Eleven years in the Rocky Mountains and a life on the frontier
LIFE ON THE FRONTIER.
By FRANCES F. VICTOR.
A History of the Sioux War,
AND A LIFE OF
GEN. GEORGE A. CUSTER
WITH FULL ACCOUNT OF HIS LAST BATTLE.
ILLUSTRATED BY ENGRAVINGS AND MAPS.
PUBLISHED BY SUBSCRIPTION ONLY.
R. W. BLISS AND COMPANY.
Columbian Book Company.
When the author of this book has been absorbed in the elegant narratives of Washington Irving, reading and musing over Astoria and Bonneville, in the cozy quiet of a New York study, no prescient motion of the mind ever gave prophetic indication of that personal acquaintance which has since been formed with the scenes, and even with some of the characters which figure in the works just referred to. Yet so have events shaped themselves that to me Astoria is familiar ground; Forts Vancouver and Walla-Walla pictured forever in my memory; while such journeys as I have been enabled to make into the country east of the last named fort, have given me a fair insight into the characteristic features of its mountains and its plains.
To-day, a railroad traverses the level stretch between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, along which, thirty years ago, the fur-traders had worn a trail by their annual excursions with men, pack-horses, and sometimes wagons, destined to the Rocky Mountains. Then, they had to guard against the attacks of the Savages; and in this respect civilization is behind the railroad, for now, as then, it is not safe to travel without a sufficient escort. To-day, also, we have new Territories called by several names cut out of the identical hunting-grounds of the fur-traders of thirty years ago; and steamboats plying the rivers where the mountain-men came to set their traps for beaver; or cities growing up like mushrooms from a soil made quick by gold, where the hardy mountain-hunter pursued the buffalo herds in search of his winter's supply of food.
The wonderful romance which once gave enchantment to stories of hardship and of daring deeds, suffered and done in these then distant wilds, is fast being dissipated by the rapid settlement of the new Territories, and by the familiarity of the public mind with tales of stirring adventure encountered in the search for glittering ores. It was, then, not without an emotion of pleased surprise that I first encountered in the fertile plains of Western Oregon the subject of this biography, a man fifty-eight years of age, of fine appearance and buoyant temper, full of anecdote, and with a memory well stored with personal recollections of all the men of note who have formerly visited the old Oregon Territory, when it comprised the whole country west of the Rocky Mountains lying north of California and south of the forty-ninth parallel. This man is Joseph L. Meek, to whose stories of mountain-life I have listened for days together; and who, after having figured conspicuously, and not without considerable fame, in the early history of Oregon, still prides himself most of all on having been a "mountain-man."
It has frequently been suggested to Mr. Meek, who has now come to be known by the familiar title of "Uncle Joe" to all Oregon, that a history of his varied adventures would make a readable book, and some of his neighbors have even undertaken to become his historian, yet with so little well-directed efforts that the task after all has fallen to a comparative stranger. I confess to having taken hold of it with some doubts as to my claims to the office; and the best recommendation I can give my work is the interest I myself felt in the subject of it; and the only apology I can offer for anything incredible in the narrative which it may contain, is that I "tell the tale as 'twas told to me," and that I have no occasion to doubt the truth of it.
Seeing that the incidents I had to record embraced a period of a score and a half of years, and that they extended over those years most interesting in Oregon history, as well as of the history of the Fur Trade in the West, I have concluded to preface Mr. Meek's adventures with a sketch of the latter, believing that the information thus conveyed to the reader will give an additional degree of interest to their narration. The impression made upon my own mind as I gained a knowledge of the facts which I shall record in this book relating to the early occupation of Oregon, was that they were not only profoundly romantic, but decidedly unique.Mr. Meek was born in Washington Co., Virginia, in 1810, one year before the settlement of Astoria, and at a period when Congress was much interested in the question of our Western possessions and their boundary. "Manifest destiny" seemed to have raised him up, together with many others, bold, hardy, and fearless men, to become sentinels on the outposts of civilization, securing to the United States with comparative ease a vast extent of territory, for which, without them, a long struggle with England would have taken place, delaying the settlement of the Pacific Coast for many years, if not losing it to us altogether. It is not without a feeling of genuine self-congratulation, that I am able to bear testimony to the services, hitherto hardly recognized, of the "mountain-men" who have settled in Oregon. Whenever there shall arise a studious and faithful historian, their names shall not be excluded from honorable mention, nor least illustrious will appear that of Joseph L. Meek, the Rocky Mountain Hunter and Trapper.
Astoria—Fort Vancouver—Its isolated Position—Precautions against Indians—The Hudson's Bay Company—Its Policy and Intercourse with the Indians—The Arrival of the "Brigade"—Other Yearly Arrivals—Punishment of Indian Offenders—Indian Strategy—A Hero—The American Fur Companies—Their Dealings with the Indians—Ashley's Expeditions to Green River—Attack on Smith's Party—Wyeth's Expeditions—Fort Hall—Decline of the Fur Trade—Causes of the Indians' Hostility—Dangers attending the Trapper's Life,23
Early Life of Meek—He leaves Home—Enlists in a Fur Company—On the March—A Warning Voice—Frontier Sports—Last Vestige of Civilization—On the Plains—A first Adventure—A firm Front—A Parley—The Summer Rendezvous—An enchanting Picture—The Free Trapper's Indian Wife—Wild Carousals—Routine of Camp Life—Smoked Moccasins versus Green Ones—A "Trifling Fellow,"41
The Camp in Motion—A Trapping Expedition—Opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company—Beautiful Scenery—The Lost Leader Found—Rejoicings in Camp—The "Luck" of the Trappers—Conference of Leaders—The "Devil's Own"—Blackfoot Character—Account of the Tribes,57
How Beaver are Taken—Beaver Dams—Formation of Meadows—Beaver Lodges—"Bachelors"—Trapping in Winter—"Up to Trap"—Blackfeet on the Trail—On Guard—The Trapper's Ruse—A disappointed Bear—A Fight with Blackfeet—"Out of Luck"—Alone in the Mountains—Splendid Views—A Miserable Night—The last Luxury of Life—The Awfulness of Solitude—A Singular Discovery—A Hell on Earth—A Joyful Recognition—Hard Times in Camp—The Negro's Porcupine—Craig's Rabbit—Deep Snows—What the Scout saw—Bighorn River—"Colter's Hell"—An Alarm—Arrival at Wind River—Christmas,64
Removal to Powder River—A Trapper's Paradise—The Transformation in the Wilderness—The Encampment by Night—Meek takes to Study— On the Move—Loss of Horses and Traps—Robbed and Insulted by a Bear—Crossing the Yellowstone—A Novel Ferriage—Annoyance from Blackfeet—A Cache Opened—A Comrade Killed—Rude Burial Service—Return to Rendezvous—Gay Times—The old Partners take Leave,82
Grizzly Bears—An Adventure with a Grizzly—The Three "Bares"—The Mountain-Man's Manners—Joking the Leaders—The Irishman and the Booshway—How Sublette climbed a Tree and escaped a Bear—Rival Trappers—Whisky as a Strong Card—Ogden's Indian Wife—Her Courage and Escape—Winter Quarters—Crow Horse-Thieves—An Expedition on Foot—Night Attack on the Indian Fort—Fitzpatrick Missing—Destitution in Camp—A "Medicine-Man" consulted—"Making Medicine"—A Vision Obtained—Fitzpatrick Found—Death of Smith—An Expedition on Snow-Shoes,90
Annoying Competition—The Chief's Daughter—Sublette Wounded—Forty Days of Isolation—Sublette and Meek captured by Snake Indians—A Solemn Council—Sentence of Death—Hope Deferred—A Rescue—The "Mountain Lamb"—An Obstinate Rival—Blackfeet Marauders—Fitzpatrick's Adventures in the Mountains—"When the Pie was opened the Birds began to Sing"—Rough Sports—A Man on Fire—Brigades ready for the Start—Blackfeet Caravan—Peaceful Overtures—The Half-Breed's Revenge—A Battle—Reinforcements—Death of Sinclair—Sublette Wounded—Greenhorns—A false Alarm—Indian Adroitness—A Deserted Fort—Incident of the Blackfoot Woman—Murder of a Party by Blackfeet,103119
A Visit from Blackfeet—The Green River Rendezvous—A "Powerful Drunk"—Mad Wolf—A Friendly Warning—A Trip to the Salt Lake Country—Meek Joins Jo. Walker's California Expedition—Instinct of the Mule—On the Humboldt River—Massacre of Diggers at Mary's River—Vain Explorations—Crossing the Sierra Nevadas—Hardships and Sufferings—The Sacramento Valley—Delight of the Trappers—Meeting with Spanish Soldiers—A Parley—Escorted to Monterey—A Hospitable Reception—The Native Californians—Visit to the Mohave Village—Meeting with Trapp and Jervais—Infamous Conduct at the Moquis Village—The Return March,141
In the Camanche Country—A Surprise and a Rapid Movement—The Mule Fort—A Camanche Charge—Sure Aim—Another Charge—More Dead Indians—Woman's Weapon, the Tongue—Fearful Heat and Sufferings from Thirst—The Escape by Night—The South Park—Death of Guthrie—Meeting with Bonneville—Indignant Reproaches,154
Gossip at Rendezvous—Adventures in the Crow Country—Fitzpatrick Picked by the Crows and Flies from Them—Honor among Thieves—Unfair Treatment of Wyeth—Bonneville Snubbed at Walla-Walla—He Rejects good Counsel—Wyeth's Threat, and its Fulfillment—Division of Territory,160
In the Blackfoot Country—A Visit to Wyeth's Trappers—Sorry Experiences—Condolence and its Effect—The Visitors become Defenders—A Battle with Fire and Sword—Fighting for Life—The Trappers' Victory—A Trapping Excursion—Meek Plays a Trick and has one Played on Him—A Run to Camp—Taking up Traps—A Blackfoot Ambush—A Running Fire—A lucky Escape—Winter Camp on the Yellowstone—Interpretation of a Dream—A Buffalo Hunt and a Blackfoot Surprise—Meek's Mule Story,166
Setting up as a Family Man—First Love—Cut out by the Booshway—Reward of Constancy—Beauty of Umentucken—Her Dress, Her Horse and Equipments—Anecdotes of the Mountain Lamb—Her Quarrel with The Trapper—Capture by Crows—Her Rescue—Meek Avenges an Insult—A Row in Camp—The Female Element—Death of Umentucken,175
Visitors at Rendezvous—Advent of Missionaries—What Brought Them—Bonneville's account of the Nez Perces and Flatheads—An Enthusiastic View of Their Characters—Origin of some of Their Religious Observances—An Indian's Idea of a God—Material Good Desired—Mistake of the Missionaries—First Sermon in the Rocky Mountains—Interrupted by Buffaloes—Precept and Example—Dr. Whitman's Character—The Missionaries Separate—Dr. Whitman Returns to the States,181
Meek Falls into the Hands of Crows—The Story as He tells It—He Packs Moccasins, and Bears the Jeers of the Fair Sex—Bridger's Camp Discovered and the Lie Found out—A Desperate Situation—Signaling the Horse-Guard—A Parley with Bridger—Successful Strategy—Capture of Little-Gun—Meek Set at Liberty with a New Name—A Fort Besieged by Bears—A Lazy Trapper—The Decoy of the Delawares—Winter Amusements—The Ishmaelite of the Wilderness—March through the Crow Country—Return to Green River—Punishment of the Bannacks—Consolidation—An Excursion—Intercepted by Crows—A Scattered Camp—The Escape,189
An Express from Fitzpatrick—The Approach of Missionaries Announced—The Caravan Welcomed by a Party of Trappers—Noisy Demonstrations—Curiosity of the Indians—The Missionary Ladies—Preparations in the Indian Villages—Reception of the Missionaries by the Nez Perces and Flatheads—Kind Treatment from the Hudson's Bay Company—The Missionaries' Land of Promise—Visit to Fort Vancouver—Selection of Missionary Stations,201
The Den of Rattlesnakes—The Old Frenchman—How to Keep Snakes out of Bed—The Prairie Dog's Tenants at Will—Fight with Blackfeet—Policy of War—A Duel Averted—A Run-away Bear—Meek's Best Bear Fight—Winter Quarters on Powder River—Robbing Bonneville's Men,214225
Decline of the Fur Trade—Wild Scenes at Rendezvous—A Missionary Party—Entertained by a War Dance—Meek in Armor—Deserted by his Indian Spouse—The Pursuit—Meek abuses a Missionary and Kidnaps his Wife—Meek's Black Eyed Daughter—Singing for a Biscuit—Trapping Again—A hot March, and Fearful Suffering from Thirst—The Old Flathead Woman—Water at Last,237
A Chat about Buffalo Hunting—Buffalo Horses—The Start—The Pursuit—The Charge—Tumbles—Horsemanship—The Glory of Mountain Life—How a Nez Perce Village Hunts Buffalo—Kit Carson and the Frenchman on a Run—Mountain Manners,246
The Solitary Trapper—A Jest—Among the Nez Perces—Their Eagerness to be Taught—Meek is Called upon to Preach—He modestly Complies—Asks for a Wife—Polygamy Defended—Meek Gets a Wife—The Preacher's Salary—Surprised by Blackfeet—Death of Allen—The Last Rendezvous—Anecdote of Shawnee Jim—The new Wife Missing—Meeting with Farnham—Cold and Famine—Succor and Food—Parties at Fort Crockett—Setting up in Trade—How Al. Saved His Bacon—Bad Times—War upon Horse Thieves—In Search of Adventures—Green River Canyon—Running Antelope—Gambling—Vain Hunt for Rendezvous—Reflections and Half-Resolves—The last Trapping Expedition,251
A new Start in Life—Mountain-Men for Pioneers—Discovery of the Columbia River—What Capt. Gray Did—What Vancouver Did—The United States' Claim to Oregon—First Missionaries to the Wallamet—John McLaughlin—Hospitalities of Fort Vancouver—The Mission Reinforced—Other Settlers in the Wallamet Valley—How they Regarded the Mission—The California Cattle Company—Distribution of Settlers,264271
Security of Employment—Wilkes' Exploring Expedition—Meek Employed as Pilot—Interchange of Courtesies at Vancouver—"The Peacock"—Unpleasant Reminder—Exploring the Cowelitz—Wilkes' Chronometer—Land Expedition to California—Meek Discharged—Gleaning Wheat—Fifty Miles for an Axe—Visit to the New Mission—Praying for a Cow—Marriage Ceremony,280
The Brooding of Events—Arrival of the Chenamus—Meek Celebrates the Fourth of July—Dr. Whitman Goes to Washington—An Alarming Feature—Mission Stations of the Upper Country—Discontent of the Indians—The Missionaries Insulted and Threatened—Mrs. Whitman Frightened Away from Waiilatpu,285
The Plot Thickens—The Wolf Association—Suspicions of the Canadians—"Who's for a Divide?"—The Die Cast—A Shout for Freedom—Meek Appointed Sheriff—The Provisional Government,291
Arrival of the Immigration at the Dalles—Wagons Abandoned—Pitiable Condition of the Women and Children—Aid from the Hudson's Bay Company—Perils of the Columbia—Wreck of the Boat—Wonderful Escape—Trials of the New Colonists—The Generous Savage—The Barefoot Lawyer—Meek's Pumpkin—Privation of the Settlers—Shopping under Difficulties—Attempt to Manufacture Ardent Spirits—Dilemma of the People—An Appeal—The Sheriff Destroys the Distillery—Anecdote of Dr. White and Madam Cooper—Meek Levies on Her Whisky—First Official Act of the Sheriff,294306
Difficulty of Collecting Taxes—A Ponderous Currency—Dr. McLaughlin's Ox—An Exciting Year—The Boundary Question—"Fifty-four-forty or Fight"—War Vessels in the Columbia—Loss of the Shark—Meek Receives a Salute—Schenck Arrested—The Color-Stand of the Shark—"Sunset at the Mouth of the Columbia,"320
"The Adventures of a Columbia River Salmon"—History of the Immigration of 1846—Opening of Southern Route to the Wallamet—Tragic Fate of the California Immigrants—Sufferings of the Oregon Immigrants—Tardy Relief—Celebrating the Fourth of July—Visit to the Ship Brutus—An Insult to the Mountain-Men—The Indignity Resented with a Twelve-Pounder—Dr. McLaughlin Interferes—Re-election of Meek—Large Immigration—Failure of the Territorial Bill—Affray between Immigrants and Indians at the Dalles—Meeting of the Legislature—Falling of the Thunderbolt,325
Trouble with the Up-Country Indians—Causes of their Disquiet—Their Opinion of the Americans—"Humbugged and Cheated"—Fear of Greater Frauds in the Future—Resolve not to Submit—Their Feelings Toward Dr. Whitman—Acts of Violence—Influence of the Catholic Missionaries—A Season of Severe Sickness—What Provoked the Massacre—Joe Lewis the Half-Breed—The Fatal Test—Sickness Among the Immigrants—Dr. Whitman's Family—Persons at the Mission and Mill—Helen Mar—Arrival of Mr. Whitman and his Daughter—A Night Visit to the Umatilla—In the Lodge of Stickas, the Walla-Walla Chief—The Warning of Stickas and His Family—The Death Song—"Beware of the Cayuses at the Mission!"—Mr. Spaulding meets Brouillet, the Catholic Bishop—News of the Massacre—Escape to the Woods—Night Journeys to Lapwai,334344
Horrors of the Waiilatpu Massacre—Exemption of the Catholics—Charges of the Protestants—Natural Suspicions—Further Particulars of the Massacre—Cruelty to the Children—Fate of the Young Women—Miss Bulee and the Priests—Lapwai Mission—Arrival of Mr. Camfield—An Indian Trait—Heroism of Mrs. Spalding—Appeal to the Chiefs—Arrival of the News—Lapwai Plundered—Treachery of Joseph—Arrival of Mr. Spalding—Detained as Hostages—Ransomed by the H.B. Company—The "Blood of the Martyrs"—Country Abandoned to the Indians—Subsequent Return of Mr. Spalding to the Nez Perces,353
The Call to Arms—Meetings and Speeches—Ways and Means of Defence—The first Regiment of Oregon Riflemen—Messenger to the Governor of California—Meek Chosen Messenger to the President of the United States—He Proceeds to the Dalles—The Army Marches to Waiilatpu—A Skirmish with the Des Chutes—Burial of the Victims—Meek Escorted to the Blue Mountains,362
Meek's Party—Precautions against Indians—Meeting with Bannacks—White Lies—Fort Hall—Deep Snows—Horses Abandoned—The Mountain Spirit Returning—Meeting with Peg-Leg Smith—A Mountain Revel—Meeting with An Old Leader—Reception at Fort Laramie—Passing the Sioux Village—Courtesy of a French Trader—Reflections on Nearing the Settlements—Resolve to Remain Joe Meek—Reception at St. Joseph—"The Quickest Trip Yet"—Arrival at St. Louis—Meek as Steamboat Runner—Interview with the Stage Agent at Wheeling—Astonishing the Natives—The Puzzled Conductor—Arrival at Washington,368381
Meek Appointed U.S. Marshal for Oregon—"Home Sweet Home"—Pay of the Delegates—The Lion's Share—Meek's Interview with Gov. Lane—Buying out a Peddler—The Escort of Riflemen—The Start from St. Louis, and the Route—Meeting Price's Army—An Adventure and a Pleasant Surprise—Leaving the Wagons—Desertion of Soldiers—Drought—The Trick of the Yumas—Demoralization of the Train—Rumors of Gold—Gen. Lane's Coffee—The Writer's Reflection—The Party on Foot—Extreme Sufferings—Arrival at William's Ranch—Speculation in Silks and Jack-Knives—Miners at Los Angelos—Oregonians at San Francisco—Nat Lane and Meek Take the Gold Fever—Meek's Investment—The Governor and Marshal Quarrel—Pranks with a Jew—A Salute—Arrival in Oregon City,394
Lane's Course with the Cayuse Indians—Magnanimity of the Savages—Rebuke to Their Captors—Their Statements to Meek—The Puzzle of Indian Ethics—Incidents of the Trial and Execution—State of the Upper Country for A Term of Years—How Meek Was Received in Oregon—His Incurable Waggishness—Scene in a Court-Room—Contempt of Court—Judge Nelson and the Carpenters—Two Hundred Lies—An Excursion by the Oregon Court—Indians Tried for Murder—Proceedings of a Jury—Sentence and Execution of the Indians—The Chief's Wife—Cost of Proceedings—Lane's Career in Oregon—Gov. Davis,408417
English Tourists' Camp—Doubtful Friends.—Frontispiece.
