9. James McAllister, Michael Connell and the Start of the Indian War.
Submitted by Gary Reese

Nisqually Bottoms, Washington Territory.
16 October 1855

Superintendent of Indian Affairs,
Washington Territory.

Dear Sir:  From the most reliable Indians that we have in this country, we have information and are satisfied that Leschi, a sub-chief and half Clickitat is and has been doing all that he could possibly do to unite the Indians of this country to raise against the whites in a hostile manner and has had some join in with him already. 

Sir, I am of the opinion that he should be attended to as soon as con¬venient for fear that he might do something bad.  Let his arrangements be stopped at once. 

Your attention to the above will be exceedingly appreciated by the people of Nisqually Bottoms.  For further information, call, and I am at your service.



Clarence Bagley, History of King County. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929 p. 164-65.

(Some) temporary successes led those narrow visioned Red Men to believe that the time was ripe for making a clean-up of white settlements and ridding their illahee of the avaricious and obnoxious Boston man.

Meanwhile the few scattered settlers on the White River and contiguous territory were living quietly without a thought that trouble was brewing or danger impending. They were doomed to a sad awakening.

The trouble was precipitated by the organization of what was known as the Eaton Rangers, a company organized with Charles Eaton as captain, and James McAllister as lieutenant. This company, nineteen strong, started with instructions to apprehend Leschi and his brother, Quiemuth, at their home and bring them to Olympia to be under government surveillance; it having been reported that they had been for some time preparing their band for active hostilities against the settlements.

The brothers having learned of the purpose for which the company was organized left (the Nisqually Valley) hurriedly; Quiemuth leaving the plow, which he was following in the unfinished furrow.

Finding the Indians had gone, Captain Eaton spent a couple of days reconnoitering on the upper Puyallup, and then sent Lieutenant James McAllister with a small party to make a reconnaissance in the vicinity of White River.

McAllister was accompanied by a man named (Michael) Connell who had a claim on White River. Both were shot from ambush on the road leading from the prairie through a swampy tract with fallen timber and thick underbrush on either side. This happened on the 27th of October; and was the first overt act of hostilities on the west of the Cascade Range.

The following day, October 28, 1855, the Indians raided the White River settlement, ruthlessly butchering men, women, and children, nine in all.  Fur children were saved from the slaughter, three from the Jones household who were taken to Seattle by a friendly Indian, and placed on board the Decatur for protection; and one, George King, who was taken by the Indians and held until the following spring, when he was delivered to the military  authorities at Fort Steilacoom."

(The adventures of the Jones children are reported on pages 165-72 of Clarence Bagley's book as well as details of the massacre.).

(Clarence Bagley, History of King County. Seattle: S.J.Clarke, 1929

Edward Huggins, "Letter to Eva Emory Dye, May 27, 1904 regarding James McAllister.

I was well acquainted with James McAllister.  He frequently was at the fort.  He was in appearance,a regular Missourian,or what I supposed a Missourian to look like.  He was about six feet in height, rather thin, but muscular.

He was a good hunter,and towards the end of our wild cattle business,and when cattle became so wild,that they required to be hunted like deer, McAllister was paid, by the company five dollars, for every wild animal he killed,and he didn't get rich at the business, I assure you. 

Mrs. Hartman was the woman who obtained the ledger prize for the best story about early happenings,was one of McAllisters daughters.He had several other children.  One of the daughters married Joe Bunting, the man suspected of being at the head of the party who broke into Governor Stevens' outer office,and killed the brother of Leschi Quiemulth, who was supposed to be carefully guarded by another Missourian, I think.  James  Mc Allister was of limited education,hardly any, if I be not mistaken.  Was a quiet man,had very little to say upon any subject. 

I suppose you saw Mrs. Hartman (Sarah McAllister) prize story.  I thought it 'twas a wretched effusion, full of untruths and exaggerations.  In it she say's that her father was made an Indian, and joined in the councils of the Indians. What gammon! I never heard of the Nisqually Indians meeting in council.

About Simmons.  I can't add but little to what I've already said about him.  I always thought 'twas very unfair to give a man, without any education, position of great trust and,grave import¬ance to the public.  He was superintendent of Indian Affairs at the most critical period of the early history of this country, and had to depend entirely upon the integrity of aids to preform his duties, and 'twas well known that some of his assistants were men who would bear watching. 

One of his principal aids was a man dubbed Major Goldsboro a brother of the U.S.Admiral of that name.  He was a fine looking man, honest for all I know to the contrary.  He was a man of superior education.  Was on very friendly terms with the officers at Fort Steilacoom. 

He left Puget Sound just after the end of the Indian War of 1855 56. got a place in the government office in Washington,and, I think,remained there all his life. At the time Simmons was at the head of the Indian department in Washington Territory. 

