Robert L. Bradley, "William A. Slaughter,"
Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, XVIII(Winter,
During the westward expansion of the nation, the Army played a key role
in providing expeditions, topographical survey, frontier security,
protection for settlers, and skills and services not available in
pioneer settlements. The posts that accompanied these duties
often were isolated and remote, but symbolically and in practice were
centers for the pioneers.
For the military, garrison life in the new territories often was
monotonous, with patrols equally so except during periods of Indian
unrest. Then, field duty could become suddenly violent and
This pattern prevailed in the Washington Territory, with officers and
men sharing both the daily routine and the occasional hazards, some
paying with their lives during the Indian War of 1855 1856. One
of these, stationed at Fort Steilacoom, was a young West Point
graduate, William Alloway Slaughter.
Slaughter was born in Kentucky in 1827, the first child of Alban and
Mary Alloway Slaughter. Shortly after his birth, the family moved
to Lafayette, Indiana, where his father served as a justice of the
Peace and Court Administrator. In 1844, young Slaughter entered
the Military Academy, graduating in 1848 after the end of the Mexican
War. He received his brevet com¬mission as a Second
Lieutenant, 2nd Infantry, and reported to Fort Hamilton, New York,
awaiting sea transportation to California and his first troop
Stationed at San Diego, his most interesting duty was pro¬viding
security for the survey party which fixed the new border with
Mexico. In 1850, he was transferred to Fort Gratiot, one of a
series of forts controlling the Great Lakes waterways. There he
married Mary Wells, the only daughter of a local merchant.
Married less than a year, the Slaughters moved with the 4th Infantry
Regiment as it was assigned to the Department of the Pacific in
Lt. Slaughter was assigned in 1852 to Columbia Barracks, Fort
Vancouver, and he was transferred to Fort Steilacoom in 1853, at the
same time that Washington Territory was created.
Lt. Slaughter and his wife quickly entered into life at Fort Steilacoom
and the local community. She ran the Officers Mess. He
surveyed and platted the township for Lafayette Balch's part of
Steilacoom, eventually owning 32 lots. As a Mason he was one of
the original group who successfully petitioned to form a lodge in
Steilacoom, founded in 1854.
In addition to mixing with locally prominent settlers, Lt.
Slaughter also came in contact with Governor Stevens during Indian
negotiations. At the end of 1854, Lt. Slaughter was present
at the historic Medicine Creek Council on the Nisqually flats, seated
at the main table with Governor Stevens as the treaty negotiations
began. Governor Stevens, charged with the purchase of Indian
lands and the creation of reservations, embarked on a whirlwind series
of councils to sign treaties in the Washington Territory.
While there were multiple causes for the Indian War that was soon to
follow in 1855 1856, dissatisfaction by both the settlers and the
Indian tribes with the treaty provisions figured prominently in the
rising pattern of violence and conflicts in the Territory. In
shortly over two months, from late September to early December, 1855,
Lt. Slaughter took part in the opening action of the Indian War
and in a series of sorties on the prairies east of Fort Steilacoom, the
last of which ended in his death.
The precipitating incident for the Indian War was the death of Andrew
Bolton, the Governor's agent for Indian tribes, who was killed east of
the Cascade Mountains by members of the Yakima tribe. His death
sparked widespread rumors and fears of an Indian uprising, despite the
fact that many of the Indian tribes had peaceful relations with the
settlers and never took part in any hostilities. Bolton's death
triggered a two pronged punitive action that was loosely coordinated
Major Haller, with a force of approximately 100 men, left Fort Dalles
on October 3, and three days later had an afternoon skir¬mish at
Toppenish Creek with a large band of Yakima warriors.
He broke contact, took up a defensive position on a hill, and withdrew
the next day, fighting sporadically until his force reached the safety
of the high ground across the Columbia River from the Dalles.
On September 24, Acting Governor Mason had sent a letter to Captain
Maloney, the Commander at Fort Steilacoom, requesting a detachment of
troops be sent to punish the Yakima tribe. Lt. Slaughter
and about forty men left on September 27 and crossed the Naches Pass,
intending to make contact with Major Haller. Warned by one of his
civilian scouts of Major Haller's defeat and the advance of the Yakima
tribe, Lt. Slaughter halted his advance and withdrew to the
vicinity of the White River.
The news of the abortive expedition raised a storm of civilian and
military reaction. Acting Governor Mason declared war with the
Indians and authorized the formation of two volunteer companies of
militia. When the word reached the Department of the Pacific,
General Wool dispatched seventy men to Fort Vancouver and asked for a
regiment from the east coast, a request that was granted.
Meanwhile sporadic Indian attacks continued.
In late October, in several raids and ambushes, Indians killed three
families along the White River, two envoys to Chief Leschi, and two
members of a messenger party from Captain Maloney who was in the
field. Fearful of a general uprising, many settlers left their
farms and fled to Fort Steilacoom.
Lt. Slaughter and Company C, 4th Infantry, moved to the Puyallup River
and Connell's Prairie to intercept Indian tribes and prevent their
joining together. On November 3, after a patrol located a group
of Nisqually Indians preparing an ambush along the Green River,
Lt. Slaughter attacked the Indians, claiming thirty killed.
He was unable to cross the river and cut them off; nevertheless, the
action was one of the first successful ones in the campaign, with but
one soldier killed.
