We Who Survived -11 Gertrude Hall and more from Catherine
October 17th, 1880
I have received a surprise letter from far away.
August 5, 1880
Consul General's Office
Dear Mr Young,
Your letter of May 1st was forwarded to me here in Shanghai. My husband, Judge Owen Denny, is the Consul General here. It is very interesting that you are one of those young men who shared
the captivity with us. I cannot say I clearly remember you other than the fact you were there, grinding the wheat, and later travelled with us on our escape route. I understand that you are asking about information to add to your book which will include information about the Whitman massacre. I will tell you what bits I can remember from those days.
You asked specifically about reasons for the massacre. I remember that there were a number of Indians that had not believed the reports against Dr. Whitman. These took no part in the
massacre, yet they did not interfere, but stood around weeping during both days.
After we were rescued, when sixteen years of age I married Captain White who was a river steam-boat captain and we had one daughter. We had an amiable divorce. Then on December 23,
1868, I became the bride of Judge Owen N. Denny, a brilliant figure in Portland and I daresay, national importance. He is even friends with General Grant and his wife whom we accompanied on a trip around the world from Tientsin back to Yokohama.
But you wish to know more about the massacre. First of all let me introduce my family to you. My father, Peter Hall, who was an architect and builder of much ability, was hired by Dr. Whitman to build a new room on the house to deal with the large number of emigrants that arrived each year. We had been at there for about six months by then, living in the Mission House with the Whitmans. When the massacre started, Father had been busy doing carpenter work. When the firing was heard several rushed to attack him. One Indian shot at him with a gun which misfired. He grappled with the Indian who had the gun and succeeded at getting it off him. By pointing the gun he kept them at bay until he reached the river where he plunged boldly in and swam for the opposite shore. They yelled and shot their guns at him without effect. Shielded by the willows which line the river banks, he made his way down stream towards the Fort. He was able to travel the 25 miles during the night. He reported the doctor and another man killed. He could give no details of identity nor how the attack
originated. He was sure his wife and all white people had been slaughtered. Mr. McBean said
when he arrived he was half naked and covered with blood. He thought he could reach Willamette safely on the north side of the river. He was furnished with a cappo, blanket, powder, ball and tobacco, and Mr. McBean said he saw him safely across the river. But he was never seen or heard from again, and it was assumed that he drowned, although it also has been said that when his body was found washed up, it appeared that he had been scalped. I think my father was killed by Tamsucky; as he was away for a few days at the time.
My mother, Eliza, and my four younger sisters, Mary Ann, Rebecca, Rachel, Maria, and I, like most of the women and children, were unharmed but held captive for a month before being ransomed. My
mother was asked to testify for the prosecution at the trial of the murders.
The superstitious Indians saw their people dying all about them and they readily believed these lies, while all this time Dr. Whitman and his kind-hearted wife were giving their whole time and energy in caring for them. The doctor and Mrs. Whitman were aware that plots had been laid for their deaths, but they still had faith in their Indians. And after the massacre we continued to live that miserable existence for more than a month. Many times the Indians were restless and threatened to kill us.
Finally the story of the massacre reached Captain Ogden, of the Hudson's Bay Company. He knew that he must not give the Indians an inkling that a rescue party was coming, so he went to
Walla Walla and from there communicated with the savages and succeeded in ransoming the captives. He told the Indians that he simply wanted to buy the women and children - he gave them beads, blankets, guns and tobacco. The whole thing amounted to about $400 or $500. Captain Ogden can not receive too much praise for his prompt action in this affair.
I hope this will help you with your book.
Mrs. Gertrude Hall Denny
November 5, 1880
I wrote to Catherine again, telling her of the various letters I had had from the other survivors. I also suggested to her that I didn't think we had sufficient time now to plan a meeting this year, but that I looked forward to perhaps seeing her in March of next year, if that would be convenient.
Here are parts of a letter from Catherine, telling extra details.
November 8, 1880
Ochoco, Wasco County
Dear Mr Young,
I am sorry that the plans for a get together will not now be going ahead, but I can understand that you feel there is insufficient time to organize it properly, as many of those who we would want there, have not as yet replied to you. And as you may know, our weather in the winter gets much worse than yours, so it is not a good time to travel. And perhaps by next spring it will be easier for you to come to see us, as I understand that the railway down here may well be finished by then.
You say that you want more detail about the massacre. I will try not to repeat what I told you earlier.
Mother Whitman went into kitchen to get milk for sick children. The room was full of boisterous Indians. One (Tomahas) demanded the milk, but she said he had to wait until she could give
her baby some. He followed her to the sitting room and tried to force his way in but she shut the door in his face and bolted it.
He began to pound on the door asking for medicine. Father Whitman rose and answered his knock. He unbolted the door, and an Indian tried to force his way in, but he was blocked. Father closed and locked the door, went to the medicine cabinet located in a closet under the stairway and got what was needed. As he returned to the kitchen he advised Mother Whitman to lock it after him.
By now it was 2 p.m. (some say 3 p.m. And my sister Matilda insists that it was 11 a.m.)
Suddenly there were sharp explosions in the kitchen. Mother Whitman wanted to rush to see what had happened, but then she was concerned for the safely of those with her. She called back those
who were going outside. She made Elizabeth who had just bathed get dressed. Turning to Mrs. Osborne, she told her to go to her room and lock the outside door, her husband used a flat iron to drive a nail over the latch.
