Collection: Pacific Northwest Indian Wars

The Winter of 1855-1856

It will be recalled that Governor Stevens of Washington Territory had been marooned to the northeast by the war. Fort Bennett received him late in the day on December 20, 1855. He had exhibited a rare insight into Indian character in his masterly conduct of treaty negotiations. Governor Stevens had left Walla Walla in June, 1855, with an escort of Nez Perce and had spent some time in establishing a spirit of cooperation with the Kootenai, Pend d’Oreilles, and Flathead tribes before visiting the Blackfeet. In October, having concluded a treaty with the latter tribe, he prepared to return...

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Colonel Wright Arrives with his Regulars

On December 21, 1855, the volunteers in the Walla Walla Valley were faced with a new snow-fall followed by a temperature of 20 degrees below zero. Their equipment and clothing did not con-form to the needs of the weather. Shoes were worn out and many of the men improvised moccasins from rawhide. Blankets and jackets had worn thin. Camp was moved from Fort Bennett to a location several miles north of present-day Walla Walla. There was plenty of beef and ample supplies of potatoes in the new camp and these provisions were supplemented by recovered caches of Indian food...

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The Yakima War, 1855-56

Governor Stevens sent James Doty to notify the tribes of a series of councils to be held in May, 1855, the first of which was to be attended by the Yakima, Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Nez Perce. Kamiakin, chief of the Yakima, selected as the council ground a place in the Walla Walla Valley not far from Waiilatpu. Governor Stevens and Superintendent Palmer were escorted there by Lt. Archibald Gracie and 47 dragoons. The presents for the chiefs were stored at Ft. Walla Walla. Comfortable arrangements were made at the council grounds and on May 24th the first of...

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Battle of Seattle

Governor Stevens soon learned that, as an adjunct to the Yakima War, there had been serious outbreaks in the Puget Sound country and that there was every prospect of more to follow soon. Often designated as “The Battles of Puget Sound” or “The Battle of Seattle” they were really a part of the Yakima War and are detailed here not alone for their intrinsic historical interest but also to show the wide-spread disaffection of the Western Washington tribes. Kamiakin, principal chief of the Yakima, was adept in his use of emissaries to incite and to threaten reprisals on any...

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Affairs Other than Major Rains’ Expedition

Kamiakin was a man of mixed talents and many outstanding characteristics and easily the outstanding Indian personality in the entire Columbia Basin. He was tall, muscular, and very dark, with a bearing that was regal. He had condemned the Cayuses for the Whitman massacre but was true to his race and wanted only the peaceful possession of the country for his people. On the other hand, foreseeing the inroads of the white people and the ultimate consequences, he decided that the only way through which the Indians could continue to hold their lands was by the extermination of the...

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Pacific Northwest Indian Wars

The last of the Indian wars of the Pacific Northwest was fought barely three-quarters of a century ago. People still living have childhood recollections of those perilous days. Those wars have been adequately recorded, either separately or geographically by States as well as in the general histories. However, no one has heretofore compiled the story of all of them into a single history. The period from the early 1840’s to 1879 was filled with danger and death from the warring tribes and is replete with the struggles incident to the settlement of new territory. Blame for hostilities did not always rest with the Indians. These struggles brought out the best and the worst traits in men, white and Indian alike. Their history is sometimes poignant, sometimes tragic, and occasionally humorous.

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The Leaven Begins to Work

The first affirmative action was the formation of a company of about fifty officers and men under the captaincy of Henry A. G. Lee. It was to proceed at once to the mission station at The Dalles, to hold that place in case of trouble, and to await reinforcements. In less than twenty-four hours the company was enroute. On December 10 the Spectator at Oregon City reported editorially that publication of the issue had been delayed until the last possible moment in order that it might lay before its readers tie most recent news about “the recent melancholy intelligence and the consequences thereof.” A news item in the same edition told of the formation of the rifle company under H. A. G. Lee and said that Editor George L. Curry had accompanied Lee so that the Spectator could be furnished with messenger service bringing news from the front. Thus Curry became the first war correspondent in the Pacific Northwest. The same issue contained two letters to Governor Abernethy. One was from William McBean, the Hudson’s Bay official at Fort Nez Percé; the other from James Douglas, one of the Chief Factors of Fort Vancouver: These letters acquainted the Provisional Legislature with the first details of the Whitman massacre. The paper also printed the resolution of J. W. Nesmith calling for military action. Such was the condition of the territorial...

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Incidents – Coincidental and Following

While Kearney and Lane were busy with the foregoing, other Indian troubles were in progress. In May 1851, Captain William Tichenor, who was operating the steamer Seagull between Portland and San Francisco, announced that he intended to found a town on the Southern Oregon coast and build a road into the Southern Oregon gold district. He expected to set up a store for miners’ supplies and said that he had chosen a site. It turned out to be the place where present day Port Orford stands. He gathered a group of nine men led by J. M. Kirkpatrick to initiate the undertaking. Tichenor insisted that the local Indians were friendly but the men refused to go unless supplied with firearms. The Captain provided them with a nondescript assortment of weapons among which was a little old cannon with three or four shells, each holding two pounds of powder. Tichenor told the two men that he would reinforce them on his return trip in about two weeks, when he would also bring supplies. As soon as the ship had sailed from the townsite the Indians started to menace the small colony, which promptly set up log defenses on a prominent rock, since known as Battle Rock and now preserved as a state park. The colonists loaded their cannon and awaited developments. On the morning of June 10 the Indians gathered...

