1853 Military and Cultural Report
"Affairs of the Department of the Pacific," pp. 330-415. In U. S. House. 35th Congress, 2d Session. Annual Message from the President and Report of the War Department, 1858 (H.Ex.Doc.2, Vol. 2, Pt. 2). Washington: James B. Steedman, Printer, 1858. (Serial Set 998). Report of Brevet Major Benjamin Alvord, Concerning the Indians in the Territories of Oregon and Washington, East of the Cascade Mountains, pp. 10-22.
Report of Brevet Major Benjamin Alvord, captain 4th infantry, commanding at Dalles of the Columbia, Oregon, concerning the Indians in the Territories of Oregon and Washington, east of the Cascade mountains, made pursuant to the orders of Brevet Brigadier General E. A. Hitchcock; commanding Pacific division, dated San Francisco, California, February 7, 1853.
I propose to give first such information as I have been able to procure which might be regarded as of a military character, such as commanders are directed to obtain by paragraph No. 86 of the army regulations.
As I am required to make a report concerning the Indian tribes within the range of my duties, I shall extend it to those residing in the two territories east of the Cascade mountains, there being no other military post in this region.
The Nez PercÚs Indians have about five hundred warriors, and have always been friendly to the Americans. They are mostly armed with the Hudson Bay Company rifle. Their country is about two hundred and fifty miles east northeast from this post, extending from the mouth of Salmon river to the mouth of the Pelouse, and eastward to the St. Mary's mountains, a lofty range separating them from the Flatheads. These mountains are so high and difficult to traverse that, within the memory of men of the Nez PercÚs now living, they had never crossed it. They were a half century ago more inclined to move towards the Columbia for fish, and did not cross eastward to hunt for buffaloes, until they began to own horses. They and the Bonacks are and always have been enemies, and they obtained their horses first from the Bonacks in war towards the latter end of the last century. They now fight on horseback, own fine horses, and frequently have to go to war against the Blackfeet, who cross the Rocky mountains and make marauding and hostile incursions upon the neighboring tribes in Oregon. Though they are brave and active warriors, the Nez PercÚs boast, with the Choctaws, that they have never shed the blood of white men. They refused to join the Cayuse in the war of 1847 against the whites. When large bribes, in the shape of scores of horses were sent to their chiefs by the Cayuse, to induce them to join in the war, those stern and steadfast old chiefs firmly and indignantly refused the tempting offer. They merit, in every sense, the kind consideration of the government of the United States.
The Cayuse speak the language of the Nez PercÚs and have much intercourse with them, but are by no means as friendly to the whites. They reside mostly on the Umatilla, one hundred and twenty miles east of this post, claiming an extent of country (large in proportion to their present reduced numbers) from the Willow creek on the southwest to the Blue mountains, and including the Grande Ronde, and northward to within fifteen miles of Fort Walla-Walla. They have about one hundred warriors, one half of whom are slaves of Shasta and Walla-Walla extraction. The tribe has been much reduced by the measles and other diseases, and contains but fifty pure Cayuse warriors. They are rich, owning large herds of horses and cattle, are good horsemen and are warlike in their disposition. Two-thirds of the remnant of this tribe are descendants of chief families, and are, therefore, haughty, disdain labor, have many slaves, and, like the modern Poles, their people are all nobles.
For the murder of Dr. Whitman and others, at the Presbyterian mission, in November, 1847, they suffered severely in the war which ensued in the summer of 1848, and five of the murderers were afterwards executed.
They are exceedingly fearful of being dispossessed, by force, of their lands, but are likely to remain at peace with the Americans, unless such forcible settlement of their country should be attempted.
The Yakimas live eighty miles north-northeast of this port, on the Yakima river, which empties into the Columbia on its right bank, just above Fort Walla-Walla. They are made up of different bands, and number in all about fifteen hundred souls, and have about three hundred and fifty warriors. They are well armed with Hudson Bay Company rifle; are rich, proud, haughty, and cannot be considered friendly to the Americans, though they may make many professions of friendship. They speak the language of the Walla-Wallas, but are not on very good terms with these Indians. They sympathize rather with the Cayuse, and would be likely to join them in case of war. They are well supplied with horses and cattle. Their country will interest the whites soon, as the new road which, according to a recent act of Congress, is to be cut from Puget's Sound to Fort Walla, will doubtless pass through the valley of the Yakima.
