Compiled by Stephenie Flora
copyright © 2004
The era of contact between the Indians and whites in the Oregon Territory had started in 1811 when some fifteen hundred Cayuses, Walla Wallas and Nez Perce had met with representatives of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company.
With a domain that stretched from the Snake-Columbia confluence across the vast plateau to the Snake borderlands, the Cayuses were truly a majestic tribe. Much of their influence they owed to the unpreposing animal that they had ridden to power. These sure-footed horses varied in color and stood twelve to fifteen hands high. It was able to withstand hunger and rough treatment and its speed and endurance were exceptional. In the early nineteenth century a Cayuse Indian owning fifteen to twenty horses would hardly be considered affluent. Wealthier owners kept up to two thousand for recreation, travel and trading purposes.
By the late 1820's, the importance of the Cayuses far outweighed their numbers. The deeply ingrained incursive life-style of the Cayuses had kept their numbers small. They were, in fact, the smallest tribe in the vicinity. The three largest Cayuse villages being: one under Chief Camaspelo on the headwaters of the Umatilla, another downstream on the Umatilla under two chieftain brothers, Five Crows (Achekaia or Pahkatos) and Young Chief (Tauitau), and a third on the upper Walla Walla under the aged Chief Umtippe.
Nevertheless, despite their lack in numbers, they still controlled the routes through which the fur brigades passed into the Snake Country. Dr. John McLoughlin, who was widely regarded as a stern disciplinarian of dissident Indians, handled the Cayuse with restraint.
Cayuse trade continued to be chiefly in horses, which never ceased to be an important measure of their wealth. However, the natural simplicity of their clothing and ornaments, in which, as with their horses, they had taken great pride, was compromised by trappings and ornaments obtained from traders. In some case, they had surrendered to the white man's style by sporting trousers, shirt and cap.
The migration of the tribe each year followed the same pattern. During February and March the tribe returned from its winter quarters. April brought the harvesting of the Camas root along the streams coming out of the Blue Mountains. A migration of forty to sixty miles took them into the Grand Ronde valley where this staple of their diet was plentiful. From six to eight weeks were given to the gathering and drying of this root. Around the middle of May the salmon arrived in the Grand Ronde River and some of the fruits in the surrounding area began to ripen. These were harvested and dried for later use. The mountains supplied bear, elk and deer.
The Cayuse legends stated that the present race of beasts, birds, reptiles and fish were once a race of men who inhabited the world before the present race. Although they were doomed to their present state they still retained their language had the power to convey this language to the people into whom they transfixed themselves. For the very important purpose of obtaining this power boys were required to leave the lodge and go to the Mountains alone where they stayed for several days without food in order to receive the powers of one or more of the beast, bird, reptile or fish. Some returned without any assurances of this kind, others believed themselves addressed and shared what the creature said to them, others professed great secrecy. Also at these times, they believed they were able to see what their future would be and the path they needed to take to secure honor, wealth and long life, how they could make themselves invulnerable and how to recover if wounded. One young man who believed he had gained these powers shot himself through the body in order to convince his countrymen of the strength of his invincability. The ball entered his abdomen and came out near the spine on the same side. Because he survived he was thought to be a medicine man of great powers.
Most of the efforts to cure the sick consisted of obtaining one medicine man to counteract the sickness caused by another medicine man. The healer called to his aid a number of persons to sing and beat sticks while the medicine man conversed in the language of the former race of men as delivered to him by the creatures of power. After a sufficient amount of time and display he proceeded to extract the evil by placing his hands on the diseased or painful spot and extracting the evil. The medicine man would then cast himself upon the floor with his hands in water as though what he had extracted had burnt his hands. He then would show what he had drawn out and throw it into broad space and announce a cure. When it appeared the prospect of death was near he often pointed out someone whom he said was causing the sickness and declared them to be a more possessed and powerful agent than himself so that he could not overcome them.
In the event of death, the medicine man watched the dying person to see if any expression was made by him to confirm and fix suspicion upon the person named. All were careful to remember if any hard words had passed between them and looked for any cause to confirm the suspicion. Very often in the case of death the medicine man was killed by a family member as compensation for the loss of their loved one. The medicine man also accorded themselves power over the winds, the clouds, the rain, the snow and the seasons. In short, all the desirable objects are looked to from this source.
The struggle for power and supremacy was great amongst the tribes. The Cayuse had dwindled in population. By 1841 one conservative estimate put their numbers at approximately 200, and their mother tongue was giving way to the more fluid speech of their more numerous neighbors the Nez Perces. If the best their Great Spirit could offer was only Indian knowledge, they believed it necessary to find an additional powerful Supreme Being. In their contacts with the traders they had heard of a new God, a new magic. Would this new magic bring them guns, blankets, and other goods that would restore them to power and prestige?
In 1834, the Cayuse Indians met with Methodist Jason Lee near Fort Hall. Although Lee decided to establish his mission in the Willamette Valley, a new hope for a mission in their country appeared in 1836 in the form of Rev. Samuel Parker. Parker was in the area to find a site for the proposed American Board mission that was to be headed by Dr. Marcus Whitman. Dr. Whitman and Samuel Parker had traveled together as far as the rendezvous that year. After much discussion it was decided that Whitman would return east, report to the American Missionary Board, and prepare for establishing a mission the next year. Meanwhile Parker went on ahead and scouted the area for an appropriate location. They were to meet the following year back at the rendezvous and continue from there.
As planned Whitman returned east where he conferred with the board on who would be included in the missionary party. In February of 1836 he married Narcissa Prentiss and almost immediately they began preparing to journey west. Marcus Whitman was to go as a medical doctor and the party was to included the Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife, Eliza (Hart) Spalding. The addition of Rev. Spalding created a problem. At one time, enamored with Narcissa Prentiss, he had proposed to her. She had turned him down and he had developed ill feelings toward her. While Spalding cared deeply for his wife, the affront he had suffered at the hands of Narcissa Prentiss Whitman was one that he had difficulty letting go of. The result would be disagreements and ill will throughout the term of the mission. Also joining the party at the last minute was William H. Gray, a confirmed bachelor who was to provide assistance in constructing the missions.
By early in April 1836 the Whitman party were assembled and ready to begin their journey west. Many of the early missionary marriages appeared to be more a matter of convenience and shared duty than of a romantic nature. Narcissa Whitman may have been one of the exceptions. In her letters to family there were numerous remarks that indicated her devotion and admiration for Marcus.
" I have such a good place to shelter - under my husband's wings. He is so excellent. I love to confide in his judgment, and act under him, for it gives me a chance to improve. Jane, if you want to be happy get as good a husband as I have got, and be a missionary.... [Narcissa Whitman, excerpt of Letter to sister Jane dated March 31, 1836 from on board Steamboat Chariton]
In keeping with her devotion to Dr. Whitman, Narcissa, appears to have been excited at the challenges ahead of her. From the beginning of the marriage and throughout her lifetime, she observed the new and interesting things that surrounded her and wrote of her impressions to family and friends in the east. Meanwhile, Eliza Spalding was in poor health after the still birth of her first child months before and the journey for her was to become a fight for survival. Adding to the discomfort was the close quarters in which the party traveled. There was scant privacy and little time to gather ones thoughts and strength. The final party numbered ten and included the five missionaries, three Nez Perce Indians (Richard, John and Samuel) and the two hired men, Mr. Dulin who was driving one of the wagons and Miles Goodyear, a 16 year old who wanted to go to the rendezvous to become a mountain man. (Miles later became well known in Utah history.) Their ensemble also included fourteen horses, six mules, fifteen head of cattle which included four milk cows. The quarters in which they slept was a conical tent that the missionary wives had stitched together from bedticking. It provided quite a sight to the mountain men who were to view it later on.
"Since we have been here we have made our tent.
