Indians Want Treaty Enforced

In forwarding a copy of Colonel Steptoe’s letter of October 19th to the head of the army, under date of November 4th, after detailing the instructions given the commanding officers respecting the uneasiness of the Indians, on the occasion of the conference at The Dalles, in June, General Clarke continued: “It is under these circumstances that Mr. J. Ross Brown makes (with what authority I know not) the declaration to the Indians that the treaties will certainly be ratified and enforced.

How the interests of the government must be injured by having agents so little in accord will be readily seen; my influence with them (the Indians) ceases entirely the moment they distrust either my disposition or ability to fulfill promises made. I hope that the government will have time to notify me of its determination in the matter in time to prevent mischief.

I believe the present treaties can only been forced by war, and hope this will be avoided by a new commission.”

Added to this lack of harmony in declarations made to the Indians by government representatives, was the conduct of citizens who desired to settle upon land which was known to be claimed by the Indians.

It will be understood that from time immemorial the nominal title to the whole of the northwest had rested without molestation among the various Indian tribes therein and that at this time comparatively little of it had been formally relinquished to the government. Some settlements were under taken on small foundations without this formality, but it is of final record that almost the entire area of these lands to which the white man may obtain title was ceded to the government by the aboriginal possessors.

General John E. Wool, who preceded General Clarke as commander of the Department of the Pacific, had ordered that settlements should not be permitted within the territory embraced in the treaties pending their ratification. General Clarke, on assuming command, and after the consultation with Mr. Nesmith, directed that these orders be continued in force with the view of preventing any encroachment by the whites during the existing state of the Indian mind and as a measure tending to allay the irritation among the latter and thereby ward off, so far as possible, open acts of hostility.

Some whites who attempted to settle on land in the Walla Walla country having been forbidden to do so, in compliance with these orders, had the matter laid before the Territorial legislature which was in session at Olympia during the winter of 1857-8. That body, in the belief that the circumstances warranted the step, passed and forwarded to Washington, D. C., the following resolutions:

Joint resolutions, relative to citizens and settlers in Walla Walla county being driven from their homes and claims by the military authority of Washington Territory.

Whereas certain officers of the United States army, commanding in the county of Walla Walla, have unlawfully assumed to issue orders prohibiting citizens of this Territory from settling in certain portions thereof, and in accordance with said orders have driven citizens and settlers from their claims and homes acquired under the laws of the United States, to their great injury.

Therefore be it resolved by the legislative assembly of the Territory of Washington that, in our opinion, the said orders are without the authority of law, and that the acts done under said orders are a high handed outrage upon the rights and liberties of the American people.

Resolved, That the Governor be requested to give the proper authorities at Washington all necessary information on the subject of the outrageous usurpation of the military over the civil authority.

Resolved, That we believe the above usurpation to be the very worst form of martial law, pro claimed by tyrants not having feeling in common with us, nor interests identified with ours.

Resolved, That a copy of the above resolutions be forwarded to our delegate in Congress, and that he be requested to represent the matter to the proper department in Washington City, to the end that the evil be corrected.

Passed January 15, 1858
J. S. Vancleave, Speaker House Representatives.
C. C. PAGETT, President of the Council.

A copy of these resolutions, with their full force of uncomplimentary language, was forwarded to General Clarke by the war department and he was obliged to explain the causes which appeared to him to justify the measure which he had adopted.

The protest of the legislature seems not to have weighed sufficiently heavy against the reasons for the issuance of the order to warrant its recession.

The attitude of Governor Stevens, who very probably had knowledge of the matter of the resolutions prior to their introduction in the legislature, and who otherwise bitterly opposed this order of the Department of the Pacific, was doubtless the result of his zeal to establish settlement throughout his Territory.
General Clarke regarded the matter from quite a different point of view. While it was his duty to protect the homes of citizens, it was quite essential that the citizens should not be trespassers. He did not conceive it to be the policy of the war department nor of the general government to sanction any acts of irregularity either on the part of the settlers or of any portion of the army. He was reminded, too, almost daily of the great difficulty of protecting settlements in the West which were being actually encroached upon by the Indians.

Again General Clarke was required to consider in some seriousness the attitude assumed toward the murderers of Agent Bolan. While the point raised proved to be of no consequence, being based upon misinformation, the correspondence in relation thereto serves to indicate the importance attached to the matter and is here given.


Fort Simcoe, Washington Territory
February 3, 1858

Major: I learn from unauthentic sources, though entitled to belief, that Mr. R. H. Lansdale, recently appointed Indian agent for the Yakima tribes of Indians by the superintendent of Indian affairs in this Territory, is soon to arrive here with instructions to demand the surrender of the murderers of Agent Bolan.

