Cayuse Indians

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 4/03/2013
  • Essay 10365
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The Cayuse Indians were once masters of a vast homeland of more than six million acres in what is now Washington and Oregon. The first of the Northwest tribes to acquire horses, they were relatively few in number but outsized in influence, noted for their shrewd bargaining ability and much feared as warriors. Fur trader Alexander Ross (1783-1856) described them as "by far the most powerful and warlike" of the tribes on the Columbia Plateau in 1818. They were at the peak of their power in 1836, when they invited Marcus (1802-1847) and Narcissa (1808-1847) Whitman to establish a mission on Cayuse land near Walla Walla. What began as accommodation ended in disillusionment and resentment. A group of Cayuse attacked the mission in November 1847, killing the Whitmans and 11 others -- a brief flurry of violence that led to the first Indian war in the Northwest, the creation of Oregon Territory as a federal entity, and, eventually, a treaty that stripped the tribe of most of its land. But that was not the end of the story. As historian Clifford Trafzer has pointed out, "Their lives did not end in the last century, and their cultures did not fade away" (Trafzer, 7). The Cayuse survive as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, with a 172,000-acre reservation near Pendleton, Oregon; an annual operating budget of nearly $230 million; and businesses ranging from a casino to a wind farm. In the words of a tribal brochure, "We are still here. We will continue to be here."

People of the Rye Grass

The people who became known as Cayuse were given that name by French-Canadian fur traders, who called them Cailloux, meaning "Rock People," because of the rocky nature of parts of their homeland. To the Scottish botanist David Douglas (1799-1834) they were the Kyeuuse or the Kyuuse. Early emigrants called them Cai-uses, Cayouses, Skyuse, Kaius, and other variants. Their own name for themselves may have been Liksiyu. To their Nez Perce neighbors, they were known as Weyiiletpuu or Waiilatpus: the People of the Rye Grass.

The Cayuses were originally river people, living along tributary streams in what is now northeastern Oregon. They fished, traded, and traveled by canoe or on foot. Like other Columbia Plateau peoples, their lives were governed by the "seasonal round." They moved with the seasons in a pattern based on available foods: toward the Columbia River in the spring, when the salmon began running; to other locations when the berries were ripe or the camas roots -- a nutritious mainstay of the aboriginal diet -- were ready to be harvested. In the fall, the able-bodied moved into the mountains to hunt. Hunters used deer-head decoys or elk whistles to lure prey to come within range of bows and arrows. Sometimes teams of hunters would burn underbrush to drive deer, antelope, bear, and other game toward those waiting in stands. The people used dogs to help carry the load when they traveled.

Winters were spent in villages in the river valleys, where it was easier to find firewood and some shelter from the ever-present wind. Extended families lived together in rectangular longhouses, held up by wooden poles covered with tule mats. Tule (pronounced "too-lee") is a type of sedge that swells when wet. Winter rains would cause the tules to swell, closing gaps between them and providing a relatively waterproof structure. Dirt piled along the bottom provided more insulation. Openings along the roof allowed smoke from cooking fires to escape. Dried fish, roots, and other items were stored in subterranean pit houses, dug nearby.

Women were responsible for setting up and dismantling the lodges. In spring, when snow from the high country melted into the valleys, they took down the steep-roofed winter homes and replaced them with flat-roofed structures built on raised platforms. The platforms protected the houses from spring runoff and the flat roofs provided space to dry salmon. Wood was scarce, and the lodge poles and platform timbers were re-used year after year.

Intertribal boundaries were permeable. The Cayuses were closely entwined with the Nez Perces, the Walla Wallas, and the Umatillas. Combined parties from these groups camped together at fishing stations in Cayuse country on the Grand Ronde River or in Nez Perce country on the Wallowa; they hunted together; they intermarried; spoke each other's languages; and joined together in raids and war parties, particularly against the Shosonean tribes to the south.

Acquisition of the Horse

According to Cayuse oral tradition, the tribe acquired its first horses as a result of what had originally been a war party against the Shoshone (or Snake Indians). Approaching a group of Shoshones on a tributary of the Snake River, sometime in the early 1700s, Cayuse scouts were bewildered to see their enemies riding what appeared to be elk or large deer. Closer investigation revealed that the prints left by the hooves of the mysterious animals were not split, like those of elk or deer, but were solid and round. The Cayuse chief arranged a truce and asked to trade for some of the strange creatures. It is said that he and his warriors gave away all they had and returned home, nearly naked, with a mare and a stallion.

