Coeur d’Alene Mission

September. 10th.This morning an Indian runner came in from the Coeur d’Alene mission, bringing a letter from Father Joset to Colonel Wright. Its import was, that the Indians were entirely prostrate and desired peace; and that they had requested him (the priest) to intercede for them. A few days’ march will now bring us to the Mission.

Today two companies more were detailed to shoot the rest of the horses. The officers and others selected theirs, about two hundred being saved in this way, and the remaining seven hundred shot. Most of those, however, which were retained, were shot afterwards, or escaped from us. They broke their fastenings or tore up the stakes to which they were tied at night, and dashed back again to their native wilds. They were entirely too wild to be of any use.

We learned subsequently, that nothing “we had done so much prostrated the Indians as this destruction of their horses. At the time they were taken, there were some Indians witnessed it from the neighboring hills, who said, as we afterwards learned, “that it did not make a great deal of difference, as they would get them all back in a few days.” Their plan would have been to stampede them, in doing which they probably would have run off our animals with them. They were therefore very much taken by surprise, when the next day they saw them killed. One of the, Indians was watching ns from the hilltop through a glass of one of the officers, which he had taken in Colonel Steptoe’s fight, and which was afterwards returned to ns at the Mission. Without horses these Indians are powerless.

September 11th. We began crossing the Spokan River at five o’clock this morning. Each dragoon took a foot soldier behind him, and in this way we crossed in about an hour and a half For a few miles our march was along the river and over the Spokan plains, when we entered the pine woods. We pressed a small fall, above which the river is tranquil and sluggish, and there are indications of a lake being not fax distant. After a march of fifteen miles through the pine forests, we reached the Coeur d’Alene lake, on the borders of which we encamped.

At noon, we came across four Indian lodges, filled with wheat, which we burned. Some caches filled with dried cake and wild cherries, were also discovered and destroyed. This outbreak will bring upon the Indians a winter of great suffering, from the destruction of their stores.

Just before reaching our camping-ground, we passed an Indian burial-place. Each grave was covered with a low log house, surmounted by a cross. The house answers both as a monument, and a protection for the remains against the wild animals.

It is a peculiarity, we were told, about these Indians, that if one of their number is killed, his family have to decide the question, whether or not the tribe shall go to war. The chiefs have no voice in the matter, all the family decides for war, all the warriors have to go, as those who refuse are outlawed.

September 12th. When we were about to leave camp this morning, Vincent, the head chief of the Coeur d’Alenes, rode in, bringing a pass from the priest, giving his name, and saying that he was on his way to bring the hostiles into the Mission.

All day we have toiled along, through beautiful scenery, yet a country difficult for a force to make its way, as our march has been through the forest in its primeval state. For the first few miles along the borders of the lake, the trees were scattered, but after leaving the shore the timber became so thick that the troops had to march in single file. At this point Lieutenant Mullan had to abandon his wagon, the only one with the command, and the howitzers had to be packed on mules and the limber abandoned. The forest seemed to become more dense as we advanced, until we could see nothing about us but high hills and deep caverns, with thick woods covering all, through which we wound our way in a twilight gloom.

This is a splendid country as a home for the Indians, and we cannot wonder that they are aroused when they think the white men are intruding on them. The Coeur d’Alene Lake, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with water clear as crystal, is about fifteen miles in length, buried, as it were, in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, which rise around it on every side. The woods are full of berries, while in the Spokan River salmon abound below the falls, and trout above. In the winter season, deer and elk are found in the mountains. Many parts of the country are good for grazing, while there are a sufficient number of fertile spots where crops can easily be raised. When the Indian thinks of the hunting-grounds to which he is looking forward in the Spirit Land, we doubt whether he could imagine anything more in accordance with his taste than this reality.

At evening we encamped on Wolfs Lodge creek.

September 13th. Our march all day over the Coeur d’Alene Mountains was similar to that of yesterday. In some places the trail passed along the brink of precipices apparently a thousand feet in depth. The forest was so dense and full of fallen timber that the pioneers had to be kept in advance, to cut with their axes a road for the animals. As seen from the tops of the mountains, when we crossed, the scenery was very grand, the densely covered hills, interspersed with lakes, rolling, as far as the eye could reach, to the horizon. Pleasing, however, as this might be to the lovers of the picturesque, the march, although only eighteen miles, was a very toilsome one to the men and animals. The rear guard did not reach camp till nine o’clock at night.

