Phil Sheridan Bio OR
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan
Portions extracted of his time in Oregon
CHAPTER III. ORDERED TO FORT READING, CAL.--A DANGEROUS UNDERTAKING--A RESCUED SOLDIER--DISCOVERING INDIANS--PRIMITIVE FISHING--A DESERTED VILLAGE--CAMPING OPPOSITE FORT VANCOUVER.
In November, 1854, I received my promotion to a second lieutenancy in the Fourth Infantry, which was stationed in California and Oregon. In order to join my company at Fort Reading, California, I had to go to New York as a starting point, and on arrival there, was placed on duty, in May, 1855, in command of a detachment of recruits at Bedloe's Island, intended for assignment to the regiments on the Pacific coast. I think there were on the island (now occupied by the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World) about three hundred recruits. For a time I was the only officer with them, but shortly before we started for California, Lieutenant Francis H. Bates, of the Fourth Infantry, was placed in command. We embarked for the Pacific coast in July, 1855, and made the journey without incident via the Isthmus of Panama, in due time landing our men at Benecia Barracks, above San Francisco.
From this point I proceeded to join my company at Fort Reading, and on reaching that post, found orders directing me to relieve Lieutenant John B. Hood--afterward well known as a distinguished general in the Confederate service. Lieutenant Hood was in command of the personal mounted escort of Lieutenant R. S. Williamson, who was charged with the duty of making such explorations and surveys as would determine the practicability of connecting, by railroad, the Sacramento Valley in California with the Columbia River in Oregon Territory, either through the Willamette Valley, or (if this route should prove to be impracticable) by the valley of the Des Chutes River near the foot-slopes of the Cascade chain. The survey was being made in accordance with an act of Congress, which provided both for ascertaining the must practicable and economical route for a railroad between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, and for military and geographical surveys west of the Mississippi River.
Fort Reading was the starting-point for this exploring expedition, and there I arrived some four or five days after the party under Lieutenant Williamson had begun its march. His personal escort numbered about sixty mounted men, made up of detachments from companies of the First Dragoons, under command of Lieutenant Hood, together with about one hundred men belonging to the Fourth Infantry arid Third Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Horatio Gates Gibson, the present colonel of the Third United States Artillery. Lieutenant George Crook--now major-general--was the quartermaster and commissary of subsistence of the expedition.
The commanding officer at Fort Reading seemed reluctant to let me go on to relieve Lieutenant Hood, as the country to be passed over was infested by the Pit River Indians, known to be hostile to white people and especially to small parties. I was very anxious to proceed, however, and willing to take the chances; so, consent being finally obtained, I started with a corporal and two mounted men, through a wild and uninhabited region, to overtake if possible Lieutenant Williamson. Being on horseback, and unencumbered by luggage of any kind except blankets and a little hard bread, coffee and smoking-tobacco, which were all carried on our riding animals, we were sanguine of succeeding, for we traversed in one day fully the distance made in three by Lieutenant Williamson's party on foot.
The first day we reached the base of Lassan's Butte, where I determined to spend the night near an isolated cabin, or dugout, that had been recently constructed by a hardy pioneer. The wind was blowing a disagreeable gale, which had begun early in the day. This made it desirable to locate our camp under the best cover we could find, and I spent some little time in looking about for a satisfactory place, but nothing better offered than a large fallen tree, which lay in such a direction that by encamping on its lee side we would be protected from the fury of the storm. This spot was therefore fixed upon, and preparation made for spending the night as comfortably as the circumstances would permit.
After we had unsaddled I visited the cabin to inquire in regard to the country ahead, and there found at first only a soldier of Williamson's party; later the proprietor of the ranch appeared. The soldier had been left behind by the surveying party on account of illness, with instructions to make his way back to Fort Reading as best he could when he recovered. His condition having greatly improved, however, since he had been left, he now begged me in beseeching terms to take him along with my party, which I finally consented to do, provided that if he became unable to keep up with me, and I should be obliged to abandon him, the responsibility would be his, not mine. This increased my number to five, and was quite a reinforcement should we run across any hostile Indians; but it was also certain to prove an embarrassment should the man again fall ill.
During the night, notwithstanding the continuance of the storm, I had a very sound and refreshing sleep behind the protecting log where we made our camp, and at daylight next morning we resumed our journey, fortified by a breakfast of coffee and hard bread. I skirted around the base of Lassan's Butte, thence down Hat Creek, all the time following the trail made by Lieutenant Williamson's party. About noon the soldier I had picked up at my first camp gave out, and could go no farther. As stipulated when I consented to take him along, I had the right to abandon him, but when it came to the test I could not make up my mind to do it. Finding a good place not far off the trail, one of my men volunteered to remain with him until he died; and we left them there, with a liberal supply of hard bread and coffee, believing that we would never again see the invalid. My reinforcement was already gone, and another man with it.
With my diminished party I resumed the trail and followed it until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when we heard the sound of voices, and the corporal, thinking we were approaching Lieutenant Williamson's party, was so overjoyed in anticipation of the junction, that he wanted to fire his musket as an expression of his delight. This I prevented his doing, however, and we continued cautiously and slowly on to develop the source of the sounds in front. We had not gone far before I discovered that the noise came from a band of Pit River Indians, who had struck the trail of the surveying expedition, and were following it up, doubtless with evil intent. Dismounting from my horse I counted the moccasin tracks to ascertain the number of Indians, discovered it to be about thirty, and then followed on behind them cautiously, but with little difficulty, as appearances of speed on their part indicated that they wished to overtake Lieutenant Williamson's party, which made them less on the lookout than usual for any possible pursuers. After following the trail until nearly sundown, I considered it prudent to stop for the night, and drew off some little distance, where, concealed in a dense growth of timber, we made our camp.
As I had with me now only two men, I felt somewhat nervous, so I allowed no fires to be built, and in consequence our supper consisted of hard bread only. I passed an anxious night, but beyond our own solicitude there was nothing to disturb us, the Indians being too much interested in overtaking the party in front to seek for victims in the rear, After a hard-bread breakfast we started again on the trail, and had proceeded but a short distance when, hearing the voices of the Indians, we at once slackened our speed so as not to overtake them.