Winter Couriers of the North-West Fur Company,23
A Station of the Hudson's Bay Company,30
Watching for Indian Horse-Thieves,38
Map of the Fur Country,40
The Summer Rendezvous,48
Beavers at Work,66
Hunters' Winter Camp,81
The Three "Bares,"92
The Wrong End of the Tree,94
Scouts in the Blackfoot Country—"Elk or Indians?",132
Branding Cattle in Southern California,150
A Fight with Camanches—The Mule Fort,155
View on the Columbia,165
The Free Trapper's Indian Wife,177
"Indians, by Jove!"200
Descending the Blue Mountains,211
The Bear in Camp,219
Satisfied with Bear Fighting,221
The Trapper's Last Shot,230
The Squaw's Escape,231
A Buffalo Hunt,246
Castle Rock, Columbia River,263
Wrecked in the Rapids,294
A Wild Indian in Town,307
The Cascade Mountain Road-Hunters,317
Mount Hood from the Dalles,343
Massacre of the Whitman Family,344
Meek as a Steamboat Runner,375
"Take Care Knox,"385
A Mountain-man in Clover,392
Gov. Lane and Meek on the Colorado Desert,401
The author of the following, "poem" was not either a dull or an unobservant writer; and we insert his verses as a comical bit of natural history belonging peculiarly to Oregon.
ADVENTURES OF A COLUMBIA SALMON.
What is yon object which attracts the eye Of the observing traveler, who ascends Columbia's waters, when the summer sky In one soft tint, calm nature's clothing blends: As glittering in the sunbeams down it floats 'Till some vile vulture on its carcase gloats? 'Tis a poor salmon, which a short time past, With thousands of her finny sisters came, By instinct taught, to seek and find at last, The place that gave her birth, there to remain 'Till nature's offices had been discharged, And fry from out the ova had emerged. Her Winter spent amongst the sheltered bays Of the salt sea, where numerous fish of prey, With appetite keen, the number of her days Would soon have put an end to, could but they Have caught her; but as they could not, she, Spring having come, resolved to quit the sea: And moving with the shoal along the coast, at length She reached the outlet of her native river, There tarried for a little to recruit her strength, So tried of late by cold and stormy weather; Sporting in playful gambols o'er the banks and sands, Chasing the tiny fish frequenting there in bands.
But ah, how little thought this simple fish, The toils and perils she had yet to suffer, The chance she ran of serving as a dish For hungry white men or for Indian's supper,— Of enemies in which the stream abounded, When lo! she's by a fisher's net surrounded. Partly conscious of her approaching end, She darts with meteoric swiftness to and fro, Striking the frail meshes, within which she's penned, Which bid defiance to her stoutest blow: To smaller compass by degrees the snare is drawn, When with a leap she clears it and is gone. Once more at large with her companions, now Become more cautious from her late escape, She keeps in deeper water and thinks how Foolish she was to get in such a scrape; As mounting further up the stream, she vies With other fish in catching gnats and flies. And as she on her way did thus enjoy Life's fleeting moments, there arose a panic Amongst the stragglers, who in haste deploy Around their elder leaders, quick as magic, While she unconscious of the untimely rout, Was by a hungry otter singled out: Vigorous was the chase, on the marked victim shot Through the clear water, while in close pursuit Followed her amphibious foe, who scarce had got Near enough to grasp her, when with turns acute, And leaps and revolutions, she so tried the otter, He gave up the hunt with merely having bit her. Scarce had she recovered from her weakness, when An ancient eagle, of the bald-head kind, Winging his dreary way to'rds some lone glen, Where was her nest with four plump eaglets lined, Espied the fish, which he judged quite a treat, And just the morsel for his little ones to eat: And sailing in spiral circles o'er the spot, Where lay his prey, then hovering for a time, To take his wary aim, he stooped and caught His booty, which he carried to a lofty pine; Upon whose topmost branches, he first adjusted His awkward load, ere with his claws he crushed it.
"Ill is the wind that blows no person good"— So said the adage, and as luck would have it, A huge grey eagle out in search of food, Who just had whet his hunger with a rabbit, Attacked the other, and the pair together, In deadly combat fell into the river. Our friend of course made off, when she'd done falling Some sixty yards, and well indeed she might; For ne'er, perhaps, a fish got such a mauling Since Adam's time, or went up such a height Into the air, and came down helter-skelter, As did this poor production of a melter. All these, with many other dangers, she survived, Too manifold in this short space to mention; So we'll suppose her to have now arrived Safe at the Falls, without much more detention Than one could look for, where so many liked her Company, and so many Indians spiked her. And here a mighty barrier stops her way: The tranquil water, finding in its course Itself beset with rising rocks, which lay As though they said, "retire ye to your source," Bursts with indignant fury from its bondage, now Rushes in foaming torrents to the chasm below. The persevering fish then at the foot arrives, Laboring with redoubled vigor mid the surging tide, And finding, by her strength, she vainly strives To overcome the flood, though o'er and o'er she tried; Her tail takes in her mouth, and bending like a bow That's to full compass drawn, aloft herself doth throw; And spinning in the air, as would a silver wand That's bended end to end and upwards cast, Headlong she falls amid the showering waters, and Gasping for breath, against the rocks is dashed: Again, again she vaults, again she tries, And in one last and feeble effort—dies. There was, in Oregon City, a literary society called the "Falls Association," some of whose effusions were occasionally sent to the Spectator, and this may have been one of them. At all events, it is plain that with balls, theatres, literary societies, and politics, the colony was not afflicted with dullness, in the winter of 1846.
But the history of the immigration this year, afforded, perhaps, more material for talk than any one other subject. The condition in which the immigrants arrived was one of great distress. A new road into the valley had been that season explored, at great labor and expense, by a company of gentlemen who had in view the aim to lessen the perils usually encountered in descending the Columbia. They believed that a better pass might be discovered through the Cascade range to the south, than that which had been found around the base of Mount Hood, and one which should bring the immigrants in at the upper end of the valley, thus saving them considerable travel and loss of time at a season of the year when the weather was apt to be unsettled.
With this design, a party had set out to explore the Cascades to the south, quite early in the spring; but failing in their undertaking, had returned. Another company was then immediately formed, headed by a prominent member of society and the legislature. This company followed the old Hudson's Bay Company's trail, crossing all those ranges of mountains perpendicular to the coast, which form a triple wall between Oregon and California, until they came out into the valley of the Humboldt, whence they proceeded along a nearly level, but chiefly barren country to Fort Hall, on the Snake River.
The route was found to be practicable, although there was a scarcity of grass and water along a portion of it; but as the explorers had with great difficulty found out and marked all the best camping grounds, and encountered first for themselves all the dangers of a hitherto unexplored region, most of which they believed they had overcome, they felt no hesitation in recommending the new road to the emigrants whom they met at Fort Hall.
Being aware of the hardships which the immigrants of the previous years had undergone on the Snake River plains, at the crossing of Snake River, the John Day, and Des Chutes Rivers, and the passage of the Columbia, the travelers gladly accepted the tidings of a safer route to the Wallamet. A portion of the immigration had already gone on by the road to the Dalles; the remainder turned off by the southern route.
Of those who took the new route, a part were destined for California. All, however, after passing through the sage deserts, committed the error of stopping to recruit their cattle and horses in the fresh green valleys among the foot-hills of the mountains. It did not occur to them that they were wasting precious time in this way; but to this indulgence was owing an incredible amount of suffering. The California-bound travelers encountered the season of snow on the Sierras, and such horrors are recorded of their sufferings as it is seldom the task of ears to hear or pen to record. Snow-bound, without food, those who died of starvation were consumed by the living; even children were eaten by their once fond parents, with an indifference horrible to think on: so does the mind become degraded by great physical suffering.
The Oregon immigrants had not to cross the lofty Sierras; but they still found mountains before them which, in the dry season, would have been formidable enough. Instead, however, of the dry weather continuing, very heavy rains set in. The streams became swollen, the mountain sides heavy and slippery with the wet earth. Where the road led through canyons, men and women were sometimes forced to stem a torrent, breast high, and cold enough to chill the life in their veins. The cattle gave out, the wagons broke down, provisions became exhausted, and a few persons perished, while all were in the direst straits.
The first who got through into the valley sent relief to those behind; but it was weeks before the last of the worn, weary, and now impoverished travelers escaped from the horrors of the mountains in which they were so hopelessly entangled, and where most of their worldly goods were left to rot.
The Oregon legislature met as usual, to hold its winter session, though the people hoped and expected it would be for the last time under the Provisional Government. There were only two "mountain-men" in the House, at this session—Meek and Newell.
In the suspense under which they for the present remained, there was nothing to do but to go on in the path of duty as they had heretofore done, keeping up their present form of government until it was supplanted by a better one. So passed the summer until the return of the "Glorious Fourth," which, being the first national anniversary occurring since the news of the treaty had reached the colony, was celebrated with proper enthusiasm.
It chanced that an American ship, the Brutus, Capt. Adams, from Boston, was lying in the Wallamet, and that a general invitation had been given to the celebrationists to visit the ship during the day. A party of fifty or sixty, including Meek and some of his mountain associates, had made their calculations to go on board at the same time, and were in fact already alongside in boats, when Captain Adams singled out a boat load of people belonging to the mission clique, and inviting them to come on board, ordered all the others off.
This was an insult too great to be borne by mountain- men, who resented it not only for themselves, but for the people's party of Americans to which they naturally belonged. Their blood was up, and without stopping to deliberate, Meek and Newell hurried off to fetch the twelve-pounder that had a few hours before served to thunder forth the rejoicings of a free people, but with which they now purposed to proclaim their indignation as freeman heinously insulted. The little twelve-pound cannon was loaded with rock, and got into range with the offending ship, and there is little doubt that Capt. Adams would have suffered loss at the hands of the incensed multitude, but for the timely interference of Dr. McLaughlin. On being informed of the warlike intentions of Meek and his associates, the good Doctor came running to the rescue, his white hair flowing back from his noble face with the hurry of his movements.
"Oh, oh, Mr. Joe, Mr. Joe, you must not do this! indeed, you must not do this foolish thing! Come now; come away. You will injure your country, Mr. Joe. How can you expect that ships will come here, if they are fired on? Come away, come away!"
And Meek, ever full of waggishness, even in his wrath, replied:
"Doctor, it is not that I love the Brutus less, but my dignity more."
"Oh, Shakespeare, Mr. Joe! But come with me; come with me."
And so the good Doctor, half in authority, half in kindness, persuaded the resentful colonists to pass by the favoritism of the Boston captain.
Meek was reëlected to the legislature this summer, and swam out to a vessel lying down at the mouth of the Wallamet, to get liquor to treat his constituents; from which circumstance it may be inferred that while Oregon was remarkable for temperance, there were occasions on which conviviality was deemed justifiable by a portion of her people.
Thus passed the summer. The autumn brought news of a large emigration en route for the new territory; but it brought no news of good import from Congress. On the contrary the bill providing for a territorial government for Oregon had failed, because the Organic Laws of that territory excluded slavery forever from the country. The history of its failure is a part and parcel of the record of the long hard struggle of the south to extend slavery into the United States' territories.
Justly dissatisfied, but not inconsolable, the colony, now that hope was extinguished for another season, returned to its own affairs. The immigration, which had arrived early this year, amounted to between four and five thousand. An unfortunate affray between the immigrants and the Indians at the Dalles, had frightened away from that station the Rev. Father Waller; and Dr. Whitman of the Waiilatpu mission had purchased the station for the Presbyterian mission, and placed a nephew of his in charge. Although, true to their original bad character, the Dalles Indians had frequently committed theft upon the passing emigration, this was the first difficulty resulting in loss of life, which had taken place. This quarrel arose out of some thefts committed by the Indians, and the unwise advice of Mr. Waller, in telling the immigrants to retaliate by taking some of the Indian horses. An Indian can see the justice of taking toll from every traveler passing through his country; but he cannot see the justice of being robbed in return; and Mr. Waller had been long enough among them to have known this.
Finding that it must continue yet a little longer to look after its own government and welfare, the colony had settled back into its wonted pursuits. The legislature had convened for its winter session, and had hardly elected its officers and read the usual message of the Governor, before there came another, which fell upon their ears like a thunderbolt. Gov. Abernethy had sent in the following letter, written at Vancouver the day before:
Fort Vancouver, Dec. 7, 1847.
George Abernethy, Esq.;
Sir:—Having received intelligence, last night, by special express from Walla-Walla, of the destruction of the missionary settlement at Waiilatpu, by the Cayuse Indians of that place, we hasten to communicate the particulars of that dreadful event, one of the most atrocious which darkens the annals of Indian crime.
Our lamented friend, Dr. Whitman, his amiable and accomplished lady, with nine other persons, have fallen victims to the fury of these remorseless savages, who appear to have been instigated to this appalling crime by a horrible suspicion which had taken possession of their superstitious minds, in consequence of the number of deaths from dysentery and measles, that Dr. Whitman was silently working the destruction of their tribe by administering poisonous drugs, under the semblance of salutary medicines.
With a goodness of heart and benevolence truly his own, Dr. Whitman had been laboring incessantly since the appearance of the measles and dysentery among his Indian converts, to relieve their sufferings; and such has been the reward of his generous labors.
A copy of Mr. McBean's letter, herewith transmitted, will give you all the particulars known to us of this indescribably painful event.
Mr. Ogden, with a strong party, will leave this place as soon as possible for Walla-Walla, to endeavor to prevent further evil; and we beg to suggest to you the propriety of taking instant measures for the protection of the Rev. Mr. Spalding, who, for the sake of his family, ought to abandon the Clear-water mission without delay, and retire to a place of safety, as he cannot remain at that isolated station without imminent risk, in the present excited and irritable State of the Indian population.
I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
1842-7. Doubtless the reader remembers the disquiet felt and expressed by the Indians in the upper country in the year 1842. For the time they had been quieted by presents, by the advice of the Hudson's Bay Company, and by the Agent's promise that in good time the United States would send them blankets, guns, ammunition, food farming implements, and teachers to show them how to live like the whites.
In the meantime, five years having passed, these promises had not been kept. Five times a large number of whites, with their children, their cattle, and wagons, had passed through their country, and gone down into the Wallamet Valley to settle. Now they had learned that the United States claimed the Wallamet valley; yet they had never heard that the Indians of that country had received any pay for it.
They had accepted the religion of the whites believing it would do them good; but now they were doubtful. Had they not accepted laws from the United States agent, and had not their people been punished for acts which their ancestors and themselves had always before committed at will? None of these innovations seemed to do them any good: they were disappointed. But the whites, or Bostons, (meaning the Americans) were coming more and more every year, so that by-and-by there would be all Bostons and no Indians.
Once they had trusted in the words of the Americans; but now they knew how worthless were their promises. The Americans had done them much harm. Years before had not one of the missionaries suffered several of their people, and the son of one of their chiefs, to be slain in his company, yet himself escaped? Had not the son of another chief, who had gone to California to buy cattle, been killed by a party of Americans, for no fault of his own? Their chief's son was killed, the cattle robbed from his party, after having been paid for; and his friends obliged to return poor and in grief.
To be sure, Dr. White had given them some drafts to be used in obtaining cattle from the immigration, as a compensation for their losses in California; but they could not make them available; and those who wanted cattle had to go down to the Wallamet for them. In short, could the Indians have thought of an American epithet to apply to Americans, it would have been that expressive word humbug. What they felt and what they thought, was, that they had been cheated. They feared greater frauds in the future, and they were secretly resolved not to submit to them.
So far as regarded the missionaries, Dr. Whitman and his associates, they were divided; yet as so many looked on the Doctor as an agent in promoting the settlement of the country with whites, it was thought best to drive him from the country, together with all the missionaries. Several years before Dr. Whitman had known that the Indians were displeased with his settlement among them. They had told him of it: they had treated him with violence; they had attempted to outrage his wife; had burned his property; and had more recently several times warned him to leave their country, or they should kill him.
Not that all were angry at him alike, or that any were personally very ill-disposed towards him. Everything that a man could do to instruct and elevate these savage people, he had done, to the best of his ability, together with his wife and assistants. But he had not been able, or perhaps had not attempted, to conceal the fact, that he looked upon the country as belonging to his people, rather than to the natives, and it was this fact which was at the bottom of their "bad hearts" toward the Doctor. So often had warnings been given which were disregarded by Dr. Whitman, that his friends, both at Vancouver and in the settlements, had long felt great uneasiness, and often besought him to remove to the Wallamet valley.
But although Dr. Whitman sometimes was half persuaded to give up the mission upon the representations of others, he could not quite bring himself to do so. So far as the good conduct of the Indians was concerned, they had never behaved better than for the last two years. There had been less violence, less open outrage, than formerly; and their civilization seemed to be progressing; while some few were apparently hopeful converts. Yet there was ever a whisper in the air—"Dr. Whitman must die."
The mission at Lapwai was peculiarly successful. Mrs. Spalding, more than any other of the missionaries, had been able to adapt herself to the Indian character, and to gain their confidence. Besides, the Nez Perces were a better nation than the Cayuses;—more easily controlled by a good counsel; and it seemed like doing a wrong to abandon the work so long as any good was likely to result from it. There were other reasons too, why the missions could not be abandoned in haste, one of which was the difficulty of disposing of the property. This might have been done perhaps, to the Catholics, who were establishing missions throughout the upper country; but Dr. Whitman would never have been so false to his own doctrines, as to leave the field of his labors to the Romish Church.
Yet the division of sentiment among the Indians with regard to religion, since the Catholic missionaries had come among them, increased the danger of a revolt: for in the Indian country neither two rival trading companies, nor two rival religions can long prosper side by side. The savage cannot understand the origin of so many religions. He either repudiates all, or he takes that which addresses itself to his understanding through the senses. In the latter respect, the forms of Catholicism, as adapted to the savage understanding, made that religion a dangerous rival to intellectual and idealistic Presbyterianism. But the more dangerous the rival, the greater the firmness with which Dr. Whitman would cling to his duty.
There were so many causes at work to produce a revolution among the Indians, that it would be unfair to name any one as the cause. The last and immediate provocation was a season of severe sickness among them. The disease was measles, and was brought in the train of the immigration.
This fact alone was enough to provoke the worst passions of the savage. The immigration in itself was a sufficient offense; the introduction through them of a pestilence, a still weightier one. It did not signify that Dr. Whitman had exerted himself night and day to give them relief. Their peculiar notions about a medicine-man made it the Doctor's duty to cure the sick; or made it the duty of the relatives of the dead and dying to avenge their deaths.
