Tribes East of the Cascade Mountains Dissatisfied

Several of the tribes east of the Cascade Mountains were dissatisfied with the treaties which had been made with them, for their lands, by Governor Stevens, in the spring of 1855. They did not understand the bargain as the whites did. Chief among these were the Yakimas (Black Bears), a strong tribe of Washington Territory, whose country lay just north of the Klickitats. They were closely united by intermarriage and interest with both the Klickitats and the “King Georges,” or British, and carried on an extensive commerce through all the northern country from the coast to the Rocky Mountains. Their chiefs, Kamiaken, Owahi, Skloo, and others, had signed the treaty of Walla Walla under strong pressure from Governor Stevens, and almost immediately repudiated it. The Indians claimed that the chiefs who signed it had been bought up, a practice occasionally resorted to by the representatives of the government; they were indignant and alarmed. To the representations of the Hudson’s Bay people, that the Americans would take their lands, the Yakimas lent a credent ear. In fact, they had only to look across the mountains to see the lands of other tribes taken without recompense, while disease was sweeping the expelled owners from the face of the earth. Disaffection was rife everywhere, and there was scarcely a tribe from the British possessions to California but had its grievance. Mormon emissaries aided in diffusing enmity, nor was their part merely that of advisers, for in the succeeding war guns and ammunition bearing Mormon brands were captured from the Indians. The more intelligent and resolute chiefs urged a union of all the tribes for war. Among these none was more influential than Leschi, a Nasqualla chief, who, with half a dozen of his tribe, crossed the mountains and preached n crusade to the interior tribes. ” Bold, adventurous, and eloquent, he possessed an unlimited sway over his people, and, by the earnestness of his purpose and the persuasiveness of his arguments, carried all with him who heard him speak. He travelled by day and night, caring neither for hunger nor fatigue; visited the camps of the Yakimas and Klickitats; addressed the councils in terms of eloquence such as they had seldom heard. He crossed the Columbia, penetrated to Southern Oregon, appealed to all the disaffected there. He dwelt upon their wrongs; painted to them, in the exuberance of his imagination, the terrible picture of the “polakly illeha” the land of darkness, where no ray from the sun ever penetrated; where there was torture and death for all the races of Indians; where the sting of an insect killed like the stroke of a spear, and the streams were foul and muddy, so that no living thing could drink of the waters. This was the place where the white man wanted to carry them. He called upon them to resist like braves so terrible a fate. The white men were but a handful now. They could all bo killed at once and then others would fear to come. But if there was no war, they would grow strong and many, and put all the Indians in their big ships, and send them off to that terrible land where torture and death awaited them.” On the other hand, there were chiefs in all the tribes who opposed war; some tribes refused to take any part in the matter, and others acted as auxiliaries to the whites. The Nez Perce were particularly faithful. They escorted back to WallaWalla Governor Stevens, who had gone to treat with the Blackfeet and other tribes, and for whose safety there was much apprehension.

They also organized for active work against the hostiles when they should he called upon.

A union in sympathy, at least, was affected between a majority of the tribes, but before any definitely arranged plans for simultaneous action were matured the impatient tribes of the North opened the contest. The Colville mines were discovered in the summer of 1855, and the usual rush for the new diggings ensued. Among others who started was a Mr. Mattice, who had been operating a coalmine on the Dwamish. He had just crossed the mountains, by Snoqualimie Pass, with a considerable amount of money and provisions, when a party of Indians, supposed to be Yakimas, killed him and carried off his property. About the same time his partner, Fantjoy, was also murdered by the Indians, and thereafter miners were cut off at every opportunity. In September, Indian agent Bolen went from The Dalles into the country of the Yakimas, and had a talk with Kamiaken, Owahi, and other chiefs. On the next day, as he was returning, three Indians came up with him, and, while two talked to him, one fell behind and shot him in the back. He was scalped and his body partially burned. As soon as this outrage was heard of, a plan was formed to send 100 men into the Yakima country from Fort Steilacoom, while Major Ruins (afterwards a Confederate general), commanding at Fort Vancouver, advanced by way of the Columbia, and to unite the two forces in the enemy’s territory. The force from Steilacoom was confronted in the mountains by an overwhelming body of Indians, and retired to the western slope. Under instructions from Major Rains, Major Haller advanced from The Dalles, with 100 men on October 3. On the 6th he was surrounded in a position where he had neither wood nor water, and was forced to retreat, reaching The Dalles on the loth. He lost three killed, nineteen wounded, thirty pack animals, and was obliged to cache a mountain howitzer, which, however, was afterwards recovered. Major Rains then came up and took the field in person, with 350 regulars. He pushed forward to the Catholic mission on the Yakima, had & few skirmishes with the Indians, and burned some of their stores, but failed to accomplish any satisfactory result.
Image The Dalles

