We Who Survived -16 - Perrin Whitman and the Indians -part 3
The Indian started, “When the white men arrived at Waiilatpu, Dr. Whitman built a mill, and the Indians who lived there took their grain to it, and they lived well. The tribes seemed to feel as if he were their father.
"All at once some kind of disease came from the flour. A Nez Percé named Kulkulshimulshmul, my mother's brother, went there where he had a wife. When he came back he gave an account of what was going on there. He was crying because his wife had died of the sickness, she had taken some of the Doctor's medicine, and spots came out on her face. Two hundred people had died.
“An employee of the mission, a man who had many wives, told the Indians that Dr. Whitman was putting poison in their medicine and killing them. One of the Indians made himself sick in
order to test the doctor, saying that if the doctor's medicine killed him they would know that Whitman was the cause of the death of the others. He took the medicine and died.
“Then the headmen met in council and made an agreement that the doctor should be killed because 200 of the people had died after taking his medicine. In the morning several people rode up to
his house. He did not know why they had come. My mother's brother was with them, but did not go into the house with them. One of the Cayuse chiefs called Tiloukaikt said, 'Tomahas is not here.' So Tomahas, who was the medicine man was sent for. He was the father of my wife. He asked the doctor if he was afraid. 'I am not afraid.' He entered the room and the doctor gave him a seat at his side. Whitman said, 'Fill the pipe and let us smoke.' Tomahas and Dr. Whitman were great friends. While they smoked, two or three other Indians went in and asked Tomahas, 'Why are you smoking? How long are you going to smoke? Are you afraid of him? You did not come here to fill a pipe and smoke but to kill this man.' The pipe was a tomahawk pipe with a steel blade. After smoking, Tomahas turned out the ashes, and sitting at the right of Whitman he struck him on the head with the tomahawk. So he murdered Dr. Whitman, his friend.
“Whitman's wife was killed while carrying a bundle down the stairs. The Indians thought this bundle contained something that would be death to all those outside. One old white man, who had
run up to Tomahas and begged for his life had been spared, and he told them after the massacre not to throw this bundle into the creek, for if they did it would poison the people.
“After the killing a council was held and it seems that there was some disagreement as to who had made the plans for the killing and should assume the responsibility. After two years Tiloukaikt decided it was better for the tribe that the five give themselves up to be hanged. So they surrendered, because the people were accusing them and making discord in the tribe.”
“What is life like for the Indians on the reservation now?”
“Let's go and visit with Ipnasoletok.” So we went to see an old woman who differed from the others in that she actually lived in her reservation provided house. Most of them, used their houses as
stables, and lived in teepees. 'Taaismime,' said Perrin, and she returned his greeting which I knew meant 'good morning.'
He asked her if she would tell us what she remembered about the coming of the Whitmans and their effect on her people. Here is what she said.
“Injun have no God when Brother Whitman came, long time ago. I young woman that time. Injun believe earth his God. Land grow grass; pony eat grass; cow eat grass; deer eat grass; Injun eat deer; Injun eat root; Injun believe earth his mother; Injun believe dig in earth let in bad come to him; Injun believe it wrong to put him hoe in earth – all same put him knife in mother's breast.
“Brother Whitman come. He bring Book of Heaven He make him heap talk. Sister Whitman come – pretty woman, long hair – all same leaves from frost come. She bring sing book. She make him heap sing. Whitman put him hoe in ground, put him plow in ground. Heap grow; Whitman make
him mill, make him flour, make him bread. Sister Whitman teach him Injun read, teach him Injun pray to Great Father. Some Injun say good; some Injun say bad, Some Injun work him plow; some Injun say he now work all same squaw.
“Bimbey little white papoose came - petella (that means girl, whispered Perrin). She talk Injun talk, she sing Injun sing. All Injun love little white cayuse. One day she fall in water she die. Injun very
sorry. Some Injun say 'Bad medicine.' We put little white Cayuse in ground. We sing that time.”
“What do you remember of the actual massacre?” Perrin asked her.
“Big shame on Indian! My eye heap cry. Brother Whitman go see sick woman. He came home. Sister Whitman in house. Heap white people in house. Heap Injun come in house. Bad Injun, Tamahas for name take him tomahawk Blackfoot Injun give him Cayuse big pow wow long time ago. Tamahas hit Brother Whitman on head two time. Whitman fall. He no dead yet. Tiloukaikt came, hit Whitman in face with Tomahawk, cut face, face look bad. Whitman no talk plain. Heap hurt. Sister Whitman take him in big room. She go on knee. She pray Great Father God Help my husband. God help my people. God help me. God help Injun he no know.
“Injun kill him husband; she pray for Injun. Some Injun very bad. One man, Joe Lewis for name, his father white, come window. He see Sister Whitman. He shoot Sister Whitman. Big shame, Joe Lewis! Friend take Sister Whitman out house. Tamsucky for name, Cayuse chief, take him scalp
Sister Whitman – long pretty hair, all same leaves when frost come. Big shame, Tamsucky.”
“What else do you remember?”
“Injun take him all white woman, all white child prisoner. Five Crows take him one white woman his tepee – heap pretty woman. One noon, King George man come. He bring heap blanket, heap shirt, heap tobac, gun. King George man give his Injun and Injun give him all prisoner. Five Crows heap cry. He gave back white wife.”
We thanked the old Indian lady, and started back to Walla Walla.
“What are their main problems now?” I asked Perrin.