It is made of bedticking, in a conical form, large enough for us all to sleep
under - viz.: Mr. Spalding and wife, Dr. Whitman and wife, Mr. Gray, Richard
Tak-ah-too-ah-tis, and John Altz; quite a little family - raised with a
centerpole and fastened down with pegs, covering a large circle. Here we shall
live, eat and sleep for the summer to come, at least - perhaps longer. Mary,
you inquired concerning my beds and bedding. I will tell you. We five spread
our India-rubber cloth on the ground, then our blankets, and encamp for the
night. We take plenty of Mackinaw blankets, which answer for our bed and
bedding, and when we journey place them over our saddles and ride on them.
The missionary party had missed the original connection with the fur company being led by Fitzpatrick. There was some speculation that the fur company leaders were hoping to avoid the addition of the missionaries and pressed on towards the rendezvous in a hurried manner. There may have been concern about the presence of two white women in a company containing so many men. Whatever, the fur traders' original plan they were beset by obstacles and were held up often enough that the missionaries finally were able to join them. There was mention made of some men decking out in their best attire and parading in a repetitive manner past the tent of the two ladies but no offensive overtures were reported.
Narcissa, for her part, was absorbing the new sounds and experiences and conveying them to family and friends at home. She appears to have a very romanticized opinion of all that was going on around her, including the Indian boys accompanying them. The indifference towards the Indians that history has attached to her character was certainly not apparent in her attitude during the journey. She also showed a sturdier side of herself than many expected to see.
" The Fur Company is large this year; we are really a moving
village - nearly 400 animals, with ours, mostly mules, and 70 men. The Fur
Company have seven wagons drawn by six mules each, heavily loaded, and one cart
drawn by two mules, which carries a lame man, one of the proprietors of the
Company. We have two wagons in our company. Mr. and Mrs. S., husband and myself
ride in one, Mr. Gray and the baggage in the other. Our Indian boys drive the
cows and Dulin the horses. Young Miles leads our forward horses, four in each
team. Now E., if you want to see the camp in motion, look away ahead and see
first the pilot and the captain, Fitzpatrick, just before him, next the pack
animals, all mules, loaded with great packs; soon after you will see the
wagons, and in the rear, our company.
"Here I must tell you how much good Richard, John and
Samuel - Pacific coast Indian boys whom Dr. Whitman had taken to New York with
him the year before - did us. They do the most of driving the cattle and loose
horses. Occasionally husband and myself would ride with them as company and
The intended date of arrival at the rendezvous was delayed by several days due to various setbacks encountered along the way. Knowing that those already at the meeting place would be getting restless, the company sent two riders ahead to let the camp know that they were on their way. In true mountain man custom, the Fitzpatrick party was met by numerous men on horses, shouting and shooting their guns in the air as a welcome. Among this group was mountain man Joe Meek. It must have been quite a spectacle for the new comers, especially the ladies.
Almost at once, Dr. Whitman was pressed into service providing medical care. The previous year he had removed an arrowhead that had been hooked into one of Jim Bridger's vertebra for several years. This year there were additional such wounds to tend, as well as new ones acquired during the days of the rendezvous. It was through his medical expertise that Dr. Marcus Whitman built substantially on the good will of the men in the company. As a missionary and doctor, Marcus Whitman was not the typical image associated with those professions. He had worked to learn the back country skills needed to survive in the wilderness and throughout his later life would always be found dressed in buckskins. In appearance and skill he mirrored more the mountain man than the missionary/doctor. Some of this perceived good will is documented in his letter to the American Board from the rendezvous.
"At Rendezvous on Green
River the same as last year we found a large number of Nez perce + Flathead
Indians even more than Mr Parker + myself saw last year, who had come according
to their agreement last year + at the request of Mr Parker, to take us to their
country. They expressed great satisfaction at seeing us, + that we had not
disappointed them but had spoken truth. On asking them what they would do for
us on the journey one chief said he remembered the talk we had with them last
year that he had kept it ever cinse that he then told us we should not want for
food and he was now ready to fullfill his promise. They were greatly interested
with our Females cattle + waggon. When we first met the Indians we did not know
of any other company with whome we could go and intended to accomodat ourselves
to their route although we might have to go out of our way to accommodate them
for Buffalo + should be detained for them to kill + dry their winters supply of
meat. But by the arrival of Messrs McCloud + McCroy (McKay) we are furnished with a
safe + direct escort to
It was with great disappointment that the missionaries discovered that Rev. Parker had decided not to return to the rendezvous leaving them undecided as to what to do next. It was their good forture to be allowed to accompany the McCloud and McKay party to Ft. Walla Walla. So, in is company, the missionaries pushed on. During the first week of September the Whitman party arrived at Fort Walla Walla. Against all odds, Eliza Spalding completed the journey. Her health throughout had been tenuous. Upon arrival they were received with great kindness by Mr. Pambrun. Lodging was secured for them and great meals were prepared.
With the Missionary wives settled the men went in search of a location for the missions. After several days, they selected a site twenty-five miles east of Fort Walla Walla at Waiilatpu [ "The Place of the Rye Grass"] on the lands of three chiefs: Umtippe, Waptashtakmahl, and Tiloukaikt; the other in the Nez Perces country about 100 miles from the former. It was determined that Dr. Whitman would stay at Wailatpu and Rev. Spalding woud settle with the Nez Perce. The building of the mission at Wailatpu was commenced on Oct 14th. The frame of the house was 30 by 36. The leanto was first to be finished making two bedrooms, a kitchen and a pantry. They moved into their new home Dec 10th, 1836.
Almost from the beginning the difference in cultures laid the ground work for misunderstandings and conflict. The few Cayuses who had not gone to hunt buffalo helped with the house building, but it was strange work for them. Women put up the Indians' lodges. It was noted that Narcissa, Whitman's wife, did not help with hers. One of the reocurring points of contension between the Cayuse and the Missionaries was over payment for the land the mission sat on. The Indians insisted they were promised payment for the land by Rev. Parker. Dr. Whitman stated that he was invited to come to their land and had made no such promise.
The first winter spent in
the new home went without much comment from either Narcissa or Marcus Whitman.
The first printed word comes in a letter from Narcissa to her family announcing
the arrival of her new baby daughter on Mar 14, 1837. Little Alice Clarissa Whitman was
an instant novelty with the local tribes and she became somewhat of a celebrity
in her own right. With assistance from the native wife of Mr. Pambrun
it appears that the birth went well and the health of Narcissa and the child
was never in question.
"On the evening of my birthday, March 14th, we received the gift of a little daughter-a treasure invaluable. During the winter my health was very good, so as to be able to do my work. About a week before her birth, I was afflicted with an inflammatory rash, which confined me mostly to my room. After repeated bleeding, it abated very considerably. Mrs. Pambrun had been with me two weeks previous to this, and has been much out of health. She, with my husband, dressed the babe. It would have made you smile to see them work over the little creature. Mrs. P. never saw one dressed before as we dress them, having been accustomed to dress her own in the native style. I was able to lend a helping hand and arrange the clothes for them, etc. Between us all, it was done very well. ... The little stranger is visited daily by the chiefs and principal men in camp, and the women throng the house continually, waiting an opportunity to see her. Her whole appearance is so new to them. Her complexion, her size and dress, etc., all excite a deal of wonder; for they never raise a child here except they are lashed tight to a board, and the girls' heads undergo the flattening process. I have not yet described my babe to you. I think her grandmother would willingly own her as one of her number of babies, could she see her. Her hair is a light brown, and we think will be like her aunts Jane and Harriet. She is plump and large, holds her head up finely, and looks about considerably. She weighs ten pounds. Fee-low-ki-ke, a kind, friendly Indian, called to see her the next day after she was born. Said she was a Cayuse te-mi (Cayuse girl), because she was born on Cayuse wai-tis (Cayuse land). He told us her arrival was expected by all the people of the country-the Nez Perces, Cayuses and Walla Wallapoos Indians, and, now she has arrived, it would soon be heard of by them all, and we must write to our land and tell our parents and friends of it. The whole tribe are highly pleased because we allow her to be called a Cayuse girl." [Narcissa Whitman, excerpt of letter to parents, brothers, sisters March 30, 1837]
In a letter to Rev. Greene, Marcus Whitman made only a brief mention of his new daughter. He expressed concern about the illness prevalent in the tribe. Many of the Indians in the area were suffering from sickness; primarily inflammation of the lungs. The sick accepted Whitman's medicine, but many found his cures of temporary benefit, for they did not take care of themselves and relapsed. It was Indian custom that if a prominent member of the tribe died at the hands of a medicine man, then the medicine man must give his life to avenge the loss. Chief Umtippe became ill and turned to Dr. Whitman. The doctor's medicine helped the chief survive, a fate better than that of a war-chief relative who, sick only six days, died at the hands of the Walla Walla tewat [medicine man]. The day the war chief died, Umtippe's younger brother, Isiachalakia (Wet Wolf), shot the tewat dead. All were avenged. From these developments, Whitman must have gathered that a doctor in Indian country had little security.