Yet in spite of all and every provocation, perhaps the fatal tragedy might have been postponed, had it not been for the evil influence of one Jo Lewis, a half-breed, who had accompanied the emigration from the vicinity of Fort Hall. This Jo Lewis, with a large party of emigrants, had stopped to winter at the mission, much against Dr. Whitman's wishes; for he feared not having food enough for so many persons. Finding that he could not prevent them, he took some of the men into his employ, and among others the stranger half-breed.
This man was much about the house, and affected to relate to the Indians conversations which he heard between Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, and Mr. Spalding, who with his little daughter, was visiting at Waiilatpu. These conversations related to poisoning the Indians, in order to get them all out of the way, so that the white men could enjoy their country unmolested. Yet this devil incarnate did not convince his hearers at once of the truth of his statements; and it was resolved in the tribe to make a test of Dr. Whitman's medicine. Three persons were selected to experiment upon; two of them already sick, and the third quite well. Whether it was that the medicine was administered in too large quantities, or whether an unhappy chance so ordered it, all those three persons died. Surely it is not singular that in the savage mind this circumstance should have been deemed decisive. It was then that the decree went forth that not only the Doctor and Mrs. Whitman, but all the Americans at the mission must die.
On the 22d of November, Mr. Spalding arrived at Waiilatpu, from his mission, one hundred and twenty miles distant, with his daughter, a child of ten years, bringing with him also several horse-loads of grain, to help feed the emigrants wintering there. He found the Indians suffering very much, dying one, two, three, and sometimes five in a day. Several of the emigrant families, also, were sick with measles and the dysentery, which followed the disease. A child of one of them died the day following Mr. Spalding's arrival.
Dr. Whitman's family consisted of himself and wife, a young man named Rodgers, who was employed as a teacher, and also studying for the ministry, two young people, a brother and sister, named Bulee, seven orphaned children of one family, whose parents had died on the road to Oregon in a previous year, named Sager, Helen Mar, the daughter of Joe Meek, another little half-breed girl, daughter of Bridger the fur-trader, a half-breed Spanish boy whom the Doctor had brought up from infancy, and two sons of a Mr. Manson, of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Besides these, there were half-a-dozen other families at the mission, and at the saw-mill, twenty miles distant, five families more—in all, forty-six persons at Waiilatpu, and fifteen at the mill, who were among those who suffered by the attack. But there were also about the mission, three others, Jo Lewis, Nicholas Finlay, and Joseph Stanfield, who probably knew what was about to take place, and may, therefore be reckoned as among the conspirators.
While Mr. Spalding was at Waiilatpu, a message came from two Walla-Walla chiefs, living on the Umatilla River, to Dr. Whitman, desiring him to visit the sick in their villages, and the two friends set out together to attend to the call, on the evening of the 27th of November. Says Mr. Spalding, referring to that time: "The night was dark, and the wind and rain beat furiously upon us. But our interview was sweet. We little thought it was to be our last. With feelings of the deepest emotion we called to mind the fact, that eleven years before, we crossed this trail before arriving at Walla-Walla, the end of our seven months' journey from New York. We called to mind the high hopes and thrilling interests which had been awakened during the year that followed—of our successful labors and the constant devotedness of the Indians to improvement. True, we remembered the months of deep solicitude we had, occasioned by the increasing menacing demands of the Indians for pay for their wood, their water, their air, their lands. But much of this had passed away, and the Cayuses were in a far more encouraging condition than ever before." Mr. Spalding further relates that himself and Dr. Whitman also conversed on the danger which threatened them from the Catholic influence. "We felt," he says, "that the present sickness afforded them a favorable opportunity to excite the Indians to drive us from the country, and all the movements about us seemed to indicate that this would soon be attempted, if not executed." Such was the suspicion in the minds of the Protestants. Let us hope that it was not so well founded as they believed.
The two friends arrived late at the lodge of Stickas, a chief, and laid down before a blazing fire to dry their drenched clothing. In the morning a good breakfast was prepared for them, consisting of beef, vegetables, and bread—all of which showed the improvement of the Indians in the art of living. The day, being Sunday, was observed with as much decorum as in a white man's house. After breakfast, Dr. Whitman crossed the river to visit the chiefs who had sent for him, namely, Tan-i-tan, Five Crows, and Yam-ha-wa-lis, returning about four o'clock in the afternoon, saying he had taken tea with the Catholic bishop and two priests, at their house, which belonged to Tan-i-tan, and that they had promised to visit him in a short time. He then departed for the mission, feeling uneasy about the sick ones at home.
Mr. Spalding remained with the intention of visiting the sick and offering consolation to the dying. But he soon discovered that there was a weighty and uncomfortable secret on the mind of his entertainer, Stickas. After much questioning, Stickas admitted that the thought which troubled him was that the Americans had been "decreed against" by his people; more he could not be induced to reveal. Anxious, yet not seriously alarmed,—for these warnings had been given before many times,—he retired to his couch of skins, on the evening of the 29th, being Monday—not to sleep, however; for on either side of him an Indian woman sat down to chant the death-song—that frightful lament which announces danger and death. On being questioned they would reveal nothing.
On the following morning, Mr. Spalding could no longer remain in uncertainty, but set out for Waiilatpu. As he mounted his horse to depart, an Indian woman placed her hand on the neck of his horse to arrest him, and pretending to be arranging his head-gear, said in a low voice to the rider, "Beware of the Cayuses at the mission." Now more than ever disturbed by this intimation that it was the mission which was threatened, he hurried forward, fearing for his daughter and his friends. He proceeded without meeting any one until within sight of the lovely Walla-Walla valley, almost in sight of the mission itself, when suddenly, at a wooded spot where the trail passes through a little hollow, he beheld two horsemen advancing, whom he watched with a fluttering heart, longing for, and yet dreading, the news which the very air seemed whispering.
The two horsemen proved to be the Catholic Vicar General, Brouillet, who, with a party of priests and nuns had arrived in the country only a few months previous, and his half-breed interpreter, both of whom were known to Mr. Spalding. They each drew rein as they approached, Mr. Spalding immediately inquiring "what news?"
"There are very many sick at the Whitman station," answered Brouillet, with evident embarrassment.
"How are Doctor and Mrs. Whitman?" asked Spalding anxiously.
"The Doctor is ill—is dead," added the priest reluctantly.
"And Mrs. Whitman?" gasped Spalding.
"Is dead also. The Indians have killed them."
"My daughter?" murmured the agonized questioner.
"Is safe, with the other prisoners," answered Brouillet.
"And then," says Spalding in speaking of that moment of infinite horror, when in his imagination a picture of the massacre, of the anguish of his child, the suffering of the prisoners, of the probable destruction of his own family and mission, and his surely impending fate, all rose up before him—"I felt the world all blotted out at once, and sat on my horse as rigid as a stone, not knowing or feeling anything."
While this conversation had been going on the half-breed interpreter had kept a sinister watch over the communication, and his actions had so suspicious a look that the priest ordered him to ride on ahead. When he had obeyed, Brouillet gave some rapid instructions to Spalding; not to go near the mission, where he could do no good, but would be certainly murdered; but to fly, to hide himself until the excitement was over. The men at the mission were probably all killed; the women and children would be spared; nothing could be done at present but to try to save his own life, which the Indians were resolved to take.
The conversation was hurried, for there was no time to lose. Spalding gave his pack-horse to Brouillet, to avoid being encumbered by it; and taking some provisions which the priest offered, struck off into the woods there to hide until dark. Nearly a week from this night he arrived at the Lapwai mission, starved, torn, with bleeding feet as well as broken heart. Obliged to secrete himself by day, his horse had escaped from him, leaving him to perform his night journeys on foot over the sharp rocks and prickly cactus plants, until not only his shoes had been worn out, but his feet had become cruelly lacerated. The constant fear which had preyed upon his heart of finding his family murdered, had produced fearful havoc in the life-forces; and although Mr. Spalding had the happiness of finding that the Nez Perces had been true to Mrs. Spalding, defending her from destruction, yet so great had been the first shock, and so long continued the strain, that his nervous system remained a wreck ever afterward.
MOUNT HOOD FROM THE DALLES.
1847. When Dr. Whitman reached home on that Sunday night, after parting with Mr. Spalding at the Umatilla, it was already about midnight; yet he visited the sick before retiring to rest; and early in the morning resumed his duties among them. An Indian died that morning. At his burial, which the Doctor attended, he observed that but few of the friends and relatives of the deceased were present but attributed it to the fear which the Indians have of disease.
Everything about the mission was going on as usual. Quite a number of Indians were gathered about the place; but as an ox was being butchered, the crowd was easily accounted for. Three men were dressing the beef in the yard. The afternoon session of the mission school had just commenced. The mechanics belonging to the station were about their various avocations. Young Bulee was sick in the Doctor's house. Three of the orphan children who were recovering from the measles, were with the Doctor and Mrs. Whitman in the sitting-room; and also a Mrs. Osborne, one of the emigrants who had just got up from a sick bed, and who had a sick child in her arms.
The Doctor had just come in, wearied, and dejected as it was possible for his resolute spirit to be, and had seated himself, bible in hand, when several Indians came to a side door, asking permission to come in and get some medicine. The Doctor rose, got his medicines, gave them out, and
sat down again. At that moment Mrs. Whitman was in an adjoining room and did not see what followed. Tam-a-has, a chief called "the murderer," came behind the Doctor's chair, and raising his tomahawk, struck the Doctor in the back of the head, stunning but not killing him.
MASSACRE OF REV. DR. WHITMAN OF THE PRESBYTERIAN MISSION.
Instantly there was a violent commotion. John Sager, one of the adopted children, sprang up with his pistol in his hand, but before he could fire it, he too was struck down, and cut and hacked shockingly.
In the meantime Dr. Whitman had received a second blow upon the head, and now laid lifeless on the floor. Cries and confusion filled the house.
At the first sound, Mrs. Whitman, in whose ears that whisper in the air had so long sounded, began in agony to stamp upon the floor, and wring her hands, crying out, "Oh, the Indians, the Indians!" At that moment one of the women from an adjoining building came running in, gasping with terror, for the butchery was going on outside as well, and Tam-a-has and his associates were now assisting at it. Going to the room where the Doctor lay insensible, Mrs. Whitman and her terrified neighbor dragged him to the sofa and laid him upon it, doing all they could to revive him. To all their inquiries he answered by a whispered "no," probably not conscious what was said.
While this was being done, the people from every quarter began to crowd into the Doctor's house, many of them wounded. Outside were heard the shrieks of women, the yells of the Indians, the roar of musketry, the noise of furious riding, of meeting war-clubs, groans, and every frightful combination of sound, such as only could be heard at such a carnival of blood. Still Mrs. Whitman sat by her husband's side, intent on trying to rouse him to say one coherent word.
Nearer and nearer came the struggle, and she heard some one exclaim that two of her friends were being murdered beneath the window. Starting up, she approached the casement to get a view, as if by looking she could save; but that moment she encountered the fiendish gaze of Jo Lewis the half-breed, and comprehended his guilt. "Is it you, Jo, who are doing this?" she cried. Before the expression of horror had left her lips, a young Indian who had been a special favorite about the mission, drew up his gun and fired, the ball entering her right breast, when she fell without a groan.
When the people had at first rushed in, Mrs. Whitman had ordered the doors fastened and the sick children removed to a room up stairs. Thither now she was herself conveyed, having first recovered sufficiently to stagger to the sofa where lay her dying husband. Those who witnessed this strange scene, say that she knelt and prayed—prayed for the orphan children she was leaving, and for her aged parents. The only expression of personal regret she was heard to utter, was sorrow that her father and mother should live to know she had perished in such a manner.
In the chamber were now gathered Mrs. Whitman, Mrs. Hayes, Miss Bulee, Catharine Sager, thirteen years of age, and three of the sick children, besides Mr. Rogers and Mr. Kimble. Scarcely had they gained this retreat when the crashing of windows and doors was heard below, and with whoops and yells the savages dashed into the sitting-room where Doctor Whitman still lay dying. While some busied themselves removing from the house the goods and furniture, a chief named Te-lau-ka-ikt, a favorite at the mission, and on probation for admission into the church, deliberately chopped and mangled the face of his still breathing teacher and friend with his tomahawk, until every feature was rendered unrecognizable.
The children from the school-house were brought into the kitchen of the Doctor's house about this time, by Jo Lewis, where, he told them, they were going to be shot. Mr. Spalding's little girl Eliza, was among them. Understanding the native language, she was fully aware of the terrible import of what was being said by their tormentors. While the Indians talked of shooting the children huddled together in the kitchen, pointing their guns, and yelling, Eliza covered her face with her apron, and leaned over upon the sink, that she might not see them shoot her. After being tortured in this manner for some time, the children were finally ordered out of doors.
While this was going on, a chief called Tamt-sak-y, was trying to induce Mrs. Whitman to come down into the sitting-room.
She replied that she was wounded and could not do so, upon which he professed much sorrow, and still desired her to be brought down, "If you are my friend Tamt-sak-y, come up and see me," was her reply to his professions, but he objected, saying there were Americans concealed in the chamber, whom he feared might kill him. Mr. Rogers then went to the head of the stairs and endeavored to have the chief come up, hoping there might be some friendly ones, who would aid them in escaping from the murderers. Tamt-sak-y, however, would not come up the stairs, although he persisted in saying that Mrs. Whitman should not be harmed, and that if all would come down and go over to the other house where the families were collected, they might do so in safety.
The Indians below now began to call out that they were going to burn the Doctor's house. Then no alternative remained but to descend and trust to the mercy of the savages. As Mrs. Whitman entered the sitting-room, leaning on one arm of Mr. Rogers, who also was wounded in the head, and had a broken arm, she caught a view of the shockingly mutilated face of her husband and fell fainting upon the sofa, just as Doctor Whitman gave a dying gasp.
Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Hayes now attempted to get the sofa, or settee, out of the house, and had succeeded in moving it through the kitchen to the door. No sooner did they appear in the open door-way than a volley of balls assailed them. Mr. Rogers fell at once, but did not die immediately, for one of the most horrid features in this horrid butchery was, that the victims were murdered by torturing degrees. Mrs. Whitman also received several gunshot wounds, lying on the settee. Francis Sager, the oldest of her adopted boys, was dragged into the group of dying ones and shot down.
The children, who had been turned out of the kitchen were still huddled together about the kitchen door, so near to this awful scene that every incident was known to them, so near that the flashes from the guns of the Indians burnt their hair, and the odor of the blood and the burning powder almost suffocated them.
At two o'clock in the afternoon the massacre had commenced. It was now growing dusk, and the demons were eager to finish their work. Seeing that life still lingered in the mangled bodies of their victims, they finished their atrocities by hurling them in the mud and gore which filled the yard, and beating them upon their faces with whips and clubs, while the air was filled with the noise of their shouting, singing, and dancing—the Indian women and children assisting at these orgies, as if the Bible had never been preached to them. And thus, after eleven years of patient endeavor to save some heathen souls alive, perished Doctor and Mrs. Whitman.
In all that number of Indians who had received daily kindnesses at the hands of the missionaries, only two showed any compassion. These two, Ups and Madpool, Walla-Wallas, who were employed by the Doctor, took the children away from the sickening sights that surrounded them, into the kitchen pantry, and there in secret tried to comfort them.
When night set in the children and families were all removed to the building called the mansion-house, where they spent a night of horror; all, except those who were left in Mrs. Whitman's chamber, from which they dared not descend, and the family of Mr. Osborne, who escaped.
On the first assault Mr. and Mrs. Osborne ran into their bedroom which adjoined the sitting-room, taking with them their three small children. Raising a plank in the floor, Mr. O. quickly thrust his wife and children into the space beneath, and then following, let the plank down to its place. Here they remained until darkness set in, able to hear all that was passing about them, and fearing to stir. When all was quiet at the Doctor's house, they stole out under cover of darkness and succeeded in reaching Fort Walla-Walla, after a painful journey of several days, or rather nights, for they dared not travel by day.
Another person who escaped was a Mr. Hall, carpenter, who in a hand to hand contest with an Indian, received a wound in the face, but finally reached the cover of some bushes where he remained until dark, and then fled in the direction of Fort Walla-Walla. Mr. Hall was the first to arrive at the fort, where, contrary to his expectations, and to all humanity, he was but coldly received by the gentleman in charge, Mr. McBean.
Whether it was from cowardice or cruelty as some alleged, that Mr. McBean rejoiced in the slaughter of the Protestant missionaries, himself being a Catholic, can never be known. Had that been true, one might have supposed that their death would have been enough, and that he might have sheltered a wounded man fleeing for his life, without grudging him this atom of comfort. Unfortunately for Mr. McBean's reputation, he declined to grant such shelter willingly. Mr. Hall remained, however, twelve hours, until he heard a report that the women and children were murdered, when, knowing how unwelcome he was, and being in a half distracted state, he consented to be set across the Columbia to make his way as best he could to the Wallamet. From this hour he was never seen or heard from, the manner of his death remaining a mystery to his wife and their family of five children, who were among the prisoners at Waiilatpu.
When Mr. Osborne left the mission in the darkness, he was able only to proceed about two miles, before Mrs. Osborne's strength gave way, she lately having been confined by an untimely birth; and he was compelled to stop, secreting himself and family in some bushes. Here they remained, suffering with cold, and insufficient food, having only a little bread and cold mush which they had found in the pantry of the Doctor's house, before leaving it. On Tuesday night, Mrs. O. was able to move about three miles more: and again they were compelled to stop. In this way to proceed, they must all perish of starvation; therefore on Wednesday night Mr. O. took the second child and started with it for the fort, where he arrived before noon on Thursday.
Although Mr. McBean received him with friendliness of manner, he refused him horses to go for Mrs. Osborne and his other children, and even refused to furnish food to relieve their hunger, telling him to go to the Umatilla, and forbidding his return to the fort. A little food was given to himself and child, who had been fasting since Monday night. Whether Mr. McBean would have allowed this man to perish is uncertain: but certain it is that some base or cowardly motive made him exceedingly cruel to both Hall and Osborne.
While Mr. Osborne was partaking of his tea and crackers, there arrived at the fort Mr. Stanley, the artist, whom the reader will remember having met in the mountains several years before. When the case became known to him, he offered his horses immediately to go for Mrs. Osborne. Shamed into an appearance of humanity, Mr. McBean then furnished an Indian guide to accompany Mr. O. to the Umatilla, where he still insisted the fugitives should go, though this was in the murderer's country.
A little meat and a few crackers were furnished for the supper of the travelers; and with a handkerchief for his hatless head and a pair of socks for his child's naked feet, all furnished by Mr. Stanley, Mr. Osborne set out to return to his suffering wife and children. He and his guide traveled rapidly, arriving in good time near the spot where he believed his family to be concealed. But the darkness had confused his recollection, and after beating the bushes until daylight, the unhappy husband and father was about to give up the search in despair, when his guide at length discovered their retreat.
The poor mother and children were barely alive, having suffered much from famine and exposure, to say nothing of their fears. Mrs. Osborne was compelled to be tied to the Indian in order to sit her horse. In this condition the miserable fugitives turned toward the Umatilla, in obedience to the command of McBean, and were only saved from being murdered by a Cayuse by the scornful words of the guide, who shamed the murderer from his purpose of slaughtering a sick and defenceless family. At a Canadian farm-house, where they stopped to change horses, they were but roughly received; and learning here that Tamt-sak-y's lodge was near by, Mrs. Osborne refused to proceed any farther toward the Umatilla. She said, "I doubt if I can live to reach the Umatilla; and if I must die, I may as well die at the gates of the Fort. Let us, then, turn back to the Fort."