The Walla-Wallas border upon the Cayuse, and occupy the country around Fort Walla-Walla, upon the south bank of the Columbia. They number about eight hundred souls, or two hundred and fifty warriors. They and the Cayuse have lost so many children by measles, that the number of warriors, in comparison with the whole number of souls, is large. They are much under the influence of the Hudson Bay Company, and are friendly to the whites. They are warlike, are well armed, and own a large number of fine horses and cattle. They are not on very friendly terms with the Cayuse, refusing to join them in the war of 1847. The aversion of the Nez PercÚs and Walla-Wallas to join certain other tribes in any war [u]pon the whites, is an important fact in estimating the state of Indian affairs in this region.
In the immediate neighborhood of this port are the Waskows, on the left bank of the Columbia, three hundred souls in number; the Wishrans, on the right bank, one hundred and fifty in number, and the Des Chutes, three hundred in number. The latter speak the Walla-Walla language, and live on the river Des Chutes.. The Waskows, Wishrans those around the Cascades and the Clackamas Indians, near Oregon city, all speak the same language.
Many Molales and other Indians, perhaps five hundred, are found south of this on the upper Des Chutes. They are wanderers from the body of the tribe whose proper haunts are west of the Cascade mountains. They speak the same language as the Cayuse, and would sympathize with that people in war.
The Flathead Indians occupy the country between the St. Mary's mountains and the Rocky mountains a large portion live in the valley of the Bitter Root or St Mary's river. They have about seventy warriors, and, like the Nez PercÚs, are a brave, noble, and intelligent race, and have always been friendly to the whites. Though called Flatheads, it is a misnomer; the name properly belongs to the Walla-Wallas, Waskows, and other tribes. But these have gradually given up the barbarous custom of flattening the head of their infants, once regarded as a mark of beauty. The Flatheads are subjected annually to the hostile incursions of the Blackfeet, who, residing east of the Rocky mountains, are at war with all the surrounding tribes.
The Spokanes, Pend d' Oreilles, Cur de' Alenes, Colville, and Okanagan Indians, together with other tribes, all living north of the Nez PercÚs, number about two thousand five hundred souls, and are generally friendly to the whites. The Snakes occupy from the Wind river chain of the Rocky mountains to the neighborhood of Fort Hall. Near the South Pass they have been very friendly to the emigrants, as also the richer Indians of the same tribe in the vicinity of Fort Hall. But many of them are poor and degraded "Root-diggers;" own no horses, and often live by stealth. They speak the same language as the Comanches. The Snakes claim to be the original tribe, (I know not with what truth,) and that the Comanches left them and emigrated southeasterly into the large prairies towards the Arkansas. According to their traditions, no buffalo ever ranged west of the Rocky mountains, and their migration was made to get into the buffalo country. They number about fifteen hundred souls, a few horses, and are armed with the Hudson Bay Company rifle.
The Bonacks speak a different language from the Snakes, with whom they are often confounded. They occupy from the Snake country, near Fort Hall, down the Snake river to the Grande Ronde, and westwardly towards Klamath lake. They are generally poor, distressed Indians; they hardly ever kill any game, and live chiefly on salmon. The Klamath Indians, on the lake of that name, are properly Bonacks.
The Root Diggers are the most degraded portions of the Snake and Bonack tribes. The Snake and Bonack Indians appear to be often at war with the Nez PercÚs, Cayuse, and other Indians in this part of Oregon.
