We Who Survived -18 - Visit to the Sager Sisters part 2, Epilogue
Wanting to bring Mary back into the conversation again, I asked them about our shared trip after the ransom had been paid. “How did you deal with the trip to Ft. Vancouver?” I asked Mary.
“Mr. Ogden was an amiable man with an inexhaustible sense of fun,” she said, “who cheered the monotony of our journey with the reminiscences of his voyages up and down the river. ”
“What happened after Ft. Vancouver when you went on?”
Catherine said, “When we got to Oregon City, the Spaldings, Lorinda and our family were entertained by Chief Factor James Douglas who gave a party.”
“Mr. John Mix Stanley, the painter, took a special interest in us. When we camped at night, he gave me his guns to carry and taking my little sister would carry her to the camp and wrap us in this serape and kindle a fire for us. He bought some calico dress materials for each of us.”
"His care for you was a subject of much joking by Mr. Ogden,” said Mary.
“How long was it before the authorities started dealing with the offenders?”
“Joe Stanfield was convicted of theft and sentenced to be sent to General Gilliam to be punished as thought proper. But before that could happen, General Gilliam died so Joe escaped. I heard that he died in the California gold mines in '49 or '50.
Mary added, “Mrs. Saunders said Joe was a French Canadian of a very common type. However
he rendered much needed services to the captives during our month. Mrs. Stanfield called him a necessary evil. But she was very glad she didn't have to marry him.”
“And what do you know about the volunteers who went out to find the murderers?”
“A regiment of volunteers went off to seek justice including Perrin Whitman, (as translator) Mr. Canfield, and half breed Tom McKay who I mentioned before was the one who Father Whitman
had thought to sell Waiilatpu to,” put in Catherine.
“He knew them well because he had escorted the Whitman party to Walla Walla, way back in '36. Also there were a company of French Canadians whose presence, plus that of Tom McKay were most upsetting to the Cayuse, who never dreamed that the half breeds would take up arms against them,” said Elizabeth.
I said that I was sorry that Matilda had not been able to come to Prineville, so that I could meet her.
“She did send me a letter for you,” said Elizabeth. “It is rather long. She has gone into great detail
about her later life, which probably is of no interest to you at all.”
“No, quite the contrary,” I said. “I would be very interested to read it.”
So I perused the letter, which was many pages long, and skipped over the bits that she mentioned that was just repeating what the others had said. Then I came to this bit, so read it aloud.
“During the summer when the Indians went to the buffalo grounds, we were alone and we looked forward to the coming of the immigrants as one of the great events of our life. Sometimes in the summer we went bathing in the river. We would get the Indian girls to teach us to swim. Once, Missionary and Mrs. Eels came down with a girl by the name of Emma who went in bathing with us but she couldn't swim and the current swept her down the river. She caught on an overhanging bush
and an Indian took her out of the river and put a blanket around her. We always called that 'Emma's place.' “
I continued reading until I found another bit that hadn't come up before.
“We used to go to the Indian lodges sometimes. Father would talk to them about the Bible and on a few occasions we were invited to a feast where they ate with big horn spoons. Once a year the Indians went to the buffalo hunting grounds and came back with jerked or dried meat which we enjoyed very much. They also gathered huckleberries in the Blue Mountains and we bought and dried large quantities of berries for our own use.
“Once Mother sent me to the river for water and I became badly frightened. I raced to the house and tried to tell how this queer animal acted and how I felt; they thought it was some wild animal and my brother went down with his gun, to find it was only a huge toad.
“We didn't have any shoes in those days - we went barefooted. In the winter we had moccasins, but they were not much protection. Our dresses for winter were made of what was called baize-cloth, and in summer, our dresses were of hickory shirting.
“The morning of the 29th of November, '47, was a dark, dreary day. When I came downstairs I went into the kitchen where Father was sitting by the cook stove broiling steak for breakfast. I went and put my arms around his neck and kissed him and said, 'Good morning, Father. I have had such a bad dream and I woke frightened.'
“ 'What was it?'
"I dreamed that the Indians killed you and a lot of others."
“ 'That was a bad dream, but I hope it will not occur.'
I then skipped quite a chunk of repeated material but I found a bit with more details about John Sager's death, so I read that out loud. This was after the school children had been brought down from the loft.
“Joe Lewis said to me, 'Where do you want to go?'
“I said, 'I want to go to the kitchen where John is.'
“He replied, 'John is dead and the rest of them.'
“I said, 'I don't believe it, for he was there when I went down at recess.' But he took my hand and the rest of us followed with the Indians bringing up the rear. When we went into the kitchen, the dead
body of John laid on the floor and his blood had run and made a stream of dark, congealed crimson. He laid on his back with one arm thrown up and back and the other outstretched and the twine still
around his knees. It appeared as if he had been hit and just slipped out of the chair he was sitting on.
'We children all sat down in terror on the settle that was near the cook stove. The kettle
of meat had been put on to cook for dinner and was still on the stove. Joe Lewis took a piece out and cut it up, put it on the lid of the kettle and said, 'You children haven't had any dinner,' and
passed it to us, but none of us could eat.
