Army Officers Discourage Military Aid
Then Pioneers Solve Own Problem
In this year in which we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Washington statehood, those who live in comfort and safety and comparative affluence are far removed from the conditions which confronted the pioneers in the period covered by this series. Besides the hardships incident to establishing homes in the wilderness, there came in 1854-55 the menace of the Indian outbreaks. Settlers on Puget Sound were sparsely scattered over an area which now has a population of nearly a million. Means of communication were limited to foot messengers or express riders on horseback.
Of defenses there were none except the stockade at Fort Nisqually, the few log buildings garrisoned by a handful of regulars at Steilacoom. At Fort Vancouver barracks on the Columbia river there were not to exceed a couple of hundred men. It is doubtful if the total armed forces east of the mountains exceeded 200 men.
There was a scarcity of ammunition and supplies. The federal administration which had sent Governor Stevens to Washington territory was forgetful. Jefferson Davis, secretary of war, strong southern sympathizer even in that day, was antagonistic to Northwest development because he wanted the first transcontinental railroad built through the south instead of the north.
He knew that if encouragement were given the Northwest settlers the effect would be to encourage public support of the North Pacific route surveyed by Gov. Stevens on his way to Washington territory.
So, because politicans in congress were thoughtless and the secretary of war directly opposed to Northwest development, the settlers were in a sorry plight.
Out here Gen. Wool (he was the second in command instead of the commander-in-chief of the army on the Pacific coast as was incorrectly stated the other day) was doing everything possible to handicap Gov. Stevens in his efforts to organize an armed force in the territory.
He advised his superiors that the Indian outbreak was not serious. He reported that the Indians were only trying to protect themselves from white settlers who were killing their men and if the whites would behave themselves there would be no Indian troubles.
There were some few cases which justified Gen. Wool's position but that was not generally true. The Indians did not confine themselves to the infinitesimally small number of cases where reprisals might have been justified. Once on the warpath they swept the country before them.
Settlers had been driven from the Puyallup valley and their crops and buildings destroyed. Seattle had been attacked and the settlers driven to a group of log houses in one corner of the town. They would have been killed had it not been for the arrival of the United States gun boat Decatur which bombarded the Indians with shot and shell.
Settlers who had been warned and fled from their homes in the Duwamish valley were induced to return by promises of security by Indians believed to be friendly. The next night after they returned several families were murdered. The bodies of women and children were thrown into the wells and the bodies of the men were mutilated.
In a battle in the White river valley, Lieut. William A. Slaughter was killed. Settlers who had not heeded the warning shared the same fate.
Under these conditions it is no wonder that the people responded to Gov. Stevens' appeal for volunteers and a solid front against the Indians. Block houses and stockades were built at strategic points, manned by the older men.
The merchants of San Francisco extended credit for arms and ammunition and supplies. Inside of three weeks after he issued his proclamation calling upon the settlers to defend their homes, three companies of volunteers and two companies of Indian auxiliaries were ready as soon as the volunteers took the field.
In spite of the vast extent of the region and the scarcity of supplies the two services were so well organized that the volunteers never had to wait for orders nor were they ever without.