Yakima Malcontents of 1856

One thing, of course, is to be remembered – there were all degrees of offending, from the active hostile to the almost neutral, just as there are in every Indian war. The worst of them all were Kamiaken, his brothers Skloom and Shawawai, Owhi and his son Qualchian, the Yakima malcontents of 1856, who had been roaming among the tribes, exciting discontent and committing depredations where they could Kamiaken was the most influential of them all. He was a man of unusual stature and remarkable strength. No man in the tribe could bend his bow. He was rated the best orator from the Cascades to the Rockies, and appears to have been inspired by a patriotic hope of throwing off the supremacy of the whites. In later years, when his plans were miscarried and his hopes of a great combination of the Indians against the common foe dashed to the ground, he refused to return to his own country, and, apparently brokenhearted, passed the rest of his days east of the Columbia. The Pelouses were next in culpability. They were a tribe of about five hundred, living along the north side of the Snake River. They were in three bands: Que-lap-tip, with forty lodges, camped usually at the mouth of the Pelouse; So-ie, with twelve lodges, was located thirty miles below on the Snake; Til-co-ax (Tel-ga-wax, Til-ca-icks), with thirty lodges, lived at the mouth of the Snake. The remaining Indians in the country between the Snake and the Columbia, some half dozen bands, were commonly called Spokanes by the whites, but the Indians gave that name only to the band that lived about the forks of the Spokane River. This was the location of that old landmark  “the Spokane House,'”‘ an old Hudson’s Bay Company fort, which appears on the old maps. The chief of this band was the celebrated Garry, often called Spokane Garry, who had been sent by Sir George Simpson to the Red River settlement for education at the age of twelve years. He lived there five years. At this time he was about forty-five years of age, was intelligent, spoke English well, and had more control over his Indians than any chief in the Northwest. He and his baud usually dressed in the fashion of civilization and were still Protestants in religion. Their conversion was the work of Reverends Walker and Eels, who established the Mission of Ishimakin (Chemakane, Cimiakin), while Whitman and Spalding were laboring among the Cayuses and Nez Perces. This Mission was on a little tributary of the Spokane a few miles west of Garry’s village, and was abandoned after the Whitman massacre. There was considerable coolness between the Spokanes and their then allies the Coeur d’Alenes, whose country joined them on the east, on account of religious differences, but they lived at peace with each other. The latter numbered about one hundred lodges and were under Vincent, who has been mentioned.

The Indians must be punished – that was evident – and active preparations were begun for putting a large force into the field. The priests came down and waited on General. Clarke, to explain the situation and offer their services in smoothing ” the wrinkled front of war.” Father Joset and Father Congiato, who was at the head of the Jesuit Missions, were sent back to the hostiles with instructions to tell them that the general did not ask permission to send troops through their country – that was his right; that he did not ask them to permit the road to be built through their country from the Missouri – that was the right of the government; but if they desired peace they must drive Kamiaken and all other hostiles of other tribes from their country, return all the property taken from Steptoe’s troops, and surrender the men who first fired on the troops in disobedience to their chiefs. To these terms, especially the surrender of the ‘prisoners, the Indians were not ready to submit. Their replies were written down and sent back by the priests. Polotkin (Saulotken, a Spokane) said, “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 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.” Milkapsi said, “I feel unwilling to give you up my three brother, 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 into my country.” Garry said, “You ask some to be delivered up. Poor Indian can’t come to that. But withdraw this one word, and sure you will make peace.” In fact, the Indians were more defiant than these messages would indicate. Agent Owen, who was among the hostiles on the Spokane, and could not get away without endangering his life, wrote on July 16th, “I have just returned from one of the blackest councils, I think, that has ever been held on the Pacific slope. Five hundred fighting men were present, elated with their recent success; the dragoon horses were prancing around all day; the scalp and war dance going on all night long.” Tie reported the Indians as saying, “Let Steptoe come; bring plenty of men; it will be dark, too dark to see; father and son will fall together. We will meet him on Snake River; burn the grass around and before him. We want more tine horses; the soldiers are the people we want to take them from. Steptoe may want peace; has he sent you here to ask for it? If so let us know on what terms. We will consider his proposition; perhaps we will make peace.”