Whitman also expressed in his letter his
desire for tools and supplies in order to teach the Cayuse how to cultivate and grow their own food. He was
it was the only thing that stood between them and potential starvation. On
the surface, the tribe seemed quite interested in learning the process.
" Their sickness gave me much trouble from their love of their native
juglers for they are nothing less giving no medicine + relying solely upon
incantions The Cayuses show a strong desire to be taught + the only thing which
has given me trouble among them is their wish for me to become an oposition
Trader among them. They have seen a little of oposition in trade which has
caused them to think more of large prices for their beaver + horses than any
thing else. I trust they have now given up the idea of trade on our part. We
have made but little attempt to teach them except to sing with which they are
much pleased + adopt in their worship which they have at the Chif's lodge night
+ morning + sabbath forenoon. In the afternoon of Sabbath I assemble them for
worship + instruction My house was so small it could not admit many to our
family worship all would have been glad to attend. The presant worship of the
Indians was established by the Traders of the Hudson Bay Co. + consists of
singing a form of prayer taght them after which the Chief gives them a talk. It
has had a favorable influence upon them in rendering them more civil + little
addicted to steal. Some of the leading truths of Revelation have been taught
them. A system of punishment for crime established also by the traders has done
much good. I think there can be no doubt of their rediness to adopt cultivation
+ when they have plenty of food they will be little disposed to wander. So far
the Hudson Bay Company have furnished what we desired but much better farming
utentials could be Sent from the U States " [May 5, 1837 Dr. Marcus
Whitman, excerpt of letter to Reverend David Greene,
The following year revolved around establishing the mission, cultivating ground for food, instructing the Indians in growing their own crops and doing the missionary work for which they had made the long journey. Dr. Whitman was gone often attending to medical emergencies. Narcissa, for the most part, remained at the mission attending to duties there.
In 1839, on a quite Sunday afternoon, Alice Clarissa drowned. It was a devestating loss and though felt deeply by both parents, to Narcissa it was a punishment for caring too much for her daughter while neglecting her devotion to her Savior. In a letter to her sister, Jane, dated June 15, 1839 Narcissa wrote:
"Last Sabbath, blooming in health, cheerful, and happy in herself and in the society of her much loved parents, yet in one moment she disappeared, went to the river with two cups to get some water for the table, fell in and was drowned. Mysterious event! We can in no way account for the circumstances connected with it, otherwise than that the Lord meant it should be so, Husband and I were both engaged in reading. She had just a few minutes before been reading to her father; had got down out of his lap, and as my impression, was amusing herself by the door in the yard. After a few moments, not hearing her voice, I sent Margaret to search for her. She did not find her readily, and instead of coming to me to tell that she had not found her, she went to the garden to get some radishes for supper; on seeing her pass to the water to wash them, I looked to see if Alice was with her, but saw that she was not. That moment I began to be alarmed for Mungo had just been in and said there were two cups in the river. We immediately inquired for her, but no one had seen her. We then concluded she must be in the river. We searched down the river, and up and down again in wild dismay, but could not find her for a long time. Several were in the river searching far down. By this time we gave her up for dead. At last an old Indian got into the river where she fell in and looked along by the shore and found her a short distance below. But it was too late; she was dead. We made every effort possible to bring her to life, but all was in vain. On hearing that the cups were in the river, I resolved in my mind how they could get there, for we had not missed them. By the time I reached the water-side and saw where they were, it came to my recollection that I had a glimpse of her entering the house and saying, with her usual glee, "Ha, he, supper is most ready" (for the table had just been set), "let Alice get some water," at the same time taking two cups from the table and disappearing. Being absorbed in reading I did not see her or think anything about her-which way she went to get her water. I had never known her to go to the river or to appear at all venturesome until within a week past. Previous to this she has been much afraid to go near the water anywhere, for her father had once put her in, which so effectually frightened her that we had lost that feeling of anxiety for her in a measure on its account. But she had gone; yes, and because my Saviour would have it so. He saw it necessary to afflict us, and has taken her away. Now we see how much we loved her, and you know the blessed Saviour will not have His children bestow an undue attachment upon creature objects without reminding us of His own superior claim upon affections. Take warning, dear sister, by our bereavement that you do not let your dear babe get between your heart and the Saviour, for you like us, are solitary and alone and in almost the dangerous necessity of loving too ardently the precious gift, to the neglect of the giver." [June 15, 1839 Narcissa Whitman, excerpt of letter to sister Jane.]
The loss of her daughter and the constant pull upon her time was starting to take its toll. The house was small, the labors great, the cleaning constant and the privacy non existent. And, as small as her home was, each winter brought more visitors hoping to spend the winter at the mission while they made plans for settling the following spring. Not only were they joined by Presbyterian missionaries sent out to aid the mission but they were also called upon to assist the independent missionary who arrived in the area with no where to go.
Several diaries of visitors to the small mission made mention that Narcissa was short tempered and that she stayed in her room for long periods of time. She often took walks by herself and was found crying by the river more than once. Marcus, or "husband" as she liked to call him, was often gone on medical emergencies or mission business. When he was at home he was so busy that she hardly had a moment alone with him. Quarrels were prevelant amongst the group. The tension and unrest amongst the missionaries was not going unnoticed by the Indians. If everyone was the children of their God and if all were brothers and sisters, why then was there so much fighting?
And, the difference in cultures between the missionaries and the Indians was becoming harder for each side to understand and continued to be the cause of conflict. Whitman had only one wife while the Indians believed that when there were many wives they all "had more to eat". The missionary men did much of the menial tasks that the Indian wives were expected to perform which diminished their power in the eyes of the Indians. The subject of how Narcissa was treated also came up often. On preparing to leave on a trip one morning in 1840 Dr. Whitman was questioned by Te-lou-ki-ke. "Why do you take your wife with you to Mr. Walker's? Why do you not go alone? You see I am here without my wife? Why do you always want to take your wife with you when you go from home? What do you make so much of her for?"
With the expectation of future visitors from the various emigrations, Narcissa was pinning hopes on a larger home. Rev. Asahel Munger had designed one during his stay in the winter of 1838-39 and it was in the planning. But some of the frustrations of the present situation was conveyed in a letter to her missionary sister, Elvira (Johnson) Perkins, at the Methodist mission at Wascopam.
"Could dear mother know how I have been situated the two
winters past, especially winter before last, I know she would pity me. I often
think how disagreeable it used to be to her feelings to do her cooking in the
presence of men-sitting about the room. This I have had to bear ever since I
have been here-at times it has seemed as if I could not endure it any longer.