Acquisition of the horse led to what historian Theodore Stern has called "a revolution in perspective" for the Cayuses (Chiefs and Chief Traders, 42). No longer restricted to what they could carry or what their dogs could pull, they moved into new areas, traveling as far east as the Great Plains and as far west as California, to hunt, trade, fight, and capture slaves. Meanwhile, their herds multiplied rapidly, a combination of skillful breeding and periodic raids on other tribes. By the early 1800s, a Cayuse who owned only 15 to 20 horses was considered poor; wealthy families controlled 2,000 or more.

Horses improved the range and effectiveness of war parties, making it possible for Cayuses to dominate their sedentary neighbors on the Columbia. They claimed ownership of The Dalles, the great fishery and trade emporium of the Columbia, forcing the weaker bands in that area to pay them tribute in the form of salmon and other goods. "For years to come," wrote historians Robert Ruby and John Brown, "they would not let its salmon eaters, teeth worn and eyes blinded by river sand, forget their inferiority" (17-18).

By making it easier to travel, horses also fostered social and political interaction between the Cayuse and other Indian peoples. They began to take on the role of middlemen in the increasingly extensive trade between the Indians of the Great Plains and those of the Pacific Coast. They incorporated elements of Plains culture into their own, adopting new styles of clothing and personal ornamentation, new methods of hunting, new ways of packing and transporting goods. They added conical teepees, covered with buffalo hides, to their housing options. The idea of choosing headmen on the basis of their skills as warriors came from associations with the peoples of the Plains.

By the time of first contact with the non-Indians approaching from the east, the Cayuses were the monarchs of the Columbia Plateau. Early explorers and traders almost universally described them as proud and haughty. Alexander Ross reported that the Cayuse "regulate all the movements of the others in peace and war, and as they stand well or ill disposed toward their traders, so do the others" (176). David Douglas, encountering a group of "Kyeuuse" at The Dalles in 1826, called them "the terror of all other tribes" (159). Thomas J. Farnham (1804-1848), a would-be colonizer who traveled through the region a decade later, gave them the label later used by many others: "the imperial tribe" of Old Oregon (151).

First Contact

The Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) brought the first non-Indian people to pass through Cayuse country. The expedition camped at the mouth of the Walla Walla River in late October 1805, en route via the Columbia to the coast; and returned in early June 1806 on its homeward journey. The captains recorded the name of the tribe as "Ye-E-al-po" (Moulton, Clark's Journal, June 6, 1806); and "Y-e-let-pos" and "Willetpos" (Moulton, Lewis' Journal, June 8, 1806) -- phonetic spellings of "Waiilatpus."

The Cayuses were curious about the explorers and particularly interested in their weapons, as Roberta Conner, director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation at Pendleton, explained in 2009:

"We were looking for power. Power is very important in our culture. And so what happened is that white people have different kinds of power. They have power in their guns. They have the power of metal, which is a really interesting technological change" (Conner interview).

The Cayuse had several reasons for being receptive to these powerful strangers. Their herds had multiplied but they themselves had not. The population was stable but small: only an estimated 500 in the early 1800s. Mere accumulation of horses would not be enough to maintain their position of dominance on the Plateau; they needed new sources of power. They had heard of the superiority of the Euro-American weapons, which far surpassed the power of their own bows and arrows. "Nor were guns the only magic white men had to offer," Ruby and Brown point out; they also possessed "a world of marvelous goods ranging from beads to blankets -- admirable means of displaying the wealth and superiority of the Cayuses" (19).

Fur Trade Era

The Cayuse were both compliant and imperious in dealing with the fur traders who followed Lewis and Clark to the region. On one hand, they were among the few Indians on the Plateau who were willing to cooperate with the traders by hunting beaver themselves. Most of the local tribes regarded the work as beneath them: a task suited only for women and slaves. Theodore Stern put it this way: "In the scale of manly prowess, trapping a small fur-bearer like the beaver paled before driving deer, stalking elk, and the glory of the hard-riding buffalo hunt" (Chiefs and Change, xiii).

