Introduction: James Longmire left an account of his famlily’s trek west from Indiana. Written decades after the trip it follows their experience through the Indian fighting in the 1850’s
As I am one of the pioneers of Washington, in her territorial days, I will fall in line with the many who have already written, and attempt a description of our trip across the plains, and subsequent events. It may not be out of place to remind the newcomers of today that they have little cause for complaint of hardships and suffering as compared with those who made that long tiresome journey thirty-nine and more years ago. Through unbroken forests, over swollen streams, unknown and dangerous, over the dessert with its scorching sun and blistering sands, exposed to warlike and hostile Indians, disease, and many other perils which you will doubtless perceive before the close of my narrative. I started from our home in Shuwme Prairie, Fountain County, Indiana, on the 6th of March 1853, with my wife and four children, Elcaine, David, John and Tibatha. John, the youngest, was not able to walk when we started, but learned his first steps with the help of the tongue of our ox wagon while crossing the plains, holding to it for support, and walking from end to end while in camp evenings.John B. Moyer, a very finished young man who had studied for the ministry, but who was at that time teaching our district school, went with us; also Joseph Day, a son of our neighbors. I got a neighbor to drive us to Athicia, the nearest town, where we took passage on the U.S. Aiel, a little streamer running on the Wabash River. Evansville at that time was a flourishing town of 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants.
A shocking incident of our first start was the bursting of the boiler of the steamer Bee, twelve miles from Evansville, which caused the death of every person aboard. The U.S. Aiel took the poor mangled creatures aboard and carried them to Evansville, where they were met by grief-stricken, who had sighted the signal of morning displayed by our steamer.
From Evansville, we tool the streamer Sparrow Hawk for St. Louis, thence by the Polar Star up the Mississippi River to St. Joseph. We were now upward of 2,000 miles on our westward journey. There I bought eight yoke of oxen and a large quantity of supplies and proceeded in wagons along the river to Cainsville, now Council Bluffs, and camped. As it was yet too early to start on our long journey, the grass not grown sufficient to feed our oxen along the routes we decided to remain for several weeks and make some preparations for another start. I bought a carriage and span of horses for $250, which Mrs. Longmire and the children were to use as far as the road would permit. I also got a sheet-iron stove, which with utensils for cooking, only weighed twenty-five pounds, but which proved a real luxury, as we were thus able to have warm biscuits for breakfast whenever we chose, besides many other delicacies which we could not have by camp fires. For the stove, I paid $12, though to us it proved almost invaluable. At Cainsville, I stood guard at night for the first time in my life, in company with Van Ogle, who was also camped here, preparatory to going to Puget Sound. It was dark one evening when I finished the feeding of my cattle, so I could not see the person who spoke in a fine, childish voice, saying, “Is there a man here by the name of Longmire?” I thought it must be a boy, judging by his voice, and told him that was my name, whereupon he introduced himself as John Lane. A man of whom I had often heard, but never had seen a tall man, well-built, with a smooth, boyish face, and fine squeaking voice, much out of keeping with his great body. He invited me to his camp nearby, where I met his brother-in-law, Arthur Sargent, and his family. After some conversation, we made arrangements to continue our journey together. While here, we met a young man by the name of Iven Watt, who was anxious to cross the plains. I engaged him to drive one of my ox teams, and found him an excellent help at various times when obstacles met us which seemed hard to overcome. His friend, William Claflin, hired to Mr. Sargent to assist his son and Van Ogle with Sargent’s ox team.
The time had now come when we decided that there was grass for the cattle on the way and we moved twelve miles below Council Bluffs to a ferry, where we crossed the Missouri river, making our final start fir Puget Sound on the 10th of May, 1853. We camped for the night about one mile from the ferry, where we were joined by E. A. Light, now of Steilacoom, a friend of John Lane’s. Nothing occurred worthy of note until two days afterward when we reached the Elk Horn river, where we found a ferry with only one boat, and so many emigrants ahead of us that we must wait for two or three weeks to be ferried over. A party of emigrants was lucky enough to get three canoes, and while they were crossing we all went to work and made one more. By this time they were across, so we bought their canoes, and with our own proceeded to ferry our goods over the river. Here occurred an accident, which proved disastrous, and spoiled, in a measure, the harmony existing in our little company of emigrants.
John Lane had started with some fine stock, among which was a thoroughbred mare of great beauty and very valuable, which he would not allow to swim with the rest of our stock safely across the stream. But with a rope around her neck, held by Sargent and myself on one side the river and by himself and E. A. Light on the other side, would tow her across, which we did, but alas, dead. We landed the beautiful creature, after following Lane’s instructions, and tried to revive her, but she was dead. Poor Sargent had to bear the blame, unjustly I think, and only escaped blows from Lane, whose rage knew no bounds, by my interference. But he left our party after begging me to go with him, and in company with E. A. light, Samuel and William Ray, and a man named Mitchell continued his journey. We regretted the loss of his beautiful mare and the unpleasantness between him and Sargent, which caused him to leave our party, for friends were few and far from home, consequently much dearer. But these friends we were to meet again, which we little expected when we parted. Two hundred miles further on we came to Rawhide creek, a pretty stream with its banks bordered by graceful waving willows, cool and green.
