Native Americans in the Inland Northwest:

Wars and Treaties


Compiled by Ronald P. Glowen


Cayuse War 1847-1850

The Cayuse War resulted from the increased contact between whites and tribes of the Plateau (Inland Northwest) as larger numbers of white migrants came into the region. Tensions rose as relations between the two groups were characterized by misunderstanding and mistrust. The Cayuse war set a precedent for the course of Indian-white relations in the Inland Northwest that would last for the next fifty years..


1847-In the fall, a measles epidemic decimated the Cayuse killing half of the population. Survivors associated the tragedy with the white settlers at the Presbyterian mission at Waiilatpu (a word that is believed to be Nez Perce in origin meaning "place of the people of the rye grass") that had been established over a decade earlier by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. In response, members of the Cayuse killed eleven whites living at the mission including the Whitmans in what is called the Whitman Massacre. Most of the buildings at Waiilatpu were destroyed. This episode started the Cayuse War.

1848-Cornelius Gilliam led over 500 white settlers in attacks against tribes in central Oregon in response to the Whitman Massacre.

1848-49-The Cayuse hid in the Blue Mountains.

1849-50-In the fall of 1849 the Cayuse handed over five members (Tiloukaikt, Tomahas. Klokamas, Isaiachalkis, and Kimasumpkin) of the tribe to be tried for the murder of the Whitmans bringing and end to the Cayuse War. All five Cayuse were convicted and hanged the following June.


Stevens' Treaty Councils of 1855-1856

After traveling west to accept the appointment as the first governor of the newly formed Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens called treaty councils and invited many of the tribes of the greater Pacific Northwest region hoping to place them on reservations. In 1854, treaties were formed with tribes west of the Cascade Mountains. In June of 1855, Governor Stevens and Joel Palmer, Superintendent of the Oregon Territory, held the Walla Walla Treaty Council to form treaties with tribes from the southern portion of the Plateau (Inland Northwest.) Stevens then pursued treaties with tribes of the eastern and northern portions of the Plateau.

1855-May 29 to June 11-Governor Stevens and Superintendent Palmer formed three treaties at the Walla Walla Council. In one treaty, the Walla Walla, the Umatilla and the Cayuse tribes were forced by the United States government, from 4 million acres of tribal lands to the Umatilla reservation in northeastern Oregon, which overtime was reduced down to 95,000 acres. In a second treaty, fourteen different tribal groups agreed to go onto the Yakima reservation, giving up a combined 29,000 square miles of land. In the third treaty, the Nez Perce were confined to a reservation that included parts of southeastern Washington, northwestern Oregon, and west-central Idaho.

1855-July 9 to July 16-The Flathead Council produced the Flathead Treaty (or Treaty of Hell Gate) that gave Flathead, Kutenai and Upper Pend O'reille lands in Montana and Idaho to the U.S. while the three tribes were placed on a single reservation in what is today's northwestern Montana.

1855-October 16 to October 17-The Blackfoot Council (or Fort Benton Council) was held at the mouth of the Judith River. Governor Stevens secured a treaty that established the promise of peaceful relations between the signing tribes, and created shared buffalo hunting areas in portions of Blackfoot territory east of the Rocky Mountains. Representatives from the Blackfoot, Flathead, Pend O'reille, Kutenai and Nez Perce signed the treaty.

1855-December 3 to December 5-At the Spokane Council held at Plante's Farm Stevens met with members of the Spokane, Coeur d' Alene, Okanogan (or Colville) and Columbia (or Isle des Pierres) Indians. The recent outbreak of the Yakima War made securing the neutrality of the represented tribes a priority for Governor Stevens. Stevens closed the council having gotten promises of non-participation in the war but he was not able to strike a treaty with the represented tribes.


The Yakima War 1855-1856

In 1855 gold was discovered on the recently established Yakima reservation, and conflict erupted between encroaching white miners and tribes of the Plateau marking the start of the Yakima War. Initially the conflict was limited to the Yakima led by Kamiakin but eventually the Walla Walla and Cayuse were drawn into the war.

