January 8, 1961, The Seattle Times

Century-old records, recently cataloged, indicate there was more "booze-fighting' than redskin-fighting in Washington's Indian War by Lucile McDonald

The battle of the whiskey barrel appears to have been fought more frequently in Washington's Indian War of 1855-56 than engagements with the redskins.

This fact was brought out during the storing and cataloging of an estimated 15,000 Indian War documents reposing in a vault at Camp Murray, near Tacoma. Virgil F. Field, historian and archivist in the office of the adjutant general, recently completed the task, which has taken more than two years. Copies of a 56-page index prepared by him have been mailed to libraries all over Washington as an aid to researchers in military history wishing to use the files.

Out of the mass of papers, 2,200 were found worthy of cataloging. The remainder were supply records such as receipts for rifles and pistols, shipping documents, requisitions and accounts of spending $1,500,000 worth of numbered scrip, issued to pay soldiers and buy supplies.

"I've indexed all of the more important papers pertaining to administration and operation of the Indian War," Field explained, "and have included a sprinkling of the supply records when they contained something of interest. Here's a sample."

Field drew out an invoice for $6,301.75 worth of purchases from a Portland merchant. It listed 72 Mexican spurs, 125 dozen pairs of wool socks and, for hospital use, 80 1/2 gallons of whiskey and 70 gallons of French brandy.

Field said the Indian War papers came to his attention in 1958 when he was instrumental in setting up the archives room in the adjutant general's headquarters. The State Library had cared for the documents since 1909, when they were moved from the old Capitol and were stored in a cubbyhole in the basement of the Temple of Justice.

Jammed into 24 small containers in an old-fashioned cabinet were war records from both the territorial governor and adjutant general. Some were labeled, others were not. An attempt had been made by the Works Progress Administration to catalog them, but the handwritten list never was completed.

Field, a retired Army colonel, was shown the cabinet while searching for Civil War records.

"Much already had been written about the Indian War and I was not particularly interested in it," he explained. "however, on examining the papers, I found both wars mixed together. I don't believe anyone thought we possessed so many Civil War records. These papers are the best gift we have received for our collection.

"We now know pretty well where to find all of the Indian War records. They are in Governor Isaac Stevens' papers in the State Archives, the State Library, University of Washington Library, the State Historical Society, our own archives and Yale University Library.

"Winlock Miller was quartermaster general in the Indian War and his son, about 1930, made a gift of a number of his fathers documents to the Coe Collection at Yale. They included a diary of the march from Puyallup over Naches Pass to the Walla Walla Valley."

Several pages of Field's inventory are devoted to brief biographies of persons who wrote the military letters or were mentioned in them.

While compilation of the material appeared on the surface a tiresome job, Field said he often turned up bits of humor which cast no glory on prominent figures in Washington Territory. For instance there was the April 5, 1856, report of Lieut. Col. Henry R. Crosbie, aide to Governor Stevens, informing the executive of dissension at Cowlitz Landing.

"I got here Thursday night and found a pretty kettle of fish," Crosbie wrote.

He said John R. Jackson, pioneer settler on the Cowlitz Trail and prominent in territorial affairs, had made a nuisance of himself over reorganization of a volunteer company.

"Jackson played big Indian with a vengeance last Wednesday," Crosbie related. "He called together the settlers at his house and said that he had authority from the adjutant general to raise a company, that he could either command it as a staff officer or they could elect a captain and other officers. They agreed (to elect) all the officers, whereupon, finding he would get perhaps not one vote- that is about the amount of influence he has in this county- he said he was made the captain . . . by the governor and their election of that officer would be illegal . . .

"If Jackson could have worked the cards he would be captain and Judge Victor Monroe the first lieutenant. Monroe's chance, however, was hopeless. They found he could not stand fire. He fell early in the action by the discharge of a whiskey bottle."

Crosbie went on to say that Jackson had been intoxicated two days.

"He has entrenched himself in front of a whiskey barrel," Crosbie wrote. "The vigorous manner in which the siege has been conducted gives assurance that, unless supplies are afforded the barrel, it will from sheer exhaustion be compelled to give out."

Another letter with an alcoholic slant was a terse note from Governor Stevens to an aide-de-camp on March 8, 1856, charging that, "You left here near midnight on the second day of March, but instead of attending to your duty, you remained at Steilacoom . . . in an almost helpless state of intoxication, You . . . are hereby dismissed from the public service."

