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Catlin: Part 4, Section E - General Harney's Changes - Walla Walla Opened - New Steamboat - Tribes Pacified - Kamiakin Surrenders - De Smet Letter - John Owen Difficulty - De Smet Terminated - Occupation Twenty Years Away - Upper Montana Reservation

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In September of 1858 General William S. Harney was appointed commander of the newly created Department of Oregon. It signaled the start of a new chapter in the Plateau Indian story. It also served to appease the voices that spoke increasingly for the dispossession of all Northwest Indians. Bancroft’s, History of Oregon, noted that Harney was greeted with celebration in some circles: (See - History of Oregon 1848 - 1888 Vol. 2, by Hubert H. Bancroft, 1888 - pp. 460-61)


By an order of the secretary of war of September 13, 1858, the department of the Pacific was subdivided into the departments of California and Oregon, the latter, under command of General W. S. Harney, with headquarters at Vancouver. This change was hailed with delight by the Oregonians, not only because it gave them a military department of their own, but because Harney’s reputation as an Indian-fighter was great, and they hoped through him to put a speedy termination to the wars which had continuously existed for a period of five years, impeding land surveys and mining, and preventing the settlement of the country east of the mountains. Harney arrived at Vancouver on the 29th. of October, and two days later he issued an order opening the Walla Walla Valley, closed against settlement ever since 1855, to the occupation of white inhabitants.

By this order Harney’s popularity was assured... A considerable military force having been massed in the Oregon department for the conquest of the rebellious tribes, Harney had when he took command, found employment for them in explorations of the country. The military department in 1858 built a steamboat to run between The Dalles and Fort Walla Walla, and about two thousand settlers took claims in the Walla Walla and Umatilla valleys during this summer.


Government policy in the territory evolved quickly under General Harney. His progress can be followed through a series of letters in his official reports.  In a letter to the Assistant Adjutant General at Headquarters of the Army, New York City, General Harney gave notice that a new and quicker route to the interior was at hand: (See #7 – Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860, Vol. 2 pp. 91 - 121)

General Harney to the General-in-Chief
Headquarters Department of Oregon
Fort Vancouver, W.T., April 25, 1859

Sir: I have the honor to report the establishment of a steamboat line on the Columbia River, from the Dalles to Walla Walla, a distance of over one hundred miles.

This line furnishes steam transportation over two hundred miles into the interior from this point, and during the high water in June, supplies sent by it will be placed on the reserve at Snake river, some fifty miles beyond Fort Walla Walla, for the use of the party making the wagon road to Fort Benton. [Lieutenant John Mullan was in charge of building this road.]

The increased facility of communications thus offered can be estimated by knowing that heretofore it occupied from a week to ten days to make the journey to Walla Walla, which is now done in two days.

The Columbia will doubtless be navigated much further on as the advancing interests of civilization to the east shall require it. The valley of the Walla Walla has already some two thousand industrious and thriving settlers in it, so I am credibly informed, with an emigration steadily increasing this number.



In another letter to his superior on June 1, 1859, General Harney reported on the status of several interior tribes:
(See #9 – Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860)

Sir: I have the honor to report, for the information of the general-in-chief, the arrival at this place, on the 28th ultimo, of a deputation of Indian chiefs from the upper Pend d’Oreilles, lower Pend d’Oreilles, Flatheads, Spokanes, Colville, and Coeur d’Alene Indians, on a visit, suggested by myself, through the kind offices of the Reverend Father De Smet, who has been with these tribes the past winter, and has counseled them, both as an agent of the government and in his clerical capacity, as to the advantages accruing to them by preserving peaceable and friendly relations with the whites at all times.

These chiefs have all declared to me the friendly desires which now animate them towards our people, and they assure me that their own several tribes are all anxiously awaiting their return to confirm the peace and good will they are hereafter determined to preserve and maintain. Two of these chiefs—one of the upper Pend d’Oreilles, and the other of the Flatheads—report that the proudest boast of their respective tribes is the fact that no white man’s blood has ever been shed by any one of either nation. This statement is substantiated by Father De Smet. The chiefs of the other tribes mentioned state their people now regret they had been so deceived and deluded as to go to war with the whites the past year. They tender the most earnest assurances that such will never be the case again. All of these chiefs assert there will be no difficulty for the future as regards the whites traveling through their country, or in the occupation of it.

They request the government to secure a reservation to their people, upon which they desire to live and be protected.

