1856 Reports of the Commissioner Affairs and Indian Agent Reports
"Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs," pp. 554-832. In U.S. House. 34th Congress, 3d Session. Annual Message of the President and Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1856 (H.Ex.Doc.1, Pt. 1). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1857. (Serial Set 893).


. . . The usual annual reports from the superintendents in the Territories of Oregon and Washington have not been received at this office, and I am hence compelled to speak of Indian affairs there, in the absence of such information as these reports would be expected to furnish. In July, 1854, provision was made by law for entering into negotiations with the tribes of these Territories, and shortly thereafter instructions were issued to the superintendent of Indian affairs in Oregon, and the governor and ex officio superintendent in Washington. Before the expiration of the month of August, goods, suitable for presents during the negotiations, were procured in New York and Boston, and shipped to the superintendents, to reach them in time for use early in the spring of 1855. The commissioners were severally instructed to obtain a relinquishment of the Indian claims to lands, with proper rapidity; and, if practicable, to effect the concentration of the tribes and bands on a few reservations, in locations not touching on the white settlements; and to commence their negotiations with those tribes or bands nearest to, or brought into actual contact with such settlements, and between which and the settlers conflicting claims had arisen, or were likely to arise.

The officers entered at once with energy upon the execution of the duties confided to them, and whilst they were apparently in the full tide of success, hostilities broke out, in southern Oregon, and with the Rogue River Indians; and afterward, in Washington Territory, the Yakimas and Klikitats commenced war against the settlers, which communicated to a number of the adjacent tribes in both Territories. The war raged, in various localities, from October, 1855, till the 1st of June, 1856. Its various incidents, and the causes from which it originated, it is not now deemed necessary to review. The reports received with reference to these hostilities were laid before the President early in March last, and he immediately recommended an appropriation for maintaining and restoring peace with the Indian tribes on the Pacific coast, which was placed at his disposal by the act of 5th April, 1856. . . .

In both Territories the same policy of collecting and temporarily subsisting the peaceful tribes in large numbers, and encouraging hostile bands to surrender their arms, and join the friendly Indians, was adopted and carried out with considerable success. Hostile bands were met and chastised by the military power of the Territories and the United States army, and, until the latest advices, the reports were that peace had been restored in both Territories; but the superintendent of Oregon Territory, in a communication dated the 10th of October, reports a renewal of hostilities east of the Cascade mountains, and that one-half of the very powerful and hitherto friendly tribe of Nez PercÚs Indians had joined the war party. No information was received from Governor Stevens, of Washington, but the public journals state that he was obliged to leave Walla-Walla, and that the indications were that a general Indian war was inevitable.

The policy pursued by this department has been attended with considerable expenditure; and it was hoped that the results of its operations, of both a temporary and permanent character, would show that, all things considered, it had been the best that could be adopted, and the most humane and economical. It cannot be disguised that a portion of the white population of the Pacific Territories entertain feelings deeply hostile to the Indian tribes of that region, and are anxious for the extermination of the race. . . . (pp. 568-569)

From: No. 72 , Letter of Governor Isaac I. Ste[v]ens, Superintendent ex officio, pp.735-741.

. . . Look now to the Nez PercÚs. The agent, Wm. Craig, has been with them the past winter and till lately, and so long as the Oregon volunteers occupied the Walla-Walla valley they have been entirely friendly. I have written to them from time to time and have had messages sent to the Spokanes and adjoining tribes, to which proper responses have been made. . . .

June 5th.— . . . I have not time to write at length. The whole interior is ripe for war. One-half of the Nez PercÚs are about to join the war party. The Spokanes, Cour d'Alenes, Colvills, and Okiakanes have accepted horses as the price of their services. They say to the friendly Nez PercÚs, join us in the war against the whites or we will rub you out. A portion of the Snakes have joined them.

