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No Catholics were Injured during Massacre

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During the massacre at Wailatpu and the succeeding troubles, no employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, no relative of such employees, no Catholic, and no one who professed friendship for Catholicism, was in any way injured. A heated dispute arose afterwards as to the relation of the company and the Jesuits to the murderer. Preliminary to a view of this question, it may be remarked that very little instigation would have been necessary to induce the Indians to act as they did. Sickness, from ills which were new to the Indians, was very prevalent and unusually fatal. Mr. Spalding says:

“It was most distressing to go into a lodge of some ten fires and count twenty or twenty-five, some in the midst of measles, others in the last stage of dysentery, in the midst of every kind of filth, of itself sufficient to cause sickness, with no suitable means to alleviate their inconceivable sufferings, with, perhaps, one well person to look after the wants of two sick ones. They were dying every day, one, two, and sometimes five in a day, with dysentery, which very generally followed the measles. Everywhere the sick and dying were pointed to Jesus, and the well were urged to prepare for death.” Although sickness was equally prevalent among the Americans – “Suapies” or ” Bostons,” as the Indians called them – the Indians professed to believe that they were being poisoned, and, in view of their peculiar superstitions, it is probably true that they did.

Dr. Whitman was treating many of them, and his treatment was generally made useless by their failure to follow his directions.

The idea prevails with many Indian tribes that the recovery or death of a patient depends on the good or bad will of the doctor, and it is not unusual, therefore, for Indians to murder unsuccessful practitioners, as, for instance, Tamouche, an old war chief of the Utes, is remembered by early settlers of New Mexico to have killed two medicine men, “under whose able treatment,” respectively, his first and second wives had died. Among the Oregon Indians this was a common practice, and, as this point has been controverted and left unsettled by previous writers, the following testimony is cited in confirmation of the statement. In 1843, Mr. Ogden, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, related the following event as occurring at a meeting for worship at the Dalles: “There was in the outskirts of the congregation an Indian woman who had been for many years a doctress in the tribe, and who had just expended all her skill upon a patient, the only son of a man whose wigwam was not far distant, and for whose recovery she had become responsible by consenting to become his physician. All her efforts to remove the disease were unavailing; the father was doomed to see his son expire. Believing that the doctress had the power of preserving life or inflicting death according to her will, and that instead of curing she had killed his boy, he resolved upon the most summary revenge. Leaving his dead son in the lodge, he broke into the congregation with a large butcher knife in his hand, and, rushing upon the now terrified doctress, seized her by the hair, and with one blow across her throat laid her dead at his feet.”

Major Alvord, who had enjoyed the fullest opportunities for investigation, reported thus to the government in 1853:

“A universal belief prevails among all the tribes (of Oregon) that the medicine man possesses wonderful faculties of conjuration, and a godlike power of killing those against whom he shall hurl his direful charms or glances. His mere look, if inimical to the victim, can kill. They will hide or avert their heads in his presence to escape his glances. Such is the fixed faith of these poor Indians, and I have had occasion to witness frequent instances among the Waskows, in my immediate vicinity. If once possessed with the idea that they are subjected to the dire frown of their medicine man, they droop and pine away, often refuse to eat, and die of starvation and melancholy, if not of necromancy – thus confirming and verifying, with their neighbors, a belief that this portentous power is actually possessed. The natural consequences of such deep rooted faith in these powers is that when a death occurs it is often attributed to the doctor, who is murdered by the relations of the deceased to avenge the fate of the victim. All the murders which I can hear of among them occur in this manner, and three doctors have been killed, in the last four months, in different tribes, within the distance of forty miles of this post (The Dalles). The doctors are often killed for the mere failure to cure a patient, though it is always attended with a belief, on the part of the bloody avengers, in his having exercised a malign or necromantic power. In a recent case, a doctor of the Wishrams, when the smallpox was raging, was foolish enough to threaten openly what havoc he would spread among them, making use of the pestilence to magnify his office; and, to surround his person with greater elements of power, boasting that he held the fearful quiver in his own hands, ready to hurl the arrows of death in any direction. The people rose in a body and hung him in the most barbarous mode. Tying his hands and feet, they put a rope around his neck, threw it over the pommel of a saddle, and, starting the horse, his life was taken in this shocking manner. It will be asked if these murders of the doctors are sanctioned among the Indians. The answer must be that the punishments inflicted are very inadequate and inefficient. A council of the head men is called by the chief, and he decides that a certain number of horses and blankets will be turned over by the murderers to the family or the relations of the deceased. It is remarkable that the murderer never attempts to run away, and, indeed, generally comes forward and confesses his crime. Strenuous exertions have been made by the missionaries, and the commanding officer of this post (Alvord himself), to induce the chief to cause punishment for murder to be made by hanging. As yet no such punishment has been inflicted. On the contrary, the effect of our advice has, it would seem, fallen thus far upon one of the doctors, instead of being used for their protection. I am informed that but two murders in twelve years have occurred among the Nez Perce, but they were doctors.”

