Introduction: The following is James Longmire’s account, written many years after the events, of the conflict that broke out in the 1850’s.
Late in the fall of 1853, Isaac I. Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, arrived from across the plains in such a sorry garb that Frank R. Jackson, a pioneer settler, was loathe to believe he was the newly appointed Governor, a doubt which he openly expressed, and to which the Governor alluded in later years, laughing, taking it as a better joke on himself than on Mr. Jackson. Governor Stevens also held the Office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, with instruction to make treaties with the Indians.
I will refer more particularly to the Nisqually tribe, whose chiefs were Leschi, and Quiemuth, this being the tribe with which I was associated more than any other. Matters seemed to go smoothly till the Treaty was made in the fall of 1854. A council was held at Medicine Creek, at the mouth of the Nisqually, for the purpose of making this treaty, the terms of which are familiar to every pioneer of the State of Washington. From day to day they met, till the t”- ,as made by which the Indians were to receive certain lands of their own choice, reserved from the public domain for them and their children so long as the tribe should exist. This seemed satisfactory for a while, but emigrants coming in larger numbers caused the Indians to grow jealous and, encouraged by persons unfriendly to the settlers, they began to appear less friendly to us, frequently telling us that the Klickitats were getting ready for war upon the whites, but assuring us that the Nisqually’s would never join them, and would always be friendly to the white settlers. In the spring after the treaty, Quiemuth and Stayhi came to us and complained 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, as they termed the Hudson’s Bay Company, were good, and had been here a long time and had never stolen land; now the "Bostons" come and were fencing, and stealing the land from the Indians.
Stayhi, who could speak English, interpreted what I failed to understand, which was nearly all of Quiemuth’s Chinook. They finished their visit by giving’ me the worst bemoaning I ever had. I tried to reason with them, telling them that the common people were not to blame; that the "Tyees" had bought their land; the officials had made the treaty, and they had agreed upon it. Finding them unreasonable, I quietly took their abuse and when they had finished, they got on their ponies and rode off. I saw Quiemuth once afterwards, when he was still growling about the "Bostons", but still called himself the "Boston Tillicum", which meant friend.
Notwithstanding these assurances, friendly though they seemed, we were greatly alarmed, but at a loss as to what move to make, as we did not want to leave our home unprotected, neither risk our own lives and those of our children by staying at home. On the 10th of October, while our boys, Elcaine and David, and myself and John Mollhigh, an Indian who often helped me with my work, were putting up rye about a mile and a half from the house where Mrs. Longmire and the youngest 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 honest and friendly-got off their horses, walked into the house with their guns, and ranged 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 a fatal blow. "Stub" sat in the corner, taking little part in the noisy conversation, which lasted about an hour, when they made an impudent demand for food, which was denied them, then they mounted their ponies and rode away, after telling my wife, in Chinook, they were going to Bald Mountain to hunt. Stub still sat in the corner by the fire, and after the others had 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 talking in a sad, mournful tone, not one word of which she could understand; then he laid his hand on his own breast, then on the heads of the two frightened children, all the time talking, as my wife thought, warning her of the fate of the white settlers, and of the horrible intentions of the Indians. He left silently and that was the last time that he ever came to our house. He went to the hostile Indians, and was captured with Ut-sa-la-la-wah, or Chuck Nose, as the settlers called him, about two months later after the opening of the Indian War, taken to Olympia, and put in prison in chains, where he killed himself by tying a strip of blanket, around his throat. His companion was released later on and lived till the summer of 1886. Chuck Nose was laid at rest with his " Tillicums" in a little Indian burying ground about three hundred yards from where my house now stands-the spot he had begged me, from year to year, for his last resting place, almost ever since I had known him.
On the llth 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, long since at rest, came to our house for mutual protection, and kindly stood guard, taking turns, a kindness which we will never forget. Arriving at Olympia, I rented a house for my wife and children, put the boys in school, and returned to the farm, intending with the help of John Mollhigh, an Indian, 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 Cascade Mountains to make treaties with those tribes which seemed to be in the rebellious movement which we began to fear would end in a general massacre of the white settlers. Quiemuth assured the Secretary 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, for no sooner did he meet Leschi than they took their families and moved as fast as they could for 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 other men, among them Connell, James McAllister, and his son, George,
and Milton B. Wallace, to go to Puyallup, and invite the chief to come to Olympia. I was appointed to go with them, but as I was four miles off the road they hurried along 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, if possible, the whereabouts of the chief. Returning, he reported two hundred Indians collected farther on, in company with the chiefs, Quiemuth, and Leschi, also the Puyallup Tribe. Eaton, upon hearing this, declared it would not do to go farther, for such movements meant war; but McAllister and Connell ridiculed the idea, saying they knew these Indians well, and would go and have a friendly talk with them, which Eaton told them would be contrary to orders. However, confident of success, they laid down their guns, buckled, on their revolvers, and started on what they meant as a friendly errand, with the two friendly Indians as an escort.
