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  Relationship with U.S.
  Lewis & Clark and the Early Fur Trade
Establishment of Fort Nez Perces
Life at Ft. Walla Walla
Missionaries and Early Settlers
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

 
In the months preceding the establishment of Fort Nez Perces, in Montreal, the fur trade business was in turmoil. On February 21, 1818, an indictment was issued for the murder of twenty-one men including Robert Semple (1766-1816), Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, at Seven Oaks near Winnipeg. A territorial feud divided the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. On June 19, 1816, a North West Company supply caravan approached the Hudson Bay's settlement at Red River. Semple rode out with an escort to meet them. Shots were fired, and Semple was killed. Lord Selkirk (sponsor of the Hudson's Bay Company) brought down this indictment, which names the shooters as well as the North West Company partners (including Simon Fraser and Alexander McKenzie) responsible for Semple's death. None of the charges resulted in convictions.
 

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Portion of Alexander Ross's 1821 Map of Columbia.
Courtesy Ellensburg Public Library.
 
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Showing detail and topography of area.
Portion of Mullan's 1858 Map of Military Reconnaissance from Fort Dalles, Oregon, via Fort Wallah-Wallah, to Fort Taylor, Washington Territory assisted by Kolecki, Theodore, and Sohon, Gustavus.

Courtesy of Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula.
 
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Showing bigger pixture and context of area.
Portion of the 1855 Issac Stevens map:
Rocky Mountains to Puget Sound NPRR Exploration.

Courtesy of Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula.
 
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Flanks of the Tucannon
S. Thompson photo
 
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Fort Walla Walla,
by John Mix Stanley

Umatilla River> Culture > Establishment of Fort Nez Perces
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Section of the Snake River
From a lithograph by Gustavus Sohon. National Archives.
 
 

In 1818, the NWCo made the decision to shift the center of trade from Spokane House to Fort Nez Perces, and appointed Alexander Ross to take charge of this new center. It was a natural center of the immense fur-bearing region drained by the Snake River flowing in from the southeast" (Nielsen: 1940 p.169). Several incidents between whites and Indians around this time, especially one with the Cowlitz, really impacted the western areas available for trapping. Everything near the coast focused on the Willamette. This made it all the more important that trade be established with the Shoshone…via the Snake River Brigades.

Ross with a group of nearly 100 men traveled from Fort George and arrived on the Walla Walla on July 11th, without incident. "On that day McKenzie, myself, and ninety-five effective men encamped on the site pitched upon for new establishment of Fort Nez Perces, about half a mile from the mouth of the little river Walla Walla."

 

Site of Fort Nez Perces, 1818-1820

 
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Fort Nez Perces, later known as (Old) Fort Wallah Wallah
 

"On reaching the place instead of advancing to meet us at the water's edge as friends, on making for the shore the Indians, as if with one accord, withdrew their camp! Not a friendly hand was stretched out; not the least joy, usual among Indians on such occasions, was testified to invite or welcome our arrival. These ceremonies, though trifling in themselves, are a very good indication of the reception likely to be met with and in the present case their total absence could only be considered as very unfavourable.

"Shy and silent they sat on the mounds at some distance from us wrapped in their robes of dignity, observing a studied indifference. Even the little copper-coloured bantlings were heard to say, "What does the white people want here? Are they going to kill more of our relations?" alluding to some former occurrences there. Others again would remark, "We must not go near them because they will kill us." While all this was going on we kept a sharp lookout. The principal chief of the camp, instead of coming to us, kept walking round and round the assembled crowd urging the Indians to the observance of a non-intercourse until the whites had made them presents. Hints were given us that property would purchase a footing!

"The site was remarkable among the natives as being the ground on which some years before Lewis and Clarke of the American exploring expedition ratified, according to Indian report, a general peace between themselves and the tribes of the adjacent inland by the celebration of feasting and dancing for several days. It was rendered remarkable as a spot on which difficulties already noticed had taken place between the whites and the natives. And it was rendered still more remarkable as being considered the most hostile spot on the whole line of communication. A spot which the whites, it was said, could never hold with safety. The spot for Nez Perces fort was however marked out on a level point upon the east bank of the Columbia, forming something like an island in the flood, and by means of a tributary stream, a peninsula at low water.