It has been the more trying because our house has been so miserable and
cold-small and inconvenient for as many people as have lived in it. But the
greatest trial to a woman's feelings is to have her cooking and eating room
always filled with four or five or more Indians-men-especially at meal time,
but we hope this trial is nearly done, for when we get into our other house we
have a room there we devote to them especially, and shall not permit them to go
into the other part of the house at all. They are so filthy they make a great
deal of cleaning wherever they go, and this wears out a woman very fast. We
must clean after them, for we have come to elevate them and not to suffer
ourselves to sink down to their standard. I hardly know how to describe my
feelings at the prospect of a clean, comfortable house, and one large enough so
that I can find a closet to pray in.
In 1839 a new threat to the missionaries had arrived in the form of Tom Hill. An educated Delaware Indian and an old companion to Kit Carson, he had seen the results of the land takeover by the whites in the east. Having married into the Nez Perce tribe, he was an eloquent and striking figure with an intense hatred for whites. Commanding in appearance and fluent in both English and Nez Perce, he related over and over again the fate of the eastern tribes and how the missions brought the white settlers to take over the land. He had gained an audience of several chiefs and over 1,000 followers. Soon Spalding was having problems similar to those of Whitman. Once he found himself with a cocked gun at his head. He brushed it aside and strode away. He was visited by a mob that threatened to horse whip him and his wife. And worst of all, an increasing number of the tribe had started to insult and harrass gentle Eliza. Vandalism was ongoing, with broken windows and broken tools an everyday occurence.
At one point Tom Hill arrived to talk to the Cayuse
where he gained support and sowed the seed of unrest. There was no end of Cayuse anxiety. Were the American
Board missionaries, from whom they had expected special
magic, saving it all for themselves? Were not the
missionaries rich and getting richer? Why could their
horses not graze on the land near the mission? It was
Cayuse land and there were no fences. And if the horses
were eating corn, was that not the fruit of the earth?
Soon the Indians were not merely asking questions but
striking blows, with Tilkanaik, in the summer of 1841,
delivering a sharp one to Whitman's chest in the continuing
argument over ownership of the land. There were numerous
incidents but during a confrontation in October 1841,
several Indians stormed the mission over the issue of
.... Tilkauaiks another Indian was most insolent because when some horses
were eating up our corn I sent some Indians to catch them. He said I was likely
to get the Indians whiped for if I sent them to catch his horses he should beat
them. At the same time he told me that he put them there because it was a shut
up place + convenient to keep them from straying + that if I had them put out
he would take one of our horses + ride it to hunt for his, untill he tired it
out + there leave it. I then told him that I thought our field was for a
plantation, + not for a horse pen but if he thought good to eat up our crops, I
had no more to say about it. He replyed that this was his land, that he grew up
here + that the horses were only eating up the growth of the soil; + demanded
of me what I had ever paid him for the land. I answered him - nothing - + that
I never would give him anything - He then made use of the word
"Shame" - which is used in Chinook the same as in English + also its
parrellel in Nes Perces. I then told him to wait while I spoke - I spoke to him
of the original arrangement for us to locate here + that we did not come of
our-selves but by invitation from the Indians, + that the land was fully
granted us - Here I left him - But in a short time one of the chiefs came to me
+ asked why I allowed those troublesome horses to eat up the corn? I related to
him what had just passed + said I had no intention to remove them. While I was
talking Tilkauaiks came along having overheard us + came up to me + exclaimed
that it was troublesome for me to talk so much + struck me severely twice on my
breast + commanded me to stop talking. I simply replyed that I had been in the
habit of talking from my childhood + that I intended still to talk.
A day or two after this a brother of Tilaukaik's named Mc Kay made a violent speech + forbid all the Indians from helping us - Still we felt no concern + intended to take no notice of these things nor to mention them - But the Superentendant of Fort Walla Walla Mr McKinlay sent up his Interperter to inquire about the affair as he had heard exciting stories from the Indians. I wrote him some of the preceding facts. but told him we were quite unalarmed. at the same time I mentioned that I feared Joe Gray (a half breed Iroquois + for a long time a Servent of the H. B. Co) but who was in the camp of the Waiilatpu + Walla Walla Indians from april untill Sept) contributed to cause this excitement - for I was told by an Indian after the affair that he had told Tilaukaiks while at his camp + fishery that we were rendering the Indians miserable + that we ought to pay for the lands. Joe Gray is a Romanist + held worship in the forms of that church among the Indians.
Mr McKinlay espoused our cause warmly + sent word to the
Indians that he felt the insult offered to us as offered to him + that those
who conducted so much like dogs would not be permitted to see him with
complacency - The Interperter added much to this according to the Indian's
Story. He told them that when Governor Simson heard of the Death of Chief
Factor Black (who was shot dead by an Indian in his own fort on Thomson River
last Winter) he felt that it was not to get his people killed that he sent +
had forts built + brought the Indians goods + that he at once resolved to come
himself + had gone past + was now in the lower country. He pointed to the fact
of the Company's bringing a large number of men in the country. (A large party
of settlers as half servants to the company were at that time at Fort W. W. on
their way from Red River to settle on the
After a meeting among themselves they came to have a talk with us. They came in by the kitchen door - a way by which they are not allowed to enter) went into the dining room + sat down Mrs Whitman came + called me as I was not at the time in the house. Mr G + myself came in We invited such as were still in the kitchen into the dining room + let in all who presented themselves at their accostomed door While we were talking Pelaistiwat an old Indian was threatning Mrs W with a hammer through the window in order to force open the kitchen door + at the same time Sakiaph who was in the house was trying to open another door in order to throw the house open. I told him to stop + I called on the chiefs to stop him but called in vain I then went + took the key from the door. He then went directly into the kitchen + removed the fastning + opened the door but I followed him + as he opened the door to let others in - I put him out + fastened the door then went back + sat down. Having taken the hammer from Palaistewat he beat the door + the other took a large American ax by which means they broke the kitchen door open + a hord of lawless savages entered + took possession of the house. Sakiaph came into the dining room with the hammer + Pelaistewat with the ax to attack us. Mr G met the former + myself the latter + disarmed them. After I had got hold of the ax I did not exert myself to take it away - untill I had waited to see if the chiefs would speak to restore order - but waited in vain. After I took away the ax he held to my collar + struck me with his fist on the mouth + tore my clothes Mrs W took the ax from me + Mr G put both ax + hammer up stairs. + we then sat down again. Sakiaph soon returned with a club + advanced upon me As I arose to take hold of the club I avoided the blow he was leveling at my head. For that I was much ridiculed by the Indians as fearing death. While I was telling them I did not fear to die if I did not partake of the sin of causing my death Sakiaph came in again with a gun + presented it to me + asked me if I did not fear death Two hired men were in the house by this time + one went + stood so as to command to gun. They persisted in saying because I said I was not afraid to die that I chalanged them to kill me; but I told them - no - I did not challange them nor did I want to suffer pain but still I did not fear to die as I had just said. At the same time I showed them the consequence of killing us + sending us in advance of themselves into the presence of God.
They now wished us to say that we would not shut any of our
doors against them + said if we would not we should live in peace We told them
as long as we lived + occupyed our houses - we should order our doors closed
+ if they
wished to live in peace they must not oppose the regalations we make. Tilaukaik
now exclaimed that it was impossibly to bully us into a freight. Waptashtakmahl
another Indian who had pretended to be very friendly during all the difficulty
said, that there was property in the house + that they were accostomed when
they had a difficulty to have it given them. I told them they would not get the
value of a single awl or pin for their bad conduct + if they wanted property in
that way they must steal it. He thought that very hard language. I then told
them that I felt that this was not an excitement of the moment - but that it
was the result of what Joe Gray told them while on the
As the Indians broke up they said they would go to the fort to see Mr. McKinlay who had dared to call them dogs. During the night Dr. Whitman a messenger was sent to the fort warning of the impending confrontation. Meanwhile, some of the party stayed near the mission, breaking windows and terrorizing the occupants. Several days later Dr. Whitman received a letter from Mr. McKinlay at Fort Walla Walla stating the outcome of the arrival of the Indians at his fort. Almost immediately, McKinlay called a meeting with them, telling them he wished to know their hearts. He stated that he would not trade one horse with them until he knew if there was to be a war or not. He stated that for his part he did not care one way or another because he had a sufficient number of men to protect himself and that if harm came to the Whitmans he would send to Chief Factor McLoughlin for enough men to revenge all that were killed. However, if they were willing to acknowledge their faults and promise better conduct in the future all would be forgotten.
