Reckoning with the Palouse and Walla Walla

Headquarters Expedition Against Northern Indians,
Camp on the Ned-whauld (Lahtoo) River, W. T.,
September 25, 1858

Yesterday I sent Brevet Major Grier with three troops of dragoons to Colonel Steptoe’s battleground, twelve miles south of this place. The major has this moment returned, bringing with him the remains of Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Gaston, who fell in the battle, and also the two howitzers abandoned by the troops when they retreated.
I shall march tomorrow morning for the Palouse River.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. Wright, Colonel 9th Infantry, Commanding

Major W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General,
Headquarters Department of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.”

The direction from the site of the camp on the Nedwhauld to the battlefield of Tohotonimme is, rather, southwesterly, instead of directly south.

A few of the Nez Perces accompanied the detachment as guides, and traveling as direct a route as possible across the intervening stretch of hills, the battleground was reached about noon.

What a contrast the scene presented to that which was enacted there but a little over four months before! To the officers and men who now returned to review the ground for the first time since they rode away in the darkness of that May night, it was like an intrusion into sepulchral solitude. That those hills and vales once vibrated with the booming of cannon and the ceaseless crashing of musket and rifle, the deep rumble of charging squadrons, and the wild, fierce yells of a legion of victorious and 1 expectant savages, all seemed like a hideous nightmare as compared with the eternal silence that now prevailed. Day after day since the echoes of the din and turmoil of that 17th of May had ceased, those slopes and glens had known no sounds more harsh than the soft rustling of the grass as it waved in the breeze, or the whispering of the quivering leaves of the aspen that grew along the creek; and the stillness at night had been broken no more roughly than by the howl of the coyote, as he patrolled the lonely prairie and occasionally emitted a challenge to his rival or indulged his exultation over some discovery which contributed to his necessities.

Soon it became apparent that Major Grier’s mission would be readily accomplished, and during the afternoon Lieutenant Mullan sent a Nez Perce to Colonel Wright with a message advising him of the entire success which had attended the party.

Lieutenant Gregg and Dr. Randolph rode over the field with the other officers and pointed out to them the, location of the various events which had so completely filled the day: where the first attack was made, the ground over which the troops marched under fire in silence, where Gregg raced with the foe for a position of vantage, where the desperate attempt was made to surround Gaston’s company, the hill on which the companies were gathered and re-formed to fight their way onward, where charge after charge was made, where Gaston and Taylor fell, and where the command was finally surrounded.

Lieutenant Mullan took account of the location, including the route to the point farthest north reached by Colonel Steptoe, and the return. The map made by him indicates that Steptoe, when he turned back, sought to follow the trail by which he had come, or to reach the Lapwai-Colville road lying to’ the eastward from which he had departed by a, branch trail on the Saturday preceding the meeting with the Indians.

In searching for the bones of those who fell too far away to be reached for burial before the command set out on its flight, the troops were dis mounted and formed at the point from whence the last half mile of the moving fight was begun, in a long row, shoulder to shoulder, and but a few feet apart. In this way they moved along the ground over which the fight raged, each soldier scanning the space in his front. Thus they discovered and gathered up the remains.

Those of Gaston lay near where he fell. The greatest number was found at the foot of the hill where Taylor received his mortal wound and where the troops were forced to abandon their course toward the creek and turn aside to the top of the hill in quest of more favor able ground for defense. A survivor of Colonel Wright’s expedition, who assisted in the search for the dead, recently identified this spot as being very near where the Rosalia public school building stands.

The bodies of Captain Taylor and others who were buried on the hill were disinterred, and the howitzers were found unmolested where they had been cached.

That night Major Grier’s soldiers slept on the battle-field, near the banks of the creek toward which Steptoe’s thirsty, hard-pressed troops fought with such desperation. On the morrow, bearing their sad emblems of the horrors of war, they wended their way back over the hills to the Nedwhauld; but before they departed (again quoting Kip): “One thing more remained to be done. Among the articles left on the ground was a pair of shafts belonging to one of the guns. These were taken and fashioned into a rude cross, which was set up in the midst of the battle-field, to remind all future travelers of the sad event of which this had been the scene. And then, after depositing around it all that could be gathered up from the relics scattered over the hillsides and wherever the fight was waged, they left the field in solemn silence.

