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Chil-co-sa-haskt — Last chief of the Entiats

By on October 28, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

Entiat Chief, Chilcosahaskt (no wonder white settlers called him Indian Silico), was willing to embrace most all of the Catholic doctrine he learned from Father Urban Grassi in 1874. 

There was, however, one rule he could not abide. Father Grassi insisted that the Chief could only have one wife. Since he had two, one must go. 

Polygamy was allowed by most north central Washington tribes, but only to chiefs.

Chilcosahaskt’s wives were sisters and he had children with both of them. He pleaded to Father Grassi that he loved both of them. The priest insisted that having more than one wife was very sinful.

The Chief, 86 at the time, was not about to let the priest break up his family. He refused to comply. 

The wives, however, were strict adherents to the rules of the church and, against their husband’s protests, agreed that the older sister should leave. 

Her children were grown while her younger sister’s were smaller. It was better that the young ones have a father around.

Entiat Chief Chilcosahaskt with youngest wife, Spokokalx (Rosalie), pose with a number of Wenatchee settlers for a photo. Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 76-43-1

The Chief was the third Chilcosahaskt in the family. In 1790, when his father was killed in an avalanche, the boy was only two. Isabel Arcasa, 93-year-old granddaughter of Chilcosahaskt, recounted the oral tradition story of the death in a 1981 interview with Christine Gale.

It was early spring. “Chilcosahaskt and two other men got in their canoe and went to the head of Lake Chelan. Their purpose was to go hunting. When they were up there they stopped to eat lunch. Chilcosahaskt took off his moccasins to dry them when they heard a rumbling noise. They started to run when they realized there was going to be a snow-slide. Chilcosahaskt forgot about his moccasins and when he went back to get them the snow-slide took him down.”

His wife, Ken-em-tiq’t, was a Skokomish woman from the coast. She took the two-year-old Chilcosahaskt and his older sister to live with her people. 

When he was about 50, around 1837, he returned to the Entiat Valley to become chief of the valley’s people including his half-brother, N’wiliken, later called Wapato John. 

Entiat Chief Chilcosahaskt with youngest wife, Spokokalx (Rosalie). Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 78-214-67

They lived their traditional hunting, fishing and gathering life-way. The valley provided for all their needs. The only white people they saw in those early years were Hudson’s Bay fur traders traveling the Columbia River.

There were other white men in the early 1860s, mostly miners working the rivers with Chinese miners. White cowboys from the Kittitas and Klickitat Valleys crossed the Entiat River with herds of cattle bound to feed the miners on the gold-rush rivers of British Columbia.

In late December of 1865, 20-year-old Jack Splawn and his friend Al Churchill were delivering a pack train of supplies to the trading post at Rock Island. About half way between Priest Rapids and Rock Island, in three feet of snow and sub zero temperatures, their pack-horses gave out. 

They found Chilcosahaskt and some of his people camped along the Columbia with a herd of fresh horses. Splawn bargained with the Chief for 20 of his horses to take the packs and two saddle horses for the men to ride the last 20 miles to the trading post.

One of the horses was a big white, a favorite of the Chief. They started out on a “shortcut” but soon came to a nearly perpendicular hill. Half way up the white horse fell backwards and rolled to the bottom taking the other horses with him. They all had cuts and bruises but no serious injuries. 

When Splawn and Churchill returned with the horses from the trading post to Chilcosahaskt’s camp the Chief saw his favorite white scarred up, “He started to roar wanting an extra $100 in damages. He informed me that if I did not pay the amount he asked, I would not live to see another sun.” 

Al Churchill wanted to pay but Splawn had his own solution. 

Knowing that an Indian will not kill a guest in his house he told Churchill, “I am going to sleep in that old Indian’s lodge… Picking up our blankets, we went into the lodge, crowding the dogs, dried roots and salmon sacks. 

“The astonished chief asked if there was no room outside. I said it was not often we had the chance to sleep in a great chief’s lodge, so would sleep there tonight.”

While getting the horses ready in the morning, the Chief, “Came out of the lodge and made straight for me. He grabbed me and with a jerk said, ‘Give me the extra $100 or you will not leave this place alive.’ 

“I said, you will get only what we agreed upon and no more. If your horses could not stand up, it was no fault of mine.” 

The Chief went back into his lodge and returned with Splawn’s saddle blanket and said, “Give me this and I will furnish you both with fresh horses.” The deal was made.

When the Colville Reservation was created in 1872, the Entiats were one of the tribes ordered to relocate. 

Chilcosahaskt and his people adamantly refused to leave their ancestral home. By 1881 the government, out of patience, ordered the army to forcibly relocate the Entiats to the Colville. 

A few took allotments along Lake Chelan but the Chief, now 93, again refused to leave. Perhaps in deference to his age the government gave him a 160-acre homestead north of the Entiat’s mouth where later the original town of Entiat was built. The Chief developed a ranch there and a reputation for raising fine horses as he had done for years.

Six years later, at age 99, Chilcosahaskt’s fighting spirit showed itself again. 

In 1887 white people came to the valley. Lewis Detwiler with his brother, John and his wife and daughter, after spending a year in the Orondo area, built a large rowboat, filled it with themselves and their belongings and headed across the Columbia. 

Chilcosahaskt was waiting for them at the mouth of the Entiat. He was so enraged and threatened them with such anger that he “foamed at the mouth.”

Detwiler ignored them and claimed a homestead three miles up the valley. 

After Detwiler had built a cabin, the Chief came with a gun and tried to drive him off. Detwiler got the gun and the better of the Chief. 

Chilcosahaskt left but returned with two of his sons, all armed, and managed to get Detwiler’s gun and force him out of the valley. 

Detwiler walked to the Miller/Freer trading post at Wenatchee to see Dave Freer who was married to Chilcosahaskt’s youngest daughter, Quinmeetsa. 

He told Freer that if the Chief continued to threaten him he would buy a thousand rounds of ammunition and kill every Indian horse in the territory. The Indian agent at Colville got involved and told the Chief to leave the settlers alone.

In time, things calmed down. 

The old Chief came to accept and even like his white neighbors. They invited him into their homes where he was known to tell old stories and show his prowess at Indian dances. 

By then Chilcosahaskt was recognized as the oldest Indian in the Northwest. That he was born in 1788 is clear. His death year has been given as 1900, which would make him 112 years old. 

Wendell George, his great, great grandson, in his book, The Last Chief Standing, gives his death at 1903, age 115. He also, in the same book, gives the death year as 1904 making the last Chief of the Entiats 116 years old. 

Either way he is buried at Manson on Lake Chelan.

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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