Kamiakin, the noted chief of the Yakimas, came in with these chiefs as far as Fort Walla-Walla with the intention of surrendering himself to my custody, but in consequence of an officious interference with these Indians on the part of Mr. John Owen, Indian agent for the Flatheads, Kamiakin became alarmed and returned to his people. No censure is to be attached to Kamiakin for this act, and I have caused him to be notified that I am satisfied with his present peaceful intentions. I inclose copies of my correspondence with Mr. John Owen, showing the course I pursued with him.

I have also the honor to inclose a copy of Father De Smet’s report as to the Indian tribes he has visited the past winter, which shows that peace exists among themselves as well as with the whites, and from my own observation I am convinced that, with proper care, another Indian war of any magnitude cannot soon occur in this department.

It gives me pleasure to recommend to the general-in-chief the able and efficient services the Reverend Father De Smet has rendered.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. S. Harney
Brigadier General, commanding.

[In,The Flathead Indians, author John Fahey stated that Kamiakin had already surrendered to John Owen: "Kamiakin, the Yakima war chief, took refuge briefly among the Flatheads before surrendering personally to Owen on the Spokane River in May, 1859. General W. S. Harney said Kamiakin left the Bitterroot '"on account of an officious interference with the Indians on the part of Mr. T, agent for the Flatheads."' (p. 108)] 



Below is Father De Smet’s letter as it appears following Harney’s report, # 9: (See #9 – Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860)

Fort Vancouver, May 25, 1859.

DEAR CAPTAIN: Towards the end of last March, owing to the deep snows and the impracticableness of the mountain passes, I received your kind favor of the 1st. of January of the present year. I am happy that my request to the general, concerning the bringing down to Vancouver a deputation of the various chiefs of the upper tribes, met with his approval. I have no doubt, from the happy dispositions in which I left them at Walla-Walla, the general’s advice and counsel will be cheerfully and punctually followed out by them, and will prove highly beneficial to their respective tribes, and consolidate the peace established last fall by Colonel Wright.

