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Collection: Conquest of the Coeur d Alene Spokane and Palouse

Colonel Steptoe’s Report

On the day succeeding the return to Walla Walla, Colonel Steptoe dispatched the fol lowing report of the expedition to head quarters of the Department of the Pacific at San Francisco: “Fort Walla Walla, May 23, 1858. Major: On the 2nd instant I informed you of my intention to move northward with a part of my command. Accordingly, on the 6th I left here with C, E, and H, First dragoons, and E, Ninth infantry; in all, five company officers and one hundred and fifty-two enlisted men. Hearing that the hostile Pelouse were near Al-pon-on-we, in the Nez Perces...

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Dragoon Soldiers Retreat

Lieutenant Gregg reached the trail and following it soon overtook the advance companies, which had moved under some restraint, expecting him to join them, and the whole command proceeded rapidly onward. Specter-like, they galloped over high ridges, presenting a chain of fleeting figures that loomed strangely on the starlit horizon. Sinking again into deep hollows fashioned among the hills by the Great Architect, they formed a mass of darkness more dense than the gloom through which they moved. It was a hard ride, fatiguing alike to horse and rider. The unscathed soldier fought with his exhaustion to keep himself...

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Council Between the Officers

Captain Winder, next in command to Colonel Steptoe, Lieutenant Gregg, now senior dragoon officer, and Surgeon Randolph, having come together, fell to discussing their situation. They entertained no doubt as to the intention of the Indians to renew the attack, either during the night or on the following morning. Nearly destitute of ammunition, the command could hardly withstand a single onset. They were outnumbered five or six to one and should a determined assault be made upon them, and the ammunition become entirely spent the survivors would be helpless to prevent being slain on the spot, or captured and subjected to whatever manner of torture and death might suit the will of their savage captors. Being entirely surrounded, escape seemed almost as hopeless. While the Indians had receded from their positions of the afternoon, they nevertheless occupied points which must be passed in any attempt to get away. Yet the three officers felt that an effort to escape should be made, and that it should be attempted during the night. Captain Winder and Lieutenant Gregg approached Colonel Steptoe and informed him of their deliberations. The Colonel had turned the whole matter over in his own mind and was of the opinion that there remained no other course for them but to stay and die like brave men. He reminded them that no point of safety lay north of Snake...

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Battle at Tohotonimme

The portentous events of the day now fully impressed Colonel Steptoe with the danger that would be incurred by pressing his advance farther toward Colville and he determined, therefore, to retrace his steps toward Snake River. For potent reasons he desired to accomplish the return without a clash with the Indians. His light supply of ammunition and the overwhelming, well-armed force opposed to him augured much against risking an engagement. And, besides this, he had entertained no thought of projecting his command offensively into the country of the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene in violation of their avowed friendly relations,...

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Palouse incite Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Indians

Numerous indications of the recent presence of Indians were observed as the expedition proceeded north from Snake River. Evidently a considerable number of had gathered in the vicinity of Red Wolfs crossing and, being fully aware of their own guilty conduct and of the punishment justly due them, they fled to the Coeur d’Alenes and Spokane to incite among those tribes, if possible, a spirit of hostility toward the soldiers in the hope of thus being aided by their counsel and numerical strength. After marching eight days, Colonel Steptoe reached the Palouse River and on Friday morning, the 14th, when about to resume the march, some Indians appeared and informed him that the Spokane would resist his entrance into their country. Although entertaining the belief, as expressed in his letter to Major Mackall of January 29th, 1858, that there existed among the Spokane and other northern tribes such a state of feeling that but slight encouragement would suffice to engender hostility, he did not believe there had transpired any events of recent origin which might be considered of sufficient account to induce them to interpose hostile opposition to his advance through their country. The information created general surprise among the officers. The Spokane had heretofore been regarded as preserving a friendly attitude toward the whites; no depredations had been charged against them, and an officer of the expedition writing...

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Biography of Colonel Edward J. Steptoe

The available records of the Steptoe family go back to the year 1697, when Anthony and John Steptoe, brothers, located in Lancaster County, Virginia. From one of these was descended Colonel James Steptoe of “Hominy Hall,” on the Lower Potomac. Colonel James Steptoe arose in military rank from the militia of his colony, and his career in the profession of arms began with his appointment as captain of “a company of horse” in 1734, from which position he was promoted to the office of colonel. He was twice married, and there were born to him six children. One of...

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Biography of Captain Oliver Hazard Perry Taylor

Oliver Hazard Perry Taylor was the youngest son of Commodore William Vigneron Taylor of the United States navy. He was born at Newport, Rhode Island, September 14th, 1825. He entered the Military Academy at West Point July 1st, 1842, before he had reached the age of seventeen, and graduated July 1st, 1846. On the day of his graduation he was appointed Brevet 2nd Lieutenant, First dragoons, but did not enter immediately upon his duties. The company to which he was assigned was serving in New Mexico against hostile Indians, and it was there he joined it on October 25th,...

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Biography of Lieutenant William Gaston

William Gaston was born at Newburn, North Carolina, April 5th, 1834. He was the oldest of a family of three children of Alexander and Eliza W. Gaston. Alexander Gaston was a man who exercised marked local influence and was of some political prominence in his state. Among the public duties committed to him was that of representing Hyde County in the State Convention of 1835. Judge William Gaston, father of Alexander Gaston, served as a judge of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. He was also for several years a member of Congress from that state. The Gaston family...

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Indians Want Treaty Enforced

In forwarding a copy of Colonel Steptoe’s letter of October 19th to the head of the army, under date of November 4th, after detailing the instructions given the commanding officers respecting the uneasiness of the Indians, on the occasion of the conference at The Dalles, in June, General Clarke continued: “It is under these circumstances that Mr. J. Ross Brown makes (with what authority I know not) the declaration to the Indians that the treaties will certainly be ratified and enforced. How the interests of the government must be injured by having agents so little in accord will be readily seen; my influence with them (the Indians) ceases entirely the moment they distrust either my disposition or ability to fulfill promises made. I hope that the government will have time to notify me of its determination in the matter in time to prevent mischief. I believe the present treaties can only been forced by war, and hope this will be avoided by a new commission.” Added to this lack of harmony in declarations made to the Indians by government representatives, was the conduct of citizens who desired to settle upon land which was known to be claimed by the Indians. It will be understood that from time immemorial the nominal title to the whole of the northwest had rested without molestation among the various Indian tribes therein and that...

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Colonel Steptoe Marches North

Fort Walla Walla was built during the fall and winter of 1856, by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel E. J. Steptoe. With three companies of the Ninth Infantry he had arrived there late in the summer from the Nachez River in the upper Yakima country, with orders to erect the post. For many years prior to the establishment of this fort the Hudson’s Bay Company had maintained a trading post on the Columbia, at the mouth of the Walla Walla River, which it designated as Fort Walla Walla. The rude structure around which the dignity of the title centered was composed...

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Indian Grievances and Camp Stevens Treaty

Long before the Indian buried his tomahawk and ceased to make war upon the white man, the government adopted the policy of inquiring into the causes of his grievances and in cases where such grievances could be conciliated without jeopardizing the interests of the government or of bonafide citizens, that step was usually attempted. In the investigation of these matters it was found that in some instances the difficulty grew out of some act of the government itself, interpreted by the Indians to be detrimental to their interests; in some, from the wanton encroachment of irresponsible citizens; and yet...

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1858, A Year of Hostile Indians

The history of the United States presents some interesting features for the year 1858, the year in which the principal events recorded in this volume took place. The lines which a few years later marked the separation of the South from the North were being drawn and established with clearness. During this year the great Lincoln-Douglas debates were held. These discussions compassed the dominant political issues between the two sections of the country, and in them the attention of the entire nation was focused. Their results were widely diffused and far-reaching and attached to each of the participants his destiny in the presidential campaign which followed two years later. The laying of the Atlantic cable was completed, connecting the two great continents, and marking the commencement of an era of international business and political progress which has attained to an incalculable degree of importance. The discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak generated a riot of excitement throughout the country second only to that which followed the discovery of 1849, in California, and resulted in the migration of thousands of fortune hunters into this new Rocky mountain district. During that year almost the entire western and southwestern frontier, from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia, was infested with hostile Indians. No other year in the history of our Indian warfare has furnished a greater number of stirring events, and,...

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History of Steptoe Butte

The line of longitude 117 degrees and 8 minutes W. crosses the line of latitude 47 degrees and 2 minutes N. very near the summit of Steptoe butte. It is beautifully and symmetrically proportioned, being cone-like in shape; its north and east faces, however, fall away with greater abruptness than either the south or west elevations, the west being elongated by a ridge sloping from near its mid-side to the general level of its base. The steepness of the north and east sides is such as to render ascent from those directions laborious and difficult, even to the footman....

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Tradition of Steptoe Butte

In the fall of 1878 the family of which the writer, then a boy of twelve years, was a member, arrived in the Palouse country, Washington Territory, and secured temporary quarters on the Palouse River where the town of Elberton has since been built. At that time it was the site of a sawmill owned and operated by the well-known and highly respected pioneer, G. D. Wilber. One night during the winter that followed, in company with an older brother, we were driving the horses in from the hills to be stabled and fed. It was a most beautiful night. A full moon, high in the heavens, flooded the landscape with a mellow light of such transparency that one could almost have read common print in the open. The temperature stood at about fifteen above zero, and the winds, halted in their course, rested upon the land motionless and silent. A coating of snow about a foot in depth enveloped the country, and the accumulated frost clinging to the needles of the pine and to the twigs of the aspen glistened like tinseled drapings. The picturesque grandeur of the scene as it appeared at that hour of the night, duplicated on countless other nights, is still vivid in memory. Objects could be plainly discerned at a great distance; the outlines of the hills, each of which sat among the...

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Conquest of the Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Palouse

The expeditions of Colonels Steptoe and Wright into the country of the Coeur d’Alenes, Spokanes and Palouses were made without the blare of notoriety; they were not heralded by the press in startling headlines; nor were the minutiae of accompanying details flashed momentarily over convenient wires to an expectant nation. In obedience to orders laboriously conveyed to them, the commanders of these expeditions went forward to their duty.

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