Preparations for the campaign were not delayed while the Fathers were on their mission. All available troops were brought up from California, and the 6th and 7th infantry were ordered across from Utah. Colonel George Wright; commanding at The Dalles, was put in command of the main column, which was to move from Fort Walla Walla. At the same time a smaller column, having for its base Fort Simcoe, on the Yakima, was to scour the country north and west of the Columbia, and drive all the hostiles to the other side. It required some weeks to prepare for the march, as the stock of supplies at Fort WallaWalla was very low and everything had to be transported overland. A steamboat had been running on the Columbia above The Dalles, but it had recently gone over the cascades, and there was left no available means of transportation by water. The friendly Indians along the river were talked to and presented with medals. Among others thus munificently rewarded was Spencer, the unfortunate chief whose family had been so mercilessly murdered during the last war, and who yet had remained firm in his friendship to the whites. On August 4th a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, was made with the Nez Perces under Lawyer, Timothy, Joseph, Eagle from the Light, Captain John, and others, and thirty of them volunteered to accompany the expedition. On the 7th the column moved. It consisted of five hundred and seventy regulars besides the friendly Indians and one hundred employees, with two six pounders and two howitzers. They struck the Snake at the mouth of the Toukannon, three miles above the mouth of the Pelouse, and they built Fort Taylor and established a ferry. One company was left as a garrison, with most of the supplies, and the remainder, after spending three days in crossing, marched on northward. They found the grass burned for about twenty miles back from the river, but beyond that it was undisturbed. No resistance was offered to them, though they occasionally caught sight of parties of the hostiles, until September 1st.

The troops were then camped on the south side of the Four Lakes, ten or twelve miles southwest of Lahto or Nedwhuald Creek, a tributary of the Spokane. The largest lake is at the west, the second in size is two miles or more east of it; between them lie the two smaller ones, which are about equal in extent, one of them half a mile north of the other. At the northwestern corner of the second lake is a high hill, on which the Indians were seen in force on the morning of the 1st. Colonel Wright at once prepared to advance against them. Two companies of dragoons, under Major Grier, were sent around the hill on the west side to cut off retreat; two companies of riflemen, one howitzer, and the Nez Perces were thrown to the right between the hill and the lake; and four companies of infantry, under Captain Keyes, charged the hill from the southwest. The Indians retired before him, and on gaining the summit it was seen that the woods on the northeastern base were full of Indians, while on the open plain to the northwest were four or five hundred mounted warriors, riding furiously to and fro, and apparently eager for a fight. The riflemen dashed through the woods on the east, driving the Indians before them to the open plain. Captain Keyes’s command advanced steadily down the hill until they passed the dragoons, who dismounted and followed in the rear, leading their horses, until well on the plain. They then mounted and charged the Indians, who fled in every direction and were soon out of reach. They had lost about twenty killed and a number wounded. The troops had met with no casualty of any kind.

On the 5th the troops moved northward again. They passed the lakes, and, two miles beyond, entered the open prairie, where the Indians soon appeared, moving to intercept the force before it reached the next timber. They fired the grass on both sides and in front, quickly surrounding the little army with smoke and flame, under cover of which some seven hundred warriors opened fire on them. An advance was ordered, and the dragoons rode through the flames, chasing the Indians back to the forests. The pack train with its guard moved forward as speedily as practicable, and at every available point the howitzers opened fire, driving the Indians from their cover. The command was kept as much concentrated as possible, and charges were made from the lines at every opportunity. In this way the troops marched north for five miles, and northeast seven, going into camp below the mouth of the Lahto, after a march of twenty miles without water, fourteen of it under fire. The fighting lasted seven hours, and resulted in a loss to the hostiles of two chiefs and many warriors, including two brothers of Garry. The only casualty to the troops was one man wounded.

