Even though the Spokane House journal for 1818-19 has long been lost, most historians believe that an informal marital union of special significance took place there over that winter. The groom was Peter Skene Ogden, son of a loyalist New York family that traced its ancestry back to the Pilgrims; Ogden went on to play a significant role in Hudson's Bay Company expeditions all over the West. The bride was named Julia Rivet, linked with Francois Rivet, an Illinois River furman who had both worked for the Lewis and Clark Expedition and for North West Company surveyor David Thompson.

And yet who Julia Rivet really was remains somewhat of a mystery. Most sources insist that she was Francois's stepdaughter — that her mother had been widowed before her union with Rivet. Some believe that her mother may have been a Spokane woman, since Julia married Peter Skene Ogden at Spokane House. Others say she was a Flathead; still others that she was Nez Perce. Some say Julia's father was a Native American; others that she was the progeny of a fur trade liaison. Julia herself hinted at Iroquois and Crow kinship, but the only written record occurred years later, when Jesuit Father Demers baptized the Ogden's last son Isaac and named the mother as "Juliet Spokane." Hers is the kind of mixed-blood story Dr. Jean Barman will elaborate on at the MAC on March 18.

Although some years older than her husband, Julia traveled energetically on many of his most difficult journeys, wrangling small children all the while. When Peter Skene arrived at Fort Nez Perce in September of 1827, to prepare for his fourth expedition into the Snake River country, Julia was along for the journey even though she was four months pregnant and traveling with their first son Peter, then about 10; Charles, aged 8; Cecilia, 6; Michael, 4; and Sarah Julia, 2. Her baby David was born and then died over the ensuing tough winter; another male child succumbed to a stomach abscess in January of 1831 at Fort Colvile.

Yet nothing seemed to stop Julia. She managed to live apart from Peter Skene for months at a time, and ignored his other country wives. When Ogden was posted at Fort St. James on Stuart Lake, she put up with him for 10 consecutive years. After one of her Rivet stepbrothers died of alcoholism, she took in his son, Faubien, and treated him as part of the family. She saw her mixed-blood daughter Sarah Julia marry fur agent Archibald McKinley and become a prominent Willamette Valley pioneer.

Although many of Peter Skene Ogden's peers who lived with tribal or mixed-blood women eventually sanctified their marriages in churches, Ogden himself died in 1854 without having done anything to make Julia or their children legal heirs. Since Ogden had become a very wealthy man, his will was contested by other family members, and Julia never saw much of her deserved estate. But Julia, always in the company of family members, outlived her country husband by more than 30 full and energetic years. She died at the age of 98, at Lac le Hac, British Columbia, and much of her story remains untold.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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