Most of the trail on which we traveled during the morning ran over an exceedingly rough lava formation--a spur of the lava beds often described during the Modoc war of 1873 so hard and flinty that Williamson's large command made little impression on its surface, leaving in fact, only indistinct traces of its line of march. By care and frequent examinations we managed to follow his route through without much delay, or discovery by the Indians, and about noon, owing to the termination of the lava formation, we descended into the valley of Hat Greek, a little below where it emerges from the second canon and above its confluence with Pit River. As soon as we reached the fertile soil of the valley, we found Williamson's trail well defined, deeply impressed in the soft loam, and coursing through wild-flowers and luxuriant grass which carpeted the ground on every hand.
When we struck this delightful locality we traveled with considerable speed, and after passing over hill and vale for some distance, the trail becoming more and more distinct all the time, I suddenly saw in front of me the Pit River Indians.
This caused a halt, and having hurriedly re-capped our guns and six-shooters, thus preparing for the worst, I took a look at the band through my field-glass. They were a half-mile or more in our front and numbered about thirty individuals, armed with bows and arrows only. Observing us they made friendly demonstrations, but I had not implicit faith in a Pit River Indian at that period of the settlement of our country, and especially in that wild locality, so after a "council of war" with the corporal and man, I concluded to advance to a point about two hundred yards distant from the party, when, relying on the speed of our horses rather than on the peaceable intentions of the savages, I hoped to succeed in cutting around them and take the trail beyond. Being on foot they could not readily catch us, and inasmuch as their arrows were good for a range of only about sixty yards, I had no fear of any material damage on that score.
On reaching the place selected for our flank movement we made a dash to the left of the trail, through the widest part of the valley, and ran our horses swiftly by, but I noticed that the Indians did not seem to be disturbed by the manoeuvre and soon realized that this indifference was occasioned by the knowledge that we could not cross Hat Creek, a deep stream with vertical banks, too broad to be leaped by our horses. We were obliged, therefore, to halt, and the Indians again made demonstrations of friendship, some of them even getting into the stream to show that they were at the ford. Thus reassured, we regained our confidence and boldly crossed the river in the midst of them. After we had gained the bluff on the other side of the creek, I looked down into the valley of Pit River, and could plainly see the camp of the surveying party. Its proximity was the influence which had doubtless caused the peaceable conduct of the Indians. Probably the only thing that saved us was their ignorance of our being in their rear, until we stumbled on them almost within sight of the large party under Williamson.
The Pit River Indians were very hostile at that time, and for many succeeding years their treachery and cruelty brought misfortune and misery to the white settlers who ventured their lives in search of home and fortune in the wild and isolated section over which these savages roamed. Not long after Williamson's party passed through their country, the Government was compelled to send into it a considerable force for the purpose of keeping them under control. The outcome of this was a severe fight--resulting in the loss of a good many lives--between the hostiles and a party of our troops under Lieutenant George Crook. It finally ended in the establishment of a military post in the vicinity of the battle-ground, for the permanent occupation of the country.
A great load was lifted from my heart when I found myself so near Williamson's camp, which I joined August 4, 1855, receiving a warm welcome from the officers. During the afternoon I relieved Lieutenant Hood of the command of the personal escort, and he was ordered to return, with twelve of the mounted men, over the trail I had followed. I pointed out to him on the map the spot where he would find the two men left on the roadside, and he was directed to take them into Fort Reading. They were found without difficulty, and carried in to the post. The sick man--Duryea--whom I had expected never to see again, afterward became the hospital steward at Fort Yamhill, Oregon, when I was stationed there.
The Indians that I had passed at the ford came to the bluff above the camp, and arranging themselves in a squatting posture, looked down upon Williamson's party with longing eyes, in expectation of a feast. They were a pitiable lot, almost naked, hungry and cadaverous. Indians are always hungry, but these poor creatures were particularly so, as their usual supply of food had grown very scarce from one cause and another.
In prosperity they mainly subsisted on fish, or game killed with the bow and arrow. When these sources failed they lived on grasshoppers, and at this season the grasshopper was their principal food. In former years salmon were very abundant in the streams of the Sacramento Valley, and every fall they took great quantities of these fish and dried them for winter use, but alluvial mining had of late years defiled the water of the different streams and driven the fish out. On this account the usual supply of salmon was very limited. They got some trout high up on the rivers, above the sluices and rockers of the miners, but this was a precarious source from which to derive food, as their means of taking the trout were very primitive. They had neither hooks nor lines, but depended entirely on a contrivance made from long, slender branches of willow, which grew on the banks of most of the streams. One of these branches would be cut, and after sharpening the butt-end to a point, split a certain distance, and by a wedge the prongs divided sufficiently to admit a fish between. The Indian fisherman would then slyly put the forked end in the water over his intended victim, and with a quick dart firmly wedge him between the prongs. When secured there, the work of landing him took but a moment. When trout were plentiful this primitive mode of taking them was quite successful, and I have often known hundreds of pounds to be caught in this way, but when they were scarce and suspicious the rude method was not rewarded with good results.
The band looking down on us evidently had not had much fish or game to eat for some time, so when they had made Williamson understand that they were suffering for food he permitted them to come into camp, and furnished them with a supply, which they greedily swallowed as fast as it was placed at their service, regardless of possible indigestion. When they had eaten all they could hold, their enjoyment was made complete by the soldiers, who gave them a quantity of strong plug tobacco. This they smoked incessantly, inhaling all the smoke, so that none of the effect should be lost. When we abandoned this camp the next day, the miserable wretches remained in it and collected the offal about the cooks' fires to feast still more, piecing out the meal, no doubt, with their staple article of food--grasshoppers.
On the morning of August 5 Lieutenant Hood started back to Fort Reading, and Lieutenant Williamson resumed his march for the Columbia River. Our course was up Pit River, by the lower and upper canons, then across to the Klamath Lakes, then east, along their edge to the upper lake. At the middle Klamath Lake, just after crossing Lost River and the Natural Bridge, we met a small party of citizens from Jacksonville, Oregon, looking for hostile Indians who had committed some depredations in their neighborhood. From them we learned that the Rogue River Indians in southern Oregon were on the war-path, and that as the "regular troops up there were of no account, the citizens had taken matters in hand, and intended cleaning up the hostiles." They swaggered about our camp, bragged a good deal, cursed the Indians loudly, and soundly abused the Government for not giving them better protection. It struck me, however, that they had not worked very hard to find the hostiles; indeed, it could plainly be seen that their expedition was a town-meeting sort of affair, and that anxiety to get safe home was uppermost in their thoughts. The enthusiasm with which they started had all oozed out, and that night they marched back to Jacksonville. The next day, at the head of the lake, we came across an Indian village, and I have often wondered since what would have been the course pursued by these valiant warriors from Jacksonville had they gone far enough to get into its vicinity.
