Homili, Chief of the Walla Walla
Homili, the chief of the
Walla Walla, lived in two places: a part of each year on the Umatilla Reserve with the
Umatillas, Cayuses, and other Columbia River Indians who were willing to stay there with
the government agent; and part of the year, indeed, the greater part of it, at what he
called his home just above the steamboat landing near the hamlet of Wallula.
On the Umatilla Reserve, Homili had good land, pasturage all
around for his pongees, and a good farm-house. He could raise wheat and vegetables, too,
in plenty when he could make his tillicums (children and followers) work for him. But
Homili was lazy and shift less, and just managed to say "yes yes to the good
agent, Mr. Cornoyer, and to keep a poor garden-plot, and let his many ponies run about
with the herds of horses which belonged to other Indians. Homili was always fat and
hearty, and he loved best his queer home just above Wallula. More than ten miles broad is
the strip of sand and gravel along the Columbia on the south side above and below Wallula;
the first time I saw Homili he met me at the steamboat landing. He hard with him four or
five very poorly dressed Indians, wearing very long, black, uncombed hair. Homili was
dressed up for the occasion. He had on a cast-off army uniform buttoned to his throat, and
an old stovepipe hat which had long since seen its best days. I wondered then how Homili
could have found an officer's coat big enough for him, for while he was not a tall man he
had looked shorter than he was. One of his tillicums could talk English a little and the
miserable Chenook jargon a good deal. He called all food "mucky-muk," and used
many queer words. He was the interpreter. Homili took me in at a glance: "Heap good.
Arm gone. Tillicum's friend." Homili's interpreter so delivered to me his first
message. I said I was glad to see Chief Homili. He and I would be friends!
Homili wheezed and stammered, while he laughed aloud. Homili
always laughed. "Heap glad for such friend. Come over yon way and see my house and my
tillicums. Homili has good heart, but poor house." Indeed his lodge, where torn
canvas was flying in the wind about some crooked lodge-poles, and where squaws and
children were hanging listless and idle near the opening, was a poor house. The wind was
blowing as it always did near Wallula. The sky was clear and it was a bright, comfortable
day in June. My aide, Captain Boyle, was with me, and we went on to Homili's lodge. He had
around him without any order rough, poverty stricken lodges or wigwams of different sizes
and shapes. His people with straight, black, coarse, disheveled hair, and ragged clothing
to match, appeared to my inspection about as low and forlorn as any human beings I had
ever seen. Cobblestones, thick in places, but usually scattered around, like potatoes
spilled from a cart, were strewn on a foundation of sand, the surface of which every fresh
breeze threw into the air. How could there be a more cheerless place to live in, where
sage-brush had hard work to grow, and nothing whatever could be planted with the least
hope of a crop?
Homili had a rough bench beside his lodge. He motioned us to sit
down while he stood with his Indian talker in front of us. As soon as he could get his
breath after our quick walk, Homili said: "This home better for Chief Homili ?"
"How is that, Homili?" I asked.
"Oh, Umatilla agent good man, but Umatilla Reserve makes
Homili a slave. Here tillicums all free, laugh and play, shoot sage hens, fish in the
river, do what they like. All his tillicums `heap good'"
I understood. "Anything more, Homili?" I
"Yes, Smoholly 's my friend, my priest. He dreams great
dreams, and he tells all the Columbia Indians, miles and miles up and down the great
river, about the Great Spirit; and often what 's coming. He cures sick folks by good
medicine and drumming He 's a great Indian-Homili's friend. Umatilla agent don't want my
friend says Smoholly makes trouble. Not so, he makes my heart glad.
That was all, and we parted good
friends. He rode a small half-starved Indian pony to see me off on the little "strap
railroad" that then ran eastward to Fort Walla Walla thirty miles away. From the back
platform of the only passenger-coach Boyle and I waved our hats to Chief Homili, for he
rode on the side of the train for half a mile. A good smart pony could have kept up with
that strap-rail train all the way, but thin grass, very poor sage-brush, and the fat
Homili riding, half the time, did not allow his pony either proper food or strength, so
that the good-natured, jolly chief and his mount soon fell behind what the Wallula white
people called the
"burro-cars." Homili, losing the race, took off his tall hat and shook it at
us for a good-by, and then turned back to the barren home of his choice. Two of his cross
yellow Indian dogs, more like young wolves or fierce coyotes than civilized dogs,
continued the race a while longer, hopping about near the engine and barking at the
fireman who threw chunks of wood at them. At last they turned toward Wallula, dropping
their tails behind them and looking at us as they passed for all the world as if they were
ashamed of such a slow coach as ours. So ended my first visit with Homili.
The next time I came up the Columbia I stayed overnight at the
Wallula Hotel, a funny tavern, where the partition-walls were as thin as laths. My friend
the tavern-keeper always gave me a room situated, as lie said, in the "bosom of the
family," where I could hear everything that took place in all
the house. I had hardly reached that lively inside room, when I was called to the
office. "Two Indians want to see the General!" so the office boy called
out at my door. On entering the office I met two Indian messengers with a white man called
Pambrun. Pambrun and could talk several Indian languages. He lived ten miles from
Wallula toward Walla Walla, and was much respected by whites and Indians. The Indian
messenger's speech was brief and clear, for Pambrun put it in good English. They had
paddled across the Columbia from Smoholly's village. He wanted General
Howard, the new commander of the soldiers, to come over the great river and see him and
his tillicums; they had come together from many tribes. His village was opposite the
Homili Falls, above where the Snake River comes into the Columbia. I told Pambrun to tell
the messenger to say to Smoholly that General Howard would remain the next day at Wallula,
and that if Smoholly wished to see him during the day he could do so by coming to Wallula.