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A Change of Commanders

Colonel Gilliam decided to accompany the escort column, chiefly because he could take that opportunity for conferring with the Governor and of acquainting him with the situation, it being quite apparent that the peace commission had failed. Accordingly, Gilliam, with two companies and some casuals, left Waiilatpu on March 20. They camped that evening beyond the Umatilla River. There, when the Colonel was pulling a halter-rope from a wagon-bed, the rope caught on a gun trigger, resulting in the instant death of Gilliam. This left Captain H. J. G. Maxon as the ranking officer with the detachment. The Colonel’s remains were taken to the Willamette Valley for burial. Peter Skene Ogden wrote the obituary. Reports on the campaign were made to the authorities. The death of Colonel Gilliam had, in itself, nothing to do with the further prosecution of the war nor the failure to apprehend the murderers. The Colonel had been a self-willed man, heading a volunteer army, which did not conform very well to discipline. Gilliam and his paymaster had disagreed about the disposal of recovered property, which had belonged to immigrants, and which Gilliam ordered sold to apply to the maintenance of the regiment. He was accused by some of favoritism and of disregarding orders of the Governor. On the credit side he was clean, courageous, and energetic. But his death did provide cause for some...

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Events between the Cayuse and the Rogue River War

While the Cayuse War was in progress some tribes nearer the Willamette Valley took advantage of the absence of the many men at the front. Both the Klamaths and Molalla conducted raids. There was an attack in Lane County; cattle were stolen in Benton County; a farmhouse was attacked in Champoeg County. This latter instance is to be noted chiefly because a man today known only as Knox, but who was the first United States mail carrier in that part of the country, saw a man running from Indians and trying to gain refuge at the farmhouse. The mail messenger spread the alarm and about 150 men assembled and organized under elected officials. In the meantime the Indians had left the vicinity of the farm but when departing threatened all sorts of future depredations. The Indians camped on a creek several miles distant. The volunteers pursued, those on horses going up one side of the creek, those on foot taking the other side. The Indians spied the mounted men and thinking that they were being trailed by no others ran into an ambush by the foot soldiers. Two Indians were killed but no whites were hurt. Night came and with the dawn the pursuit was resumed. That day seven Indians were killed and two wounded while the volunteers suffered only one man wounded. The prompt action of these citizen...

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Bloody 1855

In October 1854, Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, notified the tribes with whom he had treaties, that Congress had approved them. However, there were some amendments to the Congressional legislation among which was a measure consolidating all Rogue River tribes into one, a provision which was traditionally unacceptable to the Indians. Another amendment provided that one tribe could be placed upon a reservation set aside for another. The Indians didn’t like that, either. In the early part of 1855, while Palmer was busily engaged with treaty matters in the northern and eastern sections of the territory, new troubles were brewing in southern and southwestern Oregon. About June 1, 1855, Jerome Dyar and Daniel McKaw were murdered on the road between Jacksonville and the Illinois River Valley. In the same month the Indians raided a mining camp, killing miners and made off with a large quantity of personal property. John E. Ross was Colonel of Militia in Oregon Territory and as such recognized a newly organized company of volunteers, the Independent Rangers, formed at Wait’s Mill on the Rogue River under the captaincy of H. B. Hayes. When the Indian Agent heard of the formation of this new company of volunteers he notified Captain Smith, in command at Ft. Lane. Smith set out with his soldiers to round up stray Indians and get them back on their reservation adjacent...

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The Cayuse War, 1848

The Kettle Boils Indian warfare was something based on surprise. Except in major battles it was a procedure of sneak and attack. It was a process of attrition, which followed a general pattern. Almost never did an attack occur at night, dawn being the favored time. Of course it brought tragedy in many forms, occasionally amusing incidents, and much wasted effort in futile pursuit. It was a hodge-podge of stealth, noise, disorganization and military precision. Until 1842 the few settlers in the lower Columbia and Willamette Valleys had been spared Indian warfare. The advent of white people had not reached the point at which the native tribes feared appropriation of the lands. True, there had been incidents around the borders of the roughly defined Oregon Country resulting in the killing of white men, but these had robbery for the motive rather than that’ of excluding whites from the territory. In 1828 a party under Jedediah Smith of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, coming up the coast from California, was attacked at a crossing of the Umpqua River near present day Scottsburg. Of the 13 men in the group nine were killed and all furs stolen. The other four eventually reached the settlements, Smith arriving at the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Vancouver and wintering there. When weather permitted, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent a punitive expedition against the murderers...

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