Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox of the Nez Perce Tribe

Affairs Other than Major Rains’ Expedition

Kamiakin - Yakima
Kamiakin, Head Chief of the Yakama, was opposed to the treaties, and spoke passionately against signing them prior to the Council. Drawing by Gustav Sohon, 1855

Kamiakin was a man of mixed talents and many outstanding characteristics and easily the outstanding Indian personality in the entire Columbia Basin. He was tall, muscular, and very dark, with a bearing that was regal. He had condemned the Cayuses for the Whitman massacre but was true to his race and wanted only the peaceful possession of the country for his people. On the other hand, foreseeing the inroads of the white people and the ultimate consequences, he decided that the only way through which the Indians could continue to hold their lands was by the extermination of the whites. To that end, then, he traveled far and wide, urging all the tribes to join in his effort. He was tireless. His oratory was typical of all great chiefs. When a tribe refused to join with him it was not because he lacked their esteem.

Nathan Olney, as previously stated, was the Indian Agent at The Dalles when the foregoing events occurred. As soon as he learned of Major Haller’s defeat he went to Walla Walla to dissuade the Cayuse, Deschutes and Walla Walla from joining the Yakima in the war. From his observations he concluded that Peu-peu-mox-mox, the Walla Walla chief, planned to join Kamiakin. He reported that belief to his superior, R. R. Thompson, who concurred. Olney decided to remove the white settlers from the Yakima Valley and notified them that he believed that a general Indian uprising was imminent and told them to be in readiness to leave that country as soon as a military escort which he had requested arrived from The Dalles. He warned the settlers not to attempt a combined exodus without military escort as such a move would, in his opinion, cause an immediate Indian attack. Olney also conferred with the Hudson’s Bay Company officials at their Walla Walla post and those men were also convinced of the emergency. At the time there was a large quantity of ammunition at Fort Walla Walla, together with a considerable inventory of Hudson’s Bay Company stores and a quantity of supplies which Governor Stevens had left there, not wishing to encumber himself when he set out to treat with the Blackfeet, far to the northeast. The surplus ammunition was dumped into the river, and the other stores were placed in charge of Pierre, one of the Walla Walla chiefs who was friendly.

But Chief Pierre could not stand alone. The Walla Walla, influenced by their Head Chief Peu-peu-mox-mox, had decided to join the Yakima. The Nez Perce refused to join and said that they would harbor no hostiles. One of the settlers who had been warned by Olney was Narcisse Raymond. He sent a dispatch addressed to the commander of the escort presumed to be en-route to Fort Walla Walla. Raymond must have been greatly concerned, for while he told of the daily threats by Peu-peu-mox-mox to kill the settlers, he also advised the military commander that it would be unwise to come with only 150 men, which was his information about the size of the relief force. He told of the pillage of the fort and that the Yakima 1000 strong were guarding the approach to Ft. Walla Walla. However, no escort from The Dalles was on its way. When Raymond’s message was sent there was only a small garrison at The Dalles, the main force being in the field under Major Rains. But while the regulars were unable to send an escort we shall see later that the Oregon Volunteers were on the march.

The critical situation of the Yakima Valley settlers as well as a desire to assist Governor Stevens to return from the country of the Blackfeet, where he was cut off from returning by the Yakima War, was sufficient reason for Governor Curry to have called for enlistments.

General Wool arrived at Vancouver Barracks on November 17, 1855. He proceeded at once to criticize Major Rains saying that Rains had enough troops to defeat all the Indians in the Pacific Northwest and accused the Major of having been afflicted with the hysteria pervading the territory. The General said that there was no occasion for Governor Curry to have called for en-rolling a regiment of volunteers to defend the inhabitants of Oregon. Yet General Wool in a subsequent report on the Yakima War, said that he had ordered all available troops into the campaign and that he had called upon the War Department to furnish an additional regiment. Thus we are aware of a typical General Wool paradox. By his report there was no need for Governor Curry to recruit a regiment, part of which was in the field in ten days, but the General, himself, called for at least an additional regiment of regulars, which could hardly have been furnished in less than a year.

We have seen that four companies of Oregon Volunteers under Colonel Nesmith had arrived in time to accompany Major Rains on his expedition. Other companies followed soon. Major Mark A. Chinn arrived at The Dalles with three companies and started for Walla Walla on November 12th. On the 17th he was met by Raymond’s messenger. Acting upon the advice that 150 men were insufficient, Major Chmn proceeded only as far as the Umatilla River where he camped and erected a fortification and decided to stay there until reinforcements came up. He named his fortification Ft. Henrietta in honor of Major Halter’s wife. On November 27th Captain Connoyer arrived with his company. Two days later Lieutenant-Colonel James K. Kelly came with two more companies commanded by Captains A. V. Wilson and Charles Bennett. The force now numbered 350 men and late in the day on December 2nd, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly, set out for Ft. Walla Walla.

