Sioux Island Rapid

Sioux Island Rapid
Henry James Warre, “The Columbia River above Sioux Island Rapid, Washington, LAC Mikan 2834204 (C-117072)

This is a short blogpost today — mostly because I had a batch of questions to ask. As I researched each question, however, I was able to answer it without help. One question only remains, and it is a question that some of you who are from the west side of the Rocky Mountains might be able to answer.

Here is my question: Where was Sioux Island, in the Columbia River?

The title of the painting at the top of this blogpost is “Columbia River just above the Sioux Island Rapids.” Henry James Warre was the artist, and the painting is found in Library and Archives Canada, under Mikan 2834204. 

Library and Archives Canada tells me that no one knows where the Sioux Island Rapid was, but I suspect it was in Nespelem Canyon east of Fort Okanogan. In an attempt to locate the island and its rapid, I searched through the Wikipedia page titled, “The List of rapids of the Columbia River,” found here:

As WordPress has done another of its magnificent updates, I cannot connect the link and make it work — most annoying! (HA! This has driven me mad for hours but I finally changed back to Classic — and it all works again!) However, as you can see the page is of little help, as it does not list the early names that the HBC men used, and Sioux Island and its rapid does not appear in the list. Many interesting names do, however, and it’s worth looking at if you are writing or researching the Columbia River.   

So I looked up Henry James Warre and discovered he does not have a biography listed in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, although his exploring companion, Mervin Vavasour, does! Here is Mervin Vavasour’s page: 

That is because Vavasour was from Upper Canada, and went to England to train as a Royal Engineer. In 1846 Vavasour, who was serving as a Royal Engineer in Canada, took on or was assigned the duty of participating in a military reconnaissance mission to Oregon Territory. Vavasour and Henry James Warre travelled west together and arrived at Fort Vancouver on August 25, 1845, where Peter Skene Ogden was in charge. They investigated the territory from the Willamette valley to Fort Victoria, and then returned home with the outgoing York Factory Express of March, 1846. I am presuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Warre drew this image in April 1846 as he travelled up the Columbia River toward Fort Colvile. He named it for the Sioux Island Rapids — but I am wondering how these rapids might have got their name for a First Nations people who never came further west than South Dakota, so far as I am aware. Does anyone know anything about a Sioux man (a Lakota, perhaps) who might have been in the Columbia district before the 1840s?

Here is my theory, and if I am wrong you can correct me — I would love to know the answer, for no particular reason except that I am curious. But the words “Sioux” and “Sault” (ie. Sault Ste Marie) sound very similar, and perhaps when Warre heard the Canadien paddlers refer to the Island, he might have heard “Sault,” which meant ‘a fall or rapid in the river,’ and thought it meant ‘Sioux” for a First Nations tribe whose name might have been familiar to him — or to Vavasour, for that matter.

Here’s the question: What do you think? Do I have any Warre and Vavasour experts following me, that can answer this question? 

Even if we do not figure out the answer, it’s a lovely little painting that we can all enjoy. It preserves a little bit of Washington history that has flooded by one of the many dams along the river. Our ancestors paddled through this rocky canyon, and hopefully they enjoyed the scenery and the journey.

On looking through this post, though, I found another question to ask — and that is, how did Warre and Vavasour arrive at Fort Vancouver in August 1845? If they had travelled in with the incoming Columbia express, they would not have been there until early November. Obviously they did not use that means of transportation.

I remembered, vaguely, that they had come into the territory with Peter Skene Ogden, and so I tried to confirm that. Yes, they did. Peter Skene Ogden was at Red River with Governor Simpson when he was told he was now in charge of the Columbia District. He travelled west with the Royal Engineers, and with HBC clerk Richard Lane, who was being transferred to the Columbia District. They arrived at Fort Vancouver on August 26 — so Richard Lane’s biography confirms the date but does not answer the question of how they got there at that time.

However, another website does, and this site belongs to Arader Galleries, of Philadelphia, PA, an art store that sells rare books, paintings, and antique maps. They have available, for sale, a copy of Captain Henry Warre’s book, Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory, published in London in 1848. The biography of the artist on this website is interesting and helps explain how they reached the Columbia District in August:

The work owes its existence to an undercover expedition which was prompted by a crucial border dispute between the United States and Britain: “Captain Warre and Lieutenant [Mervin] Vavasour of the Royal Engineers were agents of the British government who were sent out [as spies] to Oregon at the height of the controversy between the United States and Great Britain over the sovereignty of that territory. The two officers crossed Canada by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s route as far as the Rockies, where they turned south to cross the mountains, probably through Crow’s Nest Pass to Kootenai Lake. They reached Fort Vancouver on August 25, 1845, and visited the Willamette Valley, the mouth of the Columbia River, Puget Sound and Vancouver Island before returning to England, where they found that the territorial dispute had been settled during their absence.” (Wagner-Camp.)

Henry James Warre’s paintings are priced close to $10,000 each. Fortunately, for those of us who write about the west side of the Rocky Mountains, they are all, or almost all, available through Library and Archives Canada, and the prices for the works are very reasonable — especially compared to above.

I have one more question: I would have thought that Peter Skene Ogden’s letter to Anderson, Donald Manson, and John Tod, which advised them of Governor Simpson’s instructions to Anderson, to explore a route through the mountains to Fort Langley in 1846, apparently written from Fort Colvile, would have been dated in August 1845 — but no, it is not. Every source I have tells me that it was written on October 22. A.C. Anderson’s own reports contain the same date. We have two choices here: the first is that the letter that Ogden might have written at Fort Colvile in August was not forwarded to Anderson, Manson, and Todd until October, having been sent with the mail that had come in with the incoming Express. The second possibility is that Peter Skene Ogden travelled upriver to Fort Colvile to meet the incoming Express.

But no wonder I always believed that Ogden had arrived on the west side of the mountains with the incoming express of 1845!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2019. All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “Sioux Island Rapid

  1. Gary Mundinger

    A couple of us at the Okanogan County Historical Society have been trying to determine where Sioux Island Rapids might have been if you are correct in thinking that it was likely in the stretch of the Columbia between Ft. Okanogan & the Spokane River.
    There was a difficult passage at Hell Gate ( I believe named by the fur traders) which from one photo seems to resemble the foreground in Warre’s painting but the photo was taken from a different angle. It is in William Layman’s “Native River.” If this is the location of the painting, Warre must have taken artistic license with the background because his representation of that is ruggeder than what it is. Perhaps he created the painting sometime after his trip & the details were sketchy to him.
    Hell Gate was about 3-4 miles upriver from the San Poil/ Columbia confluence. Layman notes that the native name was “Nxoxoyu’s” (pronunciation unknown).
    At any rate, Hell Gate seems to be the most likely candidate at this point.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Thank you, and how interesting. I have William Layman’s book, River of Memory, which includes an image of Hell Gate. However, in all of the York Factory Express journals I have, the HBC men (gentlemen, at least) called it Gros Rochers (and looking at the image, I am pretty sure that Gros Rochers is Hell Gate). Of course we have no idea what the Canadiens and Metis called it…
      I believe that Warre painted all the images later, in London. They were lithographs, I think, in the book that he later published, but he would have done the drawings as he passed through.

      1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

        And in addition to above: the gentlemen almost always took to horseback between Fort Okanogan and Gros Rochers, joining the boats on the beach above the rocks. I think that makes it even more likely to be Hell Gate, as it indicates that there was a landing place above Hell Gate, where Warre could have drawn the image. 😉