We Who Survived -10 Eliza Spalding and Nancy Osborne
It took several letters before I got in contact with Eliza Spalding Warren. When my father and brother and I were working the mill, after our captivity, Eliza was used a lot as a translator for us, until she became too ill, so I remember her the best of the children. Much of her letter repeats what others have already told me, so I will provide a shortened version here.
October 1, 1880
Brownsville, Oregon Territory
Dear Mr. Young,
Thank you for your letter. I do not really remember you, but I was very young and upset during that time so it is not unlikely. I hope this will help you with your story.
The last few years before the massacre, there was other influences which came among them and of course made a discord and influenced them against Christianity which of course Dr. Whitman was teaching which caused great dissatisfaction and lack of interest among the Indians. And it seemed from the appearance of things and rumors that this influence wanted to rid the country of the Protestants and were influencing the Indians against them in any way they could. And why was it that they remained unmolested and it was the Protestants had to leave.
(I will just interject here, that she is no doubt referring to the coming of the Catholic missionaries to the area. Her father was very vocal in his condemnation of them, implying that they stirred up the Indians for the attack, and supported them during it.)
My father had brought me over to Dr. Whitman's a few days before that to spend the winter and attend school. Father remained there a few days & while there he and Dr. went over to the Umatilla about 30 miles from the Doctor's to visit the Indians that were sick there and have a meeting with them. The Dr. could not stay but a day or so with them on account of sickness in his own family & came home. Father remained a few days.
(Next comes her description of the massacre which I will not repeat.)
And in the meantime Father remained with the Indians at the place where he and Dr. Whitman had gone to visit. After the Dr. had returned from there, I think it was the fourth day, Father started to come back to the Drs. Just as he was starting he met an old Indian woman, she said to him “You going to Whitman's?” he said “yes,” she then said, “Beware of the Indians, they mean mischief.” That was the only intimation he had while there of any danger & they certainly must have known what had happened. Father came on until within a few miles of the Drs. when he met the Priest,
who was living over on the Umatilla. He came over to the Drs. a day or so after the Massacre and was around there awhile & started back home. He had a half breed Frenchman with him and there was another Indian started with him, expecting to meet Father on the road & with the intention of killing him, for he came in the house where I was & showed me the pistol & said he had that to kill
my Father with & I slipped around to where the half breed was for I could see that he did not approve of what had been done & said to him, “If you see Father tell him not come here.”
And when they all met Father on the road of course they all stopped. Father was anxious to hear how the sick all were & asked the Priest about the Dr.'s family. He seemed to hesitate about
answering & Father asked him again. The priest then said, “They are all dead, the Indians have murdered them last Monday.” The Indian then put whip to his horse and went on. The half breed stopped back. Father said to him “What shall I do?” he said to Father, “Don't go on it will be sure death” & told him what I had told him to tell him. He said to Father, “If you can get to the fog
near by it will soon be night and they cannot track you,” & gave him other advice what to do very kindly, he had some lunch tied up in a cloth he gave that to Father. Father then told the half breed
to take his two pack horses and take care of them & then they started.
In the meantime the Indian that had started with the intention of killing Father, while they were all talking there he wheeled his horse around and took back on the road a ways out of sight waiting as he expected for Father to come on, thinking I presume that the priest would not tell Father of the trouble, The Indian soon found something had been done, he went on the road to overtake the priest but did not find Father with them & by the time he got back to the track it was dark, the next day they tracked him to the Walla Walla river they found where he had gone into the river but could not find where he had gone out on the opposite bank as he had followed the bed for the river some ways before he went out, so they concluded he had drowned, so I heard them say a few days after.
Father had a very narrow escape & suffered terribly He was out six days and nights, had to secret himself by day and travel by night. After the first night he had to give up his horse as he could not hide him, and travel on foot and with nothing to eat only the little lunch the half breed gave him. His anxiety for his family was intense, he knew not whether they were living or not, & I was a captive. When he arrived most home in sight of the house his feelings most burned him up with anxiety. There was a camp near by of one of the most trusty Indians, Father thought the best way would be
to give himself up to this Indian and find out what had become of his family. When he went staggering in, into the camp as he was so famished & almost about to fall, the old Indian caught him in his arms and said, “My dear friend, we had give you up for dead, while I live you are safe.” Of course he was soon restored to the arms of his family, and when Mr. Ogden came up to rescue the captives he sent Father word to come right over with his family, that they might all come down together. There were some of our Indians that came over with Father and family to protect them from the hostile Indians.
Eliza Spalding Warren
October 15, 1880
I need to put in some more details about others of the children from the massacre scene. I have received a letter from Nancy Osborne Kees. First I will provide a bit of background information.
Mr. Josiah Osborne spent the winter of 45-46 at the Whitman mission, then in March went to Oregon City to a land claim on the Callapooya River. He again encountered Dr. Whitman who asked him to return to the mission. The family got there on 22 October and five weeks before the massacre. These people are again useful to me, because they would have known the Indians better, from before the massacre, and also knew the Whitmans well.
Nancy, although she was only seven at the time of the massacre, says she does remember some things that are of interest. Although she didn't recognize most of the Indians well enough to put
names to them, she says she could tell the friendly Walla Wallas from the Cayuse Indians by their accents when speaking the Shahoptian Indian language.
