A Change of Commanders

Colonel Gilliam decided to accompany the escort column, chiefly because he could take that opportunity for conferring with the Governor and of acquainting him with the situation, it being quite apparent that the peace commission had failed. Accordingly, Gilliam, with two companies and some casuals, left Waiilatpu on March 20. They camped that evening beyond the Umatilla River. There, when the Colonel was pulling a halter-rope from a wagon-bed, the rope caught on a gun trigger, resulting in the instant death of Gilliam. This left Captain H. J. G. Maxon as the ranking officer with the detachment.

The Colonel’s remains were taken to the Willamette Valley for burial. Peter Skene Ogden wrote the obituary. Reports on the campaign were made to the authorities.

The death of Colonel Gilliam had, in itself, nothing to do with the further prosecution of the war nor the failure to apprehend the murderers. The Colonel had been a self-willed man, heading a volunteer army, which did not conform very well to discipline. Gilliam and his paymaster had disagreed about the disposal of recovered property, which had belonged to immigrants, and which Gilliam ordered sold to apply to the maintenance of the regiment. He was accused by some of favoritism and of disregarding orders of the Governor. On the credit side he was clean, courageous, and energetic. But his death did provide cause for some further dissention. Lieutenant-Colonel Waters was now the ranking officer but Governor Abernethy appointed Major Lee to the vacancy. Some people approved, some criticized the appointment. The matter was settled by Major Lee himself, who of his own volition, retired from the command in favor of Waters, Lee retaining second in command.

The Governor had written Colonel Gilliam on March 17 saying that if more troops were to be raised that a special session of the Legislature would have to be called. A number of soldiers had been killed or wounded, others were ill, many wanted to get home to care for their crops. There were only about 150 men at Ft. Waters and they were still without adequate clothing, ammunition and flour. When Captain Maxon reported to the Governor and the Adjutant-General, he made an appeal to the public for support. His call was heeded and supplies began filtering into Ft. Waters. Enlistments were stimulated. About 250 newly enlisted men were added to the rosters. But all was not rosy. Wheat had to be floated down the Willamette to Oregon City where it was necessary to unload and reload it because of the falls. Then it had to be sold or exchanged for goods at Ft. Vancouver. Lead for bullets was purchased wherever it could be found, even a few pounds at a time. James Force, the Commissary at Salem, could purchase only six saddles. Pork and bacon was fairly plentiful. Credit was evaporating. Impressment of wheat was considered and that idea abandoned. Several officers resigned; some men deserted, Fraud was disclosed in the shipments of flour, many barrels containing flour on top and bottom, with shorts 1 filling the bulk.

Several of the Cayuse chiefs professed a change of heart. They had returned to the Umatilla and it was believed that the livestock of the murderers was mixed with other livestock there.

When Lee had been appointed colonel he was also made Indian Agent in place of Palmer who had resigned that position because of the press of his duties as Commissary-General. At the time that Lee had returned his commission as Colonel and accepted second place under Waters, he retained his place as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

When news of Lee’s position reached the Indians a large number of Nez Percés went to Waiilatpu to await Lee’s return there and to request a council. That council was held and a satisfactory conclusion reached with the Nez Percés. Then another council was held with the Walla Wallas and such Cayuses as had returned to the Umatilla. Lee put the matter of the continuation of the war squarely up to them. He said that the soldiers would stay with the campaign until the murderers were punished and the property recovered or paid for, and asked the Indians what they were going to do about it. The answer was not an easy one; in fact nothing resulted except an expressed desire for peace and friendship.

Meanwhile the Spectator reported trouble from depredations by Klamath Indians near the Pudding River in the Willamette Valley, but warned the settlers to use forbearance instead of aggression. That paper copied Captain Maxon’s letter to Adjutant-General Lovejoy telling of the death of Colonel Gilliam, appealing for more men and supplies, criticizing the lethargy at home and expressing the view that the Spokane and Pend Oreille Indians would join the whites. A later issue told of the death of Chief Ellis and sixty other Nez Percés from measles. Chief Ellis was a firm friend of the Americans and his death was a great loss to the cause of peace. Colonel Waters reported that the Walla Wallas now considered the Americans to be their enemies and expressed doubt about other tribes hitherto considered to be neutral.

Meanwhile, three new companies of volunteers had been formed, one jointly by Champoeg and Linn counties; Benton, Polk and Clackamas counties; and Yamhill and Tualatin counties. Fifteen young ladies of Oregon City announced that they would “refuse to condone any young man who would not enlist.” There were shortages of both men and ammunition at the front. The Spectator of May 4 reported an enlistment meeting in Clackamas County and carried a rumor that United States troops destined for Oregon service had left Fort Leavenworth the preceding autumn. There was also news from Fort Hall and Fort Walla Walla that the murderers were in flight but that Indians in the vicinity of those two forts were desirous of peace. However, in the south a band of Klamath and Rogue River Indians, assisted by a few Molalla, had stolen sixty-five horses from a party coming up from California. Such was the ebb and flow of life in the Indian country.

