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Early Settlers in Walla Walla

"Correspondence Between Mayor Whitman and Col. Lee"

by Shaun Reeser

Source: Washington Statesman April 19, 1862, page 2, columns 3-4

Subject: Mayor Whitman and Lt.Col. Lee’s letters to each other.

Synopsis: The heated exchange of letters between Mayor Whitman and Lt. Col. Lee regarding the events of April 13.


Correspondence Between Mayor Whitman and Col. Lee

City Council Chambers
Walla Walla, April 13, 1862
Comdg. Post, Walla Walla:

Sir: – A number of the citizens of this city have formally called my attention to the proceedings of an armed body of soldiers under your command to the following effect:

That at an early hour this morning a company of some seventy-five or one hundred soldiers purposing to act under the instructions from the commanding officer, did appear in the streets of this city, arresting the Sheriff, and otherwise obtruding on the rights of sundry citizens, making threats and demonstrations manifestly of a belligerent character.

I cannot think for a moment that the proceedings has your countenance or authority, and would hasten to apprise you of the event, that you may take such measures as will relieve our citizens of any apprehension that has assumed an alarming aspect.

Your immediate attention is respectfully called to the matter, that I may take such steps that will allay the excitement consequent upon so unusual a proceeding. I will state for your information that the civil authorities will take such measures to the end that a fair investigation shall be had of the recent riot at the theater, and every means in my power exercised to maintain the predominance of law and order. In this respect I hope to receive your co-operation.

Respectfully your ob’t. serv’t.
E.B. WHITMAN, Mayor.

H’D QRT’S, Fort Walla Walla, W.T.
April 13, 1862

Sir: – I am in receipt of your letter of to-day’s [sic] date, stating that a number of the citizens of Walla Walla have formally called your attention as Mayor of said city to the fact that an armed body of soldiers, under my command, appeared in the streets of your city, and represented that they acted under instructions of the commanding officer of this Post, and proceeded “to arrest the Sheriff, and otherwise obtruding upon the rights of sundry citizens,” etc.

They were not acting under instructions from the commanding officer of this post, nor were they permitted, authorized, or allowed to go to town this morning, either with or without arms. They acted not only without the sanctions of the commanding officer, but in direct violation of orders. The plan to go to town in a body was concocted by the soldiers themselves, and so quietly was the matter managed that the knowledge of their intention did not reach the officers under my command, although they were on the alert until a late hour of the night. Apprehensive that something of the kind might occur, I had, last night, two additional sentinels on post, and was up myself most of the night. The soldiers left the garrison at the day of day, and before any commissioned officer was up.

You are probably aware of the wanton, and, most likely, premeditated murder of one, and the probably fatally wounding of another, of the most peaceable soldiers in my command. It is but reasonable to expect some excitement on the part of soldiers when such action is allowed to pass without the proper attempt to ascertain the guilty parties, and bring them to punishment.

From what I conceive to be reliable evidence, I have no doubt but that my men ere shot by one of the most noted offenders who has for the past five years figured in the criminal annals of California, under the sobriquet [emphasis in original] of “Cherokee Bob.”

I cannot but express my surprise that the citizens of your city did not take interest enough in this matter to have this notorious criminal arrested. I am glad, sir, to learn that there is a disposition on the part of the citizens to a full investigation of this matter. It shall have my hearty co-operation.

I will answer for the good conduct of the men under my command if you will for that of the citizens of your town. My men will not disturb and citizen, if left alone. I the offend against any one, I possess ample power to punish them; and I trust that should any such cases occur, they will be reported to me instead of some citizen attempting to assume this authority himself.

Very respectfully, H. LEE
Lt. Col. 4th Inft’y Cal. Vol’unt’s
Commanding Post.

WALLA WALLA, April 13, 1862
Comdg. Post, Walla Walla;

SIR: – Without protracting this correspondence unnecessarily, I will simply call your attention to the object I had in view in advising you of the demonstrations of soldiers in the streets of this city on the 13th inst.

I apprehend from the tenor of your reply to my not of the 13th inst. that you are not in possession of the real facts leading to the unfortunate affray enacted at the theater on the 10th inst.

Upon the occasion alluded to, it appears that several of our citizens withdrew from the house sometime prior to the outbreak, for the reason that the rudeness and incivility of several soldiers made it disagreeable to them. At the instance of well-meaning citizens the Marshal interposed to restore order; to his authority the soldiers took exceptions; the Marshal called to his aid the County Sheriff his deputy and some bystanders to suppress the disorder.

Whereupon two peace officers, acting strictly within their line of duty, were stricken down with shots from the soldiers. An audience of several hundred citizens, including women and children, were exposed to instant death, from the belligerent demonstrations of the soldiers. After order had been restored it appears that three citizens, including two peace officers were wounded – one supposed to be mortally, one soldier killed and one wounded. This I conceive to be a true state of the case so far as I have investigated the matter.

You have seen fit to characterize the affray as premeditated murder on the part of our citizens, and would indirectly excuse the soldiers for their demonstrations made on the morning of the 13th inst. No other construction can be put upon your note, for you give to me to understand that it is but reasonable to expect soldiers will be excited, etc. Was it not for the province of our corporate authorities, through our Marshal, to maintain order? Was it not strictly legal and lawful for him to solicit the aid of additional peace officers and citizens in suppressing the disorder? As to the report that a certain noted criminal took part in the affray upon the side of the authorities, can be no excuse for the high handed outrage committed by the soldiers upon the citizens, as demonstrated on the morning of the 13th, and for which you would indirectly paliate [sic], to an extent, that cannot but create in the public mind fearful apprehensions. The vital question in which our citizens are particularly interested is, how shall a like demonstration in future be guarded against – what precaution shall be taken to prevent a re-enactment of the scenes of last Sunday morning? The most charitable view I can take of the unprecedented outrage committed by the soldiers under your command is, that a state of insubordination exists, and a remedy is conclusively beyond your control. Your efforts, no doubt, have been conscientiously exercised; nevertheless our citizens will hereafter be subject to the caprice and mercy of an insubordinate soldiery whenever they [emphasis in original] shall deem an emergency exist of a like demonstration. The municipal authorities will, no doubt, take every precaution possible to protect the city from a like encroachment; but where a body of men, ostensibly organized by a beneficent government for the public protection, have so far transcended their legitimate duty, prompt action is called for on the part of civil authorities. If a hundred soldiers can escape in a body from the garrison, with their arms slotted, for any purpose whatever, without let or hindrance from their commissioned officers, it would, it seems, indicate a deplorable state of affairs. Our contiguous location, and the mutual interests of all, should admonish us to cultivate the most friendly feelings. I especially desire that our relations with the garrison shall never again be interrupted, and that a spirit of tolerance, yet of strict justice, may actuate those upon whom the responsibility devolves of conducting both the civil and military affairs of this locality.

Respectfully your ob’t serv’t,
E.B. WHITMAN, Mayor.


Transcribed by Shaun Reeser