The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 18

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

 CHAPTER XVIII

PEOPLE WHO PRECEDED US

Page 280

Before that North America has been inhabited by human beings since the Pliocene times, if not earlier; of this period a widespread glacialism was the most remarkable feature, a time when bergs descended into North Carolina, and masses of ice belted the ocean evens far south as Philadelphia, and the harbors of the New York and New England coasts must have rivaled those of the present Arctic seas." Yet the same learned authority tells us "that periods of intense cold were then alternated by interglacial periods, during which the solar heat exceeded that of our warmest summer day." But we cannot dwell upon speculations whose premises, whether true or false, involve patient examination of geological discoveries and minute entrance into more than one field of scientific research to deduce results at all satisfactory--results which, after all, to the ordinary observer seem more or less fanciful, and in regard to which even learned investigators differ materially. We will, therefore, confine out remarks to matters more generally admitted.

Changes in the earth's surface have been such that there were abundant opportunities for the ancestors of our Indians to have reached America without tempting the dangers of the seas. The Northwest continent of Europe has been solid in its day for more than a hundred miles to the westward of the French and Irish coasts, and in like manner the Northwest corner of America has repeatedly been wedded to the Siberian shore through the elevation of the bottom of Behring's sea. Then in all probability there occurred several waves of migration, of which the Indian we the last, and, looking at it from a frontiersman's point of view, probably the least admirable; pity it was that that particular "wave" had not been lost or broken against the shores of pine-edged Puget Sound. To return; all things are possible--nay, even probable, when we allot to their perforations many centuries of time. We are told that Eland and France were once the home of the Eskimos, and that the giant trees of the Mariposa were in prehistoric days "as common in Europe as maples in a New England town." the consensus of opinion seems to be that one great American red race inhabited the continent from Hudson's Bay to Cape Horn--a savage or at best barbarous people, the so-called civilization of Central America being greatly exaggerated. It must be understood that we use the word "race" to signify a whole people--the red on contrast

Page 285

to the white of Europe or the yellow of Asiatic lands--a genetic appellation involving, of course, a myriad of tribal variations, yet all bearing the unmistakable impress of a similar origin; just as one river might have a multiplicity of issues, yet all flow from the same parent source, and be alike colored by the red clay of their common source.

Morgan rather ingeniously draws the line between savagery and barbarism on the basis of the knowledge and se of pottery, and event hen divides savage, the lower grade, into three stages as follows:

"1. Those who live like beasts of the field, on fruits, nuts, etc., eaten in their raw condition.

"2. Those who cook their food, understanding the use of fire.

"3. Those who make and use the bow and arrow, catch fish, and kill game for sustenance."

To those last belonged the original Indians of Puget Sound--that is, those of the lowest or fish-eating order.

Primitives American, it may be remembered, had no pastoral age of development, and probably little knowledge of agriculture.

It is perhaps less flattering than true that the original inhabitants of Washington, whom we have practically turned out, and on whose once wild hunting-grounds stand our pleasant homes and business palaces of to-day, were an are still considered, even by their red brethren beyond the mountains (who are accustomed to speak of them as the big fish-eating Indians, and a poor tribe), the lowest, even in the low scale of native North American development. Evolution had done nothing for them up to the advent of the white beyond the commonest needs and the meanest endeavors to obtain the ordinary necessaries of life--food, clothing, and shelter. Look at the remnant that remains--the living example who walks our streets with his squaw and papoose to-day. As one regards their undersized forms and repulsive features (unless intermingled, though even then scarcely improved by intermarriage with the white), one almost wonders that the providence of the Creator should lodge the previous jewel of an immortal soul in so foul and repulsive a casket of human clay, rivaling as they do in ugliness the most fantastic gargoyles of continental cathedrals.

Generally speaking, they may be regarded as having been

Page 286

The curse of our coasts and the continental menace of our inland settlements; cunning and ferocious in their revenges, and in some cases it may be visiting upon the innocent the punishment of injuries, real or fancied, inflicted upon them, by other hands, they have on more than one occasion committed dreadful deeds of murder, robbery and outrage. This has been specially true in their treatment of unfortunate mariners beguiled into their harbors and plundered by these pirates of the last and the early years of the present century, while on shore they had murdered individuals, attacked settlers, and, as they grew bolder, resisted with some temporary successes the attempts to punish then of our volunteers and regular troops.

