We Who Survived -15 - Perrin Whitman and the Indians -part 2
“And Narcissa criticized too, did she?” I asked Perriin.
“Aunt Narcissa valued polish, mental culture, and tasteful domestic arrangements. She saw Indian
culture as the exact opposite, and because she did so, she feared it. She considered the Cayuse as savage, hypocritical, deceitful and cunning, dirty and lazy. Instead of devoting themselves to their
children, she thought their mothers neglected them; the women were their husbands' slaves, not their companions.”
“And she made her feelings known to them.”
“Narcissa's behavior gave the Cayuse many reasons to question her commitment and friendship to
them. During her daughter's infancy Narcissa kept Alice off the floor because she thought the Indians had made it so dirty. By carrying her child in her arms for months, she must have made her disapproval clear enough. Narcissa set a high value on family privacy. She was aggravated by the Indians' curiosity and their inclination to peek in her windows. As soon as she could Aunt Narcissa secured not only blinds for the windows but also a fence to make the demarcation between her house and its surroundings clear. She realized that she could not bar the Cayuse from the house altogether, but she was determined to confine them to one room and one door.”
“Perhaps that was why they spent so much time breaking windows at the house,” I put in.
“Used to free access to one another's lodges, the Cayuse objected to her effort to carve out a
private and exclusive space in the house. While this disagreement over space may seem trivial, neither the Whitmans nor the Cayuse considered it as such. In '40 the Cayuse pressed the Whitmans to hold services in the new mission house. When the missionaries refused, telling them 'they would make it so dirty and fill it so full of fleas that we could not live in it,' the Indians murmured and demanded that the Whitmans pay for the mission land.
“One Saturday afternoon the following year, the Indians rushed through several doors into the
house, axing one door to pieces along the way. After threatening Marcus with a gun and hitting him on the mouth, they demanded that the Whitmans not shut any doors against them. When Marcus refused, many stayed away from the Sabbath service the following day. Others broke some of the hated windows in the mission house. Although the crisis passed, due to the intervention of a Hudson's Bay Company trader at Fort Walla Walla, the anger lingered.
“In many ways it was harder for Aunt Narcissa. Uncle Marcus, as a man and a physician, had a good deal of physical mobility. Although his appointment as a medical missionary suggested that his primary involvement lay with the Cayuse, in fact, he provided medical treatment to the scattered
members of the mission family as well as to Methodist missionaries, Hudson's Bay Company employees, and other white settlers in Oregon Territory. He could often leave the frustrations at Waiilatpu behind him for weeks at a time. He often said he wished he could give his whole time to the instruction of the people but then a call of sickness would come and he said that as a physician he had to put that first.
“Aunt Narcissa's options were more limited. Although in the first few years in Oregon she often
accompanied Marcus on his trips to other mission stations, after she had children to care for, she lacked an official excuse to abandon her missionary duties at Waiilatpu.
“Visitors were surprised at how civilized the Mission house was. Whitewashed on the exterior and
trimmed in green, the house included a dining room and parlor. The floors were painted yellow and the woodwork was slate colored. There were settees, clothes presses, rocking chairs and a display cabinet for Aunt Narcissa's curiosities. We ate off blue and white English china at a table covered by a tablecloth.
“Believing that her adopted children would be corrupted by too close an association with the
Indians, she prevented them from learning the Nez Percé language and supervised their activities carefully. By the time of the massacre she had redefined her role at the mission in a way that excluded most contact with the Cayuse. It is no wonder that they felt they were not considered of as much value as the settlers who came to winter there.”
I asked Perrin if any of the Indians were ever really serious about the Christian religion.
“The mission at Waiilatpu was centrally located, since the Cayuses occupied the country from
Umatilla river to the Tukannon. Every Sunday large numbers gathered at the mission, some of them to actually participate in the services, and others because of the crowd they knew would be assembled. On week days, however, it was seldom that a dozen could be found there at a
time. Incidentally, I think it was for this reason Tamsucky and his followers chose a weekday for their deed, a time when they thought none of the loyal Whitman Indians would be present to interfere. They were careful to conceal their design from the Christian Indians and from the head chief, Five Crows, for fear he would prevent its execution.”
“Why do you think, now you have had all these years to consider it, the massacre happened?” I asked him.
“The massacre was the result of four separate causes - the dislike of Americans, the ravages of the
epidemic, the poison intrigue of Joe Lewis, and the priest's denunciations of Dr. Whitman. The Catholic Church can never shake off the moral responsibility for one of the most potent of these causes.”
“But surely the Indians themselves were the most potent cause – their unhappiness over the way the
Whitmans were treating them, both in terms of the medicine, and the way he was preferring the settlers' needs to theirs.”
Perrin went to a bookcase and took out some writing that he had there. He paged through it until he came to what he wanted.
“Let me tell you a bit about some of the good Indians in those days. Camaspelo was one of the Cayuse chiefs. He said, 'My people seem to have two hearts. I have but one; my heart is as the Nez Percés. I have had nothing to do with the murder. Tamsucky came to me to get my consent to the murder, before it was committed. I refused. I pointed to my sick child, and told him my heart was there and not on murder; he went back and told his friends he had obtained my consent; it was false. I did not give my consent to the murder, neither will I protect or defend the murderers.'
“He also was the one who went to get Lorinda Bewley from Five Crows, making sure he complied with the treaty they had signed with Peter Ogden.
“You perhaps have heard of old chief Joseph (pictured above), who was a Nez Percé chief, and half-brother of Five Crows. This is what he said after the massacre, when the Cayuse war was on. 'Now I show my heart. When I left my home I took the book (a testament Mr. Spalding had given him) in my hand and brought it with me; it is my light. I heard the Americans were coming to kill me.