Toward the end of the month, on November 24, Lt. Slaughter began
a reconnaissance in force from Camp Montgomery, a supply base near the
Puyallup River, toward the White River. Not making contact by the
end of the day, he made camp, with the uneasy premonition that the wet,
rainy weather would bring fog and increased chances of an Indian
raid. He was correct. His position was fired on during the
night, and despite doubled sentries some forty horses were stolen.
The next day, Lt. Slaughter's command was augmented by a
detachment of twenty five men from Company M, 3rd Artillery, which had
arrived as reinforcements from San Francisco. The next several
days were spent in search opera¬tions to locate hostile Indian
tribes, but without success. On December 3, Lt. Slaughter
was joined by Captain Hays and a detachment of Washington militia, with
instructions to rendezvous with another small force of volunteers led
by Captain Hewitt at the junction of the White and Green Rivers, the
present day site of Auburn.
After joining forces, Lt. Slaughter set up a joint camp.
That evening, the position was fired upon by Indians, and Lt.
Slaughter was killed by a musket shot as he was conducting a planning
meeting with the other commanders. Two other men were casualties
and five were wounded.
The death of Lt. Slaughter was widely mourned. The
Legislature passed a resolution of condolence and adjourned for the day
as a mark of respect. Newspapers published laudatory
articles. He was buried at Fort Steilacoom with full military and
Masonic honors in a ceremony attended by Acting Governor Mason,
Lafayette Balch, and other prominent citizens. As a final note of
respect, when Mrs. Slaughter later returned to the east coast, she was
accompanied by Acting Governor Mason.
At the time of his death, Lt. Slaughter was honored for giving
his life in the service of his country and the Washington
Territory. After the Civil War, when the Army disbanded Fort
Steilacoom, Lt. Slaughter's remains were reinterred in 1892 in
the military cemetery at the Presidio of San Francisco.
Never¬theless, his death still stands as a symbol of all the
soldiers who gave their lives during the creation and growth of the
Monograph submitted by Colonel Robert L.
Bradley, U. S. Army, Retired, Class of
1949, United States Military Academy
Research material on Lt. Slaughter furnished by Mr. Joseph Koch,
Bonney, W. P., History of Pierce County, Washington, Vol. 1, Pioneer
Historical Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1927.
Richards, Kent D., Isaac L Stevens, Young Man in a Hurry, Brigham Young
University Press, Provo, UT, 1979.
Spreen, Christopher A., History of Steilacoom
Lodge #2 F. & A. M. 1854 1952, Steilacoom
Masonic Lodge, Steilacoom, WA, 1952.
Robert L. Bradley, "William A. Slaughter," Steilacoom Historical Museum
Quarterly, XVIII (Winter, 1989).
William P. Bonney, "The Death of Lieutenant Slaughter," History of
Pierce County. Volume I p. 189.
Captain E. D. Keyes arrived at Fort Steilacoom Novem¬ber 24
with Company M of the Third Artillery, consisting of about eighty four
men, further strengthening the 168 regu¬lars of the Fourth Infantry
under Maloney. At this time Captain Hewitt, commanding a company
of volunteers at Seattle, was ordered to the Green and White rivers to
place himself in communication with Lieutenant Slaughter.
Cap¬tain Hays took up a position on the Nisqually River, near Muck
Prairie. Captain Wallace's company was in the Puyal¬lup
Valley, keeping communications open to Steilacoom and the fort.
Lieutenant Harrison, of the Jefferson Davis, also took the field with
Slaughter started for the White River on the twenty fourth. On
the night of the twenty fifth he was attacked on Bitting's Prairie by
bands under Kitsap and Kanascut, of the Klikitats; Quiemuth and
Klowowit of the Nisquallies; and Nelson of the Green River and Niscope
Indians. He lost forty horses during the fog and attack.
On the twenty sixth a member of Wallace's com¬pany, E. G. Price,
was shot by a lurking Indian. The same bullet wounded Addison
Perham. Twenty five men of the Third Artillery, under Lieutenant
McKeever, joined Slaugh¬ter on the twenty sixth. Slaughter
divided his force, delegat¬ing Wallace and his men to make sorties
from Morrison's place on the Stuck. The weather was cold and
rainy, and disagreeable for field work.
On the third of December Slaughter took sixty of his men and five from
Wallace's com¬pany and started to meet Captain Hewitt. He
camped on Brannan's Prairie, at the forks of the Green and White
rivers, taking possession of a log hut; and sent word f or Captain
Hewitt, some two or three miles distant, to meet him there. On
the night of the fourth Indians crept up near the cabin, and as a
conference was being held, opened fire, killing Slaughter, as described
by Captain Keyes to Acting Gover¬nor Mason in the following letter:
Head Quarters, Puget Sound District,
Fort Steilacoom, W. T., Dec. 7, 1855 (6 p. m.)
Acting Governor C. H. Mason,
Olympia, Washington Territory.
I have just received information that on Tuesday night last, while
Lieutenant Slaughter was sitting in a small house at his camp, about
two miles and a half above the forks of the White and Green rivers,
conversing with Captain Hewitt and Lieut. Harrison and Dr.
Taylor, the Indians fired on them and killed Lieutenant Slaughter at
the first dis¬charge. Two soldiers were also killed on the
spot and five others wounded, of whom one is since dead.
Lieutenant Slaughter's body has arrived here.