Mary Ann Bridges burst into living room through the west door, having fled out the north door and gone around the house. Mary Ann told of the shooting of Father. She said Father had sat at
a table facing Tiloukaikt, Tomahas stepped behind him drew a tomahawk from under a blanket and struck the doctor's head. He fell, and then another hit brought him to the floor. He was still alive.
My brother John grabbed a pistol, which might have been the gun he used to kill the beef, shot twice wounding two of the Indians. Then he was shot by Tamsucky. He received a wound in his neck, and he stuck a scarf into the wound to staunch the flow of blood.
Mr Saunders had commenced school at 1 after the lunch break. Hearing the explosion in the kitchen, he ran down to see what caused it. Mother saw him just as he got to the door. She motioned to him to go back. He ran back and had just got to the stairway two or three steps, leading up to the school when an Indian seized him, but being an active man, the Indian could not master him. I watched the struggle from the window. Sometimes the savage would throw him, but
he would bound to his feet again, never losing his hold on the first one. I looked till my heart sickened at the sight. Mr Saunders wrestling for life with those ruthless murderers, and they with their butcher knives trying to cut his throat. He got loose from them and had got almost to his door before he was overpowered. His body was pierced with several balls when he fell. They beat his head till it was mashed to pieces. My sister, Elizabeth, testified at the Oregon City trial that she saw Ishishkaiskais shoot Mr. Saunders. Matilda says that they cut off his head.
Mr. Kimble ran around the south end of the mission house and entered the sitting room through the west door. My sister Elizabeth remembers he said, "The Indians are killing us - I don't know what the damned Indians want to kill me for. I never did anything to them. Get me some water." Since he never swore, saying damned was so incongruous to Elizabeth that she started to giggle. She expected Mother Whitman to rebuke him but nothing was said. Mrs. Whitman got water an began washing his wounded arm.
Mr. Rodgers was at the river when the shooting began. He could have escaped and fled to Walla Walla for protection. Instead he rushed into the mission house. Mother, while administering to the
wounded went here and there looking out to see what was going on. At last she saw him running desperately towards the house, several savages, their knives and tomahawks glinting in the sun, close at his heels. She dashed to the door to open it, but not before he had broken the window with his hand as he sprang against it. As soon as the door closed upon him, the Indians raised a deafening yell and went to find new victims. He was shot through the wrist and tomahawked behind the ear.
Mother Whitman went to look out the window. It was Frank Escaloom who was standing on the steps leading into the schoolroom and he shot her in the right shoulder. She clapped her hand to the
wound saying "Oh, Oh" and fell backwards.
The sick children were carried to the attic room. 13 frightened people were in that upstairs room. Mr. Kimball regained his feet and followed with the pitcher of water as Andrew Rodgers lifted Mother to her feet and moved her toward the stairway. In the crowded room upstairs Mr. Rodgers fell to his knees and began to pray.
While one room only had been prepared for use on the second floor, still all the space under the roof was available in case of necessity and the finished room was in the center at the
landing of the stairs. Before long there were signs of breaking in doors below, and the Indians gave vent to yells of defiance. Mr. Kimball took a broken gun stock from a corner and shoved the barrel
beyond the landing of the steep stairway. As the door broke upon there was a pause at the sight of the gun barrel and after this the murderers left the building for awhile.
Tamsucky, who the Whitmans had long trusted, had been chosen to parley. He asked for Rodgers. "I am your friend," he called. "We are going to burn the house, and I want to lead you all to Finley's lodge." Mr. Rodgers was reluctant, but Mother Whitman asked him to talk in the hopes of saving at least the children. He removed the gun barrel and joined Tamsucky in the sitting room to talk. It is hard to know what was said between them, what promises or threats were made. It was later stated by Tamsucky that he had asked if it was true that the Whitmans were poisoning the Cayuse and that Rodgers had said that it was true. He would only have said that in order to hopefully save his life.
Mr. Kimball, not trusting Tamsucky, hid behind Lorinda Bewley's bed. I was convinced that Tamsucky was the Indian whom I had seen murdering my teacher. When I related my suspicions to Mother Whitman I was told, "You are mistaken. God has raised us up a friend." It was decided that the adults were to leave first with the promise that some of the women from the village would come for the children. Tamsucky came back upstairs with Mr. Rodgers and assumed an attitude of pity and cordially shook hand with all. Lorinda and Rodgers helped Mother Whitman down the stairs. When she reached the bottom and saw the hatcheted face of her husband she collapsed and
was helped to the settee but she must have still believed in Tamsucky, because she told Lorinda to take all sorts of clothing out of the press for the children, which she did, and then Lorinda put a
blanket over Mother. Impatiently Tamsucky ordered that she be carried to the lodge of Finley. Joe Lewis, who was standing in the doorway, stepped into the room and took the front end of the settee as if to help. Mr. Rodgers picked up the other end and started through the doorway. Once outside the house, after 10 feet, Joe dropped his end and made for a place of safely as a volley of guns went off.
Before they left the kitchen, the school children were called out of their place of safely in the gallery of the school room, and were brought into the kitchen with Francis placed him at the head of the settee. When the volley was fired, the body of Francis fell, Mother Whitman rolled off the settee into the mud, Rodgers fell nearer to the door. They probably lingered well into the night before they died.
Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Hays spread quilts and sheets over the bodies, and gathered the children now palsied with fright, into their respective families. Mother's hair was cut off by Ishalhal, and
he raised his riding crop and lashed the features of her face. Lorinda Bewley began running but was brought to a stop and informed that her safety lay in keeping quiet. This was again the
indomitable Tamsucky, as he took her gently by the hand and led her safely to the mission house.