Preliminaries Before the Battle at Tohotonimme

The events of Colonel Wright’s expedition against the Indians who opposed the advance of Colonel Steptoe are set forth in detail and at length in his own reports and letters. These appear in full in the following pages with the interjection of such information from other sources as the author deems expedient for the purpose of rendering the narrative complete. Preceding the reports of the expedition is also the pertinent correspondence leading up thereto. Because of the exactness and completeness of detail which characterize these reports, written from the field, as they were, during the progress of the campaign, their value as historical matter could hardly be improved upon; therefore no apology is offered for their appearance in this volume.

In order to be in closer touch with operations which were decided to be necessary for the subjugation of the northern Indians, General Clarke, after receiving full intelligence of Colonel Steptoe’s defeat, proceeded to Vancouver, Washington Territory. In the meantime it had come to his knowledge that the Hudson Bay Company’s pack train at Colville, consisting of some two hundred horses, was about to start for Fort Hope to bring in the year’s supplies, and that it was intended to bring also about two thousand pounds of powder with a proportionate quantity of ball. It had previously been the custom of the company’s agent at Fort Colville to barter ammunition to the Indians, thereby securing peltry not only in the immediate trade, but equipping the Indians for further exploitation among the fur-bearing animals of the region. In like manner arms were also bartered, and, afterward, many of the guns captured from the Indians by Colonel Wright’s force proved to be of English manufacture.

General Clarke had learned also, from Dr. Perkins, who was at Colville for a short time after Colonel Steptoe’s engagement, that a Coeur d’Alene chief (supposed to have been Seltice), with eight or ten of his tribesmen, had arrived at Colville mounted upon American horses and having in their possession a number of mules which they were offering for sale. These Indians were much elated over their success, declaring that the soldiers were women and that they could whip any number of them that might be brought into their country. One of them exultingly waved the sword of Lieutenant Gaston in Perkins’ face, while Captain Taylor’s saddle, still bearing the stains of his blood, was strode by another.

General Clarke at once took these matters up with James A. Graham, chief trader of the Hudson Bay Company at Vancouver, and called his attention to the breach of national comity ‘which the furnishing of ammunition to the hostile Indians would constitute the company being composed of British subjects, operating in United States territory under an agreement and also of the light in which the purchasing of chattels taken unlawfully from the army might be held.

Graham immediately instructed George Blenkinsop, the company’s agent at Colville, to deliver to the proper authority all horses, mules and goods purchased from the Indians, which had been the property of the United States, and to make no more such purchases, and to suspend the trade in ammunition at Colville until the prohibition im posed on account of the present hostile state of the Indians should be removed. He directed also that any ammunition designed to be brought in from Fort Hope or elsewhere, be stored at Thompson’s river in care of the company’s agent at that point.

Father Congiato advised General Clarke of the repentant attitude of some of the leading Coeur d’Alenes, as explained to him by Father Joset, and appeared quite anxious that further shedding of blood might, if possible, be avoided. Father Congiato was willing to return to the Indians with Father Joset and with the latter put forth his best endeavors to bring about a pacification. General Clarke instructed the priests to say to the chiefs that if they desired peace, they must come to him, bring the things they had taken from the soldiers, give up those members of their tribe who were guilty of inciting the attack on Colonel Steptoe, drive from their midst members of other tribes and bands who insisted on war with the soldiers, permit them to hide among their tribe no more, and to offer no further molestation to citizens or soldiers passing peacefully through their country; that when they did this they could have peace.

The two priests journeyed to the Coeur d’Alenes, where they attempted to carry out the mission assigned them. They labored diligently, using all the powers of persuasion and diplomacy at their command, but without success. The fol lowing letters, each from a chief engaged in the fight with Steptoe, were forwarded to General Clarke by Father Congiato. In these letters are represented the sentiments with which the priests contended and which were afterward abandoned by the Indians through the terms of their complete subjection to Colonel Wright.

