First Hawaiian to visit the Inland Northwest reaches Spokane House on August 13, 1811.

  • By Jack Nisbet
  • Posted 12/10/2007
  • Essay 8413

On August 13, 1811, Canadian explorer David Thompson (1770-1857) and his crew arrive at Spokane House on their return from the Pacific, bringing with them a Hawaiian Islander whom they call Coxe.  After accompanying Thompson up the Columbia to collect a shipment of trade goods coming across the Rockies, Coxe spends the winter of 1811-1812 at Spokane House with Jacques Raphael "Jaco" Finlay (1768-1828), the clerk in charge there. Spokane House is located where the Little Spokane River joins the Spokane River, about 10 miles downstream from the present-day location of the city of Spokane. The first Hawaiian Islander to visit the Inland Northwest, Coxe later settles near Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia.

David Thompson and a party of North West Company voyageurs descended the Columbia River from Kettle Falls to the Pacific in July 1811. Near the mouth of the river they met John Jacob Astor’s fledgling Pacific Fur Company busily constructing a new post called Astoria. Desirous of sending a trading party into the interior, the Astorians fitted out a small expedition under the leadership of David Stuart to accompany Thompson on his return upstream. Two Hawaiian Islanders whom the Astorians had hired in Honolulu, one with the nickname of Coxe, were among Stuart’s crew. After slowly ascending the lower river, the two groups parted ways at The Dalles on July 31. According to Astorian clerk Alexander Ross,

“On Mr. Thompson’s departure, Mr. Stuart gave him one of our Sandwich Islanders, a bold and trustworthy fellow, named Cox, for one of his men, a Canadian ... Cox, again, was looked upon by Mr. Thompson as a prodigy of wit and humour” (Ross, 115). 

While writing his memoirs several decades later, Thompson recalled Coxe’s physique and desire to master English rather than his sense of humor:

“I exchanged a Man ... weak for the hard labor of ascending the River, for a powerful well made Sandwich Islander, (whom we named Coxe, from his resemblance to a seaman of that name;) he spoke some english, and was anxious to acquire our language” (Thompson, Travels, iii, 281). 

The Islanders were renowned for their dexterity in canoes, a skill that Coxe would have exercised as he and his new companions paddled upstream against the current. Taking a shortcut overland from the mouth of the Palouse River, he probably made his first acquaintance with travel on horseback as the Nor’Westers rode across the dusty landscape of the channeled scablands.

They rested at Spokane House for a few days before putting back into the Columbia at Kettle Falls for a quick roundtrip to the mouth of the Canoe River to pick up a shipment of trade goods coming across Athabasca Pass. Back at Spokane House by late October, Thompson prepared to move on to his post at Saleesh House in western Montana, but decided to leave his new crew member in the Spokane country under the tutelage of Jaco Finlay for the winter. “Left Coxe & Paul the Iroquois with Jacque Finlay” (Thompson, Notebook 27, November 11, 1811).

No records from Spokane House have been found from this period, and nothing is known of Coxe’s activities until the next spring (1812), when he found himself back in Thompson’s entourage, paddling upstream from Kettle Falls on another leg of an adventure that would lead him across the continent to Montreal, across the Atlantic to England, then on around the world.


Alexander Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986); David Thompson, Notebook 27, F443-1, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; David Thompson, “Travels,” Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, Ontario. 

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