"Feather Cap, (Waptashtakmahl) McKay + Tilaukaik all spoke one after the other. It is unnecessary for me to tell you all that they said at present. Let it suffice therefore till we meet that what one and all of them said expressed deep contrition for what had passed and made many promises that they would conduct themselves well in future. In fact they spoke most reasonable and acknowledged that they were altogether in the wrong. I then told them that I was very willing to blot out of my memory their dogly conduct - and that I was sure you would do so likewise so I think you will find it to the advantage of all concerned to forget + forgive the past. But pray put your face against paying them for their bad conduct. In hopes that you will agree with me in my plans I remain your sincere well wisher Arch McKinlay [Archibald McKinlay, excerpt of letter to Marcus Whitman dated Oct 4, 1841]
On Tuesday Oct 5th the missionaries called the Indians together to hold a talk in an attempt to gain a full understanding of some of the points of contention. An interpreter used at Fort Walla Walla was there to help with the talk. It was told to the participants that if they were not willing to protect the missionaries and the mission and enforce good order that the missionaries would leave. It was said that the missionaries had come to teach and not to fight.
The former agitators were very full in their expressions of sorrow for their past conduct - but Waptashtakmahl who asked for goods + had pretended to be friendly in this case also showed his duplicity + how loth he was to relinquish the hope of getting property as he has also at other times since. A brother of his called Ishishkaiskais not at the time at the station. but who soon after arrived made a feast at which as usual on such ocasions subjects of interest were discused. He then proposed to require of us that we must distribute cattle among them or else they would require us to leave. - Waptashtakmahl consented to the same. But Tilaukaik who had been the principal agitator before intreated them not to do it - assuring them they would not extort cattle by fear + desiring them not to follow in his bad track for which he had justly been censured by the Superentendant at Walla Walla. + incured the name of a dog. It is said this brought tears into the eyes of Ishishkaiskais + a promise that he would not name the thing again. Kamashpalu who also had arrived since the disturbance said he advised all to be still + say no more about causing themselves to be paid for the land wood water +c. He did not think we expected such things when we located on these vacant lands. We cannot but hope that this will open their eyes + cause them to feel that they have nothing to hope for from violence or any effort to freighten us, but that all it can possibly do will be to drive us away + cause us to remove every thing we possibly could.
From the commencement of this station to the present time it has constantly been a point with some one or more to be urging for property to be given them to keep them in subjection to order. First it was in the person of Iumtipi now dead, + now in his brothers Waptashtakmahl + Ishishkaiskais. I do not think we shall again be molested on these points very soon.
They now feel that it is by a very slight hold by which we
are kept among them. We made them feel that not a thing we possessed was our
own + that we lost nothing by leaving but on the other hand we were likely to
feel it a privalege to work for our own support + emolument. That if we left
them it was only necessary to return to the Board what we held in trust + then
labour for ourselves. It is difficult for them to feel but that we are rich +
getting rich by the houses we dwell in - the clothes we ware + hang out to dry
after washing from week to week - + the grain we consume in our families. [November 11, 1841 Dr. Whitman, Waiilatpu
Mission, excerpt of letter to Reverend David Greene,
The following winter Whitman left for the east to gain
support for his mission. The discord and petty grievances that were rampant
among the missionary families were starting to reach the American Board. Dr.
Whitman felt it was imperative to address the situation in person and at the
same time attempt to acquire funds to help sustain the mission.
At his departure, rumors were persistent among the
Indians that he was planning to return with men to fight
them. When Whitman returned in late fall with a party of
emigrants, the apprehension of the Indians was somewhat
softened by the opportunity to trade. But, it was short lived because as preceding
emigrations appeared tensions once again rose and the Cayuse became increasingly hostile.
In 1842 things once again came to a head when Dr. Whitman confronted the
tribe over their custom of demanding retribution for the death of a member of
"I should like to give you the transactions
of this day, and will if I can gather strength to do it. I was sick last night,
with a severe headache, and have been so frightened to-day that I have not much
strength of nerve left. The Indians are just now returning from their wintering
quarters, and some of the Nez Perces have been serving the devil faithfully,
especially those who spent their winter on the Columbia River below, in the
region of the Des Chutes and Dalles. A young Nez Perces that had been to the
Red River school died last summer. A brother of his, and three other principal
men, managed to frighten the River Indians, as being the cause of his death,
and compelled them to give many horses and much property, as a compensation, to
keep them from other acts of violence upon them. Husband, learning of their
base conduct, took advantage of their passing, on their way to Mr. S.'s
station, to reprove them for what they had done. These men are all firm
believers in the te-wats, or medicine men. This is a crying sin among them.
They believe that the te-wat can kill or make alive at his pleasure.
Him-in-il-ip-il-ip, one of the two that was so excited about his bad conduct being told him so plainly, promised before he left the place that he would restore the property he had so unjustly taken. About two or three weeks after the above transaction Ap-ash-wa-kai-kin came into camp. Husband was away at the time--he had gone about a day's ride to visit a sick woman, the wife of the Catholic, and spent the Sabbath with them, as there were many Indians there. He did not, however, after his return, find it convenient to converse with him under two or three days. But it was like a thunder-bolt to him, for it appeared that no one had told him of the transactions of the others. It was in the evening and we were alone with him--he raged and threatened and said he wondered how they had allowed him to escape--although husband had told him as mildly and affectionately as possible. He soon flew out of the house in great anger--leaving the door open behind him and went to his lodge and hid himself from us for several days. Before this conversation took place, he was eager to obtain a plough, but husband wished to see this business settled before he could oblige him. He finally promised before he left the place that he, also, would make restitution, and parted good friends." [Narcissa Whitman, Letter to Sister Jane Feb 2. 1842]
This event was one of many that were continually occuring. Equally contradictory to the Indians was the concepts of hospitality. When Mrs. Whitman took a little Indian boy into her home, his relatives, who had abandoned him, believed that such generosity should have extended to them. It was also noticed by the Indians that the missionary lady did not welcome them into her house, not even to eat, or worse yet, to worship. Why were they scolded for looking through the windows of the house? After all, they had helped build it and it was on their land. And why did the missionaries extend their hospitality to travelers when they did not extend it to the ones they called their children?
After attending to the duties of the morning,
and as I was nearly done hearing my children read, two native women came in
bringing a miserable looking child, a boy between three and four years old, and
wished me to take him. He is nearly naked, and they said his mother had thrown
him away and gone off with another Indian. His father is a Spaniard and is in
the mountains. It has been living with its grandmother the winter past, who is
an old and adulterous woman and has no compassion for it. Its mother has
several others by different white men, and one by an Indian, who are treated
miserably and scarcely subsist. My feelings were greatly excited for the poor
child and felt a great disposition to take him. Soon after the old grandmother
came in and said she would take him to Walla Walla and dispose of him, there
and accordingly took him away. Some of the women who were in, compassionated
his case and followed after her and would not let her take him away, and
returned with him again this eve to see what I would do about him. I told her I
could not tell because my husband was gone. What I fear most is that after I have
kept him awhile some of his relatives will come and take him away and my labour
will be lost or worse than lost. I, however, told them they might take him away
and bring him again in the morning, and in the meantime I would think about it.
