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Outrages Committed on Indians by Whites

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                     

 

In Captain Bonneville's narrative of five years spent in the Rocky Mountains are many instances of cruel outrages committed by whites upon Indians.

"One morning one of his trappers, discovering that his traps had been carried off in the night, took a horrid oath that he would kill the first Indian he should meet, innocent or guilty. As he was returning with his comrades to camp, he beheld two unfortunate Root Diggers seated on the bank, fishing; advancing on them, he leveled Ins rifle, shot one on the spot, and flung up his bleeding body into the stream.

"A short time afterward, when this party of trappers were about to cross Ogden's River, a great number of Shoshokies, or Root Diggers, were posted on the opposite bank, when they imagined they were there with hostile intent; they advanced upon them, leveled their rifles, and killed twenty-five of them on the spot. The rest fled to a short distance, then halted and turned about, howling and whining like wolves, and uttering most piteous wailings. The trappers chased them in every direction. The poor wretches made no defense, but fled in terror; nor does it appear from the accounts of the boasted victors that a weapon had been wielded by the Indians throughout the affair."

There seemed to be an emulation among these trappers which could inflict the greatest outrages on the natives. They chased them at full speed, lassoed them like cattle, and dragged them till they were dead.

At one time, when some horses had been stolen by the Riccaree, this same party of trappers took two Riccaree Indians prisoners, and declared that, unless the tribe restored every 110155 that had been stolen, these two Indians, who had strayed into the trappers' camp without any knowledge of the offence committed, should be burnt to death.

"To give force to their threat, a pyre of logs and fagots was heaped up and kindled into a blaze. The Riccaree released one horse and then another; but, finding that nothing but the relinquishment of all their spoils would purchase the lives of the captives, they abandoned them to their fate, moving off with many parting words and howlings, when the prisoners were dragged to the blazing pyre and burnt to death in sight of their retreating comrades.

"Such are the acts that lead to terrible recriminations on the part of the Indians. Individual cases of the kind dwell in the recollections of whole tribes, and it is a point of honor and conscience to avenge them.

"The records of the wars between the early settlers of Virginia and New England and the natives exhibit cruelties on both sides that make one shudder. When the Indian would tear the scalp from the crown of the scarcely yet dead victim, and mutilate the body, could he be expected to reform those cruelties when he saw the white man in his turn cut off the heads of his people, and mutilate and quarter their bodies, as was done with King Philip's, whose head, after being cut off, was sent to Plymouth and hung up there on a gibbet, where it remained twenty years, while one of his hands was sent to Boston as a trophy, his body being quartered and hung upon four trees?"
M'Forley's History and Travels.

From Report of the Indian Bureau for 1851
"Port Orford, Oregon Territory, February 5th, 1854.

"I grieve to report to you that a most horrid massacre, or rather an out-and-out barbarous murder, was perpetrated on a portion of the Nason tribe, residing at the mouth of the Coquille River, on the morning of the 28th of January last, by a party of forty miners. Before giving you the result of my examination and my own conclusions, I will give you the reasons, which that party assign in justification of their acts.

"They avow that, for some time past, the Indians at the month of the Coquille have been insolent; that they have been in the habit of riding the horses of white men without permission; that of late they have committed many thefts, such as stealing paddles and many other articles the property of white men; that one of their number recently discharged his gun at the ferry-house; and that but a few days prior to the attack on the Indians, the chief, on leaving the ferry-house, where he had just been fed, fired his gun at a party of four white men standing near the door of the house. They further state that, on the 27th of January, they sent for the chief to come in for a talk; that he not only refused to come in, but sent back word that he would kill white men if they came to his home; that he meant to kill all the white men he could; that he was determined to drive the white men out of his country; that he would kill the men at the ferry, and burn their houses. Immediately after this conversation with the chief, the white men at and near the ferry-house assembled, and deliberated on the necessity of an immediate attack on the Indians.

"The result of their deliberation, with the full proceedings of their meeting, is herein enclosed. At the conclusion, a courier was dispatched to the upper mines for assistance. A party of about twenty responded to the call, and arrived at the ferry-house on the evening preceding the morning of the massacre. On the arrival of this re-enforcement the proceedings of the meeting first held were reconsidered, and unanimously approved.

"At the dawn of day on the morning of the 28th of January the party of the ferry, joined by about twenty men from the upper mines, organized, and, in three detachments, marched upon the Indian ranches, and consummated a most inhuman slaughter. A full account of what they term a fight" you will find in the report which their captain, George H. Abbott, forwarded to me on the day of the massacre.

"The Indians were roused from sleep to meet their death, with but feeble show of resistance. They were shot down as they were attempting to escape from their houses; fifteen men and one squaw killed; two squaws badly wounded. On the part of the white men, not even the slightest wound was received. The houses of the Indians, with but one exception, were fired, and entirely destroyed. Thus was committed a massacre too inhuman to be readily believed. Now for my examination of this horrid affair.