On these marches, the officers were mounted, and yet it was not so exclusive a privilege as might be supposed. When the march was long, and particularly during some of the excessively sultry weather, some of the men who were trudging along under the weight of their arms and equipments, would give out from exhaustion. Every little while one would fall out of the ranks. Then the surgeon stops, administers to him a restorative, and, as we had been obliged to abandon the hospital wagon on crossing Snake River, some officer dismounts and gives him his horse. So it often happened that we went on foot for half or even the whole of the day’s march.

We first came in sight of the Coeur d’Alene Mission when about five miles off. It is situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. A pretty stream, a branch of the Coeur d’Alene River, with clear cold water, runs along side of it, furnishing means of irrigation. In the centre of the Mission stands the church, and round it cluster the other buildings, a mill, a couple of houses for the priests, the dwellings of the Indian converts, and some barns to store their produce. We encamped about a quarter of a mile from it. The priests, in the evening, sent a wagon fall of vegetables to the officers.

September 16th. This morning, in company with several other officers, I visited the Mission. There are two priests. Fathers Joset and Minitre, with three lay brothers, attached to it, by whom we were received with great kindness and politeness, and all the information for which we asked, both with regard to their mission and the Indians, was readily given.

The Mission was established in 1846, and is an offshoot of the Mission of St. Joseph, about thirty miles from here. Their chapel is a prominent building, constructed of hewn timber, and mortar mixed with straw. It will hold about three hundred persons, but is still unfinished in the inside.

We found but about forty Indians living at the Mission, who are instructed and employed by the priests. With their own lodges and gardens about them, they appear to be perfectly happy and contented. There is no doubt but what the priests have had a most happy influence over them. Most of the tribe, it is true, in a moment of excitement, and, it is believed, in opposition to the priests, rushed into this war, yet generally they are easily managed, and no Indians with whom we have met have impressed us so favorably. And so it may continue to be while they are buried in these mountains. But as soon as the stream of population flows up to them, they will be contaminated by the vices of the white men, and their end will be that of every other tribe which has been brought into contact with civilization. At the same time, from their courage and the natural defenses of their country, they can prove most dangerous enemies.

The priests told us that the Coeur d’Alenes cannot muster more than one hundred warriors, nor does the whole tribe contain more than four hundred souls. Most of them were engaged in the recent fights. The Spokans amount to about four times that number.

Had we delayed our coming a few days longer, the priests informed us, we should have found the Mission deserted, as they were ordered by their Superior to break it up, if the Indians went out to fight. They were about removing into the Blackfeet country. If the Indians come in and submit to the terms proposed, they will remain.

We learned too from them, that in one of the lodges burned by the dragoons the night we were on Spokan River, was the carriage belonging to one of the howitzers taken in the fight with Colonel Steptoe.

This afternoon Vincent returned and reported that the Coeur d’Alenes were afraid to come in; but since then some few have arrived. The priests will now be exceedingly useful to us. The Indians, terrified by the lessons they have had, although desirous of peace, seem afraid to come near the whites to sue for it. They are scattered, and hiding in the mountains and ravines, and it will be through ‘ the agency and influence of their priests alone, that we shall be able to reassure them and induce them to accede to the necessary terms.

September 16th. We are waiting for the Indians. Some Coeur d’Alenes came in to-day, and turned over to the quarter-master all the property in their possession taken in Colonel Steptoe’s fight. It consisted of two horses, two mules, and a variety of small articles.

September 16th. Our mail was sent out today in charge of four Coeur d’Alene Indian runners. We must take our risk of its reaching the settlements in safety, without being intercepted by Indian parties,’ or perhaps carried off by our new “mail agents.”

Some few more Indians came in today. The old Spokan chief was released this morning and sent to the Mission. He promises to join his people and try to bring them in.

September 17th. About a dozen Indians, with their families, came in this morning. Now that some have tried the experiment and find themselves unharmed, we may hope that the rest will follow their example. With some other officers I made a visit to the Mission, and then returned to attend the council.

Kip, Lawrence. Army Life on the Pacific: A Journal of the Tribes of the Coeur d'Alenes, Spokans, and Pelouzes, in the Summer of 1858. Redfield, 1859.

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