
AS TO PROHIBITION.
AS TO MONEY, ETC.
"Wheat had to be delivered at the Hudson's Bay warehouse at Champoeg. For this a receipt was given by the H. B. clerk. The receipt passed current as money, and was worth its face in goods at Vancouver."
To illustrate the modus of doing business, Mr. Matthieu tells the following incident: "I was barefoot and nearly naked, and wanted some clothes. I took an order of Lucier's, and went down to Fort Vancouver; but, as I had just come across the country, and was not long from Canada, I was met by so many Frenchmen at the fort, who wanted to hear all about my journey, and Canada, which some of them had not seen for twenty years, that I did not get my order in at once. When at last I presented it, the clerk said that I would have to see Douglas, as Lucier's account was all drawn; so many others had been bringing his paper."
"Douglas told me to go to McLoughlin. Each had an office in the building. When McLoughlin looked at my order he said he was sorry, but the account was drawn. I said, 'It will come rather hard on me. I am barefoot, and almost naked, and I supposed Lucier's credit was good anyhow.' Then the doctor began to ask me where I was from. I told him 'Terrebonne, in Canada. "'I am from near that part,' he said. Then he asked me about the place and people, and of old Doctor Frasier; and kept me about an hour talking. At last he said, 'You look honest; go to the office and get this filled.And gave me an order for about $18 worth of goods.
"At the office there was a little entrance, about eight feet square, and a little window into the store, where the goods were passed out. The clerk there was Doctor McLoughlin's son, whom I had seen in Montreal. He knew me, and at once opened the door inside and asked me in. 'Take all you need,' he said, 'and never mind the old man. "But I took only the amount of the order. But all the clothes were made for big fellows a great deal too big for me. So I took cloth, and got it made up the best I could."
AS TO EFFCT OF MINES ON BUSINESS, ETC.
"Gold dust was like dirt. Many believed it would never have any value. I have sen the Hudson's Bay store at Oregon City take in a four-quart pan of dust in one day. They allowed $16 an ounce; but much of it was the fine Yuba and American River dust, worth $22 to $22.50 an ounce in London.
"But it was not the men who went to the mines, so much as those that stayed on their farms and raised produce, that got the dust.
"I remember when I was in San Francisco in '49, I went into a French restaurant. I was sick, and only called for tea and toast and an egg. For the tea and toast I paid $1.25, and for the egg $2. The egg had come around the Horn, packed in salt, and was a chunk of salt. I could not eat it.
"But prices for Oregon stuff did not hold out many years. Great shipments were made from the East. Habits of living among the farmers were not much changed. We always had enough to live on, both before and after the mines broke out."Mr. Matthieu was well acquainted with Governor Abernethy, the first Governor of the Provisional Government, succeeding the executive committee. He describes Abernethy as "a fine looking man, of medium size; easy
AS TO MONEY, ETC.
The mason who built the store was McAdam, who also built the brick Catholic church at Saint Paul.
Mr. Matthieu was also acquainted with Joseph Lane, the first Territorial Governor. He describes the old general as "a very nice man;' quick in his movements, military in manner and bearing; not tall, and "dry and thin," and all nerves.
AS TO TOWNS.
Portland was nowhere a dense forest and a tangled shore; but there was a grassy place among the trees near the mouth of the big gulch at the south part of town, where the boating parties up the river sometimes stopped to lunch or camp.
Etienne Lucier's old place was on the bluff, on the east side, and Johnson's place on the hill at the south end, w^est side.Salem was just starting, the people at the old mission moving up to start the institute, etc.
I have examined the above manuscript of Mr. Lyman's, and find it correct. Nobody can contradict that: it could not be written more correctly.
F. X. MATTHIEU.