This was the last tree or shrub we were destined to see for 200 miles. Here we stopped to rest our now thoroughly tired, foot-sore oxen, and do our washing, which was not done always on Monday, much to the annoyance of our excellent housekeepers who, at home, had been accustomed to thus honoring blue Monday. We had killed a few antelope along the road, which furnished our camp with what we thought the best steak we had ever eaten, and were fired with a resolve to secure a still greater luxury, in which we had not yet indulged. We had seen several small bands of buffalo, but with no opportunity of capturing any of them. So I selected Iven Watt, a crack shot, by the way, as my companion, and with our rifles on our shoulders, mounted my carriage horses, and with bright hopes and spirits high, started out to bring in some buffalo meat and thus further prove our skill as hunters from the Hoosier state. We left Mayer and Day to guard the camp, assist the women with the washing, and kill jackrabbits, game too small for us. We rode about fifteen miles to the north, when we came upon two buffaloes quietly feeding upon a little slope of ground. We dismounted, picketed our horses, and on all fours crept toward them till barely within range of our muzzle-loading rifles, when they saw us. We fired without hitting either of them, and they started toward us. We ran for our horses, which we luckily reached and lost no time in mounting, when the buffalo turned and ran from us across the level plain. Going on a little further we came to a ridge, or elevation, which afforded protection for our horses, which we once more picketed, and walking about a hundred yards came upon a herd of the coveted game, from which we selected a large bull, and commenced firing upon him. We fired nine shots apiece, but still our game did not fall. He would snort loudly, and whirl round as if dazed, not knowing from whence came the bullets, and not seeing us from our hiding place in the ridge of ground. Seeing our shots did not bring our game, I told Watts we were firing too high, and reloading we took aim and fired at the same time, but lower and with effect. To our great joy the huge creature fell. Rushing back to our horses we mounted and hurried to secure our prize, which lay on the ground only wounded. Upon seeing us, he staggered to his feet and ran about a hundred yards, when he fell again. The rest of the herd, frightened at our approach, ran wildly across the plain with uplifted tails, and were soon out of sight. Seeing our buffalo could not run, I sprang from my horse, and taking fair aim at his head, fired and killed him, contrary to a theory I had heard that a buffalo could not be killed by a shot in the head. Again we secured our horses, and began to strip our game of his smooth coat, taking the hindquarters for our share, judging this to be the choicest cut, which we were to put in a bag which we carried for the purpose.
Little we know of life and customs on the plains. In about fifteen minutes after we began our work we were surprised — yes, perfectly horror-stricken – to see about thirty big, hungry gray wolves coming rapidly towards us, attracted by the scent of blood from the dead buffalo. Nearer and nearer they came, till hearing a noise we looked toward our horses, only to see them running in the wildest affright, on, on to the north, in a directly opposite course from camp. We left our game to the wolves willingly, having no wish to contest their claim to it, and went in pursuit of our horses. We had intended to be in camp with our buffalo meat in time f or dinner, and had set out in the morning without a morsel of food in our pockets. So nightfall found us hungry, tired, afoot, and miles — how many we knew not — from camp and friends, our horses gone and hardly knowing which way to turn. However, it was a starlight night, and fixing my eye on one bright star, I said to Watt that we must take that star for our guide and go as far as we could that night. We went on, Watt complaining of hunger very often, until the sky became cloudy and we could no longer see our guide, when we sat down and placed our guns on the ground pointing toward the star that had been to us, so far, a welcome guide. The time we could not tell, as neither of us carried a watch, but it must have been far in the night.
\From the time of leaving camp, the many mishaps of the day and our extreme fatigue, it seemed an age. Soon all trouble was forgotten in deep sleep, from which we awoke to find the sky clear and our late guide ready to light us on our weary journey. We arose and started once more, neither stopping for an instant or turning aside for rock, hill or bramble, but kept as nearly as possible in a straight line, never forgetting our star till it grew dim before the coming daylight. Thus we went, still fasting, over a beautiful rolling country, till about 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, when we climbed a steep bluff and below us saw the Platte river valley through which slowly passed a few straggling emigrant wagons. The very sight of them brought joy to our hearts, and also relief to Watt’s empty stomach, for the first thing he did on reaching the wagon was to ask for food, which was freely given. I inquired the way to Rawhide creek, which the emigrants had left two miles behind them. Being so near our own camp I did not ask for food, but Watt insisted on sharing his portion with me, which I accepted, and must say relished after my long fast. We hurried back to the camp, where I found my wife almost frantic with grief at our long absence, thinking of course, we had been killed by hostile Indians. Our friend Sargent was intending to continue his journey the next day if we did not return, but my wife was thinking of some plan by which she could return to our old home on the banks of the Wabash.
However, when we told them of our narrow escape, even with the loss of our horses and game, grief turned to joy, and peace reigned once more in our camp. After resting the remainder of the day we prepared, the next morning, not for a buffalo hunt but for a hunt for our lost horses. Mr. Sargent loaned us two of his horses, which we rode, and in case we did not return that evening he was to put two of his other horses to my carriage and proceed with Mayer, Day, my family and goods the next morning. We were to overtake them somewhere along the line. After making this arrangement we went back to the scene of our late adventure, where we found large herds of wild horses but never a track of our own, which, being shod, were easily tracked. We hunted till sundown when we came to a mound or hill, perhaps 100 or 150 feet above the level, with a circular depression or basin on the top of it, which we selected for our camp. Taking our horses into this basin we made them secure by hobbling them, took our supper, consisting of a cold lunch minus drink of any kind. We witnessed from our elevated position a grand buffalo show – fully 5,000 scatted over that vast plain, many of them quite near the mound on which we stood. It seemed almost as far as we could see to be one vast herd of buffalo. We arose next morning and continued our hunt till the middle of the afternoon, when we gave up all hope of finding the lost horses, and taking a westerly course set out to overtake the wagons, which had stopped before night for our benefit. A buffalo hunt proved a source of joy as well as sorrow to our party for soon after camping for the night, Mayer saw two men, buffalo hunters, who, like Watt and myself, had been lost, riding our lost horses leisurely along the road. Going to them Mayer told them that the horses belonged in our camp. They said they had seen the horses on the plains, and knowing they had escaped from some emigrant train, caught them and gladly rode them into camp. They declined the $5 reward my wife and Mayer pressed upon them for the great service rendered. The previous day my wife and children had ridden in the ox wagon leaving our carriage to Mrs. Sargent and family in part payment for the borrowed horses. But the next day on resuming our journey she gladly gave up the cushions and comforts of the ox wagon for those of the carriage, which was once more drawn by the lost horses. Nothing further happened except the occasional killing of an antelope or stray buffalo, my desire for buffalo hunting not being fully satisfied, although I had vowed after my late adventure never to hunt buffalo again. Sargent and I killed one about this time, which weighed fully 2,500 pounds, whose meat was so tough we could not use it. He was evidently the patriarch of a large herd.
We crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass, according to instructions given in Horn’s guidebook for emigrants, which we had carefully observed during our trip. It gave minute instructions as to proper camps, roads, the crossing of streams, where to find good water and grass, and other information which we found of great value, as our experience afterward proved. Some days after crossing the mountains our party was increased by the families of Tyrus Himes, father of George Himes of Portland, Oregon, and Judson Himes of Elma, and Mr. Dodge, who settled, on their arrival here, on Mima prairie. All went smoothly till we crossed Bear River mountains, and, feeling some confidence in our camp judgment, we had grown somewhat careless about consulting our guide book, often selecting our camp without reference to it. One of these camps we had good cause to remember. I had gone ahead to find a camp for noon, which was on a pretty stream with abundance of grass for our horses and cattle, which greatly surprised us, as grass had been a scarce article in many of our camps. Soon after dinner, we noticed some of our cattle beginning to lag and seem tired and some of them began to vomit. We realized with horror that our cattle were poisoned, so we camped at the first stream we came to, which was Ham’s fork of Bear river, to cure if possible our poor sick cattle. Here we were eighty or a hundred miles from Salt Lake, the nearest settlement, in such a dilemma. We looked about for relief. Bacon and grease were the only antidotes for poison, which our stores contained. We cut bacon in slices and forced a few slices down the throats of the sick oxen, but after once tasting it the poor creatures ate it eagerly, thereby saving their lives, as those that did not eat it (cows we could spare better than our oxen) died next day. The horses were none of them sick. Had we consulted our guide before, instead of after camping at the pretty spot, we would have been spared all this trouble, as it warned travelers of the poison existing there. This event run our stock of bacon so low we were obliged to buy more, for which we paid 75 cents per pound, and 50 cents per pound for butter, which we bought of Mr. Melville, one of our party.
We were joined at Salmon falls by a Mr. Hutchinson and family. Here we crossed Snake River the first time, a quarter of a mile above the falls. Hutchinson had a fine lot of horses and cattle, which caused him much anxiety, as he was afraid they would drown while crossing the river. There were a great many Indians here of the Snake tribe, and he tried to hire one of them to swim his stock, offering him money, which he stubbornly refused to do. Finally Hutchinson took off his overshirt, a calico garment, and offered it to him. This was the coveted prize. He took it, swam four horses safely, drowned one, then when he reached the opposite side quietly mounted one of the best horses and rode rapidly away over the hills, leaving us to the difficult task of crossing, which we did without further accident. We paid $4 for every wagon towed across the river. For 200 miles, we wended our weary way, on to Fort Boise, a Hudson Bay trading post, kept by an Englishman and his Indian wife, the former being the only white person at the post. Here we had to cross Snake River again, which at this point was a quarter of a mile wide. The agent kept a ferry and would not take our wagons over for less than $8 apiece, which was as much again as we had been paying at other crossings. I tried to get an Indian to swim our cattle over, but failing, Watt proposed to go with them if I would, which seemed a fair proposition, and as they would not go without someone to drive them, we started across. Watt carried a long stick in one hand, holding by the other to the tail of old Lube, a great rawboned ox who had done faithful service on our long, toilsome journey. I threw my stick away and went in a little below Watt, but found the current very strong, which drifted me down stream. I thought I should be drowned and shouted to Watt, “I’m gone.” With great presence of mind he reached his stick toward me, which I grasped with a last hope of saving my life, and by this means bore up till I swam to Watt, who caught on the tail of the nearest ox. Thus giving me a welcome hold on old Lube’s tail, who carried me safely to the shore. Only for Watt’s coolness and bravery, I should have lost my life at the same spot where one of Mr. Melville’s men was drowned on the previous evening.
At Grande Ronde, a happy surprise awaited us. Nelson Sargent, whose father was in our party, met John Lane, who arrived in advance of us, with the welcome news that a party of workmen had started out from Olympia and Steilacoom to make a road for us through the Natchez pass over the Cascade Mountains. Ours being the first party of emigrant to attempt a crossing north of The Dalles, on the Columbia River. Lane waited at Grande Ronde while Nelson Sargent pushed ahead to meet his aged parents. Our party was reunited at Grande Ronde. E. A. Light, John Lane and others, who had left us at the Elkhorn River, met us and continued the journey with us across the Cascade Mountains. We went fifty miles further to the Umatilla River, where we rested two days and made preparations for the rest of our trip. Lest our provisions run short, I bought, at a trading post here, 100 pounds of flour, for which I paid $40 in gold coin, unbolted flour too.
We left the emigrant trail at Umatilla and with thirty-one wagons struck out for Fort Walla Walla now Wallula. Fifty miles further on was a trading post kept by an agent of the Hudson Bay company. Of him we bought lumber — driftwood from the Columbia river — of which we made a flatboat on which to tow our goods across, afterward selling it, or trading its to the agent in payment for the lumber. On the 8th of September, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, our boat was finished, and the task of crossing commenced. It was not a pleasant task, but by working all night, everything was safely launched by sunrise next morning except our cattle and horses. These we wanted the Indians to take across for us. Sargent was the only man who could speak Chinook, but not well enough to make a bargain with the Indians, so we got the agent to hire them to swim our stock. Before they would commence the work, they must be paid. We gave them $18, and they brought up twenty-five canoes, formed in line below the crossing, and we drove our cattle in the stream, and they swam to shore safely. Next came the horses. When they were about the middle of the river the treacherous Indians laid down their oars and made signs, which I understood to mean more money. Meanwhile our horses were drifting down stream, where high bluffs rose on either side, and they could not possibly land. Taking out my purse, I offered them more money and they at once took up the oars and paddled across, landing our horses safely. The chief of the Walla Wallas was Pupi Pupu Muxmux, or Yellow Serpent, a very important person who rode, with the dignity of a king, a large American horse, a beautiful bay, with holsters on his saddle, and a pair of navy revolvers. He was a large, fine looking Indian, fully aware of his power as a chief, which was well demonstrated when we divided among our party some beef we had bought of him. It was cut in pieces varying from ten to twenty pounds, but it must be weighed. The chief ‘Went to Mr. Melville, the only man in our party who had scales for weighing, and taking them in his hand examined them closely, although he could not tell one figure from another. Then, looking carefully at the many faces around him, seeming satisfied with the scrutiny, he came to me, gave me the scales with a sign that I do the weighing, at the same time seating himself flat on the ground amongst us. I weighed, Lane standing by with book and pencil to tally. Every time a piece was weighed Pupi Pupu Muxmux would spring up, examined the scales closely, give a grunt which meant yes, and sit down; and so on until the last piece was weighed, Lane making settlement with him for our party. Pupi Pupu Muxmux was killed at the battle of Walla Walla during a four-day engagement in the spring of 1856 while trying to make his escape from the volunteers. Who held him as a friendly Indian, to join his tribe, which he had represented as friendly, but who were really waging bitter warfare against the white settlers. A brother of this chief was hired to guide us to the Natchez pass.