In the South, war wits precipitated by a foolish and fiendish attack on the friendly Rogue Rivers of Old Sam’s band. Some of the whites decided that sub-chief Jake’s ranche was a harbor for unfriendly Indians, who had been burning fences and buildings, and also for friendly ones who had been guilty of pilfering, so, early on the morning of October 8, a party of them under “Major” James Lupton attacked it. They left behind them, as proof positive of their prowess, the bodies of eight men (four very aged) and fifteen women and children, besides several whose bodies were thrown into the river. They also find into sub-chief Sambo’s camp, killing one woman and wounding two boys. This latter party was on the way to the reservation, the men having gone ahead. A large number of the remaining friendly Indians fled in terror to Fort Lane, where the troops saved them from destruction in the war of extermination that followed. The rest joined “John” (Te-cum-ton – Elk-killer), the hostile fourth chief of the tribe, and at once began retaliating. On the 9th they burned every house from Evans’ Ferry to Jump-off-Jo Creek, and robbed and destroyed every wagon along the road. They killed eighteen people, of whom six were women and children, at Jewett’s Ferry, Evans’ Ferry, Wagoner’s Ranch, and neighboring points. This descent is known as the “Wagoner massacre.” On the next day they killed Misses Hudson and Wilson, on the road between Crescent City and Indian Creek, and thenceforward a most sanguinary war was waged by both whites and Indians on unprotected parties of stragglers, while both parties oppressed the friendly Indians who desired only to remain on the reservation in peace, the whites murdering them at every opportunity, and the Indians destroying their houses and other property. Among other atrocities a party of volunteers, on December 23, 1855, surrounded the camp of some Indians, whom they had visited the day before, and knew to be friendly and unarmed, with the exception of a few bows and arrows; they killed nineteen men, and drove the women and children out into the severe cold, from the effects of which the little remnant that gathered at Fort Lane were all suffering with frozen limbs. The openly expressed policy of the volunteers, and of many of the citizens, was the extermination of all neighboring Indians.

At the North the volunteers blundered as badly as in the South. A company of them, under Nathan Olney, an Indian agent, had organized on the call of Major Rains, and pushed up the Columbia early in the winter. They reached Fort Walla Walla on December 3, and on December 5 met the band of the Walla Walla chief Pio-pio-mox-mox (Yellow Serpent, Serpent Jaune). This chief had formerly been a good friend of the Americans. He had assisted Colonel Fremont in California; he had refused to join the hostile Cayuses after the Whitman massacre; he was emphatically the chief of the Columbia country whose influence was most worth having. But lie had recently plundered Fort Walla Walla (still a Hudson’s Bay Company post), and was understood to be in sympathy with the hostiles. He advanced under a white flag and desired to treat, but a question arose over the terms, and the whites told him he must go back and fight. This he refused to do, so he and four of his men were held us prisoners, still repeatedly refusing to leave the camp and fight, still promising to return the property plundered from Fort Walla Walla, and still insisting on peace. On the 7th, the volunteers were attacked by about three hundred Indians and fought them on the march all day. At evening an attempt was made to bind Yellow Serpent and his companions, but they refused to submit to this indignity; they drew knives and attempted to resist, but were shot down, except one young Indian who made no resistance. Yellow Serpent’s scalp and ears, and the scalps of the others, were sent into the settlements as trophies. This action settled the question with many hesitating WallaWallas, Umatillas, Cayuses, Pelouses, and Des Chutes, who forthwith joined the hostiles. On the 8th, the attacking force numbered nearly six hundred, but they were driven across the Columbia with little loss to either side. Aside from this these volunteers accomplished nothing beyond creating dissatisfaction among the friendly Cayuses and Nez Perce, who had acceded to their terms, and who accused them of taking their property wrongfully. After two months’ service this company was disbanded, but a large force of volunteers was kept in the field in various parts of Oregon, most of them still determined on the policy of extermination.

