BATTLE GROUND — Just after Christmas, Mary Umtuch logged on to her computer to check for the video updates her family members usually post during the holidays. Instead, she found a short video about an exhibit at the Battle Ground Community Library and a claim the mystery surrounding the death of her famous forefather, Chief Umtuch, had been solved.
“Usually my family puts up some videos, and it said, ‘We finally know who killed Chief Umtuch,’ ” Mary Umtuch said. “This has been a mystery for so long.”
The video described an exhibit created by local historian and researcher Don Higgins. Higgins recently penned a new book titled “Peace Wins at the Battle Ground 1855” about the region’s Native American history, the role of Chief Umtuch and how Battle Ground got its name. On Thursday, Mary Umtuch, her sister Sue Umtuch Hanson, brother Jonathan Umtuch, along with some nephews and granddaughters, visited the library to see the exhibit for themselves.
“To know that the history of the local area is still of interest is a big deal,” Mary Umtuch said. “That’s just tremendous when it comes to who you are, where you come from. There is a story behind everything, even how people got here from other lands.”
Chief Umtuch was instrumental in bringing a peaceful resolution to the rising tensions and violence that had erupted between white settlers and Native American people during the mid- and late 1850s.
While much of her family now lives in Oregon, some in Warm Springs and others in Portland, she said they knew it was important to see the exhibit for themselves.
“It’s an honor to know that we come from a place where there was peace,” Mary Umtuch said, adding peace is something her own family and household remains focused on today.
For Jonathan Umtuch, the Battle Ground exhibit reaffirmed the details and information about his family he uncovered in his own research.
“I did the family’s history back when I was in middle school. A lot of what I see here coincides with what I learned back then,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time the family has visited Battle Ground. Sue Umtuch Hanson said she, her siblings and other family members participated in a ceremony for the opening of Chief Umtuch Middle School in 2008.
“When this display came up they were like, ‘We’ve got to see this,’ ” she said. “There’s a lot of enlightenment here. Of course, we’ve seen and heard the stories but this highlights them,” Sue Umtuch Hanson said.
Mary Umtuch is hopeful by continuing to focus on the role her forefather and other Native Americans played in settling the region will convince lawmakers from Oregon and Washington to rename Government Island.
“We’d love to see Government Island changed to Chief Umtuch Island,” she said. “He brought peace to this whole area. … He signed a treaty right over there in Fort Vancouver.”
While Higgins said he doesn’t have definitive proof as to who killed Chief Umtuch, he believes the accounts given by Chief Umtuch’s successors that the chief was accidentally shot and killed by members of his own tribe. Chief Umtuch, who was known to dress in western European clothing, was returning to tell the tribe he had agreed to return to Fort Vancouver the next day.
Copies of Higgins’ book can be found at the Battle Ground Community Library, 1207 S.E. Eighth Way, Battle Ground, but are not currently for sale. For more information about the book or exhibit, as well as library hours and location, go to https://www.fvrl.org/loc/battle-ground or call 360-906-5000.