I must not forget to tell you that at Walla Walla we saw the home of the noble Marcus Whitman. A log house covered with straw held on by poles laid across the roof. A little garden and orchard were enclosed near the house, and a little further on we saw the graves of Whitman, his wife, and heroic little band who were massacred by the Indians some time before our arrival.
Our guide made a horse trade with Mr. Melville, in which he considered himself cheated, grew indignant and deserted us, and we were left in that strange country without a landmark, a compass, or guide nothing to help us. We traveled on, however, to the Yakima River, which we crossed, and here lost by death one of our party, Mrs. McCullough, a relative of Mrs. Woolery, now one of Puyallup’s esteemed citizens. Until this sad event, she was the life, the sunshine of our party. Everyone loved “Aunt Pop,” as she was familiarly called, but the death of her friend cast a shadow over her bright face, and made the remainder of our journey gloomy when we thought of the lonely grave by the Yakima. Our next obstacle was a canyon at Well Springs, which seemed impossible to cross. From the Yakima River we had been followed by a band of Indians, who had kept our wives and children in perfect terror, but laughed and chatted gaily as they rode along. The tyees or big men were dressed in buckskin leggings, handsomely beaded, and breech-clouts, made of cedar bark. The squaws were dressed very similarly. Men and squaws all had painted faces. The squaws always carried the papooses done up in proper Indian fashion and hung to the horn of the saddle, which bobbed up and down in no very easy manner when the ponies were in full gallop. At Well Springs, we sent out men to find a better road, as we thought we were lost. The Indians, knowing from this move that we were lost got off their ponies, cleared a small piece of ground and marked two roads, one heading northeast, the other northwest, making dots at intervals along each road, the former having fewer dots than the latter. One of them, motioning his head in an upward and curving line, pointed with the other hand to the dots, saying at each one, “sleeps, sleeps,” and at the end of the road, “soldiers,” the only words we could understand, and really all the English they could speak. Lane said to me: “What shall we do?” I replied, “Let us take the road which has the fewest ‘sleeps,”‘ which we did, going northeast one or two days, when we knew we had taken the wrong road. We had no compass, and would have known but little more if we had had one. We saw before us almost a perpendicular bluff, seemingly 1,000 feet high, extending far away to the mountains. This we learned later was White Bluffs, on the Columbia River. Here we camped for the night, ordering the Indians to camp at a respectful distance from us, which they did. We placed a double guard out, as we suspected they had led us to this trap in order to massacre our whole party. I really believe now that their intentions were good, if they could have told us, so we could have understood them. The next day we retraced our way to Well Springs, where we had left our proper course. In due time we learned that our Indian escort meant to conduct us to Fort Colville, an English trading post, for the winter, thinking the snow on the Cascades would prevent our reaching Fort Steilacoom, where United States soldiers were stationed. Upon reaching Well Springs, our followers left us, much to our relief. We were further encouraged the same night by the return of Nelson Sargent, who with others had gone in advance to look out a good road, with the glad news that after crossing the canyon a good road lay before us. Further, that they had struck the trail which the Steilacoom and Olympia Company had blazed for the coming emigrants.
On the 18th of September, as well as I remember, we crossed the canyon, or rather traversed its length about a mile, which was the roughest traveling I ever saw, and came out on a beautiful plain. We traveled along Coal creek for two days when we came to Selah Valley on the upper Yakima, which we crossed. Taking our course along Wenas creek, about ten miles, when we came to a garden, now the farm owned by David Longmire, which was kept by Indians of whom we bought thirteen bushels of potatoes. The first vegetables we had had since leaving the Rocky mountains a real feast, though, boiled in their jackets, a bucketful making one meal for us.
Following Wenas creek to its source, we crossed over to the Natchez River, which we followed for four days, crossing and recrossing fifty-two times. Then left it and started for the summit of the Cascade Mountains, north of Mount Tacoma, which we reached in three days, finding fine grass and good water. Here we stopped for two days, giving our tired oxen a good rest and plenty of food, which they badly needed, for the rest of our journey. Three miles further on we came to Summit Hill, where we spliced ropes and prepared for the steep descent, which we saw before us. One end of the rope was fastened to the axles of the wagon, the other thrown around a large tree and held by several men and thus, one at a time, the wagons were lowered gradually a distance of 300 yards. When the ropes were loosened, and the wagons drawn a quarter of a mile further with locked wheels, when we reached Greenwater. All the wagons were lowered safely but the one belonging to Mr. Lane, now a resident of Puyallup, which was crushed to pieces by the breaking of one of our ropes, causing him and his family to finish the trip on horseback. At Summit Hill my wife and Mrs. E. A. Light went ahead of the wagon with their children, taking a circuitous trail which brought them around to the train of wagons, for which we made a road as we went. As they walked along the narrow trail, my wife before, they were surprised to meet a white man, the first they had seen aside from those in our party, since leaving Walla Walla. It proved to be Andy Burge, who had been sent out from Fort Steilacoom with supplies for the roadmakers, who had already given up the job for want of food, which arrived too late for them, but in time for us, whose stores had grown alarmingly low. No less surprised was Burge at meeting two lone women in the wilderness, who greeted them with: “My God, women, where in the world did you come from?” A greeting rough, but friendly in its roughness to the two women who shrank against the trees and shrubbery to allow him and his pack animal to pass them in the trail, which was barely wide enough for one person. From them he learned of our whereabouts, and came to us, trying to persuade us to return to where there was grass and water for our stock, telling us we could not possibly make the trip over the country before us. Failing in this, he set to work and distributed his supplies amongst us, and returned to Fort Steilacoom, blazing trees as he went, and leaving notes tacked to them, giving us what encouragement he could, and preparing us, in a measure, for what was before us. For instance, “The road is a shade better;” a little further on “a shade worse,” then again, ”a shade better, and so on, until we were over the bad roads. We crossed Greenwater River sixteen times, and followed that stream until we came to White River, which we crossed six times. Then left it for a dreary pull over Wind Mountain, which was covered with heavy fir and cedar trees, but destitute of grass, with a few vine maples, on whose leaves our poor oxen and horses lived for seven days, not having a blade of grass during that time. I must not forget to mention the fact that in these dark days – seven of them – we and our half-starved cattle worked the road every day. We bridged large logs which lay before us, by cutting others and laying alongside, making a bridge wide enough for the oxen to draw our wagons across. Then all, except John Lane, E. A. Light and myself, left their wagons on account of their failing oxen, which they drove before them to Boise Creek prairie, where there was good grass. Lane, Light, and I arrived first; the rest soon followed with their cattle and horses. Four miles further we reached Porter’s prairie, where Allan Porter, now of Hillburst, had taken a claim, but who was at that time in Olympia. We again crossed White River, making the seventh time, and pushed on to Connell’s prairie, thence to the Puyallup River, to the present site of Van Ogle’s hop farm. Little did Van think then that he would ever raise, bale, and sell hops on that piece of ground. We found the river low and filled with humpback salmon. We armed ourselves with various weapons, clubs, axes and whatever we could get and went fishing. Every man who could strike a blow got a fish, and such a feast we had not enjoyed since we had potatoes boiled in the jackets, but fish was far ahead of potatoes. John Mayer declared they were the best fish he had ever eaten. We had a royal feast. Some of our party was up all night cooking and eating fish. All relished them but Mrs. Longmire, who was feeling indisposed, but she fortunately got a delicacy – rare to her – a pheasant, which she bought from an Indian – her first purchase on Puget Sound.
