Reconnecting with Old Friends

Oct 2, 2017 | 0 comments

Amelia Aubichon Petit, c. 1920s

It’s probably a product of my aging and addled mind and, if so, I’m glad.  I’m beginning to think of people I’ve written about (but have never met) as ‘friends.’  In the same way that I ‘know’ many of my ancestors through family stories and bits of save memorabilia, I have gathered about me the forebears of many other people over the years.

That amazing realization came to me yesterday with an email request from a woman named Donna Sinclair who introduced herself thus:  I just stumbled across your wonderful website as I was looking for an image of Amelia Aubichon for a website I’m working on with the Chinook Indian Nation, via Portland State University.

North Beach Girls: The Herrold Twins, Catherine and Charlotte

Amelia Aubichon (Petit)!  I know Amelia!  She was Grandmère to my friend Charlotte Herrold Davis (1911-2010) and her twin sister Catherine Davis Troeh (1911-2007).  She is one of the amazing Peninsula residents featured in my Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula.  She was born on October 6, 1830 (almost exactly 187 years ago) and died in 1924.  Charlotte and Catherine remembered that “When Grandmère Petit died, the Indians all came from Bay Center and sat cross-legged facing the Presbyterian Church during her funeral.”

Donna Sinclair went on to say:  We began this project in 2009 and then our organization, the Center for Columbia River History (part of WSU Vancouver, PSU, and the Washington State Historical Society), was defunded. Since then, I have worked with students from PSU and Professor Katy Barber to complete the site. We’ve faced some roadblocks, including having been hacked, but we are almost there. One of the pages I am working on now is about the Pillar Rock area and the descendants of Os-wal-licks and Arkensee (Amelia’s parents).

I know very little about her parents but I know some fascinating bits about Amelia, herself.  She had many interesting experiences during her long life.  She remembered watching Mount St. Helens “burst” in the mid-1840s; she knew Dr. John McLoughlin, factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and she knew a young man named Ulysses S. Grant who would go on to become a Civil War General and, later, president of the United States.  She remembered when a bob-tailed pony and a range of mountains shared a common name, “Skuse.” (The pony is now called Cayuse and the mountains are the Siskiyous.)

John McLoughlin (1784-1857)

She also remembered the beginning of the wheat-raising industry in Oregon Territory when the sacked grain from French Prairie was brought down the Willamette River in bateaux operated by Indians and how it eventually was taken to ships waiting at a place called ‘Boatland’ by the whites, but that was pronounced ‘Portland’ by the Indians.  The name for the new city was chosen by the flip of a coin.  In 1866, she and her husband, Amable, settled in Chinookville with the first seven of their ten children.  In later years, as Chinookville began to wash away into the river, the Petits moved downstream to Ilwaco.

Of course, I sent a copy of the photograph to Donna Sinclair with my best wishes for success in completing their project.  I was pleased to be of help.  But I was especially pleased to be reconnected with an old friend.

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