1855-September 23-Moshell (nephew of Kamiakin) and two companions murder Indian Agent Andrew J. Bolon, while he was investigating the reported conflict between the white miners and the Yakima.

1855-October 3-In response to the murder of Indian Agent Bolon Major Granville Haller led federal troops onto the Yakima Reservation and clashed with a Yakima force led by Kamiakin at the Battle of Toppenish Creek.

1855-November 9-A mixed force of regulars and volunteers under Major Gabriel Rains forced the Yakima to retreat at Union Gap (also called Twin Buttes.)

1855-November 15-Major Rains' troops destroyed the Catholic (Oblate) Sainte Croix mission and Kimiakin's camp at Ahtanum Creek, followed by the destruction of other missions throughout the Yakima region.

1855-56-During the winter contact between federal troops and Yakima forces ceased.

1855-December 6 to December 9-Oregon Volunteers led by Thomas Cornelius, William Kelly and M.A. Chinn attacked the peaceful Walla Wallas and murdered Chief Peopeomoxmox and five others.

1856-July 10-In what was called the "Battle of the Grande Ronde" Washington volunteers led by Benjamin Shaw attacked a peaceful camp of Cayuse in the Grande Ronde Valley. The volunteers slaughtered over sixty Cayuse most of which were elderly men, women, and children.

1856-September 8 to September 18-Governor Stevens hosted a second Walla Walla Council in an attempt at peace and an end to the Yakima War. The Council ended in failure, and after leaving the meeting grounds Stevens' party was attacked by a group of young warriors from several of the tribes present at the Council led by Qualchan and Quit-ten-e-nock. The attackers were repelled by troops under Colonel Edward Steptoe. After the second Walla Walla Council, General John Wool, in command of the Department of the Pacific, closed the territory beyond The Dalles to white migrants, and ordered Colonel Steptoe to keep settlers from returning to the Walla Walla Valley. Following this, armed conflict east of the Cascades cooled until the spring of 1858.

1856-Colonel George Wright organized the establishment of forts in Yakima territory along the Columbia River that included Fort Walla Walla (the second,) Fort Simcoe, and "Basket Fort" along the Naches River.


The Coeur d'Alene War 1858

The Coeur d'Alene War was fought (also called the Spokan War or the Steptoe-Wright War) involving an alliance of Coeur d'Alene, Spokan, Palouse, Yakima, and Northern Paiute tribes. Some historians consider it a second phase of the Yakima War.


1858-April-White settlers in Colville requested the presence of a military force in the anticipation of conflict with local tribes.

1858-May-Colonel Edward Steptoe led an expedition of 155 soldiers and several Nez Perce guides to Fort Colville with the intention of investigating recent claims made against the area's Indians. A large group of Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians (also included were the fugitive leaders Kamiakin, Owhi and Qualchan of the Yakima) defeated Steptoe's force in the Battle of Tohotonimme (which came to be called the Battle of Steptoe, or the Battle of Steptoe Butte) and forced their retreat to Fort Walla Walla.

1858-August/September-Colonel George Wright led an expedition of 600 troops against the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians that had defeated Steptoe. On September 1st at the Battle of Four Lakes, and again on September 5th at the Battle of Spokane Plain, Wright's force defeated a group of Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians. On September 9th Wright's force captured 900 Palouse horses and labored for two days to slaughter 700 of them, at what is known as "Horse Slaughter Camp."

1858-September 17-Colonel Wright held council with the Coeur d'Alenes at the Coeur d'Alene mission to dictate the terms of surrender in the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship." Five days later the Spokane accepted terms of surrender, in a nearly identical treaty, at Wright's camp headquarters along the Ned-Whauld River (Latah Creek.) Finally, on September 30th at a camp on the Palouse River Wright verbally issued terms of surrender to the Palouse Indians.

1858-September 24-30-Wright hanged Chief Qualchan of the Yakima for his role in the Indian wars of the past few years on both sides of the Cascade mountains. Wright also hanged a few members of the Palouse tribe who were held accountable in the deaths of U.S. soldiers during the Steptoe campaign. The exact number for those Indians hanged on Latah Creek (Hangman Creek) was never reported. The number varies widely from source to source.


