Entiat woman says ancestor guided Columbia pioneer

By Rick Steigmeyer
Wenatchee, Washington (AP) July 2011

History books are full of information about David Thompson’s travels through the Northwest and down the Columbia River 200 years ago. The event received more exposure this summer due to the David Thompson Brigade, a group of more than 120 paddlers recreating Thompson’s feat as the first man to navigate the 1,200-mile-long river. The group stopped in Wenatchee June 25.

But there is little mention of the Indian guides who made Thompson’s trip possible.

Helen Julian wants to correct that.

“I hate that he was just called an Iroquois paddler. He has a name,” said Julian, 75, of Entiat. She believes her great great great grandfather, Ignace Lamoose, was one of two Iroquois Indians who helped build Thompson’s canoes and guide, interpret and smooth waves with Salish-speaking Indian tribes along the Columbia during that historic trip in 1811. The other Iroquois paddler with Thompson was named Charles.

“Everyone is so proud of David Thompson on that big old trip, but they forget who led him and interpreted for him and built the canoes,” said Julian, who was born and raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation north of Missoula, Mont. She’s lived along the Entiat River for 50 years.

In addition to his travels with Thompson, Julian said her ancestor is still known on the Flathead reservation in books and pamphlets as the man who first brought Christian teachings to the Indians in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in the early 1830s. An East Coast Iroquois, he became a Catholic and studied at a mission near Montreal, Quebec before coming out West.

Julian has plenty of documents to back up her claim than Ignace Lamoose is the Iroquois who brought Catholicism to the Bitterroot tribes. What’s not known for certain is if he was the same Iroquois trapper named Ignace who accompanied Thompson on the Columbia. Julian says her grandmother would often tell the story about her famous ancestor traveling with Thompson when they did beadwork together on the reservation.

But David “Chalk” Courchane, a distant relative of Julian’s who lives in East Wenatchee, said there may be two different men with the name of Ignace.

Courchane’s genealogy work has Ignace Lamoose coming to the Northwest in 1812 or 1816, after Thompson’s exploration of the Columbia.

“I do not think our Ignace was with David Thompson. If it’s part of her oral history, it could be true, but Ignace was a popular Iroquois first name.”

Northwest author Jack Nisbet, in his book about Thompson’s journeys, “The Mapmaker Eye,” writes that an Iroquois by the name of Ignace was one of the first Catholic-trained Iroquois recruited in 1808 by the North West Company – owned in part by Thompson – to explore fur-trapping grounds west of the Rockies. Thompson never wrote of Ignace’s last name in his journals. In 1808, Thompson wrote that Ignace was advanced three steel traps, a pair of trousers, two shirts and two pounds of soap among other things before being sent out with four other hunters. The two likely met numerous times at trading posts Thompson established along the Columbia before his historic trip.

For certain, they met in 1811, when Thompson camped at Kettle Falls for two weeks on his trip down the Columbia. Ignace was one of two Iroquois, two Sanpoil Indians and five French-Canadian voyagers in Thompson’s plank canoe when it left Kettle Falls July 3.

“It was wild work to navigate this river,” Thompson wrote in his journals about the area now known at the Grand Coulee and Nespelem Canyon. Ignace, standing up while steering the canoe from the stern, was knocked out of the boat at one point, Nisbet wrote, citing Thompson’s journals. “Although he had never swam in his life, he swam to keep himself above the waves until they turned the canoe around and took him up,” Thompson wrote. Ignace traveled to the mouth of the Columbia with Thompson’s crew, reaching Astoria July 15, exactly 200 years from when the David Thompson Brigade expects to arrive there.

In an email, Nisbet wrote that he is confident the Ignace mentioned in Thompson’s notebooks in 1808 is the same Ignace who paddled with him on the 1811 trip. He’s not sure, however, that the Ignace who accompanied Thompson is the same Ignace who later taught Catholicism to the Bitterroot tribes.

Ignace Lamoose later settled in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley where he taught the Catholic faith until 1937, according to an account of Iroquois in the west in William Sturtevant’s “Handbook of North American Indians.” He was killed by a band of Sioux Indians that year while traveling to St. Louis, Mo. to get his two sons and bring a priest back to the Montana settlement. One of them Francois – Helen Julian’s great great grandfather – eventually returned to Montana with a Jesuit priest to continue his father’s work.

“He was a fascinating man and history forgot him,” she said about Ignace, whether they be one or two different men. “They always just tell the white side of history.”