Whitman's ride through savage lands, with sketches of Indian life/Chapter 10
Whitman Joins the Great Immigrating Column. The News of the Safe Arrival in Oregon, and its Effects Upon the People. The Part Taken by Dr. Whitman, and Oregon's Importance to the Nation. The Great Political Contest. The Massacre.
THE great immigration of 1843 to Oregon had called out wide attention from the thinking people all over the land. Congressmen in Washington began to hear from the people; still, in both houses of Congress were heard mutterings of "the desert waste" and "dangers of expansion." Lawmakers have a way of listening to the voices of men who make lawmakers, and they heard it on the Oregon question. President Tyler was true to his pledge to Whitman, and if there ever was a thought on the part of Webster to barter off Oregon, it was never heard of again. A great political party saw in it a popular national issue, and emblazoned upon their banners "Oregon and 54' 40° or fight!"
Nobody ever before or since saw such a political upheaval and somersault. The issue elected both a President and a Congress. President Tyler was unwilling to let all the glory of it go to his political enemies, and in his closing message, gave large place to the importance of Oregon! The incoming President James K. Polk gave about one-fourth of his entire message to the Oregon question.
Such was the status of the question within a year and a half after Whitman's great ride.
The question was up to England, and the western boundary of the United States, which had been so easily settled in 1842, by compromising on a few farms in Maine, had to move westward from its fixed place in "the great Stony Mountains," or war was imminent.
England, as well as America, was aroused, and she sent over her experienced minister plenipotentiary Packingham. James Buchanan represented the United States, and they began their great task without delay. We no longer heard the old congressional cry of "No value in Oregon." Both nations saw great issues at stake, and keen and prolonged negotiations resulted. It was a battle royal between experienced diplomatists. Now, please note a prominent fact, this demand to settle the national dispute began in 1844, and it was not until April, 1846, that the treaty was signed, after most laborious efforts.
I wish to impress upon my readers the importance of dates in this, for they emphasize and make clear the timely acts of Whitman. In less than seven months the United States declared war against Mexico, and California was at stake. Suppose England could have foreseen that event, and the nine hundred million dollars of pure gold mined in California and Oregon, during the following ten years, would she have signed the treaty even in 1846? When did that great nation ever allow such a golden opportunity to pass without reserving tribute? Had England been given more time and more thorough knowledge, there is scarcely a doubt but that she would have tenaciously held to Oregon. It would have been easy for her to have joined hands with Mexico, and if so, had the United States held any of her present Pacific possessions, it would have been after a long and desolating war, in which the United States would have been at a great disadvantage, from its small navy at that time.
"I Must Go Now"
You will recollect when Dr. Whitman's old friends at the mission conference recited to him the dangers of such a trip, and said "Wait until spring," he simply and solemnly replied "I must go now." The plain facts of history are the keys that explain that answer! It would not have done "to wait until spring." In all the sacred record, dealing with men's duties, the command is "go," "do," not to-morrow, not next year, but "now." Whitman made no boast to his fellow-missionaries of any inspiration, but they were of the class of men who could understand and appreciate his acts. In the glow of light from history, every thoughtful Christian can read their deeper meaning.
No, it would have been all too late had he waited to pilot that great immigration of 1843. No reader can but know, upon the safety of that band of immigrants, the fate of Oregon was dependent for years to come. Had another great Donnelley disaster come to them, and they had perished, who knows when another would have followed? No, it would not do to "wait until spring." It even then, with an awakened people, required two years to get England's consent to sign the treaty. Then, having Oregon we wanted and needed California. More reason still, great perils were in front, and less than a dozen years later, the existence of the Union was in danger. With the gold of California and Oregon, and the three great loyal states behind the flag, it is easy to see the timeliness of the act, and the immensity of the danger from delay, not only to Oregon, but to the nation.
Some may say, "this is only a supposable case," and it would be true, but the facts are that England, through her Hudson Bay Company, had virtually owned and controlled Oregon for nearly half a century, from 1818 up to the day Whitman started upon his great ride, altogether with the official sanction of the American people. There can scarcely be a doubt in regard to it, for reasons before stated, that England expected to continue to hold it all, or at least a large portion of it. Those who shout no danger are blind to historic facts.