Among the earliest of these bloody conflicts in which the savages were entirely victorious, the reader will remember the looting of the American ship Boston and the massacre of her crew by the natives of Friendly cove, on Nookta Sound, already narrated in these pages, an event which undoubtedly furnished our great novelist, Cooper, with the material for one of the most exciting situations his "Afloat and Ashore." Indeed, he clothes the incident so slightly, yet in his inimitable manner weaving it into the thread of his romance, that the source of the incident is immediately recognizable. Would that this slaughter of the defenceless and unsuspecting sailors of the Boston was all; but alas! the record of their villainies is almost inexhaustible. There is scarce a page of the early history either of Oregon or Washington that is not bloodstained from first to last by Indian atrocities. It is crowded with narratives of crimes too horrible for publication, and far too numerous to be repeated here--murders, arsons, thefts, and ravishments committed by these fiends inhuman form---devilish deeds done with a savagery which spared neither age nor sex, the tender woman or the prattling child. They exercised every art of treachery and exhausted every trick of guile; they violated treaties most solemnly made and deliberately ratified; they respected no flag of truce, and never hesitated to violate a safeguard if either greed or hate should seem to render it desirable; they evinced no gratitude for favors bestowed or kindnesses rendered by the whites, but put to death their captives, whether active enemies or non-combatants, with a refinement of cruelty compared with which the

Page 287

tortures of the Holy Inquisition and the barbarities of Chinese modern punishment are merciful in the extreme. And in all these things their women, the squaws, were, if possible, more fiendish and unrelenting then the warriors themselves.

We are well aware that the opinions which we are about to advance and the suggestions we presume to offer are mooted questions and diametrically opposed to the sentimentalism of the East, to ideas advanced by men who know the Indian only by heresy, and receive their highly colored pictures of rude but savage "virtues" with which the guileless red man is supposed to be endowed through the medium of missionary reports, paid agents, and hired teachers, to whom the are of education and "converting," if you will, of this irreclaimable red demon is a source of livelihood. This party represents one extreme; the pioneer and frontiersman burning, it may be, from a memory of outrages perhaps committed upon his nearest and dearest, champions, and with good reason, too, the reverse of the shield. It is, we are free to confess, no easy matter for the writer, with his personal knowledge of years of frontier life and army service, after gathering his information of their "deviltries" from his own experience and eyesight, to tread a middle path and hold an equal balance between these opposites--the one walking by sight and the other by sound.

We are told that the Indian has been abused; that in this long, irrepressible conflict between white and red we struck the first blow, and by repeated acts of injustice inaugurated a state of affairs greatly to be deplored. Is this so? We doubt it. There may have been and doubtless were--for frontiersmen are not all angels--isolated cases of wrongdoing on the part of our early settlers; but iota must be remembered that these emigrants were then few in number and ina land possessed and overrun with savages, whom they well know to be revengeful and unforgiving; it is not to be supposed they would invite retaliation by wanton injury. Every instinct of self-preservation would forbid it, and repress the temptations of baser natures to commit acts which they well know would be repaid tenfold. That they have been cheated in trade within certain limits--yes, it may be admitted; but not oftener, perhaps, than to the extent of their powers they have cheated and deluded the pale face in return. He who imagines that the Indian is a fool, has no cunning in

Page 288

trade, no shrewdness in making a bargain, is infinitely mistaken. The red man has, as we have already intimated, been considered a descendant of the "lost tribes of Israelites;" if so, he still retains some of the characteristics of his progenitors, for no dweller in Juden-Strasse or itinerant dealer in old clothes was ever keener in barter or quicker to acquire that knowledge which exacts the last penny in return than these "simple children of the forest." the days when, as "Knickerbocker" tells us, a Dutchman's foot invariably weighed a pound and his hand half as much when placed in the scale that counterbalanced the Indian's pack of beaver skins have long since passed away. Let those who doubt it attempt to dicker with a Cree squaw as she sits in all the glory of dirty blanket and paint at any of the stations of the Canadian Pacific in British Columbia. Let him strive to cheapen the polished buffalo horns, their sole stock in trade, and he will soon be disabused of his error. The "Indian rings," it is true, have undoubtedly much to answer for; and even the mission agents, though wearing the cloak of a spiritual sanctity, are not always so blind to their temporal interests as to be entirely above suspicion of greed of gain. And here the Government makes, and, under the pressure of a false sentimentality, is still making, an immense and far-reaching mistake--the committing of Indian interests, superintendence and care to civilian hands--to men oftimes without the slightest fitness for the office, mere political appointees, with no knowledge of the character of those whom they are sent to oversee and control. Past-graduate in rascality themselves, the Indians are quick to detect rascality in others, and equally shrewd to secretly laugh at and covertly take advantage of that sentimental policy which starts out with the idea that he is a downtrodden being, possessed of some innate nobility o character which requires only proper training and treatment to evolve. The first engenders retaliation, the last breeds contempt. It is said of the Russ, "Scratch a Russian and you find the Tartar." It is equally true that all your schools and much-lauded educational methods can never eliminate the Indian, and, consequently, the savage from the red man's nature. The high-bred, chivalrous Indian of Cooper does not exist; the savage of the plains, dirty, vermin-ridden, proud, lecherous, lazy and revengeful, does. In the recent Sioux affair the educated Indians, taught at government