The great body of the Oregon Indians have always been remarkably friendly to the whites. When Lewis and Clarke crossed the Rocky mountains in 1805, and entered the Nez PercÚs country, they received the new comers with open arms, and have since remained undeviatingly friendly to the Americans. When, about eight years later, the parties of Astor entered the mouth of the Columbia for the purposes of trade, the Chinooks received the Americans in the kindest manner. After that date the Hudson Bay Company commenced its establishment in Oregon, which was facilitated by the pacific and tractable character of the majority of the natives.
As yet the government of the United States has done nothing for any of these Indians. They have received no schools, ploughs, blacksmiths or vaccination. Many elements of improvement have been implanted by the missionaries, especially among the Nez PercÚs and Waskows. It is to be hoped that definite arrangements will be made with all these Indians, and that the Indian title to the land will be extinguished by treaty before further settlements are made. The President, by the act of Congress of 5th June, 1850, was authorized to commence negotiations to extinguish the Indian title to lands west of the Cascade mountains. As many of the whites are now settling among them upon the bare sufferance of the Indians, and intrusions are likely to lead to collision and bloodshed, I trust that Congress will speedily authorize the President to open negotiations with any of the tribes east of the Cascade mountains at any time he may consider that it would be conducive to the public good. But such attempts at negotiations should not be made except where their lands are wanted for the progress of the white settlements. It is now desirable that the Indian title should be extinguished in the vicinity of the Cascades, and also of the Dalles, and on the Columbia river between those points, leaving to the Indians liberal reservations. It is to be regretted that the treaties negotiated three years since with the tribes west of the Cascade mountains were such as not to be confirmed by the Senate. The Indians in this vicinity do not understand these long delays, and, bordering upon California, whose gold mines are often visited by them, they fear that they may share the fate of those of the Willamette valley, or of their red brethren in California. The old Spanish and Mexican laws did not recognize in the Indians the right of property in the soil; but the organic law of the 5th July, 1845, of the provisional government of Oregon, and the act of Congress of the 14th August, 1848, creating the territorial government of Oregon, fully recognize those rights. It is to be hoped that negotiations to extinguish the Indian title will be commenced in time to prevent collisions, which are even now threatened by the large immigrations into Oregon. All these Indians are fond of money, and, with good management, it will therefore be easy eventually to negotiate for the purchase of their lands. Their traffic in horses and cattle and provisions with the emigrants have made some of them rich, and taught all the value of money. In treating, small reservations should be left to the Indians, especially in their salmon fisheries, which are of prime necessity to them. In the northeastern part of Washington Territory, east of the Columbia river, is a tract which it may be desirable to reserve entirely as an Indian territory.
The boundary line of the new Territory of Washington, the latitude of forty-six degrees north runs through the heart of the Walla-Walla and Nez PercÚs country, and the governor of that Territory is superintendent of Indian affairs within its limits. The superintendent of Indian affairs in Oregon remains in charge of the southern half of those tribes. It will be perceived that the whole region east of the Cascade range to the Rocky mountains should be placed under one superintendent.
Concerning the manners and customs, the superstitions, etc., of the Indians in Oregon
The instructions of the General request that the report shall embrace information concerning "their kind of government; their customs at marriages, births, deaths, and funerals; their mode of living as to houses or shelter, food and raiment; a description of their agriculture and other arts, if any; their traffic; their modes of punishment; their superstitions, rites, and ceremonies; their amusements, dances, ball-plays, if any; their domestic animals, if any; the general features of the country they inhabit, rivers and mountains; the proportion of arable land, the natural products, the game," &c., &c.
To give anything satisfactory upon some of these topics, would require the observation of years and the record of long volumes. It will be in vain for me to attempt to fill up such a programme. I shall select a few prominent heads, to give briefly what I have gathered during the few months which I have passed in the country; also premising that, at this remote post, I have not access to various works upon Oregon which would enable me to avoid the repetition of items already set forth by former travellers.
On the following points, upon which I shall endeavor to give some information, the manners and customs of all these tribes are generally altogether similar; I have enjoyed the best opportunities of learning the characteristics of the Nez PercÚs and Waskows, but they apply, with slight variations, to nearly all the Indians in the Territory. Concerning the former, I have derived much information from Mr. William Craig, long a resident among them.