Poor Gaston! My parting with him was at West Point, when full of life and spirits and bright anticipations of his future career. My last recollection of him is in his grey cadet uniform. I never saw him after, until I thus stood by his remains today. He was every inch a soldier.  He had a soldier’s death, and will have a soldier’s burial and grave.

‘The fresh turf, and not the feverish bed.’ ”

The camp on the Nedwhauld was broken on the morning of September 26th, and the command marched westward, to the north of Steptoe’s battle ground, and in the evening camped on what was thought to be the Silsilceppowvetsin, having made that day about fifteen miles.

On the following morning the camp was early astir, and the troops were on the march between six and seven o’clock. A hard rain beginning in the morning continued throughout the day and it was exceedingly cold. The soldiers suffered a great deal, yet, with the prospect of soon seeing friends and comfortable quarters, they faced the storm cheerfully. The distance covered this day was only about ten miles, and was in a southerly direction.

On the 28th the march was begun at six o’clock. The route was along the west side of Spectre (Rock) lake, and striking the Ouraytayouse (Rock creek) that stream was followed where its direction and the ground were practicable. The day was cold, and in the afternoon was rainy. After traveling about twenty-five miles, encampment was made on the Ouraytayouse about two miles from its juncture with the Palouse.

Frequently along the whole distance traveled since leaving the Nedwhauld, deserted Indian camps were seen. Evidently some of these Indians had been of the scouting parties, watching for the approach of soldiers toward the north, and when the fighting along the Spokane was imminent, they had assembled there to assist their tribesmen.

The grass along the route had nearly all been burned over, thus rendering the matter of forage for the horses a thing of serious concern.

On the 29th, the creek on which the camp had been pitched the previous night was followed to its mouth, and then down the Palouse the march was continued for fifteen miles, when camp was again made. The site of this camp seemed to be an Indian battleground. Arrow heads were found scattered about in profusion and parts and pieces of Indian weapons were strewn over the ground. From this encampment Colonel Wright forwarded the following reports:

Headquarters Expedition Against Northern Indians,
Camp on the Pelouse River, W. T.
September 30, 1858

My last dispatch to department headquarters (No. 21) was dated on the 25th instant. On the evening of that day many of the Pelouse Indians began to gather in my camp. They represented themselves as having been in both battles, and when Kamiakin fled over the mountains they seceded from his party, and were now anxious for peace. I seized fifteen men, and after a careful investigation of their cases I found that they had left their own country and waged war against the forces of the United States, and one of them had killed a sergeant of Colonel Steptoe’s command, who was crossing the Snake River. I had promised those Indians severe treatment if found with the hostiles, and accordingly six of the most notorious were hung on the spot. The others were ironed for the march.

I left my camp on the Ned-whauld (Lahtoo) on the morning of the 26th, and after a march of four cold, rainy days reached this place last evening.

On the 27th I was met by the Pelouse chief, Slow-i-archy. This chief has always lived at the mouth of the Pelouse, and has numerous testimonials of good character, and has not been engaged in hostilities. He has about twenty-five men, besides women and children, probably one hundred in all. He told me that some of his young men had, contrary to his advice, engaged in the war, but that they were all now assembled and begging for peace. Slow-i-archy had five men with him, and he dispatched two of them the same day he met me high up the Pelouse to bring in the Indians from that quarter, which he represented as being desirous of meeting me.

After I encamped last evening Slow-i-archy went down the river about two miles and brought up all his people, men, women and children, with all the property they had, and early this morning a large band of Pelouse, numbering about one hundred, men, women and children, came in from the upper Pelouse. These comprise pretty much all the Pelouse left in the country. A few have fled with Kamiakin, who is represented as having gone over the mountains and crossed Clark’s fork.