"In the charming security of a temperate atmosphere nature here displays in her manifold beauties, and at this season the crowds of moving bodies diversify and enliven the same. Groups of Indian huts with their spiral little columns of smoke, herds of animals give animation and beauty to the landscape. The natives in social crowds outdid each other in coursing their gallant steed, in racing, and swimming, with other feats of activity. Wild horses in droves sported and grazed along the boundless plains. The wild fowls in flocks filled the air, and the salmon and sturgeon incessantly leaping ruffled the smoothness of the waters. The appearance of the country in a summer's evening was delightful beyond description" (Cox: 1957).

Timber was scarce at the site of the new fort, and "had to be collected and conducted by water the distance of a hundred miles"

"We had also to devise a means to divert their attention and arouse the curiosity of the people; by being composed of different tribes the seeds of dissension were artfully sown among them to hold the balance equal and prevent their uniting against us. Each tribe imagining it possessed the pre-eminence in our consideration. And though they were as independent of us as were the reverse of them, still they were taught to fancy that they could not do without us.

"Soon after our landing the tribes began to muster fast, and the multitudes which surrounded us became immense and their movement alarming. They insisted on our paying for the timber we were collecting. They prohibited our hunting and fishing. They affixed an exorbitant price for their every article of trade, and they insulted any of the hands whom they met alone. Then they resolved to keep us in their power and withhold supplies until their conditions were granted.

"They suspended all work due to the rising tension, and waited for some opportunity to establish good relations. After several days of extremely stressful waiting, fortunately the chiefs advanced to bring the matters to an accommodation. Calm was restored to the camp, for the short term. The primary reason for their presence, establishment of the trade, was pressing on Ross. It was imperative for them to discern the state of tribal entities and relationships and "to have an understanding with the chief tribes who at all seasons infested the most practicable passes in the contemplated direction.

"With a view to effect this important point the chiefs and wise men of the different tribes were called together. They met. An endless round of ceremony took place among them during their discussion; yet nothing could be finally settled on account of the absence of one of the principal chiefs at the war in the very quarter we had our eye upon. And we considered his absence a great drawback on our proceedings. As he professed himself a sincere friend to the whites, we therefore placed our chief reliance on his influence and good offices " (Cox: 1957).

They had to wait ten days before the arrival of Tum-a-tap-um, the awaited chief.

"Instead of Tum-a-tap-um coming to join the assembled conclave to forward our business, all the great men deserted to join him with his trophies of war and left us mere spectators to wait their convenience. The arrival of the war party left us without either chief or slave to consult, and for three days we had to wait until they had exhausted their songs of triumph, without one single interview with the chief on whom we had placed so much confidence.

This war party was reported to us to consist of four hundred and eighty men. Their hideous yells, mangled prisoners, and bloody scalps, together with their barbarous gestures, presented a sight truly savage. I only saw nine slaves.

On the third day Tum-a-tap-um mounted on horseback, rode backward and forward round our little camp several times, without expressing either approbation or disapprobation of our measures. Then dismounting and drawing near to us with his men around him, they smoked some hundreds of pipes of our tobacco. The ceremony of smoking being over we had a long conversation with him on the subject of a general peace; but he was so elated with his own exploits and success on his late war expedition that we fancied him not so warmly interested in our cause as formerly" (Cox: 1957).

It took some convincing to get the people re-focused on peace talks, but they finally assembled. However, war remained on their minds.

"If," said Tum-a-tap-um, "we are going to make peace, how shall I employ my young men? They delight in nothing but war, and besides, our enemies, the Snakes never observe a peace." Quahat, the Cayouse great chief, next got up and observed, "Will the whites in opening a trade with our enemies promise not to give them guns or balls?" and others spoke to the same effect…

"At length a messenger came with notice that the chiefs were all of one mind and would present themselves in a short time. All our people were placed under arms assumedly to honour their reception; but really to guard ourselves. By-and-by the solemn train of chiefs, warriors and other great personages were seen to move from the camp in procession painted, dressed in their state and war garments, and armed. They entered our enclosure to the number of fifty-six where a place had been appropriately fitted up for the occasion. The most profound silence pervaded the whole, until the pipe of peace had six times performed a circle of the assembly.

"The opinion of each was delivered briefly with judgement and with candour, and to the same end. Satisfied with the answers and the statement we had given, at sunset peace between themselves and the Snakes was decreed on the spot and a unanimous consent given for us to pass and repass unmolested….One condition of the treaty was that we should use our influence to bring the Snakes to agree to the peace, for without that it would be useless to ourselves. The only real object we had in view, or the only result that could in reality be expected by the peace business was, we might be enabled to go in and come out of the Snake country in safety, sheltered under the influence of its name. Nothing beyond this was ever contemplated on our part. All our manoeuvers were governed by the policy of gain. Peace in reality was beyond our power: it was but an empty name" (Cox: 1957).