The Indians were now much discouraged. On the morning of the 7tli they called across the Spokane that Garry wanted to talk with the colonel. An interview was granted, in which Colonel Wright told him, “I did not come into this country to ask you to make peace; I came to fight. Now, when you are tired of the war, and ask for peace, I will tell you what you must do. You must come to me with your arms, with your women and children, and everything you have, and lay them at my feet; yon must put your faith in me, and trust to my mercy. If you do this I shall then dictate the terms upon which I will grant you peace. If you do not do this, war will be made on you this year and next, and until your nation shall be exterminated.” Garry went away, and soon Polotkin, who had led in the battles of the 1st and 5th, and had been conspicuous in the fight with Steptoe, came over with nine warriors. This chief was held as a prisoner, and also one of his men, who was recognized as having been recently at Walla Walla with Father Ravalli, and was strongly suspected of being one of the murderers of the two miners. On the 8th the march up the Spokane was continued. After proceeding nine miles, a great dust was observed in front and to the right, and Major Grier was despatched towards it with three companies of dragoons and the Nez Perce. Colonel Wright following with a part of the infantry. The dragoons found the commotion to be caused by the Indians driving their herds into the mountains; they charged, and after a brief skirmish succeeded in capturing eight hundred horses. The command then went into camp on the river. The case of the Indian taken with Polotkin was examined into, and it being found that he was one of the murderers, he was hung at sunset. On the next day Colonel Wright, finding it impracticable to keep the captured horses with him, many of them being very wild, selected a few to replace broken down animals in the command, and ordered the rest shot. The slaughter took up that day and the next, and during its progress the troops also killed a large number of cattle and destroyed several barns full of grain, and many caches of camas and other roots, berries, and other supplies. The horses belonged to and constituted almost the entire wealth of Tilcoax, the Pelouse chief, so that the blow fell in a good place. He had never been friendly, and for more than two years he and his young men had been stealing horses and cattle from the settlements, as he boldly admitted to Colonel Steptoe. On the 10th a messenger came from Father Joset saying that the hostiles were “down and suing for peace,” which caused a cessation of the work of destruction for the time.

The army moved on up the Spokane, without any resistance, to the northwestern extremity of Coeur d’Alene Lake, and thence around the northeastern side of the lake, over one of those most difficult of all highways, a mountain Indian trail. It was encumbered with fallen trees and boulders below, and obtrusive branches above, to such an extent that the expedition was obliged to move in single file almost the entire distance to the Mission, which is thirty-one miles from the outlet of the lake. This Mission was established in 1841, on St. Joseph’s River, but owing to overflows in that valley it was removed, in 1846, to its permanent location, on the right bank of the Coeur d’Alene River, a sluggish stream one hundred yards wide and twenty-five feet deep. The Mission is on a small hill, a fragment of an east and west spur of the Bitter Root Mountains, looking towards the north; below it is a small prairie, a mile in width and three in length, which at this time was under cultivation in crops of wheat, oats, barley, and vegetables, and dotted here and there with houses and barns. The principal building, the Church of the Sacred Heart, was quite an imposing edifice for such a location. The church proper was forty-six feet wide and sixty feet long, with thirty feet more in length, supported by heavy pillars. It was designed by Father Ravalli, formerly a professor of chemistry and philosophy in the Jesuit College at Rome, and was two years in construction. The only workmen were the priests and a few Indians, having for tools a saw, an auger, an ax, and an old jackplane. To the left of the church was the house of the priests, and again to the left were the storehouse, hospital, workshop and a building for the use of the Indians. The lake about which the country of the Coeur d’Alenes lies is some fifteen miles west of the Mission. It is irregular in shape, thirty miles long, varying in width from one to five miles. It is embosomed in beautiful mountains. The shores that are protected from the prevailing winds shelve rapidly; the exposed ones are shallow, with a pebbly beach extending a short distance out. It has two principal feeders, the St. Joseph’s and the Coeur d’Alene, both deep streams with scarcely any current. This is caused by the nature of the outlet of the lake, the Spokane River, which at a point ten miles west of the lake is confined in a narrow rock cañon, where it has an abrupt fall of eight or ten feet, known as the Upper Falls. Above this natural dam the water is really backwater, extending for a considerable distance up the principal feeders. It also causes quite extensive marshes, and in the spring season produces general overflows, the water having no ready outlet. The streams and lake abound in trout and are great resorts for waterfowl, as also are the marshes. The hills, which were largely covered with forests of pine and fir, abounded in large game. Such was the home of the Coeur d’Alenes, a tribe of about five hundred, of whom one hundred and thirty could bear arms. Their country was not easily accessible, and they were very jealous of intrusion, not even permitting the French Canadians of the Hudson’s Bay Company to enter it. Probably for this reason they received their name Coeur d’Alene, Heart of an Awl, or, as it is more commonly rendered, Pointed Heart. They were brave and warlike, and had many horses and cattle.