I shall have a talk with these Indians today, and I will then communicate to you the result.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. Wright, Colonel 9th Infantry, Commanding.
Major W. W. Mackall, Asst. Adjt. Gen., Headq’rs Dept. of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.”

Headquarters Expedition Against Northern Indians,
Camp on the Pelouse River, W. T.,
September 30, 1858.

I have this moment finished with the Pelouse. After calling them together in council, I addressed them in severe language, enumerating their murders, thefts, and war against the United States troops. I then demanded the murderers of the two miners in April last. One man was brought out and hung forthwith. Two of the men who stole the cattle from Walla Walla valley were hung at my camp on the Nedwhauld, and one of them was killed in the battle of the ‘Four Lakes.’ All the property they had belonging to the government was restored. I then brought out my Indian prisoners, and found three of them were either Walla-Wallas or Yakimas. They were hung on the spot. One of the murderers of the miners had been hung on the Spokane.

I then demanded of these Indians one chief and four men, with their families, to take to Fort Walla Walla as hostages for their future good behavior. They were presented and accepted.

I told these Indians that I would not now make any written treaty of peace with them, but if they performed all I required that next spring a treaty should be made with them.

I said to them that white people should travel through their country unmolested ; that they should apprehend and deliver up every man of their nation who had been guilty of murder or robbery. All this they promised me.

I warned them that if I ever had to come into this country again on a hostile expedition no man should be spared; I would annihilate the whole nation.

I have treated these Indians severely, but they justly deserved it all. They will remember it.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. Wright, Colonel 9th Infantry, Commanding.
Major W. W. Mackall, Asst. Adjt. Gen., Headq’rs Dept. of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.”

The lecture administered by Colonel Wright, through his interpreter, to the assembled Palouse was couched in the following highly complementary and delectable terms, according to Kip’s journal:

“Tell them they are a set of rascals, and deserve to be hung; that if I should hang them all, I should not do wrong. Tell them I have made a written treaty with the Coeur d’Alenes and the Spokane, but I will not make a written treaty with them; and if I catch one of them on the other side of Snake River, I will hang him. Tell them they shall not go into the Coeur d’Alene country, nor into the Spokane country, nor shall they allow the Walla Walla Indians to come into their country. If they behave themselves and do all that I direct them, I will make a written treaty with them next spring. If I do, there will be no more war between us. If they do not submit to these terms, I will make war on them; and if I come here again to war, I will hang them all, men, women, and children.”

Immediately upon the decision to execute the murderer and the three other Indians, they were turned over to the guard, and while the council continued, they were bound and marched to a tree several hundred yards away, where they were hung.

With but few exceptions the Indians who were executed on this expedition met their fate with stoical courage. Lieutenant Mullan’s vehicle, to which was attached his odometer, served as a handy platform for the gruesome operations. A few even went so far in exhibiting their complete in difference to death as to leap from the vehicle, after the noose had been adjusted about their necks, without awaiting the convenience of their executioners.

Headquarters Expedition Against Northern Indians,
Camp on the Pelouse River, W. T.,
September 30, 1858.

The war is closed. Peace is restored with the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Pelouse. After a vigorous campaign the Indians have been entirely subdued, and were most happy to accept such terms of peace as I might dictate.