At the same time, the Cayuse were far from subservient in their relationship with the traders. For example, in 1814, a mounted party stopped a fur caravan near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers; hauled the vessels ashore, and demanded tobacco and other goods from the crew before they would release them.

Alexander Ross and a contingent from the Montreal-based North West Company received permission to build a fur trading post near the mouth of the Walla Walla River in 1818 only after extended negotiations with Cayuse and Walla Walla chiefs. The chiefs demanded, first, that all the assembled Indians be given gifts before any kind of council could proceed. Next, they insisted that the traders pay for the timber they were gathering to build the post. Finally, they asked that the traders not provide weapons to their enemies. According to Ross's account, "the Cayouse great chief ... got up and observed, 'Will the whites in opening a trade with our enemies promise not to give them guns or balls?' and others spoke to the same effect" (171).

Ross and his colleagues passed out tobacco and other gifts, paid for the timber, promised to trade guns only to the Cayuses' allies, and were allowed to proceed. Fort Nez Perces, renamed Fort Walla Walla when the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, became one of the most important trading posts in the interior. Ross, its chief trader until 1821, grandly called it "the Gibraltar of the Columbia."

The shelves at Fort Nez Perces held an astonishing array of goods: "wool, flannel, calico, tobacco twists, tea bricks, sugar cones, mouth harps, thimbles, beads, nails, metal cups and kettles, guns, ball and powder, dice, needles, and hats" -- in addition to knives, axes, and guns (Karson, 46). The Cayuse initially traded beaver they had caught for these desirable commodities. As they trapped out the beaver in their own territory, they became middlemen, obtaining pelts from other Indians. They also found a lucrative market for their horses. In the days before a cattle industry was established in Oregon country, horses were an important source of meat. Records kept by the Hudson's Bay Company show that more than 700 were slaughtered to feed personnel at Fort Nez Perces between 1822 and 1825.

"White Man's Book of Heaven"

Indians were interested not only in guns but in the white man's "spirit power." Believing that "all power originated from the Creator," many reasoned that "the Creator had granted white men a special power which enabled them to make cloth, guns, kettles, powder, lead, and other goods" (Trafzer, 3). They wanted to know more about this power, a wish that made them receptive to the Christian missionaries who began arriving in the 1830s.

Fur traders had already introduced Indians on the Columbia Plateau to some elements of Christianity. Pierre Pambrun, the chief trader at Fort Walla Walla from 1832 until his death in 1841, was a devout Catholic who encouraged Indians living near the fort to gather for services every Sunday. Mingling old practices with new ceremonies, participants would dance in cadence to drums while a chief chanted the Lord's Prayer in Nez Perce (the most widely spoken language on the Plateau).

Protestant interest in missionary work among the Indians was inspired by a letter published in 1833 in the New York Christian Advocate and Journal and Zion's Herald. The letter reported that four "Flathead" Indians had traveled to St. Louis to ask William Clark, then Superintendent of Indians Affairs, to send them the "white man's Book of Heaven." Clark understood very little of their language, and they spoke none of his; they communicated largely through sign language. But the message seemed to be that Indians in the West wanted missionaries to come and teach them about the Bible.

The first to respond were Methodist missionaries -- Jason Lee (1803-1845), his nephew Daniel, and three associates. Traveling west with an expedition led by Nathaniel J. Wyeth (1802-1856), a Boston merchant, they reached a Cayuse village on the Walla Walla in August 1834. The Cayuse greeted them warmly and urged them to stay. "The hospitality shown us was worthy of their pretensions as a governing tribe," Daniel Lee remembered (122). The Methodists, however, traveled on and eventually built a mission in the Willamette Valley.

The next year, Rev. Samuel Parker (1779-1866) passed through on reconnaissance for the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Again, Cayuse headmen welcomed the stranger. He told them he had come to select a site for a mission, including a school and a "preaching house." He also said he did not intend to take the land for nothing -- that every year a ship loaded with trade goods would arrive and be divided among the Indians, as payment for the use of their land. This promise would prove to have serious repercussions in years to come, as the Indians waited for payments that never came.

Whitman Mission Established

Parker had been accompanied on part of his westward journey by Marcus Whitman, a missionary and physician from upstate New York. The two had traveled with the American Fur Company's annual caravan from St. Louis to a rendezvous with trappers and traders in present-day Wyoming. At the rendezvous, they agreed that Whitman would return to the East to organize a missionary party that would travel to Oregon the next year, while Parker went ahead to scout locations.