The next day we moved on to Nisqually plains and camped at Clover creek, some 300 yards from the home of Mrs. Mahan, who, I believe, still lives there, and whose kindness the ladies of our party will never forget. On the 9th of October, the day after we camped at Clover creek, the men all went out to Fort Steilacoom to see Puget Sound, and during our absence Mrs. Mahan made a raid on our camp and took my wife, Mrs. E. A. Light, Mrs. Woolery and other ladies whose names I do not remember, to her home, where she had prepared a dinner which to these tired sisters, after their toilsome journey, was like a royal banquet. After months of camp life, to sit once more at a table presided over by a friend in this far-away land, where we thought to meet only strangers, was truly an event never to be forgotten, and one to which my wife often refers as a bright spot on memory’s page.
Before proceeding with my narrative I must mention the fact that I arrived in this country with torn and ragged pants and coat, my cap battered, with only one boot, my other foot covered with an improvised moccasin made of a portion of a cow’s hide which we had killed a few days before. In this garb I was to meet a party of well dressed gentlemen from Olympia, who had heard of us from Andy Burge, led by Mr. Hurd, who had come out to welcome the first party of emigrants direct from the East over the Cascade mountains north of The Dalles. My garb was a sample of those of the other men, and when we were together felt pretty well, all being in the same fashion; but when brought face to face with well dressed men we felt somewhat embarrassed. But our new friends were equal to the emergency and our embarrassment was soon dispelled by copious draughts of “good old bourbon,” to which we did full justice, while answering questions amidst introductions and hearty handshaking. This was on the 8th day of October.
On the 10th of October Dr. Tolmie, chief factor of Hudson Bay Company, stationed at Fort Nisqually, paid us a visit, asked us numerous questions about our long journey and arrival treated us in a very friendly manner, but soon left, bidding us a polite farewell. In about three hours he returned with a man driving an ox cart, which was loaded with beef just killed and dressed which he presented to us, saying, “Distribute this to suit yourselves.” Not understanding it to be a present we offered to pay him, which he firmly but politely refused, saying, “it is a present to you,” and it was a present most welcome to us at that time, and for which we expressed heartfelt thank to the generous giver. Leaving our families in camp, E. A. Light, John Lane and I started out to look for homes. Having received due notice from the Hudson Bay company not to settle on any lands north of the Nisqually River we crossed the river and went to Yelm prairie, a beautiful spot. I thought as it lay before us covered with tall waving grass, a pretty stream bordered with shrubs and tall trees, flowing through it, and the majestic mountain standing guard over all, in its snowy coat, it was a scene fit for an artist. Herds of deer wandered at leisure through the tall grass. It was good enough for me and I bought a house from Martin Shelton, but bought no land, as it was unsurveyed as yet and returned for my family. Hill Harmon was in camp waiting for my return. He had a logging camp on the Sound and wanted to hire my boys, John Mooyer, Iven Watt and Will Claffin, (the last name had joined us at Fort Hall) who declined his terms, $85 per month, until they knew I could get along without them. Knowing the boys were needy, I told them to go, which they did, soon, getting an advance in salary to $100 per month. We started for our new home, my wife and children in one wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, which she drove. I went ahead with another wagon and four yoke of oxen. Our carriage had long ago been left on Burnt river, also the harness which we saw afterward on a pair of mules driven past us on the emigrant trail. Arrived “at home” we found a large number of Indians camped near by. About thirty of them came in to see us the first night to examine things new to them, which they did, expressing their surprise by grunts and guttural sounds which were Greek to us. We found but three white families for neighbors, Mr. Braile, a bachelor, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Shelton and Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, the latter now a citizen of Steilacoom. The following winter I took a donation claim, a portion of the farm on which I have since resided.