The care of such a child is very great at first-dirty, covered with body and
head lice and starved-his clothing is a part of a skin dress that does not half
cover his nakedness, and a small bit of skin over his shoulders.
Helen was in the same condition when I took her, and it was a
long and tedious task to change her habits, young as she was, but little more
than two years old. She was so stubborn and fretful and wanted to cry all the
time if she could not have her own way. We have so subdued her that now she is
a comfort to us, although she requires tight reins constantly.
Mary Ann is of a mild disposition and easily governed and
makes but little trouble. She came here last August. Helen has been here nearly
a year and a half. The Lord has taken our own dear child away so that we may
care for the poor outcasts of the country and suffering children. We confine
them altogether to English and do not allow them to speak a word of Nez Perces.
Read a portion of the Scriptures to the women who were in today, and talked awhile with them. Baked bread and crackers today, and made two rag babies for my little girls. I keep them in the house most of the time to keep them away from the natives, and find it difficult to employ their time when I wish to be engaged with the women. They have a great disposition to take a piece of board or a stick and carry it around on their backs, if I would let them, for a baby, so I thought I would make them something that would change their taste a little. You wonder, I suppose, what looking objects Narcissa would make. No matter how they look, so long as it is a piece of cloth rolled up with eyes, nose and mouth marked on it with a pen, it answers every purpose. They caress them and carry them about the room at a great rate, and are as happy as need be. So much for my children.
The little boy was brought to me again this
morning and I could not shut my heart against him. I washed him, oiled and
bound up his wounds, and dressed him and cleaned his head of lice. Before he
came his hair was cut close to his head and a strip as wide as your finger was
shaved from ear to ear, and also from his forehead to his neck, crossing the
other at right angles. This the boys had done to make him look ridiculous. He
had a burn on his foot where they said he had been pushed into the fire for the
purpose of gratifying their malicious feelings, and because he was friendless.
He feels, however, as if he had got into a strange place, and has tried to run
away once or twice. He will soon get accustomed, I think, and be happy, if I
can keep him away from the native children. So much about the boy Marshall. I
can write no more tonight.
But the constant watch and care and anxiety of a missionary mother cannot be known by them except by experience. Sister G. has two of her own and I have three half-breeds. I believe I feel all the care and watchfulness over them that I should if they were my own. I am sure they are a double tax upon my patience and perseverance, particularly Helen; she wants to rule every one she sees. She keeps me on guard continually lest she should get the upper hand of me. The little boy appears to be of a pretty good disposition, and I think will be easy to govern. He proves to be younger than I first thought he was; he is not yet three years old-probably he is the same age Helen was when she came here. His old grandmother has been in to see him today, but appears to have no disposition to take him. She wanted I should give her something to eat every now and then, because I had got the child to live with me and take care of, also old clothes and shoes. So it is with them; the moment you do them a favour you place yourself under lasting obligations to them and must continue to give to keep their love strong towards you." [Narcissa Whitman, Letter to Sister Jane Mar. 1, 1842]
By the fall of 1843 Marcus Whitman was already considering the impact of the emigrations on the Indians, the mission and the area in general. While he was pleased to think that the Americans would be settling the land rather than the English, he knew the impact of their presence would be felt by all. In a letter to Rev. David Greene of Boston he echoed some of his concerns and the futility of trying to intercede.
"I have no hope that the interests of the
Although the Indians are doing much by obtaining Stock + cultivating as well as advancing in knowledge, still it cannot be hoped that a settlement will be so delayed as to give time for the advance to be made so that they can stand before a white Settlement For when has it been known that an ignorant, indolent man has stood against Money, inteligence + enterprise And besides is not the Providence of God in this matter in one respect if no more For the command is multiply + replenish the earth neither of which the Indians obey Their indolence, violence + blood shed prevent the first + indolence + improvidence the second. How then can they stand in the way of others who will do both And most especially who will counteract the desire for Settlers among them + the influence of money in affecting it? And why should we desire either? For first if Protestants are not among them the Papists would be and if an American colony were not to settle this country an English would. This is only one of the onward movements of the world and it is quite in vain for us to wish it to Stand Still. " [Marcus Whitman, excerpt of letter to Rev. David Greene, Boston dated May 18, 1844]
The fall of 1844 brought the expectation of a new flood of emigrants to the Mission. The emigration of 1843 had so reduced the provisions for the mission that new ground had been put under cultivation and a mill had been built. The Indians had already left to go to Forts Hall and Boise to trade the emigrants wornout cattle for horses. Slowly the trains started filtering into the mission. Arriving first were several young men including a youth from Rushville by the name of Gilbert who had been one of Marcus Whitman's students. These were followed by a family of eight, including the grandmother, an aged woman. It was the end of October before the main emigration began to arrive. The Blue mountains were covered in snow and as much as half of the emigration had not arrived. Many of those arriving were sick, several with children born on the way, most were destitute and without provisions. Included in the numbers were the seven Sager children orphaned when their parents died on the trail. The Whitmans were prevailed upon to take the children under their care. The enormity of seven new children to care for must have seemed an impossibility to Narcissa, who was already torn in multiple directions. And yet, she could not turn them away.
" Among the number is an orphan family of seven children, the youngest an infant born on the way, whose parents have both died since they left the States. Application has been made for us to take them, as they have not a relative in the company. What we shall do I cannot say; we cannot see them suffer, if the Lord casts them upon us. He will give us His grace and strength to do our duty to them.
I cannot write any more, I am so thronged and employed
that I feel sometimes like being crazy, and my poor husband, if he had a
hundred strings tied to him pulling in every direction, could not be any worse
We have had some serious trials this spring with the
Indians. Two important Indians have died and they have ventured to say and
intimate that the doctor has killed them by his magical power, in the same way
they accuse their own sorcerers and kill them for it. Also an important young
man has been killed in
As reported at the end of Narcissa's letter, there
was much tension over the loss of these Indians. In 1844 a small party
of Walla Walla Indians and one Spokane Indian went to California to explore
the way in order to bring cattle back. While in the fort of Capt. Sutter,
Elijah Heading, the son of the Walla Walla Chief, Yellow Serpent, was shot and killed.
Educated at the Methodist mission, he was unarmed and accompanied by only
four companions. The party immediately returned home leaving the cattle
and bringing only the horses and mules that had caused the dispute. The
death of this young man at the hands of the white men caused great consternation.
And, even as this event was happening there were others dying from disease.
"A cause of much anxiety to me has arisen in connexion with these things and the death of a young man by apoplexy. It is the custom of the Canadians - who are as superstitious as the Indians themselves - to awe them through their superstition of sorcery - by telling them that such and such white men are more largely endowed with supernatural power - than even there own Tewats (Sorcerers). I have been one who even before I came among them from the time Mr Parker was here - who have been held forth to them as a sorcerer of great power. Much of this was well enough intended on account of my medical profession but ill timed. I imagine partly to test the question - and partly from superstition they have been saying - I caused the death of the young man who died of apoplexy - and such like things. An impression of this kind among them if strengthed by such circumstances - and by the countenance of such men as the Canadians - and perhaps by Priests - would make my stay among them useless + dangerous - and might induce me to leave at once - Some very trying remarks have been made also on the occasion of the death of the Chief Waptashtakmahlin. His son came to me as he was dying - and in a passion told me "I had killed his Father - and that it would not be a difficult matter for me to be killed -" You are aware already of their habit to kill their own Medicine men as they are commonly called when an excuse offers by the death of some of their friends. Two of the Gentlemen of the Hon Hudson B. Company have fallen in this way since we have been in this country - " Dr. Whitman, excerpt of letter to Rev. David Geene, Boston dated April 10, 1845
By the fall of 1845, due to increased tensions, Whitman rode out to warn a company of immigrants that a large party of Cayuses and Walla Wallas were headed their way. Upon finding Whitman with the immigrants, the Indians backed off of their planned confrontation.