It is reported on all hands that it is impossible to operate against
the Indians with any effect in the country on the White, Green and
Puyallup rivers at this season of the year, and I know it to be so from
personal observation. To con¬tinue such a course will break
down all our men and effect no harm to the Indians. Our pack
animals are broken down, and we must establish our forces on our own
ground in places where they will not suffer at night and where they can
best protect the settlers.
As you must be far better acquainted with such points, I would request
that, if convenient, you will come and see me tomorrow.
I send by the bearer a letter to Captain Hays, with direc¬tions for
him to concentrate his command at Bradley's, to go to the relief of
forty men now encamped on the other side of the Puyallup, about
three miles from the ford. I do not know where Captain Hays is at
this moment. If you know please direct the bearer.
Mrs. Slaughter is at Olympia. Please keep the dreadful news of
her husband's death a secret until Lieutenant Nugen can break it
I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your most obedient servant,
(Signed) E. D. Keyes,
Capt. 3rd Art., Com.
The death of Lieutenant Slaughter cast a gloom over the entire
Sound. The Legislature, then in session, passed resolutions of
condolence, and adjourned out of respect for the beloved officer.
William Alloway Slaughter was born in Kentucky in 1826. He moved
with his parents into Indiana, and from there was appointed, to the
Military Academy at West Point in 1844. He graduated on June 30,
1848, and was made brevet second lieutenant July 1st, 1848, in the
Second Infan¬try, and appointed first lieutenant in the Fourth
Infantry November 6, 1848. This regiment was sent to the forts in
Michigan, with U. S. Grant commanding.
In May, 1851, Lieutenant Slaughter met and married Mary Wells, of Port
Huron, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Wells. In April,
1852, the whole regiment was ordered to the Pacific Coast. They
came by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Mrs. Slaughter, a bride of
less than a year, was the only woman to accompany the troops from the
fort where her husband was stationed.
The story of that voyage, with their hardships, as told by General
Grant in his personal memoirs, is too long to repeat here.
However, there is one item found on Page 198, Vol. I, that will
bear repeating. It reads:
"One morning an amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at
anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant
Slaughter, who was very liable to sea sickness. It almost made
him sick to see the wave of a tablecloth when the servants were
spreading it. Soon after his graduation, Slaughter was ordered to
California and took passage by sailing vessel around Cape Horn.
The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick
every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor
after reaching his place of destination.
"On land¬ing in California he found orders, which had come by the
Isthmus, notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have
been ordered to the northern Lakes. He started back by the
Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived in
the East he was again ordered to Cali¬fornia, this time definitely,
and at this date was making his third trip. He was as sick as
ever, and had been so for more than a month while at anchor in the
"I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of
him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of
despair. At last he broke out, 'I wish I had taken my father's
advice , he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so I
would not have to go to sea so much.' "
We read in Elwood Evans' writings a description of Lieu¬tenant
Slaughter's personal appearance. It says: "He was stationed at
Fort Vancouver a short time, and in 1853 was ordered to Fort
Steilacoom. As an officer he was brave to a
As an Indian campaigner, he was remarkably success¬ful; no man had
more endeared himself to his command, none @ad a more happy faculty of
inspiring men with enthusiasm; small in frame and delicate in person,
his powers of endur¬ance were wonderful. He had led almost
all of the expedi¬tions to check the Indians during the stay in the
country, and had been actively in the field from the commencement of
hos¬tilities until he met his untimely death.
Brilliant he was as and as a citizen he had rendered himself equally
soldier,dear to the people of the Territory in which he had been
assigned to duty. In the walks of social life who that enjoyed
his friendship can ever forget him?"
Lieutenant Slaughter was a likable character those who knew him
best loved and respected him most. His wife was a leader in this
class. She never regained her cheerful com¬posure after her
husband's death. In 1856 she went back to her old home,
accompanied by Territorial Secretary Charles Mason. She died in
1861 and was buried in the family plot at Port Huron, Mich. On
one side of her tombstone is a trib¬ute to her husband. He
was buried at Fort Steilacoom on the 9th of December, 1855, with
appropriate Masonic and military honors.
When Captain Keyes heard of Slaughter's death he
heart is sick when I reflect that so brave an officer and so gallant a
gentleman should be slain by the wretched savages."
William P. Bonney, "The death of Lieutenant Slaughter," History of
Pierce County, Volume I, p. 189.
Ezra Meeker, "The Death of Lieutenant Slaughter," Pioneer Reminiscences
of Puget Sound. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford, 1903.
On the 24th of November, Lieut. Slaughter with fifty regulars and
two companies of volunteers Captain Rays and Wallace's commands, moved
to Puyallup, camping on the same ground where the Eaton Rangers had
been previously besieged. At nightfall of the 25th, the camp was
surrounded by Indians, the night made hideous by their yells, and some
shots fired into camp without harm.
The Indians succeeded in running off a number of the horses of the
command. The next day one man was wounded, and the camp kept
under arms at night by occasional shots, after which the Indians drew
off and were seen no more at that camp.
The whole attack, on the part of the Indians consisted more in yells
than of bullets, and became ludi¬crous after the affair was ended.
A curious incident occurred during this affray. The horse ridden
by Dr. Burns on the 31st of October, through the swamp when Miles and
Moore were killed, came into camp with saddle, saddle bags, sword and
everything just as he was when Burns abandoned him nearly a month
The superstition of the Indians had doubtless deterred them from
touching the outfit, and saved the horse to be again "shot down from.
under him," as previously reported by the eccentric doctor.