To this the guide assented, saying it was not safe going among the Cayuses. The little party, quite exhausted, reached Walla-Walla about ten o'clock at night, and were at once admitted. Contrary to his former course, Mr. McBean now ordered a fire made to warm the benumbed travelers, who, after being made tolerably comfortable, were placed in a secret room of the fort. Again Mr. Osborne was importuned to go away, down to the Wallamet, Mr. McBean promising to take care of his family and furnish him an outfit if he would do so. Upon being asked to furnish a boat, and Indians to man it, in order that the family might accompany him, he replied that his Indians refused to go.
From all this reluctance, not only on the part of McBean, but of the Indians also, to do any act which appeared like befriending the Americans, it would appear that there was a very general fear of the Cayuse Indians, and a belief that they were about to inaugurate a general war upon the Americans, and their friends and allies. Mr. Osborne, however, refused to leave his family behind, and Mr. McBean was forced to let him remain until relief came. When it did come at last, in the shape of Mr. Ogden's party, Stickas, the chief who had warned Mr. Spalding, showed his kind feeling for the sufferers by removing his own cap and placing it on Mr. Osborne's head, and by tying a handkerchief over the ears of Mr. Osborne's little son, as he said, "to keep him warm, going down the river." Sadly indeed, did the little ones who suffered by the massacre at Waiilatpu, stand in need of any Christian kindness.
1847. A full account of the horrors of the Waiilatpu massacre, together with the individual sufferings of the captives whose lives were spared, would fill a volume, and be harrowing to the reader; therefore, only so much of it will be given here as, from its bearing upon Oregon history, is important to our narrative.
The day following the massacre, being Tuesday, was the day on which Mr. Spalding was met and warned not to go to the mission, by the Vicar General, Brouillet. Happening at the mission on that day, and finding the bodies of the victims still unburied, Brouillet had them hastily interred before leaving, if interment it could be called which left them still a prey to wolves. The reader of this chapter of Oregon history will always be very much puzzled to understand by what means the Catholic priests procured their perfect exemption from harm during this time of terror to the Americans. Was it that they were French, and that they came into the country only as missionaries of a religion adapted to the savage mind, and not as settlers? Was it at all owing to the fact that they were celibates, with no families to excite jealous feelings of comparison in the minds of their converts?
Through a long and bitter war of words, which followed the massacre at Waiilatpu, terrible sins were charged upon the priests—no less than inciting the Indians to the murder of the Protestants, and winking at the atrocities of every kind committed by the savages. Whether they feared to enter into the quarrel, and were restrained from showing sympathy solely by this fear, is a question only themselves can determine. Certain it is, that they preserved a neutral position, when to be neutral was to seem, if not to be, devoid of human sympathies. That the event would have happened without any other provocation than such as the Americans furnished by their own reckless disregard of Indian prejudices, seems evident. The question, and the only question which is suggested by a knowledge of all the circumstances, is whether the event was helped on by an intelligent outside influence.
It was quite natural that the Protestants should wonder at the immunity from danger which the priests enjoyed; and that, not clearly seeing the reason, they should suspect them of collusion with the Indians. It was natural, too, for the sufferers from the massacre to look for some expression of sympathy from any and all denominations of Christians; and that, not receiving it, they should have doubts of the motives which prompted such reserve. The story of that time is but an unpleasant record, and had best be lightly touched upon.
The work of death and destruction did not close with the first day at Waiilatpu. Mr. Kimble, who had remained in the chamber of the Doctor's house all night, had suffered much from the pain of his broken arm. On Tuesday, driven desperate by his own sufferings, and those of the three sick children with him, one of whom was the little Helen Mar Meek, he resolved to procure some water from the stream which ran near the house. But he had not proceeded more than a few rods before he was shot down and killed instantly. The same day, a Mr. Young, from the saw-mill, was also killed. In the course of the week, Mr. Bulee, who was sick over at the mansion, was brutally murdered.
Meanwhile the female captives and children were enduring such agony as seldom falls to the lot of humanity to suffer. Compelled to work for the Indians, their feelings were continually harrowed up by the terrible sights which everywhere met their eyes in going back and forth between the houses, in carrying water from the stream, or moving in any direction whatever. For the dead were not removed until the setting in of decay made it necessary to the Indians themselves.
The goods belonging to the mission were taken from the store-room, and the older women ordered to make them up into clothing for the Indians. The buildings were plundered of everything which the Indians coveted; all the rest of their contents that could not be made useful to themselves were destroyed. Those of the captives who were sick were not allowed proper attention, and in a day or two Helen Mar Meek died of neglect.
Thus passed four or five days. On Saturday a new horror was added to the others. The savages began to carry off the young women for wives. Three were thus dragged away to Indian lodges to suffer tortures worse than death. One young girl, a daughter of Mr. Kimble, was taken possession of by the murderer of her father, who took daily delight in reminding her of that fact, and when her sorrow could no longer be restrained, only threatened to exchange her for another young girl who was also a wife by compulsion.
Miss Bulee, the eldest of the young women at the mission, and who was a teacher in the mission school, was taken to the Umatilla, to the lodge of Five-Crows. As has before been related, there was a house on the Umatilla belonging to Tan-i-tan, in which were residing at this time two Catholic priests—the Vicar-General Brouillet, and Blanchet, Bishop of Walla-Walla. To this house Miss Bulee applied for protection, and was refused, whether from fear, or from the motives subsequently attributed to them by some Protestant writers in Oregon, is not known to any but themselves. The only thing certain about it is, that Miss Bulee was allowed to be violently dragged from their presence every night, to return to them weeping in the morning, and to have her entreaties for their assistance answered by assurances from them that the wisest course for her was to submit. And this continued for more than two weeks, until the news of Mr. Ogden's arrival at Walla-Walla became known, when Miss Bulee was told that if Five-Crows would not allow her to remain at their house altogether, she must remain at the lodge of Five-Crows without coming to their house at all, well knowing what Five-Crows would do, but wishing to have Miss Bulee's action seem voluntary, from shame perhaps, at their own cowardice. Yet the reason they gave ought to go for all it is worth—that they being priests could not have a woman about their house. In this unhappy situation did the female captives spend three most miserable weeks.
In the meantime the mission at Lapwai had been broken up, but not destroyed, nor had any one suffered death as was at first feared. The intelligence of the massacre at Waiilatpu was first conveyed to Mrs. Spalding by a Mr. Camfield, who at the breaking out of the massacre, fled with his wife and children to a small room in the attic of the mansion, from the window of which he was able to behold the scenes which followed. When night came Mr. Camfield contrived to elude observation and descend into the yard, where he encountered a French Canadian long in the employ of Dr. Whitman, and since suspected to have been privy to the plan of the murders. To him Mr. Camfield confided his intention to escape, and obtained a promise that a horse should be brought to a certain place at a certain time for his use. But the Canadian failing to appear with his horse, Mr. C. set out on foot, and under cover of night, in the direction of the Lapwai mission. He arrived in the Nez Perce country on Thursday. On the following day he came upon a camp of these people, and procured from them a guide to Lapwai, without, however, speaking of what had occurred at Waiilatpu.
The caution of Mr. Camfield relates to a trait of Indian character which the reader of Indian history must bear in mind, that is, the close relationship and identity of feeling of allied tribes. Why he did not inform the Nez Perces of the deed done by their relatives, the Cayuses, was because in that case he would have expected them to have sympathized with their allies, even to the point of making him a prisoner, or of taking his life. It is this fact concerning the Indian character, which alone furnishes an excuse for the conduct of Mr. McBean and the Catholic priests. Upon it Mr. Camfield acted, making no sign of fear, nor betraying any knowledge of the terrible matter on his mind to the Nez Perces.
On Saturday afternoon Mr. C. arrived at Mrs. Spalding's house and dismissed his guide with the present of a buffalo robe. When he was alone with Mrs. Spalding he told his unhappy secret. It was then that the strength and firmness of Mrs. Spalding's character displayed itself in her decisive action. Well enough she knew the close bond between the Nez Perces and Cayuses, and also the treachery of the Indian character. But she saw that if affairs were left to shape themselves as Mr. Camfield entreated they might be left to do, putting off the evil day,—that when the news came from the Cayuses, there would be an outbreak.
The only chance of averting this danger was to inform the chiefs most attached to her, at once, and throw herself and her family upon their mercy. Her resolution was taken not an hour too soon. Two of the chiefs most relied upon happened to be at the place that very afternoon, one of whom was called Jacob, and the other Eagle. To these two Mrs. Spalding confided the news without delay, and took counsel of them. According to her hopes, they assumed the responsibility of protecting her. One of them went to inform his camp, and give them orders to stand by Mrs. S., while the other carried a note to Mr. Craig, one of our Rocky Mountain acquaintances, who lived ten miles from the mission.
Jacob and Eagle, with two other friendly chiefs, decided that Mrs. S. must go to their camp near Mr. Craig's; because in case the Cayuses came to the mission as was to be expected, she would be safer with them. Mrs. S. however would not consent to make the move on the Sabbath, but begged to be allowed to remain quiet until Monday. Late Saturday evening Mr. Craig came down; and Mrs. Spalding endeavored with his assistance to induce the Indians to carry an express to Cimikain in the country of the Spokanes, where Messrs. Walker and Eells had a station. Not an Indian could be persuaded to go. An effort, also, was made by the heroic and suffering wife and mother, to send an express to Waiilatpu to learn the fate of her daughter, and if possible of her husband. But the Indians were none of them inclined to go. They said, without doubt all the women and children were slain. That Mr. Spalding was alive no one believed.
The reply of Mrs. S. to their objections was that she could not believe that they were her friends if they would not undertake this journey, for the relief of her feelings under such circumstances. At length Eagle consented to go; but so much opposed were the others to having anything done which their relations, the Cayuses, might be displeased with, that it was nearly twenty-four hours before Eagle got leave to go.
On Monday morning a Nez Perce arrived from Waiilatpu with the news of what the Cayuses had done. With him were a number of Indians from the camp where Mr. Camfield had stopped for a guide, all eager for plunder, and for murder too, had not they found Mrs. Spalding protected by several chiefs. Her removal to their camp probably saved her from the fate of Mrs. Whitman.
Among those foremost in plundering the mission buildings at Lapwai were some of the hitherto most exemplary Indians among the Nez Perces. Even the chief, first in authority after Ellis, who was absent, was prominent in these robberies. For eight years had this chief, Joseph, been a member of the church at Lapwai, and sustained a good reputation during that time. How bitter must have been the feelings of Mrs. Spalding, who had a truly devoted missionary heart, when she beheld the fruit of her life's labor turned to ashes in her sight as it was by the conduct of Joseph and his family.
Shortly after the removal of Mrs. Spalding, and the pillaging of the buildings, Mr. Spalding arrived at Lapwai from his long and painful journey during which he had wandered much out of his way, and suffered many things. His appearance was the signal for earnest consultations among the Nez Perces who were not certain that they might safely give protection to him without the consent of the Cayuses. To his petition that they should carry a letter express to Fort Colville or Fort Walla-Walla, they would not consent. Their reason for refusing seemed to be a fear that such a letter might be answered by an armed body of Americans, who would come to avenge the deaths of their countrymen.
To deprive them of this suspicion, Mr. Spalding told them that as he had been robbed of everything, he had no means of paying them for their services to his family, and that it was necessary to write to Walla-Walla for blankets, and to the Umatilla for his horses. He assured them that he would write to his countrymen to keep quiet, and that they had nothing to fear from the Americans. The truth was, however, that he had forwarded through Brouillet, a letter to Gov. Abernethy asking for help which could only come into that hostile country armed and equipped for war.
Late in the month of December there arrived in Oregon City to be delivered to the governor, sixty-two captives, bought from the Cayuses and Nez Perces by Hudson's Bay blankets and goods; and obtained at that price by Hudson's Bay influence. "No other power on earth," says Joe Meek, the American, "could have rescued those prisoners from the hands of the Indians;" and no man better than Mr. Meek understood the Indian character, or the Hudson's Bay Company's power over them.
The number of victims to the Waiilatpu massacre was fourteen. None escaped who had not to mourn a father, brother, son, or friend. If "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," there ought to arise on the site of Waiilatpu a generation of extraordinary piety. As for the people for whom a noble man and woman, and numbers of innocent persons were sacrificed, they have returned to their traditions; with the exception of the Nez Perces, who under the leadership of their old teacher Mr. Spalding, have once more resumed the pursuits of civilized and Christianized nations.
The description of Waiilatpu at the present time given on the following page, is from "All Over Oregon and Washington" by the author of this book.
"Waiilatpu is just that—a creek-bottom—the creeks on either side of it fringed with trees; higher land shutting out the view in front; isolation and solitude the most striking features of the place. Yet here came a man and a woman to live and to labor among the savages, when all the old Oregon territory was an Indian country. Here stood the station erected by them: adobe houses, a mill, a school-house for the Indians, shops, and all the necessary appurtenances of an isolated settlement. Nothing remains to-day but mounds of earth, into which the adobes were dissolved by weather, after burning.
"A few rods away, on the side of the hill, is a different mound: the common grave of fourteen victims of savage superstition, jealousy, and wrath. It is roughly inclosed by a board fence, and has not a shrub or a flower to disguise its terrible significance. The most affecting reminders of wasted effort which remain on the old Mission-grounds are the two or three apple-trees which escaped the general destruction, and the scarlet poppies which are scattered broadcast through the creek-bottom near the houses. Sadly significant it is that the flower whose evanescent bloom is the symbol of unenduring joys, should be the only tangible witness left of the womanly tastes and labors of the devoted Missionary who gave her life a sacrifice to ungrateful Indian savagery.
"The place is occupied, at present, by one of Dr. Whitman's early friends and co-laborers, who claimed the Mission-ground, under the Donation Act, and who was first and most active in founding the seminary to the memory of a Christian gentleman and martyr. On the identical spot where stood the Doctor's residence, now stands the more modern one of his friend; and he seems to take a melancholy pleasure in keeping in remembrance the events of that unhappy time, which threw a gloom over the whole territory west of the Rocky Mountains."
1847-8. When the contents of Mr. Douglas' letter to the governor became known to the citizens of the Wallamet settlement, the greatest excitement prevailed. On the reading of that letter, and those accompanying it, before the House, a resolution was immediately introduced authorizing the governor to raise a company of riflemen, not to exceed fifty in number, to occupy and hold the mission station at the Dalles, until a larger force could be raised, and such measures adopted as the government might think advisable. This resolution being sent to the governor without delay, received his approval, when the House adjourned.
A large meeting of the citizens was held that evening, which was addressed by several gentlemen, among whom was Meek, whose taste for Indian fighting was whetted to keenness by the aggravating circumstances of the Waiilatpu massacre, and the fact that his little Helen Mar was among the captives. Impatient as was Meek to avenge the murders, he was too good a mountain-man to give any rash advice. All that could be done under the existing circumstances was to trust to the Hudson's Bay Company for the rescue of the prisoners, and to take such means for defending the settlements as the people in their unarmed condition could devise.
The legislature undertook the settlement of the question of ways and means. To raise money for the carrying out of the most important measures immediately, was a task which after some consideration was entrusted to three commissioners; and by these commissioners letters were addressed to the Hudson's Bay Company, the superintendent of the Methodist mission, and to the "merchants and citizens of Oregon." The latter communication is valuable as fully explaining the position of affairs at that time in Oregon. It is dated Dec. 17th, and was as follows:
Gentlemen:—You are aware that the undersigned have been charged by the legislature of our provisional government with the difficult duty of obtaining the necessary means to arm, equip, and support in the field a force sufficient to obtain full satisfaction of the Cayuse Indians, for the late massacre at Waiilatpu, and to protect the white population of our common country from further aggression.
In furtherance of this object they have deemed it their duty to make immediate application to the merchants and citizens of the country for the requisite assistance.
Though clothed with the power to pledge, to the fullest extent, the faith and means of the present government of Oregon, they do not consider this pledge the only security to those who, in this distressing emergency, may extend to the people of this country the means of protection and redress.
Without claiming any special authority from the government of the United States to contract a debt to be liquidated by that power, yet, from all precedents of like character in the history of our country, the undersigned feel confident that the United States government will regard the murder of the late Dr. Whitman and his lady, as a national wrong, and will fully justify the people of Oregon in taking active measures to obtain redress for that outrage, and for their protection from further aggression.
The right of self-defence is tacitly acknowledged to every body politic in the confederacy to which we claim to belong, and in every case similar to our own, within our knowledge, the general government has promptly assumed the payment of all liabilities growing out of the measures taken by the constituted authorities, to protect the lives and property of those who reside within the limits of their districts.
If the citizens of the States and territories, east of the Rocky mountains, are justified in promptly acting in such emergencies, who are under the immediate protection of the general government, there appears no room for doubt that the lawful acts of the Oregon government will receive a like approval.
Though the Indians of the Columbia have committed a great outrage upon our fellow citizens passing through their country, and residing among them, and their punishment for these murders may, and ought to be, a prime object with every citizen of Oregon, yet, as that duty more particularly devolves upon the government of the United States, and admits of delay, we do not make this the strongest ground upon which to found our earnest appeal to you for pecuniary assistance. It is a fact well known to every person acquainted with the Indian character, that, by passing silently over their repeated thefts, robberies, and murders of our fellow-citizens, they have been emboldened to the commission of the appalling massacre at Waiilatpu. They call us women, destitute of the hearts and courage of men, and if we allow this wholesale murder to pass by as former aggressions, who can tell how long either life or property will be secure in any part of this country, or what moment the Willamette will be the scene of blood and carnage.
The officers of our provisional government have nobly performed their duty. None can doubt the readiness of the patriotic sons of the west to offer their personal services in defence of a cause so righteous. So it now rests with you, gentlemen, to say whether our rights and our fire-sides shall be defended, or not.
Hoping that none will be found to falter in so high and so sacred a duty, we beg leave, gentlemen, to subscribe ourselves,
Your servants and fellow-citizens,
Jesse Applegate, A.L. Lovejoy, Geo. L. Curry, Commissioners.
A similar letter had been addressed to the Hudson's Bay Company, and to the Methodist mission. From each of these sources such assistance was obtained as enabled the colony to arm and equip the first regiment of Oregon riflemen, which in the month of January proceeded to the Cayuse country. The amount raised, however, was very small, being less than five thousand dollars, and it became imperatively necessary that the government of the United States should be called upon to extend its aid and protection to the loyal but distressed young territory.
In view of this necessity it was resolved in the legislature to send a messenger to carry the intelligence of the massacre to Gov. Mason of California, and through him to the commander of the United States squadron in the Pacific, that a vessel of war mig ht be sent into the Columbia River, and arms and ammunition borrowed for the present emergency, from the nearest arsenal. For this duty was chosen Jesse Applegate, Esq., a gentleman who combined in his character and person the ability of the statesman with the sagacity and strength of the pioneer. Mr. Applegate, with a small party of brave men, set out in midwinter to cross the mountains into California, but such was the depth of snow they encountered that traveling became impossible, even after abandoning their horses, and they were compelled to return.
The messenger elected to proceed to the United States was Joseph L. Meek, whose Rocky Mountain experiences eminently fitted him to encounter the dangers of such a winter journey, and whose manliness, firmness, and ready wit stood him instead of statesmanship.
On the 17th December Meek resigned his seat in the House in order to prepare for the discharge of his duty as messenger to the United States. On the 4th of January, armed with his credentials from the Oregon legislature, and bearing dispatches from that body and the Governor to the President, he at length set out on the long and perilous expedition, having for traveling companions Mr. John Owens, and Mr. George Ebbarts—the latter having formerly been a Rocky Mountain man, like himself.