The murdering of their doctors, and mode of initiation to the order of medicine men. The form of government is patriarchal. They acknowledge the hereditary principle. Blood generally decides who shall be the chief.
It is the same among the Nez PercÚs with the medicine men. They are a distinct order in the tribe, and inherit the position from father to son.
With the Cayuse, Walla-Wallas, and Waskows, the candidates for medicine are not always sons of a doctor. With them any child of the tribe may be trained for the office. A universal belief prevails among all the tribes that the medicine man possesses wonderful faculties of conjuration, and a god-like power of killing those against whom he shall hurl his direful charms or glances. His mere look, if inimical to the victim, can kill. They will hide or avert their heads in his presence to escape his glances. Such is the fixed faith of these poor Indians, and I have had occasion to witness frequent instances among the Waskows in my immediate vicinity. If once possessed with the idea that they are subjected to the dire frown of their medicine man, they droop and pine away, often refuse to eat, and die of starvation and melancholy, if not of necromancy thus confirming and verifying, with their neighbors, a belief that this portentous power is actually possessed.
The natural consequence of such deep-seated faith in these powers is, that when a death occurs it is often attributed to the doctor, who is murdered by the relations of the deceased to avenge the fate of the victim. All the murders which I can hear of among them occur in this manner, and three doctors have been killed in the last four months in different tribes, within the distance of forty miles of this post. It is therefore a perilous as well as a powerful and honored craft, but perhaps this very danger operates, as with the soldier, to give additional fascination to the profession. Certain it is, that I cannot learn that the custom of killing the doctors, in any tribe, has operated to deter the novitiate from entering the profession.
I will now describe the process by which the novitiates receive their call, and are initiated into their order. As before stated, the position of medicine man is often inherited, running in families from father to son. Some daughters are also trained to the profession. But the female doctors (or sorceresses) are not so much feared, have not the same power over life and death, and are not murdered and held to such strict responsibility as the male doctors. But it seems that not all his children receive a call, but a mode is adopted in their early youth to determine which shall be the favored ones.
Children who are candidates are sent out, when they arrive at eight or ten years old, to sleep by themselves on the ground or in a lodge, there to await communications or visitations from their good spirit, (or Taminoise.) This spirit appears in the shape of a bear, eagle, c[o]yote, buffalo, or some wild bird or animal. If the child, when he returns in the morning, has heard nothing, he is sent back again, and (if bent on making him a candidate) they will continue to send him day after day to sleep alone in this way, and he is often made to fast the whole time, until he is worried into believing or asserting that he has had some wonderful visitor in his sleep in the shape of the spirit of some animal. He will tell to some medicine character what he has heard and seen, who will instruct him that, when he is in want of anything, he must call on that spirit (or good genius) to assist him in all his undertakings. This seals his character as being destined to the profession, but until grown up they do not act as doctors. Long fasting and stoicism under it is regarded as an essential part of the process. With the Waskows, of the boy when sent out to sleep by himself, should on his return ask for food, he is looked upon as utterly unfit for any such high trust.
On reaching manhood, the novitiate is initiated into his sacred profession in a medicine dance, which is partly of a religious character, or a mode of worshipping their idols. Those idols are the spirit of certain animals. They will move in the dance imitating those animals, as the bellowing of the buffalo, or the howling of the wolf. One curious instance was described to me by an eye-witness, as occurring last winter. The n[o]vitiate wished to imitate the elk, who had from his youth been the good spirit or guardian genius of his life. At certain seasons the elk has a habit of wallowing in the mud. The Indian poured several buckets of water into a low place in the ring in which they were dancing, and after whistling like the elk, laid down to wallow in the mire. During the ceremony of initiation, some of the chief doctors chant certain songs or incantations, and go through certain passes not unlike mesmerism, to put the candidate to sleep. When awakened from this sleep he is pronounced fit to practise in his lofty and potent profession.