When we reached the village the tepees--made of grass--were all standing, the fires burning and pots boiling--the pots filled with camas and tula roots--but not an Indian was to be seen. Williamson directed that nothing in the village should be disturbed; so guards were placed over it to carry out his instructions and we went into camp just a little beyond. We had scarcely established ourselves when a very old Indian rose up from the high grass some distance off, and with peaceable signs approached our camp, evidently for the purpose of learning whether or not our intentions were hostile. Williamson told him we were friendly; that we had passed through his village without molesting it, that we had put a guard there to secure the property his people had abandoned in their fright, and that they might come back in safety. The old man searchingly eyed everything around for some little time, and gaining confidence from the peaceable appearance of the men, who were engaged in putting up the tents and preparing their evening meal, he concluded to accept our professions of friendship, and bring his people in. Going out about half a mile from the village he gave a peculiar yell, at which between three and four hundred Indians arose simultaneously from the ground, and in answer to his signal came out of the tall grass like a swarm of locusts and soon overran our camp in search of food, for like all Indians they were hungry. They too, proved to be Pit Rivers, and were not less repulsive than those of their tribe we had met before. They were aware of the hostilities going on between the Rogue Rivers and the whites, but claimed that they had not taken any part in them. I question if they had, but had our party been small, I fear we should have been received at their village in a very different manner.
From the upper Klamath Lake we marched over the divide and down the valley of the Des Chutes River to a point opposite the mountains called the Three Sisters. Here, on September 23, the party divided, Williamson and I crossing through the crater of the Three Sisters and along the western slope of the Cascade Range, until we struck the trail on McKenzie River, which led us into the Willamette Valley not far from Eugene City. We then marched down the Willamette Valley to Portland, Oregon, where we arrived October 9, 1855
The infantry portion of the command, escorting Lieutenant Henry L. Abbot, followed farther down the Des Chutes River, to a point opposite Mount Hood, from which it came into the Willamette Valley and then marched to Portland. At Portland we all united, and moving across the point between the Willamette and Columbia rivers, encamped opposite Fort Vancouver, on the south bank of the latter stream, on the farm of an old settler named Switzler, who had located there many years before.
CHAPTER IV. "OLD RED"--SKILLFUL SHOOTING--YAKIMA--WAR--A LUDICROUS MISTAKE-- "CUT-MOUTH JOHN'S" ENCOUNTER--FATHER PANDOZA'S MISSION--A SNOW-STORM- -FAILURE OF THE EXPEDITION.
Our camp on the Columbia, near Fort Vancouver, was beautifully situated on a grassy sward close to the great river; and--as little duty was required of us after so long a journey, amusement of one kind or another, and an interchange of visits with the officers at the post, filled in the time acceptably. We had in camp an old mountaineer guide who had accompanied us on the recent march, and who had received the sobriquet of "Old Red," on account of the shocky and tangled mass of red hair and beard, which covered his head and face so completely that only his eyes could be seen. His eccentricities constantly supplied us with a variety of amusements. Among the pastimes he indulged in was one which exhibited his skill with the rifle, and at the same time protected the camp from the intrusions and ravages of a drove of razor-backed hogs which belonged to Mr. Switzler. These hogs were frequent visitors, and very destructive to our grassy sward, rooting it up in front of our tents and all about us; in pursuit of bulbous roots and offal from the camp. Old Red conceived the idea that it would be well to disable the pigs by shooting off the tips of their snouts, and he proceeded to put his conception into execution, and continued it daily whenever the hogs made their appearance. Of course their owner made a row about it; but when Old Red daily settled for his fun by paying liberally with gold-dust from some small bottles of the precious metal in his possession, Switzler readily became contented, and I think even encouraged the exhibitions--of skill.
It was at this period (October, 1855) that the Yakima Indian war broke out, and I was detached from duty with the exploring party and required by Major Gabriel J. Rains, then commanding the district, to join an expedition against the Yakimas. They had some time before killed their agent, and in consequence a force under Major Granville O. Haller had been sent out from the Dalles of the Columbia to chastise them; but the expedition had not been successful; in fact, it had been driven back, losing a number of men and two mountain howitzers.
The object of the second expedition was to retrieve this disaster. The force was composed of a small body of regular troops, and a regiment of Oregon mounted volunteers under command of Colonel James W. Nesmith--subsequently for several years United States Senator from Oregon. The whole force was under the command of Major Rains, Fourth Infantry, who, in order that he might rank Nesmith, by some hocus-pocus had been made a brigadier-general, under an appointment from the Governor of Washington Territory.
We started from the Dalles October 30, under conditions that were not conducive to success. The season was late for operations; and worse still, the command was not in accord with the commanding officer, because of general belief in his incompetency, and on account of the fictitious rank he assumed. On the second day out I struck a small body of Indians with my detachment of dragoons, but was unable to do them any particular injury beyond getting possession of a large quantity of their winter food, which their hurried departure compelled them to abandon. This food consisted principally of dried salmon-pulverized and packed in sacks made of grass-dried huckleberries, and dried camas; the latter a bulbous root about the size of a small onion, which, when roasted and ground, is made into bread by the Indians and has a taste somewhat like cooked chestnuts.
Our objective point was Father Pandoza's Mission, in the Yakima Valley, which could be reached by two different routes, and though celerity of movement was essential, our commanding officer "strategically" adopted the longer route, and thus the Indians had ample opportunity to get away with their horses, cattle, women and children, and camp property.
After the encounter which I just now referred to, the command, which had halted to learn the results of my chase, resumed its march to and through the Klikitat canon, and into the lower Yakima Valley, in the direction of the Yakima River. I had charge at the head of the column as it passed through the canon, and on entering the valley beyond, saw in the distance five or six Indian scouts, whom I pressed very closely, until after a run of several miles they escaped across the Yakima River.