Late in the fall of 1853 Isaac Stevens, the first governor of Washington territory, arrived from across the plains in such sorry garb that Frank R. Jackson, a pioneer, was loath to believe he was the newly appointed governor. A doubt which he openly expressed, and which the governor alluded to in later years laughingly, taking it as a better joke on himself than on Mr. Jackson. Governor Stevens also held the office of superintendent of Indian affairs, with instructions to make treaties with the Indians. I will write more particularly of the Nisqually tribes, whose chiefs were Leschi and Quiemuth, this being the tribe I was associated with more than the others. Matters went smoothly till the treaty in the fall of 1854. A council was held at Medicine creek, at the mouth of the Nisqually River, the terms of which are well known to every pioneer of the State of Washington. From day to day, they met till the treaty was made by which the Indians were to retain lands of their own choice, reserved from the public domain for them and their children as long as the tribe should exist. This seemed satisfactory for awhile, but emigrants coming in larger numbers the Indians grew jealous, incited, too, by persons unfriendly to the settlers, and began to appear less friendly toward us, frequently telling the Klickitats were getting ready for war upon the whites, but assuring us the Nisquallys would never join them, would always be friends to the whites. In July following the completion of the treaty, Quiemuth and Slugyi came to me complaining that the settlers did not give them enough for their work, saying in Chinook that the “Bostons” were bad people, but the King George men were good; that the latter had been here a long time and never stole land. Now the “Bostons” come and were fencing and stealing the land from the Indians. Slugyi, who could speak English, interpreted what I could not understand, which was nearly all of Quiemuth’s Chinook. They finished by giving me the worst bemeaning I ever got. I tried to reason with them, saying the common people were not to blame, that “tyees” had bought their land, the officials had made the treaty and they had agreed to it. Finding them unreasonable, I quietly took their abuse. When they had finished they got on their ponies and rode off. I saw Quiemuth once after this, when he was still growling about the “Bostons,” but still called himself the “Boston’s Tillicum.” Notwithstanding these friendly assurances, we were greatly alarmed, but at a loss what move to make, as we did not want to leave our home unprotected, neither risk our own and children’s lives by staying at home.
On the 10th of October, while my boys, Elcaine and David, myself and John Mollhigh, an Indian who often helped me with my work, were putting in rye about a half-a-mile from my house, where Mrs. Longmire and the two younger children were alone. At least thirty Indians rode up in company with old Stub, an Indian who had supplied our table with wild game since we first came on the prairie, a first-rate hunter, and an Indian who was friendly and honest, got off their horses, walked in the house with their guns and arranged themselves around the fireplace, crowding my wife and children to the back part of the room, the latter crying with fright, while their mother sat in deadly fear, not knowing what moment they would strike the fatal blow. Stub sat in the corner taking little part in conversation, which lasted about an hour. They made a demand for food in a rude impudent way, which was denied. They then got on their horses, after telling my wife in Chinook they were going to the Bald Hills on a hunt, and rode away, leaving Stub in his corner by the fire. After they were gone, my wife gave him some food in a tin plate, the best we had, which he ate in silence. Having finished his meal, he arose, went to my wife, laid his hand on her head and began to talk in a sad, mournful way. Not one word could she understand. Then he laid his hand on his own breast, then on the heads of the two frightened children, all the time taking and, as my wife thought, warning her of the fate of the white settlers and the horrible intentions of the Indians. He left silently, and this was the last time he ever came to our house. He went to the hostile Indians, was captured with Utsalawah, or Chuck-Nose, as the settlers called him about two months after the opening of the Indian War, taken to Olympia, put in prison in chains, where he killed himself by tying a strip of his blanket tightly around his throat. His companion was released later on, and lived till the summer of 1886 when he was laid to rest with his “tillicums” in a little burying ground about 300 yards from where my house now stands. The spot he had begged of me from year to year for his last resting-place – almost since I had known him.
On the 1lth of October 1855, the day after the Indians came to my house, I started with my family to Olympia, as we now knew there was no safety for us in our own home, which had already been under guard for two weeks. Our bachelor neighbors McLean Chambers, Frank Goodwin and Mr. Perkins, the two former now living near Roy, in Pierce County, the latter at rest long since, came to our house for mutual protection, and kindly stood guard, taking turns, whose kindness we shall never forget. Arrived at Olympia I rented a house for my wife and children, put the two boys in school, and returned to my farm, intending, with the help of John Mollhigh, to finish my fall work.
On the 20th of October Quiemuth paid a visit to Secretary Mason, who was acting governor in the absence of Governor Stevens. Who had gone east of the Cascades to make treaties with those tribes, which seemed to be leaders in the rebellious movements, which we began to fear would end in a general massacre of the white settlers. Quiemuth assured Mason again and again of the friendship of his tribe, whereupon Mason told him to get his half brother, Leschi, and with their families, come to Olympia, where he would give them food and shelter. This Quiemuth agreed to do and returned to Yelm prairie for that purpose, but he had forgotten both his promise and his friendship long before his arrival, for no sooner did he meet Leschi than they took their families and moved as fast as they could to Puyallup. As the chief did not come the following day, Mason feeling somewhat alarmed for the safety of the white settlers appointed Charles Eaton and twelve men. Among them, Connell McAllister and George McAllister, son of the latter, and a man named Wallace, to go to Puyallup and invite the chiefs to come to Olympia. I was to have gone but as I was four miles from the main road, they hurried on without me. Crossing the Puyallup River, they went to where Van Ogle’s farm now is, and sent a friendly Indian who had come with them from Olympia, to learn the whereabouts of the Indians. Upon his return he reported about 200 Indians having collected further on, with the two chiefs, Quiemuth and Leschi; also the Puyallup tribe. Hearing this, Eaton said it would never do to go further, for that meant war. McAllister and Connell ridiculed the idea, saying they knew those Indians well, and would go and have a friendly talk with them. Eaton replied that if they did go it was contrary to orders. Confident of success, they laid down their guns and, after buckling on their revolvers, started on what they meant as a friendly errand, with the two friendly Indians, but which proved their death, for in about twenty minutes Eaton and his little band heard the firing of guns, when Eaton said the men were killed and they must get ready for defense at once. They took refuge in a cabin, which stood near, and fastened their saddle blankets over the open spaces between the logs, and filled a barrel full of water, in case the hostile Indians should fire the building. They then hid their horses close as possible to the cabin and declared themselves ready for battle, which began just before dark, a large band of Indians opening fire on Eaton and his ten men; one, a friendly Indian who had returned with news of the sad fate of McAllister and Connell, the other Indian having gone with the hostile tribes who were now fighting, sending bullet after bullet into the little cabin. One bullet struck Wallace, who, with the exception of being stunned, received no permanent injury except losing the upper part of one ear. The Indians tried to fire the cabin, but Eaton’s band kept up such a constant fire they dared not approach near enough for the purpose, so set fire to a pen filled with wheat, which stood near, greatly helping Eaton by the bright light to see the Indians and take fair aim. Toward daylight, the Indians drew off, taking their dead and wounded, also every horse belonging to Eaton’s band. Assuring himself that quiet reigned once more, Eaton ventured forth with his men, crossed the Puyallup, left the main road, climbed a high bluff and made their way through the woods to the Nisqually plains, ten miles distant, thence to Olympia, leaving the bodies of McAllister and Connell where they fell.
