Umatilla, Walla Walla & Cayuse
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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


Showing military and emigrant roads.
Portion of Colton's 1864 Colton's Map of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia
and Montana.

Mansfield Library, University of Montana

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Dr. Whitman
" ...that Suyapo man..."
Showing area and Umatilla Reservation as of 1881.
Portion of Symon's "Map of the Department of the Columbia"
Courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society

Relationships with Whites

Umatilla > Culture > Missionaries and Early Settlers
The influence of Christianity began early with the fur traders. Company employees introduced religious teachings, influencing many Indian leaders, some of who incorporated these teachings into their own religions. In 1825 Hudson's Bay Company sponsored two young Indian men from the Northwest, Spokane Garry and Kootenai Pelly, to be schooled at the Church of England mission at the Red River Settlement, now Winnipeg. Four other young men, including one Cayuse, a boy named Halket, began their instruction there in 1929.  

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Whitman Mission
From a painting by William Henry Jackson, based on survivors' accounts.
Courtesy National Park Service.

It wasn't until 1836 that the first missionaries arrived on the Columbia Plateau, when the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent out Reverend Samuel Parker and Marcus Whitman to scout potential mission sites in Oregon Country. That fall, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman founded a Protestant mission among the Cayuse at their village, Waiilatpu, along the Walla Walla River, near present-day Walla Walla, Washington. The Whitmans' travel companions, Eliza and Henry Spalding, created their Protestant mission in Nez Perce territory in the Lapwai Valley, near present-day Lewiston, Idaho.


The population of white settlers was slowly but steadily growing along the Columbia River in the late 1830s. A great number of them were "Americans" from the States, with various ethnic backgrounds. The next largest population segment of settlers chiefly consisted of French-Canadian, and some Scottish, Irish, English, and German fur traders. Many of them married Indian women and raised families of mixed-ancestry. Most of these traders were retired employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, born as British subjects, and of the Roman Catholic faith.

The American Board asked the Whitmans and Spaldings to abandon their missions in 1842 due to their lack of success at converting the Cayuse and Nez Perce. Dr. Whitman traveled to Boston on behalf of all of them in an attempt to convince the Board to let the missions continue. Permission was granted and he returned to Waiilatpu along the Oregon Trail in 1843, along with a wagon train of approximately 1,000 pioneers, the first major immigration of white settlers. image
"Approaching Chimney Rock"
A painting by William Henry Jackson.
Courtesy National Park Service

While the missionaries vied for their souls, the U.S. and Britain vied for their land. The U.S secured the territory from England in 1846, as if nobody lived there. No treaties had been established with scores of tribes who inhabited the Columbia Basin, yet their homelands were being traded out from under them. The U.S. government encouraged its citizens to move to Oregon territory without extinguishing the Indians' claims to the lands. Thousands of immigrants flooded into the region each year.

Although Catholic missionaries had been in the Oregon Country since 1838, the first mission wasn't established among the tribes of the Umatilla Reservation until 1847. St. Anne's was established along the Umatilla River in a cabin donated by the influential Cayuse leader Taawitoy . Within just a few years, there were three Catholic missions in the area; St. Anne's, one at Mission, and St. Rose, near Walla Walla, all in traditional Cayuse territory. They arrived just in time to pick up the pieces from the imminent disaster at Waiilatpu.

Immigrants brought many diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and cholera, for which the Indians had no natural immunity. A measles epidemic in 1847 decimated nearly half of the Cayuse population and nearly all of their children, while many of the whites survived. Since the Whitmans doctored both populations, some Cayuse suspected that Dr. Whitman was responsible. Perhaps this was a way to get land for the white settlers whom he had brought to the country.

Dr. Whitman and his wife were already familiar with the Cayuse tradition of holding medicine men responsible for their patient's recovery or death. Narcissa Whitman wrote to her parents, brothers, and sisters on May 3rd, 1837…

Last Saturday the War Chief died at W Walla he was a Cayuse & a relative of Umtippe was sick six days, employed the same W. W. Tewat [Cayuse medicine man] Umtippe sent for but he died in his hands. The same day Ye he kis kis a younger brother of Umtippe went to W W arrived about twilight & shot the Tewat dead. Thus they were avenged.

On Nov. 29th, 1847 a small band of Cayuse, along with a few Umatilla and Nez Perce allies, led a retaliation against the Whitmans to avenge the death of their family members. The Whitmans and some of their followers were killed, the buildings burned, and mission personnel taken captive.


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Marjorie Waheneke
" ...they relate to the fact that Whitman was poisoning..."
Thus began the so-called "Cayuse War" of 1847-1850. In response, the Oregon Territorial Militia was called to control the situation. The volunteer army massacred many peaceful Indians not associated with those who had killed the Whitmans. To put an end to the violence, some of the Cayuse leaders took matters into their own hands. They brought in five men who sacrificed themselves to save their people. Before he was hanged, Tiloukaikt told his captures, "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So die we to save our people" (


Despite the conflicts, immigration to the west continued to grow. Advertising in the east enticed those living in overcrowded cities with romantic notions of the west as a "Garden of Eden," where the land was inexpensive and the resources bountiful. Explorers, missionaries, and fur traders further aroused the curiosity and inspired people to head west to the "promise land". The U.S. government also encouraged its citizens to occupy the western territory to aid in their claim of the territory. For the U.S., what had been claimed from France as the Louisiana Purchase, was nearly doubled, without cost. For the tribes, the cost was unthinkable. Within their lifetimes, many people who witnessed the first whites on the river also witnessed the decimation of their people to illness and murder, and the loss of their best lands to communities of interlopers. Their prophets had seen it coming, but the true impact was unimaginable.

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Kathleen Gordon
On the Whitman Massacre.
Background: Road to the Gap (Wallula) and Fort (Walla Walla).
Helga Anderson Travis (Travis: 1967)