Juniper Berry

The Story of Billy Chinook

copyright Guy Swanson


The legend of Kit Carson was born from the 1843 Central Oregon expedition led by Major John C. Fremont. In his published journals Fremont lavished praise on both Carson and Billy Chinook, awarding a medal to Chinook in recognition of his service to the surveying expedition.

Authors of the early corn-crib novels published fictionalized exploits of Carson as a frontier guide and Indian fighter through a series of Blood and Thunderpaperback novels. Unable to read or write, Carson never gave permission to the authors, though he certainly benefited from the reputation he gained.

Fremont wrote in his journal, "He (Billy Chinook) accompanied me to Washington, and, after remaining several months at Columbia College, was sent by the Indian Department to Philadelphia, where , among other things, he learned to read and write well, and speak the English language with some fluency"

After serving with Fremont on his third expedition to the Far West, Billy Chinook spent the next few years in California. During this time he married a local Hispanic woman, and gained ownership of a large herd of California cattle.

Returning to his native village at The Dalles in 1851, he acquired a farm on Mill Creek and became an outstanding member and leader and of his tribe. Remaining a close friend of whites, he was also a commander in the fight against Chief Paulina.

Putting his American education to good use, he advocated for his people, representing the Wasco Indians during 1885 treaty negotiations between the U.S. government and the future residents of the Warms Springs Reservation.

As a result, he lost his claim at Mill Creek, was moved to the Warm Springs Reservation, and worked as an interpreter on the reservation. During the late 1860s, Chinook served in the Warm Springs Indian Scout unit under the command of Captain John Darragh.

Billy Chinook, also known as William Parker, died in 1890. Lake Billy Chinook, created in 1964 with the construction of the Round Butte Dam, is named for this celebrated Native leader.

Comments always welcome

return to the Juniper Berry