The rumor which troubled all the Indians of that up-country was
that General Howard had been ordered by the Washington President to put them all on the
reservations to which they belonged.
The Indians went back to Smoholly with my message, but he was
afraid to put himself in my power, because he was the head and front of all the lawless
bands which went roaming over the country-Indians of whom the white settlers never ceased
to be afraid. Then Pambrun sent Smoholly word that "Arm-cut-off" (the name
Homili gave me) was a mild man and would do him no harm. Surrounded by a multitude of
harem-scarem tillicums, men, women, and children, Smoholly, the next day, early in the
afternoon, made his appearance at Wallula.
The tavern-keeper gave us the use of his tumble-down store-house,
an immense building large enough for Smoholly and his four hundred red folks to crowd
into. My aide, Smoholly, the Umatilla agent, Pambrun, and I sat upon chairs perched on a
long, broad box, which the tavern-keeper loaned us for a platform. It was a wild-looking
set of savages down there that I looked upon, squatted upon the floor or standing by the
back and sides of that roomy place. When Homili with a few followers came to honor our
talk with his presence, I sent for another chair and seated
him proud and laughing by my side. I took a long and searching look at Smoholly, and he
did me a like favor, as if trying to read my thoughts. He was the strangest-looking human
being I had ever seen. His body was short and shapeless, with high shoulders and hunched
back; scarcely any neck; bandy legs, rather long for his body; but a wonderful head,
finely formed and large. His eyes, wide open, were clear, and so expressive that they gave
him great power over all the Indians
that flocked to his village. That day Smoholly wore a coarse gray suit, somewhat ragged
and much soiled. Over his head was a breezy bandana handkerchief, two corners tied under
his chin and the wind, coming through the cracks of the store, kept his head cover in
motion all the time.
Smoholly, who had asked me to come, was requested through Mr.
Pambrun to tell General Howard what he and his followers wanted. Smoholly covered his face
with both hands and remained in silence like a man praying; then commenced his talk, using
short sentences. Pambrun translated each sentence into good English. "Smoholly heard
that General Howard, a great chief in war, had come to command all the soldiers. He heard
also that there was a new President in Washington. Indians call him Great Father. Major
Cornoyer, the Umatilla Indian agent, sent messengers to Chief Homili, Chief Thomas, Chief
Skimia, and to Smoholly with words: `Come on the reservation. All Indians come now.
If you don't come before one moon, General Howard, obeying the new President, will take
his soldiers and make you come to Umatilla or to some other government reserve.
Smoholly, the Spirit Chief of all the Columbia bands, who gives good medicine, who loves
right and justice, now wants General Howard to tell Smoholly the Washington law.
I answered: " I did not come to the Far West to make war,
but to bring peace. Major Cornoyer has the law, he takes the law to the Indians. We will
listen to him."
Major Cornoyer began: " You all know I am the Indians'
friend; my wife is an Indian woman, she is always your friend; the law is for all the
Indians to come on my reservation or some other, there are many other reservations. Why
not come without trouble I said: " Homili, I am sure, can answer that question."
Chief Homili hemmed and hawed, wheezed and laughed, and at last began his speech.
"Homili and his tillicums to go to Umatilla Reserve!
Cornoyer gives Homili leave to visit his home, the home he loves, right up there where the
winds blow, where the sand flies, where the stones are piled up. Smoholly is our good
friend and we like to see his face. Smoholly is wise and has a good heart. I am done.
I had no message from Washington, so I dismissed the council,
saying I would write to the President what Smoholly, Major Cornoyer, and Homili had said.
I was obliged to obey the President's law, and I think Smoholly would give good medicine
if he taught all the Indians to obey the Washington law. The advice I gave worked well.
Before September nearly all the Indians came to some reservation and were quiet for some
time. Homili, too, stayed more on the Umatilla Reserve, but he and his pony made frequent
visits to his wigwam among the stones of Wallula.
To keep the Indians contented, Cornoyer, helped by his Indian
wife, induced Homili and six other Indian chiefs to visit Washington. My aide, Major
Boyle, took charge of the Indian Delegation on the journey both ways. When some young
hoodlums in San Francisco saw them walking along Sutter Street, they put their hands to
their mouths and made as they thought an Indian warwhoop. Homili was somewhat frightened;
he thought it might be a white man's war cry, and he had no weapon, not even a bow and
arrows. He stammered and said, " Major Boyle, what 's that Insult unarmed
Indians! We treated you and General Howard better in Wallula. White folks-bad
On the overland railroad he liked most the barren sands and long
stretches of worthless country, better than cultivated fields, thriving villages, and
prosperous cities. "Bad lands, you say; I like best, more like my sand and bushes on
Homili saw the "Great Father," but laughed and
stammered too much to say anything except to Pambrun: " Tell the President that
Homili always has a good heart."
Homili got very tired of Washington, and was homesick all the
time. He kept saying "Moucho tillicums" (too many people). His face brightened
and his laugh had a happier ring when the steamer was going out of the Golden Gate into
the great Pacific Ocean. Then Homili stammered: "Home, home!" His mind's eye was
on the familiar scenes of the upper Columbia, and when the steamer had been a day or more
at sea Homili caught sight of the shore two or three miles to the oh, stop this boat and
let Homili go over there, he wants to walk!"
When I met the fat and jolly chief again he said: "You,
General Howard, may like Washington, but," shaking his head with a disgusted frown,
"Homili best likes his home by the Columbia River. Stones and sands and Indian
tillicums always kind, make him happy there."
Famous Indian Chiefs
Source: Famous Indian Chiefs I have Known,
by Major-General O.O. Howard, US Army, 1908
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