Transactions of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association for 1896
George H. Himes and Company, Printers, Portland, OR, 1897
Pages 141-147

A Midnight Flight - A Reminiscence of the War of 1856
By H.C. Coe

     The year 1856 was one of anxiety to the few and scattered inhabitants of eastern Oregon and Washington. Rumors of an impending Indian outbreak filled the air -- came with the winter's snows, but did not go with them. For a year the columns of the Weekly Oregonian had been filled with accounts of the barbarous tortures inflicted upon helpless immigrants who fell into the hands of the hostile hordes in the eastern part of the territory. The question then with the wretched prisoners was not how long before a ransome or exchange would set them free, but how long before death would release them from the infernal tortures inflicted by their captors. Once in their clutches few escaped to tell the awful tale. The powerful Yakima nation, led by the noted Chief Kamiakin, were practically on the warpath, and their emissaries were everywhere, urging the Columbia river tribes to join in a war of extermination against the whites. The Klickitats, an important branch of the Yakimas, withstood for a time the importunities of their inland brothers and gave up their arms to the authorities without a word; but the maggot of unrest was industriously working in the "military brain," and the arrest of three of the principal chiefs of the tribe was decided upon. Mr. Joslyn, the pioneer settler of White Salmon, a warm-hearted Christian gentleman and an earnest friend of the Indians, protested in vain against the outrage. The unsuspecting chiefs were easily trapped, loaded with chains, sent to Fort Vancouver and placed in charge of the regular army. They soon found means to evade the vigilance of their guards and returned to the tribe, who, with a few notable exceptions, at once joined the hostilities. This occurred during the latter part of February, 1856.
     Mr. Joslyn, satisfied that trouble would follow the arrest of the chiefs, had removed with his family to Portland, leaving a hired man named Galentine and a boy named Hawk to look out for the place. An attack was at once planned by the angry chiefs, but the friendly Indians notified them of the plot and they left the place and came to Hood River, after being chased all night by the hostiles. For this act of friendship to the whites the friendly Indians were compelled to leave their homes and with their wives and little ones also came to Hood River. There were at that time but two families living here -- William Jenkins and wife and two brothers-in-law, making with our family and the man named Galentine seven men, two women and two boys, composing the entire white population between the Cascades and The Dalles.
     Our farm work thus far have been done very much as the Jews had rebuilded Jerusalem, with implements of war in one hand and their trowels in another. Many a day have I urged on the tardy oxen with a goad in one hand and rifle in the other. These were troublous times. The hostile Klickitats made themselves very conspicuous along the bluffs on the Washington shore above White Salmon. For days the war drums had beat continuously, filling our hearts with forebodings of trouble. The Hood River Indians had been, so far, very pronounced in their friendship toward us, and in conjunction with the friendly Klickitats, had captured and brought to the Oregon side every canoe or boat that could be found which was in reach of the hostiles. So far so good; but the Polala Illahe (sand land) Indians under old Chief Wallachin, living on what was afterward the Haynes ranch, about two miles west of Hood River (or, was then known, Dog river), were known to have a very decided leaning toward the hostiles. We at once appealed to the military authorities at The Dalles for protection, and Lieutenant Davidson was sent down with a company of cavalry. How well I remember them coming! The hostiles had been unusually active that morning, and the boy Woodburn Hawk and myself had been sent out to gather up the cattle and drive them home. We did not much like the job, but could not help it; but before we found the cattle we saw the smoke from Joslyn's house and barn and hurried home as fast as our feet could carry us. We found the cavalry had arrived, and their coming was the signal for the burning. The valorous lieutenant marshaled his forces on the sandbar, and hailing the steamer Wasco on her way to The Dalles, started for the seat of war. My two brothers and the two Bensons had gone with the troops, also Amos Underwood, who was on his way to the Cascades, was one of the party. How the Indians did yell! The cliffs were alive with them, and their war whoops echoed and re-echoed across the river. The valiant lieutenant, ere he reached the landing, suddenly remembered that he had orders not to molest the Indians in Washington, but merely to protect the settlers and their property at Hood River, and ordered the boat to land him again on the Oregon side. Discretion in this case was certainly the better part of valor, for it undoubtedly saved him his scalp and that of every member of his party that was to have landed on the hostile shore.
     That night, by some means a band of hostiles crossed the river and attacked the camp of friendly Klickitats near where the section house now stands, and after a sharp exchange of shots, in which one of the invaders was seriously wounded, the friendlies left their camp and came tromping up to the house. Soon after the hostiles came across some of the cavalry picket guard and opened fire on them, which sent them scurrying to camp. These men were posted on the brow of the hill near where my house now stands, so that evidently the Indians were reconnoitering and unexpectedly ran across the guards. Everybody was of course up and under arms, but nothing else occurred during the night.
     The next day all was quiet across the river. The Indians had gone; not a squaw, pappoose nor puppy was left. They had disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed them up. Even the friendly Klickitats were at a loss to account for their absence. Ah, but the Cascade massacre was the dreadful sequel of their vanishing.
     A few days later the cavalry returned to The Dalles, and the daily routine of farm work was resumed, undisturbed, until the awful horror of the 26th day of March. What a bright beautiful day it was! The broad bosom of the Columbia was like mirrored glass. My two yoke of oxen were yoked to the wagon, and my brother Charles was deputized a special guard for the day's trip to Rail gulch for a load of rails. Just as we were ready to start a faint halloa was heard from over the river, near the mouth of White Salmon. Again and again it came. Finally, two figures were made out, waving their blankets. The Indians collected at the house, hesitating, fearing a trap, but finally, fully armed, a party started over to investigate. Before their return we had gone for our day's work. About 2 o'clock, when on our way home, my brother Eugene came riding up on horseback with the news that the Cascades had been attacked and that the battle was then raging, and told us to hurry home as fast as possible. The appalling news fell like a thunderbolt from the clear skies. The battle going on, or possibly over, and an elder brother there, perhaps dead.