As this proceeding will be inconsistent with the views of General Clarke, communicated to me in your letter of August 28, 1857, and department orders No. 87, of 1857, I deem it proper to report the matter to him, and to ask his instructions as to my own conduct, should I be officially called upon by Mr. Lansdale for assistance to enforce his demand.

I think it probable that the Indians will refuse to deliver up the murderers.

While thus seeking to learn General Clarke’s wishes in respect to this matter, I deem it proper to say, if left uninformed as to them, I shall consider it my duty to decline acceding to Mr. Lansdale’s requisition, on the ground that, in a matter in which the Department of War ought to be so well informed as on this, and in which such important consequences may be involved, it is reason able to suppose that it would have communicated its wishes on the subject direct to the military authorities of the country, if it had intended or desired that they should be employed in the matter.

I beg leave to assure the general that I am ready and willing to undertake this service, but that I do not consider it the part of an officer of subordinate command in the army, in cases of doubtful policy, to commit acts on his own responsibility which may involve such heavy drains upon the public treasury, unless he should have no time or means for reference to the proper authorities.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. S. GARNETT, Major 9th Infantry, Commanding Post.
Major W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General, United States Army, San Francisco, California.”


“Headquarters Department of the Pacific
San Francisco, California
February 22, 1858.

Major: Your letter of February 3 has been submitted to Brigadier General Clarke.

The general has since had a consultation with Mr. Nesmith, superintendent for both Territories, and finds that your information is not entirely accurate.

The superintendent had directed the agent to whom you refer to tell the Indians, on all proper occasions, that the murderers of Bolan would finally be obliged to surrender and submit themselves to trial.

He had given no instructions to demand the surrender, and as General Clarke has referred the question to the department, Mr. Nesmith is now willing to let it rest until orders in the case are received from Washington.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. MACKALL, Assistant Adjutant General.
Major R. S. Garnett, 9th Infantry U. S. A., Comd’g Fort Simcoe, W. T.”


“San Francisco, California
February 24, 1858

Since my arrival here I have seen a letter from Major Garnett, from which it is to be inferred that he is under the impression that you were authorized to make a positive demand upon the Yakimas for the surrender of the murderers of Bolan; by reference to your instructions from me you will perceive that such was not my intentions. The whole question is now pending before the department at Washington, and I deem it improper to take any further action, or to communicate further with the Indians on the subject, until such time as positive instructions are received from the department on the subject. You will therefore allow the matter to remain as it is until otherwise directed.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. NESMITH, Supt. Indian Affairs for Washington and Ore gon Territories.
R. H. Lansdale, Esq., Indian Agent, Dalles, Oregon.”


Copies of the foregoing letters were transmitted to army headquarters with the following:

“Headquarters Department of the Pacific
San Francisco, California
February 25, 1858

In my letter of November 4, 1857, I set forth to the Lieutenant General the difference existing between the line of policy I thought it necessary to adopt in relation to certain Indian criminals in Washington Territory and that considered just and proper by the superintendent of Indian affairs, J. W. Nesmith.

The enclosed copies of letters will show how the affair has been again urged on my attention, the state of the question now, and sufficiently explain why I urge on the government an early decision. Mr. Nesmith, though holding his first opinion as to the course proper to be pursued, has, with a laudable spirit, determined to suspend action until he or I can be instructed by the government.

I then ask the department to decide, and either direct the demand for these criminals or permit the Indians to know that the offenders may rest secure.

In the present restless state of these people I fear the demand of these criminals may turn the scale and bring on war, and suspense is scarcely less likely to prove injurious.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. S. CLARKE, Colonel 6th Infantry, Brevet Brigadier General, Commanding. Lieut. Col. L. Thomas, Assistant Adjutant General U. S. A., Headquarters of the Army, New York.”


There was yet another influence at work tending to array the Indians against the government, namely, that of the Mormons. Reports from various points in the jurisdiction of the Department of the Pacific indicated that efforts were being made by those people to discredit among the Indians the agreements and intentions of the government and its agents, and to secure their co operation in carrying out those plans which the army of Utah, encamped about Salt Lake, was endeavoring to thwart. It appeared that not only the tribes of the northwest were being thus importuned, but likewise those of southern California and Nevada.

January 31, 1858, General John Garland, commanding the Department of New Mexico, wrote army headquarters with reference to the Mormon matter as follows: “In the early part of this month an Indian arrived at Fort Defiance from the Utah country, on a mission from the Utah Indians, charged with bringing about a peace between the Navajo and Utah. He said he was sent by the Indians who were only ten days from the Great Salt Lake City, and that the Mormons were instigating these different tribes to bury their animosities, with a view, doubtless, in case of necessity, of arraying themselves against our government. The messenger brought with him a certificate of baptism, and membership in the church of Latter Day Saints.