“The practice of the Indians is different from what you think; when they want to make peace, when they want to cease hostilities, they bury the dead and talk and live again on good terms. They don’t speak of more blood. I speak sincerely. I, Saulotken, let us finish the war; my language shall not be twofold; no, I speak from the heart. If you disapprove my words you may despise them. I speak the truth; I, Indian; I don’t want to fight you. You are at liberty to kill me, but I will not deliver my neighbors. If it should be my practice, I would do according to it, and deliver them. But that’s a practice of your own. Those Indians who are yet at peace, are biting me with their words, and cause me to get angry. Should they hold their peace, my heart would already be good again. On account of the gold, may be there shall be no end of hostility. If you want peace, let peace be made with all Indians. When you know my words, if you say well, that’s finished. I will be glad to, but my land I shall not give up. Until now, I was used to go to war against the Blackfeet and the Crows; but now I won’t move from my country.


P. S. One of my people went of his own accord to Walla Walla; Omatchen is his name. I would like to know what he told you.”


“I feel unwilling to give you up my three brothers, for I think though we fought, I won’t begin to make peace. I want you to begin if you want to make peace; come in my country. I don’t believe there is difference between us two in the hostilities; if you want to deceive me, we won’t have peace; if you don’t want to deceive me, I will see you. If I see you, I will be glad. I desire to see you; when I see you, I don’t think it will be difficult to make peace, to avoid more bloodshed. You killed three of my relations; it weighs heavy on my heart; I don’t like you to speak any more of the things you have abandoned. It was by the deceit of other Indians that I have lost my relatives, and that you lost some of your people. Though you think that I am poor, I do not think so. If you want to have peace, peace must be made with all the Indians of the country. It is not for your goods’ sake that I came to hostilities. As long as I live I don’t want you to take possession of my country. I don’t believe the words you sent me, but I don’t set great value on the goods you have abandoned. If you come further than the place where we fought, then I will disbelieve you.

My heart is made anew bad, for the news I receive. Tell your friends the Lager’s band (Nez Perces) to be quiet; if you come with a good mind, let none of them be along. I want to’ have a good talk with the soldiers, but I can’t when they are along; I don’t want to hear any more of their lies. Your soldiers, you have good chiefs; we have some too; I hope that on both sides they will be unwilling of more bloodshed, and that things will come to a good understanding. I have no mind to deceive you. When I shall hear you, I will tell you the truth, and throw away my bow and gun. Only when you come here, and you see me in want, you will be kind to me, and let me have means to kill my game. I wish to hear of you as soon as possible.



Chief Garry
Chief Garry

“You, General Clarke, you are my friend. I am very much sorry for the battle which took place. I think that you have fought for nothing. The blood of your soldiers and of the Indians has been spilled. If there should have been a just cause of fighting, I would not regret it; though there should be killed on both sides, I would not be much sorry for it. Now, I am at a loss what to think of it, for you say, you white people, this is my country; you, American and English, claim the land, and the Indians, each on his side of the line you have drawn. Then you make a useless war with Indians; you cause trouble to the whites living hereabout, and you have nothing to gain from this war. Now I hear that somebody you, perhaps, General Clarke want to make peace. I would be very glad no enmity should be left. I, Indian, am unacquainted with your ways, as you with mine. When you meet me, you Americans, you are ignorant of the uses of the Indians. When you meet me, we walk friendly; we shake hands. Two years after you met me, you American, I heard words from white people, whence I concluded you wanted to kill me for my land. I did not believe it. Every year I heard the same. Now you arrived, you my friend, you, Stevens, in Whiteman valley (Walla Walla); you called the Indians to that place. I went there to listen to what should be said. You had a speech you, my friend Stevens, to the Indians. You spoke for the land of the Indians. You told them all what you should pay them for their land. I was much pleased when I heard how much you offered: annual money, houses, schools, blacksmiths, farms, &c. And then you said, all the Cayuses, Walla Walla, and Spokane should emigrate to Layer’s (Lawyer’s) country; and from Colville and below all Indians should go and stay to Camayaken’s country; and by saying so you broke the hearts of all the Indians; and, hearing that, I thought that you missed it. Should you have given the Indians time to think on it, and to tell you what portion of their land they wanted to give, it would have been right. Then the Indians got mad, and began to kill you whites. I was very sorry all the time. Then you began to war against the Indians. When you began this war, all the upper country was very quiet.

