It is not to be expected that men perfectly ignorant, like these Indians, should be free from superstitions: one of the most ridiculous they have, regards the method of preparing and eating fish. In the month of July, 1811, the natives brought us at first a very scanty supply of the fresh salmon, from the fear that we would cut the fish crosswise instead of lengthwise; being persuaded that if we did so, the river would be obstructed, and the fishing ruined. Having reproached the chief on that account, they brought us a greater quantity, but all cooked, and which, not to displease them, it was necessary to eat before sunset. Re-assured at last by our solemn promises not to cut the fish crosswise, they supplied us abundantly during the remainder of the season.
In spite of the vices that may be laid to the charge of the natives of the Columbia, I regard them as nearer to a state of civilization than any of the tribes who dwell east of the Rocky mountains. They did not appear to me so attached to their customs that they could not easily adopt those of civilized nations: they would dress themselves willingly in the European mode, if they had the means. To encourage this taste, we lent pantaloons to the chiefs who visited us, when they wished to enter our houses, never allowing them to do it in a state of nudity. They possess, in an eminent degree, the qualities opposed to indolence, improvidence, and stupidity: the chiefs, above all, are distinguished for their good sense and intelligence. Generally speaking, they have a ready intellect and a tenacious memory. Thus old Comcomly recognised the mate of the Albatross as having visited the country sixteen years before, and recalled to the latter the name of the captain under whom he had sailed at that period.
The Chinook language is spoken by all the nations from the mouth of the Columbia to the falls. It is hard and difficult to pronounce, for strangers; being full of gutturals, like the Gaelic. The combinations thl, or tl, and lt, are as frequent in the Chinook as in the Mexican.[AA]
[Footnote AA: There can not be a doubt that the existing tribes on the N.W. coast, have reached that country from the South, and not from the North. They are the debris of the civilization of Central America, expelled by a defecating process that is going on in all human societies, and so have sunk into barbarism.—ED.]
Departure from Astoria or Fort George.—Accident.—Passage of the Dalles or Narrows.—Great Columbian Desert.—Aspect of the Country.—Wallawalla and Shaptin Rivers.—Rattlesnakes.—Some Details regarding the Natives of the Upper Columbia.