The Indian, Kanasket, was mortally wounded during the evening and
brought into camp defiant to the last, exciting the admiration and pity
of his foes. He knew his time had come but that he was
willing to die; that if he had the power to do so he would renew the
fight and never make peace as long as there wag breath of life in
He was one of the most fearless of his tribe. His loss was keenly
felt and doubtless caused the early withdrawal of their forces from the
field, as he was one of their leaders.
Slaughter's command moved down the Puyallup a few miles to near the
mouth of Stuck. Here, forty of the volunteers under
Lieutenant Moore of Wallace's com¬pany, were left in camp while
Slaughter, on December 4th, pushed on over to White River, and camped
near the ground of the recent massacre, two miles below the mouth of
While consulting in an open cabin at night fall with Captain Hewitt,
who had moved his company from Seattle to a point near by, the Indians
made a sudden rush, killed Lieutenant Slaughter and Corporals Berry and
Clarendon of the volunteer force, and wounded four privates of the
regulars, one of whom soon died.
Captain Keyes hastily summoned Captain Hays company to extricate the
forty men camped on the Puy¬allup, and again the country was
evacuated, Slaughter's contingent going out down White River to
Seattle, while the Puyallup command returned to Steilacoom by the same
route they had gone in on.
The utter futility of attempting to prosecute a winter campaign became
so apparent that no further move was made for over two months.
With reference to the movement of the troops, Gov¬ernor Mason, in
his message, delivered to the legislature December 7th, 1855,
"The disposition which has been subsequently made of the troops in the
field in this portion of the Territory, has been with the design while
at the same time to keep the hostile Indians in check, adequate force
should be moving on the outskirts of the settlements that the farmers
might be enabled to return to their claims to provide for the
com¬ing year's subsistence."
This was a very different policy from that adopted by Governor Stevens
a few months later, when he actu¬ally used a part of the volunteer
force to drive settlers off their claims instead of protecting
Governor Mason continued this humane policy until Stevens' re¬turn
to Olympia, Jan. 19th, 1856.
Mason in his message paid a handsome tribute to Governor
Douglass. He said:
"I deem it my duty here, to make public acknowledgement of the services
rendered by his Excellency, James Douglass Governor of
Vancouver's Island. Upon the alarm natur¬ally attendant upon
a serious Indian outbreak, almost with¬in arms length of us, and
owing to the scarcity of fire arms and ammunition, application was made
to him for such an amount of these munitions of war as he could
"That application was promptly and cordially responded to, to the
extent of his power; he at the same time regretting that he had at the
moment no vessel of war at his disposal, and that his steamers, the
Otter and Beaver, were both absent, but upon the arrival of either, she
should be dispatched to the Sound, to render such service as might be
required of her. Since then the Otter has visited this place."
Let us recall the famous saying that "blood is thicker than water."
Pursuing this subject a little further, the following letter from R. S.
Robinson, who was Quartermaster and Commissary of the Northern
Battalion, with headquarters at Port Townsend, will be interesting
"Our volunteers in the field were short of supplies.
Gov¬ernor Stevens requested me to go to Victoria, and, if
pos¬sible, get what supplies were needed of the Hudson Bay Company.
"I went over to Victoria and presented my letter to the company.
Governor Douglass was friendly from the first. The company would
furnish the supplies if Governor Stevens would draw direct on the
Treasurer to pay for the goods:' I told them the Governor could not
draw on the United States Treasurer for there was no appropriation to
meet the emergency.
"Governor Douglass said: 'You shall not go back with¬out some
supplies.' He then wrote an order on the H. B. Co. to let me have
$5,000 worth on his account. I presented this to the
company. They saw the Governor was not afraid, and asked me for a
statement of everything I wished from them, and I received the supplies
to the full extent re¬quired."
Governor Stevens neglected to mention this generous act in his message
to the next legislature. In looking over the old papers and books
of units at Fort Nis¬qually, I found that at that post $27,304
worth of goods were supplied to the volunteer forces and from the
pri¬vate correspondence it becomes manifest the manage¬ment
both at Nisqually and Victoria were very loth to give up the goods for
scrip, and did it only as a sense of duty.
Governor Douglass wrote:
I must cordially acknowledge the moral obli¬gation which binds
Christian and civilized nations to exert their utmost power and
influence in checking the inroads of the merciless savage, and it is a
cause of sincere regret, on my part, that our means of rendering you
assistance comes infinitely short of our wishes."
This letter was in response to the first request for help, but later
the amount ran so large they doubted the wisdom, as a business venture,
of letting so large a sum go, rightly saying that the emergency had
passed and that the American Government could provide for the troops.
November 14th, 1856, Dr. Tolmie wrote the Board of Management of the
Hudson Bay Company, Western Department Victoria:
I am happy to inform you that commissioners residing in Oregon have
been appointed to investigate the scrip liability incurred during the
Indian troubles. Gov¬ernor Stevens has taken a new position
in framing his ex¬cuses for the Indian war, and has publicly
declared that arch enemy, the Hudson Bay Company, is the only cause why
the Indians would not observe the treaties made with them."
Of course the management were very much puzzled to account for such
action on the part of Governor Stev¬ens, not realizing the
influences that were leading his mind astray, and that he so often was
not responsible for his words.
Another incident worthy of record:
"Some time after Lieut. Slaughter was killed the settlers on the
Sound were alarmed, not knowing when their time would come, being
mostly housed up in block houses. It Was then the Puget Mill
Company offered to furnish a vessel, arm it and supply it with men and
provisions, and present it to the Governor for protection of the
I represented the facts to Quartermaster General Miller at
Olympia. He consulted with Gov. Stevens. They
repre¬sented to me that they felt under deep obligation to the
Puget Mill Company for their generous offer, but did not consider the
situation sufficiently alarming to warrant ac¬ceptance of the offer.
"The above incident was never published. It seems to me it
was of sufficient importance to be preserved. The Puget
Mill Co. certainly deserves credit for so generous an offer.
Capt. Keller was superintendent at the time."
Ezra Meeker, "The Death of Lieutenant Slaughter," Pioneer Reminiscences
of Puget Sound. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford, 1903.
BEGINNING OF THE WAR AND THE DEATH OF
Erasmus Darwin Keyes, "The beginning of the Indian campaigns on the
Pacific Coast," Fifty Years' observation of men and events. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1884. p. 250-254.
Regarding the outbreak of the Indians in the Puget Sound district of
Washington Territory, which occurred in 1855, and the war which
followed, I shall confine my remarks to a limited space.
The hostili¬ty of the tribes was so general in all the Territory,
and their devastations so cruel in many places, that General John E.
Wool, who commanded the Department of the Pacific, thought it requisite
to repair in person to Fort Vancouver.
My company, " M," Third Regiment of Ar¬tillery, embarked with him
on board the steamer Cali¬fornia, Captain William E. Dall, and
proceeded north¬ward, early in November, 1855. We arrived off
the mouth of the Columbia River in the afternoon, and although a fierce
wind had covered the whole bar from shore to shore and for several
miles up and down with a white foam, it was decided to cross at
There happened to be a pilot on board, and he and the captain stood
together on the bridge. The head of steam was in¬creased to
secure steerage way in the billows, and we moved up against a strong
ebb tide at a fair rate of speed till we reached about midway in the
passage, when a flue collapsed, drove all the burning coals from under
one of the boilers, and set fire to the ship, which immediately lost
headway so much that she ceased for a moment to obey her rudder.
The pilot lost courage, exclaimed, "She's a goner!" and started down
from the bridge. Captain Dall instantly resumed command, called
out to the firemen to feed the remaining fires with lard and
tal¬low, and after a few seconds the ship began to move
for¬ward, and at the end of an hour we were anchored off Astoria.
When the steamer lost headway the lead showed a draught of water almost
exactly corresponding with that of the vessel, but fortunately she did
not ground. If she had struck, not a soul on board could by
possibility have been saved.
Some of the soldiers, as they saw the pilot quitting his post came to
me in terror, and asked what they should do. I replied, "Take
hold of that hose and let us put out that fire in the hold."
I carried the end of the hose down the steps as far as I could reach,
the men pumped, and in a short time the flames were extinguished.
General Wool was perfectly calm, as were the
other officers, but it is certain none of us ever escape greater danger
than on that occasion, and such was the opinion of the eight or ten
ship masters who were among the passengers Captain Dall's
intrepidity was the admiration of every man on board the
From the Columbia River, General Wool ordered me to proceed in another
transport to Steilacoom and assume command of the Puget Sound
District. I arrived there on the 24th day of November, 1855, and
found a condition of wild alarm. Many families had been
massacred, and the surviving settlers were all collected in the small
There were only two skeleton companies of regular infantry and a few
companies of volunteers in the district, and they were widely scattered.
Lieutenant William S. Slaughter, with one company, guarded a stockade
at the north of the Puyallup, and I arranged an interview with him with
the aid of a friendly Indian. I went out twenty miles from Fort
Steilacoom, and conversed with him across the river, which was so deep
and rapid that my volunteer messenger, after delivering my note to
Slaugh¬ter, lost his horse in returning, but saved himself.
Slaughter assured me that he was safe from attack in his strong block
house, with plenty of supplies, and that, owing to the high state of
the water in the streams and the smallness of my force in men and
animals, it would be folly to invade the Indian country before the
arrival of reinforcements, and the subsidence of the streams.
Recommending caution and vigilance on his part, I re¬turned to my
Four days later, to wit, on the 4th of December, Lieutenant
Slaughter was killed by a party of Indians, headed by the famous
Klickitat Chief, Kanaskat. As William A. Slaughter was a graduate
of the West Point Military Academy of the class of 1848, and a pupil of
mine, I will transcribe the circumstances of his death from my journal.
"December 7, 1855. At about 4.30 to day, news was brought that
Lieutenant Slaughter, 4th Infantry, had been shot by the Indians.
On the 3d instant he left his camp at Morrison's, near the Puyallup,
with fifty four soldiers. He had with him Lieutenant James E.
Harri¬son of the marine corps, and Dr. Taylor of the navy.
On the afternoon of the 4th they arrived at a deserted farm on
Brannan's Prairie, which is two miles from the fork of White and Green
rivers, where there is a post com¬manded by Captain Hewett of the
volunteers. Hewett came up to see Slaughter, and to tell him he
had been scouting over the neighborhood all day, and that he found no
signs of Indians.
As Slaughter, who had come from another direction, discovered none,
they considered themselves safe and they allowed fires to be built and
kept burning long after dark. In this they made a fatal mistake,
as among hostile savages there is no safety except by keeping dark and
well guarded. This I had learned from my service in Florida, and
that in a cam¬paign against Indians, the front is all around, and
the rear nowhere.