The Indians were receiving very large payments, annually, always, I think, in goods,and report said that the Indian Agent made a large income from commissions paid by parties contracting to furnish the goods to the department. of course don't know anything about this, and can't vouch for the truth of the report, but 'twas believed to be true by a large number of people. 

Simmons was another of the McAllister type of men,large,big boned and strong.  He often came to our fort and always lodged in my cabin,and I've listened with interest to many a story told by him of his many adventures.  His lack of education must have been a severe handicap to him.
Edward Huggins, "Letter to Eva Emory Dye dated May 27, 1904 regarding James McAllister." (excerpt).


Ezra Meeker, "James McAllister, " Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford, 1903, p. 535-36.

James McAllister was the first to take a claim away from the prairies near Deschutes. He was, also, among the first to be killed by the Indians in the war of 1855 6.  With the consent of the Indians, he took his claim in the Nis¬qually bottom, not far from the council ground of the tribe of that name.

Mrs.  Hartman, daughter of James McAllister wrote sev¬eral years ago a long article from which are selected the following paragraphs:

"We had all kinds of game, which was more plentiful than the tame stack now, fish and clams, dried and fresh, the Indians shaking us how to prepare them, but we never suc¬ceeded in learning the art of drying them.  We were suc¬cessful in drying fruits, the Indians' mode requiring no sugar. 

"For vegetables we had lackamas, speacotes, and numerous other roots.  We children learned to like the Indian food so well that we thought we could not exist with¬out it.  We kept a supply as long as we could get it, but I have not seen any for many years.

"In 1846, mother disliking to stay alone while father was building, he laughingly told her he had seen two big stumps side by side, and that if she would live in them he would take. her with him.  Mother told him she would go, so father scrapped out the stumps and made a roof, and mother moved in with her six children.
"She found it very comfortable, the burnt out roots making such nice cubbyholes for stow¬ing away things.  Mother continued to live in her stump house until father built a house, the work being necessarily slow, for father had but few tools."

To one familiar with the big cedar stumps of Nisqually bottom, this charming little story will not seem improbable.

This home was not far from Nisqually, and one day Mrs. McAllister went to see Mrs. Huggins, and at that time gave an account of the hardships of the trip to the Sound.  They grew short of provisions so that the children were crying from hunger, somewhere on the Cowlitz trail, between the Company's store near the mouth of that stream where Mon¬ticello afterward stood and the Cowlitz Farm. 

Here Mr. John Work, father of Mrs. Huggins, met them on his way to Fort Vancouver from Fort Simpson, away up on the North west Coast, where he had an important post.  Mr. Work was a tender hearted man and appreciated the pitiful condition of the poor mother and her children. 

He promptly unloaded his packhorse and gave Mrs. McAllister all that was left of the plentiful supply of provisions he had secured at Nisqually, enough to last them until they could  reach the Company's farm at Cowlitz. 

This kindness Mrs. McAllister had not forgotten, and showed much pleasure in telling of it to his daughter.  Somebody put a story afloat a few years ago that it was the noted Indian Leschi who had performed this generous deed.

Ezra Meeker, "James McAllister," Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford, 1903, p. 535-536.


Cordelia Hawk Putvin "About Indians," Stories of the Pioneers. True stories from members of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington. Daughters of the Pioneers, 1986, p. 20-22.

My grandfather, James McAllister, my grandmother Charlotte, and their family, left Kentucky for Missouri during the latter part of the year 1843, so that they could get an early start for the Oregon Country in the spring of 1844.

Their daughter became ill during the journey, so they were happy to reach Whitman's Mission where the doctor could treat her ill¬ness.  His wife, Narcissa, also showed them all possible kindness.

But they had planned on going to the Puget Sound country, so when the girl was well enough to travel, they and four other families made their way down the Columbia River as far as Sophies Island (Washougal), where winter overtook them and they made camp.

In the spring they continued down the Columbia as far as the mouth
of the Cowlitz River, and followed that stream north.

While camped along the Cowlitz one day they had their first en¬counter with Indians.  The men were all off on a hunting trip, and the women and children were alone, when a roving band of Indians came by.  Seeing no men around, they began helping them¬selves to the bright colored patchwork quilts and other useful articles in the camp.

The Indians had nothing but contempt for their white skinned brothers, thinking them weak and undernourished.  The Indians only turned pale when they were sick; these people were pale all the time, therefore they must be a weak, sickly race.  So they were quite surprised when Charlotte, who came from Kentucky fighting stock and could not bear to see her hard earned posses¬sions being carried away, pulled up a tent pole and laid it about right and left over the Indians' heads, shoulders and backs until she put them to flight.

The next day the old chief returned and offered grandfather $500 for the"white squaw", but grandfather soon gave him to understand that white men did not sell their wives.

The great chief Synatco's oldest son, Leschi, had heard of their coming and met them near here.  He was eager to see the "white squaws", as there were no other white women in the territory at this time.  There had been three at Whitman's Mission, and there were four white women and one colored in their group, only eight non-Indian women in the whole of Washington Territory.