Notwithstanding all this ceremony of initiation, they are far from being a harmonious brotherhood; a rival doctor often breeds mischief, and causes the murder of the one first called in; visiting a patient already under the treatment, he inquires: "What is the reason you don't get well?:" The patient answers: "I don't know; the disease holds on to me." He slyly hints "perhaps your doctor is working on you with his baleful charms." If the patient acknowledges before his relations that this is so, the doctor who has charge of him will probably be killed.
They are prophets as well as physicians. If one of them prophecies that a patient cannot live beyond a certain length of time, he may be so possessed with faith in the power and foreknowledge of the doctor, that he gives up, thinks he is fated to die, and gradually wastes away, and expires, perhaps, in perfect agreement with the ill-boding prophecy. The doctors are often killed for the mere failure to cure a patient, though it is always attended with a belief on the part of the bloody avengers in his having exercised a malign or necromantic power. In a recent case, a doctor of the Wishrans, when the smallpox was raging, was foolish enough to threaten, openly, what havoc he would spread among them, making use of the pestilence to magnify his office; and, to surround his person with greater elements of power, boasting that he held the fearful quiver in his own hands, ready to hurl the arrows of death in any direction. The people rose in a body and hung him in the most barbarous mode. Tying his hands and feet, they put a rope round his neck, threw it over the pommel of a saddle, and, starting the horse, his life was taken in this shocking manner. This might be termed a judicial murder, performed by the mass of the tribe.
These superstitions, so firmly rooted in their minds, and leading to such sanguinary results, form one of the most prominent features in the character of the Oregon Indians, and have had a direct bearing upon the most important events which have occurred in their relations with the whites. I refer to the massacre by the Cayuse in November, 1847, of the family of Dr. Whitman, and other white persons, (seventeen souls in all,) at the Presbyterian mission in the Cayuse county. There is no doubt that the immediate impelling cause of the murders was the fact that Dr. Whitman had endeavored to cure them of the measles, and still many had died under his treatment. It pervaded the whose Cayuse tribe. The misfortune was that they would not follow his advice. They would, with fever on them, plunge into the cold water of their streams, which often caused a fatal result. Notwithstanding the exceeding kindness of Dr. Whitman, the imbruted superstition of the Cayuse got the better of every recollection of his benevolent deeds. They were also possibly, in part, impelled to the crime by the fact that the emigrants who arrived that fall had brought the measles with them, and some of them were wintering with Dr. Whitman, and were massacred with him. In the spring of 1849 an expedition of Oregonians against the Cayuse led to some bloodshed on both sides, and the seizure of a great number (some five hundred head) of their cattle and horses.
In the spring of 1850 five of the murderers surrendered by Ta-wai-ta, their head chief, were tried, and hung at Oregon city. This punishment has made a deep and salutary impression on all the surrounding tribes, and will affect their conduct and color their history for a long period of time.
It will be asked if these murders of the doctors are sanctioned among the Indians. The answer must be, that the punishments inflicted are very inadequate and inefficient.
A council of the headmen is called by the chief, and he decides that a certain number of horses and blankets will be turned over by the murderers to the family or the relations of the deceased. It is remarkable that the murderer never attempts to run away, and indeed generally comes forward and confesses his crime. It may be edifying to remember that superstitions just as direful were dominant in Massachusetts two hundred years ago, when witches were burnt at the stake who were more innocent than the murdered medicine-men, martyrs to the healing art among the savages.
Strenuous exertions have been made by the missionaries, and the commanding officer of this port, to induce the chief to cause punishment for murder to be made by hanging. As yet no such punishment has been inflicted. On the contrary, the effect of our advice has, it would seem, fallen thus far upon one of the doctors, instead of being used for their protection. In the case of the doctor among the Wishrams, as narrated above, he is duly hung, though in a savage mode, for the mere threat of the exercise of his dangerous functions.
Notwithstanding all these disadvantages, candidates are still found eager to enter the order of medicine men.
But these crimes are rare among some of the tribes. I am informed that but two murders in twelve years have occurred among the Nez PercÚs, but they were doctors.