It was Kelly’s hope that he would reach the fort before sun-rise, but a heavy rain set in, continuing through the night, and the troops delayed in arriving until mid-forenoon. They found the fort pillaged, defaced, and the Indians gone.

Kelly set out on the morning of December 4th with most of his troops unencumbered by baggage, proceeding up the Touchet River hoping to locate the Indians. Major Chinn, with the remainder of the soldiers guarding the baggage train, started for the mouth of the Touchet where he was to camp and await orders. Upon reaching a point about 15 miles upstream, Kelly’s command saw a party of five or six Indians approaching. Upon meeting it was discovered that the group was led by Peu-peu-mox-mox. An interview was held, the Indian chief opening the discussion by asking why armed men had come into his country. Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly replied that he had come to chastise the chief and his followers for their crimes against the white people. To that statement Peu-peu-mox-mox answered that he did not want to fight and that he had done no wrong, whereupon Kelly recounted a long list of crimes in answer to which the chief said that he could not restrain his young warriors. Kelly then told the chief that the latter had been seen to distribute some of the stolen goods and that he had laid out a pile of blankets as an inducement to the Cayuses to join the war, and, further, that Howlish Wampool, a Cayuse chief, had so testified. Peu-peu-mox-mox then said that he would require his people to restore what-ever goods could be recovered and make restitution for the remainder. Kelly replied that the offer was not sufficient; that the Walla Walla would have to give up their arms and ammunition, furnish beef cattle for the troops, and supply remounts so that the volunteers could pursue the other hostiles.

John Ellis Wool
John Ellis Wool

The chief agreed to all of Kelly’s terms, saying that he would surrender the arms and ammunition the next day. But Kelly could recognize Indian deceit and concluded that the chief only wanted time enough to move his tribe and that the chief, himself, had no intention of returning the next day. So Kelly stated that he had come for the sole purpose of waging war and that for the chief to return to his village would precipitate an immediate attack there because he had no confidence in the promises made. Then Kelly said that if the chief was really dealing honestly that he should have no objection to remaining with the troops and carry out his obligations through messengers to his people. Kelly next instructed his interpreters to make it clear to the chief that he was at liberty to leave under the flag of truce which he carried but that if he did the troops would attack the village at once. As an alternative, Peu-peu-mox-mox was told that if he and six of his escort would remain with the soldiers and carry out the promises that the people would be spared. The chief, thus out-smarted, consented to remain. He made a high-sounding speech stressing the point that his principal concern was the keeping of his promises; that he was interested in the safety of his people; that next forenoon he would lead the troops to his village and conclude the terms imposed by Kelly; and, moreover, that none of his followers would go away during the night. Nevertheless a guard was placed over him and his six fellow hostages. The chief then suggested that the troops move towards the Indian village to secure the beef cattle as the soldiers were hungry. The command set out, the main part of the chiefs escort marching along with the troops. The village was in a canyon of the Touchet River and after marching about half a mile and it being late afternoon, Kelly decided that it would be unwise to enter the canyon where they might readily be ambushed. His suspicion had been heightened by Peu-peu-mox-mox’s concern over the hunger of the soldiers. So Kelly marched his command back two miles to open ground and camped for the night.

That evening the chief asked leave to send one of his fellow hostages to the village for the purpose of acquainting the tribe with the terms agreed upon. Kelly agreed but thought that the messenger would not return, in which belief he was quite correct.

On the morning of December 6 the troops marched into the village. It was deserted. The only Indians to be seen were those along the ridge of the hills from where they appeared to be fully armed and interested in the movement of the troops. Kelly tried to get the Indians to come in and comply with the terms of the agreement, sending out a flag of truce for that purpose, but the Indians showed no interest. Deciding that further effort in that direction was useless, Kelly moved his command to the mouth of the river where Major Chinn was camped with the supply train. Of course the hostages were taken along. That night one of the Indians made an unsuccessful attempt to escape so Kelly had all of them tied up until morning. When they were unbound Kelly told the chief that the latter was acting in bad faith and that if he, or any of the other hostages, tried to escape that sure death by shooting would be the answer.

Kelly decided to march to Waiilatpu and establish headquarters there. To that end preparations were proceeding on the morning of December 7th. It was noticed that mounted Indians, all armed, were appearing along the hills about a half mile distant from the camp, but even then no attack was anticipated. As the advance guard moved out the Indians opened fire on a detail driving up some beef cattle and the fire was immediately returned. Soon the shooting became general and as the troops got under way a running battle ensued, continuing for ten miles, or within two miles of Waiilatpu at which point was located the farm of a French-Canadian settler named LaRoche.