Leschi told them they were welcome to make their homes on any of their tribe's property, which included most of the Puget Sound area.  After trying a couple of other places, they fin¬ally discovered the Nisqually Valley, and took out a claim there
at the junction of Skonadaub and Squaquid creeks (later Medi¬cine and McAllister).  The farm was on part of the Indian Council Grounds, but was gladly relinquished by them.  This place was about 15 miles from where they had been living. 

Grandfather had to stay on the new place while he cleared the land and prepared to build living quarters for them.  Grand¬mother did not like this arrangement in which she had to be alone so much of the time with several small children, and she kept after him to find a place for them to live.  Grand¬father laughingly told her he had seen two hollow stumps near¬by that she could move into.  She took him seriously and would not be satisfied until he had promised to put roofs on them and clean them out. 

This he did, and along with a tent, the family of eight lived very comfortably until a house was pre¬pared for them.  The land was cleared and proved to be very fertile; vegetables grew to a wondrous size, potatoes weighing eight to ten pounds were not uncommon, and they could grow three crops of wheat in a summer.  They planted an orchard, and with all the wild berries in the woods they soon became quite prosperous.

Grandmother took in three Indian girls to train as servants, as well as a boy, Clifwhalen.  She found them quick to learn, willing to work, honest and loyal.  So they lived and prospered among the Indians as brothers for many years.  Then other white people began moving in who were not friendly with the Indians, but regarded them as savages rather than human beings, and treated them as such.  Many incidents happened which made the Indians unhappy and distrustful of the white man.

But what finally put the Indians on the warpath involved the daughter of Synatco.  She had been married to a white soldier in an Indian ceremony.  When he was transferred to another fort, where he could not take a wife, he told her that they were not legally married, and sent her back to her father. 

The chief, Synatco, was heartbroken.  He fell to the ground and crept, refusing to walk upright any more.  He howled and howled, which meant he was debased lower than a dog.  Her brothers also were outraged, and swore to kill all the white men, ex¬cept the older settlers who had joined the tribe.  Synatco now abdicated in favor of his oldest son, Leschi, and died soon after.

Leschi too had been heartbroken by the treatment his sister had received.  However, he did not want to declare war against the whites, many of whom were his friends, so he took some of his braves and moved up into the mountains, where they barricaded themselves until the Indians quieted down.  But this time the Indians did not quiet down.  Many hostiles from the north moved in, and with war paint and much noise, put on many demonstra¬tions and dances.

Knowing the strong friendship between Leschi and my grandfather the white people appealed to him to carry a peace commission to him to sign.  They knew if anyone could reach Leschi it was grand¬father.  He was offered and accepted a commission as First Lieuten¬ant in the Puget Sound Volunteers, and with a group of other volunteers and Leschi's brother, Stoki, to guide them, they started off.

After they had gone, grandmother became uneasy and sent Clif¬whalen, the Indian boy they had raised, and George, her oldest son, to follow him.  She told Clifwhalen that when they caught up with him he should stay by his side night and day, and see that no harm came to him.  Clifwhalen said, "I will follow him as his shadow and only death will keep me from it." Grandmother knew that he would keep his promise, which he did.

When the boys caught up with the party two days later, and Clif¬whalen found that Stoki was their guide, he tried to warn grand¬father that Stoki was a traitor and would lead them into a trap.  But grandfather had always trusted the Indians, and thought that Clifwhalen was mistaken.  What did a boy his age know about these things, anyway!

So that evening they started out to find Leschi -- grandfather,
Lt. Connell, Stoki as guide and Clifwhalen as servant.                   
The Indians had a clever way of laying an ambush.  They had two squads of their warriors in the woods beside the trail about a mile and a half apart.  So grandfather and his group passed the first squad without any suspicion, only to have the second squad come running out of the woods shooting, and with the first party coming up behind, they hadn't a chance. 

Clifwhalen shouted to grandfather to take to the woods, but apparently he did not hear him, and he was the first one killed.  Clifwhalen managed to es¬cape with some bullet holes in his clothing.

The men left at the camp heard the shooting and went to investi¬gate only to be met by the Indians, but managed to get back to their camp with only one loss.  George was sent back to the fort to warn the people at home of what had happened, and to send help.  He also managed to get through safely.

The boys arrived home only to find the family being held prisoners in the house, which was surrounded by Indians.  Their imprison¬ment and eventual escape to Fort Nisqually, where they stayed until hostilities ceased, is another story.

Grandfather's body was located and brought to the Fort for
burial, and was later moved to the cemetery at Tumwater.

Cordelia Hawk Putvin "About Indians," Stories of the Pioneers. True stories from members of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington. Daughters of the Pioneers, 1986, p. 20-22.

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