Events between the Cayuse and the Rogue River War

While the Cayuse War was in progress some tribes nearer the Willamette Valley took advantage of the absence of the many men at the front. Both the Klamaths and Molalla conducted raids. There was an attack in Lane County; cattle were stolen in Benton County; a farmhouse was attacked in Champoeg County. This latter instance is to be noted chiefly because a man today known only as Knox, but who was the first United States mail carrier in that part of the country, saw a man running from Indians and trying to gain refuge at the farmhouse. The mail messenger spread the alarm and about 150 men assembled and organized under elected officials. In the meantime the Indians had left the vicinity of the farm but when departing threatened all sorts of future depredations. The Indians camped on a creek several miles distant. The volunteers pursued, those on horses going up one side of the creek, those on foot taking the other side. The Indians spied the mounted men and thinking that they were being trailed by no others ran into an ambush by the foot soldiers. Two Indians were killed but no whites were hurt. Night came and with the dawn the pursuit was resumed. That day seven Indians were killed and two wounded while the volunteers suffered only one man wounded. The prompt action of these citizen soldiers definitely stopped those tribesmen for some time to come.

The Calapooias and the Tillamooks also went on a rampage. They murdered an old man and stole cattle. Again settlers volunteered and promptly took care of the situation by killing two Indians and flogging ten more. That stopped those tribes from committing further depredations.

Superintendent of Indian Affairs Lee had appointed Felix Scott as an Indian Sub-agent on April 10th, 1848. Scott was instructed to raise a company for the defense of the southern end of the valley where horses and cattle were being stolen but the Indians had become wary and had skipped to the mountains.

Scott was elected captain of the company on May 11 and on July 7 he took his small command to Southern Oregon to escort immigrants coming into the territory by the southern route, a task which he performed without interference from Indians.

So isolated was Oregon at that time that even the Governor did not know that the United States had taken over California, just as Oregon had not known for a long time that the United States and Mexico had gone to war. Consequently the Governor had written W. Bradford Shubrick, commander of the United States squadron in the Pacific, urging that a warship be anchored in the Columbia River as notice to the Indians of the interest of the United States in Oregon. The same letter asked that the navy furnish a supply of ammunition to the Oregon volunteers. But the message did not get through overland, and on March 11 the Governor wrote again, sending the request by the brig Henry which left the Columbia River in mid-March, enroute with supplies for the army in Mexico by way of San Francisco. The second letter contained the same requests as the first.

Strange to relate, and without knowledge of the situation in Oregon, the United States transport Anita arrived in the Columbia River on March 16 for the purpose of enlisting men for the Mexican War, unaware that a treaty concluding that war had been signed on February 2nd. That ship brought a letter from R. B. Mason, Governor of California, in support of Mexican War enlistments. Of course Abernethy had a war of his own and wrote Governor Mason about Oregon’s inability to furnish men and again stressed the need for artillery, ammunition and other munitions of war. Major James A. Hardie was the recruiting officer aboard the transport and he reported that there were no military supplies aboard the ship. The Hudson’s Bay Company was worried about the purpose of the Anita in the Columbia River and Peter Skene Ogden wrote Abernethy inquiring into the matter. There was a considerable exchange of correspondence between Ogden and Abernethy concerning the failure of the United States to protect Oregon. The Governor continued to bombard Congress, even writing direct to President Polk, pleading for relief.

President Polk had, a year previously, appointed Charles E. Pickett as Indian Agent for Oregon. Pickett had first come to Oregon in 1843 and was County Judge of Clackamas County in 1845. He was not generally acceptable to the settlers. He preferred to sojourn in the Sandwich Islands from where he moved to California. There he advised Californians traveling to Oregon to kill Indians wherever and whenever found. Even if this had been justified by the character of the Indians it was poor policy because every Indian killed called for reprisals. Pickett never actively served as Indian Agent. Governor Abernethy wrote Pickett in California insisting that he try to secure the agreement of the United States Naval Commander to send a war-ship. T. A. C. Jones had relieved Commodore Shubrick and Jones said that he had only three ships to hold all the Mexican ports but that others were due and that if he could possibly spare one he would do so.