There is reason to believe that the Utah have been tampered with by direction of Brigham Young, whose object also is to extend his relations into the country of the Navajoes.”

Further references to Mormon diplomacy in this matter are found in the following communications:


Headquarters, Department of the Pacific
San Francisco, California
January 1, 1858

The following items, collated from unofficial but reliable sources, I have thought of sufficient interest to be communicated to the General-in-Chief.

A private letter from Captain Kirkham, of December 1, from Walla Walla, says: “We have recently received from our Indians news from Salt Lake; they report an engagement between our troops and the Mormons; the information comes through the Snakes, who are in direct communication with the Mormons.
The Snakes tell our Indians that they are well supplied with ammunition, and that they can get from the Mormons any quantity that they wish; and they further tell our Indians that the Mormons are anxious to supply them, to-wit: the Nez Perces, the Cayuses, and the Walla Wallas, with everything that they wish. I would not be surprised if the Mormon influence should extend to all the tribes in our neighborhood, and if they are determined to fight we may have trouble among the Indians on the coast again.

Extract from a letter of George Gibbs, of Washington Territory, of November 27:

‘A very curious statement was recently made me by some of the Indians near Steilacoom. They said that the Klikitats had told them that Choosuklee (Jesus Christ), had recently appeared on the other side of the mountains; that he was after a while coming here, when the whites would be sent out of the country, and all would be well for themselves. It needed only a little reflection to connect this second advent with the visit of Brigham Young to the Flathead and Nez Perces country.’

The reports from Southern California go to show that a like influence has been exerted over the tribes of that region. It is not to be doubted that the Mormons have cultivated friendship with the Indians, and it is scarcely doubtful that, in the recent exodus of the Mormons from San Bernardino, they have been accompanied by Indians. The Indians in this section of the State are represented as becoming more insolent, and though they have as yet committed no depredations, the fears of the inhabitants are to a great degree excited.

From Carson valley we have like reports of the ill effects on the Indians of Mormon influence.

If these things are true, and I credit them, temporary success on the part of the Mormons may be a signal for an Indian war extending along our whole frontier.

The troops in this department have been stationed with such strict attention to the absolute wants of the service, that but little, if any, reduction at any post could be made with safety to the inhabitants.

In Oregon and Washington Territories, east of the Cascade Range, I consider it unsafe to remove a man for service elsewhere.

My intention as intimated in my letter of December 18, with reference to the relief companies for Yuma, will be carried out, and I will station a company permanently perhaps at San Bernardino, near Cajon Pass.

I recommend instant measures calculated to detach Indians from Mormon influence. As an initial step toward that end, I suggest that headmen or chiefs be invited to visit Washington, As an inducement they should receive presents to a generous extent. Such visits would disabuse them of any erroneous impressions they may have received relative to the power of the United States, by seeing for themselves how numerous and powerful our people are.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. S. CLARKE, Colonel 6th Infantry, Brevet Brigadier General, Commanding Lieutenant Colonel L. Thomas, Assistant Adjutant General
Headquarters Army, N. Y.”


Headquarters, Department of the Pacific
San Francisco, California
January 12, 1858

Brigadier General Clarke directs me to say that he desires you to recall your dragoons and horses as early as the state of the roads and the grass, or your supply of forage will permit.

He wishes your command to be in a state of full efficiency at the earliest possible day. Lieutenant Gregg, first dragoons, will be directed to join you with his company as soon as the order for the return of your detachment reaches Vancouver, and to guard your horses in the march.

The general wishes you to be deeply impressed with the importance of obtaining early and full information in relation to the Indian tribes in your vicinity, and south and east towards Fort Hall and the Salmon River.

Information from various sources and points on the frontier leads him to the conclusion that through the Mormons the Indians are being inclined to hostility, and that a conflict in Utah may be the signal for trouble on the frontier, and it is not improbable that the Mormons may move north.

He wishes you to be prepared in advance for either contingency. Full and prompt report of all information, and your opinion founded there on, is desired.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. MACKALL, Assistant Adjutant General. Lieutenant Colonel
E. J. Steptoe, Major 9th Infantry, Commanding Fort Walla Walla, W. T.”


“Fort Walla Walla, W. T.,
January 29, 1858.

Sir: I received by last mail your letter of the 1 2th instant. Measures were taken at once to insure the full efficiency of this command, whenever it may be required for active service. It is very difficult to determine, from any information I ‘have now, how far the reports that have reached the general of a meditated outbreak on the part of the Indians in this direction ought to be relied upon.

