Ilchee on the Columbia

Ilchee, Moon girl, daughter of Chinook Chief Comcomley.

Ilchee, daughter of Chinook Chief Comcomley.

At first glance, you might think the bronze statue of the young Indian woman gazing out over the Columbia River is Sacagawea. But you’d be wrong. This isn’t a memorial to Lewis and Clark’s intrepid interpreter/guide. This is Ilchee, Moon Girl, a remarkable woman in her own right.

She was born about 1800. Native American lore tells us that “she had the power of a Shaman and that she paddled her own canoe, the sign of a chief.”

Ilchee was a favorite daughter of Chief Comcomley, the powerful leader of a tribe of Chinook Indians who lived at the mouth of the Columbia River. On July 20, 1811, she wed Duncan McDougal, Chief Factor of the Pacific Fur Company at Astoria, Oregon. They were the first couple married at Fort Astoria.

Though McDougal was undoubtedly smitten by the beautiful young woman, it should be noted that their union also created something of a formal political alliance between Comcomley’s tribe and Fort Astoria. (not unlike the arranged marriages of Europe) As such, McDougal paid handsomely for the honor of securing Ilchee’s hand in marriage. Unfortunately, that alliance only lasted two years.

When the American trading post at Fort Astoria was lost to the British in the War of 1812, McDougal returned to the east, leaving his Indian bride behind. Not an uncommon occurrence.

After his departure, Ilchee travelled upriver to a site where Vancouver, WA, now stands. There, she was wed to another powerful leader of the Chinook Indians called Chief Casino (also seen as Casinov). But jealousy–she was not his only wife–and perhaps a bit of political intrigue eventually forced her to flee. She found refuge for a time at Fort Vancouver before finally returning to her family at the mouth of the Columbia River.

For the complete story of Ilchee, as told by Chief Cliff Snider, please click here.

The 7-foot-tall, 700 pound bronze statue of Ilchee, Moon Girl, was created by sculptor Eric Jensen in 1994. The statue, and the small plaza where it stands, was built to honor the Chinook people who have inhabited this region for thousands of years.

Location: About one block west of McMenamins Pub on Vancouver’s Waterfront Renaissance Trail. The perfect spot to sit and take a break on this five mile walk.

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