On the 17th, some four hundred Indians having assembled at the Mission, a council was held and Colonel Wright imposed his own terms, which were that they should surrender the men who began the attack on Steptoe; give up all property, public or private, in their hands, that had been taken from the whites; permit whites to pass through their country unmolested; and give a chief and four men, with their families, as hostages. These terms were accepted, and on the next day the march around the lake was resumed. The Coeur d’Alene and St. Joseph’s were both ferried, and from the latter, which enters the southern extremity of the lake, the troops marched southwest to the Lahto. There, on the 23d, the Spokanes were met in council. Garry and Polotkin were both present. There were with them some Calispels or Pend d’Oreilles (this name was probably Pendues Oreilles, or Hung Ears, originally), and members of other small tribes. Milkapsi was there also. He had lost all his haughtiness, and begged to be admitted to peace with the rest. His prayer was granted, but Colonel Wright took occasion to remind him of his letter to General Clarke, and call his attention to the ‘fact that the whites were not asking for peace. The Spokanes were all very penitent, and made fervent promises of future good behavior. They were treated with on the same terms as the Coeur d’Alenes.

While these movements were being made, Major Garnett had marched up the Yakima in search of the few hostiles who were on the west side of the Columbia. They were chiefly Yakimas, with a few Pelouses and other renegades. On the morning of August 15, 1858, Lieut. J. K. Allen, a popular and efficient young officer, with fifteen men, surprised the camp of Ka-ti-ho-tes, one of the hostile chiefs, and captured twenty-one men, fifty women and children, seventy-five horses, fifteen cattle, and all their other property. Lieutenant Allen was killed in the surprise; it is probable that in the darkness, it being at three o’clock in the morning, be was accidentally shot by one of his own men. Three of the warriors captured were found to have been in the party that murdered the two miners, and were shot. Another of the murderers had been killed while trying to escape during the surprise. It was ascertained of these Indians that twenty-five in all were engaged in the attack on the miners. On the 21st a detachment of sixty men went up one of the branches of the We-nat-che River, and, with the assistance of Ski-nar-wan, a friendly chief, succeeded in entrapping five more of the murderers, all of whom were shot. Another was found alone in the forest, and killed by the soldiers. A great terror fell upon all the wrongdoers. One of the murderers of Agent Bolen committed suicide. Six of the murderers of the two miners fled into the fastnesses of the Cascade Mountains; the remainder escaped across the river and joined Kamiaken.

On the evening of the 23d, Owhi, the hostile Yakima chief, came into Colonel Wright’s camp on the Lahto. He said he had come from the lower Spokane, and had left his son Qualchian there. Qualchian was an Indian that Colonel Wright wanted. He had been actively engaged in murders and robberies since 1855, besides stirring up discontent among the friendly Indians. In the preceding June he had been severely wounded in an attack on some miners on the We-nat-che, but had recovered quickly and at once resumed his evil course. Owhi was put in irons, and word was sent to Qualchian to come in at once; that if he did not come his father would be hung. He arrived at nine o’clock the next morning, and at half past nine was hung. From this camp three troops of dragoons were sent to Steptoe’s battleground. They brought in the two abandoned howitzers, and also the remains of Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Gaston, which were conveyed to Fort Walla Walla for burial.