The soil in the valley was light and dry, and the movement of animals over it raised great clouds of dust, that rendered it very difficult to distinguish friend from foe; and as I was now separated from the main column a considerable distance, I deemed it prudent to call a halt until we could discover the direction taken by the principal body of the Indians. We soon learned that they had gone up the valley, and looking that way, we discovered a column of alkali dust approaching us, about a mile distant, interposing between my little detachment and the point where I knew General Rains intended to encamp for the night. After hastily consulting with Lieutenant Edward H. Day, of the Third United States Artillery, who was with me, we both concluded that the dust was caused by a body of the enemy which had slipped in between us and our main force. There seemed no alternative left us but to get back to our friends by charging through these Indians; and as their cloud of dust was much larger than ours, this appeared a desperate chance. Preparations to charge were begun, however, but, much to our surprise, before they were completed the approaching party halted for a moment and then commenced to retreat. This calmed the throbbing of our hearts, and with a wild cheer we started in a hot pursuit, that continued for about two miles, when to our great relief we discovered that we were driving into Rains's camp a squadron of Nesmith's battalion of Oregon volunteers that we had mistaken for Indians, and who in turn believed us to be the enemy. When camp was reached, we all indulged in a hearty laugh ovor the affair, and at the fright each party had given the other. The explanations which ensued proved that the squadron of volunteers had separated from the column at the same time that I had when we debouched from the canon, and had pursued an intermediate trail through the hills, which brought it into the valley of the Yakima at a point higher up the river than where I had struck it.
Next day we resumed our march up the valley, parallel to the Yakima. About 1 o'clock we saw a large body of Indians on the opposite side of the river, and the general commanding made up his mind to cross and attack them. The stream was cold, deep, and swift, still I succeeded in passing my dragoons over safely, but had hardly got them well on the opposite bank when the Indians swooped down upon us. Dismounting my men, we received the savages with a heavy fire, which brought them to a halt with some damage and more or less confusion.
General Rains now became very much excited and alarmed about me, and endeavored to ford the swift river with his infantry and artillery, but soon had to abandon the attempt, as three or four of the poor fellows were swept off their feet and drowned. Meantime Nesmith came up with his mounted force, crossed over, and joined me.
The Indians now fell back to a high ridge, on the crest of which they marched and countermarched, threatening to charge down its face. Most of them were naked, and as their persons were painted in gaudy colors and decorated with strips of red flannel, red blankets and gay war-bonnets, their appearance presented a scene of picturesque barbarism, fascinating but repulsive. As they numbered about six hundred, the chances of whipping them did not seem overwhelmingly in our favor, yet Nesmith and I concluded we would give them a little fight, provided we could engage them without going beyond the ridge. But all our efforts were in vain, for as we advanced they retreated, and as we drew back they reappeared and renewed their parade and noisy demonstrations, all the time beating their drums and yelling lustily. They could not be tempted into a fight where we desired it, however, and as we felt unequal to any pursuit beyond the ridge without the assistance of the infantry and artillery, we re-crossed the river and encamped with Rains. It soon became apparent that the noisy demonstrations of the Indians were intended only as a blind to cover the escape of their women and children to a place of safety in the mountains.
Next morning we took up our march without crossing the river; and as our route would lead us by the point on the opposite bank where the Indians had made their picturesque display the day before, they at an early hour came over to our side, and rapidly moved ahead of us to some distant hills, leaving in our pathway some of the more venturesome young braves, who attempted, to retard our advance by opening fire at long range from favorable places where they lay concealed. This fire did us little harm, but it had the effect of making our progress so slow that the patience of every one but General Rains was well-nigh exhausted.
About 2 o'clock in the afternoon we arrived well up near the base of the range of hills, and though it was growing late we still had time to accomplish something, but our commanding officer decided that it was best to go into camp, and make a systematic attack next morning. I proposed that he let me charge with my dragoons through the narrow canon where the river broke through the range, while the infantry should charge up the hill and drive the enemy from the top down on the other side. In this way I thought we might possibly catch some of the fugitives, but his extreme caution led him to refuse the suggestion, so we pitched our tents out of range of their desultory fire, but near enough to observe plainly their menacing and tantalizing exhibitions of contempt.
In addition to firing occasionally, they called us all sorts of bad names, made indecent gestures, and aggravated us, so that between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon, by an inexplicable concert of action, and with a serious breach of discipline, a large number of the men and many of the officers broke en masse from the camp with loud yells and charged the offending savages. As soon as this mob got within musket-shot they opened fire on the Indians, who ran down the other face of the ridge without making the slightest resistance. The hill was readily taken by this unmilitary proceeding, and no one was hurt on either side, but as Rains would not permit it to be held, a large bonfire was lighted on the crest in celebration of the victory, and then all hands marched back to camp, where they had no sooner arrived and got settled down than the Indians returned to the summit of the ridge, seemingly to enjoy the fire that had been so generously built for their benefit, and with renewed taunts and gestures continued to insult us.
Our camp that night was strongly picketed, and when we awoke in the morning the Indians still occupied their position on the hill. At daylight we advanced against them, two or three companies of infantry moving forward to drive them from the summit, while our main column passed through the canon into the upper Yakima Valley led by my dragoons, who were not allowed to charge into the gorge, as the celerity of such a movement might cause the tactical combination to fail.
As we passed slowly and cautiously through the canon the Indians ran rapidly away, and when we reached the farther end they had entirely disappeared from our front, except one old fellow, whose lame horse prevented him keeping up with the main body. This presented an opportunity for gaining results which all thought should not be lost, so our guide, an Indian named "Cut-mouth John," seized upon it, and giving hot chase, soon, overtook the poor creature, whom he speedily killed without much danger to himself, for the fugitive was armed with only an old Hudson's Bay flint-lock horse-pistol which could not be discharged.
"Cut-mouth John's" engagement began and ended all the fighting that took place on this occasion, and much disappointment and discontent followed, Nesmith's mounted force and my dragoons being particularly disgusted because they had not been "given a chance." During the remainder of the day we cautiously followed the retreating foe, and late in the evening went into camp a short distance from Father Pandoza's Mission; where we were to await a small column of troops under command of Captain Maurice Maloney, of the Fourth Infantry, that was to join us from Steilicom by way of the Natchez Pass, and from which no tidings had as yet been received.