Then every year we heard something from the lower Indians. I told the people here about not to listen to such talk. The governor will come up; you will hear from his own mouth; then believe it. Now this spring I heard of the coming of Colonel Steptoe. I did my best to persuade my people not to shoot him. He goes to Colville, I said, to speak to the whites and to the Indians. We will go there and listen to what he shall say. They would not listen to me, but the boys shot at him; I was very sorry. When the fight was over, I was thinking all the time to make peace until I was told that Colonel Steptoe had said, ‘I won’t make peace now with the Coeur d’Alenes and Spokane. I will first shoot them, (he said) and then, when they shall be very sorry, I will grant them peace.’ Hearing that, I thought it was useless for me to try to make peace; and when I hear now what you say, what you write here to the Indians, there is one word which you won’t do. Until now you never came to an understanding with these Indians to let them know your laws. You ask some to be delivered up. Poor Indians can’t come to that. But withdraw this one word, and sure you will make peace. Then, calling a meeting of the chiefs, you will let them know your law, and the law being known, all those who shall continue to misbehave, red and white, may be hung. The Indians will have no objection to that.

I am very sorry the war has begun. Like the fire in a dry prairie, it will spread all over this country, until now so peaceful. I hear already from different parts rumors of other Indians ready to take in. Make peace, and then American soldiers may go about; we won’t care. That’s my own private opinion. Peace being made, it won’t be difficult to come to a good understanding with these Indians. You, General Clarke, if you think proper to withdraw this word, peace will be easy. Please answer us, for we want it.



In receipt of Father Congiato’s communication, with which the foregoing statements from the Indian chiefs were enclosed, General Clarke replied:

Headquarters Department of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.,
August 19, 1858

Reverend Sir:
Your letter of August 3 reached me last evening, (18th). I find therein with more regret than surprise the failure of your efforts, kindly made, to avert war and the ruin of the people among whom you have been long laboring.

I knew the conditions I imposed would be hard in the opinion of the Indians; they were nevertheless called for by the case, and less cannot be demanded or received.

I found it necessary to ask the Hudson’s Bay Company to suspend all trade with the Indians in powder and ball; they have promptly complied and issued orders to that end; and also for the restoration of such public property as they have purchased from the Indians. Will you be so kind as to let this be known among the Indians. If it has no other good effect, it may prevent them from becoming hostile to the company, seeing they, in this, act on compulsion, not advice.
I must beg you to prevent the missions placed among the hostiles from giving them any ammunition until the return of peace.

The information you communicate of the peace ful and friendly disposition of the Flatheads and Pend Oreille is cheering and most acceptable.

With sincere thanks, sir, for the efforts you have made in the cause of humanity, and an earnest wish that your visit to the Flatheads may confirm them in their present disposition, that your own mission may be successful, and your return in safety and health.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. S. Clarke, Colonel 6th Infantry, Brevet Brigadier General, Commanding. Rev. N. Congiato, S. J., or Rev. J. Joset, S. J., Coeur d’Alene Mission, Washington Territory.”


In pursuance of orders from General Clarke, Colonel Wright mustered all the force that could be spared from Fort Dalles and on July 7th started for Fort Walla Walla. A large supply of rations and other army equipment was carried, part of which it was intended to store nearer the country upon which the expedition was to enter. By reason of the supply train, thus extensive, and the warm weather which prevailed at that time, the progress of the march was slow, twelve and one-half days being required to cover the distance between the two forts.

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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