Colonel Wright met the hostiles on 8th. My express left his camp on the 30th. The Indians had not been struck, but there had been parleying about peace. What is the result? Kam-i-a-kin has, perhaps, effected a combination of all the tribes, including one-half of the Nez PercÚs, and the general Indian war, of which I have been apprehensive, is about to burst upon us, and in consequence of the inactive and bad management of the regular troops. There should not have been a word about peace till a blow had been struck and the enemy beaten.

I enclose a copy of a letter of the 27th May, received from Lieutenant Colonel Craig, in the Nez PercÚs country. It tells the whole story. It show what the Oregon volunteers effected in the way of preserving peace by their occupancy of the Walla-Walla valley. It confirms the absolute necessity of my course in organizing and pushing forward the Walla-Walla expedition. . . .

I hope, sir, to save the Nez PercÚs and the Spokanes. It can only be done by the presence of troops to protect them from the hostiles.

I beg you, sir, most attentively to weigh the letter of Colonel Craig, and bear in mind that he is a man of nerve, judgment, and great experience.

Consider, too, the words of Lawyer, the head chief of the Nez PercÚs, who considers the greater portion of his tribe unreliable.

Truly and respectfully your most obedient,


Governor and Superintendent

From: No. 73 , Copy of Letter of William Craig, Sub-agent, pp. 742-743.


Lapwai, May 27, 1856.

. . . There is no doubt but the Spokanes, or at least a part, have joined the war party; they are determined on fighting the Nez PercÚs, who beg and pray their Big Chief to send them some help; they are here in the midst of their enemies, without ammunition, and they ask for their white friends to come and help them.

The volunteers having all abandoned the country, and hearing nothing of the regulars, there is a cloud of Indians collected in the Spokane country, they say, to rub out the few whites and Nez PercÚs who are here. There is very little doubt but the Indians in the direction of the Upper Columbia have joined the war party, as they have received their horses for pay for so doing. There are now Cayuses, Palouses, Spokanes, Okinekanes, Cour d’Alenes, and Colville Indians, a part of each of which tribes is now this side of the Spokane prairie. They say they have made all the whites run out of the country, and will now make all the friendly Indians do the same. They have sent to the Snakes, and a party has already joined them.

What are the people of the lower country about? Have they abandoned the country forever, or are they giving the Indians a chance to collect from all parts and break up all friendly parties. They say, what can the friendly Indians do; they have no ammunition and the whites will give them none. We have plenty; come and join us and save your lives, or we will take your property anyhow.

A party came, a few days ago, of Cayuses, Spokanes, and of other bands, to the number of seventy, to the Red Wolf’s country, and crossed from there to the Looking Glass, on their way to this place. They talked very saucy; the volunteers went to prevent them from crossing Snake river; the Looking Glass told them they would not cross. They said they had come to get horses for the Spokanes to ride; that Gary was going to head their party to the Nez PercÚs country and learn those people who their friends were; and they would find out who said the Cayuses should not pass in their country; and the Nez PercÚs are very much alarmed, as there are but few of them who can be depended upon.

The Lawyer says that the people on Snake river and the north side of Clear Water cannot be depended upon, as they do not come near us. I sent for them when I received your instructions, that I could talk with them, but they did not come; they said that Governor Stevens was too far off to talk with him, but that when he came up they would see him. And as there are but a few, from the forks up to the Lawyer’s country and Salmon river people, that will fight if attacked, they wish me to move up to their country; they say, we have no ammunition to defend ourselves here, so near the enemy’s country. Now sir, you can see how I am situated at this place. You said when we parted in Walla-Walla valley that you would send me some supplies early in the spring. I have been expecting them since that time, but have received none, nor even heard of any. I am entirely out of everything. I have not even salt for my bread, and I cannot remain in this country entirely destitute of everything. I want powder, ball, caps, flint, sugar, coffee, salt, tobacco, and clothing for men and families. If we do not get supplies, we will be compelled to move to where we can get them. It is necessary for two companies to be sent into this country immediately, for the safety of the people and property in it.

Hoping to hear from you shortly, I remain your obedient servant,


Special Agent Nez PercÚs, Lt. Col. W .T. Vols.