The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Peter Crawford

Roy Wilson


Peter Crawford founded the town of Kelso.  He and two companions, E. West and James O. Rayner, entered the Cowlitz River in December 1847, and on the west bank “spied a house or houses near the bank of a curious shape, no chimney; landing our little boat … we soon discovered that they were the Hudson’s Bay Company structures (the granary).  Going up to a dwelling house, we found that the tenant of the dwelling house was a Canadian Frenchman living with a native woman of one of the lower Columbia tribes.”  This man was named Thibault.  Another Frenchman herding Hudson’s Bay Company stock on the other side of the river was Anton Gobar.  The Coweeman River was once called Gobar’s River.

They found the going quite difficult, maneuvering over and around several rapids as they worked their way upstream.  They met a Cowlitz Indian on their way upstream who told them that the river held more and larger rapids further upstream.  They decided that if they built on claims upstream, they would have difficulty getting their produce to market because of the rapids; therefore, they decided to turn around and look for a claim downstream.  In going downstream they fairly flew past the trees.  Peter said, “This puts me in mind of a boy who pulls his hand-sled up a steep hill just for the ride down.”  This brought a chuckle from the other two for each of them had done that very act.  They returned in half a day what had taken them two full days to pull upstream.  They should have had a Cowlitz Shovel-nosed canoe which was designed by the Cowlitz Indians for those rapids.

Peter did discover a site that appealed to him.  He surveyed the area well enough to be able to give a sufficient description in order to file a claim.  He then, using a knife, scratched on a tree, “P. W. Crawford, December 18, 1847.”  This was in the vicinity of what is now First and Crawford in Kelso.

Peter returned in the spring of 1848 with Mr. West to build their cabins on the lower Cowlitz.  As they discussed the best possible locations for their cabins, Peter said, “Mr. West, as long as our boundary lines meet, why don’t we save ourselves a lot of work and build one cabin across that boundary, half of it on your land and half of it on mine?  You can sleep in your end, and I will build me a bunk in the south end.” And that is what they did.

Mr. West evidently did not stay, for Peter found himself living alone at the site.  One day he had been working some distance away from the cabin on the claim and he became thirsty, so he went back to get a drink.  He found an Indian sitting near his cabin.  Peter, wary, but friendly, greeted him with a pleasant look and a “good day.”

The Indian replied by saying that he was Umtux, Chief of the Coweliskies, and he wanted Peter to know that he had built his cabin on Coweliskies’ land and that they were not only displeased but that they would not tolerate it.

Peter explained in as much jargon as he was capable of using, “No, this is my land by law of the United States.”  Chief Umtux evidently understood for hew very firmly reiterated, “Coweliskies’ land, all over from high Mountain to big river is Coweliskies’ land.”

Peter, just as adamant, replied stubbornly, “No, this hill, this rock, this bottomland, mine.  I’m planting a crop here and I will live here.”  He made wide gestures when describing his property.

Umtux retorted, “One mans not so bad – two mans not so bad, but many, mans with many ‘tenas’ (children) – ‘pe naika wawa wake’ (meaning no, but I say no).  We burn houses.”

Peter was not about to be scared off, he showed some anger as he answered, “Illen-ee – burn when you please!  I stay and rebuild.”

Peter asked where his village was located.  Chief Umtux pointed northward saying, “Siah, siah (far, far) on Coweliskie River.

“We can be ‘sikhs’ (friends), peter suggested. Still not having quenched his thirst, Peter went inside his cabin and took a drink from the dipper in the pail, then taking the dipper filled with water outside with him, held it toward Chief Umtux, saying “Muckamuck? (Drink of water?)

Umtux took the dipper and drank deeply, throwing the remainder on the ground, then handed the dipper back.  Peter now knew that he had become a tolerated friend.  Not feeling so sure that Umtux could be trusted, however, Peter remembered the value Indians put on gifts.  He went into his cabin, found a used but not so old shirt.  He brought it out and offered it to his new acquaintance.  It was accepted, and Chief Umtux left.

Next week: 1849 – 1854