"On the morning of the 29th of January I left Port Orford for the Coquille. We arrived at the ferry-house early in the evening of that day. Early in the morning of the day after my arrival I sent for the chief, who immediately came in, attended by about thirty of his people. The chief, as well as his people, was so greatly alarmed-apparently apprehensive that the white men would kill them even in my presence-that it was with a good deal of difficulty that I could induce him to express his mind freely. He seemed only anxious to stipulate for peace and the future safety of his people; and to procure this he was willing to accept any terms that 1 might dictate. The chief was evidently afraid to complain of or censure the slaughterers of his tribe, and for a time replied to all the charges made against him with hesitancy. After repeated assurances of protection, he finally answered to the point every interrogatory. I asked him if he had at any time fired at the man at the ferry-house. 'No!' was his prompt reply. At the time he was said to have fired at the white man, he declared with great earnestness that he shot at a duck in the river, at a distance of some two hundred yards from the ferry-house, when on his way home, and possibly the ball of his gun might have bounded from the water. My subsequent observation of the course of the river, and the point from which he was said to have fired, convinced me that his statement was entitled to the fullest credit. His statement is confirmed by the doubt expressed by one of the party at whom he was said to have fired.

"The white men making the accusation only heard the whizzing of a bullet. This was the only evidence adduced in proof of the chief having fired at them. I asked the chief if he, or if to his knowledge any of his people, had ever fired at the ferry-house. To this he answered, 'No.' He most emphatically denied ever sending threatening language to the men at the ferry, but admitted that some of his people had. He also admitted that some of his tribe had stolen from white men, and that they had used their horses without permission. He did not deny that his heart had been bad toward white men, and that he had hoped they would leave his country. He promised to do all I required of him. If I desired, he said he would leave the home of his fathers and take his people to the mountains; but, with my permission and protection, he would prefer remaining in the present home of his people.

"Everything I asked or required of him he readily assented to, promising most solemnly to maintain on his part permanent friendly relations with white men. My interview with the tribe occupied about two hours. During the entire council they listened with most profound attention, evidently being determined to fasten on their minds all that fell from my lips. At the conclusion of the council I requested the chief to send for all the guns and pistols in the possession of his men. You will be surprised when I tell you that all the guns and pistols in the hands of the Indians at the ranches amounted to just five pieces, two of which were unserviceable; as to powder and ball, I do not believe they had five rounds. Does this look like being prepared for war? Can any sane man believe those Indians, numbering not over seventy-five, all told, including women and children, had concocted a plan to expel from their country some three hundred whites? Such a conclusion is too preposterous to be entertained for a moment. There was no necessity for resorting to such extreme measures. I regard the murder of those Indians, as one of the most barbarous acts ever perpetrated by civilized men. But what can be done? The leaders of the party cannot be arrested, though justice loudly demands their punishment. Here we have not even a justice of the peace; and as to the military force garrisoned at Fort Orford, it consists of four men. If such murderous assaults are to be continued, there will be no end of Indian war in Oregon."
F. M. SMITH, Sub-Agent.

The Simon Kenton referred to in the following narrative was an experienced Indian fighter, and commanded a regiment in the war of 1812.

"In the course of the war of 1812 a plan was formed by some of the militia stationed at Urban-t, Ohio, to attack an encampment of friendly Indians, who had been threatened by the hostile tribes, and were invited to remove with their families within our frontier settlements as a place of safety, under an assurance that they should be protected. Kenton remonstrated against the- movement as being not only mutinous, but treacherous and cowardly. He vindicated the Indian character against the false charges which were alleged in justification of the outrage they were about to perpetrate, and warned them against the infamy they would incur by destroying a defenseless band of men, women, and children, who had been induced to place themselves in their power by a solemn promise of protection.

"He appealed to their humanity, their honor, and their duty as soldiers. Ile contrasted his knowledge of the character of those unfortunate people with their ignorance of it. He told them that he had endured suffering and torture at their hands again and again, but that it was in time of war, when they were defending their wives and children, and when he was seeking to destroy and exterminate them; and that, under those circumstances, he had no right to complain; and never did complain. But, said he, in time of peace they have always been kind, faithful friends, and generous, trustworthy men.

"Having exhausted the means of persuasion without effect and finding them still resolved on executing their purpose, he took a rifle and called on them to proceed at once to the execution of the foul deed-declaring with great firmness that he would accompany them to the encampment, and shoot down the first man who attempted to molest it. My life,' said he, is drawing to a close: what remains of it is not worth much; ' but, much or little, he was resolved that, if they entered the Indian camp, it should be done by passing over his corpse. Knowing that the old veteran would I fulfill his promise, their hearts failed them; not one ventured to take the lead; their purpose was abandoned, and the Indians were saved."
BURNET on the North-west Territory.


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A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor

 

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