     On reaching home we found everything in commotion. The Indians had gathered in for council and evidently much excited. The parties who were signaling across the river in the morning proved to be a buck and his squaw who had been held as prisoners by Showouwai, a brother of Kamiakin, because he had refused to let him have his rifle, which he had taken a fancy to. They had been seven days coming from the Simcoe reservation, and had experienced fearful hardships on the way over from hunger and fatigue, nearly all the way being through snow, in some places many feet deep. They brought news that the hostiles were to start so as to reach the Cascades the very day that they had reached the river. They had strained every nerve in order to reach as sooner and give the alarm, but were too late. My brother Eugene immediately started for the landing to intercept the little steamer Mary, that was then coming in sight, and communicate the news to them. Their reply sent a thrill of terror through every heart. They themselves had been in the fight and had, by the greatest chance, barely escaped with their lives, and some had been seriously if not mortally wounded and were then on board. Their advice was for us to fly with our lives, as in all probability every soul at the Cascades would be killed, as the woods were full of Indians. About sundown a courier arrived, bringing the news that Bradford's store, where all the whites at the Upper Cascades were congregated, had been captured, as the Indians could be seen carrying flour and other things out of it. (This was a mistake as it was the Bush house that had been abandoned and was afterward looted by the Indians.)
     A council was at once called, Indians included. They on their part promised to station guards all along the river and send couriers to the Cascades, and this promise was faithfully executed. After they had gone it was unanimously decided that we should at all hazards attempt to reach The Dalles. We had all confidence in the Klickitats; they had been proven, but were satisfied the others could not be trusted. Our only route was by the river, and the craft was a large Chinook canoe which had been hid in the brush near where the present wagon bridge crosses Hood River, and was owned by an old Indian named Waucusha. This canoe was an exceptionally fine one, capable of carrying 30 or 40 passengers.
     At about midnight the entire white population of Hood River left their homes and marched in single file to the river, where we met the canoe and started our lonely journey. As we quietly paddled our canoe through the silent water, we heard the Indian guards signaling along the shore from one to another until far up and down the river came the answering calls. We had been discovered, and in less time than it takes to read it, every camp had been appraised of our flight. About noon the next day, when near Klickitat river, we met both little steamers, Mary and Wasco, fairly blue with soldiers, and loaded to the guards with cavalry and munitions of war, on their way to the relief of the Cascades. They stopped as they came to us, inquiring for news. We gave them what we had heard from the courier the night before, and they hurried on. How their polished rifles and bayonets gleamed and shimmered in that noonday sun! and their clanking sabers made sweet music to our care-worn ears. How fierce and brave and good they looked! Oh! would they be in time? About 3 o'clock we reached The Dalles, where almost the entire population turned out to meet us, inquiring for the news, and where our journey ended.
     I cannot close to this piece without a tribute of praise to those true and loyal Klickitats, who so bravely stood by the whites in that trying year. Truer-hearted man never lived. Tried by the test of battle, they proved themselves men even though their hearts beat under a dusky skin. They have nearly all passed over to their happy hunting grounds, and scarcely a remnant of their race remains. Among the most prominent of them was Johnson, Quemps, Yallup, Snataps and Johnnie. There were others that I cannot call to memory. Among the Hood River Indians only two or three remain -- Old John Slibender and Charlie Copiax still live, and both were unwavering in fealty to the whites. There is still another, whose character as a friend to the pale face is open to serious doubts. His own admission places him in the fight against Major Haller on Simcoe mountains. By the evidence of all others, his hand applied the torch that fired the Joslyn houses, and by implication that same right hand was crimsoned with the blood of innocents at the Cascade massacre. I refer to Old White Salmon Dave, a notorious beggar and would-be pensioner of Brother John Cradlebaugh's.
     There is also a scrap of unwritten history concerning the plans of that wily old chief, Kamiakin. He had decided upon war, and his plan was first, to capture the Cascades, then leaving sufficient force to hold that place, come up the river and attack The Dalles, compelling all the Indians to join him. And there is no doubt in my mind that, with few exceptions, all the tribes will have joined his standard. From The Dalles the movement was to continue eastward until the entire country east of the Cascades was clear of whites. The campaign was well planned but poorly executed. All that saved the Cascades, however, was a very unfortunate accident, one of those happenings that seem to be the direct work of Providence. A large body of United States troops were on their way to the eastern part of the territory, and Kamiakin was fully informed as to their intentions. Couriers on fleet horses waited the movement of the troops, and on their departure from The Dalles their horses were urged to their utmost speed to Kamiakin's camp, who at once started his warriors for the Cascades. But the troops only made a three-mile march and went into camp to await the arrival of arms and ammunition which had been detained at the Cascade portage and were to have been shipped by the steamer the very day of the attack. So the detention not only furnished those in Bradford's store with an abundance of arms and ammunition, but detained the troops within easy reach of the boats, This information regarding Kamiakin all came through the Indians that had escaped from Chief Showaway's clutches.
     But my story must close. You who are now scattered throughout the length and breadth of this beautiful valley can but little realize the situation then or the constant fear that for over a year was in every breast. It seems to me now more like a dream than a reality.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer