We Who Survived - 8 Meeting in Astoria - continued
“We had to work for the Indians. Dr. Whitman had two or three hundred bushels of onions and potatoes, and so on, in his cellar, and we youngsters had to pick, sort and stack them. Then the squaws carried them away to their village, three miles away.”
“I remember all that work we were forced to do, but we did have some fun too. I can remember singing and playing games, even with the Indian children. After all, it wasn't their fault,” put in Susan.
“Two days, I think it was, after the massacre, the Indians brought the benches out of the schoolhouse, placed them along in a row, and strung us youngsters along them. In front us stood a lot of Indians, armed and ready to shoot us. While they were holding a council to determine whether they would kill us all or keep us as prisoners, believing they were going to kill us sure, I whispered to my chum and told him I guessed they were going to kill us and we had better run. He said `all right’, and I told him when I squeezed his hand we would make a break. We had to run about one hundred yards to get into a patch of cane, but we had to jump the mill race to get there.
“Well, we reached the cane and kept running for about two hours before we stopped. When we started some of the Indians shot at us, but missed us; but my cap received a bullet hole, which bullet also grazed my head. Night coming on, we lay down to sleep, and almost froze. I remember we would spoon up to each other, and when we got so cold that way we could stand it not
longer we would flop over. Thus passed the night. In the morning three Indians came upon us while we were lying there. We were going to run again, but they grabbed us and told us they wouldn't hurt us, because we were big men and got away from the big Indians, and for us to come with them and they would give us something to eat. When we ran we ran in a circle, and when we laid down for the night we were more than three hundred yards from where we entered the cane.
“One night, about 10 o’clock, one of the women came to my chum and me and told us that Tomahas, an Indian, was trying to get her to go with him to his lodge, and she was afraid he would force her to go. She wanted us to go to the Indian village, about three miles away, and get a Frenchman, an interpreter, and bring him to her. The interpreter’s name was Niquilau.
“His other name was Nicholas Finley,” added Susan.”He was a good man. We did not feel much
fear when he was near.”
“After the massacre the Indians would come from their village to the mission, three, four and five at
a time, and by noon there would be two or three hundred at the mission. By evening they would go again to their village. This evening they had almost all gone except this old Indian. After a good
deal of coaxing, we consented to go, and we started. It was a bright moonlight night. When we got nearly there, we heard horses coming, and we ran into a large tract of cane, hid and waited for them to pass. There was a band of about a dozen Indians. After they had passed by we again started on our way, and my chum fell down and I lost him. After searching and waiting for him, not daring to call
out for him, I went on alone and came to the village.
“It seemed to me there were a thousand dogs all yelping at once. However, as luck would have
it, the first person I saw was an Indian girl. She was about my own age, and could talk some English. I said to her: `Sixtowa?’ - in her language `How do you do?’ She replied in English: `How do you do?’ I asked her where Niquilau lived, and she said for me to come with her and she took me to his lodge. When he learned what I wanted he put on his coat and we started back. When we came to where I lost my chum we halloed for him, and after a while he came to us. He said he was completely lost. Well, we then went on, and soon arrived at the mission, and found the devil still there trying to get the woman to go with him. Niquilau made him leave at once. That same
Indian, with four others, was hung at Oregon City afterwards.
“About a week after this an Indian came to me and wanted me to go and live with him. He said he would give me a lot of horses and a girl for a wife. As I was only thirteen years old I concluded I was rather young to have a wife. The next day he came again and brought his girl to show her to me, and she turned out to be the same girl who had shown me where Niquilau lived.”
“You had a lucky escape,” said Augustus.
“There was another brute there by the name of Joe Stanfield. When the massacre commenced he went through the houses plundering and breaking open trunks and taking whatever he could find of value. Father had a silver watch hung on a nail on the wall. He grabbed it in such a hurry that he left the ring of the watch still on the wall. After we got down to Oregon City some of the women had him arrested for some of his devilment up at the mission. While in court he made an excuse to go out, but the sheriff kept a sly eye on him. He saw him digging in the ground with his fingers, and after his return to the courtroom the sheriff went out and examined the place where he had dug and found the watch and some money. It was father’s watch, and mother, being in court, identified it at once.”
“Tell about Mrs. Hays,” said Mina.
“While at the mission before the massacre Joe got sweet on a widow named Hays, but she despised him and would have nothing to do with him. So he rigged a scheme to compel her to marry him. He said she would have to make this promise or be killed, for he claimed he had saved her life by telling the Indians that she was his wife and that he had married her just before the massacre. She was compelled to make a solemn vow that she would marry him as soon as we got down to Oregon City. But when we arrived at Oregon City she told him she would scald him if he ever got near enough for her to do so. He was a French-Canadian.
“Some time about the middle of December the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Walla Walla bought us from the Indians. They paid the ransom in blankets, tobacco and other stuff which delights the savage eye. It was agreed that the company should pay half down and the rest on our delivery at the fort. After receiving the first payment the Indians were not going to let us go, but two or three friendly chiefs helped us to get away. I drove the team that carried our family. It was a tough trip. We hurried too much at the start, and our teams nearly gave out before we got there. While on the journey Beardy would ride up and lay his whip on the oxen and say to me: `Hom tits, muchus cocol, ’ He was telling me to hurry up the oxen.
“We arrived at the fort about 5 o’clock in the evening. Just in sight about three hundred Indians
after us, but we got into the fort too soon for them. You know the rest.
“None escaped who did not have to mourn a father, a brother, a relative or some friend. We lost about everything we had and arrived in Oregon City destitute.”
“Even though I was pretty small,” said Sarah, “I remember quite clearly the trip across the plains
and many incidents of the massacre. I remember Father and Mother, after two years of hard work preparatory to that trip, making clothes and getting together some fine brood stock and cattle, arms and ammunition and all manner of essential supplies.
“The Indians then robbed us of everything valuable and insisted that mother had money and demanded it of her. Mother and Susan had all of $1,500 in their belts carried by them across the plains in that fashion."
After all those gruesome details, I didn't think the women could take much more so I decided to call a halt to the proceedings.
“Thank you all for sharing those memories. I think maybe it would be just as well if we called it a
day. Thank you all again so much for your hospitality and the wonderful meal. Perhaps we can meet again at breakfast before we head back,” I said.
We had a pleasant night's sleep, as the fresh sea and the good food and drink sent us quickly to sleep. The next morning, we who had spent the night there and the Meglars met in the breakfast
“Why don't you tell us a bit more about what happened to your family, Mr. Canfield,” said Susan.
“We made our trip out in 47 and when we got out to this area, Dr. Whitman hired father as a
blacksmith. School had been closed because of the measles. Mr. Kimball, Hoffman and our father were dressing a beef. Father went out to get a bucket of water. When came in he said, "There are more Indians about than usual. Maybe it's because a beef has just been killed. Anyway, it wasn't long after that when it all started, " said Oscar.
“You know our father was shot in the hip, but managed to seclude himself in the old adobe house. He got a warning that we was due to be killed in the morning so bidding adieu to his hiding place, started immediately on foot for Mr. Spalding's mission at Lapwai in Idaho Territory.
“Later, Father joined the volunteers and went back for the purpose of punishing the Indians and
to drive them from their reservation, which was accomplished, and they returned to Oregon City, and the company disbanded on July 1, '48.
“In March 49, we took passage on a sailing vessel for San Francisco. We stayed there for about a year and he had various jobs and then moved to Sonoma City to his present estate of five hundred acres, and became a farmer.
“You maybe remember our sister Clara,” said Albert. “She married an Englishman from Manchester
called James Knowles and when he landed he had but twenty cents in his pocket. But he worked hard and saved everything. He purchased a ranch of eleven hundred and twenty-five acres. They had one child, William Henry Knowles, whose recently got married to Mattie Field. They are also thinking of getting into the hotel business, so I will give him your address, for advice, if I may, Mr. Wirt and Mr. Megler.”
“Yes, of course, please do,” said Augustus.
“What are your main memories of those times, John?”
“Going down the Columbia in mid-winter in open boats, with only blankets and our scanty clothing
on our backs, and a very few personal possessions. All our cattle, oxen, and wagons were confiscated or, in other words, stolen from us by the Indians in the camp.”
“What is your best memory of your trip out?” asked one of the wives.
“From Grande Ronde we passed over the Blue Mountains. I never saw anything that would equal these mountains in beautiful scenery. Such timber! Pine, fir and larch, all straight and handsome; very little underbrush, with grass growing all through the timber as high as your shoulder. As we came out on the western side of the mountains, we saw the Umatilla River wandering away towards the great Columbia, fully five hundred feet below us. Looking away west one hundred and sixty miles, we saw for the first time the grand old monarch, Mount Hood, with snow-capped top
glittering in the sun. (pictured above) We thought of the children of Israel looking over Jordan from the mountains into the Promised Land.
“As we camped that evening on the Umatilla River, Dr. Whitman, came into our camp and his talk
encouraged us very much. He told us of the best route to The Dalles and seemed to take a great interest in the migration to this country. When a party had been traveling five or six months through dust and sagebrush, with their teams tired out, their clothes worn out, their pocket books rubbed very thin, and their patience about exhausted, a few words of encouragement and cheer from one they know they can trust is like oil poured on the troubled waters. It seemed to give us new life. And I guess I already told you the rest of it.”
“Tell me, Augustus,” I said. “Did you have adventures on your way out here too?”
“We came out in '44 with the large crowd of 200 wagons. There was little harassment by Indians, due caution was observed. Nightly, the wagons were drawn up to make a corral, and when a band of Indians was seen, the same movement was effected. Occasionally as many as 200 mounted savages at a time came up, but never made an attack on the solid little fortress. They were treated
kindly and we gave them tobacco, or trinkets. One buck coveted a powder horn, and on one occasion killed an ox, but such an offence was not repeated.”
“Did you come across Dr. Whitman on your way?” I asked.
“I remember his as a tall slender man of pleasant manner and great force. I took a canoe ride with him from Oregon City to Vancouver in 44 during which we talked of the Indians and danger of massacre. The doctor said that his life was often threatened but he believed that with a bold front there was no real danger.”
Soon it was time to go. We reached the launch area, and were helped into the boat by Joel Munson. “Thank you all so much for your hospitality, and for sharing your experiences with me,” I said. The others echoed their thanks as well.
“Don't forget to send us a copy of your book when it's printed,” said Susan. “And now you know
where we are, you are very welcome to come back and see us again.”