Then occurred another of those circumstances which served to confuse the public mind. The United States Commissioner in the Sandwich Islands was A. TenEyck. On June 5, 1848, he also wrote Jones, who had received a letter from some Oregon Anglophobes saying that Abernethy and James Douglas were engaged in a round of bitter correspondence; that volunteers had threatened Fort Vancouver; and that Douglas had requested that a British warship be sent to the Columbia River. Because of this latter missive, which TenEyck knew about, he urged that the United States Navy send help to Oregon. Of course the facts were different. Abernethy and Douglas had not been engaged in bitter correspondence. The volunteers had not threatened Fort Vancouver. It was true that before Colonel Gilliam had started for The Dalles the previous winter, he, believing that the Hudson’s Bay Company was hindering our war efforts, did say that he would pull down the fort about the ears of the Company’s men, but no semblance of such a move ever occurred. As to Douglas request for a warship, that might have been true. After all, the Hudson’s Bay Company knew that Abernethy was repeatedly requesting a United States warship. Ogden had been concerned about the arrival of the United States transport and the Company would have been within its rights to have requested a British warship.

Meanwhile Abernethy received a copy of TenEyck’s letter to Commodore Jones and hastened to deny the rumors. All this mess finally brought arms and ammunition to Oregon though not until the immediate need had passed. But it was now on hand for future emergencies, having arrived on August 9, 1848.

Still the United States regulars did not come. The season’s immigrants arrived in the fall with the news that while a regiment had been recruited for Oregon service, it had been sent to the Mexican War instead. Then, to divert the minds of Oregon settlers, gold was discovered in California. This was welcome diversion, indeed. Many Oregonians went to the California goldfields and many of them found gold.

The Spectator of October 12 reported that the last of the riflemen who had staid at Forts Lee and Waters had come home and had been discharged and that the Indians in those two districts were quiet. The issue of October 26, 1848, carried two items of interest, namely, that Joseph Meek had arrived in Washington, D. C. with the Oregon memorial, and that the sloop-of-war Eveline, Captain Goodwin commanding, had been ordered to the Columbia River. Another interesting item appeared in the December 14 issue. That article told of an exploration party finding at The Dalles, the Indian who had killed the volunteer riflemen Jackson and Packwood during the Cayuse War. The entire party of explorers formed itself into a jury, tried the Indian, convicted him, sentenced him to hang, and promptly carried out the sentence.

The Oregon Legislature, which sat in the winter of 1848-1849 passed a coinage act under which $5.00 and $10.00 gold pieces were to be minted. The Territory itself never minted the coins, because the Act of August 14, 1848, creating Oregon Territory resulted in the appointment of Joseph Lane 1 as Governor and he arrived on March 2, 1849, before coinage was started. On the day of his arrival Governor Lane issued a proclamation declaring Oregon to be a Territory of the United States and since Zachary Taylor was inaugurated as President on March 3rd, 1849, it left the first day of the life of the new territory under the regime of President James K. Polk. Governor Lane promptly declared the coinage act to be unconstitutional and a private company, known as the Oregon Exchange Company actually minted the coins. Later they were reduced to U. S. coinage at the San Francisco mint at a handsome profit to the Exchange Company because of the pure gold content of the coins.

At the same time that Lane was appointed Governor, Joseph L. Meek was named United States Marshal for Oregon. Governor Lane had also been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs and at once began to compose differences between various tribes and to conclude treaties. He had just made peace between the Klickitats and the Walla Wallas and settled some minor disturbances south of the Columbia River when word reached him of a plot by Chief Patkanin, of the Snoqualmish tribe in the Puget Sound area, to capture Ft. Nisqually, a Hudson’s Bay Company post, and to drive out or kill all Americans in the upper Puget Sound district. In fact Patkanin apparently tried his coup, in the course of which two Americans were killed and one wounded, but the garrison was alert and the attempt failed. Nisqually was in charge of Dr. W. T. Tolmie, who understood Indians but the Snoqualmies even threatened him. After these Indians went back to the hills they sent word to the American settlers that they would permit the settlers to leave the country. The Americans sent back notice that they had come to stay and to prove that point immediately began the construction of two blockhouses.