At the Dalles they found the first regiment of Oregon Riflemen, under Major Lee, of the newly created army of Oregon. From the reports which the Dalles Indians brought in of the hostility of the Indians beyond the Des Chutes River it was thought best not to proceed before the arrival of the remainder of the army, when all the forces would proceed at once to Waiilatpu. Owing to various delays, the army, consisting of about five hundred men, under Colonel Gilliam, did not reach the Dalles until late in January, when the troops proceeded at once to the seat of war.
The reports concerning the warlike disposition of the Indians proved to be correct. Already, the Wascopams or Dalles Indians had begun robbing the mission at that place, when Colonel Lee's arrival among them with troops had compelled them to return the stolen property. As the army advanced they found that all the tribes above the Dalles were holding themselves prepared for hostilities. At Well Springs, beyond the Des Chutes River, they were met by a body of about six hundred Indians to whom they gave battle, soon dispersing them, the superior arms and equipments of the whites tending to render timid those tribes yet unaccustomed to so superior an enemy. From thence to Waiilatpu the course of the army was unobstructed.
In the meantime the captives had been given up to the Hudson's Bay Company, and full particulars of the massacre were obtained by the army, with all the subsequent abuses and atrocities suffered by the prisoners. The horrible details were not calculated to soften the first bitterness of hatred which had animated the volunteers on going into the field. Nor was the appearance of an armed force in their midst likely to allay the hostile feelings with which other causes had inspired the Indians. Had not the captives already been removed out of the country, no influence, not even that of the Hudson's Bay Company, could have prevailed to get them out of the power of their captors then. Indeed, in order to treat with the Cayuses in the first place, Mr. Ogden had been obliged to promise peace to the Indians, and now they found instead of peace, every preparation for war. However, as the army took no immediate action, but only remained in their country to await the appearance of the commissioners appointed by the legislature of Oregon to hold a council with the chiefs of the various tribes, the Cayuses were forced to observe the outward semblance of amity while these councils were pending.
Arrived at Waiilatpu, the friends and acquaintances of Dr. Whitman were shocked to find that the remains of the victims were still unburied, although a little earth had been thrown over them. Meek, to whom, ever since his meeting with her in the train of the fur-trader, Mrs. Whitman had seemed all that was noble and captivating, had the melancholy satisfaction of bestowing, with others, the last sad rite of burial upon such portions of her once fair person as murder and the wolves had not destroyed. Some tresses of golden hair were severed from the brow so terribly disfigured, to be given to her friends in the Wallamet as a last and only memorial. Among the State documents at Salem, Oregon, may still be seen one of these relics of the Waiilatpu tragedy.
Not only had Meek to discover and inter the remains of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, but also of his little girl, who was being educated at the mission, with a daughter of his former leader, Bridger.
This sad duty performed, he immediately set out, escorted by a company of one hundred men under Adjutant Wilcox, who accompanied him as far as the foot of the Blue Mountains. Here the companies separated, and Meek went on his way to Washington.
1848. Meek's party now consisted of himself, Ebbarts, Owens, and four men, who being desirous of returning to the States took this opportunity. However, as the snow proved to be very deep on the Blue Mountains, and the cold severe, two of these four volunteers became discouraged and concluded to remain at Fort Boise, where was a small trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company.
In order to avoid trouble with the Indians he might meet on the western side of the Rocky mountains, Meek had adopted the red belt and Canadian cap of the employees of the Hudson's Bay Company; and to this precaution was owing the fact of his safe passage through the country now all infected with hostility caught from the Cayuses. About three days' travel beyond Fort Boise, the party met a village of Bannack Indians, who at once made warlike demonstrations; but on seeing Meek's costume, and receiving an invitation to hold a 'talk', desisted, and received the travelers in a friendly manner. Meek informed the chief, with all the gravity which had won for him the name of "shiam shuspusia" among the Crows in former years, that he was going on the business of the Hudson's Bay Company to Fort Hall; and that Thomas McKay was a day's march behind with a large trading party, and plenty of goods. On the receipt of this good news, the chief ordered his braves to fall back, and permit the party to pass. Yet, fearing the deception might be discovered, they thought it prudent to travel day and night until they reached Fort Hall.
At this post of the Hudson's Bay Company, in charge of Mr. Grant, they were kindly received, and stopped for a few hours of rest. Mr. Grant being absent, his wife provided liberally for the refreshment of the party, who were glad to find themselves even for a short interval under a roof, beside a fire and partaking of freshly cooked food. But they permitted themselves no unnecessary delay. Before night they were once more on their way, though snow had now commenced to fall afresh, rendering the traveling very difficult. For two days they struggled on, their horses floundering in the soft drifts, until further progress in that manner became impossible. The only alternative left was to abandon their horses and proceed on snow-shoes, which were readily constructed out of willow sticks.
Taking only a blanket and their rifles, and leaving the animals to find their way back to Fort Hall, the little party pushed on. Meek was now on familiar ground, and the old mountain spirit which had once enabled him to endure hunger, cold, and fatigue without murmuring, possessed him now. It was not without a certain sense of enjoyment that he found himself reduced to the necessity of shooting a couple of pole-cats to furnish a supper for himself and party. How long the enjoyment of feeling want would have lasted is uncertain, but probably only long enough to whet the appetite for plenty.
To such a point had the appetites of all the party been whetted, when, after several days of scarcity and toil, followed by nights of emptiness and cold, Meek had the agreeable surprise of falling in with an old mountain comrade on the identical ground of many a former adventure, the head-waters of Bear River. This man, whom Meek was delighted to meet, was Peg-leg Smith, one of the most famous of many well-known mountain-men. He was engaged in herding cattle in the valley of Thomas' Fork, where the tall grass was not quite buried under snow, and had with him a party of ten men.
Meek was as cordially received by his former comrade as the unbounded hospitality of mountain manners rendered it certain he would be. A fat cow was immediately sacrificed, which, though not buffalo meat, as in former times it would have been, was very good beef, and furnished a luxurious repast to the pole-cat eaters of the last several days. Smith's camp did not lack the domestic element of women and children, any more than had the trapper's camps in the flush times of the fur-trade. Therefore, seeing that the meeting was most joyful, and full of reminiscences of former winter camps, Smith thought to celebrate the occasion by a grand entertainment. Accordingly, after a great deal of roast beef had been disposed of, a dance was called for, in which white men and Indian women joined with far more mirth and jollity than grace or ceremony. Thus passed some hours of the night, the bearer of dispatches seizing, in true mountain style, the passing moment's pleasure, so long as it did not interfere with the punctilious discharge of his duty. And to the honor of our hero be it said, nothing was ever allowed to interfere with that.
Refreshed and provided with rations for a couple of days, the party started on again next morning, still on snow-shoes, and traveled up Bear River to the head-waters of Green River, crossing from the Muddy fork over to Fort Bridger, where they arrived very much fatigued but quite well in little more than three days' travel. Here again it was Meek's good fortune to meet with his former leader, Bridger, to whom he related what had befallen him since turning pioneer. The meeting was joyful on both sides, clouded only by the remembrance of what had brought it about, and the reflection that both had a personal wrong to avenge in bringing about the punishment of the Cayuse murderers.
Once more Meek's party were generously fed, and furnished with such provisions as they could carry about their persons. In addition to this, Bridger presented them with four good mules, by which means the travelers were mounted four at a time, while the fifth took exercise on foot; so that by riding or walking, turn about, they were enabled to get on very well as far as the South Pass. Here again for some distance the snow was very deep, and two of their mules were lost in it. Their course lay down the Sweetwater River, past many familiar hunting and camping grounds, to the Platte River. Owing to the deep snows, game was very scarce, and a long day of toil was frequently closed by a supperless sleep under shelter of some rock or bank, with only a blanket for cover. At Red Buttes they were so fortunate as to find and kill a single buffalo, which, separated from the distant herd, was left by Providence in the path of the famished travelers.
On reaching the Platte River they found the traveling improved, as well as the supply of game, and proceeded with less difficulty as far as Fort Laramie, a trading post in charge of a French trader named Papillion. Here again fresh mules were obtained, and the little party treated in the most hospitable manner. In parting from his entertainer, Meek was favored with this brief counsel:
"There is a village of Sioux, of about six hundred lodges, a hundred miles from here. Your course will bring you to it. Look out for yourself, and don't make a Gray muss of it!"—which latter clause referred to the affair of 1837, when the Sioux had killed the Indian escort of Mr. Gray.
When the party arrived at Ash Hollow, which they meant to have passed in the night, on account of the Sioux village, the snow was again falling so thickly that the party had not perceived their nearness to the village until they were fairly in the midst of it. It was now no safer to retreat than to proceed; and after a moment's consultation, the word was given to keep on. In truth, Meek thought it doubtful whether the Sioux would trouble themselves to come out in such a tempest, and if they did so, that the blinding snow-fall was rather in his favor. Thus reasoning, he was forcing his mule through the drifts as rapidly as the poor worried animal could make its way, when a head was protruded from a lodge door, and "Hallo, Major!" greeted his ear in an accent not altogether English.
On being thus accosted, the party came to a halt, and Meek was invited to enter the lodge, with his friends. His host on this occasion was a French trader named Le Bean, who, after offering the hospitalities of the lodge, and learning who were his guests, offered to accompany the party a few miles on its way. This he did, saying by way of explanation of this act of courtesy, "The Sioux are a bad people; I thought it best to see you safe out of the village." Receiving the thanks of the travelers, he turned back at night-fall, and they continued on all night without stopping to camp, going some distance to the south of their course before turning east again, in order to avoid any possible pursuers.
Without further adventures, and by dint of almost constant travel, the party arrived at St. Joseph, Mo., in safety, in a little over two months, from Portland, Oregon. Soon afterwards, when the circumstances of this journey became known, a steamboat built for the Missouri River trade was christened the Joseph L. Meek, and bore for a motto, on her pilot-house, "The quickest trip yet," in reference both to Meek's overland journey and her own steaming qualities.
As Meek approached the settlements, and knew that he must soon be thrown into society of the highest official grade, and be subjected to such ordeals as he dreaded far more than Indian fighting, or even traveling express across a continent of snow, the subject of how he was to behave in these new and trying positions very frequently occurred to him. He, an uneducated man, trained to mountain life and manners, without money, or even clothes, with nothing to depend on but the importance of his mission and his own mother wit, he felt far more keenly than his careless appearance would suggest, the difficulties and awkwardness of his position.
"I thought a great deal about it," confesses the Col. Joseph L. Meek of to-day, "and I finally concluded that as I had never tried to act like anybody but myself, I would not make myself a fool by beginning to ape other folks now. So I said, 'Joe Meek you always have been, and Joe Meek you shall remain; go ahead, Joe Meek!'"
In fact, it would have been rather difficult putting on fine gentleman airs, in that old worn-out hunting suit of his, and with not a dollar to bless himself. On the contrary, it needed just the devil-may-care temper which naturally belonged to our hero, to carry him through the remainder of his journey to Washington. To be hungry, ill-clad, dirty, and penniless, is sufficient in itself for the subduing of most spirits; how it affected the temper of the messenger from Oregon we shall now learn.
When the weary little party arrived in St. Joseph, they repaired to a hotel, and Meek requested that a meal should be served for all, but frankly confessing that they had no money to pay. The landlord, however, declined furnishing guests of his style upon such terms, and our travelers were forced to go into camp below the town. Meek now bethought himself of his letters of introduction. It chanced that he had one from two young men among the Oregon volunteers, to their father in St Joseph. Stopping a negro who was passing his camp, he inquired whether such a gentleman was known to him; and on learning that he was, succeeded in inducing the negro to deliver the letter from his sons.
This movement proved successful. In a short space of time the gentleman presented himself, and learning the situation of the party, provided generously for their present wants, and promised any assistance which might be required in future. Meek, however, chose to accept only that which was imperatively needed, namely, something to eat, and transportation to some point on the river where he could take a steamer for St. Louis. A portion of his party chose to remain in St. Joseph, and a portion accompanied him as far as Independence, whither this same St. Joseph gentleman conveyed them in his carriage.
While Meek was stopping at Independence, he was recognized by a sister, whom he had not seen for nineteen years; who, marrying and emigrating from Virginia, had settled on the frontier of Missouri. But he gave himself no time for family reunion and gossip. A steamboat that had been frozen up in the ice all winter, was just about starting for St. Louis, and on board of this he went, with an introduction to the captain, which secured for him every privilege the boat afforded, together with the kindest attention of its officers.
When the steamer arrived in St. Louis, by one of those fortuitous circumstances so common in our hero's career, he was met at the landing by Campbell, a Rocky Mountain trader who had formerly belonged to the St. Louis Company. This meeting relieved him of any care about his night's entertainment in St. Louis, and it also had another effect—that of relieving him of any further care about the remainder of his journey; for, after hearing Meek's story of the position of affairs in Oregon and his errand to the United States, Campbell had given the same to the newspaper reporters, and Meek, like Byron, waked up next morning to find himself famous.
MEEK AS STEAMBOAT RUNNER.
Having telegraphed to Washington, and received the President's order to come on, the previous evening, our hero wended his way to the levee the morning after his arrival in St. Louis. There were two steamers lying side by side, both up for Pittsburg, with runners for each, striving to outdo each other in securing passengers. A bright thought occurred to the moneyless envoy—he would earn his passage!
Walking on board one of the boats, which bore the name of The Declaration, himself a figure which attracted all eyes by his size and outlandish dress, he mounted to the hurricane deck and began to harrangue the crowd upon the levee, in the voice of a Stentor:
"This way, gentlemen, if you please. Come right on board the Declaration. I am the man from Oregon, with dispatches to the President of these United States, that you all read about in this morning's paper. Come on board, ladies and gentlemen, if you want to hear the news from Oregon. I've just come across the plains, two months from the Columbia River, where the Injuns are killing your missionaries. Those passengers who come aboard the Declaration shall hear all about it before they get to Pittsburg. Don't stop thar, looking at my old wolf-skin cap, but just come aboard, and hear what I've got to tell!"
The novelty of this sort of solicitation operated capitally. Many persons crowded on board the Declaration only to get a closer look at this picturesque personage who invited them, and many more because they were really interested to know the news from the far off young territory which had fallen into trouble. So it chanced that the Declaration was inconveniently crowded on this particular morning.
After the boat had got under way, the captain approached his roughest looking cabin passenger and inquired in a low tone of voice if he were really and truly the messenger from Oregon.
"Thar's what I've got to show for it;" answered Meek, producing his papers.
"Well, all I have to say is, Mr. Meek, that you are the best runner this boat ever had; and you are welcome to your passage ticket, and anything you desire besides."
Finding that his bright thought had succeeded so well, Meek's spirit rose with the occasion, and the passengers had no reason to complain that he had not kept his word. Before he reached Wheeling his popularity was immense, notwithstanding the condition of his wardrobe. At Cincinnati he had time to present a letter to the celebrated Doctor ——, who gave him another, which proved to be an 'open sesame' wherever he went thereafter.
On the morning of his arrival in Wheeling it happened that the stage which then carried passengers to Cumberland, where they took the train for Washington, had already departed. Elated by his previous good fortune our ragged hero resolved not to be delayed by so trivial a circumstance; but walking pompously into the stage office inquired, with an air which must have smacked strongly of the mock-heroic, if he "could have a stage for Cumberland?"
The nicely dressed, dignified elderly gentleman who managed the business of the office, regarded the man who proffered this modest request for a moment in motionless silence, then slowly raising the spectacles over his eyes to a position on his forehead, finished his survey with unassisted vision. Somewhat impressed by the manner in which Meek bore this scrutiny, he ended by demanding "who are you?"
Tickled by the absurdity of the tableau they were enacting, Meek straightened himself up to his six feet two, and replied with an air of superb self assurance—
"I am Envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States!"
After a pause in which the old gentleman seemed to be recovering from some great surprise, he requested to see the credentials of this extraordinary envoy. Still more surprised he seemed on discovering for himself that the personage before him was really a messenger from Oregon to the government of the United States. But the effect was magical. In a moment the bell-rope was pulled, and in an incredibly short space of time a coach stood at the door ready to convey the waiting messenger on his way to Washington.
In the meantime in a conversation with the stage agent, Meek had explained more fully the circumstances of his mission, and the agent had become much interested. On parting, Meek received a ticket to the Relay House, with many expressions of regret from the agent that he could ticket him no farther.
"But it is all the same," said he; "you are sure to go through."
"Or run a train off the track," rejoined Meek, as he was bowed out of the office.
It happened that there were some other passengers waiting to take the first stage, and they crowded into this one, glad of the unexpected opportunity, but wondering at the queer looking passenger to whom the agent was so polite. This scarcely concealed curiosity was all that was needed to stimulate the mad-cap spirits of our so far "conquering hero." Putting his head out of the window just at the moment of starting, he electrified everybody, horses included, by the utterance of a war-whoop and yell that would have done credit to a wild Camanche. Satisfied with the speed to which this demoniac noise had excited the driver's prancing steeds, he quietly ensconced himself in his corner of the coach and waited for his fellow passengers to recover from their stunned sensations. When their complete recovery had been effected, there followed the usual questioning and explanations, which ended in the inevitable lionizing that was so much to the taste of this sensational individual.
On the cars at Cumberland, and at the eating-houses, the messenger from Oregon kept up his sensational character, indulging in alternate fits of mountain manners, and again assuming a disproportionate amount of grandeur; but in either view proving himself very amusing. By the time the train reached the Relay House, many of the passengers had become acquainted with Meek, and were prepared to understand and enjoy each new phase of his many-sided comicality.
The ticket with which the stage agent presented him, dead-headed him only to this point. Here again he must make his poverty a jest, and joke himself through to Washington. Accordingly when the conductor came through the car in which he, with several of his new acquaintances were sitting, demanding tickets, he was obliged to tap his blanketed passenger on the shoulder to attract his attention to the "ticket, sir!"
"Ha ko any me ca, hanch?" said Meek, starting up and addressing him in the Snake tongue.
"Ticket, sir!" repeated the conductor, staring.
"Ka hum pa, hanch?" returned Meek, assuming a look which indicated that English was as puzzling to him, as Snake to other people.
Finding that his time would be wasted on this singular passenger, the conductor went on through the train; returning after a time with a fresh demand for his ticket. But Meek sustained his character admirably, and it was only through the excessive amusement of the passengers that the conductor suspected that he was being made the subject of a practical joke. At this stage of affairs it was privately explained to him who and what his waggish customer was, and tickets were no more mentioned during the journey.
On the arrival of the train at Washington, the heart of our hero became for a brief moment of time "very little." He felt that the importance of his mission demanded some dignity of appearance—some conformity to established rules and precedents. But of the latter he knew absolutely nothing; and concerning the former, he realized the absurdity of a dignitary clothed in blankets and a wolf-skin cap. 'Joe Meek I must remain,' said he to himself, as he stepped out of the train, and glanced along the platform at the crowd of porters with the names of their hotels on their hat-bands. Learning from inquiry that Coleman's was the most fashionable place, he decided that to Coleman's he would go, judging correctly that it was best to show no littleness of heart even in the matter of hotels.
1848. When Meek arrived at Coleman's it was the dinner hour, and following the crowd to the dining saloon, he took the first seat he came to, not without being very much stared at. He had taken his cue and the staring was not unexpected, consequently not so embarrassing as it might otherwise have been. A bill of fare was laid beside his plate. Turning to the colored waiter who placed it there, he startled him first by inquiring in a low growling voice—
"What's that boy?"