It was these circumstances which led to the first Snake River expedition.

"The different tribes attached to Fort Nez Perces and who formerly went by that cognomen are the Sha-moo-in-augh, Ikam-nam-in-augh, E'yack-im-ah, Is-pipe-whum-augh, and In-as-petsum. The tribes inhabit the main north branch above the forks. On the south branch are the Palle-to-Pallas, Shaw-ha-ap-ten, or Nez Perces proper, Pa-luck and Co-sis-pa tribes" (Palouse, Nez Perce, Potlatch, and Cayuse tribes).

On the main Columbia beginning at the Long Narrows are the Ne-coo-im-eigh, Wiss-copam, Wiss-whams, Way-yam-pams, Low-him, Saw-saw and You-ma-talla bands (Necootimeigh, Wasco, Wishram, Dalles, Cathlasco, Siuslaw, and Umatilla tribes). And about the establishment, the Cayouse and Walla Walla tribes. It is the two latter who appertain the spot on which the fort is erected, who are consequently resident in the immediate neighbourhood.

The Shaw-ha-ap-ten and the Cayouse nations are, however, by far the most powerful and warlike of all these different tribes. The last two mentioned regulate all the movement of the others in peace and war. And as they stand well or ill disposed toward their traders, so do the others" (Cox: 1957).

 

1819

 

Describing the state of affairs at Fort Nez Perces in 1819, Ross notes how anxious he always feels among the local people (the Cayuse and Walla Wallas).

"Not an hour of the day passed but some insolent fellow, and frequently fifty at a time, interrupted us and made us feel our unavoidable dependence upon their caprice. "Give me a gun," said one. "I want ammunition," said another; a third wants a knife, a flint or something else. Give to one, you must give to all! Refuse them, they immediately get angry, tell us to leave their lands, and threaten to prevent our people from going about their duties…

"We have already noticed that a band of the Shaw-ha-ap-tens, on its return from a new expedition against the Snakes, killed Detorme and Icanvene, two of Kittson's men, on their way to this place with the Snake returns. They also killed several of the Snakes. One evil often leads to another, for the Shaw-ha-ap-tens had no sooner got back than a Snake party were at their heels; but happening to gall in with a few stragglers frolicking among the bushes gathering berries, belonging to the Walla Walla camp, not three miles from our fort, they killed one man, four women and five children, then re-crossed the mountains and got off clear, carrying along with them the scalps of their victims and two young women and a man as slaves. The two captive women as well as the man being of some rank caused a tremendous commotion at this place" (Ross:1956).

A noisy, chaotic crowd of some 400 men and women, some on foot, others on horseback, arrived at the gate of the fort and laid the seven bodies on the ground, wrapped in crimson cloth. Mourners began to cut themselves, and wail their grief.

"To inflict those wounds the person takes hold of any part of his skin between his forefinger and thumb, draws it out to the stretch and then runs a knife through it between the hand and the flesh which leaves, when the skin resumes its former place, two unsightly gashes resembling ball holes out of which the blood issues freely. With such wounds and sometimes others of a more serious nature the near relatives of the deceased completely disfigure their bodies" (Ross:1956).
One of the chiefs, "Gueule Plat" or "Broad Feather" demanded that Ross come out of the safety of the fort, which he did, with great trepidation. Then Tum-a-tap-um, the head chief, approached him and, pointing to one of the dead bodies, said,

"You see my sister there," then uncovering the body to show the wounds, added, "That is a ball hole! The whites," said he again, "have murdered our wives and our children! They have given guns and balls to our enemies. Those very guns and balls have killed our relation.

Ross knew the danger he was in as the crowd's frenzy reached a peak, so remained silent. However, he believed the holes to have been caused by arrows and not balls. When the crowd began to quiet down, he approached the chief and asked him to explain the events that had led to this sad end. He responded by showing a wound obviously caused by an arrow and then asserted that the Shaw-ha-ap-tens had brought this on themselves, and the whites were not to blame. The Shaw-ha-ap-tens had crossed the Blue Mountains, in defiance of the pledge for peace, and went to war with the Snakes. The Snakes retaliated just as they always had. The crowd settled down and removed themselves to bury their dead.

In the early spring of 1819, Alexander McKenzie and his companions ascended the Snake river from the mouth of the Clearwater to the mouth of Burnt river in a Canadian bateau or barge. Two months later, four of McKenzie's companions arrived at Fort Nez Perces with a letter to Ross, dated "Point Successful, Head of the Narrows, April 15, 1819," declaring the passage to be "safe and practicable for loaded boats, without one single carrying place or portage…" (Nielsen: 1940).