Had England at the date mentioned owned Oregon, or any part of it, it is reasonably certain she would have thrown her great influence with the South in that terrible struggle in 1861-1865, when "cotton was king," and when it required all the eloquence of America's greatest orators, backed up by many of England's wisest statesmen, to prevent England at the most critical period of the struggle, "acknowledging the belligerent rights of the South."
Old Glory floats to-day from ocean to ocean, and from lakes to the Gulf the men once at war are at peace: "the gray" and "the blue" have since marched and fought under the same flag, and have rejoiced together alike in its achievements.The brave pioneers of Oregon, without waiting for authority of Congress, raised the American flag, organized a territorial government, elected officials to make and execute laws, and from 1843 to 1848, without the aid of Congress, by a single official act, they carried on the government as becomes good citizens of the Republic. True, there were murmurings in Congress as of old, but they were only half-hearted, and half in earnest. The final signing of the treaty in 1846 was the doom, however, of the regime of England in Oregon.
England in its Saddle
She did not wait for signatures to the treaty to set on foot an inquiry, as to the loss of Oregon, or who was responsible for it, and how this great immigration from the states had originated. The English company forthwith sent a commission, made up of Messrs. Peel, Park, and Wavaseur, to Oregon, to learn all the facts. When they reached there they had an easy task, for both Englishmen and Americans understood the matter.
When Whitman and Spalding, with their wives, caught up with the convoy of fur-traders, in that memorable journey in 1836, one of the old voyageurs who had felt the iron hand of the Hudson Bay Company, sententiously remarked, as he pointed his finger at the two American women, "There is something the royal Hudson Bay company and its masters can't drive out of Oregon!" And it proved true prophecy. We have already noted the courtesy and kindness with which Dr. John McLoughlin, the chief factor, received the missionaries. The London officials soon learned that they had to deal with but one man, and he was in their power.
If that interview between the doctor and these eminent Englishmen, who had grown great and rich through his management, could be fully reported, it would doubtless make interesting reading. However modern historians may differ as to the cause of the sudden large immigration of Americans to Oregon, the commissioners from London had no doubt upon the subject. They made the direct charge that it was due to McLoughlin's over-kindness to the missionaries, that had he treated them as he did the American traders, such conditions would not have existed. It mattered not that the good old doctor knew that the charge was substantially true, and yet he arose in righteous indignation, and replied:
This conference was about one year and eight months before the signing of the treaty, and the English people and the Hudson Bay Company, while worried over the situation, still had small fear of losing the entire country. They felt sure of at least owning, upon final settlement, all north of the Columbia River. They still expected to undo the work of the man who had for more than a quarter of a century been coining them fortunes, and they promptly turned him adrift, and appointed his successor."What would you have? Would you have me turn a cold shoulder on the men of God, who came to do for the Indians, that which this company had ever neglected to do? If we had not helped them, and the immigrants of '42 and '43, Fort Vancouver would have been destroyed, and the world would have treated our inhuman conduct as it deserved. Every officer of the Company, from governor down, would have been covered with obloquy and the business ruined."
After the treaty was signed, in 1846, and came fully into American possession, the great monopoly continued to show its modesty, and sent in a bill of damages to the United States for $4,950,036.17, of which amount the United States paid in cash $650,000. Then the Company "squatted" upon one of our islands some six miles from shore, raised the English flag, and the United States had another siege lasting thirty years, with threatened war, before the question, "who owns San Juan Island?" was left to the arbitration of the emperor of Germany, who, in 1875, decided in favor of the United States. With this brief history we dismiss the Hudson Bay Company from our further concern, except to note its humane act, in the prompt rescuing of the captive women and children, after the massacre. Still there is another good thing that should be said of the Hudson Bay Company. Under the rule of Dr. McLoughlin "the great white head chief," the Indians over so large a district were never before so well and wisely ruled. They obeyed his orders as promptly as loyal subjects to their king. The desire in these pages has been to do no injustice, or make unfair criticism. There are "trusts" and "monopolies" in the United States to-day even more selfish than the Hudson Bay Company. The English people were not usurpers in Oregon. They only accepted and used for the first half of the nineteenth century, with the full official consent of the American people, one of our great possessions, which we had marked as "worthless." It is well to bear such facts in mind, and thus allow the mischief done, as well as the good attained, to rest where it belongs.