Post-Treaty Era Agreements 1866-1885

In 1871 U.S. Congress abolished the treaty process recognizing tribes as sovereign nations. The U.S. government then followed a policy of creating "agreements" by Executive Order pertaining to the creation or redefinition of reservations.

1866-October 1-By Executive Order U.S. Grant established the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in northern Idaho.

1872-April 9-The East Reservation (Colville Reservation) was formed by Executive Order. Ten distinct tribes of the Plateau that had not previously signed treaties with the U.S. were forced to move there. It consisted of the northeastern section of present day Washington state.

1872-July 2-President Ulysses .S. Grant issued an Executive Order that opened the East Reservation to white settlement, and reconstructed the Colville Reservation with 3 million acres of land west of the former reservation in north-central Washington state.

1873-June 16-President Grant reserved land in the Wallowa Valley or Oregon for the group of Nez Perce led by Young Chief Joseph.

1875-President Grant takes the land in the Wallowa Valley that he had given, to the band of Nez Perce led by Young Chief Joseph and opens it to white settlers.

1879-April 19-President Rutherford B. Hayes established the Moses Reservation (Columbia) in north-central Washington state.

1881-January 18-The Spokane Reservation was formed by Executive Order. The Lower Spokane tribes moved onto the reservation.

1883-July 7-Chief Moses and the Columbia agreed to move to the Colville reservation and relinquish the Columbia reservation.

1885- In an agreement arranged by the U.S. government, Chief Moses invited the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce to live on the Colville Reservation.


1877 The Nez Perce War

The Nez Perce War between the Non-Treaty Nez Perce and federal troops lasted nearly four months and took place along an 1170-mile trail through four states that ended within forty miles of the Canadian border.

1860-Elias D. Pierce discovered gold on the Nez Perce Reservation.

1863-The Thief Treaty, secured by Superintendent Calvin Hale, reduced the lands of all of the Nez Perce from 10,000 to a 1,000 square mile reservation in western Idaho. Not all of the Nez Perce bands were represented at the signing of the treaty including those bands, led by Old Chief Joseph and Old Chief Looking Glass, which were deprived of their lands in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon.

1868-Chiefs Lawyer, Timothy and Jason of the Nez Perce signed a treaty, with Commissioner N.G. Taylor representing U.S. interests, that amended the Treaty of 1863 with the application of the allotment system.

1877-In the late spring with a display of force General Oliver Howard convinced Young Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht) and the Non-Treaty Nez Perce to leave the Wallowa and Grande Valleys for the Nez Perce Reservation.

1877-June 13 and 14-Three Nez Perce led by Wahlitits killed Richard Devine, Henry J. Elfers, Robert Bland and Harry Becktoge (and eventually 10 or 11 other whites) to avenge the murder (a few years prior) of Eagle Robe, Wahlitits's father. Attempts by the Non-Treaty leaders, Young Joseph, Ollokot, Young Looking Glass, and Too-hool-hool-zote to deliver the perpetrators were for not.

1877-June 17-A group of Nez Perce decisively defeat Union soldiers at White Bird Creek. This began the retreat and series of battles that collectively are called Nez Perce War or what is called "Flight of the Nez Perce."

1877-July to October-The Nez Perce suffered damaging defeats in the July 11th siege in the Clearwater valley, and on August 9th at the Battle of the Big Hole. However, the defeats were followed by small victories at Camas Meadow on August 20th and at Canyon Creek on September 13th where despite dwindling numbers and supplies the Nez Perce were able to keep Howard's troops at bay. On September 30th, while the Nez Perce successfully repulsed an unexpected attack, at Snake Creek in the Bear Paw Mountains, they lost most of their horses to federal troops under Colonel Nelson Miles.

1877-October 4-Feeling the affects of the winter storms, with most of the Nez Perce leaders dead, and with no horses to reach the Canadian border, Chief Joseph surrendered concluding the peace agreement with the now famous speech, "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever!"




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