Lane heard about these things and decided to go to the Puget Sound country. A lieutenant and five soldiers were all that remained of the Governor’s escort across the plains so he took them with him and carried a supply of arms and ammunition to the settlers. When he arrived at Tumwater, where one of the blockhouses was being erected, he was overtaken by a messenger saying that the U. S. S. Massachusetts was in the Columbia River with two artillery companies aboard and that Major Hathaway, their commander, said he was willing to send part of his force to Puget Sound. So Lane went back to the Columbia River but notified Dr. Tolmie that the new Territorial Government was ready to protect Fort Nisqually and was prepared to punish the Indians. Lane requested Dr. Tolmie to see that the Indians were made acquainted with that announcement.

J. Q. Thornton was assistant to Lane as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Thornton quickly got into difficulties. First, he took a month to accumulate information, which he could have obtained from Dr. Tolmie in a matter of hours. Next, he bungled the transfer of troops to the Puget Sound country. Following Major Hathaway’s permission, one artillery company was sent to Puget Sound, under orders to establish a military post near Fort Nisqually and then to demand the surrender of the hostiles who had killed the two Americans. The ship transporting the artillery company was British. Thornton arrested the captain of the ship because the captain gave the customary dram of liquor to the Indians and the half-breeds who helped unload the ship. Then Thornton offered a reward to the Snoqualmish for the surrender of the murderers of the Americans at Fort Nisqually. Lane was displeased and Thornton resigned. The artillery company was under the command of Captain B. H. Hill and established itself at Fort Steilacoom. Hill was given charge of Indian Affairs in the Puget Sound district. In September 1849, the Indians accused of killing the two white men at Fort Nisqually were surrendered and two of them were executed. They were Quallawort, a brother of Chief Patkanin, and another named Kassas.

When Lane came to the Oregon Territory the Federal Government had appointed three assistants to him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. They were Robert Newell, J. Q. Thornton, and George C. Preston. The latter never qualified because he never came to Oregon, so Newell was assigned the territory south of the Columbia River and Thornton that north of the Columbia.

The Indians quieted down except for killing a lone artilleryman soon after the executions, but the murder was committed so surreptitiously that no one could be charged with the crime.

Once again the anti-British got busy with their tongue-wagging and letter writing, attempting to show that Dr. Tolmie was trying to incite the natives against the Americans, but the truth was that the quiescence of the Indians was largely due to their masterly handling by Dr. Tolmie.

A piece of unfinished business remained. The Whitman murderers were still at large and nothing could be done in that direction until the arrival of the long delayed regular troops. So after years of effort a regiment consisting of 631 officers and men was recruited for Oregon service and started its trek from Fort Leavenworth on May 10, 1849. Accompanying were a few wives and children and the usual contingent of civilian employees, such as guides and teamsters. There was a large herd of livestock and the customary collection of movable property. The commander was Brevet-Colonel W. W. Loring. Enroute they established two army posts, one at Fort Laramie and the other at Fort Hall, leaving two companies at each.

That summer was marked by a deadly cholera epidemic among the immigrants and the troops likewise lost a number of men from that disease. To add to the spectre of disease a herd of beef cattle, which was to have been delivered to the troops at Fort Hall, failed to arrive, thus reducing the rations. There were some desertions. Finally, the regiment reduced by deaths, desertions, and the garrisons left at the two military posts, reached The Dalles. They were worn out in clothing and in spirit and now numbered only 561, counting those left at Fort Laramie and Hall. Part of those arriving at The Dalles went by river to Oregon City. Several soldiers were drowned and many supplies lost. The other contingent went inland around the Mt. Hood road, and while they finally got through they lost most o their horses. Reaching Oregon City they found that no preparations had been made for barracks so some buildings were rented for that purpose. This latter circumstance was typical of many which caused people to wonder how anything was ever accomplished in any endeavor. On every hand and for many years there had been many evidences of lack of good planning. Also, there were the ever present jealousies between the Americans and the British mostly on the part of Americans.

