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The Spirit of Adventure 1843

Are you heading west to the Pacific Northwest? Perhaps you’d like to take in the mountain scenery, go for a hike or backpack in several of our National Parks.

The white mans history of the Pacific Northwest isn’t a long one.

When I think back to how early pioneers and Native Americans lived in the Pacific Northwest, it is the spirit of adventure that comes first to mind. 

Captain Nathan Olney’s Memorial Plaque Dedicated 1956

Mortal Arrow Wound to the Head

What should have been a mortal wound that ended his life, Nathan headed west having an arrow tip from a battle that permanently pierced into his frontal lobe. Discovering our ancestor, Nathan Olney, 1824-1866, was a pivotal find my mom first learned of during one of her many genealogy digs. 

Nathan Olney was our great-great uncle, who came to live in Washington through the Dalles, Oregon. He journeyed west on the Palmer and Barlow wagon train arriving in the Willamette Valley, Oregon during 1843. In 1847 he will later become known as the first settler and resident of The Dalles known as Wascopum a small village. 

First Resident, Judge, Commissioner, Sheriff, Indian Agent

If it wasn’t perilous trying to get here, the otherwise peaceful Indians who moved and lived around early explorers and fur traders easily, where unsure of the new arrival of permanent families, cattle, wagons and living on the land.

Through this one simple genealogy find, my mom soon connected with a cousin, and direct descendent of Nathan, Teresa Anahuy. Teresa filled in the history she knew. Holes and pieces that were missing slowly filled around Nathan’s life and time spent coming to the Northwest, eventually to Ft. Simcoe on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington where he later married and lived out his short life.

Nathan eventually married Teresa’s grandmother, Annette, who was the daughter of a Yakama chief. 

As a 19 year old, Nathan originally made his home in The Dalles. Over the next few years he was a merchant providing supplies and food to pioneers expanding their way west. The journey west was a perilous one for pioneers who traveled by wagon and foot towards a better life in the great northwest where they would eventually ford the Colombia River into what is now Washington State.

The following document from a speech given at Nathan’s gravesite by Dr. Thomas Griffith, August 12, 1956 when a bronze plaque was provided and “placed upon his monument in memory of a fine Gentleman of the Pioneer days who passed from this life in the prime of manhood.”

Dedication Speech for Nathan Olney’s Memorial Plaque

by Dr. Thomas Griffith

“Immediately after the news of the Whitman Massacre reached the western settlements, Nathan Olney recruited and commanded a company of scouts, served with distinction under Colonel Gilliam during the Cayouse Indian War.

After the Territorial Government was formed in 1849, Wasco County was created. Included within its boundaries was a vast area of land extending from the summit of the Cascade mountain range in the west to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the east. In this, the largest County in the Territorial Government a that times, Nathan Olney served successfully in its administration as County Judge, Commissioner, Sheriff, and later during 1862, when Oregon had achieved Statehood, he became Ex-Officio Probate Judge.

In the early records of Wasco County he is referred to as “The Honorable Nathan Olney.”

During periods of time between 1854 and 1859, in addition to his many other duties and services, he served as Sub Indian Agent at Ft. Simcoe on the Yakama Reservation.

He rendered valuable assistance to Father Wilbur, one of the outstanding conscientious Agents, in the formative period of the Yakima Indian Agency.

He, Nathan Olney, was Father Wilbur’s friend.

In 1855, while Fort Dalles was garrisoned by troops from the Fourth and Ninth Infantry Regiments together with detachments from Artillery Units and Dragoons, a meeting was held by the citizens of the towns to formulate Articles for a local government and for the divisions of properties. Nathan Olney assisted in the preparation of these Articles which were approved by the Territorial Legislature during the 1855-1856 Session. 

It goes without saying Nathan was well liked by the Yakama people. So well liked, he is the only white man who is buried on native land that we know of. There is a large headstone at his place of rest as proof.

Nathan died the same way he arrived. At 42 years of age, a fall from a horse and he hit his head pushing the arrow head farther into his skull.

Nathan Olney, 1824-1866

Bev Knoll Stern and Teresa Anahuy