Nez Perce farmers, missionary squabbles, and the Canadian Border

“Before leaving the southern portion of the Asotin County some mention should be made of the
Indian gardens located on the north side of the Grande Ronde River about half a miles below
the mouth of the Rattlesnake Creek and on other favored spots extending on down the Grande
Ronde to the mouth of Shoemaker Creek, on low benches along the river.
“It appears that Nez Perce Indians maintained gardens in these places before white men came
to the country, and made use of irrigation in growing corn and other vegetables.
“As there appears to be no record or tradition of the growing of vegetables by the Nez Perce
Indians prior to the coming of missionary Spalding, it is safe to assume that the Indians who
maintained these gardens in the early days learned their lessons in agriculture and irrigation
from Rev. Spalding.”
I found this quote from Historic Glimpses of Asotin County, by Judge E. V. Kuykendall, in a Forest Service manuscript, “History of the Northern Blue Mountains,” written by ranger Gerald Tucker in 1940. I have not seen Kuykendall’s book—but am longing to get a copy in my hands! And there is much more to say about Gerald “Tuck” Tucker, a prolific writer as well as a Forest Service ranger on the Umatilla and Wallowa National Forests. (His one published book, The Story of Hells Canyon, 1977)
But for now I want to hone in on this agricultural business—and especially Kuykendall’s conclusion that the Wallowa Nez Perce got their start in vegetable growing from missionary Spalding.
We do know that Spalding came into the Wallowa country in 1838, that he tried to name the lake (Wallowa Lake) after himself, and that he “converted” Old Joseph either here or at Lapwai. There is no record that he stayed in the country for any extended time, and there is no record that I know of that he brought seeds or agricultural tools—although he would have had such at Lapwai and the Indians could have brought them home from there. But Kuykendall’s quote makes it sound as though there is a well-established gardening program on the Grand Ronde River very early. And in another spot in his Asotin County account, also quoted by Tucker, he maintains that there was a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post on Lost Prairie.
I have not found other references to this one, but the information provided by Kuykendall convinces that there was some kind of trading post—whether Hudson’s Bay or not—at Lost Prairie very early. Which takes me back to the entire missionary business—and to Spokane Garry.
David Thompson of the British-Canadian North West Company established the fur trading post, Spokan—or Spokane—House in 1810. A Spokane Indian named Slough-Keetchawas born somewhere in the vicinity about 1811. The Hudson’s Bay Company took over the territory and moved forts and posts around about 1821, and they brought a bit of Anglican religion with them. Hudson’s Bay routinely brought Catholic priests in on behalf of their French-Canadian and French mixed-breed families, but we hear little about the Church of England.
Spokane Garry
At any rate, two young Indians, one of them Slough-Keetcha, are sent from Spokane to the Red River boarding school at Fort Garry in Rupert’s Land in 1825. Slough-Keetcha comes back as Spokane Garry in 1829, and begins preaching and teaching, including teaching agriculture. We also know that the Nez Perce supplied horses to the fur traders at Spokane, so commerce and religion were moving between Spokane and the Nez Perce well before Spalding’s arrival at Lapwai in 1836. Which makes it highly probable in my mind that the Nez Perce were aware of and probably growing corn and other vegetables before Spalding.
In some ways, it is no big deal—a year or two one way or another; Spalding or Spokane Garry. But what this highlights for me is the divisions and rifts among the early missionaries, and our USA centric history, which routinely omits events that happened on the other side of what became the US-Canadian border.
The missionary history of the Pacific Northwest will tell you about the Methodists and the Presbyterian-Congregationalists, and with some digging you can find spats between them—the Methodists did not recognize “mixed” marriages between white trappers and Indian women. You can learn about early Catholics—the Oblate missionaries, Father DeSmet and the Jesuits, Father Blanchet and early missions and dioceses in Oregon and later Washington territories. And we have the Spalding’s testament in the form of a visual aid to teaching Christianity that the Pope and Catholics were headed for hell.
But I find very little about the Anglicans. There was a Christian boarding school for Indians at Fort Garry (now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in 1825! Spokane Garry was preaching some version of Anglicanism in the region before the arrival of Catholics, Methodists or Presbyterian-Congregationalists! Any student of Indian history knows that ideas and goods traveled rapidly from band to band, tribe to tribe across the West. I think that the focus on places, people, and events that years later ended up on this side of a border—much of which was surveyed by the same David Thompson mentioned above—robs us of much of our own history.
Here is a link to the Gerald Tucker Northern Blue Mountains mss: