Joe Lewis

compiled by Stephenie Flora


Joe Lewis has been noted as one of the prime instigators of the Whitman Massacre.  As information has come to light over the years there has been little new information shed on this individual.  Where he came from and where he went remains a mystery.  He told many stories of his early life but they tended to vary depending on who he was talking to.  Below are observation made by those who had contact with him during those turbulent years encompasing the massacre.  He has been described always as a "halfbreed" but some claim he was Spanish and Indian, others Black and Indian and still others refer to him as white and Indian.  The cause of his death also remains undocumented.  Stories state that he was shot and killed in Idaho in the 1860s while robbing a stage.

" Joe Lewis was undoubtedly the one who shot Mrs. Whitman, and who took the lead in this bloody tragedy; and but for him, his teasing the Indians, and his false representations the Indians would never have killed their best friends and butchered the Americans. He told the writer he was born in Canada and educated in Maine. He was a good scholar and good mechanic, and had the appearance of an Eastern half-breed, spoke the English as his native tongue and was a devoted Catholic, wearing his cross and counting his beads often.  The emigrants of that year saw him first at Fort Hall, and Mrs. Lee testifies that he was several times heard to say, `There will be a change in that country (Walla Walla) when the Fathers get down.’ He told the Indians that he was a Chinook; that the Americans had stolen him when a child. He had grown up in America; knew the Americans hated the Indians, and intended to exterminate them; would send missionaries first, and then the multitudes would come and take the country. They better kill Dr. Whitman and the missionaries, and what Americans there were: they could do it and he would help them. They would receive plenty of ammunition from below. After the butchery he was protected as never an American was; went off with most all the money and valuables plundered from the helpless widows and orphans, and has been seen at north-east stations. [Memoirs of the West The Spauldings by Eliza Spalding Warren published 1916 p.119]

“Joe Lewis, the Catholic half breed negro and Indian who incited the massacre, was employed by Dr. Whitman to make coffins for the Indians and it kept him pretty busy.” [Oregon Journal, March 17, 1915 The Oregon Country, The Early Days by Fred Lockley; Elizabeth Sager Helm]

[Note: The following book, published in 1915, appears at this time to be full of errors.  However,  much of the information that has come to light over the years was not available to him at the time of his research.]

“To the above list it is highly proper that we add the name of Joe Lewis, a half-breed American, who, at the age of four years was rescued from the wild Indians in the State· of Maine, only to become, when he arrived at the age of maturity, wandered into the hospitable home of Mrs. Whitman where
, unbidden, he took up his lodging. The mixed blood that a vagabond of the most reprehensible character. In time he drifted west and lived exclusively with the Indians until he coursed through his veins seems to have created in his heart an undying hatred for the white race, and no sooner had he acquainted himself with the prevailing opinion which the 1ndians bore towards the Americans, than he, in a most cunning and heartless manner, proceeded to ply fuel to the already threatening flames.” [Waiilatpu, Its Rise And Fall by Miles Cannon p.100)

It may be proper to record at this time that, while the carnage heretofore noted was in progress, Joe Lewis, the halfbreed, whom some benevolent person had rescued from the Indians of Maine, and who had doubtless endeavored to bring him up to be a useful citizen, was frequently observed by the people imprisoned in the mission house, mingling freely with the blood thirsty murderers without.  He seemed to possess no fear for his own safety, and, moreover, was several times seen peering into the sitting room as if acquiring information for his savage colleagues.  His veins seemed to fairly have fairly tingled with hatred for the white race, one of whom had caused him to be brought into the world neither savage nor civilized, and the fury of his criminal nature was always manifest at even a suggestion pertaining to the white man’s religion.” [Waiilatpu, Its Rise And Fall by Miles Cannon p.121-122)

Mr. Rogers, following the suggestion of Mrs. Whitman, descended the stairs where he met Joe Lewis and Tamsucky who had called him. [Waiilatpu, Its Rise And Fall by Miles Cannon p.123)

“Miss Bewley went to the press and secured a blanket which she spread over the sufferer, and when all were loaded with clothing, Joe Lewis and Mr. Rogers picked up the settee and carried it out through the kitchen and the north door; they had not proceeded more than ten feet from the house when Lewis dropped his end and made fora place of safety just as a volley .of gun shots was heard from the hands of the fndians stationed to the east.” [Waiilatpu, Its Rise And Fall by Miles Cannon p.124)

“The Manson children, and the little Spanish orphan, were in the lodge of Nicholas Pinley hard by, and the Indians; with their coadjutor, Joe Lewis, being of a superstitious nature, and finding themselves quite ill at ease on such a ghostly field when the shroud of darkness fell, had taken their departure.” [Waiilatpu, Its Rise And Fall by Miles Cannon p.126)

Besides these there were the mission family consisting of the Dr. and Mrs. Whitman ; their seven adopted children; Andrew Rogers, teacher; Eliza, daughter of H. H. Spalding, aged ten years; two half-caste children, girls, daughters of James Bridger and Joseph L. Meek; two sons of Donald Manson of the Hudson s Bay Company, who were attending school; Joseph Stanfield, a Frenchman; a half-breed tramp, named Joe Lewis, whom Dr. Whitman had taken in and given employment; and another man of mixed blood, named Nicholas Finlay, making together seventy-two persons at the mission and mill, thirteen of whom were American men, besides several boys able to bear arms. [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.95)

“Excerpt of Letter from H.H. Spalding--From the white man who escaped and from the Indians, we learn that an Indian from the states,(Joe Lewis) 16 who was in the employ of Dr. Whitman, was at the head of the bloody affair, and helped demolish the windows and take the property.” [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.113)

“He repeated the story carried by Joe Lewis to the Indians, that Dr. Whitman was poisoning them.” [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.115)

One American shot another, and took the Indians part to save his own life. Allow me to draw a veil over this dreadful affair, which is too painful to dwell upon, and which I have explained conformably to information received, and with sympathizing feelings.  (The person here referred to was Joe Lewis, a half-caste American. It is just possible that the Indians compelled him, as it was said they did Mr. Rogers, to make a false statement, or to side with them; but the testimony of the captives made him responsible for the massacre. Mr. McBean was reporting to his superiors what he had learned from the only authority at hand.  [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.129)

In this council Colonel Gilliam offered to accept Joe Lewis in place of five of the murderers, but no agreement was arrived at, neither the other commissioners nor the Cayuses being pleased to consent. The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.185)

They reported that Sticcas had taken Joe Lewis, according to the proposition of the commander of the army, but that his prisoner had been rescued, and the property retaken which Sticcas was bringing to deliver up. [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.186)

I think Joe Lewis and others have gone to the Mormons. A few men, well selected, might follow them, and by sending on one or two men into the city accompanied by some of the Fort Hall people, they might be arrested. I leave this, however, to your own judgment.  Hoping that you may be successful in bringing thte war to a close, I remain, your obedient servant, GEORGE ABERNETHY, Governor of Oregon Territory [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.207)

CLEAR-WATER CAMP, 23d May, 1848.--We, the undersignejl, promise to pay to the Nez Percys or other Indians, or their agent, the articles, sums, and amounts annexed to our names, respectively, for the capture and delivery to the authorities of Oregon territory, any two of the following named Indians, viz., Teloukikt, Tamsucy, Tamahas, Joe Lewis, or Edward Teloukikt; or half the amount for any one of them. [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.212)

The witnesses at the trial did not always identify the murderers. They swore to seeing Tiloukaikt, his son Edward, Ishholhol, Frank Escaloom, Klokamas, Tamsucky, Joe Lewis, Tamahas, and Isiaasheluckus kill certain of the victims. Kiamasumpkin was not named by them, though he confessed his guilt by giving himself up.  [The Early Indian Wars of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor p.229)

“Mr. Canfield stated, “Saw Joe Lewis and a whole crowd of Indians and Indian women driving' our school children from the school door into the kitchen, with tomahawks, guns, and knives brandishing over their little heads and in their faces. My heart fainted for them, but I could do nothing.” [Memoirs of the West The Spauldings by Eliza Spalding Warren published 1916  p.21]

About this time Canfield saw Joe Lewis, at the head of a band of Indians break in the south door of the Doctor's house with his gun. [Memoirs of the West The Spauldings by Eliza Spalding Warren published 1916 p.23]

Mrs. Whitman had rushed to the window to watch the outside massacre, and Joe Lewis, half breed, seized a gun and shot her through the breast. [Memoirs of the West The Spauldings by Eliza Spalding Warren published 1916 p.24]

They had to place her on a lounge, and Mr. Rogers took one arm of the lounge and that same Joe Lewis that had shot her, took the other. [Memoirs of the West The Spauldings by Eliza Spalding Warren published 1916 p.25]


My name is Stephenie Flora. Return to [
Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.