Monday, January 30, 2023
Jan. 30, 2023

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Clark County History: Betsy ‘White Wing’ Ough

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A story about an Indigenous woman who lived a century or more around Washougal filled nearly a quarter-page of a July 1911 Oregonian Daily Journal.

Her native name was White Wing, daughter of Schleyhoos, a Cascade Indigenous chief. Town locals knew her as Betsy Ough. Along with her husband, Richard, a onetime Hudson’s Bay Company boatswain, she’s credited among the founders of Washougal.

Her birth date is unknown, and the town’s postmaster, D.W. Hutchinson, guessed her age. The aspiring writer and local historian spent considerable time during 1910 gathering data, reviewing records and interviewing Betsy about her life. By Hutchinson’s guess, she was at least 103. In a later 1935 Oregonian story, Theodore Burkhart mentioned she was 105 when she died in 1911.

Betsy claimed her mother sent her off as a young girl to pick berries and she never returned. Somehow, she found her way to one Hudson’s Bay Company employee’s cabin, and another, and worked for them.

She must have found her way back to her parents, but how, she didn’t say. Eventually, she left again with Richard Ough, a 240-pound, 6-foot-2-inch man. Ough worked for the 6-foot-4-inch John McLoughlin, chief factor of the fur company. Their height declared their presence in most gatherings when the average man stood about 5 foot, 8 inches tall.

According to her often-repeated story, White Wing fell in love with Ough when their eyes first met. She was paddling a canoe on the Columbia River as her father spearfished when Ough, the chief factor and other Hudson’s Bay workers approached in canoes. Her father weighed killing the men.

On the Columbia shore, Ough’s and White Wing’s eyes met. As she walked away with her father, she glanced back to find him still watching. He started walking to her, but McLoughlin held back Ough, fearing the tribe might kill him.

About a month later, Ough walked into White Wing’s village and began bargaining with Schleyhoos for his daughter. Once the men reached an agreement, the couple married. The wedding likely took place in 1834, when both Ough and McLoughlin were at Fort Vancouver. In fact, the Oughs went through the ceremony a second time to make it legal and raised six children together.

It’s easy to romanticize the couple’s courtship and marriage. In the more tender telling, they remained happily married for 50 years until Richard died. A 1940 book, “Told by the Pioneers,” recounts the tale differently. In it, Emmeline Short claims in an oral history that Ough “used to get drunk and beat his woman.” Truth or rumor? We don’t know.

The Oughs settled in Washougal about eight years after marrying, although the exact date isn’t certain. Still, the couple played a prominent role in Washougal’s creation. They claimed 640 acres and farmed it for decades.

Around 1880, the Oughs sold 20 acres and leased some river frontage to Joseph Durgin, who envisioned a town and donated a piece of his purchase for one. After platting and filing by the Clark County surveyor, Washougal was officially established in May 1880.


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

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