“There are still problems with ever-increasing immigration both east and west. Whiskey peddling, horse stealing, and other depredations by the outsiders cause the superintendent of the Umatilla Agency many problems.
“The transition to Reservation life was not easy but the Tribes had little choice. Instead of relying on
each other Indians were taught the Christian work ethic and self sufficiency. Many of the people went to raising gardens along the Umatilla. The people still have many horses and are able to fish
for salmon which are still the heart of their economy.
“Children are educated by the Catholic or Protestant missionaries. Strict discipline is adhered to
- hair is cut, uniforms are worn, and children are punished for speaking their native language.
When we got back to Walla Walla, I asked Perrin to tell me about the trial and deaths of the convicted Indians. I had read what was in the papers at the time, but I wanted to refresh my memory
and get a more official point of view.
“ For the next two years we had the Cayuse War where the militia was trying to get those responsible for the massacre. But in the end, five Indians gave themselves up as representatives of
the whole tribe, on the understanding that the rest would be allowed to live in peace.”
“And were they actually those who did the deeds?”
“Only the chiefs Tiloukaikt and Tomahas, were actively present at the original incident, and three additional Cayuse men volunteered or were forced to go to Oregon City, to be tried for murder. Oregon Supreme Court justice Orville C Pratt presided over the trial, with U.S. Attorney Amory Holbrook as the prosecutor. In the four day trial, the Indians used the defense that it is tribal law to kill the medicine man who gives bad medicine. The defendants were indicted on several charges associated with the attack but were tried on only a single count, that of "feloniously, wilfully and of their malice aforethought killing one Marcus Whitman."
“Who were the witnesses who were called?”
“Holbrook called four witnesses, all of them survivors of the attack at the mission. Only two of them
testified to having seen any of the defendants engaged in violence. Eliza Hall, an emigrant who was spending the winter at the mission with her husband and five children, said she saw Tiloukakt hit
Whitman in the head with a hatchet, three times, in the yard outside the Mission House. The defense did not challenge her testimony, although according to numerous contemporary accounts, Whitman was assaulted inside the Mission House, in the kitchen; and Hall herself admitted she was about 100 yards from the yard and her view was blocked by other Indians.
“Elizabeth Sager who was 10 years old at the time of the attack, said she saw Isiaasheluckas and another Indian "attempting to throw down" Luke Saunders, the mission’s schoolteacher. She also testified that the day after the attack, Clokomas had laughingly pointed a gun at her older sister Catherine, to frighten her.
“John McLoughlin former chief factor at the Hudson’s Bay testified that he had warned Uncle Marcus of the dangers of living among the Cayuse, partly because they customarily killed medicine men whose patients died. A Cayuse chief named Istachus (called Stickus by most of us) and Rev. Spalding also said that Marcus knew he faced danger because of his inability to combat the
lethal effects of measles on the Cayuse. Ronald Lansing, an Oregon law professor and author of a book about the trial, concluded that the defendants in effect "confessed the killing but said the
killing was fitting and proper."
“The prisoners appeared in chains throughout all their court appearances and were found guilty by the jury. On June 3, 1850, Tiloukaikt, Tomahas, Kiamasumpkin (who throughout proclaimed
his innocence), Iaiachalakis, and Klokomas were publicly hanged.”
“So the Indians didn't have a real chance to put their points of view?”
“The Cayuse chiefs gathered at the home of Catholic Bishop Blanchet and drew up a petition which the Bishop was to submit to the Governor. The petition began by stating the chiefs’ conviction that the Whitmans intended to exterminate the Cayuse so that the whole of their lands might be
taken over by American settlers. The chiefs proposed that the Americans forgive the Cayuse for the massacre just as the Cayuse had forgiven the Americans for murdering some of the Cayuse.”
“And nothing else was done?
“They tried having the venue changed arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction because the killings had occurred on Cayuse land before Oregon became a territory subject to federal law. But that didn't
work. It was all very informal. Oregon City at that time was a frontier town of about 500 people. The jail was a one-room structure on Abernethy Island, at the foot of Willamette Falls. There was no
courthouse; the trial took place in a tavern, crowded with a couple of hundred onlookers.
“Judge Pratt basically said the defendants’ guilt was proven by the fact that the tribe had turned them over to the authorities. The defense immediately filed several motions on appeal; all were
denied. He ordered the prisoners to be confined until 2 p.m. on Monday, June 3, 1850, when they were to be taken by the U.S. marshal - Joe Meek, father of one of the girls who died - to a gallows in
Oregon City, and there by to be hung by the neck, until dead."
“The Cayuse had hoped to tell their side of the story and to present the Americans with some gifts to cover the graves of the dead missionaries. The concept of “covering the dead” was a part of
the Plateau Indian culture, and in American culture justice was focused on punishment. They asked to be shot rather than hung as they viewed hanging as a form of death unfit for humans. Their request was not granted. Before the men were hung, a Jesuit priest baptized them. When asked why, if he were innocent, did he place himself in the hands of the Americans, Tiloukailt replied:“Did not you missionaries tell us that Christ died to save his people? So die we, to save our people.” The bodies of the Cayuse Five were not returned to their people. They were hung not only for revenge under the guise of justice, but for political reasons. By publicly hanging the men and displaying the bodies, the Americans sent a clear message to other Indians who might be considering war against the Americans.”
I thanked Perrin for his time and information, and then made my way to the train which would take me to see the real object of all my research, the Sager sisters.