"Bill of fare, sah," replied the "boy," who recognized the Southerner in the use of that one word.
"Read!" growled Meek again. "The people in my country can't read."
Though taken by surprise, the waiter, politely obedient, proceeded to enumerate the courses on the bill of fare. When he came to game——
"Stop thar, boy!" commanded Meek, "what kind of game?"
"Small game, sah."
"Fetch me a piece of antelope," leaning back in his chair with a look of satisfaction on his face.
"Got none of that sah; don't know what that ar' sah."
"Don't know!" with a look of pretended surprise. "In my country antelope and deer ar' small game; bear and buffalo ar' large game. I reckon if you haven't got one, you haven't got the other, either. In that case you may fetch me some beef."
The waiter disappeared grinning, and soon returned with the customary thin and small cut, which Meek eyed at first contemptuously, and then accepting it in the light of a sample swallowed it at two mouthfuls, returning his plate to the waiter with an approving smile, and saying loud enough to be overheard by a score of people——
"Boy, that will do. Fetch me about four pounds of the same kind."
By this time the blanketed beef-eater was the recipient of general attention, and the "boy" who served him comprehending with that quickness which distinguishes servants, that he had no ordinary backwoodsman to deal with, was all the time on the alert to make himself useful. People stared, then smiled, then asked each other "who is it?" loud enough for the stranger to hear. Meek looked neither to the right nor to the left, pretending not to hear the whispering. When he had finished his beef, he again addressed himself to the attentive "boy."
"That's better meat than the old mule I eat in the mountains."
Upon this remark the whispering became more general, and louder, and smiles more frequent.
"What have you got to drink, boy?" continued Meek, still unconscious. "Isn't there a sort of wine called—some kind of pain?"
"That's the stuff, I reckon; bring me some."
While Meek drank his champagne, with an occasional aside to his faithful attendant, people laughed and wondered "who the devil it was." At length, having finished his wine, and overhearing many open inquiries as to his identity, the hero of many bear-fights slowly arose, and addressing the company through the before-mentioned "boy," said:
"You want to know who I am?"
"If you please, sah; yes, if you please, sah, for the sake of these gentlemen present," replied the "boy," answering for the company.
"Wall then," proclaimed Meek with a grandiloquent air quite at variance with his blanket coat and unkempt hair, yet which displayed his fine person to advantage, "I am Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States!"
With that he turned and strode from the room. He had not proceeded far, however, before he was overtaken by a party of gentlemen in pursuit. Senator Underwood of Kentucky immediately introduced himself, calling the envoy by name, for the dispatch from St. Louis had prepared the President and the Senate for Meek's appearance in Washington, though it had not advised them of his style of dress and address. Other gentlemen were introduced, and questions followed questions in rapid succession.
When curiosity was somewhat abated, Meek expressed a wish to see the President without delay. To Underwood's question as to whether he did not wish to make his toilet before visiting the White House, his reply was, "business first, and toilet afterwards."
"But," said Underwood, "even your business can wait long enough for that."
"No, that's your mistake, Senator, and I'll tell you why: I can't dress, for two reasons, both good ones. I've not got a cent of money, nor a second suit of clothes."
The generous Kentuckian offered to remove the first of the objections on the spot, but Meek declined. "I'll see the President first, and hear what he has to say about my mission." Then calling a coach from the stand, he sprang into it, answering the driver's question of where he would be taken, with another inquiry.
"Whar should a man of my style want to go?—to the White House, of course!" and so was driven away amid the general laughter of the gentlemen in the portico at Coleman's, who had rather doubted his intention to pay his respects to the President in his dirty blankets.
He was admitted to the Presidential mansion by a mulatto of about his own age, with whom he remembered playing when a lad, for it must be remembered that the Meeks and Polks were related, and this servant had grown up in the family. On inquiring if he could see the President, he was directed to the office of the private Secretary, Knox Walker, also a relative of Meek's on the mother's side.
On entering he found the room filled with gentlemen waiting to see the President, each when his turn to be admitted should arrive. The Secretary sat reading a paper, over the top of which he glanced but once at the new comer, to ask him to be seated. But Meek was not in the humor for sitting. He had not traveled express for more than two months, in storm and cold, on foot and on horseback, by day and by night, with or without food, as it chanced, to sit down quietly now and wait. So he took a few turns up and down the room, and seeing that the Secretary glanced at him a little curiously, stopped and said:
"I should like to see the President immediately. Just tell him if you please that there is a gentleman from Oregon waiting to see him on very important business."
At the word Oregon, the Secretary sprang up, dashed his paper to the ground, and crying out "Uncle Joe!" came forward with both hands extended to greet his long lost relative.
"Take care, Knox! don't come too close," said Meek stepping back, "I'm ragged, dirty, and—lousy."
"TAKE CARE, KNOX."
But Walker seized his cousin's hand, without seeming fear of the consequences, and for a few moments there was an animated exchange of questions and answers, which Meek at last interrupted to repeat his request to be admitted to the President without delay. Several times the Secretary turned to leave the room, but as often came back with some fresh inquiry, until Meek fairly refused to say another word, until he had delivered his dispatches.
When once the Secretary got away he soon returned with a request from the President for the appearance of the Oregon messenger, all other visitors being dismissed for that day. Polk's reception proved as cordial as Walker' s had been. He seized the hand of his newly found relative, and welcomed him in his own name, as well as that of messenger from the distant, much loved, and long neglected Oregon. The interview lasted for a couple of hours. Oregon affairs and family affairs were talked over together; the President promising to do all for Oregon that he could do; at the same time he bade Meek make himself at home in the Presidential mansion, with true southern hospitality.
But Meek, although he had carried off his poverty and all his deficiencies in so brave a style hitherto, felt his assurance leaving him, when, his errand performed, he stood in the presence of rank and elegance, a mere mountain-man in ragged blankets, whose only wealth consisted of an order for five hundred dollars on the Methodist mission in New York, unavailable for present emergencies. And so he declined the hospitalities of the White House, saying he "could make himself at home in an Indian wigwam in Oregon, or among the Rocky Mountains, but in the residence of the chief magistrate of a great nation, he felt out of place, and ill at ease."
Polk, however, would listen to no refusal, and still further abashed his Oregon cousin by sending for Mrs. Polk and Mrs. Walker, to make his acquaintance. Says Meek:
"When I heard the silks rustling in the passage, I felt more frightened than if a hundred Blackfeet had whooped in my ear. A mist came over my eyes, and when Mrs. Polk spoke to me I couldn't think of anything to say in return."
But the ladies were so kind and courteous that he soon began to see a little, though not quite plainly while their visit lasted. Before the interview with the President and his family was ended, the poverty of the Oregon envoy became known, which led to the immediate supplying of all his wants. Major Polk was called in and introduced; and to him was deputed the business of seeing Meek "got up" in a style creditable to himself and his relations. Meek avers that when he had gone through the hands of the barber and tailor, and surveyed himself in a full length mirror, he was at first rather embarrassed, being under the impression that he was being introduced to a fashionable and decidedly good-looking gentleman, before whose overpowering style he was disposed to shrink, with the old familiar feeling of being in blankets.
But Meek was not the sort of man to be long in getting used to a situation however novel or difficult. In a very short time he was au fait in the customs of the capital. His perfect frankness led people to laugh at his errors as eccentricities; his good looks and natural bonhomie procured him plenty of admirers; while his position at the White House caused him to be envied and lionized at once.
On the day following his arrival the President sent in a message to Congress accompanied by the memorial from the Oregon legislature and other documents appertaining to the Oregon cause. Meek was introduced to Benton, Oregon's indefatigable friend, and received from him the kindest treatment; also to Dallas, President of the Senate; Douglas, Fremont, Gen. Houston, and all the men who had identified themselves with the interests of the West.
It should be stated that only a short time previous to the Waiilatpu massacre a delegate had left Oregon for Washington, by ship around Cape Horn, who had been accredited by the governor of the colony only, and that the legislature had subsequently passed resolutions expressive of their disapproval of "secret factions," by which was meant the mission party, whose delegate Mr. Thornton was.
It so happened that, by reason of the commander of the Portsmouth having assumed it to be a duty to convey Mr. Thornton from La Paz, where through the infidelity of the Captain of the Whitton, he was stranded, he was enabled to reach the States early in the Spring, arriving in fact a week or two before Meek reached Washington. Thus Oregon had two representatives, although not entitled to any: nor had either a right to a seat in either House; yet to one this courtesy was granted, while the two together controlled more powerful influences than were ever before or since brought to bear on the fate of any single territory of the United States. While Mr. Thornton sat among Senators as a sort of consulting member or referee, but without a vote; Meek had the private ear of the President, and mingled freely among members of both Houses, in a social character, thereby exercising a more immediate influence than his more learned coadjutor.
In the meantime our hero was making the most of his advantages. He went to dinners and champagne suppers, besides giving an occasional one of the latter. At the presidential levees he made himself agreeable to witty and distinguished ladies, answering innumerable questions about Oregon and Indians, generally with a veil of reserve between himself and the questioner whenever the inquiries became, as they sometimes would, disagreeably searching. Again the spirit of perversity and mischief led him to make his answers so very direct as to startle or bewilder the questioner.
On one occasion a lady with whom he was promenading a drawing-room at some Senator's reception, admiring his handsome physique perhaps, and wondering if any woman owned it, finally ventured the question—was he married?
"Yes, indeed," answered Meek, with emphasis, "I have a wife and several children."
"Oh dear," exclaimed the lady, "I should think your wife would be so afraid of the Indians!"
"Afraid of the Indians!" exclaimed Meek in his turn; "why, madam, she is an Indian herself!"
No further remarks on the subject were ventured that evening; and it is doubtful if the lady did not take his answer as a rebuke to her curiosity rather than the plain truth that it was.
Meek found his old comrade, Kit Carson, in Washington, staying with Fremont at the house of Senator Benton. Kit, who had left the mountains as poor as any other of the mountain-men, had no resource at that time except the pay furnished by Fremont for his services as guide and explorer in the California and Oregon expeditions; where, in fact, it was Carson and not Fremont who deserved fame as a path-finder. However that may be, Carson had as little money as men of his class usually have, and needed it as much. So long as Meek's purse was supplied, as it generally was, by some member of the family at the White House, Carson could borrow from him. But one being quite as careless of money as the other, they were sometimes both out of pocket at the same time. In that case the conversation was apt to take a turn like this:
Carson. Meek, let me have some money, can't you?
Meek. I haven't got any money, Kit.
Carson. Go and get some.
Meek. —— it, whar am I to get money from?
Carson. Try the "contingent fund," can't you?
Truth to tell the contingent fund was made to pay for a good many things not properly chargeable to the necessary expenditures of "Envoy Extraordinary" like our friend from Oregon.
The favoritism with which our hero was everywhere received was something remarkable, even when all the circumstances of his relationship to the chief magistrate, and the popularity of the Oregon question were considered. Doubtless the novelty of having a bear-fighting and Indian-fighting Rocky Mountain man to lionize, was one great secret of the furore which greeted him wherever he went; but even that fails to account fully for the enthusiasm he awakened, since mountain-men had begun to be pretty well known and understood, from the journal of Fremont and other explorers. It could only have been the social genius of the man which enabled him to overcome the impediments of lack of education, and the associations of half a lifetime. But whatever was the fortunate cause of his success, he enjoyed it to the full. He took excursions about the country in all directions, petted and spoiled like any "curled darling" instead of the six-foot-two Rocky Mountain trapper that he was.
In June he received an invitation to Baltimore, tendered by the city council, and was received by that body with the mayor at its head, in whose carriage he was conveyed to Monument Square, to be welcomed by a thousand ladies, smiling and showering roses upon him as he passed. And kissing the roses because he could not kiss the ladies, he bowed and smiled himself past the festive groups waiting to receive the messenger from Oregon. Music, dining, and the parade usual to such occasions distinguished this day, which Meek declares to have been the proudest of his life; not denying that the beauty of the Baltimore ladies contributed chiefly to produce that impression.
On the fourth of July, Polk laid the corner stone of the National Monument. The occasion was celebrated with great eclat, the address being delivered by Winthrop, the military display, and the fire-works in the evening being unusually fine. In the procession General Scott and staff rode on one side of the President's carriage, Col. May and Meek on the other,—Meek making a great display of horsemanship, in which as a mountain-man he excelled.
A MOUNTAIN-MAN IN CLOVER.
A little later in the summer Meek joined a party of Congressmen who were making campaign speeches in the principal cities of the north. At Lowell, Mass., he visited the cotton factories, and was equally surprised at the extent of the works, and the number of young women employed in them. Seeing this, the forewoman requested him to stop until noon and see the girls come out. As they passed in review before him, she asked if he had made his choice.
"No," replied the gallant Oregonian, "it would be impossible to choose, out of such a lot as that; I should have to take them all."
If our hero, under all his gaity smothered a sigh of regret that he was not at liberty to take one—a woman like those with whom for the first time in his life he was privileged to associate—who shall blame him? The kind of life he was living now was something totally different to anything in the past. It opened to his comprehension delightful possibilities of what might have been done and enjoyed under other circumstances, yet which now never could be done or enjoyed, until sometimes he was ready to fly from all these allurements, and hide himself again in the Rocky Mountains. Then again by a desperate effort, such thoughts were banished, and he rushed more eagerly than before into every pleasure afforded by the present moment, as if to make the present atone for the past and the future.
The kindness of the ladies at the White House, while it was something to be grateful for, as well as to make him envied, often had the effect to disturb his tranquility by the suggestions it gave rise to. Yet he was always demanding it, always accepting it. So constantly was he the attendant of his lady cousins in public and in private, riding and driving, or sauntering in the gardens of the presidential mansion, that the less favored among their acquaintances felt called upon to believe themselves aggrieved. Often, as the tall form of our hero was seen with a lady on either arm promenading the gardens at evening, the question would pass among the curious but uninitiated—"Who is that?" And the reply of some jealous grumbler would be—"It is that —— Rocky Mountain man," so loud sometimes as to be overheard by the careless trio, who smothered a laugh behind a hat or a fan.
And so passed that brief summer of our hero's life. A great deal of experience, of sight-seeing, and enjoyment had been crowded into a short few months of time. He had been introduced to and taken by the hand by the most celebrated men of the day. Nor had he failed to meet with men whom he had known in the mountains and in Oregon. His old employer, Wilkes, who was ill in Washington, sent for him to come and tell "some of those Oregon lies" for his amusement, and Meek, to humor him, stretched some of his good stories to the most wonderful dimensions.
But from the very nature of the enjoyment it could not last long; it was too vivid and sensational for constant wear. Feeling this, he began to weary of Washington, and more particularly since he had for the last few weeks been stopping away from the White House. In one of his restless moods he paid a visit to Polk, who detecting the state of his mind asked laughingly——
"Well, Meek, what do you want now?"
"I want to be franked."
"How long will five hundred dollars last you?"
"About as many days as there ar' hundreds, I reckon."
"You are shockingly extravagant, Meek. Where do you think all this money is to come from?"
"It is not my business to know, Mr. President," replied Meek, laughing, "but it is the business of these United States to pay the expenses of the messenger from Oregon, isn't it?"
"I think I will send you to the Secretary of War to be franked, Meek; his frank is better than mine. But no, stay; I will speak to Knox about it this time. And you must not spend your money so recklessly, Meek; it will not do—it will not do."
Meek thanked the President both for the money and the advice, but gave a champagne supper the next night, and in a week's time was as empty-handed as ever.
The close of the session was at hand and nothing had been done except to talk. Congress was to adjourn at noon on Monday, August 14th, and it was now Saturday the 12th. The friends of Oregon were anxious; the two waiting Oregonians nearly desperate. On this morning of the 12th, the friends of the bill, under Benton's lead, determined upon obtaining a vote on the final passage of the bill; resolving that they would not yield to the usual motions for delay and adjournments, but that they would, if necessary, sit until twelve o'clock Monday.
Saturday night wore away; the Sabbath morning's sun arose; and at last, two hours after sunrise, a consultation was held between Butler, Mason, Calhoun, Davis, and Foote, which resulted in the announcement that no further opposition would be offered to taking the vote upon the final passage of the Oregon bill. The vote was then taken, the bill passed, and the weary Senate adjourned, to meet again on Monday for a final adjournment.
1848-9. The long suspense ended, Meek prepared to return to Oregon, if not without some regrets, at the same time not unwillingly. His restless temper, and life-long habits of unrestrained freedom began to revolt against the conventionality of his position in Washington. Besides, in appointing officers for the new territory, Polk had made him United States Marshal, than which no office could have suited him better, and he was as prompt to assume the discharge of its duties, as all his life he had been to undertake any duty to which his fortunes assigned him.
On the 20th of August, only six days after the passage of the territorial bill, he received his papers from Buchanan, and set off for Bedford Springs, whither the family from the White House were flown to escape from the suffocating air of Washington in August. He had brought his papers to be signed by Polk, and being expected by the President found everything arranged for his speedy departure; Polk even ordering a seat for him in the upcoming coach, by telegraph. On learning this from the President, at dinner, when the band was playing, Meek turned to the leader and ordered him to play "Sweet Home," much to the amusement of his lady cousins, who had their own views of the sweets of a home in Oregon. A hurried farewell, spoken to each of his friends separately, and Oregon's new Marshal was ready to proceed on his long journey toward the Pacific.
The occasion of Polk's haste in the matter of getting Meek started, was his anxiety to have the Oregon government become a fact before the expiration of his term of office. The appointment of Governor of the new territory had been offered to Shields, and declined. Another commission had been made out, appointing General Joseph Lane of Indiana, Governor of Oregon, and the commission was that day signed by the President and given to Meek to be delivered to Lane in the shortest possible time. His last words to the Marshal on parting were—"God bless you, Meek. Tell Lane to have a territorial government organized during my administration."
Of the ten thousand dollars appropriated by Congress "to be expended under the direction of the President, in payment for services and expenses of such persons as had been engaged by the provisional government of Oregon in conveying communications to and from the United States; and for purchase of presents for such Indian tribes as the peace and quiet of the country required"—Thornton received two thousand six hundred dollars, Meek seven thousand four hundred, and the Indian tribes none. Whether the President believed that the peace and quiet of the country did not require presents to be made to the Indians, or whether family credit required that Meek should get the lion's share, is not known. However that may be, our hero felt himself to be quite rich, and proceeded to get rid of his superfluity, as will hereafter be seen, with his customary prodigality and enjoyment of the present without regard to the future.
Before midnight on the day of his arrival at the springs, Meek was on his way to Indiana to see General Lane. Arriving at the Newburg landing one morning at day-break, he took horse immediately for the General's residence at Newburg, and presented him with his commission soon after breakfast. Lane sat writing, when Meek, introducing himself, laid his papers before him.
"Do you accept?" asked Meek.
"Yes," answered Lane.
"How soon can you be ready to start?"
"In fifteen minutes!" answered Lane, with military promptness.
Three days, however, were actually required to make the necessary preparations for leaving his farm and proceeding to the most remote corner of the United States territory.
At St. Louis they were detained one day, waiting for a boat to Leavenworth, where they expected to meet their escort. This one day was too precious to be lost in waiting by so business-like a person as our hero, who, when nothing more important was to be done generally was found trying to get rid of his money. So, on this occasion, after having disburdened himself of a small amount in treating the new Governor and all his acquaintances, he entered into negotiations with a peddler who was importuning the passengers to buy everything, from a jack-knife to a silk dress.