Remarkable simplicity and purity of conduct and manners exist among some of the tribes most remote from the whites, such as the Pend d' Oreilles, Spokans and Flatheads; crime of any kind is almost unknown among them. The principal punishment is the reprimand of the chief among the Pend d' Oreilles; I am informed that the rebuke of the chief is very efficient, but it is made the point of honor with them, when charged with any offence, to come and submit to the chief, whose severest punishment is a tap of a stick upon his shoulders, inflicting, it is understood, temporary disgrace upon the unfortunate recipient.
Rarely among any of these tribes is whipping resorted to. Their laws against prostitution are very severe upon the women. They are often punished among the Nez-PercÚs with from fifty to one hundred lashes on the bare back. But it is a very rare vice. They are generally remarkable for their chastity.
Under the head of punishments it will be proper for me to allude to their treatment of prisoners taken in war; from time immemorial they have been in the habit of making slaves of them. In that manner the Cayuse acquired their numerous slaves.
In lower Oregon, by which I mean the part west of the Cascade mountains, I was told of a recent act of cruelty and superstition of a remarkable character; within a year or two, upon the death of a master, his slaves have been killed, that they might accompany and attend his spirit in the other world. I was also informed, from a credible source, that, in that portion of Oregon a revolting custom had prevailed among some of the tribes of putting out one eye of a slave, in order that if he escaped he might be marked and known as such by the surrounding tribes.
My memoir is intended mainly to treat of the Indians east of the Cascade mountains, but the manners and customs of all are very similar. It would seem, however, that those residing near the Rocky mountains are living less on fish, and more on buffalo and other game, are, and always have been superior races to those living on the lower Columbia, or who subsisted mainly upon salmon.
In all the tribes of this region polygamy is acknowledged. Generally they confine themselves to two wives , but sometimes have three or four. The Catholic priests have labored to inculcate the propriety of having but one wife, but have failed. When partially successful, these efforts have only resulted in making them have but one at a time. When dissatisfied with a present wife, the Indian turns her off and gets a new one, and the priest has been compelled to be satisfied with making them abandon to that limited extent their ancient habits.
The Presbyterian mission established among the Nez PercÚs, established by the American Board of C. F. M., succeeded better than any known in training the Indians to the habit of having one wife. When the mission was abandoned upon the occurrence of the Whitman massacre, a large body of the tribe adopted the rule for about eight years. However, for some time previous to that event, the Nez Perces began to relapse from the contagion of example, seeing all the neighboring tribes adhering to their old habits.
In their marriages they have no wedding ceremony; to be legal it would seem that the consent of the parents is all that is necessary. The suitor never in person asks the parents for their daughter, but he sends one or more friends, whom he pays for their services. [The latter] sometimes effect their purposes by feasts. The offer generally includes a statement of the property which will be given for the wife to the parents, consisting of horses, blankets, or buffalo robes. The wife's relations always raise as many horses (or other property) for her dower as the bridegroom has sent the parents, but scrupulously take care not to turn over the same horses, or the same articles. He likewise graduates his gifts to the parents to their power, and that of her friends, to raise an equal amount. This is the custom alike of the Walla-Wallas, Nez PercÚs, Cayuse, Waskows, Flatheads and Spokans; with all of them, marrying the eldest daughter entitles a man to the rest of the family as they grow up. If a wife dies, her sister or some of the connexion, if younger than the deceased, is regarded as destined to marry him. Cases occur in which upon the death of a wife, (after the period of mourning referred to below expires,) her younger sister, though the wife of another man, is claimed, and she deserts her husband and goes to the disconsolate widower.
The right of a man is recognized to put away his wife and take a new one, even the sister of the discarded one, if he thinks proper. The parents do not seem to object to a man's turning off one sister and taking a younger one, the lordly prerogative, as imperious as that of a sultan, being a custom handed down from immemorial. He seldom has his wives in the same lodge. Their lodges are sometimes in different villages, but they are generally in the same camp. When they will not agree well in the same camp, he dismisses one to preserve harmony.