On the 25th a number of Pelouses came into the camp. They represented that they had been with the hostiles, but that Kamiaken had fled over the mountains and they had seceded from him. The colonel seized fifteen of them, all of whom, on investigation, were found to have left their own country and waged war against the United States. In the troubles of 1856, which he had settled so leniently as to arouse the resentment of the Oregonians, Colonel Wright had promised these Indians severe punishment if found again with the hostiles. He accordingly hung six of the worst ones and kept the remainder in irons. On the 26th the command proceeded southwesterly to the Pelouse. Here, on the 30th, all of the Pelouses remaining in the country were met in council. Colonel Wright addressed them, reproaching them severely for their thefts and murders, and demanded the murderers of the miners among them. One man was produced, and hung at once. All the property taken from the whites was then restored. The prisoners seized as Pelouses were brought out, and three, who were found to be renegade Yakimas and Walla Wallas, were hung. A chief and four warriors, with their families, were demanded as hostages, and surrendered. It was then announced to the Indians that no treaty would be made with them at that time, but if they did as commanded, “a treaty would be made in the following spring; they were ordered to allow whites to pass through their country unmolested, and to apprehend and deliver into custody any of their nation guilty of theft or murder. This they agreed to do, and, after warning them that if he ever had to come into their country again he would annihilate them, Colonel Wright dismissed them. The objects of the expedition being now accomplished, half of the troops were left temporarily at Fort Taylor, and the remainder rendezvoused at Fort WallaWalla, where they were reviewed on October 5th by Colonel Mansfield, Inspector general of the Army.

Thus ended one of the most remarkable Indian campaigns ever known. In it two battles and a number of skirmishes occurred, all resulting in the defeat of the Indians with heavy losses; about one thousand horses and many cattle were captured, and either destroyed or confiscated; enormous quantities of supplies of the hostiles were destroyed; eleven murder’s and robbers were executed; the Indians who commenced the hostilities were surrendered; three large tribes and several small ones were reduced to abject submission; hostages were given by each tribe for their good behavior; and all this without the loss of a man. The expedition of Major Garnett resulted in the punishment of ten of the murderers, and greatly aided in the successful issue of Colonel Wright’s movement, but it met with some loss, chiefly in the untimely death of Lieutenant Allen. Still a further and more signal result of this war was yet to come. Lawyer wrote from WallaWalla to Governor Stevens, then in Washington, as follows: “At this place, about three years since, we had our talk, and since that time I have been waiting to hear from our big father. We are very poor. It is other people’s badness. It is not our fault, and I would like to hear what he has to say. If he thinks our agreement good our hearts will be thankful. Colonel Wright has been over after the bad people, and has killed some of the bad people and hung sixteen; and now I am in hopes we will have peace.” The letter was submitted to the Department of the Interior. There was a general move in favor of the ratification of the treaties. Lieutenant Mullan, who was with Stevens in the railway exploration, reiterated his prayers to the department in that behalf. Superintendent Nesmith, who had strenuously opposed them, now wrote that ” after a careful investigation of the subject ” he was satisfied that the treaties ought to be ratified, the country thrown open fully for settlement, and the Indians removed to reservations. The Indians, completely cowed, were ready to do anything to please the whites. With every force favoring the movement there was no longer reason for delay, so, on March 8, 1859, the Senate ratified the treaties with the Dwamish and their allies, the S’Klallams, the Makahs (of Cape Flattery), the Walla Wallas, Cayuses, and Umatillas, the Yakimas, Pelouses, Klickitats, and their allies, the Nez Perce the Des Chutes, Wascoes, and their allies, the Qui-nai-elts, the Flatheads, Kootenais, and Pend d’Oreilles, and the Molds. Thus, Governor Stevens was vindicated at last, to his own satisfaction, and the Northwest was put at peace for many years. Nevertheless it is true that peace could not have been made in 1856 if these treaties had been insisted on, and that war would have resulted from any attempt to enforce them during two years afterwards. The trouble was not that the general provisions of the treaties were not good, but that they provided for removing part of the tribes entirely from their native homes to the country of others. In fact this provision was not enforced for years after the treaties were ratified, and it produced trouble when it was enforced, as we shall see hereafter. There is little room for doubting that Garry was right in his theory, that in this particular Stevens ‘missed it.”

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886.

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