Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Spokane Garry at Fort Colville in 1860. 
Spokane Garry’s Indian name was lost to memory until an old letter recently re-emerged after almost 200 years in obscurity. Documentary evidence now confirms that Garry’s original Salish name was Slough-Keetcha. The story of his name is the subject of this blog post.

In 1825, Governor George Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company directed Alexander Ross to recruit two Indian boys from the Columbia River country to be educated at the Red River settlement in Canada. At the first suggestion, tribal leaders resisted the idea of sending their children to an unknown fate, but Ross eventually prevailed upon them to accept his proposal. Two of the chiefs, Illim-Spokanee (ilmixʷm sp’q’niʔ) of the Middle Spokane (snxʷmeneʔ), along with a Kootenai war chief, selected their own sons. During a public ceremony, one of the chiefs made an emotional plea. He said, “We have given you our hearts—our children are our hearts; but bring them back to us before they become white men—we wish to see them once more Indians” (Ross, 1855, p. 157).

If the old men wished to see their sons “once more Indians,” they must have sensed the looming change that would befall their children as they traveled to a foreign land. As if to hasten their assimilation, Governor Simpson immediately renamed the boys. “The son of the Spokane chief was now named Spokane Garry, after his tribe, and Garry, one of the directors of the Hudson Bay Company; while the son of the Kootenai chief was named Kootenai Pelly, after his tribe, and Governor Pelly” (Lewis, 1917, p. 39).

Tragically, Kootenai Pelly died a few short years later, but as Garry later returned to the land of his parents with a new language and a newfound faith in Christianity, his original name faded from memory. Since then, historians have remained silent regarding Garry’s childhood name, or have simply accepted that it was “lost to time” (Kershner, 2008). In fact, it would seem that once he returned from the Red River country, Garry favored his English name over the name of his youth. For the Spokane, Garry was the first of many who would change their names to accommodate the encroaching culture of the whites.

Garry’s original name remained a mystery until the digital age finally created greater access to a number of old historical documents. 

The Reverend David T. Jones, a Welsh missionary at the Red River school, kept a diary of the religious instruction he provided to the Indian people, including Spokane Garry. In 1828, he recorded that one of the Indian boys from the Columbia River tribes wrote a letter to his parents. He transcribed the letter in the Missionary Register:

My Dear Father and Mother — I am very glad that I can write to you, and that I can tell you that I am well. I have never been sick since I came to this place; and I have always had food to eat and clothes to put on. I can now read much of that book that the Great Spirit has given to the White People, to tell them what they must do, so that when they die they may go to the good country. This book tells us that there is a time coming, when Indians, as well as White Men, shall know what the Great Spirit has said in this book, and what they ought to do to please Him. I wish, my Dear Father and Mother, that you, my Sisters and Brothers, and all my Country-people, knew these things. Give my love to my Uncle Chongulloosoon, and to all my Aunts; and I would thank you to send me a deer-skin. The great Illemechum whom you saw before, takes this Letter. Be good to the White People, for they are good to us. This from your Son, Slough-Keetcha (Church Missionary Society, 1829, p. 576). 

A handwritten transcript of Garry's letter. 

The transcript did not explicitly state that Spokane Garry wrote this letter; however, two important clues suggest that he did. First, the letter was written in 1828 at a time when only two Columbia River children were present at the school: Spokane Garry and Kutenai Pelly. Second, the author of the letter referred to Governor Simpson as the “great Illemechum,” a word with a striking similarity to the Salish expression ilmixʷm, meaning “chief.” If this letter was indeed written by Garry, his childhood name has finally been restored.

Brian Huseland, a teacher at Northwest Christian Schools, recently connected Garry with the Indian name from the letter by examining a microfilm of the original documents. The letter cited above was a type-written copy that appeared in an official missionary publication; however, a handwritten transcript of the same letter contains additional information, including Garry’s name. The handwritten version included a brief explanatory statement that read: “Our two Indian Boys sent letters to their friends by Governor Simpson, one of them Spokain Garry wrote as follows of his own accord” (Section V: Missions to the Americas, Part 2: North West Canada, 1821-1880, Reel 48). This statement was followed by an identical letter that was also signed by Slough-Keetcha. According to the handwritten journal, Spokane Garry and Slough-Keetcha were one and the same!

Slough-Keetcha's name appeared at the bottom of the page.
Examining the film at the Spokane Public Library.
Photo Credit: Brian Huseland

In all fairness, credit also belongs to Douglas McMurry. In 2011, he published an historical novel of Garry’s life, The Forgotten Awakening: How the Second Great Awakening Spread West of the Rockies. McMurry’s book also mentioned Garry’s tribal name, presumably by accessing the same documentary source. The semi-fictional history recounted the moment Illim-Spokanee gave his son to Alexander Ross. “Turning to Ross and staring him in the eye, he added, ‘As for me, I give you my son Slough-Keetcha. He is the joy of my life. He is my youngest. He is in your care’” (McMurry, 2011, p. 128).

During his lifetime, Garry was often a conflicted man, caught between the forces of assimilation and a desire to preserve the integrity of his own country. In his old age, he suffered injury, poverty, and defeat, but perhaps in death, some measure of dignity is restored through the memory of his tribal name. Perhaps through the restoration of his name, Slough-Keetcha returns to his people once again Indian. 


Church Missionary Society. (1829). Missionary Register for MDCCCXXIX (Vol. 17). London: L.B. Seely & Sons.

Kershner, J. (2008, August 1). Chief Spokane Garry . Retrieved from

Lewis, W. S. (1917). The case of Spokane Garry. Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press.

McMurry, D. (2011). The forgotten awakening: How the Second Great Awakening spread west of the Rockies. Sisters, Oregon: Deep River Books.

Ross, A. (1855). The fur hunters of the far west: A narrative of adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains. London: Smith, Elder & Company.

Section V: Missions to the Americas, Part 2: North West Canada, 1821-1880, Reel 48. (n.d.). Church Missionary Society Archive.

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