Whitman on the March and at the Mission
"Who led the great immigration of 1843 safely to Oregon?" has often been a subject of discussion.
Upon the safety of that band was that of Oregon dependent. Whitman was not the captain of the caravan, but he was the one man in the cavalcade who had been three times over the route. In that day there was not a guide-book in existence, and he, with General Lovejoy (who had been over this route once, and that from Fort Hall twice), was relied upon by captain, guide, and people for advice and direction. It is easy to see the important place he held.
Perhaps no man among the pioneers of Oregon was better qualified to tell of Whitman's services than was the Honorable Jesse Applegate, who was a member of the expedition, and for many years after, one of the most honored citizens of Oregon.
In a great oration, delivered before the State Historical Society of Oregon, in 1876, he calls Dr. Whitman the "good angel of the immigration." In closing his address, after noting many eminent men and their good work, he said:
"Now, I will intrude no other name of that noble band but that devoted man, Dr. Marcus Whitman. His stay with us was transient, but the good he did was permanent. From the day he joined us on the Platte, his indomitable energy was of priceless value to the migrating column, and it is no disparagement to any individual to say, that to no other man are the immigrants of 1843 so deeply indebted for a successful conclusion of their journey as to Dr. Whitman."
Dr. Spalding, who was present at the Whitman Mission when the immigrants reached there, says:
"Hundreds of the immigrants stopped at Waiilatpui to take Whitman by the hand, and many with tears in their eyes, acknowledged their obligations for his untiring labor and skill, which brought them in safety over the weary way."
Whitman was not a politician in the sense the term is generally used, but only a few months before his death he rode on horseback to Oregon City to induce his old friend Judge Thornton to visit Washington and try to persuade the authorities to organize a territorial government in Oregon. The Judge accepted, and was on that mission at the time of the massacre at Waiilatpui (November 29, 1847).
Whitman was a tireless worker. Frequently, after toiling all day in his fields or upon his buildings, he spent long hours of the night on the rounds to visit his sick; yet he did not fail to see the bad influences used upon the Cayuse Indians.
They feared him and his influence. There had been mutterings of discontent among the Cayuse Indians; too many whites were coming in. There was much sickness among the Indians; the measles had prevailed; with their unsanitary living and barbarous treatment of the sick many had died. They laid it all to the white settlers, and blamed those who encouraged and helped them. Good old Istikus, their faithful Indian friend of many years, had warned them that some of his people had bad hearts toward them, and begged them to go away until their hearts were good again. But how could they go. On the fatal morning when the conspiracy was brought to execution, seventy people were in the mission station, mostly women, children, and sick men worn out by long travel and exposure. It was two hundred and fifty miles to Fort Vancouver by trail or in open boats down the Columbia River. That was the only place of safety, and they could not leave all these people, nor could they take them. Moreover, Whitman still had faith in his Indians, which was partly justified by the facts, as it was proved that no Cayuse could quite bring himself to strike the first blow. But they found one more treacherous who was ready to take the Judas part in the tragedy. He was called Joe Tahamas, a half-breed Canadian, who had come to the mission station several months before hungry, sick, and half-clad. As their custom was they took him in, clothed, fed, and nursed him back to health again. After a time they found him fomenting quarrels among their people, and stirring up their evil passions in various ways. They finally procured him a place as teamster to go to the Willamette River, and hoped their troubles with him were ended. He had returned, and from after evidence, had no doubt been going through the tribe, and with a lying tongue rousing the Indians to a mad passion against their friends and benefactors. Some distant chief of the tribe had armed him with what was known as "The Charmed Tomahawk." It had long before been presented to them by the warring Sioux, in some great peace talk, and was to bring them victory and good fortune wherever it was used. After the massacre at Waiilatpui and the war following, with the banishment and partial destruction of their tribe, "The Charmed Tomahawk" became "Bad Medicine." No one wished to keep it, but with the old superstition of a living spirit in everything, they feared to destroy it, lest some greater punishment should fall upon them, and it passed from one to another as they would receive it.