Next morning the first thing I saw when I put my head out from my blankets was "Cut-mouth John," already mounted and parading himself through the camp. The scalp of the Indian he had despatched the day before was tied to the cross-bar of his bridle bit, the hair dangling almost to the ground, and John was decked out in the sacred vestments of Father Pandoza, having, long before any one was stiring in camp, ransacked the log-cabin at the Mission in which the good man had lived. John was at all times a most repulsive looking individual, a part of his mouth having been shot away in a fight with Indians near Walla Walla some years before, in which a Methodist missionary had been killed; but his revolting personal appearance was now worse than ever, and the sacrilegious use of Father Pandoza's vestments, coupled with the ghastly scalp that hung from his bridle, so turned opinion against him that he was soon captured, dismounted, and his parade brought to an abrupt close, and I doubt whether he ever after quite reinstated himself in the good graces of the command.
In the course of the day nearly all the men visited the Mission, but as it had been plundered by the Indians at the outbreak of hostilities, when Father Pandoza was carried off, little of value was left about it except a considerable herd of pigs, which the father with great difficulty had succeeded in accumulating from a very small beginning. The pigs had not been disturbed by the Indians, but the straggling troops soon disposed of them, and then turned their attention to the cabbages and potatoes in the garden, with the intention, no doubt, of dining that day on fresh pork and fresh vegetables instead of on salt junk and hard bread, which formed their regular diet on the march. In digging up the potatoes some one discovered half a keg of powder, which had been buried in the garden by the good father to prevent the hostile Indians from getting it to use against the whites. As soon as this was unearthed wild excitement ensued, and a cry arose that Father Pandoza was the person who furnished powder to the Indians; that here was the proof; that at last the mysterious means by which the Indians obtained ammunition was explained--and a rush was made for the mission building. This was a comfortable log-house of good size, built by the Indians for a school and church, and attached to one end was the log-cabin residence of the priest. Its destruction was a matter of but a few moments. A large heap of dry wood was quickly collected and piled in the building, matches applied, and the whole Mission, including the priest's house, was soon enveloped in flames, and burned to the ground before the officers in camp became aware of the disgraceful plundering in which their men were engaged.
The commanding officer having received no news from Captain Maloney during the day, Colonel Nesmith and I were ordered to go to his rescue, as it was concluded that he had been surrounded by Indians in the Natchez Pass. We started early the next morning, the snow falling slightly as we set out, and soon arrived at the eastern mouth of the Natchez Pass. On the way we noticed an abandoned Indian village, which had evidently not been occupied for some time. As we proceeded the storm increased, and the snow-fall became deeper and deeper, until finally our horses could not travel through it. In consequence we were compelled to give up further efforts to advance, and obliged to turn back to the abandoned village, where we encamped for the night. Near night-fall the storm greatly increased, and our bivouac became most uncomfortable; but spreading my blankets on the snow and covering them with Indian matting, I turned in and slept with that soundness and refreshment accorded by nature to one exhausted by fatigue. When I awoke in the morning I found myself under about two feet of snow, from which I arose with difficulty, yet grateful that it had kept me warm during the night.
After a cup of coffee and a little hard bread, it was decided we should return to the main camp near the Mission, for we were now confident that Maloney was delayed by the snow, and safe enough on the other side of the mountains. At all events he was beyond aid from us, for the impassable snowdrifts could not be overcome with the means in our possession. It turned out that our suppositions as to the cause of his delay were correct. He had met with the same difficulties that confronted us, and had been compelled to go into camp.
Meanwhile valuable time had been lost, and the Indians, with their families and stock, were well on their way to the Okenagan country, a region into which we could not penetrate in the winter season. No other course was therefore left but to complete the dismal failure of the expedition by returning home, and our commander readily gave the order to march back to the Dalles by the "short" route over the Yakima Mountains.
As the storm was still unabated, it was evident our march home would be a most difficult one, and it was deemed advisable to start back at once, lest we should be blocked up in the mountains by the snows for a period beyond which our provisions would not last. Relying on the fact that the short route to the Dalles would lead us over the range at its most depressed point, where it was hoped the depth of snow was not yet so great as to make the route impassable, we started with Colonel Nesmith's battalion in advance to break the road, followed by my dragoons. In the valley we made rapid progress, but when we reached the mountain every step we took up its side showed the snow to be growing deeper and deeper. At last Nesmith reached the summit, and there found a depth of about six feet of snow covering the plateau in every direction, concealing all signs of the trail so thoroughly that his guides became bewildered and took the wrong divide. The moment I arrived at the top my guide--Donald Mc Kay--who knew perfectly the whole Yakima range, discovered Nesmith's mistake. Word was sent to bring him back, but as he had already nearly crossed the plateau, considerable delay occurred before he returned. When he arrived we began anew the work of breaking a road for the foot troops behind us, my detachment now in advance. The deep snow made our work extremely laborious, exhausting men and horses almost to the point of relinquishing the struggle, but our desperate situation required that we should get down into the valley beyond, or run the chance of perishing on the mountain in a storm which seemed unending. About midnight the column reached the valley, very tired and hungry, but much elated over its escape. We had spent a day of the most intense anxiety, especially those who had had the responsibility of keeping to the right trail, and been charged with the hard work of breaking the road for the infantry and artillery through such a depth of snow.
Our main difficulties were now over, and in due time we reached the Dalles, where almost everyone connected with the expedition voted it a wretched failure; indeed, General Rains himself could not think otherwise, but he scattered far and wide blame for the failure of his combinations. This, of course, led to criminations and recriminations, which eventuated in charges of incompetency preferred against him by Captain Edward O. C. Ord, of the Third Artillery. Rains met the charges with counter-charges against Ord, whom he accused of purloining Father Pandoza's shoes, when the soldiers in their fury about the ammunition destroyed the Mission. At the time of its destruction a rumor of this nature was circulated through camp, started by some wag, no doubt in jest; for Ord, who was somewhat eccentric in his habits, and had started on the expedition rather indifferently shod in carpet-slippers, here came out in a brand-new pair of shoes. Of course there was no real foundation for such a report, but Rains was not above small things, as the bringing of this petty accusation attests. Neither party was ever tried, for General John E. Wool the department commander, had not at command a sufficient number of officers of appropriate rank to constitute a court in the case of Rains, and the charges against Ord were very properly ignored on account of their trifling character.