“We were weeping over the slain when Joe came and told us to stop that noise; that they were dead and it would do them no good, and if the Indians saw us crying they would be mad. We must never show that we cared. He took up his evening chores. He fed and watered the stock, milked the cows and carried the milk to the pantry where he poured it into Mrs. Whitman's separator pans, just as always.
“The room was full of Indians and they would point their guns at us, saying 'Shall we shoot?' and then flourish their tomahawks at our defenseless heads. One of them, Klokamus, had on John's straw hat that he had braided from straw cut from wild grass one summer when he was working for Rev. Spalding. The pantry was being plundered by the squaws. Joe went into the living room and into a large wooden chest in which Mother kept her choice clothing and keepsakes; he came out with five nice, fancy gauze kerchiefs of different colors, made to wear with a medium low-necked dress. He gave them to the Chief and the headmen that were in the room.”
She then describes the killing of Mrs. Whitman. I see no reason to repeat that all again. But here is something new from after the children had been taken to the Emigrants' House.
“Tuesday morning we were given muslin to make sheets to wrap the dead in and Wednesday morning Joe and the women helped to cover and sew the dead in these sheets. He had dug a long trench about three feet deep and six feet long; then all the bodies were put in a wagon and hurried to the grave. They were all piled up like dead animals in the wagon bed. A runaway occurred and scattered some of the bodies along the road and they had to be picked up.”
I then skipped over a few bits, and then started reading again.
“During the time of the parley small bands of Indians were constantly passing the Mission, going to and from the place of treaty-making. One party in passing thought to play a joke on those who were guarding us and shot off their guns, making quite a commotion and causing our captors to think that the Boston men were at hand. They began to grab up some of the children to kill them; one caught me up and started to thrust a tomahawk into my brains. Just then the Indians outside began laughing and the brutes, on murder bent, concluded the noise was all a joke and did not hurt any of us.
“After we were rescued and had been some time on our way, an Indian woman came out of her lodge and motioned for us to go fast - and we did! It seemed that some of the Indians regretted their bargain and wanted to take us all prisoners again. I was in the last wagon to arrive. Before we left the Mission Mrs. Saunders had told one of the chiefs that the Doctor's children had no clothes - that everything was gone. 'No clothes, no blankets, no nothing,' so he went over to the other house and brought a comforter and gave that to my oldest sister and gave me a thin quilt and my other sister a blanket or quilt. My quilt got afire on our trip down the river and most of it was burned. The chief also got us a few undergarments of Mothers.
“Finally we were taken to Portland. Some of the volunteers were on the bank of the Willamette river and the Governor was also standing there as we rowed up. Mr. Ogden said to him, 'Here are the prisoners and now I will turn them over to you. I have done all I could.' He also asked that we be taken to Oregon City, which was agreed upon and later done.
“I remember going to Dr. McLaughlin's house in Oregon City. Mr. John MIx Stanley had a room there and was painting portraits and he came to take us down to see his pictures. He wanted to paint my picture, but I was entirely too timid and would not let him. I liked looking at his pictures on the walls including one of the mission." (shown above)
I decided to leave the rest of Matilda's letter, which described her later life for my own perusal later. Before long, I left, thanking them all for their help in my research and promising that I would keep in touch, and provide them with the finished article when my book was published.
I have just read through my notes from my trip. I know that I must make an effort to put them into order, and make it chronological with a plan of how I am going to present all the information. However, with having taken so much time off work to do my travelling, I find now what I am lacking is spare time to do this. My daughter is urging me to get on with it while the information is fresh in my mind, but it is harder than it seems to make these notes into book form.
I suppose I might summarize my understanding of the situation by saying that I feel that the massacre was well thought out and planned over several months – nothing spur of the moment
about it at all. The other Indians knew that it was planned, and many tried to warn Dr. Whitman, but he was too confident in his own importance to the Indians to think that they would actually kill him.
But in his confidence, he didn't perhaps think sufficiently of those who would be taken with him. He perhaps should have foreseen that killing him would create havoc for many more than his family and the Indians.
The Indians themselves did not consider sufficiently the long lasting effects of their actions. Perhaps they had no experience with the sort of retribution that might have been expected when they took it upon themselves to kill an important well known white man. The Cayuse tribe more or less created their own long term demise. That their place is history should be limited to those thoughtless
actions of a few – which although perhaps not sanctioned by the majority – were allowed by the majority to take place. Strong Indian leadership at the critical time surely would have made a
difference to the outcome.
Enough for now. I am pleased that I took on this adventure – and hope that before long I will have written my book.
This book is intended to give a summary of the happenings at the Whitman Massacre in November '47, and the stories of those who were involved in it. Masses of information have already been written on this subject, including the stories of many of those involved, including John Quincy Adams Young. His book was published in 1888, and does not go into great detail of the massacre, just
mentions his and his family's role in the happenings of the time. I have tried to keep this book, which is fictionalized, as factual as possible. However, there are many slightly different versions of what
happened, and why it happened, so I have tried to represent these in as fair a way as I can. I have tried to use the exact words of the various people involved, but have sometimes changed the spellings and punctuation – especially with Eliza Warren. Occasionally I have given the words of one person to another, but only if it seemed logical to do so.
Most of the people who I mentioned in the book did write of their experience, but long after it happened, when they were old people – after a huge publicity campaign followed the 50th anniversary of the Massacre.