In 1857, Special Agent Browne reported of the Indians on the Grande Ronde reservation (between the Willamette and the coast) as follows:

“They are unable to account for it, why they should die off more rapidly here than at their old homes, and whenever death occurs they attribute it to ‘bad medicine,’ or an evil influence put upon them by the government or its agents. Their own medicine men are called upon to counteract this bad influence, and if the patient dies it is considered that the operator is in league with other bad spirits, and they kill him. Sometimes they put to death the medicine men of other tribes. This gives rise to frequent and bloody quarrels, in which many are wounded or killed. It is almost impossible for the agent to preserve order among them. They tell him he has nothing to do with their customs, and insist upon U that he shall take no part in their quarrels.”

In 1881, Mr. Nash, an English settler in Oregon, relates the following as occurring on the Siletz reservation (on the Oregon coast) and coming to his notice:

“Some mistiness on the moral law yet remains. For instance, a murder was committed by three of them a month or two ago. It took place on the northern and remote part of the reserve, far away from the agency itself. Here lived one who, being a quack doctor, claimed the character of a mighty medicine man, having power to prescribe for both the bodies and souls of his patients. To him resorted many of his neighbors, whose faith in his charms and spells was boundless. He undertook the cure of the wife of one Charlie, and the poor thing endured his remedies patiently. But the woman grew worse and worse. Charlie and his friends debated the case, and at last concluded that if the medicine man could not cure the woman, according to his contract, and that she died, it would prove to them that the doctor was a humbug, and deserved to die the death. The catastrophe arrived, for the woman died. A council was held and due inquiry made. The decision was fatal to the doctor, and Charlie and two friends undertook to secure that no one else should be misled and defrauded by the quack. Proceeding to his house, away up north by Salmon River, near the seacoast, the three fell on the medicine man with clubs, and, despite threats, prayers, and entreaties, they beat him to death.”

This instance, for which, by the way, the Indians were arrested and punished, is the more satisfactory evidence of the custom from the very evident fact that the writer who recorded it did not know such a custom to exist. Some further instances will be found in subsequent chapters.

With such superstitions, and in the midst of general sickness, it was constantly reported among the Indians that Whitman was poisoning them to get their land for the Bostons. It is conceded that Joseph Lewis, Nicholas Finlay, and others were circulating, confirming, and magnifying these reports. The question still remains whether the employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Jesuits were doing the same thing. This is the definitive point in controversy, and it bids fair to take rank with other noted questions of sectarian persecution. It has been formally investigated and reported on by the Congregational Association of Oregon, the Old School Presbytery, the Cumberland Presbytery, the U. P. Presbytery, the Methodist Conference of Oregon, and other denominational bodies. They agree in holding the Hudson’s Bay Company and tho Jesuits to some extent responsible. Newspaper articles, pamphlets, and volumes have been written on this subject, which is far too extensive for full consideration in the space we can give it. As to the Hudson’s Bay Company, it can only be added here, to what has already been said, that the messenger who carried the news of the massacre down the river gave the Indians at the Dalles a magnified report of the outbreak, and, under the instructions of McBean, the factor at Walla Walla, gave the whites no intimation of it; on the contrary, he told them that four French employees of the company had died, and that he was going below to get others to take their places. Also, on August 21, 1848, during the operations against the Cayuses and other hostiles, by the provisional government, the troops seized at Wascopum 1080 pounds of powder, 1900 pounds of balls, 300 pounds of buckshot, and three cases of guns, consigned by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Jesuits, and at the same time the friendly Indians there sent away their women and children, and hid in the mountains, giving as their reason for so doing that the Cayuses had told them the French priests were going to furnish them plenty of ammunition, and they were going to kill all the Bostons and friendly Indians.