Whitman had hoped to bring a large party of missionaries with him. In the end, he found only three who were willing to go: Narcissa Prentiss, a Sunday-school teacher with romantic ideas about "saving the heathen;" Henry Spalding (1803-1874), a Presbyterian minister with strong convictions and little patience for divergent opinions; and his wife, Eliza (1807-1851), quiet, devout, and often ill. All three were from the same region of New York as Whitman: an area known as the Burned Over District because of the intensity of the religious revivals that periodically swept through it. Whitman, who had become engaged to Narcissa before his journey with Parker, married her on February 18, 1836, in her hometown of Angelica, New York. They left for Oregon the next day, joining the Spaldings en route.

By the time they reached Oregon, some seven months later, they were scarcely speaking to each other. Instead of establishing a joint mission, as the American Board had intended, they split up. The Spaldings went north, to settle among the Nez Perce at Lapwai in present-day Idaho. The Whitmans built their mission on Cayuse land, at Waiilatpu, "Place of the Rye Grass," near present-day Walla Walla.

There were three distinct bands within the Cayuse tribe at the time. Two were centered on the Umatilla River; the third on the Walla Walla. Leaders of all three bands were initially supportive of the Whitmans, but the headman of the Walla Walla Cayuse -- Hiyumtipin (also spelled Umtippe) -- was particularly eager to have the missionaries locate in his territory. Stern speculates that he wanted an alternative source of trade goods, as a counterweight to the traders at Fort Walla Walla. In any case, the relationship between the Whitmans and their hosts began on a friendly footing.

The Indians helped the Whitmans celebrate the birth of their first (and only) child, Alice Clarissa, at Waiilatpu on March 14, 1837. "The little stranger is visited daily by the chiefs and principal men in camp, and the women throng the house continually waiting an opportunity to see her," Narcissa wrote in a letter to her parents. "Her whole appearance is so new to them. Her complexion, her size and dress, etc., all excite a great deal of wonder." Among the chiefs who paid homage to the baby was Tiloukaikt (d. 1850). Narcissa called him "a kind, friendly Indian" who told her Alice Clarissa was a "Cayuse te-mi (Cayuse girl), because she had been born on Cayuse wai-tis (Cayuse land)" (Letters of Narcissa Whitman, March 30, 1837).

The child drowned a little more than two years later when she toddled into the river behind the mission house. With her death, a bond between the missionaries and the Indians was lost. Tiloukaikt, who replaced Hiyumtipin as headman of the Walla Walla band in the winter of 1840, became one of the Whitmans' primary critics and eventual foes.

Increasing Tensions

The next few years were marked by increasing tensions between the Whitmans and the Walla Walla band. The missionaries believed that the Indians must first be "civilized" before their souls could be saved. They sought to transform every aspect of Cayuse culture, from diet to dress to shelter to work to worship. Instead of wild game and native plants, they promoted a diet based on domesticated animals and cultivated plants. Indians who dressed like white people were welcomed into the mission house; those who wore traditional clothing were not. The Indians were encouraged to give up their nomadic lifestyle and become farmers and, above all, to abandon their traditional spiritual practices and practice only the white religion. The Cayuse accepted some of these teachings, but they rejected many of them.

Whitman was initially impressed by the Cayuses' willingness to experiment with agriculture. In a letter to the American Board in 1841, he commented on their eagerness to buy ploughs and hoes. A visitor in 1843 found that Cayuses were farming some 60 tracts around the mission, ranging from a quarter acre to three acres. Some had traded horses to acquire cattle. But these ventures into agriculture gave rise to new conflicts. "Seeing the success of Marcus Whitman's irrigated crops, his Indian neighbors tried at first to divert water from his ditches to their gardens," writes Stern. "Opposed, they dug their own channels but blocked his" (Chiefs and Change, 57).

Another issue was Whitman's refusal to compensate the Indians for the use of their land. In 1841, some Cayuses deliberately turned their horses into Whitman's cornfield. When he protested, Tiloukaikt confronted him. According to Whitman's account, Tiloukaikt "demanded of me what I had ever given him for the land. I answered 'Nothing,' and that ... I never would pay him anything. He then made use of the word 'Shame,' which is used in Chinook the same as in English" (Letters, November 18, 1841).