In the latter part of January the Indians about Puget’s Sound suddenly began war, having been incited to it by the chiefs Leschi, Kitsap, Stahi, Nelson, and others. So unlooked for was this outbreak that a number of unsuspecting settlers were cut off while supposing themselves in entire safety, and much valuable property was destroyed before any organization could be made for mutual protection. Some of the settlers took refuge on ship board, and others in the town of Seattle. The Indians, meantime, devastated all King County, and even attacked Seattle. It was a situation, seemingly, of great peril, with active hostilities thus in progress from the Sound to Northern California, but the sources of safety were among the Indians themselves. They were hopelessly divided. There was not a tribe in which there were not some chiefs and some warriors who favored the Americans, and preferred peace, while the great majority of the Flatheads and Nez Perces were of this mind. This enabled the army officers afterwards to accomplish by diplomacy what could only have been accomplished with the greatest difficulty by war. Besides, these Indians were not the Indians of the East. Perhaps three thousand warriors in Oregon could be counted as hostile, but one thousand Shawnees, Delawares, Seminoles, Sioux, or Apaches would have done ten times as much damage. Major general John E. Wool, who succeeded General Hitchcock in the command of the Department of the Pacific, had little sympathy with the extermination policy, and less with the plan of sending troops into the country of the hostiles while the settlements were left unprotected. He disregarded the voluminous plans which Governors Stevens and Curry prepared for carrying on the war, refused to make a winter campaign, declined to recognize the volunteers as United States troops, insisted that their presence in the field was wholly unnecessary, concentred the regulars at Fort Vancouver, and used as many of them as he considered necessary in protecting the friendly Indians, who remained on the reservations, from the aggressions of the whites. Governor Palmer took substantially the same view of the matter as General Wool, and also urged the establishment of the Grande Ronde and Siletz reservations near the coast; and, in consequence, petitions of the Oregon Legislature were forwarded to Washington, asking the removal of both. They further charged against Palmer that he was a “Know nothing Whig,” and had been guilty of not voting the Democratic ticket at local elections; while they characterized E. K. Geary, whom they recommended for his successor, and whom Palmer had discharged from the office of secretary for abetting the opposition, as a “sound, consistent, and reliable national Democrat.” Governor Palmer was succeeded, for other reasons, by George L. Curry, as Governor, but was retained as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. A spicy wrangle ensued between Wool and Governors Stevens and Curry, which was protracted for months in the newspapers and in their official reports. It must have been painful to the governors, in aftertimes, to learn that Wool’s reports had uniformly gone to the Secretary of War endorsed, “Respectfully submitted. I fully approve the views of Major general Wool. Winfield Scott.”

The regular troops and the volunteers acted independently of each other, the former endeavoring to bring the war to a close by treaty, making what the settler considered undue concessions to the Indians, and the others trying to accomplish the extermination project, or, at least, to make ” an indelible impression.” Neither did anything of importance during the winter, but the Indians had more success. On February 22, 1856, at dawn, when most of the volunteers of the force encamped on Rogue River, three miles above its mouth, were gone to a “Washington’s birthday ball” at the mouth of the river, the hostiles surprised the camp and killed Captain Ben Wright, special agent. Captain Poland, and twenty-two others, among whom was Mr. Wagoner, whose family had been murdered in the preceding October. Charles Foster alone escaped from the camp, and succeeded in reaching a place of safety, after hiding all day in the bushes. He estimated the attacking party at three hundred. They also sacked and burned all the ranches along the river, the whites who escaped fleeing to Port Orford and the mouth of the river, where they fortified themselves, and remained on the defensive for a while.