That the expediency of availing themselves of this Mormon revolt to recover some real or imagined rights has been discussed amongst them I am quite sure, but doubt whether they have resolved to commit themselves to hostilities at present. If they should learn that the Mormons have obtained any marked advantage over the troops, or if the contest in Utah should be a protracted one, I would then seriously apprehend trouble with the surrounding tribes. Between this post and Fort Hall there are numerous families of Snake Indians, who are represented to be great friends of the Mormons, and to be well armed and provided with ammunition. I am inclined to think this is true, and that they have made some efforts to break up the friendly relations existing between the troops and Indians in the Walla Walla country, but that the latter are not disposed to involve themselves while the chances of success are so much against them. What has been said here applies more particularly to the Cayuse, Walla Walla and various petty tribes living on the Columbia River and its tributaries below. Respecting the northern Indians (Palouse, Yakima, and Spokane), there never has been a doubt on my mind that very slight encouragement would at any time suffice to revive their late hostile feelings. It is gratifying, however, to know that they are much under the influence of the Nez Perces, who are, for the most part, and have always been, strong in their friendship toward us. Upon the whole, I do not think, in view of the large force to be here soon, that we will have a difficulty with these Indians this year. If the troops have ordinary success in Utah, the probability will be lessened, and still further if the Mormons shall be signally worsted. I have remonstrated earnestly with the chiefs against the interference of their people in the matter, and I am sure that several of the most influential are impressed with the conviction that such interference could not fail to be disastrous to them. Having no certain information as to the sentiments of the Indians (Snakes) between this and Fort Boise, I have long intended to ascertain the truth of the matter by sending out an expedition early this spring. My purpose now is to start three companies of dragoons over the route so soon as the absence of snow and height of new grass will justify the movement, and, if possible, to dispatch a reliable Indian immediately over the same route (perhaps further) to gain information in advance. It is only about 200 miles from here to Fort Boise, and not over 500 miles to the Salt Lake by the wagon road (probably fifty miles less by the trails). An old trapper living here, who spent many years about Fort Hall, and has often traveled the road, says that he can go with ease from this post to the Salt Lake and back in twenty days. A half-breed Indian from Salmon River came here three days since, and states that the Mormon settlement there removed some six weeks ago to the Salt Lake, sacrificing houses and improvements, as at San Bernardino. In my opinion, this is only significant as indicating further the stern resistance contemplated by the Mormons. I question much whether the idea of leaving Utah and emigrating to some other country is seriously entertained by them. But in either event the advantage of arming and arraying against us all the Indians living on the principal routes to Utah cannot have escaped their attention, and it is more than probable that they have taken steps to effect that end.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. J. STEPTOE, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Major, United States Army
W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General U. S. Army, San Francisco.”


“Fort Simcoe, Washington Territory,
January 30, 1858.

It seems proper that I should report, for the information of General Clarke, that the Indian chief “Skloom,” brother of Kamiakin, has recently sent word to me, for the second time, that the Mormons, on one or two occasions since last summer, have sent emissaries among the Indians of this region to incite them to a union with the Mormons in hostility to the United States. He states that the chiefs repel those overtures from the Mormons, but that some of the young men seem disposed to countenance them. The Mormons make them large promises of arms, ammunition, cattle, &c.

For myself, I do not attach much importance to these machinations of the Mormons, unless our army in Utah should meet with some serious reverses.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. S. GARNETT, Major 9th Infantry, Commanding Post.
Major W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General, &c.”


From Captain John Mullan’s report on the construction of a military road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, the following paragraph is quoted:

“During this interval (between the spring of 1857 and the winter of 1857-8) the subject of overland communication had grown in importance and from a subject of speculation and doubt had changed to one of everyday reality. While the central section became the field for wagon-road operations under Colonel Lander, the overland mail carried weekly intelligence over thousands of miles of mountain and prairie by a more southern route. These facts gave the friends of a northern line a right to be heard in their modest applications to have a route opened through their own section. The character of the Mormon disturbances, occur ring simultaneously, was such as to compel the government to look the subject of overland communication direct in the face. Here were foes, with Indian emissaries in every quarter, whose obedience to law the government had to enforce at the point of the bayonet, by an army so large that the question of supplying it was one of no small import.”

That the Mormons should attempt to form alliances with the Indian tribes throughout the West would not be surprising; as a matter of fact it might have been and doubtless was expected by the government. The fact stands boldly out in history that the Mormons were, during the year 1857 and a part of the year 1858, in open hostility toward the government; that they equipped an armed force and committed acts of actual warfare; therefore, regardless of the justice or injustice of their belligerent attitude, in view of their peculiar religious relations with the Indians, the ease of communicating with them and the necessity for additional strength to their own numbers, it must be conceded that a desire to align those warlike people against the government and in support of their own cause would have been to the Mormons quite in accord with effective diplomacy.

Manring, B. F. Conquest of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Palouse Indians. The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2, 1912.

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