This proved their death, for in about twenty minutes Eaton and his little band of men heard the firing’ of guns, which was proof to Eaton that the men were killed, and they must get ready for defense at once. This they did by taking refuge in a cabin which was near, and fastened their saddle blankets over the open spaces between the log’s, and filled a barrel of water, in case the hostile Indians should fire the building. Then they hid the horses as close as possible to the cabin, and declared themselves ready for battle. This began just after dark by a large band of Indians opening fire on Eaton and his little band of men. The friendly Indian had returned with news of the sad fate of McAllister and Council, the other Indian having gone with the hostiles, who were now fighting, sending bullet after bullet into the cabin. One struck Wallace, vtao, with the exception of being stunned, received no hurt aside from the loss of the upper part of one of his ears. The Indians tried to fire the cabin, but Eaton’s men kept up such a constant fire they dared not approach near enough for the purpose, but set fire to a pen filled with wheat, which stood near, which helped Eaton with its bright, light to see the Indians and take good aim. About daylight the Indians drew off, taking their dead and wounded with them, and every horse belonging to Eaton and his men, who, assuring themselves that quiet reigned once more, ventured forth, crossed the Puyallup, left the main road and climbing a steep bluff, made their way through the woods to the Nisqually Plains, ten miles distant, thence to Olympia, leaving the bodies of McAllister and Council where they fell. On the same day, the 28th of October, before sunrise, two Indians came to my house on horses dripping wet with sweat, and told Mollhigh of the terrible massacre on White River, and the fate of McAllister and Connell, which Mollhigh told me. His wife and mother were camped near my house, and came at once on hearing of the massacre, weeping and wringing 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 afterwards told Mrs. Longmire that I was the biggest fool she ever saw. During this excitement he continued his 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 party of braves who had gone to Bald Hills a few days before arrived with their squaws, who were weeping bitterly, which convinced me the news of the massacre had been sent them, and I must get ready to leave, as the Indians were already grinding their knives and tomahawks on their grindstones, while they talked wildly, and the squaws kept on crying. I fastened on my revolver, but left my gun in the house, while I went for my horse. While I was looking for my horse from a high point which commanded a view of the Prairie, I heard the sound of horses hooves on the hard ground, and stepping behind a tree where I was securely hid, I saw the two Indians who had brought the news of the massacre returning, as I supposed, 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 house, but I had left my gun and felt that I must have it. "When he found that I was determined to go he gave me his horse, which I took, and even while we talked, the same Indians I had seen while hunting my horse, rode up and talked a few minutes, then rode on; and I believed then, and to this day that I was the man they were hunting, but why they changed their minds and let me live I cannot tell. Shortly after the Indians left I took McLean’s horse and rode quietly home, to find it broken into, and everything of value gone, every stitch of clothing, only what I wore; my gun, also, which I looked for first on going into the house. Things of no value to the Indians were scattered over the yard but not an Indian in sight, not even my trusted, Mollhigh, who told me afterwards he went only to save my life. He told the Indians that "Longmire was a Kloshe Tillicum" and had always been good to the Indians, and not to kill him, but kill the "tyees", the big men. They answered by telling him if he did not come along and fight they would kill him, and Longmire, too; but if he would help them fight they would not kill Longmire. After long persuasion, poor Mollhigh had yielded, thinking this was the only means of saving either 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 had saved my life.