Still I held my book before me, and came on. I have heard the words of your chief. I speak for all the Cayuses present and all my people. I do not wish my children engaged in this war, although my brother, Five Crows, is wounded. You speak of the murderers; I shall not meddle with them; I bow my head; this much I speak.'
“James was an old Indian who was for a long time a pet of Rev. Spalding's; but, through the influence
of Mr. Pambrun, (who was a white man who worked at Fr. Walla Walla, but he was married to a Cayuse woman, Catherine, who helped Narcissa with housework) and the priest, he had been induced to receive a cross and a string of beads and become a Catholic. He was the acknowledged owner of the land on which the Lapwai station was located.
“Old James said: 'I have heard your words and my heart is glad. When I first heard of this murder, our white brother Spalding was down here; I heard the Cayuses had killed him also, and my heart was very sad. A few days after, when he returned, I met him as one arose from the dead. We spoke together; he said he would go to Willamette. I told him to tell the chiefs there my heart. We have been listening for some word from him. All these chiefs are of one heart.'
“Timothy had always been a firm friend of the Americans, and of the mission, and was a consistent
member of the mission church. He seems to have taken no decided part in it. He said: 'You hear these chiefs; they speak for all. I am as one in the air. I do not meddle with these things; the chiefs speak; we are all of the same mind.'
“Tell me more about the one who struck the first blow which surprised me as I would have thought that if it was a collective decision to do it, the Chief would have that job.”
“When Indians decide to kill someone, they decide who should have the honor of striking the first blow. At the Massacre it was Tomahas with the chief to witness it. Usually it is the chief who has
this privilege. But there is no doubt that it was Tamsucky who was the instigator of the massacre. His countenance was extraordinarily savage but he had a dignified mien, and a voice of command. He dressed in skin breeches, a striped shirt, a scarlet coat to imitate the uniform of a British general. He had a fine cotton handkerchief thrown over loosely on his head, surmounted by an otter skin cap on top of which long hair from a white horse tail hung in ringlets down his neck. Tama is translated as man, and Suka as knowledgeable. So he was considered a wise man, and certainly the next in command to Tiloukaikt.”
“What is your role with the Indians at the moment?”
“I work as a translator, and often as the mediator when there are problems.”
“That reminds me. How well did the Whitmans speak and understand the language of the Cayuse?”
“Uncle Marcus learned some Nez Percé but not Cayuse, while Aunt Narcissa lamented she could not 'do much more than stammer' in Cayuse. Since the area had no written language, they translated the Bible phonetically with English characters. They filtered their discussions through métis, French/Canadian mostly half breed Indians, who better understood the Chinookan lingua franca, but that jargon was constructed for basic trade and communication.”
I asked Perrin to take me to see where the Indians now lived, the reservation at Umatilla. On the way there, he told me some stories about how Dr. Whitman had not always been very popular with
“In '45 there were warnings that the Indians were going to harm the white settlers en route so Uncle
Marcus rode to warn a 90 wagon company that a large party of Cayuses and Walla Wallas was heading across the Blue Mountains. When the Indians entered the camp armed with guns, swords, quivers and bows, Uncle Marcus told one of the chiefs that the Boston men would send people to defend the travelers, that shiploads of soldiers and guns would come to kill all the Indians who molested the Great Father's people on their way to the distant valley. The Indians were confused at finding the doctor with the company. A Cayuse chief broke the awkwardness of the confrontation by pledging with a smoke, to aid the Great Father. A Walla Walla chief laid his bow and quiver on the
ground, as did 12 of his followers and smoked the pipe. But the whites were afraid and held the Walla Walla chief at gunpoint to prevent him from returning to his men, when he tried to leave, Uncle
was reported to have said, 'Move and my men will shoot you like a dog.' The chief remained motionless for the rest of the night and was released shortly after sunrise by arriving Nez Percés. Uncle's actions and service in guiding the immigrants won him their gratitude but he had done nothing to please the Indians with whom he had to live. Young Chief threatened his life, causing Whitman to write to Elkanah Walker in November '45, saying 'I am so nervous that I cannot govern my hand, so that you will excuse me.'”
“Yet he continued to live there.”
“And in early May '47, 20-30 chiefs and braves of the three tribes conferred with Whitman and Spalding and other mission personnel. It was a sort of board of inquiry to consider whether Whitman was worthy of death. Chief interrogator was Peopeomoxmox.
“Since his murdered son had been a mission student, it was thought that perhaps it was just to extract the life of another preacher, namely Uncle Marcus. To Peopeomoxmox the discussion might have been academic, but among the others, it was considered that he was agreeing to the murder by bringing it up in this way.”
As we arrived, it seemed a very large area – many hundreds of square acres. Along the Umatilla River were loads of cottonwood trees. The village itself was a mishmash of tumble down houses
Perrin said, “The reservation is now home to the three tribes: the Umatilla, the Cayuse, and the Walla Walla. The tribes moved here in '55. They depend on the Colombia River for food, water,
transportation, and cultural and spiritual needs. They eat fish, mushrooms, roots, and berries. Due to their central location, the three tribes facilitate trade between the buffalo hunters of Idaho and the fishing and ocean-based cultures along the Pacific Ocean.
We went into the Indian encampment, and Perrin, who of course can talk their language fluently found that we would be able to talk to Yellow Bull, a Nez Percé under-Chief whose Cayuse wife, was the daughter of Tomahas - one of those hanged for the murders, and most likely the one who killed Marcus. This is a summary of what he said. (to be continued)