In the meantime preparations for continuing the pursuit of the Cayuse criminals went ahead. On May 17, 1848, more than 400 soldiers set out on a march toward the Clearwater River. Next day Lee, now a Lieutenant-Colonel, with Captain Thompson and 121 men were detached under orders to proceed to the camp of Chief Red Wolf at the Snake River crossing to try to cut off the fugitives from the mountains. The remainder of the force was to continue to the junction of the Palouse River with the Snake, thus cutting off the Indians from escaping down the Columbia. Some Palouse Indians had offered to help the troops but the Palouse were not at the crossing. Lee sent Major Magone and four men to find the Indians, which took an entire day. Then it took another day and a half to ferry the troops. On May 21 the command was again on the march.

A friendly Indian agreed to act as guide and to show them where Cayuse Chief Tiloukaikt was camped. Enroute they were met by a messenger from Cushing Eells, the missionary among the Spokanes at Chemekeane. His message indicated some division of opinion among the Spokanes but emphasized that these Indians in no wise condoned the murders. The messenger was accompanied by forty-three Spokanes who showed Lee where Tiloukaikt’s cattle were grazing and offered to bring them in.

While this chore was under way two Nez Percés came up and reported that Tiloukaikt had fled to the mountains but that most of his livestock, herded by only a few men, could be found near the Snake River. Lee sent Major Magone with a detail to bring in the cattle and also instructed him to arrest any Indian who looked suspicious. Major Magone departed and on the trip one of his men killed an Indian in cold blood one of those unwarranted acts which kept things stirred up. Magone saw no Cayuses and found only a few cattle. He did run across several Columbia River Indians under Chief Beardy who told him how to reach the camp of the Nez Percé Chief Richard. Both Chief Beardy and Chief Richard told Major Magone that Tiloukaikt was a long distance away, probably near Ft. Hall. Chief Richard also told Magone that an express had gone from Lee at Lapwai to Colonel Waters. This information caused Magone to rejoin the main body of troops.

The purpose of Lee’s express was a request for orders. He said in his dispatch that the Cayuses had fled, that the Nez Percés were friendly and had helped drive the captured Cayuse livestock to Waiilatpu, The messengers returned to Lee with an order to rejoin the main force, which was done on May 25. Lee left a long notice at Lapwai. It was in the nature of a promissory note payable in goods as a reward for the apprehension ‘of the murderers.

The campaign had not resulted in the capture of the criminals and crops were maturing at home. Results to date were summarized. The Nez Percés were friendly and likely to remain so; the Palouses decided that it was expedient to suggest peace; Chief Tiloukaikt was finally convinced that the troops would continue to hunt him down and would never permit him to remain long in one place; the Walla Wallas, to show their changed attitude, caught and hanged one of the murderers and sent word that they were on the trail of another. True, some of these events were transpiring only because the army had made an impression. The tribes were gradually reaching the conclusion that they were no longer the real masters in their homelands.

Colonel Waters held a council of his officers wherein it was decided to abandon the campaign for that season. One contingent was sent to escort Indian Agent Craig and his family from such potential dangers as may have existed at Lapwai. Another detachment was sent to Ft. Colville to bring the missionaries Eells and Elkanah Walker and their families to The Dalles. At this latter place Colonel Waters found a suggestion from Governor Abernethy recommending that 70 men be left at Ft. Waters and 15 at Ft. Lee, both groups to remain until the expected arrival of United States regulars. Lee had anticipated the Governor’s suggestion and had held a conference with his office quantity was not large; that the priests, as well as the Indians, needed the supplies to subsist; and that the charge of inciting was untrue and unjust. Governor Abernethy published a statement in the Protestant press smoothing things over. Still, in the minds of many, the accusation was the same as proof. Without attempting to excuse the unwarranted accusation, it is well to point out that those were times of bitter religious oppositions. Religion was an important subject to the individual and almost every person possessed an unwavering devotion to the creed, which he professed. The matter had reached such proportions that in December 1848, the Legislature received a petition to expel the Catholics from the territory, which petition was rejected. However, the priests were not permitted to return to the Umatilla but retained all their other missions. Early in 1849 the seized arms and ammunition were delivered to Ft. Vancouver for the credit of the Catholic missions.

Meanwhile the citizen soldiers at Forts Lee and Waters carried on. The Cayuses had been discredited and they steered shy of the soldiers and did not bother the immigrants. Still the murderers had not been captured and their ultimate voluntary surrender will be told in its proper place.Citations:

  1. Shorts: The part of milled grain next finer than the bran, sometimes called “middlings.”[]

Glassley, Ray Hoard. Pacific Northwest Indian Wars. Binfords & Mort, Publishers, Portland, Oregon. 1953.

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