While the border question had been settled in 1846, it was recognized that the British had been in the Territory a long time and had built forts and habitations. The fact that the boundary had been fixed at the 49th parallel of latitude did not mean that the British were dispossessed. In truth, so firm was the conviction that the British had property rights, and so uncertain was any American’s title to the land he occupied, that the barracks, when finally built, were erected on land at Vancouver purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Similarly, Fort Steilacoom was erected on land leased from the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.

To show further the lack of coordination in the affairs of the Territory, we relate another circumstance. At about the time that Hathaway, now a Brevet-Major, and his artillerymen, arrived in the Columbia River, another newcomer showed up. He was Captain Rufus Ingalls, of the U. S. Army Quartermaster’s Department, who had been ordered to Oregon to establish Quartermaster Departments. He came on the ship Anita which tied up at Vancouver, but his supplies, supposedly sufficient to supply the troops for two years, came on another ship, the Walpole, which had cleared for Astoria instead of for Vancouver. Moreover, no material was aboard with which to construct barracks, nor had any carpenters or millwrights been provided to do the work. But everything aboard was unloaded at Astoria, from where it was laboriously hauled by small boats to Vancouver.

Now that the United States Government had at long last started to garrison the Territory, other arrivals made their appearance. In September 1849, General Persifer F. Smith, commanding the Pacific Division, arrived with H. D. Vinton, Chief Quartermaster. Their job was to select locations for military posts. They approved those already located but vetoed the proposal to locate a fort on the road to California, giving as their reason that in view of the gold rush to California that any soldiers stationed on the road would desert for the gold fields.

It was finally agreed that the artillery would permanently station at Astoria by the spring of 1850 and that the infantry would station at Vancouver Barracks. General Smith had reasoned well, proved by the fact that 120 men did desert and head for California and its gold. They travelled in a group, behaved well, told the settlers as they journeyed southward that they were a government expedition, and secured their supplies on credit. Governor Lane and Colonel Loring took out after them and overtook 70 of them on the Umpqua River. Lane brought them back to Oregon City. Meanwhile Loring went on after the rest and found seven trying to get through the snow in the Siskiyous. He brought them back. The rest were never heard from and were presumed to have perished or to have concealed their identity afterwards.

In May 1850, Major S. S. Tucker was ordered to The Dalles with two companies of riflemen to establish a supply post. He decreed an area ten miles square to be the military reservation. The reservation at Vancouver had been established as four square miles and the one at Astoria embraced properties already settled upon and improved. All this caused dissatisfaction. In fact these decrees were the beginning of the antagonisms between the settlers and the regular army, which were to pyramid and continue for years. But the real impetus to the ill feeling came with another attempt to set aside lands for the military. Henderson Luelling had brought several hundred fruit tree cuttings across the plains and had planted them in the now historic orchard at Milwaukie, Oregon. Colonel Loring attempted to set aside this Luelling orchard and some adjacent land belonging to Luelling’s son-in law William Meek for arsenal lands. The settlers arose enmasse and sent word to Congress that they could take care of themselves. They asked that the regular troops be sent home, saying that the settlers would fight the Indians as they had done before. Feeling ran ‘high. There was mutual contempt between army and settlers. These antipathies were to increase until after Steptoe’s defeat several years later. Again it was a wonder that anything was ever accomplished.

The Spectator of October 18, 1849, recounts the trial of six Indians at Ft. Steilacoom. These six were charged with the murder of Leander C. Wallace and the trial under the direction of Judge Bryant resulted in the conviction, sentence, and ultimate execution of two of the defendants.

The same journal in its December 27 issue carried a news item of the court martial of three deserting soldiers. They were convicted, given 30 lashes each in front of the regiment, and sentenced to wear ball and chain for the rest of their enlistment period.

Again, on February 21, 1850, the Spectator told of the desertion of about 100 soldiers; announced that Colonel Loring had established his headquarters at Vancouver Barracks; and copied the proclamation of Governor Lane offering a reward for the apprehension of deserters and calling on all good citizens to help on such arrests. Life, civil and military, in the Pacific Northwest really had its complications.

