The Story of Billy Chinook

copyright Guy Swanson

William Parker was born in about 1826 and babtized at the Methodist Mission in The Dalles.  A member of the Wasco tribe and orphaned at an early age he took on the Iindian name Billy Chinook.  From his uncle Billy learned the Indian ways, spending much of his childhood hunting and fishing along the Columbia River.  He also spent time helping the Reverend Perkins at the mission.  The River was the only home he had ever known but by the time he reached seventeen he yeared to learn some of the ways of the whites.

That opportunity came up late in 1843 when Lieutenant John C Fremont and Kit Carson visited the Mission to lay in supplies for an expedition through Central Oregon.  In his journal Fremont described the village of The Dalles as ""two good-looking wooden dwelling-houses and a large schoolhouse, with stables, barn, garden and large cleared fields between there and the river's bank."   Pastor Perkins knew of Billy's wanderlust and spoke on his behalf to Lt. Fremont. The Lieutenant said he could not hire him but would take him along as his personal charge. 

Winter was approching when Fremont, Carson, Billy and twenty men left The Dalles and headed for the southern border of the Oregon Territory with 104 mules and horses and three months provisions.  Many of the men were trappers and mountain men but some were botanists, mapmakers and men of science. The voyage was without incident as they made their way along the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains.  Rumors of an Indian troubes in the Blue Mountains led Fremont to stay west of the Deschutes and on December first the arrived at the canyon of the Metolius River.  Looking for a break in the shear cliffs, they  crossed the river near what is now Perry South Campground.  The exact coordinates are not known because Femont was experiencing problems with his sextant, but descriptions in his journal could lead one to that conclusion.  Following a well worn game trail they made their way down the ice covered rocks and outcroppings.  One of the mules carrying a load of sugar stumbled in the water and they ended up with a cargo of molassas. The howitzer they brough twith them weighed over 200 pounds and the men had to dismantel it and lower the pieces down the cliffs with ropes.  After fording the river they made camp for a couple of days at Fly Lake to get refreshed and dried out before heading out to the southern border.

Young Billy Chinook put his hunting and fishinig skills to work and took on any task that was asked of him. Billy made quite an impression on Lt. Fremont and his  journal entries read like a dramatic fiction.  He praised high worship on Billy and Kit Carson, something would bring fame to both men.  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."

Chinook accompanied Fremont and Carson on one more expedition before settling down in Southern California where he married, started a family, and raised cattle.  Billy returned to his original home in The Dalles he was elected one of three chiefs of the Wasco Nation, representing the Dalles Wasco.  He Joined the US Army for one year and served as Army scout.  He and the other chiefs fought Chief Poulina and Billy was the signtory to the treaty that established the Warm Springs Reservation.

Billy Chinook died in 1890 and is buried at the Warm Springs Reservaion.  Lake Billy Chinook was created in 1964 with the construciont of the Round Butte Dam and the lake was named for this elebrated Native leader.

Comments always welcome

return to Three Rivers Articles

Back to Northwestmall
Site designed and hosted by Designer Visuals