As to the Jesuits, the evidence is partly circumstantial and partly statements by the Indians. The consideration of the former would consume an undue amount of space; the latter is objected to by Father Brouillet. He says: “If, in most parts of the States of the Union, the testimony of Indians is never admitted as proof against the whites in any court of justice, it would be here inconsistent to make it the base of public opinion.” It is sufficient for present purposes to say that the Protestants have made a case on which most unprejudiced persons would respond “guilty,” though some might add “but not proven.” While passing this question, it may safely be affirmed, however, that the proven action of the Jesuit priests at the time was certainly not prompted by any motives of humanity. In proof of this I will quote but two witnesses. The first is Father Brouillet himself. He says: “I left (Umatilla) on Tuesday the 30th of November, late in the afternoon, for Tilokaikt’s camp, where I arrived between seven and eight o’clock in the evening. It is impossible to conceive my surprise and consternation, when, upon my arrival, I learned that the Indians the day before had massacred the doctor and his wife, with the greater part of the Americans at the mission. I passed the night (in Tilokaikt’s camp) without scarcely closing my eyes. Early the next morning I baptized three sick children (Indians), two of whom died soon after, and then hastened to the scene of death, to offer to the widows and orphans all the assistance in my power. I found five or six women and over thirty children in a situation deplorable beyond description. Some had just lost their husbands, and others their fathers, whom they had seen massacred before their eyes, and were expecting every moment to share the same fate. The sight of those persons caused me to shed tears, which, however, I was obliged to conceal, for I was the greater part of the day in the presence of the murderers, and closely watched by them, and, if I had shown too marked an interest on behalf of the sufferers, it would only have endangered their lives and mine. (He then goes to assist in burying the victims.) I assure you, sir, that during the time I was occupied in burying the victims of this disaster I was far from feeling safe, being obliged to go here and there gathering up the dead bodies, in the midst of assassins, whose hands were still stained with blood, and who, by their manners, their countenances, and the arms which they still carried, sufficiently announced that their thirst for blood was yet unsatiated. Assuming as composed a manner as possible, I cast more than one glance aside and behind at the knives, pistols, and guns, in order to assure myself whether there were not some of them directed towards me. Having buried the dead, I hastened to prepare for my return to my mission, in order to acquaint Mr. Spalding of the danger which threatened him; because on Monday evening (the 29th), when he supped with us, he said that it was his intention to return to Dr. Whitman’s on the following Wednesday or Thursday; and I wished to meet him in time to give him a chance to escape. (He then pays another visit to the captives and starts for the Umatilla, followed by his interpreter and one of Tilokaikt’s sons. On the way Tilokaikt’s son “fortunately” empties his pistol and forgets to reload it. About three miles out they meet Mr. Spalding, who at once begins talking.) While Mr. Spalding was asking me those different questions, I had spoken to my interpreter, telling him to entreat the Indian, in my name, not to kill Mr. Spalding; which I begged of him as a special favor, and hoped that he would not refuse it to me. I was waiting for his answer, and did not wish to relate the disaster to Mr. Spalding before getting it, for fear he might, by his manner, discover to the Indian what I had told him; for the least motion like flight would have cost him his life, and probably exposed mine also. (To the empty pistol?) The Indian goes back to the village. Spalding is informed of the massacre and takes to the woods. Shortly afterwards a party of Cayuses come up in pursuit. Brouillet returns to the Umatilla mission and all the priests remain there till the 19th, not daring to leave Young Chief’s camp for fear of the Indians.) On the 11th of December we had the affliction to hear that one of the captives had been carried off from the doctor’s house by the orders of Five Crows and brought to him, and we learned that two others had been violated at the doctor’s house.”

