Cayuse Indians

Cayuse Indians. Significance unknown. Also known as:

  • Haí`luntchi, Molalla name.
  • Wailĕtpu, own name.

Cayuse Connections. The Cayuse were placed by Powell (1891) in the Waiilatpuan linguistic stock along with the Molala, but this is now recognized as a branch of the Shapwailutan family.

Cayuse Location. About the heads of Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Grande Ronde Rivers and extending from the Blue Mountains to Deschutes River, Washington and Oregon.

Cayuse History

Anciently the Cayuse are said to have had their headquarters on the Upper Grande Ronde but to have extended west later to the region of Deschutes River, where they may have met the Molala. They entered the historical arena with the expedition of Lewis and Clark and were afterward well known to explorers, hunters, and settlers. In 1838 a mission was established among them by the noted Marcus Whitman at the site of the present town of Whitman, but in 1847 smallpox carried off a large number of the tribe, and the Indians, believing the missionaries to be the cause, murdered Whitman and a number of other Whites and destroyed the mission. By 1851 they were much reduced in numbers and had become partially merged in the Nez Perce. In 1853 they joined in the treaty by which Umatilla Reservation was formed and made their homes upon it from that time forward. Their language is now nearly extinct.

Cayuse Population. Mooney (1928) estimates 500 Cayuse in 1780. In 1904, 404 were officially reported; the census of 1910 gave 298, while the United States Indian Office in 1923 returned 337. The census of 1930 reported 199 Cayuse and Molala, and the United States Indian Office of Cayuse alone in 1937, 370.

Connection in which the Cayuse Indians have become noted. The Cayuse were reputed one of the most warlike tribes of Washington and Oregon. Horses were early bred among them and an Indian pony came to be known to the white settlers as a “cayuse.” There is a place called Cayuse in Umatilla County, Oregon.


Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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