Shortly after the expedition returned to the Dalles, my detachment was sent down to Fort Vancouver, and I remained at that post during the winter of 1855-'56, till late in March.
CHAPTER V. AN INDIAN CONFEDERATION--MASSACRE AT THE CASCADES OF THE COLUMBIA- -PLAN TO RELIEVE THE BLOCKHOUSE--A HAZARDOUS FLANK MOVEMENT--A NEW METHOD OF ESTABLISHING GUILT--EXECUTION OF THE INDIAN MURDERERS.
The failure of the Haller expedition from lack of a sufficient force, and of the Rains expedition from the incompetency of its commander, was a great mortification to the officers and men connected with them, and, taken together, had a marked effect upon the Indian situation in Oregon and Washington Territories at that particular era. Besides, it led to further complications and troubles, for it had begun to dawn upon the Indians that the whites wanted to come in and dispossess them of their lands and homes, and the failures of Haller and Rains fostered the belief with the Indians that they could successfully resist the pressure of civilization.
Acting under these influences, the Spokanes, Walla Wallas, Umatillas, and Nez Perces cast their lot with the hostiles, and all the savage inhabitants of the region east of the Cascade Range became involved in a dispute as to whether the Indians or the Government should possess certain sections of the country, which finally culminated in the war of 1856.
Partly to meet the situation that was approaching, the Ninth Infantry had been sent out from the Atlantic coast to Washington Territory, and upon its arrival at Fort Vancouver encamped in front of the officers' quarters, on the beautiful parade-ground of that post, and set about preparing for the coming campaign. The commander, Colonel George Wright, who had been promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment upon its organization the previous year, had seen much active duty since his graduation over thirty years before, serving with credit in the Florida and Mexican wars. For the three years previous to his assignment to the Ninth Infantry he had been stationed on the Pacific coast, and the experience he had there acquired, added to his excellent soldierly qualities, was of much benefit in the active campaigns in which, during the following years, he was to participate. Subsequently his career was brought to an untimely close when, nine years after this period, as he was returning to the scene of his successes, he, in common with many others was drowned by the wreck of the ill-fated steamer Brother Jonathan. Colonel Wright took command of the district in place of Rains, and had been at Vancouver but a short time before he realized that it would be necessary to fight the confederated tribes east of the Cascade Range of mountains, in order to disabuse them of the idea that they were sufficiently strong to cope with the power of the Government. He therefore at once set about the work of organizing and equipping his troops for a start in the early spring against the hostile Indians, intending to make the objective point of his expedition the heart of the Spokane country on the Upper Columbia River, as the head and front of the confederation was represented in the person of old Cammiackan, chief of the Spokanes.
The regiment moved from Fort Vancouver by boat, March 25, 1856, and landed at the small town called the Dalles, below the mouth of the Des Chutes River at the eastern base of the Cascade Range, and just above where the Columbia River enters those mountains. This rendezvous was to be the immediate point of departure, and all the troops composing the expedition were concentrated there.
On the morning of March 26 the movement began, but the column had only reached Five Mile Creek when the Yakimas, joined by many young warriors-free lances from other tribes, made a sudden and unexpected attack at the Cascades of the Columbia, midway between Vancouver and the Dalles, killed several citizens, women and children, and took possession of the Portage by besieging the settlers in their cabins at the Upper Cascades, and those who sought shelter at the Middle Cascades in the old military block-house, which had been built some years before as a place of refuge under just such circumstances. These points held out, and were not captured, but the landing at the Lower Cascades fell completely into the hands of the savages. Straggling settlers from the Lower Cascades made their way down to Fort Vancouver, distant about thirty-six miles, which they reached that night; and communicated the condition of affairs. As the necessity for early relief to the settlers and the re-establishment of communication with the Dalles were apparent, all the force that could be spared was ordered out, and in consequence I immediately received directions to go with my detachment of dragoons, numbering about forty effective men, to the relief of the middle blockhouse, which really meant to retake the Cascades. I got ready at once, and believing that a piece of artillery would be of service to me, asked for one, but as there proved to be no guns at the post, I should have been obliged to proceed without one had it not been that the regular steamer from San Francisco to Portland was lying at the Vancouver dock unloading military supplies, and the commander, Captain Dall, supplied me with the steamer's small iron cannon, mounted on a wooden platform, which he used in firing salutes at different ports on the arrival and departure of the vessel. Finding at the arsenal a supply of solid shot that would fit the gun, I had it put upon the steamboat Belle, employed to carry my command to the scene of operations, and started up the Columbia River at 2 A.M. on the morning of the 27th. We reached the Lower Cascades early in the day, where, selecting a favorable place for the purpose, I disembarked my men and gun on the north bank of the river, so that I could send back the steamboat to bring up any volunteer assistance that in the mean time might have been collected at Vancouver.
The Columbia River was very high at the time, and the water had backed up into the slough about the foot of the Lower Cascades to such a degree that it left me only a narrow neck of firm ground to advance over toward the point occupied by the Indians. On this neck of land the hostiles had taken position, as I soon learned by frequent shots, loud shouting, and much blustering; they, by the most exasperating yells and indecent exhibitions, daring me to the contest.
After getting well in hand everything connected with my little command, I advanced with five or six men to the edge of a growth of underbrush to make a reconnoissance. We stole along under cover of this underbrush until we reached the open ground leading over the causeway or narrow neck before mentioned, when the enemy opened fire and killed a soldier near my side by a shot which, just grazing the bridge of my nose, struck him in the neck, opening an artery and breaking the spinal cord. He died instantly. The Indians at once made a rush for the body, but my men in the rear, coming quickly to the rescue, drove them back; and Captain Doll's gun being now brought into play, many solid shot were thrown into the jungle where they lay concealed, with the effect of considerably moderating their impetuosity. Further skirmishing at long range took place at intervals during the day, with little gain or loss, however, to either side, for both parties held positions which could not be assailed in flank, and only the extreme of rashness in either could prompt a front attack. My left was protected by the back water driven into the slough by the high stage of the river, and my right rested secure on the main stream. Between us was only the narrow neck of land, to cross which would be certain death. The position of the Indians was almost the exact counterpart of ours.