Finding that Nat. Lane, the General's son, wanted a knife, but was disposed to beat down the price, Meek made an offer for the lot of a dozen or two, and thereby prevented Lane getting one at any price. Not satisfied with this investment, he next made a purchase of three whole pieces of silk, at one dollar and fifty cents per yard. At this stage of the transaction General Lane interfered sufficiently to inquire "what he expected to do with that stuff?"
"Can't tell," answered Meek; "but I reckon it is worth the money."
"Better save your money," said the more prudent Lane. But the incorrigible spendthrift only laughed, and threatened to buy out the Jew's entire stock, if Lane persisted in preaching economy.
At St. Louis, besides his son Nat., Lane was met by Lieut. Hawkins, who was appointed to the command of the escort of twenty-five riflemen, and Dr. Hayden, surgeon of the company. This party proceeded to Leavenworth, the point of starting, where the wagons and men of Hawkins' command awaited them. At this place, Meek was met by a brother and two sisters who had come to look on him for the first time in many years. The two days' delay which was necessary to get the train ready for a start, afforded an opportunity for this family reunion, the last that might ever occur between its widely separated branches, new shoots from which extend at this day from Virginia to Alabama, and from Tennessee to California and Oregon.
By the 10th of September the new government was on its way to Oregon in the persons of Lane and Meek. The whole company of officers, men, and teamsters, numbered about fifty-five; the wagons ten; and riding-horses, an extra supply for each rider.
The route taken, with the object to avoid the snows of a northern winter, was from Leavenworth to Santa Fe, and thence down the Rio Grande to near El Paso; thence northwesterly by Tucson, in Arizona; thence to the Pimas village on the Gila River; following the Gila to its junction with the Colorado, thence northwesterly again to the Bay of San Pedro in California. From this place the company were to proceed by ship to San Francisco; and thence again by ship to the Columbia River.
On the Santa Fe trail they met the army returning from Mexico, under Price, and learned from them that they could not proceed with wagons beyond Santa Fe. The lateness of the season, although it was not attended with snow, as on the northern route it would have been, subjected the travelers nevertheless to the strong, cold winds which blow over the vast extent of open country between the Missouri River and the high mountain range which forms the water-shed of the continent. It also made it more difficult to subsist the animals, especially after meeting Price's army, which had already swept the country bare.
On coming near Santa Fe, Meek was riding ahead of his party, when he had a most unexpected encounter. Seeing a covered traveling carriage drawn up under the shade of some trees growing beside a small stream, not far off from the trail, he resolved, with his usual love of adventure, to discover for himself the character of the proprietor. But as he drew nearer, he discovered no one, although a camp-table stood under the trees, spread with refreshments, not only of a solid, but a fluid nature. The sight of a bottle of cognac induced him to dismount, and he was helping himself to a liberal glass, when a head was protruded from a covering of blankets inside the carriage, and a heavy bass voice was heard in a polite protest:
"Seems to me, stranger, you are making free with my property!"
"Here's to you, sir," rejoined the purloiner; "it isn't often I find as good brandy as that,"—holding out the glass admiringly,—"but when I do, I make it a point of honor not to pass it."
"May I inquire your name, sir?" asked the owner of the brandy, forced to smile at the good-humored audacity of his guest.
"I couldn't refuse to give my name after that,"—replacing the glass on the table,—"and I now introduce myself as Joseph L. Meek, Esq., Marshal of Oregon, on my way from Washington to assist General Lane in establishing a territorial Government west of the Rocky Mountains."
"Meek!—what, not the Joe Meek I have heard my brothers tell so much about?"
"Joe Meek is my name; but whar did your brothers know me?" inquired our hero, mystified in his turn.
"I think you must have known Captain William Sublette and his brother Milton, ten or twelve years ago, in the Rocky Mountains," said the gentleman, getting out of the carriage, and approaching Meek with extended hand.
A delighted recognition now took place. From Solomon Sublette, the owner of the carriage and the cognac, Meek learned many particulars of the life and death of his former leaders in the mountains. Neither of them were then living; but this younger brother, Solomon, had inherited Captain Sublette's wife and wealth at the same time. After these explanations, Mr. Sublette raised the curtains of the carriage again, and assisted to descend from it a lady, whom he introduced as his wife, and who exhibited much gratification in becoming acquainted with the hero of many a tale recited to her by her former husband, Captain Sublette.
In the midst of this pleasant exchange of reminiscences, the remainder of Meek's party rode up, were introduced, and invited to regale themselves on the fine liquors with which Mr. Sublette's carriage proved to be well furnished. This little adventure gave our hero much pleasure, as furnishing a link between the past and present, and bringing freshly to mind many incidents already beginning to fade in his memory.
At Santa Fe, the train stopped to be overhauled and reconstructed. The wagons having to be abandoned, their contents had to be packed on mules, after the manner of mountain or of Mexican travel and transportation. This change accomplished, with as little delay as possible, the train proceeded without any other than the usual difficulties, as far as Tucson, when two of the twenty-five riflemen deserted, having become suddenly enamored of liberty, in the dry and dusty region of southern Arizona.
Lieutenant Hawkins, immediately on discovering the desertion, dispatched two men, well armed, to compel their return. One of the men detailed for this duty belonged to the riflemen, but the other was an American, who, with a company of Mexican packers, had joined the train at Santa Fe, and was acting in the capacity of pilot. In order to fit out this volunteer for the service, always dangerous, of retaking deserting soldiers, Meek had lent him his Colt's revolvers. It was a vain precaution, however, both the men being killed in attempting to capture the deserters; and Meek's pistols were never more heard of, having fallen into the murderous hands of the runaways.
Drouth now began to be the serious evil with which the travelers had to contend. From the Pimas villages westward, it continually grew worse, the animals being greatly reduced from the want both of food and water. At the crossing of the Colorado, the animals had to be crossed over by swimming, the officers and men by rafts made of bulrushes. Lane and Meek being the first to be ferried over, were landed unexpectedly in the midst of a Yuma village. The Indians, however, gave them no trouble, and, except the little artifice of drowning some of the mules at the crossing, in order to get their flesh to eat, committed neither murders nor thefts, nor any outrage whatever.
It was quite as well for the unlucky mules to be
drowned and eaten as it was for their fellows to travel on over the arid desert before them until they starved and perished, which they nearly all did. From the Colorado on, the company of Lieut. Hawkins became thoroughly demoralized. Not only would the animals persist in dying, several in a day, but the soldiers also persisted in deserting, until, by the time he reached the coast, his forlorn hope was reduced to three men. But it was not the drouth in their case which caused the desertions: it was rumors which they heard everywhere along the route, of mines of gold and silver, where they flattered themselves they could draw better pay than from Uncle Sam's coffers.
GOVERNOR LANE AND MARSHAL MEEK ENROUTE TO OREGON.
The same difficulty from desertion harassed Lieutenant-Colonel Loring in the following summer, when he attempted to establish a line of posts along the route to Oregon, by the way of Forts Kearney, Laramie, and through the South Pass to Fort Hall. His mounted rifle regiment dwindled down to almost nothing. At one time, over one hundred men deserted in a body: and although he pursued and captured seventy of them, he could not keep them from deserting again at the first favorable moment. The bones of many of those gold-seeking soldiers were left on the plains, where wolves had stripped the flesh from them; and many more finally had rude burial at the hands of fellow gold-seekers: but few indeed ever won or enjoyed that for which they risked everything.
On arriving at Cook's wells, some distance beyond the Colorado, our travelers found that the water at this place was tainted by the body of a mule which had lost its life some days before in endeavoring to get at the water. This was a painful discovery for the thirsty party to make. However, there being no water for some distance ahead, General Lane boiled some of it, and made coffee of it, remarking that "maggots were more easily swallowed cooked than raw!"
And here the writer, and no doubt, the reader too, is compelled to make a reflection. Was the office of Governor of a Territory at fifteen hundred dollars a year, and Indian agent at fifteen hundred more, worth a journey of over three thousand miles, chiefly by land, even allowing that there had been no maggots in the water? Quien sábe?
Not far from this locality our party came upon one hundred wagons abandoned by Major Graham, who had not been able to cross the desert with them. Proceeding onward, the riders eventually found themselves on foot, there being only a few animals left alive to transport the baggage that could not be abandoned. So great was their extremity, that to quench their thirst the stomach of a mule was opened to get at the moisture it contained. In the horror and pain of the thirst-fever, Meek renewed again the sufferings he had undergone years before in the deserts inhabited by Diggers, and on the parched plains of the Snake River.
About the middle of January the Oregon Government, which had started out so gaily from Fort Leavenworth, arrived weary, dusty, foot-sore, famished, and suffering, at William's Ranch on the Santa Anna River, which empties into the Bay of San Pedro. Here they were very kindly received, and their wants ministered to.
At this place Meek developed, in addition to his various accomplishments, a talent for speculation. While overhauling his baggage, the knives and the silk which had been purchased of the peddler in St. Louis, were brought to light. No sooner did the senoritas catch a glimpse of the shining fabrics than they went into raptures over them, after the fashion of their sex. Seeing the state of mind to which these raptures, if unheeded, were likely to reduce the ladies of his house, Mr. Williams approached Meek delicately on the subject of purchase. But Meek, in the first flush of speculative shrewdness declared that as he had bought the goods for his own wife, he could not find it in his heart to sell them.
However, as the senoritas were likely to prove inconsolable, Mr. Williams again mentioned the desire of his family to be clad in silk, and the great difficulty, nay, impossibility, of obtaining the much coveted fabric in that part of the world, and accompanied his remarks with an offer of ten dollars a yard for the lot. At this magnificent offer our hero affected to be overcome by regard for the feelings of the senoritas, and consented to sell his dollar and a-half silks for ten dollars per yard.
In the same manner, finding that knives were a desirable article in that country, very much wanted by miners and others, he sold out his dozen or two, for an ounce each of gold-dust, netting altogether the convenient little profit of about five hundred dollars. When Gen. Lane was informed of the transaction, and reminded of his objections to the original purchase, he laughed heartily.
"Well, Meek," said he, "you were drunk when you bought them, and by —— I think you must have been drunk when you sold them; but drunk or sober, I will own you can beat me at a bargain."
Such bargains, however, became common enough about this time in California, for this was the year memorable in California history, of the breaking out of the gold-fever, and the great rush to the mines which made even the commonest things worth their weight in gold-dust.
Proceeding to Los Angelos, our party, once more comfortably mounted, found traveling comparatively easy. At this place they found quartered the command of Maj. Graham, whose abandoned wagons had been passed at the Hornella on the Colorado River. The town, too, was crowded with miners, men of every class, but chiefly American adventurers, drawn together from every quarter of California and Mexico by the rumor of the gold discovery at Sutter's Fort.
On arriving at San Pedro, a vessel—the Southampton, was found ready to sail. She had on board a crowd of fugitives from Mexico, bound to San Francisco, where they hoped to find repose from the troubles which harassed that revolutionary Republic.
At San Francisco, Meek was surprised to meet about two hundred Oregonians, who on the first news of the gold discovery the previous autumn, had fled, as it is said men shall flee on the day of judgment—leaving the wheat ungathered in the fields, the grain unground in the mills, the cattle unherded on the plains, their tools and farming implements rusting on the ground—everything abandoned as if it would never more be needed, to go and seek the shining dust, which is vainly denominated "filthy lucre." The two hundred were on their way home, having all either made something, or lost their health by exposure so that they were obliged to return. But they left many more in the mines.
Such were the tales told in San Francisco of the wonderful fortunes of some of the miners that young Lane became infected with the universal fever and declared his intention to try mining with the rest. Meek too, determined to risk something in gold-seeking, and as some of the teamsters who had left Fort Leavenworth with the company, and had come as far as San Francisco, were very desirous of going to the mines, Meek fitted out two or three with pack-horses, tools, and provisions, to accompany young Lane. For the money expended in the outfit he was to receive half of their first year's profits. The result of this venture was three pickle-jars of gold-dust, which were sent to him by the hands of Nat. Lane, the following year; and which just about reimbursed him for the outlay.
At San Francisco, Gen. Lane found the U.S. Sloop of War, the St. Mary's; and Meek insisted that the Oregon government, which was represented in their persons, had a right to require her services in transporting itself to its proper seat. But Lane, whose notions of economy extended, singularly enough, to the affairs of the general government, would not consent to the needless expenditure. Meek was rebellious, and quoted Thornton, by whom he was determined not to be outdone in respect of expense for transportation. Lane insisted that his dignity did not require a government vessel to convey him to Oregon. In short the new government was very much divided against itself, and only escaped a fall by Meek's finding some one, or some others, else, on whom to play his pranks.
The first one was a Jew peddler who had gentlemen's clothes to sell. To him the Marshal represented himself as a United States Custom officer, and after frightening him with a threat of confiscating his entire stock, finally compromised with the terrified Israelite by accepting a suit of clothes for himself. After enjoying the mortification of spirit which the loss inflicted on the Jew, for twenty-four hours, he finally paid him for the clothes, at the same time administering a lecture upon the sin and danger of smuggling.
The party which had left Leavenworth for Oregon nearly six months before, numbering fifty-five, now numbered only seven. Of the original number two had been killed, and all the rest had deserted to go to the mines. There remained only Gen. Lane, Meek, Lieut. Hawkins and Hayden, surgeon, besides three soldiers. With this small company Gen. Lane went on board the Jeanette, a small vessel, crowded with miners, and destined for the Columbia River. As the Jeanette dropped down the Bay, a salute was fired from the St. Mary's in honor of Gen. Lane, and appropriated to himself by Marshal Meek, who seems to have delighted in appropriating to himself all the honors in whatever circumstances he might be placed; the more especially too, if such assumption annoyed the General.
After a tedious voyage of eighteen days the Jeanette arrived in the Columbia River. From Astoria the party took small boats for Oregon City, a voyage of one hundred and twenty miles; so that it was already the 2d of March when they arrived at that place, and only one day was left for the organization of the Territorial Government before the expiration of Polk's term of office.
On the 2d of March Gen. Lane arrived at Oregon City, and was introduced to Gov. Abernethy, by Marshal Meek. On the 3d, there appeared the following—
In pursuance of an act of Congress, approved the 14th of August, in the year of our Lord 1848, establishing a Territorial Government in the Territory of Oregon:
I, Joseph Lane, was, on the 18th day of August, in the year 1848, appointed Governor in and for the Territory of Oregon. I have therefore thought it proper to issue this, my proclamation, making known that I have this day entered upon the discharge of the duties of my office, and by virtue thereof do declare the laws of the United States extended over, and declared to be in force in said Territory, so far as the same, or any portion thereof may be applicable.
Given under my hand at Oregon City, in the Territory of Oregon, this 3d day of March, Anno Domini 1849.
Joseph Lane. Thus Oregon had one day, under Polk, who, take it all in all, had been a faithful guardian of her interests.
In the month of August, 1848, the Honolulu, a vessel of one hundred and fifty tons, owned in Boston, carrying a consignment of goods to a mercantile house in Portland, arrived at her anchorage in the Wallamet, via San Francisco, California. Captain Newell, almost before he had discharged freight, commenced buying up a cargo of flour and other provisions. But what excited the wonder of the Oregonians was the fact that he also bought up all manner of tools such as could be used in digging or cutting, from a spade and pickaxe, to a pocket-knife. This singular proceeding naturally aroused the suspicions of a people accustomed to have something to suspect. A demand was made for the Honolulu's papers, and these not being forthcoming, it was proposed by some of the prudent ones to tie her up. When this movement was attempted, the secret came out. Captain Newell, holding up a bag of gold-dust before the astonished eyes of his persecutors, cried out—
"Do you see that gold? —— you, I will depopulate your country! I know where there is plenty of this stuff, and I am taking these tools where it is to be found."
This was in August, the month of harvest. So great was the excitement which seized the people, that all classes of men were governed by it. Few persons stopped to consider that this was the time for producers to reap golden harvests of precious ore, for the other yellow harvest of grain which was already ripe and waiting to be gathered. Men left their grain standing, and took their teams from the reapers to pack their provisions and tools to the mines.
Some men would have gladly paid double to get back the spades, shovels, or picks, which the shrewd Yankee Captain had purchased from them a week previous. All implements of this nature soon commanded fabulous prices, and he was a lucky man who had a supply.
1850-4. The Territorial law of Oregon combined the offices of Governor and Indian Agent. One of the most important acts which marked Lane's administration was that of securing and punishing the murderers of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman. The Indians of the Cayuse tribe to whom the murderers belonged, were assured that the only way in which they could avoid a war with the whites was to deliver up the chiefs who had been engaged in the massacre, to be tried and punished according to the laws of the whites. Of the two hundred Indians implicated in the massacre, five were given up to be dealt with according to law. These were the five chiefs, Te-lou-i-kite, Tam-a-has, Klok-a-mas, Ki-am-a-sump-kin, and I-sa-i-a-cha-lak-is.
These men might have made their escape; there was no imperative necessity upon them to suffer death, had they chosen to flee to the mountains. But with that strange magnanimity which the savage often shows, to the astonishment of Christians, they resolved to die for their people rather than by their flight to involve them in war.
Early in the summer of 1850, the prisoners were delivered up to Gov. Lane, and brought down to Oregon City, where they were given into the keeping of the marshal. During their passage down the river, and while they were incarcerated at Oregon City, their bearing was most proud and haughty. Some food, more choice than their prisoner's fare, being offered to one of the chiefs at a camp of the guard, in their transit down the Columbia, the proud savage rejected it with scorn.
"What sort of heart have you," he asked, "that you offer food to me, whose hands are red with your brother's blood?"
And this, after eleven years of missionary labor, was all the comprehension the savage nature knew of the main principle of Christianity,—forgiveness, or charity toward our enemies.
At Oregon City, Meek had many conversations with them. In all of these they gave but one explanation of their crime. They feared that Dr. Whitman intended, with the other whites, to take their land from them; and they were told by Jo Lewis, the half-breed, that the Doctor's medicine was intended to kill them off quickly, in order the sooner to get possession of their country. None of them expressed any sorrow for what had been done; but one of them, Ki-am-a-sump-kin, declared his innocence to the last.
In conversations with others, curious to gain some knowledge of the savage moral nature, Te-lou-i-kite often puzzled these students of Indian ethics. When questioned as to his motive for allowing himself to be taken, Te-lou-i-kite answered:
"Did not your missionaries tell us that Christ died to save his people? So die we, to save our people!"
Notwithstanding the prisoners were pre-doomed to death, a regular form of trial was gone through. The Prosecuting Attorney for the Territory, A. Holbrook, conducted the prosecution: Secretary Pritchett, Major Runnels, and Captain Claiborne, the defence. The fee offered by the chiefs was fifty head of horses. Whether it was compassion, or a love of horses which animated the defence, quite an effort was made to show that the murderers were not guilty.
The presiding Justice was O.C. Pratt—Bryant having resigned. Perhaps we cannot do better than to give the Marshal's own description of the trial and execution, which is as follows: "Thar war a great many indictments, and a great many people in attendance at this court. The Grand Jury found true bills against the five Indians, and they war arraigned for trial. Captain Claiborne led off for the defence. He foamed and ranted like he war acting a play in some theatre. He knew about as much law as one of the Indians he war defending; and his gestures were so powerful that he smashed two tumblers that the Judge had ordered to be filled with cold water for him. After a time he gave out mentally and physically. Then came Major Runnels, who made a very good defence. But the Marshal thought they must do better, for they would never ride fifty head of horses with them speeches.
Mr. Pritchett closed for the defence with a very able argument; for he war a man of brains. But then followed Mr. Holbrook, for the prosecution, and he laid down the case so plain that the jury were convinced before they left the jury-box. When the Judge passed sentence of death on them, two of the chiefs showed no terror; but the other three were filled with horror and consternation that they could not conceal.