Cultural misunderstandings on both sides contributed to the friction. The Whitmans refused to let Indians come and go as they pleased in the mission house. Narcissa, in particular, fought for the standards of privacy she had been accustomed to in her middle-class home in New York. Curtains, fences, and locked doors violated Indian ideas about community. Cayuse men also were disturbed by the way Marcus Whitman treated his wife. Tiloukaikt told Whitman he was setting a bad example when he allowed Narcissa to travel with him and when he deferred to her in public.

"The Indians Are Roused"

In 1842, the American Board -- impatient with the continued quarreling among the missionaries and with their lack of progress in converting Indians -- recalled Spalding and ordered Whitman to close the mission at Waiilatpu and relocate to a station at Tshimakain, near Spokane. Whitman hurried back to Boston to plead for a second chance. He convinced the board that his mission could become an important supply station for emigrants traveling to Oregon. He returned in September 1843 at the head of a wagon train of about 900 emigrants. After that, the Whitmans gave up all pretense of saving Indian souls and devoted themselves to helping white settlers. "I have no doubt our greatest work is to be to aid the white settlement of this country," Marcus wrote in a letter to Narcissa's parents. "The Indians have in no case obeyed the command to multiply and replenish the earth, and they cannot stand in the way of others doing so" (May 16, 1844).

The Cayuse watched with growing resentment as more and more emigrants traveled through their lands, using up scarce firewood, depleting the grasses on their grazing lands, and taking game without permission. "The Indians are roused a good deal at seeing so many emigrants," Narcissa wrote (May 20, 1844).

More than 4,000 settlers came into the Cayuse homeland with the wagon trains of 1847. Their arrival coincided with a virulent outbreak of measles among the Indians (who had no natural immunity to any of the infectious diseases introduced by Euro-Americans). The source of the outbreak is not clear: possibly the wagon trains; possibly a joint Cayuse-Walla Walla expedition to trade for cattle at Sutter's Fort in California. In any case, the effects on the Cayuse were devastating. According to some estimates, nearly half the tribe died. Noting that Whitman's white patients usually recovered while his Indian patients died, some Indians began to suspect him of sorcery.

In Cayuse tradition, a medicine man ("te-wat," or shaman) who lost a patient could be subject to death himself, at the hands of the patient's family. Whitman received several warnings about this practice. Narcissa wrote about it in one of her letters home: "Last Saturday the war chief died at Walla Walla. He was a Cayuse, and a relative of Umtippe ... employed the same te-wat Umtippe sent for but he died in his hands. The same day Ye-he-kis-kis, a younger brother of Umtippe, went to Walla Walla, arrived about twilight, and shot the te-wat dead. Thus they are avenged" (May 3, 1837).

Attack on the Mission

Long-simmering tensions erupted shortly after noon on November 29, 1847, when a group of Cayuses attacked the mission, killing Marcus, Narcissa, and nine others. Marcus was the first to be struck, with a tomahawk in the back of the head. Two more white men were killed a few days later, bringing the total number killed by Indians to 13. A fourteenth victim is believed to have drowned after escaping the initial attack.

More than 70 people were at the mission at the time, including the Whitmans, 10 children they had adopted, and eight emigrant families who had planned to spend the winter there. The survivors -- mostly women and children -- were held as captives for a month and then ransomed by Peter Skene Ogden (1780-1854), an official at the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver. Shortly after Odgen and his men left with the survivors, the Indians learned that settlers in the Willamette Valley had destroyed Cayuse villages and property on the upper Deschutes River. Angered, they returned to the Whitman mission; piled wagons and other property into the buildings, and set fire to them.

Estimates of the number of Cayuse who participated in the attack vary from 14 to more than 60. The entire tribe -- including the two bands on the Umatilla, who had had no direct involvement -- paid the price. Roberta Conner said, "It's a very sad thing that after we killed the Whitmans it sort of becomes open season on Indians for retaliation. Everybody paid. Rogue River Indians, all kinds of people paid for our Whitman killings" (Conner interview).