 
1820
 
Ross notes in his records for the spring of 1820 the return of the trappers, after a year's absence, with their leader, Mr. McKenzie, "accompanied by a band of the Cayouse Indians, who had joined them as they emerged from the defiles of the Blue Mountains and soon after McKenzie, in his leather jacket, and accompanied by two of their chiefs, arrived at the fort" (Ross:1956).
 
1823-1826
 
Ross, after nearly a decade in the country, finally witnesses a peace treaty between the Cayuse and the Snake. Ross and some Cayouse chiefs who had ventured into Snake country on a mission of peace, were invited into the chief's lodge to smoke the peace pipe with the assembled Shoshones.

"The chief's lodge was then put in order with a fire in the center when the ceremony of ratifying the peace according to Indian form commenced. The two Cayouse plenipotentiaries were placed in the back of the tent by Pee-eye-em (of the Sherry-dikas Snake, or Shoshone) and I next to them, when eighteen Snake dignitaries next entered and squeezed themselves down on each side of us. Lastly Pee-eye-em sat opposite to us with his back to the door, having Ama-ketsa on his right and another chief on his left, apparently with the intention of keeping out all intruders and preventing anyone from either going out or coming in during the solemn sitting. And this completed the diplomatic circle. After which, a silence endured for some time.

"The great medicine bag was then opened and the decorated pipe of peace taken out of it and filled with the usual formality by Pee-eye-em himself, who immediately after took a handful or two of sand with which he covered a small hole by the fireside, then smoothing it over made two small holes with his finger in the sand large enough to hold a goose egg. This done, he then extracted from the medicine bag a small piece of wood like a sugar tongs, with which he took up a piece of burning horse dung and laid it in the hole of sand to his left, resting at the same time the bowl of his pipe in the hole to the right, holding the stem of the pipe all the time with his left hand. He then took up the same bit of wood or tongs and with it took the burning bit of horse dung out of the hole to the left and laid it up on his pipe, which was no sooner lighted than Pee-eye-em taking up the pipe with both hands drew three whiffs, allowing none of the smoke to escape; that is, he swallowed the whole of it, then taking the pipe from his mouth held it vertically in his hands, blowing each time he smoked the cloud out of his mouth on the stem, and this he did three successive times at each of which he uttered a short prayer, as if invoking a blessing.

"Then holding the pipe horizontally and pointing to the east he drew three whiffs, blowing the smoke on the stem as before, then turning it to the west, next to the south, and lastly to the north he did the same, always observing to repeat the short prayer every time he turned the pipe, Lastly, pointing the pipe to the ground he drew three whiffs, blowing the smoke as before on the stem, signifying that the animosities of war might be forever after buried beneath the earth. But in all this ceremony, Pee-eye-em did not once, as is generally customary among Indians, hold the pipe to or blow smoke to either the sun or firmament.

"All this time Pee-eye-em was sitting on his hams, then rising up and turning the pipe stem he presented it to one of the Cayouses, letting him touch it with his mouth but not inhale any smoke; the Cayouse did so. Then withdrawing the pipe for a moment pointed it to him a second time with the same positive injunction, which the Cayouse observed. The caution was no doubt intended to impress him to reflect sincerely on the responsibility of what he was going to do, for smoking with them on such occasions is the same as an oath with us; then putting it to his mouth the third time he said, "You may smoke now," adding after he had drawn a few whiffs, "We are brothers" (Ross:1956).

As peace was achieved between these age-old enemies - the various Sahaptin and Shoshone groups - the traffic into the area was increasing by leaps and bounds.

During the late days of March, 1825, George Gaylord Simpson, head of the Hudson's Bay Company, with his men, were traveling up the Columbia to the Fort on the Walla Walla, suffering from the cold weather. He notes in his journal that they "had much difficulty in collecting sufficient Withered Grass & Horse Dung to Boil our Kettle." When they reached the fort on March 26th, trouble was brewing. They found Mr. Dease surrounded by a camp of about 300 Tents of Nez Perces Cai-uses, Walla Wallas & the neighbouring bands. These Indians have of late been more troublesome than usual and actually threatened to attack the Establishment arising Mr. Dease supposes from the disaffection of his Interpreter who in consequence of being severely reprimanded for over intimacy with the Natives and indiscreet amours both in the Camp and at Home has in a fit of revenge endeavour to dispose of the Interpreter without giving umbrage to the Indians. It is a lamentable fact that almost every difficulty we have had with Indians throughout the Country may be traced to our interference with their Women or their intrigues with the Women of the Forts in short 9 Murders out of 10 Committed on Whites by Indians have arisen through Women.