"The men were busy cooking their suppers, and the officers, Slaughter,
Hewett, Harrison, and Taylor were conversing in a small log hut, which
stood near the edge of the prairie. All this
while a band of red skins, directed by Kanaskat were creeping up and
arranging themselves in a th¬icket of brush and tall grass
that stood a hundred yards distant.
The sentinel had noticed the rustling of the grass and heard what he
supposed was the grunting of hogs and as the settlers had often left
their animals at their farms, he paid no atten¬tion to those
noises. At a little past seven o'clock, the Indians fired a
volley, aimed mostly at the hut. One bullet passed between the
logs and directly through Slaughter's heart. He fell over and
expired in a minute. His only words were: 'Take care of
yourselves, I am dying!'
Two corporals were killed outright, and four private soldiers wounded,
one of whom died the following day.
After a single volley the Indians withdrew."
Among the Indian chiefs of the Puget Sound district were five whose
names were on every tongue. These were Pat Kanim, Kanaskat,
Kitsap, Quimelt, and Leschi. Pat Kanim remained friendly,
although he confessed to me that he had two tum tums (hearts), one of
which inclined him to fight the Bostons (whites), and the other to keep
the peace because he thought them too strong!
The other four were hostile, and Kanaskat, above the others,
was the most deadly foe to our race. This chief was en¬gaged
in nearly all the murders that brought on the con¬flict. He
was not only noted for the ingenious devices of torture that he would
practice on his victims, but for the ferocious pertinacity with which
he began and continued the war. He boasted that he could prolong
it five years, and that no bullet could kill him.
Cutmouth John and other messengers who came to me from the hostile camp
all gave the same account of Kanaskat. He would have nothing to
say about peace, but would sit apart in obstinate sulkiness.
Kanaskat's rep¬utation extended beyond the mountains, and Ohwi sent
his son Qualchein and another young brave from the Yakima country to
learn from him the art of fighting in the night time.
He was a model Indian patriot, hardy and enter¬prising, perfect in
feral stealth, and vengeance was his ruling quality. He hated all
the white settlers, and rather than they should possess his country he
preferred to perish. It chanced that [later] I laid the plan
which resulted in the death of Kanaskat.
Erasmus Darwin Keyes "The beginning of the Indian campaigns on the
Pacific Coast," Fifty Years' observation of men and events. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1884. p. 250-254.
Roberta Frye Watt, "The death of Lieutenant Slaughter," The Story of
Seattle. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford Company, 1931. p. p.223-226].
Whatever sense of security the villagers may have had in feeling that
they were fortified for winter was shattered when, on December 4th,
swift messengers again came paddling hurriedly down from the White
River, this time with the news, "Lieutenant Slaughter has been killed!"
The tragedy had occurred on the site of the White River massacre in a
deserted cabin. Now the settlers feared that not even the presence of
the regular army would check the savages in warfare.
Hewitt's company had been securely fortified at the junction of the
White and Green Rivers awaiting orders from Lieutenant Slaughter.
Toward evening on December 3rd word came that Slaughter had arrived and
camped for the night about four miles distant. With a guard of several
men Hewitt went down at once to confer with him.
Slaughter and his company of about sixty men of regulars and volunteers
from Captain Wallace's company had been marching all day in the rain,
and were wet through, chilled and tired. They had covered only eight
miles but that was a long march through the unbroken forest, After
supper they proceeded to dry their clothes and rest about the fires.
Mrs. Blame's letter and other contemporary accounts agree that
Slaughter was urged to take his men to the better fortified camp of the
Seattle company, but replied that his men were too tired to make
another move that night.
The following account of what happened was furnished in after years by
David Denny, a member of Hewitt's company of volunteers:
An Indian guide named Puyallup Tom accompanied Lieut. Slaughter through
the Green River country where he was to meet with the company of
volunteers of which I was a member. It was cold and raining nearly all
day. When near the spot where they camped they saw an Indian dog
skulking along in the under brush. Puyallup Tom said that the dog's
master was not far off and to "Closhe nanatch" (look out).
Darkness came on before they reached the camp of the volunteers who
were on the west side of the river. The Lieutenant found a small cabin
in the opening in the woods and here he made camp for the night. They
were all drenched to the skin so they stacked their arms and built
large fires of fence rails around which the soldiers stood to dry. The
Lieutenant did not put out any guards as he had not seen any Indians
He made his quarters in the cabin with his officers where they had a
fire on the earth floor. As the night drew on the hooting of owls was
heard. The guide told him that it was the Indians signaling to each
other but he said, "No, you're mistaken." Puyallup Tom begged that the
fire be extinguished but the Lieut. refused.
He sent a courier to the camp of volunteers and three of their officers
came to confer. The soldiers were around the bright fire and the Lieut.
was sitting in the cabin when the Indians fired a volley into their
midst killing Lieut. Slaughter instantly. The bullet came in between
logs striking him in the heart, He made no sound save the sharp in
taking of his breath and fell over dead.
Two of the soldiers were killed and several wounded. The men crowded
into the little cabin and Puyallup Tom ran out and kicked the fires
The Indians withdrew for a time. Finally two men who were in a fence
corner heard them creeping back and fired on them.
Those men who fired from the fence corner were soldiers who had fought
in the Seminole War in Florida and knew Indian methods. By such tactics
they gave the impression of large numbers being on the defensive.