The Charmed Tomahawk
An Indian agent, named Logan, learned the story and purchased it, as we may believe, for but a small sum. During the Civil War, in an auction sale for the benefit of The Sanitary Commission, the hatchet with its story was sold for a hundred dollars, and was presented to the legislature of Oregon. It has finally lodged among the treasured relics of the Oregon Pioneer Association in Portland, where it will doubtless be seen by many during the coming summer. The 29th of November, 1847, the fatal morning dawned that ended the career of the devoted missionary band gathered on the Walla Walla. The Doctor no doubt with a heavy heart, after all his warnings, went out on his round of duty, to look after the farm and stock, to visit the sick, and supply any wants of the emigrants camped about them. Returning to the house, he sat down in his office before his desk and was reading with John Sager, one of his adopted boys seated by his side. An Indian came in, saying he was sick and wanted some medicine. While his attention was engaged by him, Tahamas stole silently in, armed with "The Charmed Tomahawk," and with one blow on the back of the head, crushed in the skull, and the poor Doctor sank unconscious to the floor, though he lived for several hours after. The brave boy by his side, drew a small pistol from his pocket, and attempted to shoot the murderer, but was struck down with the same weapon and immediately killed. The Indians then left the house, where there were only women and children, to join the great company gathering outside and find the unarmed men scattered about the place. Two of these badly wounded made their way back to the house, and barred doors and windows as best they could to protect the helpless ones inside. Only four men made their escape unharmed to carry the news to Fort Vancouver and ask for help. Mr. Spalding, one of their fellow missionaries, was on his way, and near Waiilatpui, when the massacre occurred. His little daughter was in Mrs. Whitman's school, a witness of the whole bloody tragedy, and afterward one of the captives, carried away by the Indians. From her descriptions, and that of others who lived to tell the tale, he wrote a full description of the tragic scenes to the parents of Mrs. Whitman. It is needless to say they were too terrible to repeat in detail. Still it is well to know how the heroic wife met death, still giving her thought and life for others. She and one of the young women had carried the body of her dying husband to a private room, and she was kneeling by his side, when the host of savages returned to the house. Maddened like wild beasts with the sight of blood, they tore the weak bars from doors and windows, and with savage war-whoops entered the house. Their superstitions prevented them from entering the death chamber, but they began looting the house and threatening to kill the women and children, whose frantic cries added terror to the scene. It was then the heroic wife left the side of her dying husband, and her safe retreat, going from one to another trying to comfort and soothe them. As she walked past a window, a bullet struck her in the breast; she grasped the window-sill to keep from falling, and recognized her murderer as Tahamas, for whom she had done so much. She exclaimed, "Oh, Joe, is it you!" It was like the dying cry of Cæsar, when he saw his old-time friend in the mob about him, "Thou, too, Brutus!" and a sharper pang than her wound gave entered that tender heart. She was carried back to her room. A few hours later the Indians sent word to her that if she would come out they would not harm her, but would go away after they had seen her. She was then too weak from loss of blood to walk, but she asked Mr. Rogers, one of their helpers, and Miss Beulah, a friend, to carry her into the next room, where the Indians had gathered. They had hardly entered it when a volley of shots were fired, and both she and Rogers were pierced by many balls.