Page 291

expense in our national schools, furnished their more ignorant fellows with information of the movements, numbers and intentions of our troops, gleaned from their newspaper reading. No; let the Government adopt one of two courses--buy-out their treaty rights pay them in hard money (which would mean, for the most part, a large investment in fire water) for their reservations, thereby destroying those storm centres of all frontier mischief; extinguish their tribal individuality, thus putting them on the plane of ordinary American citizenship--they would make no worse citizens than "the heathen Chinese," nor certainly than half the Russian and Polish emigrants we are daily importing--and then bring them under the restraints of the common law of the land, before the same tribunals of indictment and jury trial, and we should soon hear less of "those bad Indians" that their peace-loving chiefs were unable to restrain. It would relegate those "irrepressibles" to the best place for them--the gallows and the penitentiary; or, failing this (if any are left in these days of modern wish-washy sentimentality), put their reservations under the charge of regular army officers who have served on the plains. Many old retired officers of good record and large experience in this direction could undoubtedly be found well calculated to fill such places, who understanding their character, would rule with a firm yet still kind and honest hand. (Since writing the above, it is a gratification to the author to learn that his idea has been practically carried out, twenty officers of the regular army having been thus detailed.) then put the whole Indian question where it should always have been kept, in charge of the War Department, with full powers. The Indian bureau is a failure, and might well be dispensed with. Still it is a consolation to know that, mange it as they will, the Indian question is rapidly settling itself. Civilization and savagery are antagonistic elements, they cannot dwell together. The baser must yield, the less profitable factor in the progress and development of the human family give way or be exterminated. In the poetical language of the Indian and his admirers "He is traveling toward the setting sun," and the sooner he gets there the better.

Perhaps it may be permissible to relieve the monotony of argument by introducing here, for the first time in our history, an anecdote which goes to show the feeling of the average old

Page 292

settler and pioneer of Washington in regard to the Indian. I give it as narrated to me by a gentleman now resident in Washington, but formerly a citizen of that "city of brotherly love," Philadelphia. Coming to the West with all the conventional ideas about the "poor Indian" and his sufferings inflicted by the unfeeling white man, he was airing his opinions rather freely ina little gathering of Western men in Tacoma. He noticed that one of his auditors, a stern, gray-bearded man, whose face, seamed with many wrinkles and ploughed with deep furrows of time and care which betokened the endurance of much hardship, seemed to be growing uneasy. At last, apparently unable to bear his encomiums on the gentle savage any longer, the old pioneer--for such he was--interrupted him abruptly as follows:

"Young man, if that there style of conversation is going' to continue, you and I are bound to have trouble. I now those red devils; you evidently do not."

The gentleman from Philadelphia, somewhat astonished, remarked that the pioneer's experiences must have been rather peculiar or he would hardly express himself so strongly.

The old man paused for a moment, a shadow darkened his face, and his brow knitted into a frown as he seemed struggling to recall a sorrow of the past; then, with a voice that trembled with the emotion of its deep, stern emphasis, he replied:

"Stranger, they were. It was in the old days out here. We were on the trail, bound for the mountains, to prospect, for there was talk of gold. We were fourteen in all. We met a 'good Indian'--friendlies they call them. He joined the party and advised us to take a certain road, which he pointed out--it led into a deep defile of the hills. He said it was safer, than the one we were pursuing; that there were 'bad Indians' on ours; then he left us, after seeing that we turned aside to take the path he indicated. Luckily for me, I was a little behind the party or I would not be here to tell the tale. In that deep defile, following that safe pathway, my unfortunate companions were attacked, overpowered, and those captured died by torture--burned at the stake--and the 'friendly Indian,' their spy, helped to do it. I lay kid in the brush and saw it all. Stranger, one of them men was by brother. Do you wonder that I don't want to hear anything about 'sufferin' Indians'?"