The Seattle volunteers heard the firing and started at once, only to
meet the regulars hurrying down to their camp carrying the wounded on
litters and the body of Slaughter. On the following day a detachment of
soldiers was sent back to bury the bodies of the two soldiers.
It was a sad little canoe procession that brought the body of Slaughter
and the wounded soldiers down to Seattle the day after the tragedy. One
of the men died on the way. Until the bodies of the dead could be
transferred to Steilacoom, they lay in the new blockhouse fort, which
was taking on the grim usages of war. One of my mother's most vivid
memories was that of Lieutenant Slaughter's body lying under the stairs
in the blockhouse.
No single event cast a gloom over the community as the death of Lieut.
Slaughter. He was a graduate of West Point, a brave and efficient
soldier and had been actively in the field from the beginning of Indian
hostilities until his death.
A granite monument in Auburn beside the much traveled Pacific Highway
honors the spot where this gallant young soldier died, and not far
distant a second one commemorates the White River massacre.
How close and personal this encounter brought the war to the Seattle
volunteers is illustrated by a story that I have heard my father,
George Frye, tell. He told of going with others to bury the dead at
Slaughter's camp and taking a vote whether they would stand by the
wounded in case of an attack, or whether each would look to his own
They voted to stay with the wounded to the last man. He had known no
fear until then, he said, but the thought of being left wounded to the
mercy of the Indians filled him with horror.
Lieutenant David Denny told how, when they took the body of Slaughter
away from the cabin in which he had been killed and left the other dead
behind, they could hear as they moved away the victorious yells of the
savages as they took possession of Slaughter's camp, and how they found
the bodies robbed and scalped when they returned the following day to
The settlers' fear that not even the army would be able to protect them
increased. Captain Hewitt's company was ordered to Seattle shortly
after the death of Slaughter. Other companies were ordered to the
different settlements, leaving the field to the Indians, who thus far
had come off victorious in every encounter.
The best the whites could do now was to defend themselves in the
blockhouses against the offensive of the enemy─an enemy well armed and
perfectly familiar with the forest, which the white man found almost
Roberta Frye Watt, "The death of Lieutenant Slaughter," The Story of
Seattle. Seattle: Lowman and Hanford Company, 1931. p. p.223-226].
"Lieut. Slaughter," The Puget Sound
Courier. Steilacoom, Washington Territory, Friday, December 14, 1855.
Among the misfortunes of the present war with the Indians nothing has
occurred to produce a deeper and more universal sorrow in this part of
the country, than the death of Lieut. William A. Slaughter of the 4th
Regiment of Infantry, U. S. Army who was killed near the junction of
the White and Green rivers on the evening of the 4th of December.
Lieutenant Slaughter was born in the state of Kentucky in the year
1827. Early in life he removed with his family to the town of
Lafayette, Indiana. In 1844 he entered the Military Academy and
graduated with distinction in 1848.
Those who were acquainted with Lieut. Slaughter as a cadet relate that
he was always exemplary in his conduct, attentive to his duties and
respectful towards his superiors. Among the graduates of the Military
Academy, some are scholars, and some are soldiers; and some partake of
the qualifications of both.
Mr. Slaughter's scholarship was very respectable but it was in those
qualities which constitute the soldier and officer that his claims to
the admiration of his fellow citizens are chiefly to be sought.
Soon after graduating, Mr. Slaughter joined the 2nd Infantry in
California as Brevet 2nd Lieut. For a while he served with the escort
to the commission for establishing the boundary between the United
States and Mexico and in the spring of 1850 having been promoted to the
4th Infantry he returned to the United States.
He again embarked for the Pacific with the 4th Infantry in 1852 and
after being stationed a short time at Fort Vancouver he was ordered to
Fort Steilacoom in February, 1853. From that time till the date of his
untimely death he was constantly on duty in this portion of Washington
In the difficulties which heretofore have disturbed our Indian
relations in the neighborhood of Puget Sound. Lieut. Slaughter's
services were often required. His activity and energy and the alacrity
with which he performed his duties caused him, as a general rule, to be
selected as the leader of the expeditions which from time to time were
sent to suppress the threatened and actual hostilities of the savages.
Upon the breaking out of the war with the Yakimas, Lieutenant Slaughter
was ordered in September last, to cross the mountains with a command of
only forty men. He was shortly recalled and after joining his 40 men
with the force under Captain Maloney, again set out for the Yakima
country late in October; before proceeding far, Captain Maloney was
induced to retrace his steps.
In the combats with the Indians on the 3rd and 4th of November, on the
White and Green rivers, Lieut. Slaughter's conduct and gallantry were
such as to win the admiration of all parties, both of regulars and
After the conflict on the Green River, Lieut Slaughter was detailed
with a separate command. In crossing the Puyallup over a fallen trees,
the two leading men were shot down by Indians ambushed on the other
side, as the men fell Lieut. Slaughter called out to them separately by
name but receiving no answer he ordered his solders to charge across.
Two sprang forward, he, himself, following next and then all rushed
over and drove the red skins from their covert.
For reasons not well understood, the people of the United States are
prone to under value the exposures, hardships and dangers of Indian
warfare. In all our wars with the aborigines during the last twenty
years it is probably that the number of whites killed by the Indians
has been ten fold greater than the enemy's loss, this is true if we
except some cases where we have violated the laws of war or have been
guided by their own people to surprise communities of men, women and
In Florida, most of our distinguished generals failed to do any harm to
the Indians, but much to their own reputation, except by means of
Indian treason and the violation of flags of truce, and so it has
been in New Mexico, California and Oregon.