After the death of a wife, a man will not take another for one or two years, even if he has no other with him in the same lodge. He helps to take care of the children, who go into the immediate charge of the wife's mother. A man having in the same lodge but one wife, who is sick and likely to die, will sometimes make haste to seek another wife so as avoid the force of the law, that upon the death of the former he must go unmarried for a year.
Upon the mother devolves all the care of the children, and she is never relieved from her other labors on that account. Thus, polygamy makes a degeneracy and depopulation in the races, as the women cannot take proper care of many children. Contact with the whites leads to their decay, but, even without that destructive influence, degeneracy seems to have been their doom. However, they never will (or but rarely) marry a cousin; thus that mode of degeneration is avoided.
When a wife is discarded, the rule is, that the children must go with the mother. A wife is often taken back after she has been banished for a year or more. After a separation the father has no care or responsibility connected with their children, and will not visit them even when they are sick.
Sometimes, when the parents refuse their consent to a marriage, a runaway match occurs, but it is not regarded as a legal marriage, and the woman thereafter is considered a prostitute and is treated accordingly. The parents have a right to seize the man's property wherever they find it, and they frequently get back their daughter.
When about to be confined, the wife is placed in a separate lodge, a little girl or an old woman lives with her to build a fire and take care of her. She remains there until a month after the birth of the child. If the camp is moved, a separate lodge is again provided for her. They generally wean their children when about eighteen months or two years old.
The sick are neglected. The women generally look after them, and have so many other cares that this duty is neglected, or cannot be properly attended to. Such faith is placed in the conjuring powers of the doctors, that they look blindly to them for aid and neglect the sick. But, when a man dies, then there is much parade and exhibition of empty feeling, which, we would say, comes rather late. The dead body is wrapped up in a blanket. If the grave is too distant to carry it by hand, they make, with a blanket and two poles, (one on each side of a horse,) a kind of drag (or litter which drags on the ground) and place the body in it. The Nez PercÚs bury in deep graves. The Waskows and Chinooks, residing along the Columbia river, were in the habit of burying on islands in small houses above ground, and in canoes, piled one above another, or lodged in trees. To this day, some of the Waskows resort to the islands, but most of them are learning to bury in the ground.
The women howl and cry at the death of a relative. If a man's wife dies, he shows grief by tears, but rarely by howling. If a child or father dies, little grief is evinced. The death of a father naturally incites less grief than that of a mother, as so little care is taken of the child by the father.
Much good was effected for the Nez Perces by the missions established among them. They had learned much of agriculture. They are now even strict in observing the Sabbath. A white man who staid the past winter in the Nez PercÚs country informed me that in a small band of two hundred Indians, with whom he lived, they assembled every morning and evening for prayer and psalm-singing. It should be noted that this is five years subsequent to the breaking up of the missions. It is to be regretted that missions, so permanent in their influence, should have ever been abandoned. The Cayuse were also on the high road of improvement when the Whitman massacre occurred. They often now express their regret at the event, and have wished that similar missions could be re-established.
Catholic missions are now kept up at the Dalles, at Fort Colville, at the Cur-de-Lion, at the Chaudiere, on the Yackemoon river, and in the Cayuse country. They have no doubt exercised a softening and beneficial effect upon the Indians. But from the Protestant missionaries, I suppose, they have learned more practical and useful arts, including the cultivation of the soil.
It is but just to say, also that the course of the Hudson Bay Company has been undoubtedly very beneficial to the Indians of Oregon, teaching them agriculture, introducing ploughs and hoes, and in training them to boating, herding, and various kinds of labor. Their transactions with the Indians have been of a fixed and systematic character, no doubt looking well to their own interest. Acting in good faith themselves, they have exacted good faith and good discipline from the Indians, and prevented the introduction of spirituous liquors.