Coming out of the house with my revolver drawn, ready to fire at the slightest notice, I looked carefully about on all sides, then mounted my horse, which I put. to a lively run, until I was again at McLean Chambers. He took the horse and started for Olympia. The Indians had taken my last horse, and I must now make my way to Olympia on foot, a distance of twenty-five miles, alone, which was not pleasant to contemplate; so I walked over to Braile’s place, where Thomas M. Chambers now lives, to find his house deserted, he having left as soon as he heard of the massacre. I then went to Hughes to get him to go with me, but darkness coming on, and hearing horses hoofs on the hard road, I dropped behind a pile of rails, which hid me from view, and while lying there I heard the peculiar hissing sound like "shee, shee", with which Indians always drove stock, and hence knew that they were stealing the last horses from the white settlers on the prairies. When I arrived at Hughes’ place, he and his family had fled, and I hardly knew which way to turn, and finally decided to go to George Edwards, a former employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, an Englishman, who still lives at Yelm Station. I thought if he were gone that I would have to take to the woods, but fortunately for me, he and his wife, an Indian woman of the Nisqually tribe, were at home, but thought it unsafe to remain in the house, so we went to the barn, where we spent the night.
In the morning I started for Olympia, I riding a horse belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company, called "Old Eoosch". Half an hour before our arrival, we’d reached Olympia from Dr. Tolmie that I had been killed the evening before by- the Indians, Mollhigh’s wife being the informant. Much to my relief, the news had not reached my family before my arrival.
I met Charles Eaton, who was organizing a company of volunteers to go in pursuit of the Indians, determined to kill all of them or subdue them. About sixty-seven men joined, but when it came to the point of taking the oath many refused, so there were only eighteen or twenty remaining in the company, which was named the Puget Sound Rangers, with Charles Eaton, Captain, and James Tullis, First Lieutenant. The other officers’ names I do not recall. I enlisted and we started at once to scour the northeastern part of Thurston County and all of Pierce County for hostile Indians, to learn if possible 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 Council’s Prairie, where Qualchin met them with about three hundred Klickitats from the east of the Cascade Mountains, he being the chief of the Klickitats, and the leader of these Indians in the war which followed; Quiemuth leading the Nisquallys, assisted by Leschi, and Kitsap the Puyallups. They were met by companies commanded by Captain B. L. Henness, Gilmore Hays, Joseph White, and Calvin H. Swindall; also one by Isaac Hayes-all volunteer companies. The Indians fought all morning in ambush, the volunteers failing to draw them out into open battle; but in the afternoon, the volunteers finding there was nothing being done this way, resorted to strategy. One company was ordered to lie down, while the others were to flee in confusion. This plan was carried out, and the Indians, thinking the day was theirs, looking only at the fleeing men, rushed madly forward with beating drums and wild war warhoops, until they came within fifty yards of the prostrate troops, who arose as one man and opened fire, the fleeing men returning, firing as they came. The Indians, panic stricken, flung down their drums, ran wildly, forgetting their dead and wounded, and rushing madly into the Puyallup River, swam to the other side the volunteers following to the river bank, where they killed many who were trying to make their escape by swimming. Qualchin, who was not accustomed to fighting in the woods, on foot, left for Yakima in disgust; and the rest, without a leader, scattered over the country in small bands, stealing, burning houses and barns, killing the white settlers, and spreading terror wherever they went. The Puget Sound Rangers in the meantime were trying to hunt down fugitive Indians; all to no purpose, however, for not an Indian was to be found. At length we became convinced that they were getting- information from friends, as well as assistance and so reported to Governor Stevens, who immediately ordered the arrest of any and all persons suspected of harboring Indians. These persons were taken to Fort Steilacoom for trial, but as nothing was proved against them they were released. After this the volunteers began to find Indians in small bands all over the country, who 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, and 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 to my farm, with my family, taking with me a friendly Indian named Paelo, who, with his family, camped near my house. We did not feel safe in our house, so Paelo and I stood guard at night, taking turns, and in the daytime worked with our guns beside us, ready at a minute’s notice to defend ourselves.
The war had now been going on for nearly a year, and the settlers were tired and discouraged, many of them living in blockhouses. One night, when Paelo was standing guard, he came to the door and said, "Mesachee Tillicum chaco". (The bad Indians coming.) I got up and went outside, taking my gun, when Paelo came to me and told me in Chinook, "If they do come, I die with you." He lay down with his ear close to the ground, and listened for a few minutes, but got up and said he was mistaken; but he was not. It was not spirits, as he said, but real Indians, as examination next morning showed that horses had been passing about a half a mile from my house. When Paelo saw this he begged me to go to the blockhouse, saying that we were not safe in our house. I told him I was not afraid. Then he went to my wife, and begged her to talk to me and get me to go to the blockhouse and save her and the children from being killed by the Indians. On the second day after, we moved to the block house, where we found Levi Shelton and family, and Thomas Chambers, Sr., with his family, besides five men to guard the commissary store which was kept there.