One more anecdote to dispel this romantic halo hung by fic-

Page 293

tion and fancy upon the brow of the noble (?) red man. the author vouches for it as a part of his own frontier experience, and quotes it to prove the ingratitude and treachery of Indians who could by no possibility have been injured by the whites, whose faces they had never seen. The locality was the Great California Basin, the time the early summer of 1848. The author, guided by the famous Kit Carson, with a small party of Fremont's old voyageurs, had encamped for the night, when we were visited by a band of Indians from the neighboring hills, who, by rubbing their capacious stomachs and pointing to their mouths, very intelligently expressed their hunger. Rations were scarce with us, but after smoking with them in amicable fashion, during which the bowl of the pipe was turned up to the Great spirit to signify their sincerity, we divided with them our scanty fare. They lingered about our camp-fire, and when we were, in frontier parlance, "catching up" to resume our march, I saw one of these rascals, who supposed himself to be unobserved, slyly possessing himself of a tin cup--the very one he had been fed out of--and throw it across the creek into the deep grass beyond, where, of course, he could recover it after our departure. Calling the attention of its owner to the theft, he obliged the Indian to cross the creek and return it by the summary process of throwing him into the stream. The next day this same band endeavored to steal our horses, obliging us to fire upon them. Yet at that early day, in the untravelled region we were traversing, it is more than probable that these ungrateful wretches had never seen a white man's face.

To return: the point is made, and at first sight seems well taken, that we (the whites) drove the Indian from his home, he lands that he possessed. This is not so, for, strictly speaking, he never possessed an acre. He was simply, like his father before him, a wanderer, not even a nomad; for the nomad is a keeper of herds and a feeder of flocks. The original North American Indian was, therefore, a vagrant of the wilds, a floater upon its streams, for the most part never breaking the soil, raising nothing, producing nothing; using a certain extent of territory, bounded only by the restrictive power of some neighbor stronger than himself, as a common hunting ground; living on fish and game. and finding his lodging under the most convenient tree or beneath the shelter of the every migratory lodge,

Page 294

He can not be said to have had a home, a settled residence or permanent place of abode. He is the tramp of the woods. The white, on the contrary, is a home seeker and a house builder. He selects, clears, fences, tills, and improves, and thus, as over the savage, earns a real title to the soil--the title of possession and actual occupancy definitely bounded and defined. The blessing of a higher power seems to accompany and smile upon his labors, for he drives out by silent forces of his presence and higher civilization the lower intelligence. Are the sympathizers with the savage, prepared to say that we should have left the Indian in peaceful possession of his hunting grounds? The proposition, if made, would be an impossibility. The first deed was given by the almighty Himself; as recorded in the Book, it has one covenant--the holder was to till the land, to make it fruitful. Though the first Adam lost his claim in Eden through his own breach of contract, yet he received a larger and better one for it--exchanged the idyllic ease of its voluptuous garden for the earth itself, with the stipulation of labor and all the incentives and ambitions which spring from the employment of body and brain. Again, allowing the Indian to have had any right in fee simple, he has been paid and more than paid for his hunting grounds, unimproved as they were. There is many a white man driving a furrow or felling timber in the woods of Washington to-day who, as far as pecuniary remuneration is concerned, would be glad to exchange his wages and his prospects for those of these dirty, ignorant, lazy libels upon humanity, whom we have learned to call the "nation's wards." Few cry out against the aristocratic lords of the soil in lands beyond the sea, who, by virtue of their plutocracy, purchase the cotter's hut or the peasants humble "holding" that they may convert them into parks for deer, thus restoring to the primitive forests the trophies won by toll. Why, then, should we cast obloquy on the pioneers of Washington, whose bravery and perseverance wrested from its virgin wilds the victories of to-day--the church, the school, the city, and the town, but most of, the home?

Having thus, from our own private standpoint, given our personal view, founded upon a rather long and varied experience and residence upon the frontiers, in relation to this vexed Indian

Page 297

question, we will return to its bearings upon our history and say a word or two in regard to the Indians of Washington, their attitude toward and influence upon its early emigration and settlements.