  1. Two battles fought by the troops under my command, against the combined forces of the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Pelouse, in both of which the Indians were signally defeated, with a severe loss of chiefs and warriors, either killed or wounded.
  2. The capture of one thousand horses, and a large number of cattle from the hostile Indians, all of which were either killed or appropriated to the service of the United States.
  3. Many barns filled with wheat or oats, also several fields of grain, with numerous caches of vegetables, dried berries, and kamas, all destroyed, or used by the troops.
  4. The Yakima chief, Ow-hi, in irons, and the notorious war chief Qualchen, hung. The murderers of the miners, the cattle stealers, &c. (in all, eleven Indians), all hung.
  5. The Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Pelouse entirely subdued, and sue most abjectly for peace on any terms.
  6. Treaties made with the above named nations; they have restored all property which was in their possession, belonging either to the United States or to individuals; they have promised that all white people shall travel through their country unmolested, and that no hostile Indians shall be allowed to pass through or remain among them.
  7. The delivery to the officer in command of the United States troops of the Indians who commenced the battle with Lieutenant Colonel Steptoe contrary to the orders of their chiefs.
  8. The delivery to the officer in command of the United States troops of one chief and four men, with their families, from each of the above named tribes, to be taken to Fort Walla Walla, and held as hostages for the future good conduct of their respective nations.
  9. 9. The recovery of the two mounted howitzers abandoned by the troops under Lieutenant Colonel Steptoe.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. WRIGHT, Colonel 9th Infantry, Commanding.
Major W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General,
Headquarters Department of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.

On the morning of October 1st, Captain Keyes with the artillery battalion, one company of cavalry, the commissary and quartermaster’s trains, and the Indians and hostages under charge of Lieu tenant Fleming, left the remainder of the command at the encampment on the Palouse, and proceeded to Snake River, where they arrived at noon, and crossed over to Fort Taylor.

On the morning of the 2nd, Lieutenants Mullan and Owen took their leave, Mullan going to report at headquarters, at Fort Vancouver, in connection with the military road survey from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, to which duty he had been previously assigned, but had been compelled by the hostility of the Indians on his route, those from whose conquering he had just returned, to abandon until a more favorable season. Lieutenant Owen going to Fort Dalles to reassume his duties as Adjutant of the 9th infantry.

At noon on the 2nd, Colonel Wright with the main force arrived at the river. On his appearance a salute was fired from the guns of Fort Taylor, in his honor.

Orders previously received had directed that the force should remain at Fort Taylor, but early on the morning of the 3rd an express arrived with countermanding orders requiring it to proceed to Vancouver instead. Therefore, to the discomfiture of the weary soldiers who had looked forward to a season of relaxation at Fort Taylor, during; the afternoon of the 3rd the camp was again broken. Major Wyse, with Fort Taylor’s garrison, joined also in the march and thus the fort was abandoned forever. It was left in care of Slowiarchy, the old Palouse chief. Grange City, a station on the O.W. R. & N. railroad, now occupies its site.

At noon on the 5th they arrived at Walla Walla, having been gone sixty marching days, and were most cordially received. The column reached the fort in the following formation, says Kip:

“The four companies of dragoons came first; then our thirty Nez Perces allies; then the hostages, drawn up in two ranks, under the command of Lieutenant Fleming; then the two rifle companies; then Major Wyse’s company and battery of six-pounders; then the howitzer battery, under Lieutenant White; and, lastly, the artillery battalion. By far the most conspicuous and distinguish looking person in the command was Cutmouth John. He rode generally by the side of the Nez Perces, dressed in a red blanket, his head surmounted by a large skin cap, and holding in his hand a long pole, from the end of which dangled a scalp he had taken in the battle of the Four Lakes.

The Inspector General, Colonel Mansfield, had arrived a few days before, and it was determined that he should exercise the duties of his office on the spot. As soon, therefore, as we reached the parade ground, the column halted, the ranks opened, and Colonel Mansfield, with Colonel Wright and his staff, made a thorough inspection. There was nothing about the command, of the ‘pomp and circumstance of glorious war.’ During two months no one had slept under a roof, and all were begrimed with mud and rain and dust. The artillery and infantry wore blue flannel shirts drawn over their uniforms and belted at the waist; the dragoons had a similar dress of grey flannel. The officers had adopted the same, with slouched hats. The only marks of their rank were the shoulder straps sewed on the flannel. Yet all this was showing the reality of service. If there was little display of uniforms, the arms were in perfect order, and we believe the troops had never been in a higher state of discipline, or a more efficient condition for action. At all events, Colonel Mansfield expressed himself highly gratified with the result of his inspection.