Late in November Whitman was visited by Young Chief (Tauatui) and a Nez Perce by the name of One Side Croped (Cropped Hair). They brought up the subject of the deaths of some of the important members of the tribe, including Elijah Hedding. Young Chief stated that Elijah had been sent to the mission to be educated and was regarded by them as a proper person to introduce them to the whites but that he was killed by Americans. Young Chief stated that he could not be expected to send more to be educated until the death of Elijah was revenged and the loss of his property reimbursed. Young Chief stated that the Americans wanted to obtain the land of the Indians and their property and that they were prepared to use poison and infection to accomplish their purpose.
Some of the continuous mention of poison related back to an earlier incident when Rev. William Gray had tainted some watermelons in the garden with an enemic intended to upset the stomaches of the Indians who were stealing the melons. It was stopped when Dr. Whitman realized what he had done but it reinforced the suspicions of the Cayuse that there was a plot to rid the land of them one way or another. These same accusations had been aimed at Dr. Whitman before and they were accusing him once again of being responsible either for the deeds or in conspiring with others to make them happen. When told by the doctor that he was not trying to destroy them or avenge himself upon them they calmly stated "It is not to be expected that you would confess it even were it true." In a letter to Rev. Eells and Rev. Walker it is evident that the confrontation was extremely disturbing to Whitman.
I have only given a faint view of the matter as it occurred and by no means a full account. I have written with such interruptions + while I am So nervous that I cannot govern my hand So that you will excuse me I told them I did not think they themselves would cause me to to be killed but that I was aware if they hold Such language to me it would remove all restraint from the reckless and that I would have no assurance but that I might be killed on the most slight or sudden occasion
I do not intend to alter my arrangements at all but on the other hand try to have all the property in the best repair possible in case I might have to leave it It is not best for us to say much to any body in the case they be swift to hear but slow to speak The young Chief Said he was aware that I had called on the people to Send me off if they did not want me to Stay but he Said he did not like to have me put them to that test But if I wanted to go away it was his wish I should go away if I did go upon my own account He Said he had had advise to that effect That is perhaps he must not let the Indians have the resposibility of Sending us off but only aggitate enough to get us to go as it were of ourselves
Ellis was here + he Said he felt assured the Indians had a
design to drive us off by these measures both at Lapwai + here He thought they
began to feel that they were wise enough + had enough in their hands So that
they might spare us well enough
Tensions continued to escalate. There would be brief periods of calm followed by periods of extreme tensions. By the fall of 1846, a fear of invasion by the Indians was felt as far south as California. While all was going on around her, Narcissa continued to be focused on the children and the household. In a letter in the spring of 1846 she related her experiences with her children and in particular, litte Henrietta Naomi Sager. No mention is made of the problems surrounding the mission and the constant danger she was living in although her apprehensions must have been very great..
I used to think mother was
the best hand to take care of babies I ever saw, but I believe, or we have the
vanity to think, we have improved upon her plan. That you may see how we manage
with our children, I will give you a specimen of our habits with them and we
feel them important, too, especially that they may grow up healthy and strong.
Take my baby, as an example: in October, 1844, she arrived here in the hands of
an old filthy woman (Mrs. Eads), sick, emaciated and but just alive. She was born some
where on the
In the summer of 1847 Paul Kane, an artist from Canada, visited the mission. Irish by birth, he had studied art in the U.S. and Europe. With as much courage as talent, he was in Oregon to paint portraits of Indians. With that in mind, Whitman took him to the lodges of Tilaukait and Tomahas, the Murderer. The doctor then left to attend to his business.
Tomahas sat sullenly, brooding without attention to the artist. When the sketch was finished Tomahas came to life and demanded to see it. Enraged, and suspecting that Kane was going to give the likeness to Whitman, he tried to throw it in the fire. After a struggle, Kane rescued his sketch, mounted his horse and fled the village. As a man with considerable experience with various tribes, Kane returned to Ft. Walla Walla with the natural impression that the Whitmans were in grave danger.
The next day his impression was re-enforced when a long lost war party of Cayuse and Walla Wallas returned from California. The war party, led by Peupeumoxmox, principal chief of the Walla Wallas (akaYellow Serpent or Yellow Bird) had gone to California eighteen months earlier with the stated purpose of trade. It was believed by most that the actual reason was to avenge the death of Yellow Serpent's son, Elijah Hedding, who had been killed there earlier. Before they could reach their destination, the party contracted the black measles and thirty members of the war party died. When the war party returned and the news was received at the Indian village the grief was unimaginable. Kane expressed his concern to McBean, who agreed that the climax of the Hedding affair was ominous and that the Whitmans should come to the fort for a while. Kane carried the message to Waiilatpu. He argued the danger with Dr. Whitman for nearly an hour without results. The doctor declined the invitation to the fort and stated that he had lived so long among the Cayuse that he felt no danger from them.
The turmoil had no chance to cool before the fall immigration arrived, bringing with it measles and mountain fever. The most commonly accepted figure for the number of Cayuse dead from measles and the accompanying dysentry is that about one-half of the tribe died in less than two months. Panic stricken the Cayuse turned to their traditional methods and treated their fevers by taking a sweat bath, then plunging into an icy stream. Deaths were rampant and the Indians blamed the deaths on the white people in general and on Whitman, their high chief, in particular.
Tensions were increased by the French Canadians, eastern Indians and others who planted the seeds of suspicion. There were rumors of whites uncorking bottles to release disease germs to kill the Indians for their land and tales that the Whitman's were plotting to poison the Indians. As the deaths continued, the Indians moved closer and closer toward an uprising and revenge.
In August Dr. Whitman went to Oregon City to
make a down payment on the Methodist Mission at The Dalles. His business
done he turned upriver, stopping at The Dalles to install his new caretakers,
the Alanson Hinmans and his nephew, Perrin Whitman, now seventeen and an able
assistant. At The Dalles he met the first wagons of the 1847 emigration.
He was told that the emigration numbered somewhere between four and
five thousand people and many of them were sick with measles and mountain fever.
August 23, 1847 It is difficult to imagine what kind of a
winter we shall have this winter, for it will not be possible for so many to
all pass through the Cascade mountains into the Willamette this fall, even if
they should succeed in getting through the Blue Mountains as far as here. From
It was going to be an early winter and many of the emigrants were coming in late. The early arrivals told of the measles and mountain fever that was rampant in the wagons that would be arriving. Whitman sent to the valley for Josiah Osborn, a millwright who had previously worked for the Whitmans. He was hired to construct an addition on the mission to provide housing for the expected emigrants. Joining him would be Alanson Beers, a blacksmith who had been part of the Methodist Mission reinforcements led by Jason Lee.
I have Sent to the lower country for a good Mechanick a tried man that wintered with me the year befor last He was an Elder in a Seceder Church in Illinois + is well pleased with the religous order of our station and a particular friend of Mr Rogers. I also expect a Black Smith who is a Methodist by proffession Both are to come with their families
I greatly fear interruption this fall from the passing
Immigrants if as many are on the road as are reported There are no provisions
here more than the station needs and at my place I have much poorer crops than
usual. But we cannot move ourselves out of the way + must meet the trial the
best we can. There is a road across the Cascade Mountain by which they are yet
able to pass + all go on; but after a short time all the grass will be eaten in
the Mountain and then they must break up here + go down by water The first
passers never give us any trouble. The weak teams + needy persons come last as
also generally the sick It cannot be that the people will be left to the care
of the papist in the lower country Many are looking to the Home Missionary
Society and Tract Society for aid. Or perhaps to the Christian League The
supplies you sent me come well at this time for this Station as well as those
Also arriving in the area was Bishop Augustine Magloire Blanchet who had recently arrived at Ft. Walla Walla.. His brother, Archbishop Francois Norbert Blanchet was expected at any time from Europe accompanied by twenty one helpers. The presence of the priests had created tensions and unrest amongst some members of the tribes. It was felt by some of the missionaries that the teachings of the priests would lead to the deaths of many of the Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries. Dr. Whitman visiting the Fort on his return from a trip to The Dalles and was furious to find them in the area. He had an angry confrontation with the Bishop. Bishop Blanchet had decided to establish himself in Young Chief's house on the Umatilla. That put him twenty five miles from Waiilatpu. Dr. Whitman stormed out of the Fort and returned briefly to Waiilatpu. He had barely arrived when he decided to guide a party of emigrants to The Dalles over a new route that he had found. It bypassed some of the Indian villages situated near the river.