In the evening I sent a report of the situation back to Vancouver by the steamboat, retaining a large Hudson's Bay bateau which I had brought up with me. Examining this I found it would carry about twenty men, and made up my mind that early next morning I would cross the command to the opposite or south side of the Columbia River, and make my way up along the mountain base until I arrived abreast the middle blockhouse, which was still closely besieged, and then at some favorable point recross to the north bank to its relief, endeavoring in this manner to pass around and to the rear of the Indians, whose position confronting me was too strong for a direct attack. This plan was hazardous, but I believed it could be successfully carried out if the boat could be taken with me; but should I not be able to do this I felt that the object contemplated in sending me out would miserably fail, and the small band cooped up at the block-house would soon starve or fall a prey to the Indians, so I concluded to risk all the chances the plan involved.
On the morning of March 28 the savages were still in my front, and after giving them some solid shot from Captain Dall's gun we slipped down to the river-bank, and the detachment crossed by means of the Hudson's Bay boat, making a landing on the opposite shore at a point where the south channel of the river, after flowing around Bradford's Island, joins the main stream. It was then about 9 o'clock, and everything had thus far proceeded favorably, but examination of the channel showed that it would be impossible to get the boat up the rapids along the mainland, and that success could only be assured by crossing the south channel just below the rapids to the island, along the shore of which there was every probability we could pull the boat through the rocks and swift water until the head of the rapids was reached, from which point to the block-house there was smooth water. Telling the men of the embarrassment in which I found myself, and that if I could get enough of them to man the boat and pull it up the stream by a rope to the shore we would cross to the island and make the attempt, all volunteered to go, but as ten men seemed sufficient I selected that number to accompany me. Before starting, however, I deemed it prudent to find out if possible what was engaging the attention of the Indians, who had not yet discovered that we had left their front. I therefore climbed up the side of the abrupt mountain which skirted the water's edge until I could see across the island. From this point I observed the Indians running horse-races and otherwise enjoying themselves behind the line they had held against me the day before. The squaws decked out in gay colors, and the men gaudily dressed in war bonnets, made the scene most attractive, but as everything looked propitious for the dangerous enterprise in hand I spent little time watching them. Quickly returning to the boat, I crossed to the island with my ten men, threw ashore the rope attached to the bow, and commenced the difficult task of pulling her up the rapids. We got along slowly at first, but soon striking a camp of old squaws who had been left on the island for safety, and had not gone over to the mainland to see the races, we utilized them to our advantage. With unmistakable threats and signs we made them not only keep quiet, but also give us much needed assistance in pulling vigorously on the towrope of our boat.
I was laboring under a dreadful strain of mental anxiety during all this time, for had the Indians discovered what we were about, they could easily have come over to the island in their canoes, and, by forcing us to take up our arms to repel their attack, doubtless would have obliged the abandonment of the boat, and that essential adjunct to the final success of my plan would have gone down the rapids. Indeed, under such circumstances, it would have been impossible for ten men to hold out against the two or three hundred Indians; but the island forming an excellent screen to our movements, we were not discovered, and when we reached the smooth water at the upper end of the rapids we quickly crossed over and joined the rest of the men, who in the meantime had worked their way along the south bank of the river parallel with us. I felt very grateful to the old squaws for the assistance they rendered. They worked well under compulsion, and manifested no disposition to strike for higher wages. Indeed, I was so much relieved when we had crossed over from the island and joined the rest of the party, that I mentally thanked the squaws one and all. I had much difficulty in keeping the men on the main shore from cheering at our success, but hurriedly taking into the bateau all of them it could carry, I sent the balance along the southern bank, where the railroad is now built, until both detachments arrived at a point opposite the block-house, when, crossing to the north bank, I landed below the blockhouse some little distance, and returned the boat for the balance of the men, who joined me in a few minutes.
When the Indians attacked the people at the Cascades on the 26th, word was sent to Colonel Wright, who had already got out from the Dalles a few miles on his expedition to the Spokane country. He immediately turned his column back, and soon after I had landed and communicated with the beleaguered block-house the advance of his command arrived under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward J. Steptoe. I reported to Steptoe, and related what had occurred during the past thirty-six hours, gave him a description of the festivities that were going on at the lower Cascades, and also communicated the intelligence that the Yakimas had been joined by the Cascade Indians when the place was first attacked. I also told him it was my belief that when he pushed down the main shore the latter tribe without doubt would cross over to the island we had just left, while the former would take to the mountains. Steptoe coincided with me in this opinion, and informing me that Lieutenant Alexander Piper would join my detachment with a mountain' howitzer, directed me to convey the command to the island and gobble up all who came over to it.
Lieutenant Piper and I landed on the island with the first boatload, and after disembarking the howitzer we fired two or three shots to let the Indians know we had artillery with us, then advanced down the island with the whole of my command, which had arrived in the mean time; all of the men were deployed as skirmishers except a small detachment to operate the howitzer. Near the lower end of the island we met, as I had anticipated, the entire body of Cascade Indianmen, women, and children--whose homes were in the vicinity of the Cascades. They were very much frightened and demoralized at the turn events had taken, for the Yakimas at the approach of Steptoe had abandoned them, as predicted, and fled to the mountians. The chief and head-men said they had had nothing to do with the capture of the Cascades, with the murder of men at the upper landing, nor with the massacre of men, women, and children near the block-house, and put all the blame on the Yakimas and their allies. I did not believe this, however, and to test the truth of their statement formed them all in line with their muskets in hand. Going up to the first man on the right I accused him of having engaged in the massacre, but was met by a vigorous denial. Putting my forefinger into the muzzle of his gun, I found unmistakable signs of its having been recently discharged. My finger was black with the stains of burnt powder, and holding it up to the Indian, he had nothing more to say in the face of such positive evidence of his guilt. A further examination proved that all the guns were in the same condition. Their arms were at once taken possession of, and leaving a small, force to look after the women and children and the very old men, so that there could be no possibility of escape, I arrested thirteen of the principal miscreants, crossed the river to the lower landing, and placed them in charge of a strong guard.
