Chief Owhi

Owhi and Qualchien

Chief Owhi
Chief Owhi

This evening, Owhi, the brother-in-law of Kamiaken, came into camp, as he said, to make peace. I first saw him, as I did Kamiaken, three years ago at the Walla Walla council, where he opposed all treaties to cede their country, not only with great zeal but with much ability. His speech, of which I took notes at the time, particularly impressed me. It was thus:

“We are talking together, and the Great Spirit hears all that we say today. The Great Spirit gave us the land, and measured the land to us. This is the reason that I am ‘ afraid to say anything about this land. I am afraid of the laws of the Great Spirit. This is the reason of my heart being sad. This is the reason I cannot give you an answer. I am afraid of the Great Spirit. Shall I steal this land and sell it? or, what shall I do? This is the reason why my heart is sad. The Great Spirit made our friends, but the Great Spirit made our bodies from the earth, as if they were different from the whites. What shall I do? Shall I give the land which is a part of my body, and leave myself poor and destitute? Shall I say, I will give you my land? I cannot say so. I am afraid of the Great Spirit. I love my life. The reason why I do not give my land away is, I am afraid I shall be sent to hell. I love my friends. I love my life. This is the reason why I do not give my land away. I have one word more to say. My people are far away. They do not know your words. This is the reason I cannot give you an answer. I show you my heart. This is all I have to say.”

Defeated at the council, and the other chiefs agreeing to the cession of their lands, his next move was, in conjunction with his son Qualchien and Kamiaken, to organize the outbreak which took place the following winter. That was repressed, and now he has probably been one of the instigators of these last hostilities.

His greeting by Colonel Wright was stern, and the examination brief. A priest was sent for to act as interpreter, and give his answers. Colonel Wright had seen him three years before, in the former war, in the Yakima country, when he was treated with a leniency which, it was proved by the result, only emboldened him to further outrages. He then made pledges which he never fulfilled, and on this point he was taken to task. The Colonel has a peculiarly nervous way of putting questions.

Colonel. “Where did he see me last?”

Priest. “He saw you in his country,”

Colonel. “Where about in his country?”

Priest. “On the Natchess River,”

Colonel. “What did he promise me at that time?”

Owhi looked exceedingly pale and confused.

Priest. “That he would come in with his people in some days.”

Colonel. “Why did he not do so? (Aside. Tell the officer of the guard to bring a file of his men; and Captain Kirkham, you will have some iron shackles made ready.”)

Owhi hung his head and looked still more confused.

Priest. “He says, he did do so.”

Colonel. “Where is he from now?”

Priest, “From the mouth of the Spokan.”

Colonel. “How long has he been away from there?”

Priest. “Two days.”

Colonel. “Where is Qualchien?”

Priest. “At the mouth of the Spokan.”

Colonel. “Tell Owhi, that I will send a message to Qualchien. Tell him, he too shall send a message, and if Qualchien does not join me before I cross the Snake River, in four days, I will hang Owhi.”

When this communication was made to him, he appeared to lose all power over himself. He sank on the ground, and the perspiration came out on him in large drops. He took out a book of prayers, and in much confusion turned over the leaves for a moment, looking at the pictures apparently without knowing what he was doing, and handed it to the priest who was standing by him. He was then taken off by the guard and put in irons. When the messenger went off, he said he did not think Qualchien would come in.

Owhi and his son Qualchien are probably the two worst Indians this side of the Rocky Mountains. The son is even more notorious than the father, and therefore Colonel Wright has been particularly anxious to secure him. He has kept the whole country, on both sides of the mountains, in confusion for years. They are Yakimas, but are in this country a great deal, where they have much influence with the surrounding tribes. They are both known to have been engaged in a number of murders. The coat Owhi wore when he came in, was recognized by one of our herders as belonging to a miner who was murdered last spring. The herder was with his party, but escaped.

During the evening a party of miners arrived from Colville. They brought very unfavorable news with regard to the Indians that they could not keep any cattle, for they were at once stolen. These Indians belong to small bands, consisting principally of Okenagans, but including renegades and outlawed Indians from every tribe. They would not attack a party of any size, but cut off stray individuals. It is impossible, therefore, to bring them to a fight, but they will have to be hunted down like bandits.

September 24dh. About twelve o’clock today, there trotted out from a canon near our camp two Indian braves and a fine looking squaw. The three rode abreast, and a little way behind rode an Indian hunchback whom we had before seen in our camp. The three principal personages were gaily dressed, and had a most dashing air. They all had on a great deal of scarlet, and the squaw wore two ornamental scarf passing over the right shoulder and under the right arm. She also carried, resting across in front of her saddle, a long lance, the handle of which was completely wound with various colored beads, and from the end of which depended two long tippets of beaver skins. The two braves had rifles, and one, who was evidently the leader of the party, carried an ornamented tomahawk. With the utmost boldness they rode directly up to Colonel Wright’s tent. 1

Captain Keyes, who was standing at the time in front of the tent, pulled aside the opening, remarking, as he did so: “Colonel, we have distinguished visitors here!” The Colonel came out, and after a short conversation, to his surprise, recognized in the leader of the party, Qualchien, the son of Owhi, and one of the most desperate murderers on this coast. For a few moments Qualchien stood talking with Colonel Wright, with his rifle standing by his side. His bearing was so defiant that Captain Keyes, thinking he might meditate some desperate act, placed himself on his right, a little in the rear, with his eye fixed on Qualchien’s rifle, ready to spring upon him on the slightest demonstration.