On the same day the 28th of October, before sunrise, two Indians came to my house on horses dripping with sweat, and told Mollhigh of the terrible massacre on White river and the fate of McAllister and Connell, which Mollhigh afterward told me when I visited him. Mollhigh’s wife and mother were camped near my house, but came at once on hearing of the massacre, and began to weep and wring their hands, and told me in Chinook to go at once or the Indians would kill me, which I did not understand. Mollhigh’s wife told Mrs. Longmire afterward that I was the biggest fool she ever saw. During this excitement, Mollhigh continued this work, talking to the Indians, who were trying to persuade him to go and fight the whites. I noticed their excitement, which was greatly increased, when the thirty braves who had gone to the Bald Hills a few days before, arrived with their squaws, who were crying bitterly, which convinced me the news of the massacre had been sent them, and that I must get ready to leave, as the Indians were already grinding their knives and tomahawks on my grindstone, while they talked wildly and the squaws continued to cry. I fastened on my revolver but left my gun in the house while I went after my horse. While looking for my horse from a high point which commanded a view of the prairie, I heard the sound of horses’ feet, and stepping behind a tree I saw passing the two Indians who had brought news of the massacre, as I supposed, returning to Puyallup. Not finding my horse, I started home, but stopped at McLean Chambers’ who lived where my house now stands, and who had already heard of the massacre. He begged me not to go back to my home, but I had left my gun and felt that I must have it. Find I would go, he said I must take his horse, which I did, but while we were talking the same Indians I had seen while looking for my horse rode up, talked a few minutes and passed on. I believed I was the man they were hunting. Shortly I took McLean’s horse and rode quietly home, to find it broken into, everything of value gone, every stitch of my clothing only what I wore, also my gun, which I looked for fist on going into the house.
Things of no value to the Indians were scattered over the yard, but not and Indian in sight – not even my trusted Mollhigh, who afterwards told me he went only to save my life. He told the Indians Longmire was a “cultus tillicum,” and had always been good to the Indians, and not to kill him, but kill the “Tyees,” the big men. They answered his pleading by saying if he did not come with them and help to fight they would kill him and “Longmire too,” but if he would help them they would not kill Longmire. After long persuasion, poor Mollhigh yielded, thinking this the only means to save either one of us, and went with the hostiles. He was true to me though, for after the war he came back and lived with me for years, always claiming that he saved my life. Coming out of my house, I looked carefully on all sides, with my revolver drawn and ready to fire at a minute’s notice. I looked carefully around on all sides, then mounted my horse, which I put to a lively run, till I reached McLean Chambers, who at once took him and started for Olympia. The Indians had stolen my last horse, and I must now make my way to Olympia, twenty-five miles, on foot, which was not a pleasant trip alone. I walked over to Brail’s, where T. M. Chambers now lives; to find his house deserted. He had left on first hearing of the massacre. I now concluded to go to Hughes, and get him to go with me, but dark came on, and hearing horses coming I dropped behind a pile of rails, which hid me from view. Soon I heard the peculiar hissing sound like “shee, shee,” with which Indians always drive stock, and I knew they were stealing the last horses from the white settlers on the prairies. Arrived at Hughes’ he and his family had taken flight. I hardly knew which way to turn, but finally decided to go to George Edward’s, a former employee of the Hudson Bay company, an Englishman who still lives at Yelm station. I thought if he was gone I must take to the woods. Fortunately for me he and his wife, one of the Nisqually tribe, were at home, but thought it unsafe to remain in the house, so we went to the barn and spent the night. In the morning we started for Olympia, Edwards and I. I rode a horse belonging to the Hudson Bay company, known as old Roosh. Half an hour before our arrival word had reached Olympia from Dr. Tolmie, through Mollhigh’s wife, that I was killed by the Indians the evening before. Much to my relief, my family had not heard the news when I arrived at home. I met Charley Eaton, who was organizing a company of volunteers to go in pursuit of the Indians; bent on killing them all, else bring them to subjection. About sixty-seven men joined him, but on being sworn refused to take the oath, and deserted our ranks till only eighteen or twenty men remained in the company, which was called the Puget Sound Rangers. Charles Eaton was captain, James Tullis first lieutenant. The other officers’ names I have forgotten. I enlisted and we started at once to scour the northeastern part of Thurston County and all of Pierce for hostile Indians and learn where they were collected. For several days not an Indian could be found, most of them having gone to White river to make a grand stand at Connell’s prairie, where Qualchin met them with about 300 Klickitats from east of the Cascade mountains. Qualchin was the son of Auhi, chief of the Klickitats, whom he led to battle. Quiemuth led the Nisquallies, assisted by Leachi, and Kitsap the Puyallups. They were met here by companies commanded by Captains Henness, Gilmore, Hayes, White and Swindle; also one by Isaac Hayes. These were all volunteer companies. The Indians fought all the morning in ambush, the volunteers failing to draw them out into open battle. In the afternoon, the volunteers, finding they could gain nothing by this method of warfare, resorted to strategy. One company was ordered to lie down on the ground, the rest to flee in confusion. The Indians, looking only at the fleeing volunteers and thinking the day was theirs, rushed madly forward with beating drums and wild war whoops till they came within fifty yards of the prostrate volunteers, who suddenly rose and opened fire, the fleeing volunteers returning, firing as they came. A panic seized the Indians, who flung their drums and ran wildly not forgetting their dead and, wounded, pell mell into the Puyallup river, swam to the other side, the volunteers following to the river bank, killing many as they tried to escape by swimming. Qualchin not accustomed to fighting in the woods on foot, left for Yakima in disgust. The rest, left without a leader, and much reduced in numbers, scattered in small bands all over the country, stealing, burning houses and barns, killing the settlers and spreading terror everywhere.