At this point it would be well to describe the respective situations of the combatants. As the ten-mile battle had proceeded with its noise of firing and characteristic war-whoops, hundreds of Indians in the vicinity were attracted to the scene. Not all of them, perhaps not more than half, actually engaged in the battle. The rest were interested onlookers, but by the time the troops had reached the LaRoche farm it is certain that the number of Indians actually engaged in the fight outnumbered the troops three to one. The volunteers were between a range of hills on their left and the Walla Walla River on their right. To check the advance of the troops the Indians deployed across the level land from the hills to the river. Part of their line was protected by a thin growth of trees. As a part of the panorama the Indians set up poles on each prominent hill. From the poles dangled the scalps of white people and around each pole danced a howling mob of hostiles. It was clear that the warriors had worked them-selves into a high degree of excitement and that they believed that the victory would be theirs.

Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox of the Nez Perce Tribe
Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox of the Nez Perce Tribe

The troops advanced and were met by a withering fire which caused them to fall back. Several of the volunteers were wounded, two mortally. Lieutenant J. M. Burrows, with a detachment, was ordered to flank the Indians. Advancing, the Lieutenant was almost instantly killed and several of his men wounded. Company A under Captain A. V. Wilson, came up at a gallop in response to a call for reinforcements. They dismounted and made a bayonet charge through the underbrush driving the Indians before them. Quickly Company F, Captain Charles Bennett, joined Company A and together these troops chased the hostiles about a mile up river. At that point there was an abandoned house surrounded by a tight fence. The Indians turned it into an improvised fortification. The troops attempted to take the place. Captain Bennett and one of Wilson’s men were killed. The troops took cover as best they could. A howitzer was brought up and exploded at the first shot, wounding Captain Wilson but chasing the Indians from their shelter. The soldiers took possession, recovering the bodies of the dead and removing the wounded. A field hospital was established in LaRoche’s house, a mile away.

While the fighting raged the hostiles became greatly excited. Peu-peu-mox-mox yelled cheering words to his warriors. The few men comprising the prisoners’ guard, through one of their number, reported to Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly that they feared the hostages would try to escape. Kelly instructed the guard to bind the prisoners and if they offered resistance or tried to escape to kill them. The hostages did resist. One of them stabbed a sergeant-major in the arm. Peu-peu-mox-mox tried to seize a gun from another of the guards but the guard, clubbing his gun, knocked the chief to the ground and killed him. Five of the remaining prisoners tried to escape and were shot.

Meanwhile the battle continued and only ceased at night-fall. The troops were tired and hungry. Their losses had been considerable, including two officers killed and one wounded. They tried to cook supper but the camp fires only made targets for the Indians and had to be extinguished. All night long the troops were on the alert. Here and there a few exhausted men snatched a few minutes of sleep. At daybreak breakfast was prepared but in the midst of the meal the Indians attacked. They had evidently persuaded many of the previous day’s onlookers to join in the active fighting. It had been established that 1000 warriors had been engaged in the battle of the previous day and now there were many more. The hostiles regained all the points they had lost the day before. They fought furiously, convinced of victory.

Kelly called a hasty council of some of his officers. As a result Companies A and H, commanded by Lieutenants Charles B. Pillows and A. B. Hannah, respectively, were ordered to dislodge the Indians from the timber and to hold the positions if humanly possible. Companies F, B, I, and K, commanded by Lieutenants A. M. Fellows, Lieutenant Jeffreys, .Lieutenant Charles B. Hand* and Captain N. A. Connoyer, were ordered to take the hills from the hostiles and to generally harass the enemy. The battle continued all day without a major decision. The Indians were driven from the woods and brush and at nightfall withdrew. The troops were tired and while they had made some gains they had not administered a defeat. That night Kelly sent a messenger to Fort Henrietta requiring Companies D and E to reinforce him at once.

Next morning, which was December 9th, the battle was resumed. But the troops were worn out and did not take the offensive all day, preferring to absorb the Indian attacks which was done with heavy losses to the hostiles.

When the morning of the 10th came the Indians were in better position and had erected a breastwork and their reserves were in strategic positions. They had dug rifle-pits and in all respects seemed to be prepared for a fresh fight.

Lieutenant James McAuliff, with Company B, was ordered to take the breastworks. Companies A and H were ordered to clear the woods and overrun the rifle-pits. From the rest of the troops those with the freshest horses were sent to the hills from where they were to charge the Indians on the plain below. All objectives were accomplished. The Indians fought bravely but the tide of battle flowed in favor of the troops, the hostiles fled and the four days of battle were over.

The volunteers lost eight officers and men killed or dead of wounds and eighteen others wounded. The Indians’ losses were estimated at 100 killed and wounded. The troops built a new fort two miles above Waiilatpu, naming it Fort Bennett in memory of Captain Charles Bennett, killed in the battle. Colonel J. W. Nesmith resigned his command of the regiment and Thomas R. Cornelius, who had commanded Company D, was elected Colonel. Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly was a member of the legislature and returned to participate in its deliberations. He was welcomed signally by the people of the Willamette Valley as a fitting conclusion to the second phase of the Yakima War.

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

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