As the spring opened, and General Wool got ready to act, Colonel Wright, of the 9th Infantry, went up the Columbia and took charge of the campaign. He passed the Cascades, leaving only a command of nine men, under Sergeant Kelly, to protect the portage. The river from the Cascades to The Dalles was the key to the Columbia country, as it afforded the only connection between eastern and western Oregon. The river here breaks through the Cascade Range. From Celilo to Dalles City, fifteen miles, it rushes through a narrow channel of basaltic rock with an impetus that makes navigation impracticable; then comes a stretch of quiet water for forty miles; and then between five and six miles of rapids, known as the Upper, Middle, and Lower Cascades. The mode of passage is now, as it was from the earliest days, by boats, making portages at the Cascades and The Dalles. In 1855-6 the intermediate forty miles was traversed by two little steamers, the Mary and the Wasco, The force left by Colonel Wright was located in a blockhouse at the Middle Cascades. On May 26 Wright left The Dalles, and on the same day a party of Yakimas under Kamiakin, assisted by some of the supposed friendly Indians, attacked the settlement at the Cascades. They first fired on the steamer Mary lying at her landing, and killed one man and wounded three. The boat was run out into the stream, before they could accomplish their purpose of boarding and destroying it, leaving the captain and mate on shore, and steamed up to the Dalles, picking up a number of families on the way. The Indians next turned their attention to the citizens, a part of whom were killed and a part escaped to the blockhouse at the Middle Cascades. The blockhouse was attacked and fired on all that day and the succeeding night, but without damage. A messenger reached Wright, five miles above The Dalles, and he countermarched on the 27th. The portage was cleared, after a warm skirmish, and on the morning of the 28th the besieged blockhouse was relieved. In this affair, known as the ”Cascade massacre,” seventeen whites, including one soldier and several women and children, were killed.

Colonel Wright found there was satisfactory evidence that some of the supposed friendly Cascade Indians had aided in the massacre, and ordered a military commission, by which their chief, Chimoneth, and eight braves were found guilty and hanged. lie then resumed his march against the hostiles, leaving detachments to guard the fisheries, and a stronger force at the Cascades – the latter under an officer with whom the American public is now well acquainted. Lieutenant P. H. Sheridan. One of his first duties was to report on the murder of six Indians, the father, wife, niece, and little child of Spencer, a friendly chief, and two friendly Vancouver Indians in company with them, by six white men. These Indians were bound, short cords with slip nooses were placed about their necks, and then, by pulling on both ends of the cords, they were, to borrow an expression from Balzac, “delicately strangled between the head and the shoulders.” The younger woman was also outraged.

By May 23 Governor Stevens appears to have had hopes that General Wool’s plan would be db dismal a failure as the winter campaign had been. On that date he wrote to the Secretary of War: “It is not to be disguised that the tribes east of the Mountains thus far consider themselves the victors. When Colonel Wright commenced his march into the Yakima country, early this month, they practically held the whole country for which they had been fighting. Not a white man now is to be found from The Dalles to the Walla Walla; not a house stands; and Colonel Wright, at the last dispatches, was in the Nahchess, in presence of twelve or fifteen hundred warriors, determined to fight. Colonel Wright met the hostels on the 8th of May, and made an effectual (ineffectual) attempt to treat with them till the 11th. On the evening of the 11th he despatched an express to The Dalles for reinforcements. His force probably now numbers some four hundred and seventy-five effective men.” Nevertheless the Indians would not fight, and Wright was unable to bring on a general engagement. But while they were able to avoid the troops, the Indians were distressed by the loss of their supplies and their fisheries. After numerous talks, in which the sub-chiefs were promised preference over the hostile head chiefs, bands of the hostiles began coming in and agreeing to live at peace, it being understood that their lands were not to be taken away from them. In this way the summer was passed.