On the way back he camped with a party of emigrants from Iowa. He was impressed with the learning of Judge L.W. Saunders of Oskaloosa. He wanted him for a school teacher and persuaded him to winter at the mission. Isaac Gilliland, by trade a tailor, was driving one of the Saunders wagons. He decided to go along as well.
The measles were already among the Indians. In the Doctor's absence Mrs. Whitman was their physician. One day while in the midst of housecleaning, an Indian woman came rushing in and wanted her to go to her lodge, where her husband had reportedly just died. It was raining very hard and the ground was covered with water; but without hestitation she threw on her shawl and accompanied the woman to her lodge about half a mile away. Arriving at the lodge, she found the Indian not dead but having the same disease as a man that the Doctor had just cured on the Umatilla. Returning to her house, she procured the necessary medicine and selected some tea, sugar and other things for the sick man. She returned to their lodge and soon had the satisfaction of seeing him much better. He finally recovered. This was Nicholas Finley and it was at his lodge where the Indians afterward met in council to deliberate on the death of the doctor. Though Finley spoke of them with a great show of gratitude he gave them no hint of the approaching danger.
Throughout October and November the rooms at the mission were starting to fill. Joseph Smith of Illinois and Elam Young of Missouri knew about lumbering so they were sent with their families to the sawmill in the Blue Mountains. Rebecca Hays, a widow, arrived with her four year old son, Henry Clay. She was pressed into service as a cook and helper for Narcissa who was overwhelmed with the amount of work she was facing. She was lodged in the mansion house with the Peter Hall family.
Throughout the fall Mrs. Whitman had been seeking a female teacher. Failing to find one it was her plan to prevail upon one or two young ladied to stop for the winter. She was particularly pleased with the manners of Miss Bewley, who had come to the station with her parents; after much persuasion she prevailed upon her to spend the winter there. Her brother, Crockett Bewley, and his friend, Amos Sales, reached the mission so seriously ill that they were put to bed immediately. Lorinda was put up in the upstairs room of the mission house. Amos and Crockett were installed in a sleeping room off the kitchen. The remainder of the Bewley family continued on to the valley with a promise from Dr. Whitman that he would bring the two siblings down in the spring. W.D. Canfield and family arrived to find no room left. Since they were friends of the Saunders, the blacksmith shop was cleared at one end to make room for them. Ten-year-old Eliza Spalding, brought down to attend school, brought the total population to 72. There were 22 living in the main mission house including Dr. and Mrs. Whitman. Two newcomers were the teenage sons of David Manson of the Hudson Bay Compay who had come to attend the mission school. With Mary Ann Bridger, Helen Mar Meek and little David Malin, it brought Narcissa's half-breed family up to five.
As predicted, the fall immigration had brought more disease and the Indians were quick to note that the doctor's mission family were not being affected at the same rate as the Indian population. This increased the belief that they were being poisoned. Adding fuel to the fire was one Joe Lewis. Lewis, was a half breed who was said to have been born in Canada and brought up in Maine as a Catholic. He had been in Fremont's camp in the Mexican War and had joined the 1847 emigrants at Fort Hall. He was much disliked by the emigrants and had been expelled from several different trains. From almost the moment he was hired by Dr. Whitman he commenced inciting unrest among the native population by telling them that the white men were poisoning them in order to claim their lands. Dr. Whitman had told him to leave and he joined a passing wagon train only to return in a few days. By that time the mission was made up of the following individuals:
The Mission House was a large T-shaped, adobe
building. It housed 23 people in November 1847:
Lorinda and Crockett Bewley
Josiah Osborn family
David Manson's two teenage sons
Dr. and Mrs. Whitman
The Mansion House was 400' to the east of the
Mission House. It was built in the early 1840s by William Gray for his
bride. Ever since Gray had left the mission in 1842, Whitman had used
the neat, adobe building as a store house in summer and to house the emigrants
in the winter. It housed 29 people in November 1847:
Rebecca Hays and son
Peter Hall family
Nathan Kimballs family
William Marsh, daughter and grandson
The Blacksmith Shop stood halfway between the
mission house and the mansion house. It had two small rooms. It
housed 8 people in November 1847.:
The Sawmill Cabin was located in the Blue Mountains.
It housed 12 people in November 1847:
Nicholas Finley living in lodge in Cayuse village
November 24 Salvijane Osborn lay dead on her mother's bed, another victim of measles. The mother was prostrate beside her. Ten days before, herself a victim of the disease she had given birth to a child who died within hours. Narcissa, thinking that if the Indians saw that the whites were dying also, it would provide some type of protection. One Indian in a green cap had been hanging around the mission for several days. She took him inside to see the body of the dead girl. He stared at the body in silence for a minute and then broke out in a bone chilling laugh as he turned and walked out of the room.
The toll in the Indian village was epidemic. Four and five Cayuse were buried each day. Tilaukait had lost one child, maybe two, and another was near death. Whitman continued tending the village but in the crowded lodges the side effects of catarrhal congestion and dysentry created conditions as lethal as the disease itself. In some tepees he found as many as twenty five men, women and children down with the fever, clawing at their erruptions or in the last stages of dysentry.
On November 26 Whitman, accompaied by the visiting Rev. Spalding, left to treat some cases of measles in the camp of Five Crows. They stopped at dawn at the lodge of the friendly Stickus, had breakfast and held Sunday services. Whitman crossed the river and treated the sick. While at the house of Young Chief he once again met with Father Brouillet who had just settled in. In contrast to the last meeting, Whitman had tea with the priest. He then offered to discuss turning over Waiilatpu to him whenever the majority of the Cayuse wished it to be so and requested that he come there as soon as possible to further discuss arrangements. After the meeting Whitman recrossed the Umatilla and prepared to leave. Spalding was to stay a few days. Stickus took Dr. Whitman aside and warned him of the dangers that were brewing. He begged him leave Waiilatpu immediately. Whitman headed back to the mission, reaching there an hour or two before midnight.
Lighted lamps were on in the living room where John and Francis Sager sat up with sick children. Narcissa lay fully dressed on a large bed with drawn curtains that was backup to to a closed stairway. She greeted Whitman, still only half awake, as she had so many late nights. Narcissa had never seen him as tired as he seemed tonight. The long ride in the driving sleet had turned the old frost bite scars on his cheeks into livid streaks against his leathery skin. He sent the Sager boys to bed and checked on the sick in the mission house. Catherine Sager heard his limping steps crossing the wooden floor. As he stopped at the bedside of little Helen Mar Meek she saw him shake his head and, turning to his wife, he said, "She cannot live".
He then took a chair and moved it nearer the stove. He began to talk in a low troubled voice. She heard the names of Stickus and of Joe Lewis...of council fires as the doctor had passed the Cayuse village not an hour ago and of voices so late in the lodge of Nicholas Finley. She was sure she heard him tell Narcissa that the Catholic Bishop would be coming soon. As Narcissa picked up a lamp and moved to the other room Catherine was sure she heard her weeping. Dr. Whitman, realizing that Catherine was awake came to comfort her and to tell her to get some sleep and to not worry.
Roster of Victims of the Massacre
Whitman Massacre Links
Back to Beginning
My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.