We Who Survived - 2 - Catherine Sager Pringle
Catherine Sager Pringle
March 25, 1880
I have just received this letter from Catherine Sager Pringle, which is quite encouraging. She was the eldest of the four Sagers who survived the massacre - two were killed by the Indians and one died of measles. Their parents had died en route to Oregon, in 1844, and they were taken to the Whitman Mission with the request that the Whitmans care for them, which they did, even officially
Salem, Oregon Territory
March 20, 1880
Dear Mr. Young,
I do remember you and was astounded to get your letter, and must say that it put me in quite a quandary about how to reply. About 1854 I wrote an account of our family's journey west. I hoped
to earn enough money to set up an orphanage in the memory of our adopted mother, Mrs. Narcissa Whitman. I never found a publisher.
Part of me would like to help you with your book, and part of me feels that I have already said all I want to say about my experiences with the Whitman Massacre, and my life from then on, is nobody's business but mine and my family's. We were very annoyed by the numbers of newspaper men who chased us around and tried to get our stories from us, all those years ago. I see no real purpose in dragging all of that up again. As far as coming to visit me, you would be very welcome. My sister Mrs. Elizabeth Helm is not too far away, in Prineville, while Mrs. Mary Marsh Cason lives in Spray, which is within a day's travel time.
I have sent letters to my sisters, Elizabeth and Matilda, and I must say that they are much more enthused about your idea that I was. They have agreed that you can be given their addresses, as have the Canfields who live in California, not far from the Saunders family in Sacramento. Matilda lives in the very north part of California, over 250 miles away, but she visits me occasionally, so perhaps we could encourage her to come when you were likely to be here.
So to deal with that aspect of your enquiry first off, here are the addresses of those who have agreed that you might write to them:
My sister Elizabeth married in 1855 to William Fletcher Helm, a pioneer of '45. They live in
Prineville, Oregon and have nine children. William is a farmer.
My sister Mrs. Matilda Fultz had been widowed but she and her new husband Matthew currently live in Henley, Sisiyon County, California with their three children, and her five children from her
previous marriage. Her husband is a farmer too.
Our other sister, Henrietta Naomi, died in 1869 when she was only 25. She was the one born on the trail, originally called Rosanna, and never knew our real parents at all. We changed her name
when we joined the Whitmans, in honor of our parents - Henry and Naomi. So Mrs. Whitman was the only mother she knew, and then Henrietta stayed with the Morgan Kees family for three years until I was married and after that I took care of her most of the time. Her story is a rather sad one. She left this area with our Uncle Solomon Sager and his troupe of entertainers who came here to visit us, and she went to work in his circus which was mostly family members, but we did not like the idea one bit. We had very little contact with her after that as she moved around a great deal.
She married twice, and both men were not very nice people, and in the end, she was shot by mistake in a gun fight, where the target was her husband.
Mrs. Mary Marsh Cason lives in Spray, Oregon, with her husband James, who is quite an important man in the area. They have even named the nearby canyon after him. She has agreed that you
might write to her.
I have corresponded with Mr. Oscar Canfield, who was eight at the time of the Massacre, and he has agreed to give you his address. He now resides with his wife Cynthia in Spokane Prarie, Kootenai, Idaho Territory. We met up with him on one occasion when he came back to search out the Indian who helped his father. He is a gold miner, and has had some success, I understand. His sister
Clarissa, who was seven at the time, lives with her husband James Knowles (he is an Englishman) and their son William in Ocean, California. Their sister Sylvia died in California while still a
child, and their older sister, Ellen, who was 16 at the time of the massacre, is also now dead. Their parents William and Sallie Canfield are both still alive and live in Analy, Sonoma, California. Their
youngest brother, Albert and his wife Matilda also live in that area, so one letter to the rest of them might be a simple solution for you. I don't know if you are familiar with that area, but Sonoma County is just on the coast due west of Sacramento, about 600 miles from Portland.
If you wish, I will attempt to find out the addresses of some of the others involved, and seek their permission for you to write to them. This may take some while, as I am not sure of where
several of them live. I can tell you now that I have no idea where the Manson brothers are, although I expect it is somewhere in Canada.
There are the Halls, the Osbornes, and the Kimballs and Eliza Spalding Warren. Mrs. Lorinda Bewley Chapman lives in Sheridan, Yamhill County.
As far as my opinion as to the cause of the massacre, I can tell you that the Whitmans did nothing but good for the Indians, and that is how they were treated by those they had faithfully served. They might not all have pulled the triggers or struck with tomahawks, but all the Indians knew what was happening, and very few of them did anything to prevent it.
There were some good Indians among the Cayuse, and some of them like Beardy and Stickus did their best for us in those trying days. Even Chief Tiloukaikt (which means Act of Lightning) who was
very involved in the killing of Father Whitman, later bitterly regretted what he had done, and did his best to help us out during the days of the captivity. And with the Cayuse War and the hangings,
most of those responsible have paid for their sins, but that doesn't bring anyone back. I try not to be bitter and angry, but I find it hard.
It may have happened 33 years ago, but all those emotions are still very much apart of my brain and although I can see in a way why it happened, that doesn't make me want to forgive and forget those brutal men who took such pleasure in their killing. And the worst of the bunch, the half breed, Joe Lewis, escaped justice, although I understand that he now is dead, as the result of a robbery
gone wrong. But he lived for 15 years untouched by the law, when he was the real cause of it all.
I will be interested to hear what you and your parents and brother are doing now. Let me know in good time if you wish to visit me so I can arrange for some of the others to be here. I would
suggest late fall, as most of us are farmers and have little spare time in the spring and summer.
I have enclosed a copy of one of my lectures – about when we first arrived at the Whitmans. I hope it will be of some use to you. Do let me know if you require more information from me