Here is what she says about the possible reasons for the massacre.
October 10, 1880
Halsy, Linn, Oregon Territory
Dear Mr. Young,
I was pleased to get your letter, although I cannot say that I really remember you.
There were two mission stations, one at Waiilatpu, the home of Dr. Marcus Whitman and his noble wife, and one at The Dalles, then occupied by Father Waller and Rev. Brewer of the Methodist
Episcopal church. There was no place on that long journey over mountains and plains and deserts to get provisions except at Waiilatpu, and that near the end of our journey, and in limited amount.
While along the North bank of the Snake River we met Dr. White who told us of the need of a mill-wright at Waiilatpu as the Indians had burned the mill which Dr. Whitman had erected there.
Dr. Whitman came to Salem in the fall of 1847 and purchased The Dalles Mission for the Presbyterian Board of Missions and put it in charge of his nephew, Perrin B. Whitman and Mr. Hinman. Father met the Doctor while he was at Salem and contracted to go back with him to Waiilatpu and take charge of the day to day work at the mission for two years, this giving Dr. Whitman more time to devote to his work with the Indians. Father was to receive three hundred dollars per year, either in stock or money, besides living for himself and his family. We
children were to be in the Mission School.
We left our cattle and chickens and most of our belongings with grandmother Courtney and taking only Father's tools and a few household necessities we made the trip up the Columbia River in a batteau with an Indian crew.
Early on the morning of the third day, Crockett Bewley who was later massacred with Dr. Whitman, came to our camp with a large wagon and provisions from Waiilatpu. As soon as we could cook a
meal we started on our way to the Mission and arrived there the following day in time for dinner. As we were crossing the Touchet River the oxen, which were quite wild, started up the stream and got
into deep water. Mr. Bewley stopped them by jumping out and wading in front of them. Father carried us children from the back end of the wagon to land and then assisted in getting the wagon and the cattle out of the river.
We had been at Waiilatpu just five weeks when the fatal 29th of November came. It was the first day that mother had walked across the room for three weeks. The Doctor, who was sitting by the
stove reading, was called into the kitchen to give a sick Indian some medicine. The sudden and continuous firing of guns was the first alarm. Mrs. Whitman began to cry and the children to scream. Mother said, "Mrs. Whitman, what is the matter?" She replied, "The Indians are going to kill us all." Mother came back into our room and told us what was being done. Mrs. Whitman called out to
fasten the doors and Father took a flat iron from the fireplace and drove a nail above a latch on the outside door of our room. Then he seated himself on a box by the foot of the bed on which lay my
brother, John, sick with the measles. Mother sat near the head of the bed and I was between them. One of Father's jobs had been to lay the floor boards, so he knew where thre were some loose ones and pulled them up, and made us all get under the floor.
In a few moments our room was full of Indians, talking and laughing as if it were a holiday. The only noise we made was by my brother Alex, two years old. When the Indians came into the room
directly over our heads, he said, "Mother, the Indians are taking all of our things." Hastily she clapped her hand over his mouth and whispered that he must be still. I have often been asked
how I felt when under the floor. I cannot tell but I do remember how hard my heart beat and how large the ventilation holes in the adobe walls looked to me. They were probably only three or four inches wide and a foot long, but they seemed very large when I could see the Indians close on the other side.
I wanted to say a few things which might help you in writing your book. In my opinion Dr.
Whitman had lost the confidence of the Indians. They came to fear him rather than love him. He looked on them as an inferior race and doomed to give place to a settlement of Americans. He wanted to help them. But they didn't like that he gave aid and comfort to the white people. When he helped the immigrants it was tantamount to helping their enemies.
Previously when so many white children came down with measles an Indian came into the room where the body of my sister, Sylvia Jane, aged 6, lay. Mrs. Whitman asked leave to show him the
dead child. She wanted the Indians to know the measles were killing the white people as well as the Indians and thus allay the growing distrust of the red man. The Indian looked long at my sister and then cruelly he laughed to see the paleface dead. Mrs. Whitman said, "Perhaps God thought it for the best that our little child should be called away: it may calm the Indians to see a white child
taken as well as so many natives."
After the massacre it was about 10 pm we sneaked out,. Mother was very ill just having lost a premature baby, and couldn't carry anything. Father took two of the children, John and the baby,
and I helped take food and blankets. It took us three days to cross to Ft. Walla Walla, 20 miles away. Father had to leave us as Mother could go no further, so he hid us in a hollow log, and he went on with two year old John, and managed to get to the fort. But Mr. McBean at the Fort was very unfriendly and offered neither shelter nor help to rescue us. It was only when the portrait painter John Mix Stanley came in and lent Father a horse, and an Indian guide, that he was able to get back and rescue us. John died soon afterwards. Mr. McBean wanted us to go to Pendleton, rather than stopping at Ft. Walla Walla, as he didn't want to be seen by the Indians as sheltering their enemies. We intended to go there, but in the end, Mother refused and said that the Indians could kill us right where we were without her having to endure that hopeless journey. In the end McBean did allow us to stay for the month until all hostages were bought from the Indians, and we travelled as a group down to Oregon City.
Nancy Osborne Kees (pictured above)