White settlers were inflamed by news of the attack. The editor of the Oregon Spectator demanded that "the barbarian murderers" be "pursued with unrelenting hostility, until their lifeblood has atoned for their infamous deeds; let them be hunted as beasts of prey; let their name and race be blotted from the face of the earth, and the places that once knew them, know them no more forever" (January 20, 1848). George Abernethy (1807-1877), a former Methodist missionary recently elected as provisional territorial governor, called for "immediate and prompt action" to punish the perpetrators. A volunteer militia of some 500 men, led by Colonel Cornelius Gilliam (1798-1848), set out to do that in January 1848.

"The Bloody Cayuses"

The so-called Cayuse War -- first Indian war in the Pacific Northwest -- amounted to little more than a series of skirmishes, most taking place between January and March 1848. There were relatively few deaths or injuries on either side. In one day-long battle, on February 24, 1848, a single Cayuse (Grey Eagle, a shaman who claimed the power to swallow bullets as they came) was killed and six other Indians wounded; there were no casualties among Gilliam's troops. Three soldiers were killed on another occasion but one of them was shot accidentally by a guard. "Upward of four hundred men have been employed against the Interior Indians, with questionable success," Ogden wrote in a report to Hudson's Bay Company headquarters in Montreal on March 16, 1848 (cited in Stern, Chiefs and Change, 208).

Against the wishes of both Gilliam and Abernethy, a three-person "peace commission" accompanied the militia on a march from The Dalles to Waiilatpu. Its dual mission was to persuade other tribes to remain neutral and to pressure the Cayuse to turn over those responsible for the mission attack. Some 250 Cayuses and Nez Perce rode in to meet in council with the commission on March 7, 1848. During the proceedings, Commissioner Robert Newell (1807-1869), a former fur trapper who was married to a Nez Perce, told the Cayuse that if they did not give up "the murderers" and make restitution for property taken or destroyed, they would lose everything. They would have "only one thing left, that is a name, 'The Bloody Cayuses.' They never will lose that." He also warned that those who protected the outlaws would "become poor, no place will they find to hide their heads, no place on this earth nor a place in heaven, but down to hell shall they go ... " (Oregon Spectator, April 6, 1848).

No real progress toward peace was made and the council disbanded. Gilliam rebuilt and fortified parts of the mission and renamed it Fort Waters, after one of his aides. He intended it to serve as a military base for further operations against the "hostiles." En route to The Dalles, for supplies, on March 28, 1848, he accidentally shot and killed himself.

The Cayuse found some support among their traditional allies, including the Umatillas and some Walla Wallas and Nez Perces; but the Yakama held back. Tiloukaikt's band was forced into hiding in the Blue Mountains. The tribe as a whole was weakened not only by the measles epidemic but by the loss of access to traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering grounds, due to encroachment and harassment by whites. The Cayuse also suffered from the effects of a law, passed in the immediate aftermath of the attack, that prohibited the sale of powder and lead to all Indians in Oregon country. With only limited supplies of ammunition for hunting game, many of the fugitives went hungry.

The Cayuse Five

Meanwhile Joseph L. Meek (1810-1875), a former mountain man and member of the provisional legislature, made his way to Washington, D.C., with news of the attack and demands from the settlers for immediate political recognition and protection. Congress responded by passing a long-stalled bill to establish the Oregon Territory. The bill, approved in August 1848, extended federal protection to an area that included the present-day states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Meek was appointed U.S. Marshall. Joseph Lane (1801-1881), a Mexican War veteran from Indiana, was appointed Governor General and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The news reached Oregon City, the provisional capital, when Lane arrived to take office on March 2, 1849.

Governor Lane moved quickly to put an end to the hostilities. In a meeting with tribal leaders at The Dalles in April, he offered peace and friendship if the guilty were given up. If not, he promised the Cayuse a war "which would lead to their total destruction," because "we could not discriminate between the innocent and guilty" (Lane). Still, the Indians held out for nearly another year. Finally, Tawatoy (sometimes spelled Tauitau or Tawatoe, also known as Young Chief), leader of a large group of neutral Cayuse on the Umatilla River, arranged a surrender, turning over five prisoners.

Among them was Tiloukaikt, the "kind, friendly Indian" who had welcomed the Whitmans' infant daughter as a "Cayuse te-mi" when she was born. As he and the others were being escorted to Oregon City for trial, one of the soldiers asked why they had surrendered. Tiloukaikt reportedly replied: "Did not your missionaries tell us that Christ died to save his people? So die we, to save our people" (Bancroft, 95).