From this it appears that this very cautious man was restrained from doing anything in behalf of the captives solely by personal timidity; that, although so frightened, he remained in the Indian village overnight and about the mission in the morning, doing what under the circumstances was of no benefit to any one, when he might have left the savages he so feared at any time; that during nearly twenty-four hours after he learned of the massacre he sent no word of warning to any one, although he might have gone himself or sent his interpreter – a peculiarly significant fact, in connection with his constant fear for the safety of Mr. Spalding, whom he had left at the Umatilla, and who was expected at Wailatpu at any moment; that before giving Spalding any warning he begged the Indian with the “fortunately” unloaded weapon not to kill him, and the Indian at once went for assistance. Let us now look at a companion to this picture of cowardice, hypocrisy, or want of sense, as you may choose to call it. I quote from the deposition of Miss Lorinda Bewley.

Q. When did the priest (Brouillet) arrive (at Wailatpu)?
A. Wednesday, while the bodies were being prepared for the grave. The bodies were collected into the house on Tuesday evening.

Q. Did the Indians bury a vial or bottle of the doctor’s medicine?
A. They said they did. Joe Stanfield made the box to bury it in, and the Indians said they buried it.

Q. Why did they bury it?
A. They said the priests said it was poison. Stanfield and Nicholas were their interpreters to us.

Q. How did they obtain this vial?
A. The Indians said the priests found it among the doctor’s medicines, and showed it to them, and told them that if it broke it would poison the whole nation.

Q. Where did you spend your time when at the Umatilla?
A. Most of the time at the house of the bishop; but the Five Crows, most of the nights, compelled me to go to his lodge and be subject to him during the night. I obtained the privilege of going to the bishop’s house before violation on the Umatilla, and begged and cried to the bishop for protection either at his house or to be sent to Walla Walla. I told him I would do any work by night and day for him if he would protect me. He said he would do all he could. Although I was taken to the lodge, I escaped violation the first four nights. There were the bishop, three priests, and two Frenchmen at the bishop’s house. The first night the Five Crows came, I refused to go, and he went away, apparently mad, and the bishop told me I had better go, as he might do us all an injury, and the bishop sent an Indian with me. He took me to the Five Crows’ lodge. The Five Crows showed me the door and told me I might go back, and take my clothes, which I did. Three nights after this the Five Crows came for me again. The bishop finally ordered me to go; my answer was, ‘I had rather die.’ After this, he still insisted on my going, as the best thing I could do. I was then in the bishop’s room; the three priests were there. I found I could get no help, and had to go, as he told me, out of his room. The Five Crows seized me by the arm and jerked me away to his lodge.