Field brought forth another amusing document, sent from the territorial executive's office to Quartermaster Gen. W. W. Miller, dated April 29, 1858:

"Sir, in the name of the adjutant general of this territory you are hereby directed, if necessary, to prevent the halls of the capitol of this territory being used as a Ball Room this evening, by force, if required, and for your assistance in so doing you are empowered herein to summon a sufficient number . . . of the militia."

While sorting the rosters of volunteer companies, Field found between lists of names a sheet of paper headed, "Articles captured by Dr. M. P. Burns of the Grande Ronde (a river in Eastern Oregon) July 17, 1856," It read as follows:

"two squaws and a pack horse
65 trading musket balls
1 1/2 pounds fine rifle powder
one English powder horn
large size revolver, loaded
4 large salmon nets
one pair brass bracelets worn by a chief
one medicine man's war hat
two white men's scalps, one with gray hair, the other light colored
4 axes
4 drawing knives
one pair fine gaitors snake manufacture covered with beads
one buffalo robe
one war whistle made out of the bone of an eagle's wing."
"Now," said Field, "do you see why I've enjoyed cataloging these papers?"

Volunteers charged against the Indians in the Battle of Walla Walla, in 1855. The men depicted were Oregonians. One was George Hunter, from whose book of memoirs the illustration was taken.

Lucile McDonald, "Indian War Records," The Seattle Times. January 8, 1961.

Sunday, January 22, 1961, Seattle Times

Old Letters Tell Story Of Seattle Indian-War Activities Records at Camp Murray note events of 105 years ago by LUCILE McDONALD

THURSDAY will be the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, in Washington's Indian War.

The battle lasted only a day. The band of Indians descending on the infant city was dispersed by gunfire from the sloop-of-war Decatur, anchored in the harbor.

A picture of Seattle when it was a primitive settlement, alarmed and on the defensive, has emerged from Indian War letters cataloged in recent months at Camp Murray by Virgil F. Field, retired Army colonel and historian in the adjutant general's office.

The letters indicate that Seattle's first prefabricated building went up during the emergency. It was a blockhouse, timbers for which were cut at the town and transported to the Duwamish for erection south of today's City Light standby power station on Corson Avenue, in Georgetown.

The letters describe in detail pursuit of the enemy through dense forests covering Seattle's southeastern environs.

Hostile Indians had crossed Lake Washington, descended on the settlement by way of trails, attacked and then taken to the timber. Townspeople were warned by a friendly tribesman and the Decatur's men were waiting for the enemy at three strategic positions. In the ensuing battle, two houses were burned and one young settler was killed.

He retreating Indians threatened to return in greater strength and capture the city in spite of the Decatur and her armament. Defenses were strengthened with erection of a stockade at Seattle's two blockhouses and the addition of two other such forts in the Duwamish Valley. A company of regular troops was sent to pursue the enemy.

Some of the letters uncovered by Field in the Indian War file were written to and by Capt. Edward Lander, who left his office as Supreme Court justice to command a company of volunteers on the Duwamish.

February 12, the territorial governor, Isaac I. Stevens, issued an order telling the captain to employ friendly tribesmen as part of a war party he was organizing against enemy Indians "infesting the country east of Seattle." Lander was to drive the marauders toward Muckleshoot Prairie and attack any groups making their way from the Duwamish toward Snoqualmie Pass. 

Another letter instructed Lander to establish a blockhouse on "Van Asselt Prairie" and a second one at the junction of the Cedar and Duwamish Rivers as quickly as possible. Farmhouses had been burned in these valleys.

Henry Yesler, owner of Seattle's pioneer sawmill, was trying at the same time to persuade all friendly Indians to move to a reservation where they would be beyond suspicion of troublemaking. The letters state he went to Tobin's mill on Black River, near the present Renton, to talk a band of 16 into acquiescence. On another trip, he spoke with a small group hiding near Lake Sammamish.

Flushing Indians, both friendly and hostile, from the forest was a slow process. Two months after the battle of Seattle ' Lieut. Col. Henry R. Crosbie, aide to Governor Stevens, reported, March 28:

"Captain Lander moved up the (Duwamish) River this morning. The steamer Traveller will tow up the scow containing the timber for the blockhouse . . . As soon as the blockhouse is completed ten men will be left as a garrison and the remainder of the company will move up to join Capt. (Frederick) Dent and cooperate with him in active operations . . . The people here will not cooperate with the friendly Indians. They have not the slightest confidence in them."

Lander's orders were endeavor to capture the Indian leader, Nelson, and others implicated in the slaying of settlers at White River the previous November. The captain was to gather evidence to be used in their trials and to bring in witnesses.