In Mexico our arms were always victorious, whoever may have been the
commanders and whatever the disparity of force; but where the Indians
are true to themselves, and fight us they scourge us as the Parthians
did the Romans under Crassus.
Lieutenant Slaughter was uncommonly successful in his encounters with
Indians, and if his life had been spared no estimate too high could be
placed on his capacity to chastise those monsters. He appearance was
not robust, but he would start out on foot in the dress and equipment
of a common solider with his blanket and provisions on his back, and
march all day through ran, mud and frost and bivouac at night without
any complaint of fatigue.
Such hardships are deprivations, ordinarily so discouraging to the
strength men, seemed only to enliven h is spirits and inflame his
ambition. When he started out on his last expedition he declared he
would kill fifty Indians, or never return alive. As he uttered those
words his friends remarked a shade on his countenance, that seemed to
indicate that he could see hanging over the path he was to
pursue, the black cloud that concealed the messenger of his death.
It is supposed he was shot by an Indian boy, once his servant at Fort
Steilacoom towards whom he had always been kind and indulgent such is
the character of the man.
We have been permitted to copy the following report of Captain E. D.
Keyes commanding the Puget Sound district describing the circumstances
of his death and paying a just tribute to the memory of the deceased.
"I had just closed my report to you of this date, when news was brought
to me that Lieut. Slaughter had been killed by the Indians. He had left
his camp at Morrison's on the Puyallup river and had gone in the
direction of the forks of the White and Green rivers to Brannan's
prairie where he halted before night. He sent for Capt. Hewitt of the
volunteers who was encamped about two and a half miles below.
"At the place where he halted there was a small log house in which
Lieut. Slaughter, Captain Hewitt, Lieut. Harrison and Dr. Taylor of the
Navy were conversing together. At about 7:00 p.m. o'clock of the 4th
the Indians fired a volley at the house and through the door.
"One ball passed between the logs and through the breast of Lieut.
Slaughter. He fell dead without a groan and without speaking a word.
The Indians kept up their fire until about ten o'clock killed Corporal
Barry of Company C 4th Infantry and Corporal Clarendon of the
Steilacoom volunteers and wounding six other men; one of whom has since
died. The others will probably recover.
"The death of Lieut Slaughter, merits more than a passing notice. He
had been much in the field of late and the hardships he had suffered in
this cold wet climate were excessive. Nothing however could repress his
enthusiasm. He sought a place in every expedition, and where there was
most danger there would he always be. My heart is sick when I reflect
that so brave an officer and so gallant a gentlemen should be slain by
the wretched savages."
The remains of Lieut. Slaughter were consigned to the grave at Fort
Steilacoom with Masonic and Military honors. These ceremonies have
seldom been performed over the body of one more sincerely lamented.
The countenance of the deceased as he lay in his coffin appeared placid
and composed as though he had died without a pang and so youthful, that
we could not but recall the words of Rosse to old Siward when reporting
the death of his son;
"He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his powers confirmed.
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.".
"Lieut. Slaughter," The Puget Sound Courier. Steilacoom, Washington
Territory, Friday, December 14, 1855.
"Funeral of Lieut Slaughter," The Puget
Sound Courier, Steilacoom, Washington Territory. Friday December 14,
The body of Lieut Slaughter was interred in the burial ground near Fort
Steilacoom on Sunday last with masonic and military honors.
The inclemency of the weather no doubt would have prevented a large
attendance were it not for the deep regard and esteem in which the
memory of the lamented Slaughter is revered by each and every
inhabitant of this county.
The hour appointed for the services was 11: o'clock but long before
that time groups of twos and threes were to be seen wending their way,
regardless of the pelting storm, through the woods to Fort Steilacoom;
from the direction of Nisqually, large numbers of our citizens were
seen approaching on horses, in vehicles and on foot, while from the
Puyallup persons were observed hastening to the Fort, all anxious to
pay the last tribute of respect to the remains of their common friend
who has sacrificed his life in their defence.
Among the most prominent persons on the ground we noticed acting
Governor Mason, Dr. Tolmie, Mr. Huggins, Captain Lafayette
Balch and others.
Soon after eleven o'clock the beautiful and impressive service for the
dead, according to the form of the Episcopal church was read by Captain
E. D. Keyes, 3rd Artillery who appeared to be much affected during the
On the conclusion of the service the funeral escort consisting of
detachments of Company M. 3rd Artillery and Companys A and C. 4th
Infantry under command of Lieutenant McKeever was drawn up in line to
receive and salute the corpse, after which the procession moved
on in the following order:
Free Masons in regalia.
Coffin, draped with the National Ensign.
Captains E. D. Keyes and Maurice Maloney.
Lieutenant Nugent and Surgeon Potts.
Relatives of the Deceased, Governor Mason.
Attaches of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.
Citizens of Pierce and adjoining counties.
On arriving at the grave the funeral ritual of the Free Masons in which
order Lieut. Slaughter occupied a high station, was performed by J. M.
Bachelder, Esq. assisted by Captain Lafayette Balch, the mortal remains
of William A. Slaughter were consigned to the tomb, there to rest
regardless of all commands until the last trump shall sound summoning
him to the grand review, of which we shall all be participants.
"Funeral of Lieut. Slaughter," The Puget Sound Courier, Steilacoom,
Washington Territory. Friday December 14, 1855.
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