The Puget Sound rangers in the meantime were attempting to hunt down fugitive Indians, all to no purpose, however, for not an Indian could be found. We became convinced they were getting information and assistance from friends, and so reported to Governor Stevens, who ordered the arrest of all persons suspected of rendering them assistance. Arrests were made of all men whom we suspected of harboring Indians. They were taken to Fort Steilacoom and tried, but nothing could be proven against them, so they were released. After this, the volunteers began to find Indians in small bands all over the country, whom they killed or captured, whenever found. However, depredations continued, and several more arrests were made, when Governor Stevens proclaimed martial law, to prevent persons suspected of aiding the Indians from returning to their homes, holding them as prisoners at Fort Steilacoom. Shortly after this move on the part of our worthy governor, some of the Indians surrendered and were placed in charge of the Indian Agent on the reservation. The Puget Sound rangers were now discharged, and I made preparations to move back to Yelm prairie with my family, taking with me a friendly Indian named Peallo and his family, who camped, near our house. We did not feel safe in our home and Peallo and I took turns standing guard at nights; working with our guns beside us during the day.
The war had been going on now for nearly a year, and the settlers were tired and discouraged, and many of them living in blockhouses. One night when Peallo was standing guard he came to the door saying: “Mesatchee tillicums choco” (the bad Indians are coming). I got up, took my gun and went outside, when Peallo came to me, saying in Chinook, “If they do come I die with you.” He lay down putting his ear close to the ground, and listened a few minutes, but got up, saying he was mistaken. “It was the spirits, not Indians.” But he was not mistaken, as examination next morning showed that horses had been fastened about a half mile from my house, on the edge of a swamp, apparently all night, the riders probably prowling near my house. When Peallo saw this, he begged me to go to the blockhouse, saying we were not safe in our house. I told him I was not afraid. He then went to my wife and begged her to talk to me and get me to go to the blockhouse and not let her and the children be killed. On the second day after this, we moved to the blockhouse, where we found Levi Shelton and family and Thomas Chambers, Sr., and family besides five men to guard the commissary store, which was kept there. About this time, Governor Curry of Oregon sent a company of troops to our assistance under Captain Miller. Indians were still stealing horses and killing cattle. A band of these robbers were followed by Captain Maxon to the Mashel River where the last one was killed.
Quiemuth and Leschi now separated, for what cause I never knew. The former grew tired of fighting and come to Ozha, a Frenchmen, who lived on the Nisqually near the crossing of the Northern Pacific railroad bridge, and asked him to see me and learn if I could take him to Governor Stevens, as he wanted to surrender, and would risk his life with the governor, I told Ozha to bring Quiemuth to me after dark for if he were seen some one would surely kill him. I was glad he had surrendered as he was the only chief left on our side of the river whom we feared, but I hardly know why he came to me unless he thought as I was a friend of Governor Stevens it would make his sentence lighter. It was early in the summer of 1856 when he came one night with Ozha into my house unarmed, shaking hands with me and my wife as friendly as if he had not been fighting us and our friends for months and months. I got my horse and taking Van Ogle, George Brail Ozha and Betsey Edgar, a squaw and friend of Ozha’s, we started for Olympia, Quiemuth riding close to me, talking freely all the way, telling me if the governor did not kill him he would show me where there was lots of gold, as he knew where it was. It was a gloomy ride that night through the rain, and when we reached Olympia between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, we were wet, muddy and tired. I awoke Governor Stevens and told him I had Quiemuth, who wanted to see him. He got up, invited us in, and ordered lunch, of which we partook heartily, being hungry as well as tired. Ozha, Van Ogle and George Brail went to put our horses in the stable, while I remained with Quiemuth. The governor handed our prisoner a pipe of tobacco, which he smoked a few minutes telling me between whiffs he through the governor was a good man and would not hurt him; and that he was a good “tillicum.” Governor Stevens offered me a bed, which I declined, as I was wet and muddy, and told him if he would give me a blanket I would lay down by the fire in the office. Blankets were brought for me and Quiemuth, and we lay down, one on either side of the fireplace, I being nearest the door. In the meantime, news of the chief’s surrender must have been circulated, although I had intended it should be kept secret. Governor Stevens left lights burning in the office, bade us good-night, and once more retired, and I was soon in a deep sleep, from which I was aroused by a great noise, I hardly knew what. I sprang up to hear the sound as of persons running out of the house, and to find the lights blown out. I saw by the dim firelight a man fall and heard a deep groan. I ran to the falling man and found it was Quiemuth, speechless and dying. At this moment the governor rushed in, saying as he saw the dead chief: “Who in —– has done this?” I replied did not know. “In my office, too,” he added, “this is a club for General Wool.” General Wool had opposed the policy of Stevens, and Governor Curry of Oregon, in the prosecution of the Indian war. Before the Governor reached the office I ran to the door, and by the dim morning light saw eighteen or twenty men outside the door. Never in my long and intimate acquaintance with Governor Stevens did I ever see him so enraged as he was that night, and justly, too, it seems to me, for even after all these years it kindles my wrath when I think of the cowardly deed. It was almost daylight, and the body of Quiemuth was left on the carpeted floor of the office till the coroner’s inquest was held, which brought out the fact that Quiemuth had been shot with a pistol, the ball taking effect in the right arm and right side, which Dr. Willard, Sr., declared never could have killed any man. On closer examination he found the chief had been stabbed with a very fine blade, which had penetrated the heart, causing instant death. One, Joe Bustin, had been arrested during the inquest on suspicion. Elwood Evans, now of Tacoma, then a young lawyer of Olympia, conducted the prosecution, B. F. Kindall the defense, which resulted in the acquittal of Bustin, though many persons believed him to be the guilty party.
Quiemuth now being dead, Leschi was soon captured and sentenced to hang, but the execution was stayed, and Leschi returned to prison. Court again convened when he was sentenced and executed near Fort Steilacoom. This ended the Indian War.
I must here mention that many prominent men condemned Governor Stevens strongly for proclaiming martial law, but his course was ably defended in the legislature, where the debates were long and stormy. I represented my county at that time, and approved our governor’s action. Peace once more restored; the settlers returned to their homes to begin life anew, having been robbed of everything. My last horse was gone, but a few cattle were left. But with willing hands and bright hopes, the blessings of health and peace in our home, my wife and I took up our burden, and prosperity met us. So that when old age comes on we may rest in peace, waiting for the summons which calls us all to the better land. James Longmire,