Late in the evening the steamboat, which I had sent back to Vancouver, returned, bringing to my assistance from Vancouver, Captain Henry D. Wallen's company of the Fourth Infantry and a company of volunteers hastily organized at Portland, but as the Cascades had already been retaken, this reinforcement was too late to participate in the affair. The volunteers from Portland, however, were spoiling for a fight, and in the absence of other opportunity desired to shoot the prisoners I held (who, they alleged, had killed a man named Seymour), and proceeded to make their arrangements to do so, only desisting on being informed that the Indians were my prisoners, subject to the orders of Colonel Wright, and would be protected to the last by my detachment. Not long afterward Seymour turned up safe and sound, having fled at the beginning of the attack on the Cascades, and hid somewhere in the thick underbrush until the trouble was over, and then made his way back to the settlement. The next day I turned my prisoners over to Colonel Wright, who had them marched to the upper landing of the Cascades, where, after a trial by a military commission, nine of them were sentenced to death and duly hanged. I did not see them executed, but was afterward informed that, in the absence of the usual mechanical apparatus used on such occasions, a tree with a convenient limb under which two empty barrels were placed, one on top of the other, furnished a rude but certain substitute. In executing the sentence each Indian in turn was made to stand on the top barrel, and after the noose was adjusted the lower barrel was knocked away, and the necessary drop thus obtained. In this way the whole nine were punished. Just before death they all acknowledged their guilt by confessing their participation in the massacre at the block-house, and met their doom with the usual stoicism of their race.
CHAPTER VI. MISDIRECTED VENGEANCE--HONORABLE MENTION--CHANGE OF COMMAND--EDUCATED OXEN--FEEDING THE INDIANS--PURCHASING A BURYING-GROUND--KNOWING RATS.
While still encamped at the lower landing, some three or four days after the events last recounted, Mr. Joseph Meek, an old frontiersman and guide for emigrant trains through the mountains, came down from the Dalles, on his way to Vancouver, and stopped at my camp to inquire if an Indian named Spencer and his family had passed down to Vancouver since my arrival at the Cascades. Spencer, the head of the family, was a very influential, peaceable Chinook chief, whom Colonel Wright had taken with him from Fort Vancouver as an interpreter and mediator with the Spokanes and other hostile tribes, against which his campaign was directed. He was a good, reliable Indian, and on leaving Vancouver to join Colonel Wright, took his family along, to remain with relatives and friends at Fort Dalles until the return of the expedition. When Wright was compelled to retrace his steps on account of the capture of the Cascades, this family for some reason known only to Spencer, was started by him down the river to their home at Vancouver.
Meek, on seeing the family leave the Dalles, had some misgivings as to their safe arrival at their destination, because of the excited condition of the people about the Cascades; but Spencer seemed to think that his own peaceable and friendly reputation, which was widespread, would protect them; so he parted from his wife and children with little apprehension as to their safety. In reply to Meek's question, I stated that I had not seen Spencer's family, when he remarked, "Well, I fear that they are gone up," a phrase used in that country in early days to mean that they had been killed. I questioned him closely, to elicit further information, but no more could be obtained; for Meek, either through ignorance or the usual taciturnity of his class, did not explain more fully, and when the steamer that had brought the reinforcement started down the river, he took passage for Vancouver, to learn definitely if the Indian family had reached that point. I at once sent to the upper landing, distant about six miles, to make inquiry in regard to the matter, and in a, little time my messenger returned with the information that the family had reached that place the day before, and finding that we had driven the hostiles off, continued their journey on foot toward my camp, from which point they expected to go by steamer down the river to Vancouver.
Their non-arrival aroused in me suspicions of foul play, so with all the men I could spare, and accompanied by Lieutenant William T. Welcker, of the Ordnance Corps--a warm and intimate friend--I went in search of the family, deploying the men as skirmishers across the valley, and marching them through the heavy forest where the ground was covered with fallen timber and dense underbrush, in order that no point might escape our attention. The search was continued between the base of the mountain and the river without finding any sign of Spencer's family, until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when we discovered them between the upper and lower landing, in a small open space about a mile from the road, all dead--strangled to death with bits of rope. The party consisted of the mother, two youths, three girls, and a baby. They had all been killed by white men, who had probably met the innocent creatures somewhere near the blockhouse, driven them from the road into the timber, where the cruel murders were committed without provocation, and for no other purpose than the gratification of the inordinate hatred of the Indian that has often existed on the frontier, and which on more than one occasion has failed to distinguish friend from foe. The bodies lay in a semicircle, and the bits of rope with which the poor wretches had been strangled to death were still around their necks. Each piece of rope--the unwound strand of a heavier piece--was about two feet long, and encircled the neck of its victim with a single knot, that must have been drawn tight by the murderers pulling at the ends. As there had not been quite enough rope to answer for all, the babe was strangled by means of a red silk handkerchief, taken, doubtless, from the neck of its mother. It was a distressing sight. A most cruel outrage had been committed upon unarmed people--our friends and allies--in a spirit of aimless revenge. The perpetrators were citizens living near the middle block-house, whose wives and children had been killed a few days before by the hostiles, but who well knew that these unoffending creatures had had nothing to do with those murders.
In my experience I have been obliged to look upon many cruel scenes in connection with Indian warfare on the Plains since that day, but the effect of this dastardly and revolting crime has never been effaced from my memory. Greater and more atrocious massacres have been committed often by Indians; their savage nature modifies one's ideas, however, as to the inhumanity of their acts, but when such wholesale murder as this is done by whites, and the victims not only innocent, but helpless, no defense can be made for those who perpetrated the crime, if they claim to be civilized beings. It is true the people at the Cascades had suffered much, and that their wives and children had been murdered before their eyes, but to wreak vengeance on Spencer's unoffending family, who had walked into their settlement under the protection of a friendly alliance, was an unparalleled outrage which nothing can justify or extenuate. With as little delay as possible after the horrible discovery, I returned to camp, had boxes made, and next day buried the bodies of these hapless victims of misdirected vengeance.
The summary punishment inflicted on the nine Indians, in their trial and execution, had a most salutary effect on the confederation, and was the entering wedge to its disintegration; and though Colonel Wright's campaign continued during the summer and into the early winter, the subjugation of the allied bands became a comparatively easy matter after the lesson taught the renegades who were captured at the Cascades. My detachment did not accompany Colonel Wright, but remained for some time at the Cascades, and while still there General Wool came up from San Francisco to take a look into the condition of things. From his conversation with me in reference to the affair at the Cascades, I gathered that he was greatly pleased at the service I had performed, and I afterward found that his report of my conduct had so favorably impressed General Scott that that distinguished officer complimented me from the headquarters of the army in general orders.