How the Cayuses made the decision to turn in those five men is not known. There was some speculation, at the time and afterward, that they simply gave up five volunteers in order to appease the whites and end the persecution. "They may have had a series of tribal councils wherein it was finally determined that they would eventually be caught and that perhaps it would be better to surrender voluntarily. The real facts are unknown so we may only conjecture," concluded one historian, writing in 1953 (Glassley, 47). None of the territorial officials seemed concerned about the actual guilt or innocence of any of the prisoners. "The punishment of these Indians," Lane told the Territorial Legislature on May 7, 1850, "will remove the barrier to a peace with the Cayuse, and have a good effect upon all the tribes" (Lane).

In a trial that began two weeks later in Oregon City, the accused were found guilty and sentenced to hang. The sentence was carried out, on June 3, 1850, by Marshal Joseph Meek, whose mixed-race daughter, Helen Mar, had been at the mission on the day of the attack and died of measles while being held captive there.

Walla Walla Treaty Council

Any hopes that the Cayuses may have had for a return to their old way of life quickly faded. In 1851, Anson Dart (1797-1879), Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory, recommended that Congress buy their lands and open them up for settlement. Dart claimed that both the Cayuse and the Walla Walla tribes were "nearly extinct," with only 126 and 130 tribal members respectively. Stern points out that other sources at the time reported much higher figures. Undercounting the Indian population was a way of reinforcing the argument that their lands should be turned over to whites.

The pressure increased when part of Oregon Territory was sliced off to create a new one, Washington, in 1853. Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862) was appointed Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory. A former (and future) military officer, Stevens quickly set about organizing a series of treaty councils to divest the territory's Indians of title to most of their ancestral lands and move them to designated reservations.

In May and June 1855, Stevens and Joel Palmer (1810-1881), Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory, met with representatives of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Nez Perce, and Yakama at Mill Creek near the Walla Walla River. The Palouse were invited but declined to participate. According to the official minutes, some 1,800 Indians attended. None of them wanted to surrender title to their lands. Tawatoy (Young Chief), who had tried an appeasement policy five years earlier by arranging the surrender of "the Cayuse Five," now led the opposition to the whites' demands. He said:

"[T]his land is afraid. I wonder if this ground has anything to say. I wonder if the ground is listening to what is said. I wonder if the ground would come to life ... though I hear what this earth says. The earth says, God has placed me here. The earth says that God tells me to take care of the Indians on this earth" (Minutes, June 7, 1855).

Palmer told the Indians that they would not be able to prevent the whites from coming, any more than they could stop the wind from blowing or the rain from falling. "Like the grasshoppers on the plains, some years there will be more come than others, you cannot stop them," he said (Minutes, June 2, 1855). He urged the Indians to select a reservation where they could live in peace, while there was still time.

Shrinking Reservation

In the end, the Cayuses, Umatillas, and Walla Wallas agreed to cede 4,012,800 acres of land in return for $150,000, the creation of a 512,000-acre reservation, the promise of gifts in the future, and the retention of traditional hunting and fishing rights. Congress did not ratify the treaty until 1859. When government surveyors finally marked the boundaries of the reservation, they included only 245,000 acres -- half what had been promised in the treaty -- and the town of Pendleton sat on part of the land.

The reservation shrank even more in years to come. In 1874, the Oregon legislature asked the federal government to terminate the reservation and move the Indians somewhere else because they weren't putting the land to good use. They were hunting, fishing, and grazing horses instead of farming. "We favor their removal as it is a burning shame to keep this fine body of land for a few worthless Indians," the East Oregonian (Pendleton's newspaper) editorialized in December 1877 (Karson, 115). A decade later, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which divided reservations into allotments for individual tribal members and opened the rest of the land for sale to non-Indians. By the early 1930s, only about 160,000 acres remained in tribal hands.

In 1949, the three tribes voted, by a narrow majority, to establish a single tribal government, somewhat diminishing the role of traditional chiefs and headmen. The newly named Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation promptly sued the federal government, seeking compensation for the thousands of acres of land that had been illegally excluded from the reservation and for damages due to loss of fish and eel runs in the Umatilla. That suit was settled out of court. It was followed by another, in 1953, for loss of fishing sites that had been inundated by construction of The Dalles dam. The government paid the Confederated Tribes $4.2 million to settle that suit.