Once more, but this time finally, reference must be made to the ubiquitous subject of the Whitman murderers. Ever since Governor Lane had arrived he had been trying to gain custody of the criminals without having to go out and get them. To the surprise of most people, when Lane brought the 70 deserters back to Oregon City from Southern Oregon he learned that five Cayuses had surrendered themselves. Lane, with a small military escort, went to The Dalles to receive the prisoners. They were Tiloukaikt, Tamahas, Klakamas, Isaiachalkis, and Kiamasumpkin. Most of their relatives and many friends were with them. Why they had surrendered no one really knows. Father Blanchet, in his Authentic Account, says that they only consented to come in to confer with Government representatives. In this case Blanchet was probably mistaken since these Indians did offer to pay in horses for a defense, hence they must have expected to be tried. It is probable that the Cayuses were tired of fleeing and hiding out. They must have seen the increasing number of immigrants. The Indians could not procure ammunition. They may have had a series of tribal councils where in it was finally determined that they would eventually be caught and that perhaps it would be better to surrender voluntarily. The real facts are unknown so we may only conjecture.

Lane brought them to Oregon City and established them on an island at the falls of the Willamette, the island being connected to the shore by a wooden bridge under constant guard by soldiers. Every care was taken to assure a fair trial. A jury panel of 38 citizens was called and immediately those who were old settlers and those with a background of personal experiences, which had embittered them, were excused as jurors. United States District Attorney Amory Holbrook was prosecutor and three defense attorneys were appointed. They were Knitzing Pritchett, who was Territorial Secretary, Captain Thomas Clairtary, P. C. Dart, arrived in Oregon in October, 1850. Joseph Lane had been succeeded as Governor by John P. Gaines who, with Alonzo A. Skinner and Beverly S. Allen, were appointed Commissioners to make Indian treaties west of the Cascades. Also three sub-agents were appointed under Dart, namely, A. G. Henry, Elias Wampole, and H. H. Spalding. The latter was an old-timer in Oregon. Wampole came out in 1851 but Henry never arrived.

Twenty thousand dollars had been allotted to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs to build living quarters for himself and his assistants and to buy presents for the Indians. The treaty commission had also received an appropriation of $20,000.00 with which to buy goods to pay Indians for title to lands and for expenses. It was not until April 1851, that the commissioners started to work. They quickly made six treaties with Willamette Valley tribes and had spent all but $300 of its appropriation when it received word that Congress had discontinued all Indian treaty commissions, leaving that business to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

Superintendent Dart was also short of funds. He had assigned H. H. Spalding to the Umpquas but Spalding seldom went to their country. Dart asked for his removal and E. A. Sterling was appointed to succeed Spalding. Then Sterling was ordered to Astoria. Dart, himself, went east of the Cascades in June 1851. There he found the Cayuses to be a mere skeleton of that once powerful tribe. There were only 36 Cayuse warriors left.

Dart also visited the sites of the missions of Waiilatpu and Lapwai. He decided to place an agency on” the Umatilla and in so doing used the last of his funds. In spite of all his handicaps Dart did a good job. He had a vast territory and little competent assistance and very little money. He appraised the situation as being favorable to the whites, except in regard to the Snakes and the Rogues and recommended that troops be stationed among the Snakes to protect the immigrant route. He learned that the Nez Percés were preparing to war on the Snakes and discouraged that enterprise by persuading the Nez Percés to wait until the next year (1852) when, if United States troops were not quartered in the Snake country, he would interpose no objection to their war. It turned out that the decision was not a good one because later in 1851 the Snakes went berserk, making life miserable for immigrants, killing 34 of them, wounding and outraging many and stealing $18,000 worth of immigrants’ property.

Wampole did not last long. He started trading on the side instead of attending to his duties as sub-agent and after three months was ousted.

Sub-agents came and went, most of them inefficient, but one J. L. Parrish, attached to the Methodist Mission projects was outstandingly successful.Citations:

  1. See the Spectator of January 25, 1849, for first news of Lane’s appointment.Notes About the Book:[]

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

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