Some one now in authority gave an order not to shoot the women and children. The little ones were all gathered in one corner, witnessing the whole terrible scene, but one Indian more humane picked up some blankets and screened it all from their view. One of the men, a guest at the mission, raised a board in the floor and hid himself, wife, and three children beneath. They suffered agony in their imprisonment, with the blood of the murdered ones trickling through the floor upon them. On a visit to Walla Walla and out to the old mission farm, two years ago, we met a very intelligent and interesting lady, who, in the course of conversation, told us that she was one of the three children hidden under the floor during that terrible day and that she was then but a little child the remembrance had never left her, nor could she see an Indian without a shudder. The Indians went at their work leisurely, and seemed anxious to prolong the torture. They knew it was two hundred and fifty miles to Vancouver, and they had no fear of molestation from any other source. For five days they kept up their orgies, guarding against escape of their victims. At the end of that time they began to be anxious for their own safety, and gathering the women and children, forty in number, they started for a friendly tribe to wait for developments.
Runners were sent in haste to Fort Vancouver telling of the disaster, and Chief Factor Ogden of the Hudson Bay Company lost no time in starting for the scene with twenty picked men, boats and provisions. Upon reaching Waiilatpui they found everything in ruins, the houses wrecked, the mill burned, and the dead bodies of eleven men, one boy, besides the bodies of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman. These were all tenderly gathered and buried together, in what has been called ever since "the Great Grave." In the mean time Chief Ogden had sent runners after the Indians, with a peremptory order to return all the captive women and children to him at once, to Fort Walla Walla. For many years the Indians had been accustomedto obey orders from this source, and they thought it wise now to comply; besides they soon began to find the helpless captives a burden to feed. Chief Ogden assured them he would pay them a handsome ransom if all were brought in safely. One or two of the chiefs, who were enamored of the young women, insisted they should be allowed to keep them in captivity and make them their wives. It required strategy, threats, and promise of larger reward before that trouble was overcome. All were finally brought in, except three delicate children, one the adopted child of the doctor, and two others, who perished from exposure. Ogden gave the Indians blankets, powder, lead, and other articles they demanded, to the value of five hundred dollars, and all were conveyed to Fort Vancouver, and places of safety.
Four men only escaped the massacre. One of these was Dr. Spalding. He was on his way to visit the doctor on business, and to see his little daughter, who was a pupil in Mrs. Whitman's school. When nearing the station he met one of the Jesuit priests, who told him of the disaster. He immediately retraced his steps, fully expecting a like work at his own mission. He reached home the second night in a dazed condition. His Nez Perces, when they heard of it, rallied around him some five hundred of their bravest warriors, and escorted Dr. and Mrs. Spalding quickly to a place of safety. Their little daughter Eliza, nearly ten, was rescued and returned to them.
Cayuse Thought the Flurry Over
The Cayuse received their presents and seemed to think their work was over. In this they were mistaken. The hardy old pioneers of Oregon, who loved and honored Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, arose as one man, and in winter, without tents or proper equipments, moved down upon the Cayuse country. I do not intend to burthen my readers with the story of a long, desolating Indian war. It was a bloody and savage contest, where General Phil H. Sheridan was initiated into active military life and won his first honors.
The leaders in the massacre, Tilcokait, Tahamas, Ouichmarsum, Klvakamus, and Sichsalucus were arrested and hung at Oregon City, just before the author reached there. In 1850 one of the most miserable of the villains, Tarntsaky, was killed while being arrested. My room-mate in Oregon in 1850, the late Samuel Campbell of Idaho, spent the winter and spring of 1847 at the Whitman Mission, and never tired in telling of the lovely Christian character of Mrs. Whitman, of her kindness and patience to whites and Indians alike. She had retained the same glorious musical voice, and life wherever she went was filled with what Matthew Arnold would call "sweetness and light." Mr. Campbell said while he was a prisoner at Grand Ronde, old Tarntsaky one day boasted in his presence that he took the scalp from Mrs. Whitman's head, and told him of the long, golden, silky hair. He said, "Prisoner as I was, it was all I could do to keep my fingers from his throat." The many tribes around sided with the Cayuse, except the Nez Perces, and the whole land was closed to white settlers for over ten years, as the state government deemed it impossible to protect the scattered settlements.