After this time Governor Currey of Oregon sent a company of troops to our assistance under Captain Bluford Miller, as Indians were still stealing horses and killing cattle. A band of these robbers was followed by Captain Marshall to Mason Biver, where the last one of them was killed. Quiemuth and Leschi now separated, for what reason I never knew. The former grew tired of fighting, and came to Ozha, a Frenchman, who lived on the Nisqually Biver, near the crossing of the Northern Pacific railroad bridge, and asked him to come and see me and learn if I could take him to Governor Stevens safely, 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 someone would surely kill him. I was glad that he had surrendered, as he was the only chief left on our side of the river whom we feared; but I hardly knew why he came to me, unless he thought as 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, shook hands with me and my wife, as friendly as if he had not been fighting us and our friends for months and months, rendering life burden to us. I got my horse, and taking Van Ogle, George Braile, Ozha and Betsy Edgar, a squaw, and friend of Ozha, we started to 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 two and three o’clock in the morning, we were wet, muddy, and tired. I awakened the Governor, and told him I had Quiemuth, who wanted to see him. He got up and invited us in, then ordered luncheon, of which we partook freely, as we were hungry as well as tired.
Ozha, Van Ogle, and Braile went to the stable with our horses, while I stayed with Quiemuth. The Governor handed our prisoner a pipe of tobacco which he smoked a few minutes, telling me between puffs that he thought the Governor was a good man and Would not hurt him-that he was a good "Tillicum". The Governor offered me a bed, which I declined, as I was wet and muddy, and told him to give me some blankets, and I would lie 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 next to the door.
In the meantime, news of the chief’s surrender must have been circulated, though I had intended to keep it a secret. The Governor left a light burning in the office, bade us good night, and again retired, and I was soon in deep sleep, from which I was aroused by a great noise, I hardly realizing what it was or what caused it. I sprang to my feet, and as I did so I heard the sound of a person running out of the house, and the lights were out. I saw by the dim light of the fire a man fall and heard a groan, and rushing to the fallen man, I found it was Quiemuth, speechless and dying. At that moment Governor Stevens rushed in, saying as he saw the dying chief, "Who in H- has done this?" I replied, "I do not know." "-In my office, too," he added. "This is a club for General Wool."
General Wool had disapproved the policy of Governor Stevens, as well as that of Governor Currey of Oregon, in the prosecution of the Indian War. Before the Governor reached the office I had run to the door, and by the dim morning light I saw eighteen or twenty men outside the door. Never in my long and intimate acquaintance with the Governor 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 being nearly daylight, the body of Quiemuth was left on the carpeted floor of the office until 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; but a closer examination showed the chief had been stabbed with a very fine blade which had penetrated his heart, causing instant death. One Joe Buntin was arrested during the inquest, on suspicion. Elwood. Evans, of Tacoma, then a young lawyer of Olympia, conducted the prosecution, B. F. Kendall the defense; the result being the acquittal of Buntin, though many believed him 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, and he was given a new trial, when he was again sentenced, and was executed near Fort Steilacoom. This ended the Indian War.
I must here mention that many very prominent men condemned Governor Stevens bitterly for proclaiming martial law; but his course was ably defended in the Legislature, where the debates were long and stormy. I represented Thurston County at that time, and approved our Governor’s policy. Peace being again restored, the settlers returned to their homes to begin life anew, as they had been robbed of everything which they possessed. My last horse was gone, but I had a few cattle left, and with willing hands and bright hopes, and the blessings of health and strength in our home, my wife and I took up the burden, and prosperity met us, so that when old age comes on we may rest in peace, waiting for the summons which calls us to a better land.
When James and Virinda Longmire traveled west on the Oregon Trail in 1853, most pioneers steered a course to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Longmire party instead turned north at the old fur trading post of Fort Walla Walla. Traveling up the Yakima and Naches Rivers, they became the first wagon train to cross the Cascade Mountains in what is now the state of Washington.
Arriving at Fort Steilacoom on Puget Sound, Longmire and his family soon settled on Yelm Prairie, staking out a farm under the provisions of the Donation Land Claims Act. Later, Longmire, along with Indian Henry (So-to-lic), would blaze the Packwood Trail to Mount Rainier, where he would establish Longmire Mineral Springs. During the Indian War of 1855-1856, James Longmire would witness numerous momentous events. Many of these events are accounted in the second narrative in this section.