Meanwhile, tribal officials successfully lobbied for the return of some 14,000 acres of reservation lands in the Johnson Creek area southeast of Pilot Rock, Oregon. In 2013 the Umatilla Indian Reservation consists of 172,882 acres, 48 percent of which is owned by non-Indians.

Reclaiming a Heritage

In 2005, the tribes commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Walla Walla Treaty Council with what they called "a victory celebration of survival." It began with a ceremonial procession of 50 mounted horsemen, in an echo of the 2,000 Nez Perce and 500 Cayuse riders who had made a spectacular grand entry into the treaty grounds at Walla Walla in 1855. Antone Minthorn wrote, "It was a proud moment and wonderful to see Indians with the warbonnet headdresses on horseback singing and 'war whooping.' Our history is our strength. Our traditional cultures define us" (Karson, 86-87).

The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, a museum and research center on the reservation, helps preserve that history. Opened in 1998, the 45,000-square-foot building is clad with varying widths of cedar siding to evoke the tule-mat walls of the tribes' traditional dwellings. It is the only interpretive center on the Oregon Trail that looks at the history of the trail from the Native American perspective. The name comes from a Shahaptian word meaning "interpreter."

As of early 2013, more than 2,900 people are enrolled as members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). Roughly half of them live on or near the reservation. About 300 Indians enrolled with other tribes and 1,500 non-Indians also live on reservation property. The CTUIR owns the Wildhorse Resort (which includes a casino, hotel, recreational vehicle park, and 18-hole golf course) and Cayuse Technologies (a software development and training enterprise), and is a partner in the Rattlesnake Road Wind Farm, near Arlington, Oregon, among other business interests. With some 1,600 employees and an annual payroll of about $50 million, it is one of the largest employers in northeastern Oregon.

Part of reclaiming the heritage has been reclaiming the pride. In 2009, Roberta Conner explained:

"There was once a stigma about being Cayuse. And so it's fascinating now when you ask people to raise their hands in a Long House of people, as has happened here a couple of times in the last ten years, and ask how many of you are Cayuse and a lot of people stand up. That never used to be the case" (Conner interview).


Alexander Ross, The Fur Hunters of the Far West (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1924); Clifford E. Trafzer, Yakima, Palouse, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Wanapum Indians: An Historical Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992); Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, The Cayuse Indians: Imperial Tribesmen of Old Oregon (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005); "Camp Life and Seasonal Round," Trail Tribes website accessed April 1, 2013 (; Theodore Stern, Chiefs and Chief Traders: Indian Relations at Fort Nez Perces, 1818-1855 (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1993); Stern, Chiefs and Change in the Oregon Country (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1996); "People of the Lower Columbia," Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation website accessed March 31, 2013 (; Thomas J. Farnham, Travels in the Great Western Prairies (New York and London: Wiley & Putnam, 1843); David Douglas, Journal Kept by David Douglas During His Travels in North America, 1823-1827 (London: W. Wesley & Son, 1914); Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition ed. by Gary E. Moulton (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2002) (online edition available at; Cassandra Tate interview with Roberta Conner, Pendleton, Oregon, July 21, 2009; As Days Go By: Our History, Our Land, and Our People ed. by Jennifer Karson (Pendleton: Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and Oregon Historical Society Press, 2006); Daniel Lee and J. H. Frost, Ten Years in Oregon (New York: J. Collord, 1844); The Letters of Narcissa Whitman, 1836-1847 (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1986); Hubert H. Bancroft, History of Oregon, Vol. II, 1848-1883 (San Francisco: History Company, 1888); Ray H. Glassley, Pacific Northwest Indian Wars (Portland, Oregon: The Metropolitan Press, 1953); Oregon Spectator, January 20, 1848, and April 6, 1848; Joseph Lane, "Legislative Message, 1850," Oregon State Archives website accessed April 1, 2013 (; Certified Copy of the Original Minutes of the Official Proceedings at the Council in Walla Walla Valley, Which Culminated in the Stevens Treaty of 1855 (Portland, Oregon: Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1953) (available online at; "Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Homeland Heritage Corridor," brochure, 2002, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

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