As we have already suggested, the Indian of the United States, Northwest, and more especially those of Puget sound, are by no means the "prize Indians," even when regarded from a savage point of view, of the American continent. The "Big Fish Eater," though a shade in advance of the root-digging Piute, is low in the scale when brought into comparison with his Eastern brethren. He lacks the stature, the dignity, the warlike appearance of the Cossack of the plains or the hunters of the deer upon the Rocky Mountain slopes. He is a canoeist, not a horseman--a cunning fisher--and in the palmy days of the Hudson's Bay Company a trapper and finder of furs. That this great and most unscrupulous corporation made the Indians more dangerous to the American settler, teaching them to discriminate in their treatment of our own and those of Great Britain, cannot be denied. How far that influence went and to what extremes it was urged we dare not say, for we do not desire to make specific charges where space is lacking to produce the testimony which might established their truth. Certain it is that with the fur companies the Indian had no quarrel; they had too much in common--hunters like themselves, traders for their furs, keeping the goods which they specially desired, they were bound by the commercial amenities of a mutual interest. The policy of the fur companies was of necessity one of leave and conciliation. The Indians furnished for a very trifling remuneration their guides, their messengers, and their purveyors, and it may not be too much to add, when dirty work was to be done, their agents and their spies. Then again, the fur trader wanted no land; he was equally interested with the Indian in the preservation of unbroken forests and streams undisturbed by the mill-dam and the sawdust. The axeman and the agriculturist were their common foes. The American wanted land to settle and found a home; the Briton asked only a hunting ground and a convenience, not a menace of further acquisition. Not so with the American; he selected his pitch, made the forest ring to his axe strokes, saw its giants all before him, let in the sunshine

Page 298

on a soil long consecrated to the silence of perpetual shade, turned the pillars of it cloistered arches into the walls and roof--tree of his log-cabin home--ina word, worked the raw material of the wilderness into the better uses and higher aims of the ultimate object of civilization--a home. But these artificial oases in the deserts of the wild alarmed and excited the Indian, and that feeling was cultivated by English greed. In our first attempts to settle Washington, which then meant the region of Puget Sound, and which in reality dates back no further then 1844, we were met with savage opposition which only failed to effect its purpose--the spoiling and extirpation of our then feeble colony--because the Snoqualimich chief, Patkamin, was unable to unite the tribes of the Sound to carry our a scheme the particulars of which will be told under the head of "First Settlement." And this was but the beginning of a friction which was unavoidable between the native and the settler--the irrepressible conflict of savagery and civilization, in which the result is ever but a matter of time. In this case the initiative was taken by the Indian, not by the white; by the jealous and hostile native, determined to drive out the pale-face, who built "the log wigwam" and broke in with axe and ploughshare upon the haunt of the deer and the buildings of the beaver. The white in the contrary, trusting to the future, asked only for peace, to be undisturbed. It is vain to talk of hostile acts for when that famous council was called by the bloodthirsty Patkamin on Whidbey Island, his arguments in favor of the extermination of the whites was met by the chief of the Tamwater bands (Grayhead) with the fatal objection that "the Boston men were a protection, as they discouraged wars."

It is simply impossible, in the scope of this chapter, which, as its title indicates, we have allotted to "The People who Preceded Us,' to follow the war billows, the repeated waves of brutal and unprovoked attack with which the natives assaulted the weak but yet ever-strengthening barriers of our early attempts to settle and occupy Washington, or the manner in which, at the cost of many precious lives and less valuable property; these billows were finally broken and rolled back. the nineteenth century has its martyrs no less noble than those of medieval times--men and women falling at their posts of duty,

Page 299

bravely and cheerfully laying down their lives to beasts fat more fierce and bloodthirsty than those who, "to make a Roman holiday," tore unresisting Christians in the arenas, while the Caesers looked coldly on, grown weary of the monotony of death. Yet Marcus Whitman and his little missionary band and many another died not in vain.

And so we close this chapter. If the critical reader should object that it generalizes too largely the Indian question in early Washington, we must answer that to the more thoughtful mind there will appear, especially to the pioneer reader, a satisfactory concentration. The primitive original Indian of Washington is almost a thing of the past; his successors, petted and cared for on their ample and valuable reservations, are a compound of "squaw men and half breeds so ameliorated or tainted, if it be preferred, with the admixture of white blood, for the most part of the lowest quality, that the original elements is scarcely recognizable. Where it is to be found, gaze upon it, and we make you welcome to any amount of poetry or sentiment which the most ardent admirer of "the Siwash" can extract from the original Big Fish Eater.

We shall devote one more chapter--the next--to recording some of their peculiarities, which, if not particularly instructive, are certainly amusing in the extreme.

 

Next

 

You are the 1707th Visitor to this USGenNet Website Since September 6, 2004

Html by Debbie Axtman

[Index][WA AHGP][Mardos Memorial Library]