On March 27th, Simpson learns that beaver pelts have dropped off significantly, apparently because of a "Mortality that took place in the course of the Winter among the Cai-uses which prevented them from hunting." He learned more about the trouble later that afternoon.

In the afternoon Nine Chiefs came up from the Camp in full Dress for the purpose of holding a Council with me attended by their respective bands amounting in all to about 300 Wariors; 5 of the Chiefs were Cai-uses, 3 Nez Perces and 1 Walla Walla. I made them a speech occupying about 2 hours, gave them a Dram 2 Fathoms Tobacco 50 Ball & Powder each and about 3 Fathoms Tobacco, for the general use of the Camp. The Speech and present were well received, they promised to exert themselves in hunting, to respect the Whites, to protect us while on their Lands and begged me to assure the great Chiefs on the other side of the Water, that they had not two Mouths, one for me, another for Camp, that they meant what they said would act up to it.


One wonders what the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people must have thought about the people at the Fort. Simpson describes an example of "the Waste and extravagance of Provisions" made previously to this interior trade outpost, when "no less than Seven Hundred Horses were slaughtered for the use of this Establishment in three Years" in addition to "Imported Provisions." He was disgusted to learn that the potato garden at the fort provided enough to "abundantly maintain the Post," and that the slaughter had been unnecessary.

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Two Umatilla women at Celilo Falls
Courtesy Washington State Historical Society L95-24E

David Douglas, a Scottish naturalist traveling through the area in 1826, describes what must have been a common scene along the Columbia:

Friday 24th (March, 1826)

"At five in the evening we made the portage over the Falls (Celilo), where we found the Indians very troublesome. I learned from Mr. McLeod they had collected for the purpose of pillaging the boats, which we soon found to be the case. After they had the usual present of tobacco, they became desirous of our camping there for the night, no doubt expecting to effect their purpose.

The first thing that was observed was their cunningly throwing water on the gun locks, and on the boats being ordered to be put in the water they refused to allow them. As Mr. McLeod was putting his hand on one of their shoulders to push him back, a fellow immediately pulled from his quiver a bow and a handful of arrows, and presented it at Mr McLeod. As I was standing on the outside of the crowd I perceived it, and, as no time was to be lost, I instantly slipped the cover off my gun, which at the time was charged with buckshot, and presented at him, and invited him to fire his arrow, and then I should certainly shoot him.

Just at this time a chief of the Kyeuuse tribe and three of his young men, who are the terror of all other tribes west of the mountains and great friends of the white people, as they call them, stepped in and settled the matter with a few words without any further trouble.

This very friendly Indian, who is the finest figure of a man that I have seen, standing nearly 6 feet 6 inches high, accompanied us a few miles up river, where we camped for the night, after being remunerated by Mr McLeod for his friendship - I being King George's Chief or the Grass Man, as I am called. I bored a hole in the only shilling I had, one which had been in my pocket since I left London, and, the septum of his nose being perforated, I suspended it to it with a brass wire. This was to him the great seal of friendship" (Douglas: 1980).

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1826 shilling
 
After they smoked together, this Cayuse leader "promised that he would not allow us to be molested."
Douglas made note of Cayuse bargaining powers several weeks later:

Saturday 17th (June, 1826)
"My guide did not arrive from the camp until 8 a.m. and I was uncertain if he would come that day, the horses were not brought in from the meadow, nor my provisions put up. Considerable time was taken up explaining to him the nature of my journey, which was done in the following way; I told Mr Black in English my intended route, who translated it to his Canadian interpreter, and this person communicated it to the Indian in the Kyuuse language, to which tribe he belongs. As a proof of the fickle disposition and keenness of bargain making in these people, he made without delay strict inquiry what he should get for his trouble. This being soon settled, then came the smaller list of present wants, beginning, as his family had been starving for the last two months, and he going just at the commencement of the salmon season, by asking Mr Black to allow them something to eat should they call, which we promised. Afterwards a pair of shoes, and, as his leggings were much worn, leather to make new ones was necessary; a scalping knife, a small piece of tobacco, and a strip of red coarse cloth to make an ornamental cap. This occupied two hours and was sealed by volumes of smoke from a large stone pipe" (Douglas: 1980).
 
Background: Portion of 1821 Map of Columbia by Alexander Ross, courtesy of Ellensburg Public Library.