At the same time, Lieutenant colonel Buchanan, assisted by Superintendent Palmer, was pursuing a similar course in the South, but the hostiles there were more pugnacious. John, their leader, said the whites would kill him if they got him in their power, and declared he would never surrender. On May 27 his band surrounded the camp of Captain Smith at Big Bend, on the Rogue River, and held him besieged for thirty-six hours, although Smith had ninety men and a howitzer. Their situation was one which would have resulted in their total destruction if assistance had not arrived, but word had reached the troops below, and a detachment under Captain Augur was sent to relieve the beleaguered company. He routed the Indians by a dashing charge, in which he lost two killed and three wounded. Smith’s company had been without water for twelve hours, and had lost eight killed and eighteen wounded. This was the only engagement in the entire war that was worthy of being called a battle. On June 21 all of the friendly Indians who had been near Port Orford, and all the Lower Rogue Rivers, were gathered together and removed by steamer to their new reservation of Grande Ronde, between the Wallamet and the coast. The hostiles then concluded to treat also, and John’s band surrendered on June 29. By July 19 all the remaining Indians, to the number of twelve hundred and twenty-five, were on the way to the Grande Ronde, where they remained until the spring of 1857, and were then removed to the Siletz reservations on the coast. In the North a few of the hostiles fled to the interior, but, by the efforts of Lieutenant colonel Casey, the main body were pacified and put on the several small reservations set off for them along the Sound, a few being held as prisoners. Late in the fall arrangements were concluded with the interior Indians, by which they were permitted to retain their former territory, the army officers recommending that the treaties made by Governor Stevens be not ratified. No whites were to remain east of the Cascade Mountains but those who had ceded rights from the Indians, except the miners at Colville, and these were to be punished if they interfered with the Indians. Military stations were established among the tribes, however, and maintained, although they occasioned some dissatisfaction. Lieutenant Sheridan was put in command of the one in the Yakima country.

This war was little more than a succession of massacres and outrages on both sides, so far as collisions between the hostile parties were concerned. The loss of life was not great, but the destruction of property was enormous, on the southern coast, on the Columbia, and on the Sound. Not only was there serious loss from destruction, but also from the desertion of property. A gentleman, who passed over the road from Cowlitz Landing to Olympia, in 1857, wrote: “Notwithstanding this region was exempt from any actual collision with the Indians, the effects are nearly the same as in other parts of the territory. All along the road houses are deserted and going to ruin; fences are cast down and in a state of decay; fields, once waving with luxuriant crops, are desolate; and but little, if any, stock is to be seen on the broad prairies that formerly bore such inspiring evidences of life.” It was a costly war, and, as usual with Indian wars, the loss and injury had fallen heaviest on the innocent, both red and white.

The treaties for the cession of land, which were largely the cause of the hostilities by the interior tribes, were very extensive, the land relinquished being about equal to all of New England, with the State of Indiana added. They were divided as follows: the Wallamet Valley tribes, 7,500,000 acres, for $198,000; the WallaWallas, Cay uses, and Umatillas, 4,012,800 acres, for $150,000; the Yakimas, Pelouses, Klickitats, and others, 10,828,000 acres, for $200,000; the Nez Perce $8,15,480,000 acres, for $200,000; the Des Chutes, 8,110,000 acres, for $435,000; the Flatheads, Kootenais, and Upper Pend D’Oreilles, 14,720,000 acres, for $485,000. The sums paid, in aggregate, look rather large, but, viewed with reference either to the price per acre or the number of grantors, they are trifling. Viewed with reference to the result they are supposed to accomplish, the subsistence of the Indians till they are initiated in civilized methods of support, they are ridiculous. The treaty with the Rogue Rivers of September 10, 1853, by which 2,180,000 acres was relinquished for $60,000, was about on a par with them – three cents an acre, more or less – and it was ratified. The grantors, at the time of the treaty, numbered nearly two thousand; four years later they had dwindled away to nine hundred and nine, and $40,000 of the purchase money was still to come, in sixteen annual payments of $2500 each. In other words, the Indians were getting $2.75 each per year. Of course they had their reservation lands, and the usual treaty adjuncts of schools, black smith shop, etc., but, if the Indian profited much by his education, he certainly would not find much consolation in reflecting on his treaty. An annual income of $2.75 can hardly be considered a princely recompense for the surrender of a principality. There is no greater foundation than this for the oft-repeated claim that these treaties of Governor Stevens were made on a grandly liberal basis.

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886.

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