Q. How long were you at the Umatilla?
A. Two weeks, and from Friday till Monday. I would return early in the morning to the bishop’s house, and be violently taken away at night. The bishop provided kindly for me while at his house. On my return one morning, one of the young priests asked me, in a good deal of glee, how I liked my companion. I felt that this would break my heart, and cried much during the day. When the tall priest (Brouillet), that was at the doctor’s at the first, was going to Walla Walla, after hearing of Mr. Ogden’s arrival, he called me out of the door and told me if I went to the lodge any more I must not come back to his house. I asked him what I should do. He said I must insist or beg of the Indian to let me stop at his house; if he would not let me, then I must stay at his lodge. I did not feel well, and towards night I took advantage of this and went to bed, determined I would die there before I would be taken away. The Indian came, and, on my refusing to go, hauled me from my bed and threw my bonnet and shawl at me, and told me to go. I would not, and at a time when his eyes were off I threw them under the table and he could not find them. I sat down, determined not to go, and he pushed me nearly into the fire. The Frenchmen were in the room, and the bishop and priests were passing back and forth to their rooms. When the Indian was smoking, I went to bed again, and when he was through smoking he dragged me from my bed with more violence than the first time. I told the Frenchman to go into the bishop’s room and ask him what I should do; he came out and told me that the bishop said it was best for me to go. I told him the tall priest said, if I went, I must not come back again to this house; he said, the priests dared not keep women about their house, but if the Five Crows sent me back again, why come. I still would not go. The Indian then pulled me away violently without bonnet or shawl. Next morning I came back and was in much anguish, and cried much. The bishop asked me if I was in much trouble. I told him I was. He said it was not my fault, that I could not help myself; that I must pray to God and Mary. He asked me if I did not believe in God; I told him I did.”

This deposition was taken December 12, 1848, and Miss Bewley’s statements are neither denied nor explained in Brouillet’s defense, which was published more than four years afterwards, although he was fully aware of the story she had told of her wrongs. He refers to it only in the extract quoted above, but his excuse for all other actions is fear. The Protestants say, the action in regard to Miss Bewley was part of an attempt to implicate Five Crows, the head chief, and force him to join the hostiles. Let us accept fear, then, as the true cause, it being more favorable to the Jesuits, and what a defense it is! Think of it! Six white men – four of them priests of the God of the widow and the orphan – to stand by thus and see a defenseless girl so treated by her brutal ravisher; to counsel and command her to submit, even after the savage had desisted; to say to her: ”How did you like your companion ?” “If you go to the lodge any more you must not return here.” “Are you in much trouble?” What a contrast is this with the noble pioneers of their order, who carried the cross through the Mississippi valley! What a contrast with the New Mexican padre of our last chapter, who saved an American soldier under surroundings of far greater danger to himself than these! What a contrast with hundreds of heroic deeds by the Christian fathers, all through the history of the frontier! And how deplorable that, in the minds of many, a foul blot has thus been put on the fair fame of an entire Church!

And what was the sequel of all this? The Indians, as we have seen, were made wanderers, until five of the most blameworthy expiated the crime of all. The Jesuits succeeded to the missions of the Northwest. Mr. Spalding, indeed, returned, some time afterwards, to the Nez Perce, on their invitation, but he was not sustained by the American Board, and, through various influences, abandoned the field in despair. He is remembered by their old people with the kindliest regard, even to this day. The Hudson’s Bay Company, in the course of the adjustment of damages under the treaty, filed its claims for itself and the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, against the United States, for £1,025,350, of which £200,000 was for the right of trade in Oregon; £300,000 for the right of free navigation of the Columbia River; and the remainder for losses, improvements, and 160,000 acres of land which they claimed to have preempted! They were allowed §650,000, or about thirteen per cent, of their claim, at the final adjustment in 1864, and that is quite as much as they were entitled to. Considering their action in Oregon, some have said they should have had nothing; but why not? Their action only adds another chapter to the history of frontier troubles for which England was responsible, and which Americans have patiently endured. On the bank of the Ohio River, eight miles below old Port Henry (now the city of Wheeling) was erected, many years ago, a little monument with this inscription: ”This humble stone is erected to the memory of Captain Foreman and twenty-seven of his men, who were slain by a band of ruthless savages – the allies of a civilized nation of Europe – on the 25th of September, 1777.” There are hundreds of graves, all through our territory, over which similar legends might most appropriately be written.1


  1. A movement has been inaugurated in Oregon for erecting a monument to the memory of Dr. Whitman. Mr. W. H. Gray, of Olney, Corresponding Secretary of the Pioneer and Historical Society of Oregon, has been designated as the custodian of subscriptions. The Presbyterian Church, as is generally known, reestablished its missions some years later, and, with other Protestant denominations, is now working successfully in this region. 

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