Four weeks later, Lander wrote that Yesler had induced 40 more Indians to start for the Duwamish Reservation, but one camp refused to leave Lake Washington's shore. The others would go to the reservation "by way of the portage to Lake Union."

Lander detailed Lieut. David A. Neely, with a sergeant and 12 men to proceed in two canoes up the Black River (Lake Washington's former outlet at the south end) and surprise the group that declined to leave.

"It was expected that the canoes would be able to get to the lake by dark and strike the Indians at early dawn the next morning," Lander wrote.

"Black River, however, was found to be much higher and more rapid than usual and closed to some extent by fallen trees. After working all night in the rain the command was six miles from the camp at daylight the next morning."

NEELEY hid all day and part of the next night. He started for the camp at midnight, leaving four men in charge of the canoes. The rest marched through the woods for half an hour and at daybreak were within 400 yards of "two large houses, not dismantled, and with every sign of occupancy the day before."

Farther along the trail was another house and a partly completed canoe. The camp was on the edge of a swamp with willows. Recent campfires indicated that about 400 Indians had been at tie larger camp.

"Here were found wheat, fish and ox bones, showing clearly that to this place the Indians who attacked Seattle . . . and burned the houses on the river retreated to enjoy their plunder," Lander said.

Neely was satisfied that Indians still were lurking on the east side of the lake. He returned to the Black River and found Capt. S. D. Howe camped with two companies of the Northern Battalion.

LANDER related that Lieut. A. A. Denny built a raft on which to cross the river, but his men were unable to use it because of the swift current. Lieutenant Neely arrived opportunely and, ferried C a p t a i n Howe's company to the north bank of the Cedar River with one of his canoes. He took Denny's command to the south side of Black River with the other canoe.

Neely and three of his men accompanied Denny.

Lander reviewed the service his troops had performed, admitting it was not always successful because "the believed imminent danger of attack" on Seattle made a long line of sentinels and a corresponding amount of guard duty necessary.

"The work on barricades and a large blockhouse was pushed forward as rapidly as possible and a smaller blockhouse for stores also was built," he related April 24.

"When by the aid of the naval forces the guard duty was made much lighter, strong scouting parties were pushed out in every direction. The woods surrounding Seattle were thoroughly scoured ... The Indians lurking in them were driven out, the Duwamish River was freed from them, they were driven over Black River and the whole western shore of the great lake was thoroughly examined, the favorite portage of the Indians between the great lake and the Sound by way of Lake Union and Salmon Bay was watched by parties day and night."

LANDER spoke of the blockhouse L "commenced in Seattle to be erected on the Duwamish River, as no suitable timber could be obtained near the proposed site . . . The blockhouse was finished in town and in two days time conveyed up the river, erected and roofed." It was surrounded with a stockade 78 by 58 feet in dimensions, with a bastion.

"In the prosecution of so much work," Lander wrote, "it has been necessary to call upon the men to run sawmills, to act as engineers, firemen, draftsmen, log cutters and mechanics in addition to their duties as soldiers and there have been no refusals . . . To make the fort on the Duwamish River easily defensible, a great deal of work must be done and it will be resumed on the return of the party under Lieutenant Denny."

Lander noted another party of eight men under Sergeant Henning who had been sent 16 miles through the woods from Georgetown to the Lake Union portage (at Montlake) to watch for Indians attempting to cross.

"The victual ration of 12 ounces of pork, which, from the abundance of fish in Seattle, was sufficient while the company was stationed there, did not subsist the men for the first three weeks while stationed at this post," Lander wrote.

"I therefore ordered an issue of a ration of 14 ounces of pork, for the past week, which has proved amply sufficient. This issue will not be continued unless approved. An issue of potatoes will be beneficial to the health of the men and Lieut. Franklin Mathias could probably obtain them for that purpose if authorized so to do."

Lander's closing lines deplored the state of communications with his Georgetown post.

"It (the post) is distant from Seattle," Lander said, "and communication is uncertain, as there are no horses nor Indians for canoe expresses.

"The want of this public service is much felt."

EDWARD LANDER, pictured in later life, commanded a company of volunteers in the Seattle area and established blockhouses in the Duwamish Valley, under the orders of Isaac I. Stevens, territorial governor. Lander temporarily left his office as a Territorial Supreme Court justice to serve the military assignment.

A BLOCKHOUSE known as Fort Duwamish was one of two built in the Duwamish Valley to defend the Seattle area in the Indian War of  1855-56.

Lucile McDonald, "Old letters tell story of Indian War activities," The Seattle Times. January 22, 1961.