October 6th This morning notice was received from Colonel Wright that all the officers should meet at Colonel Steptoe’s quarters to pay their respects to the Inspector General. We met there at twelve o’clock, when a handsome collation was provided, and a couple of hours spent in pleasant intercourse.

October 7th Today we turned to more solemn duties. At ten o’clock took place the burial of Captain Taylor, Lieutenant Gaston, and the remains of the men which had been found on Colonel Steptoe’s battle-ground. It was from this post they had marched forth, and here they were to be laid to their rest. They were of course buried with military honors, the ceremony being invested with all the pageantry which was possible, to show respect to the memory of our gallant comrades. All the officers, thirty-nine in number, and the troops at the post, amounting to eight hundred (reinforcements having arrived since our departure), were present and took part in the ceremonies. The horses of the dead, draped in black, having on them the officers’ swords and boots, were led behind the coffins. The remains were taken about half a mile from; the post, and there interred. Three volleys were fired over them, and we left them where day after day the notes of the bugle will be borne over their graves, while we cherish their memories as those who laid down their young lives in the battlefield for their country.”

The remains of Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Gaston were, three years afterward, disinterred and conveyed to the Cadets’ Cemetery at West Point, where they now rest, and over their graves flowers of affectionate remembrance are still strewn by surviving comrades and fellow graduates of the National Military Academy.

Embodied in a letter received by the writer from General David McM. Gregg, since the commencement of this volume, is a very fitting finale to the record in hand of these two officers, as well as to the men who fell with them:

“It is very gratifying to know that the patriotic people of Washington propose to honor the memory of the gallant soldiers who fell in the fierce combat that was fought fifty years ago, not far from which, I am told, is a beautiful city, Spokane. On my visits to West Point I do not fail to go to the Cadets’ Cemetery, where repose the remains of so many distinguished soldiers, and standing by the graves of Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Gaston there is brought to memory the thrilling events of that fateful 17th of May, 1858.”

Although Colonel Wright reported the closing of the war and the results of the campaign from his last encampment on the Palouse, there was yet other work to be done.

On the 9th of October the Walla Wallas were called into council. Petty depredations had been charged to these Indians through a period of several years, and no doubt was entertained that some of the murders committed in the region should be accredited to their account. Their habitations were scattered over a wide range, and their nomadic disposition led them frequently back and forth among the neighboring tribes. It was strongly suspected, too, that some of them had participated in the recent operations at the north.

On their coming together, Colonel Wright ad ministered to them a “talk” in the usual crisp and forceful language lately employed on like occasions, after which he requested all those who had been engaged in the recent battles to stand up. Thirty-five immediately arose, and out of this number he selected four of the most notorious, among them being one Wyecat, whose reputation savored particularly of murder and rapine, and turned them over to the guard, by whom they were hung without delay.

The artillery battalion under Captain Keyes left Walla Walla on the 9th of October, and, after a march of eight days, arrived at The Dalles on the 17th. From The Dalles the battalion descended the Columbia by boat, reaching Vancouver on the evening of the 18th.

The full force of dragoons was retained at Walla Walla until detachments were required for service at other points in the jurisdiction of the Department of the Pacific. Colonel Wright himself proceeded immediately to Vancouver.
Colonel Wright’s command had been composed of detachments assembled from various posts in the Department of the Pacific, from San Francisco and near-by interior posts, to Fort Tejon and the Colorado. Many of the officers and men were soon dispersed to their various stations; some to meet again in the exactions of a war far more fierce, under opposing colors.

Headquarters Department of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.,
October 7, 1858.

Brevet Brigadier General Clarke tenders to Colonel Wright and Major Garnett, 9th infantry, his thanks for the zeal, energy, and skill displayed by them in leading the troops against hostile Indians. Also to the troops for their bravery and intrepidity in action against the Indians.

By command of Brigadier General Clarke.
W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General.”

Manring, B. F. Conquest of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Palouse Indians. The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2, 1912.

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