After court had adjourned, and Gov. Lane war gone South on some business with the Rogue River Indians, Secretary Pritchett came to me and told me that as he war now acting Governor he meant to reprieve the Indians. Said he to me, 'Now Meek, I want you to liberate them Indians, when you receive the order.'
'Pritchett,' said I, 'so far as Meek is concerned, he would do anything for you.'
This talk pleased him; he said he 'war glad to hear it; and would go right off and write the reprieve.'
'But,' said I, 'Pritchett, let us talk now like men. I have got in my pocket the death-warrant of them Indians, signed by Gov. Lane. The Marshal will execute them men, as certain as the day arrives.'
Pritchett looked surprised, and remarked—'That war not what you just said, that you would do anything for me.'
Said I, 'you were talking then to Meek,—not to the Marshal, who always does his duty.' At that he got mad and left.
When the 3d of June, the day of execution, arrived, Oregon City was thronged with people to witness it. I brought forth the five prisoners and placed them on a drop. Here the chief, who always declared his innocence, Ki-am-i-sump-kin, begged me to kill him with my knife,—for an Indian fears to be hanged,—but I soon put an end to his entreaties by cutting the rope which held the drop, with my tomahawk. As I said 'The Lord have mercy on your souls,' the trap fell, and the five Cayuses hung in the air. Three of them died instantly. The other two struggled for several minutes; the Little Chief, Tam-a-has, the longest. It was he who was cruel to my little girl at the time of the massacre; so I just put my foot on the knot to tighten it, and he got quiet. After thirty-five minutes they were taken down and buried."
Thus terminated a tragic chapter in the history of Oregon. Among the services which Thurston performed for the Territory, was getting an appropriation of $100,000, to pay the expenses of the Cayuse war. From the Spring of 1848, when all the whites, except the Catholic missionaries, were withdrawn from the upper country, for a period of several years, or until Government had made treaties with the tribes east of the Cascades, no settlers were permitted to take up land in Eastern Oregon. During those years, the Indians, dissatisfied with the encroachments which they foresaw the whites would finally make upon their country, and incited by certain individuals who had suffered wrongs, or been punished for their own offences at the hands of the whites, finally combined, as it was supposed from the extent of the insurrection, and Oregon was involved in a three years Indian war, the history of which would fill a volume of considerable size.
When Meek returned to Oregon as marshal, with his fine clothes and his newly acquired social accomplishments, he was greeted with a cordial acknowledgment of his services, as well as admiration for his improved appearance. He was generally acknowledged to be the model of a handsome marshal, when clad in his half-military dress, and placed astride of a fine horse, in the execution of the more festive duties of marshal of a procession on some patriotic occasion.
But no amount of official responsibility could ever change him from a wag into a "grave and reverend seignior." No place nor occasion was sacred to him when the wild humor was on him.
At this same term of court, after the conviction of the Cayuse chiefs, there was a case before Judge Pratt, in which a man was charged with selling liquor to the Indians. In these cases Indian evidence was allowed, but the jury-room being up stairs, caused a good deal of annoyance in court; because when an Indian witness was wanted up stairs, a dozen or more who were not wanted would follow. The Judge's bench was so placed that it commanded a full view of the staircase and every one passing up or down it.
A call for some witness to go before the jury was followed on this occasion, as on all others, by a general rush of the Indians, who were curious to witness the proceedings. One fat old squaw had got part way up the stairs, when the Marshal, full of wrath, seized her by a leg and dragged her down flat, at the same time holding the fat member so that it was pointed directly toward the Judge. A general explosion followed this pointed action, and the Judge grew very red in the face.
MEEK AS UNITED STATES MARSHAL.
"Mr. Marshal, come within the bar!" thundered the Judge.
Meek complied, with a very dubious expression of countenance.
"I must fine you fifty dollars," continued the Judge; "the dignity of the Court must be maintained."
When court had adjourned that evening, the Judge and the Marshal were walking toward their respective lodgings. Said Meek to his Honor:
"Why did you fine me so heavily to-day?"
"I must do it," returned the Judge. "I must keep up the dignity of the Court; I must do it, if I pay the fines myself."
"And you must pay all the fines you lay on the marshal, of course," answered Meek.
"Very well," said the Judge; "I shall do so."
"All right, Judge. As I am the proper disbursing officer, you can pay that fifty dollars to me—and I'll take it now."
At this view of the case, his Honor was staggered for one moment, and could only swing his cane and laugh faintly. After a little reflection, he said:
"Marshal, when court is called to-morrow, I shall remit your fine; but don't you let me have occasion to fine you again!"
After the removal of the capital to Salem, in 1852, court was held in a new building, on which the carpenters were still at work. Judge Nelson, then presiding, was much put out by the noise of hammers, and sent the marshal more than once, to request the men to suspend their work during those hours when court was in session, but all to no purpose. Finally, when his forbearance was quite exhausted, he appealed to the marshal for advice.
"What shall I do, Meek," said he, "to stop that infernal noise?"
"Put the workmen on the Grand Jury," replied Meek.
"Summon them instantly!" returned the Judge. They were summoned, and quiet secured for that term.
At this same term of court, a great many of the foreign born settlers appeared, to file their intention of becoming American citizens, in order to secure the benefits of the Donation Law. Meek was retained as a witness, to swear to their qualifications, one of which was, that they were possessed of good moral characters. The first day there were about two hundred who made declarations, Meek witnessing for most of them. On the day following, he declined serving any longer.
"What now?" inquired the Judge; "you made no objections yesterday."
"Very true," replied Meek; "and two hundred lies are enough for me. I swore that all those mountain-men were of 'good moral character,' and I never knew a mountain-man of that description in my life! Let Newell take the job for to-day."
The "job" was turned over to Newell; but whether the second lot was better than the first, has never transpired.
During Lane's administration, there was a murder committed by a party of Indians at the Sound, on the person of a Mr. Wallace. Owing to the sparse settlement of the country, Governor Lane adopted the original measure of exporting not only the officers of the court, but the jury also, to the Sound district. Meek was ordered to find transportation for the court in toto, jury and all. Boats were hired and provisioned to take the party to the Cowelitz Landing, and from thence to Fort Steilacoom, horses were hired for the land transportation.
The Indians accused were five in number—two chiefs and three slaves. The Grand Jury found a true bill against the two chiefs, and let the slaves go. So few were the inhabitants of those parts, that the marshal was obliged to take a part of the grand jury to serve on the petite jury. The form of a trial was gone through with, the Judge delivered his charge, and the jury retired.
It was just after night-fall when these worthies betook themselves to the jury-room. One of them curled himself up in a corner of the room, with the injunction to the others to "wake him up when they got ready to hang them —— rascals." The rest of the party spent four or five hours betting against monte, when, being sleepy also, they waked up their associate, spent about ten minutes in arguing their convictions, and returned a verdict of "guilty of murder in the first degree."
The Indians were sentenced to be hung at noon on the following day, and the marshal was at work early in the morning preparing a gallows. A rope was procured from a ship lying in the sound. At half-past eleven o'clock, guarded by a company of artillery from the fort, the miserable savages were marched forth to die. A large number of Indians were collected to witness the execution; and to prevent any attempt at rescue, Captain Hill's artillery formed a ring around the marshal and his prisoners. The execution was interrupted or delayed for some moments, on account of the frantic behavior of an Indian woman, wife of one of the chiefs, whose entreaties for the life of her husband were very affecting. Having exhausted all her eloquence in an appeal to the nobler feelings of the man, she finally promised to leave her husband and become his wife, if he, the marshal, would spare her lord and chief.
She was carried forcibly out of the ring, and the hanging took place. When the bodies were taken down, Meek spoke to the woman, telling her that now she could have her husband; but she only sullenly replied, "You have killed him, and you may bury him."
While Meek was in Washington, he had been dubbed with the title of Colonel, which title he still bears, though during the Indian war of 1855-56, it was alternated with that of Major. During his marshalship he was fond of showing off his titles and authority to the discomfiture of that class of people who had "put on airs" with him in former days, when he was in his transition stage from a trapper to a United States Marshal.
While Pratt was Judge of the District Court, a kidnaping case came before him. The writ of habeas corpus having been disregarded by the Captain of the Melvin, who was implicated in the business, Meek was sent to arrest him, and also the first mate. Five of the Melvin's sailors were ordered to be summoned as witnesses, at the same time.
Meek went on board with his summons, marched forward, and called out the names of the men. Every man came up as he was summoned. When they were together, Meek ordered a boat lowered for their conveyance to Oregon City. The men started to obey, when the Captain interfered, saying that the boat should not be taken for such a purpose, as it belonged to him.
"That is of no consequence at all," answered the smiling marshal. "It is a very good boat, and will suit our purpose very well. Lower away, men!"
The men quickly dropped the boat. As it fell, they were ordered to man it. When they were at the oars, the mate was then invited to take a seat in it, which he did, after a moment's hesitation, and glancing at his superior officer. Meek then turned to the Captain, and extended the same invitation to him. But he was reluctant to accept the courtesy, blustering considerably, and declaring his intention to remain where he was. Meek slowly drew his revolver, all the time cool and smiling.
"I don't like having to urge a gentleman too hard," he said, in a meaning tone; "but thar is an argument that few men ever resist. Take a seat, Captain."
The Captain took a seat; the idlers on shore cheered for "Joe Meek"—which was, after all, his most familiar title; the Captain and mate went to Oregon City, and were fined respectively $500 and $300; the men took advantage of being on shore to desert; and altogether, the master of the Melvin felt himself badly used.
About the same time news was received that a British vessel was unloading goods for the Hudson's Bay Company, somewhere on Puget Sound. Under the new order of affairs in Oregon, this was smuggling. Delighted with an opportunity of doing the United States a service, and the British traders an ill turn, Marshal Meek immediately summoned a posse of men and started for the Sound. On his way he learned the name of the vessel and Captain, and recognized them as having been in the Columbia River some years before. On that occasion the Captain had ordered Meek ashore, when, led by his curiosity and general love of novelty, he had paid a visit to this vessel. This information was "nuts" to the marshal, who believed that "a turn about was fair play."
With great dispatch and secrecy he arrived entirely unexpected at the point where the vessel was lying, and proceeded to board her without loss of time. The Captain and officers were taken by surprise and were all aghast at this unlooked for appearance. But after the first moment of agitation was over, the Captain recognized Meek, he being a man not likely to be forgotten, and thinking to turn this circumstance to advantage, approached him with the blandest of smiles and the most cordial manner, saying with forced frankness—
"I am sure I have had the pleasure of meeting you before. You must have been at Vancouver when my vessel was in the river, seven or eight years ago. I am very happy to have met with you again."
"Thar is some truth in that remark of yours, Captain," replied Meek, eyeing him with lofty scorn; "you did meet me at Vancouver several years ago. But I was nothing but 'Joe Meek' at that time, and you ordered me ashore. Circumstances are changed since then. I am now Colonel Joseph L. Meek, United States Marshal for Oregon Territory; and you sir, are only a —— smuggler! Go ashore, sir!"
The Captain saw the point of that concluding "go ashore, sir!" and obeyed with quite as bad a grace as 'Joe Meek' had done in the first instance.
The vessel was confiscated and sold, netting to the Government about $40,000, above expenses. This money, which fell into bad hands, failed to be accounted for. Nobody suspected the integrity of the marshal, but most persons suspected that he placed too much confidence in the District Attorney, who had charge of his accounts. On some one asking him, a short time after, what had become of the money from the sale of the smuggler, he seemed struck with a sudden surprise:
"Why," said he, looking astonished at the question, "thar was barly enough for the officers of the court!"
This answer, given as it was, with such apparent simplicity became a popular joke; and "barly enough" was quoted on all occasions.
The truth was, that there was a serious deficiency in Meek's account with the Government, resulting entirely from his want of confidence in his own literary accomplishments, which led him to trust all his correspondence and his accounts to the hands of a man whose talents were more eminent than his sense of honor. The result of this misplaced confidence was a loss to the Government, and to himself, whom the Government held accountable. Contrary to the general rule of disbursing officers, the office made him poor instead of rich; and when on the incoming of the Pierce administration he suffered decapitation along with the other Territorial officers, he was forced to retire upon his farm on the Tualatin Plains, and become a rather indifferent tiller of the earth.
The breaking out of the Indian war of 1855-6, was preceded by a long period of uneasiness among the Indians generally. The large emigration which crossed the plains every year for California and Oregon was one cause of the disturbance; not only by exciting their fears for the possession of their lands, but by the temptation which was offered them to take toll of the travelers. Difficulties occurred at first between the emigrants and Indians concerning stolen property. These quarrels were followed, probably the subsequent year, by outrages and murder on the part of the Indians, and retaliation on the part of volunteer soldiers from Oregon. When once this system of outrage and retaliation on either side, was begun, there was an end of security, and war followed as an inevitable consequence. Very horrible indeed were the acts perpetrated by the Indians upon the emigrants to Oregon, during the years from 1852 to 1858.
But when at last the call to arms was made in Oregon, it was an opportunity sought, and not an alternative forced upon them, by the politicians of that Territory. The occasion was simply this. A party of lawless wretches from the Sound Country, passing over the Cascade Mountains into the Yakima Valley, on their way to the Upper Columbia mines, found some Yakima women digging roots in a lonely place, and abused them. The women fled to their village and told the chiefs of the outrage; and a party followed the guilty whites and killed several of them in a fight.
Mr. Bolin, the Indian sub-agent for Washington went to the Yakima village, and instead of judging of the case impartially, made use of threats in the name of the United States Government, saying that an army should be sent to punish them for killing his people. On his return home, Mr. Bolin was followed and murdered.
The murder of an Indian agent was an act which could not be overlooked. Very properly, the case should have been taken notice of in a manner to convince the Indians that murder must be punished. But, tempted by an opportunity for gain, and encouraged by the somewhat reasonable fears of the white population of Washington and Oregon, Governor G.L. Curry, of the latter, at once proclaimed war, and issued a call for volunteers, without waiting for the sanction or assistance of the general Government. The moment this was done, it was too late to retract. It was as if a torch had been applied to a field of dry grass. So simultaneously did the Indians from Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Rocky Mountains to the southern boundary of Oregon send forth the war-whoop, that there was much justification for the belief which agitated the people, that a combination among the Indians had been secretly agreed to, and that the whites were all to be exterminated.
Volunteer companies were already raised and sent into the Indian country, when Brevet Major G.O. Haller arrived at Vancouver, now a part of the United States. He had been as far east as Fort Boise to protect the incoming immigration; and finding on his return that there was an Indian war on hand, proceeded at once to the Yakima country with his small force of one hundred men, only fifty of whom were mounted. Much solicitude was felt for the result of the first engagement, every one knowing that if the Indians were at first successful, the war would be long and bloody.
Major Haller was defeated with considerable loss, and notwithstanding slight reinforcements, from Fort Vancouver, only succeeded in getting safely out of the country. Major Raines, the commanding officer at Vancouver, seeing the direction of events, made a requisition upon Governor Curry for four of his volunteer companies to go into the field. Then followed applications to Major Raines for horses and arms to equip the volunteers; but the horses at the Fort being unfit for service, and the Major unauthorized to equip volunteer troops, there resulted only misunderstandings and delays. When General Wool, at the head of the Department in San Francisco, was consulted, he also was without authority to employ or receive the volunteers; and when the volunteers, who at length armed and equipped themselves, came to go into the field with the regulars, they could not agree as to the mode of fighting Indians; so that with one thing and another, the war became an exciting topic for more reasons than because the whites were afraid of the Indians. As for General Wool, he was in great disfavor both in Oregon and Washington because he did not believe there ever had existed the necessity for a war; and that therefore he bestowed what assistance was at his command very grudgingly. General Wool, it was said, was jealous of the volunteers; and the volunteers certainly cared little for the opinion of General Wool.
However all that may be, Col. Meek gives it as his opinion that the old General was right. "It makes me think," said he, "of a bear-fight I once saw in the Rocky Mountains, where a huge old grizzly was surrounded by a pack of ten or twelve dogs, all snapping at and worrying him. It made him powerful mad, and every now and then he would make a claw at one of them that silenced him at once."
The Indian war in Oregon gave practice to a number of officers, since become famous, most prominent among whom is Sheridan, who served in Oregon as a Lieutenant. Grant himself, was at one time a Captain on that frontier. Col. Wright, afterwards Gen. Wright, succeeded Major Raines at Vancouver, and conducted the war through its most active period. During a period of three years there were troops constantly occupied in trying to subdue the Indians in one quarter or another.
As for the volunteers they fared badly. On the first call to arms the people responded liberally. The proposition which the Governor made for their equipment was accepted, and they turned in their property at a certain valuation. When the war was over and the property sold, the men who had turned it in could not purchase it without paying more for it in gold and silver than it was valued at when it was placed in the hands of the Quartermaster. It was sold, however, and the money enjoyed by the shrewd political speculators, who thought an Indian war a very good investment.
Meek was one of the first to volunteer, and went as a private in Company A. On arriving at the Dalles he was detailed for special service by Col. J.W. Nesmith, and sent out as pilot or messenger, whenever any such duty was required. He was finally placed on Nesmith's staff, and given the title of Major. In this capacity, as in every other, he was still the same alert and willing individual that we have always seen him, and not a whit less inclined to be merry when an opportunity offered.
While the army was in the Yakima country, it being an enemy's country, and provisions scarce, the troops sometimes were in want of rations. But Meek had not forgotten his mountain craft, and always had something to eat, if anybody did. One evening he had killed a fat cow which he had discovered astray, and was proceeding to roast a twenty-pound piece before his camp-fire, when a number of the officers called on him. The sight and savory smell of the beef was very grateful to them.
"Major Meek," said they in a breath, "we will sup with you to-night."
"I am very sorry, gentlemen, to decline the honor," returned Meek with a repetition of the innocent surprise for which he had so often been laughed at, "but I am very hungry, and thar is barly enough beef for one man!"
On hearing this sober assertion, those who had heard the story laughed, but the rest looked rather aggrieved. However, the Major continued his cooking, and when the beef was done to a turn, he invited his visitors to the feast, and the evening passed merrily with jests and camp stories.
After the army went into winter-quarters, Nesmith having resigned, T.R. Cornelius was elected Colonel. One of his orders prohibited firing in camp, an order which as a good mountaineer the Major should have remembered. But having been instructed to proceed to Salem without delay, as bearer of dispatches, the Major committed the error of firing his gun to see if it was in good condition for a trip through the enemy's country. Shortly after he received a message from his Colonel requesting him to repair to his tent. The Colonel received him politely, and invited him to breakfast with him. The aroma of coffee made this invitation peculiarly acceptable—for luxuries were scarce in camp—and the breakfast proceeded for some time very agreeably. When Meek had breakfasted, Colonel Cornelius took occasion to inquire if the Major had not heard his order against firing in camp. "Yes," said Meek. "Then," said the Colonel, "I shall be obliged to make an example of you."
While Meek stood aghast at the idea of punishment, a guard appeared at the door of the tent, and he heard what his punishment was to be, "Mark time for twenty minutes in the presence of the whole regiment."
"When the command "forward!" was given," says Meek, "you might have seen somebody step off lively, the officer counting it off, 'left, left.' But some of the regiment grumbled more about it than I did. I just got my horse and my dispatches and left for the lower country, and when I returned I asked for my discharge, and got it."
And here ends the career of our hero as a public man. The history of the young State, of which he is so old a pioneer furnishes ample material for an interesting volume, and will sometime be written by an abler than our sketchy pen.