In a short time Colonel Wright mentioned Owhi’s name. At this Qualchien started, and exclaimed, “Car? Where? The Colonel answered, “Owhi, mittite yawa. Owhi is over there!” When this was communicated, I was standing near him, and he seemed to be paralyzed. His whole expression changed as though he had been stunned. He gazed about him and repeated mechanically, “Owhi mittite yawa! Owhi, mittite yawa!” In a moment he made a motion as if he would use the rifle he held in his hand, and advanced toward his horse. He evidently saw at once that he had run into the toils of his enemies. The guard, however, had by this time arrived, and he was at once disarmed. On him was found a fine pistol, capped and loaded, and plenty of ammunition. Colonel Wright told him to go with the guard, to which he consented with silent reluctance, hanging back as he was pulled along, but evidently undecided what to do. He had not recovered from the stupifying effect of the news of his father’s captivity.

Qualchien was finely shaped, with a broad chest and muscular limbs, and small hands and feet. When taken to the guard tent, it required six men to tie his hands and feet, so violent were his struggles, notwithstanding he had at the time, an unhealed wound through the lower part of his body.

In all the battles, forays, and disturbances in Washington Territory, Qualchien has been one of the leading spirits. The influence for evil which he exerted was probably greater even than that of either Owhi or Kamiaken. Of the three, he was the most addicted to fighting and blood-shed. He has been directly charged with the murder of nine white men at various times. In the action of March 1st, 1856, on White river, Puget Sound District, in which Captain Keyes commanded, Qualchien was present with fifty Yakima warriors. Of these seven were killed. He went over the mountains, he said, “to learn to fight at night!”

Fifteen minutes after his capture, the officer of the day received an order from Colonel Wright, to have him hung immediately. When his fate was made known to him, he began cursing Kamiaken. A file of the guard at once marched him to a neighboring tree, where, on attempting to put the rope round his neck, the contest was again renewed. Bound as his arms were, he fought and struggled till they were obliged to throw him down on his back to fix the noose, he shrieking all the while: “Copet six stop, my friends; Wake mameloose nika, do not kill me; nika potlatch hiyou chickamen, hiyou-kitan, I will give much money, a great many horses; spore nika mama-loose nika hiyou siwashe silex, if you kill me, a great many Indians will be angry; copet six, stop, my friends!” The rope was thrown over the limb of a tree, and he was run up. Among those who assisted with great alacrity in hauling him up, were two miners, now in the quarter-master’s employ, who had been with the party which was attacked by Qualchien and his band some months before. His last words, as the noose tightened, were a curse upon Kamiaken.

It is supposed from this, that he was sent by Kamiaken into the camp, as a spy, to ascertain what we would do, and he looked upon him, therefore, as the author of his death. He died like a coward, and very differently from the man-ner in which the Indians generally meet their fate. So loud indeed were his cries, that they were heard by Owhi, who was confined not far from him. The old chief, in disgust, disowned him, saying, “He is not my son, but the son of Kamiaken,” meaning, that he had followed the counsels of Kamiaken.

We have reason to believe there was some treachery in his coming in, for he had not met the messenger sent out to him, but had either come in of his own accord, or had been lured by the little imp of a hunchback, for some pur-pose of his own. His expression, especially that of his eyes, betokened a diabolical satisfaction. As soon as Qualchien was placed in charge of the guard, the hunchback galloped on to the upper end of the camp, where he related to his people with savage glee the part he had taken in guiding the chief to our quarters. So notorious, however, was the character of Qualchien that his execution seems to meet with the unanimous approval of the Indians them-selves. When informed of it, their first exclamation always is: “It is right! It is right!”

The squaw proved to be his wife, the daughter of Polotkin. She was suffered to depart, and rode off with his companion.

It was reported next day in the camp, that Qualchien had a large sum of money concealed on his person. An order was therefore given to have him disinterred and examined, to prevent this from falling into the hands of the Indians. This was done, but nothing of any value was found upon him.

Is may be well here to anticipate in our narration, and give the fate of Owhi. After the execution of his son it was announced to him that he would be taken with the other prisoners and hostages to Walla Walla. He showed no signs of opposition to his being retained, but seemed to be contented with the arrangements made with regard to him. He therefore accompanied us on our march back to Fort Taylor, and crossed Snake River. Just afterwards, however, about ten days after his son’s death, one evening as we were crossing a small stream he became separated from the guard for a moment and left alone with lieutenant Morgan, by whose side he was riding. Suddenly, he sprang from him and dashed into the thick underwood. Quick as thought, the Lieutenant’s revolver was out, and he fired three shots, each taking effect, and wounding both Owhi and his horse. By this time, a private in the dragoons reached the spot, and gave Owhi the coup de grace by shooting him through the head. He died in about two hours.

Nothing has been done in this campaign so effectually to secure the future peace of the country, as the death of these two chiefs.Citations:

  1. For this description, as well as some other facts in this chapter, I am indebted to the notes of Captain Keyes.[]

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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