The final result was that the tribes engaging in the war were all removed to distant reservations, and forty thousand square miles of rich territory were opened to settlement. Thus the great sacrifice resulted for the good of the people. The work of the American Board in sending missionaries to Oregon has sometimes been called "a disaster" and "failure." Was it? What could have been grander work for any Christian man than Whitman's brave part in saving the whole great territory to the Union? Patriotism is a part of Christianity, and an important part. That man is a feeble Christian who does not love his home and fatherland.
The American Board never claimed, or received, a moiety of the reward deserved, because of its poor estimate of the great work done at that time by its servants. Well did Dr. Frank Gunsaulus say:
"Marcus Whitman was more to the ulterior Northwest than John Harvard has ever been to the Northeast of our common country."
Two names which shine brightest upon the pages of English history are Dr. Robert Livingstone and Dr. John McKenzie, both missionaries, and both poor men. Their eminent services were along much the same lines as those of Dr. Whitman—services to the whole people and the nation. Dr. McKenzie made three trips to London before he could persuade the English authorities to plant their flag over Bechuanaland, the flower and wealth of all South Africa. But how England and English people have ever since loved to do honor to both these noble men! Dr. Whitman, by his eminent and heroic service, laid the American people under as great a debt of gratitude, and I simply point to facts already narrated to sustain that position. Have the people of the United States done their simple duty to its noble martyrs?
The Benefits to the Indians
As to the benefits from the missionaries to the Indians themselves eternity alone will reveal how little or how much good was conferred. The Cayuse was a trading tribe of Indians, and were almost as unscrupulous in their dealings as Wall Street is to-day. Dr. Whitman had hard uphill work in changing their customs. Yet many of the Cayuse became Christians. Old Istikus was a prince among Christian men, savage as he was. For sixteen years after the death of his loved friends, he regularly went to the door of his wigwam, rang the old mission bell, and invited all to come in to prayers. General Joel Barlow, who was one of the commissioners after the treaty of peace in 1855, to settle the Indians upon their reservations, says:
"I found forty-five Cayuse and one thousand Nez Perces who have kept up regular family worship, singing from the old hymn books, translated into their language by Mrs. Spalding. Many of them showed surprising evidences of piety."
The most successful of the missions, as far as good to the Indians was concerned, was doubtless that of Mr. and Mrs. Spalding among the Nez Perces. They were the friends and companions of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman on that long wedding journey over plains and mountains. They were pushed far out in the wilderness by the Hudson Bay Company in what is now eastern Washington, and the Spokane country near where the city of that name is located. They were gentle, kind, and self-sacrificing, and perhaps were fortunate in being so isolated. The Indians received them and their message kindly, and soon there were many sincere and earnest Christians among them. A small printing-press was sent them from Honolulu that had become insufficient for their work there. Mrs. Spalding translated the Book of Matthew, some psalms, hymns, and a few school books, into the Nez Perces language, and they printed them with their little hand-press. It is said that, now after sixty years have passed, they still have some of them that are carefully treasured relics. They have never engaged in wars, remain in the lands of their fathers, are farmers and stock raisers, have churches and schools, and are respected by their white neighbors. One little touch of nature lingers with them still, one will often see an Indian teepee or wigwam in the yard or some place near a comfortable house. Doubtless the father often goes there to smoke his pipe in peace and comfort. Mr. Spalding lived to be an old man, and told and wrote much of the early life of the missions.
In these chapters we have purposely avoided discussing the motives which led up to the massacre. There have been many charges not fully sustained, that have caused ill feeling and done harm. But it is undoubtedly true that Dr. Whitman's activity to help settle Oregon with Americans was the direct cause of the great disaster. Dr. McLoughlin was driven from office for no other reason than his kindness to the missionaries that made Whitman's ride possible. Just as certainly Dr. and Mrs. Whitman perished because they loved the flag and all it represented, and were brave enough to express it by heroic acts whose results would not be misunderstood by the enemies of the republic. There is good evidence that Dr. Whitman understood the perils of his mission before entering upon it, but in such a character fear played a small part when confronted by duty.