The region is very poor for game until you approach the Rocky mountains. Elk, deer, and big-horn sheep; black, brown, and grisly bear are found in all that portion of Oregon east of Walla-Walla, but no buffaloes range west of the Rocky mountains. Parties of Indians leave every summer to hunt them on the other side of those mountains, although they often have to encounter and fight their hereditary enemies, the Blackfeet. Salmon fisheries abound in all these branches of the Columbia, as high up on that river as the falls, just above Fort Colville, and on Snake river to the falls above Fort BoisÚ. It is said that there is a marked difference between the Salmon-eating Indians and those near the Rocky mountains, who live on buffalo meat, the physical development of the latter being much superior. As examples, the large frames and finely developed forms of the Blackfeet, Flathead, and Nez Perces Indians are instanced.
I can hear of no nuts being found in the country. Wild cherries, the service-berries, the cranberry, the raspberry, the blackberry, whortleberry, and in some places the strawberry are found.
There are two kinds of wild roots used by the Indians for food, which are almost as univer[s]al as the potato with us. They are the "couse" and "camas" roots.
The "couse" is dug in the spring of the year, in April or May. It is found in poor rocky positions on the hills or mountains, and will grow where grass does not or cannot grow. It is a white root, and tast[e]s like the parsnip. The Indians dry it and pulverize it into a white flour, which they keep for consumption throughout the whole year. It is found in great quantities, and is sometimes called the bread or biscuit root. They sometimes boil it with meat, making a kind of soup.
The "camas" grows in great quantities in wet swampy land, and is dug in June and July, by which time the stalk of the "couse" is dried up and not to be seen. The camas, when taken out of the ground, resembles a white onion. In order to preserve it, it is baked in kilns or furnaces in the ground, and when cooked has a dark brown color. It is then dried in the sun and will keep for one or two years. It is sweet in taste and is used like sugar. When boiled it is often made into a kind of molasses.
At the proper seasons the Indians leave their winter camps and move en masse to the root grounds, making a regular business of laying in their supplies.
As to the amount of tillable land east of the Cascade mountains in the Territories of Oregon and Washington, it must be admitted that it is a very barren region, and not one twentieth part of the soil will ever be fit for cultivation. Though in the latitude of Lower Canada, its climate probably averages that of Pennsylvania or Virginia. In the western portion it is subject to the alternations of wet and dry seasons, common to Mexico and California. Approaching the Rocky mountains, especially in the Flathead country, the rains are distributed throughout the year as in the Atlantic States. The riches portions are probably in the country of the Flatheads, Spokanes, Cayuse, and Walla-Wallas, or, to describe these regions by the rivers and lakes, they are the vallies of the St. Mary's, the Umatilla, the Walla-Walla, and Powder rivers, and in the vicinity of the Grande Ronde at the Cur d' Alene lakes.
I do not doubt that the land west of the Cascade mountains, especially that lying on Puget's sound, and in the valleys of the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue river, contains highly fertile and desirable tracts. But the Cascade range appears to divide the country into two distinct parts. This eastern portion, which is seven-eighths of the area of both Territories, embracing one hundred and eighty thousand square miles, is liable to the remarks I have made.
The surface of the country is generally one vast stretch of barren, rolling, hilly, prairies, with trees skirting the rivers, along whose valleys some narrow tracts of fertile land can be found, especially adapted to the cultivation of wheat. But these prairies and hills (some deserving even the name of mountains) are covered with the celebrated "bunch grass," so nutritious to all domestic animals, which will always make it a fine grazing country. But this grass, valuable as it is, does not grow densely enough to cover the hills with verdure and remove their desert appearance, scarcely even in the spring of the year. It does not redeem the soil from the epithet of barren, which I have applied to it. In vain do we look for that vernal green in April or May so welcome after the snows of winter; and the artist or poet must resign the hope of receiving inspiration from such sources. He can only resort to the scenery, to the rocks, and mountains, and lofty snow-capped peaks, and the curious grotesque shapes of the columnar basalt, sometimes resembling old feudal castles or immense amphitheatres, to excite his enthusiasm and reward him for the toil of his pilgrimage.
Captain Fourth Infantry, Brevet Major U. S. A,
Commanding the Post.
FORT DALLAS, COLUMBIA RIVER,
Oregon, July 17, 1853.