During my stay among the Rocky mountain Indians, in the long and dreary winter, from the 21st. of November last until the end of April, I have carried out, as far as lay in my power, the instructions of the general. I succeeded, I think, in removing many doubts and prejudices against the intentions of the government, and against the whites generally, which were still lurking in the minds of a great number of the most influential Indians. I held frequent conversations with the chieftains of the Coeur d’Alenes, the Spokanes, several of the Shuyelpees or Kettlefalls, and lower Kalispels, who had chiefly aided, particularly the two first-mentioned tribes, in their lawless and savage attack on Colonel Steptoe and in their war with Colonel Wright. These various tribes, with the exception perhaps of a small portion of lawless Kettlefalls Indians, are well disposed, and will faithfully adhere to the conditions prescribed by Colonel Wright, and to any further requests and proposals of treaties coming from the government. The upper Pend d’Orielles, the Koetinays and Flatheads, I found, as years ago, strong friends and adherents to the whites, and I have every reason to think that they will remain faithful; they ever glory, and truly, that not a drop of white man’s blood has ever been spilled by any one of their respective tribes. When I proposed to them that from each tribe a chief should accompany me down to Fort Vancouver to pay their respects to the general and to listen to his advice, all eagerly consented, and they kept in readiness for the long journey as soon as the snow would have sufficiently disappeared. Meanwhile Major Owen, agent among the Flatheads, arrived at St. Ignatius’ Mission, and made known to me that he had received orders from the superintendent of Indian affairs and commissioner Mot to bring down to Salem a chief of each tribe of the upper country. Upon this declaration I persuaded the Indians that as Major Owen had received orders from the highest authority he superseded me, and they should look upon him as their leader in this expedition, whilst I would follow on with them as far as practicable and I would be allowed. The major having brought no provisions for them, I lodged the chiefs in my own tent, and provided them with all the necessary supplies from the 16th. of April until the 13th. instant, the day on which we reached Walla Walla, and where the chiefs were liberally provided for by Captain Dent, in command of the fort. The deputation of chiefs was stopped at Walla-Walla, by Major Owen, to await an express he had sent on from the Spokane prairie, with instructions he had sent to the superintendent at Salem. My own instructions from the general, according to your letter from the 1st. of January, “to return to Fort Vancouver as early in the spring as practicable, for some contingency might arise requiring the general’s presence elsewhere,” hurried me down in compliance with said order. With regard to Kamiakin and his brother, Schloom, I held several talks with them in February, March, and April, and acquainted them with the general’s order, wish, and desire, in their regard, videlicet, of following me, and of their surrendering into his hands, assuring them, in the general’s own words, that “the government is always generous to a fallen foe, though it is at the same time determined to protect its citizens in every part of the territory,” etc. They invariably listened with attention and respect. Kamiakin made an open avowal of all he had done in his wars against the government of the country, particularly in the attack on Colonel Steptoe and in the war with Colonel Wright. Kamiakan stated that he strongly advised his people to the contrary, but was at last drawn into the contest by the most opprobrious language the deceitful Telgawax upbraided him with in full council, in presence of the various chiefs of the Coeur d’Alene, Spokanes, and Palouses. Kamiakin repeatedly declared to me, and with the greatest apparent earnestness, that he never was a murderer, and, whenever he could, he restrained his people against all violent attacks on whites passing through the country. On my way down to Vancouver, from St. Ignatius’ Mission, I met him again, near Thompson’s prairie, on the Clark’s fork. Kamiakin declared he would go down and follow me if he had a horse to ride, his own not being in a condition to undertake a long journey. I had none to lend him at that moment. At my arrival in the Spokane prairie, meeting with Gerry, one of the Spokane chiefs, I acquainted him with the circumstance, and entreated him, for the sake of Kamiakin and his poor children, to send him a horse and an invitation to come on and to accompany the other chiefs to Walla-Walla, and hence to Vancouver; the best opportunity for him to present himself before the general and the superintendent, and to expose his case to them and obtain rest and peace. Gerry complied with my request, and Kamiakin soon presented himself and joined the other chiefs. I had daily conversations with him until we reached Walla-Walla; he places implicit confidence in the generosity of the general. I believe him sincere in his repeated declarations that henceforth nothing shall ever be able to withdraw him again from the path of peace; or, in his own words, “to unbury and raise the tomahawk against the whites.” My candid impression is, should Kamiakin be allowed to return soon, pardoned and free, to his country, it will have the happiest and most salutary effect among the upper Indian tribes, and facilitate greatly all future transactions and views of government in their regard. The Indians are anxiously awaiting the result; I pray that it may terminate favorably with Kamiakin. The sight of Kamiakin’s children, the poverty and misery in which I found them plunged, drew abundant tears from my eyes. Kamiakin, the once powerful chieftain, who possessed thousands of horses and a large number of cattle—he has lost all, and is now reduced to the most abject poverty. His brother, Schloom, if he lives, will come in in the course of the summer. I left him on Clark’s fork, sickly and almost blind; he could only travel by small journeys. Telgawax, a Pelouse, I think, is among the Buffalo Nez Perces; from all I can learn he has been the prime mover in all the late wars against Colonel Steptoe and Colonel Wright. His influence is not great, but he remains unceasing in his endeavors to create bitter feelings against the whites whenever he can meet with an opportunity.

With the highest consideration of respect and esteem for our worthy general and his assistant adjutant general, I remain, dear Captain, your humble and obedient servant,
P. J. De Smet, S. J.
Chaplain U. S. A.

A. Pleasonton
Captain 2nd dragoons, A. A. Adjutant General



The following letters, to and from Indian agent John Owen, indicate that the question of departmental authority over Indian policy was still not settled and was causing friction: (See #9 Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860)

Headquarters Department of Oregon,
Fort Vancouver, W.T., May 28, 1859.

Sir: Brigadier General Harney desires to know by what authority you have taken charge of the Indian chiefs who were sent for by him through the services of the Reverend Father De Smet? An early answer is requested to this communication, to enable the general to remove the doubt and confusion at present existing in the minds of these Indians, arising from your unexplained conduct.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant.  
Captain 2nd dragoons, Asst. Adjt. General.
John Owen, Sub-Indian Agent, Fort Vancouver, W.T.

[The National Register of Historic Places – Stevensville, Mt. document – states that Major John Owen, a former army sutler, founded an Indian trading fort near [St. Mary’s] mission, and purchased the mission buildings in 1850 when the "Black Robes" abandoned St. Mary’s... "The exact location of the original St. Mary's Mission, which may have been destroyed by fire, is unknown today. John Owen made his small, palisaded trading post, located just north of what would be the townsite of Stevensville, a symbol of "civilization" in the midst of the wilderness. He cultivated virgin land, imported machinery, built grist and saw mills, introduced improved breeds of livestock, and generally encouraged the agricultural development of the valley by Indians and white settlers."]

[Also, in his 'Sketch' of early Western Montana, written for the Montana Historical Society, author F. H. Woody wrote that Owen "started from St. Joe, Mo., as a sutler for a regiment of the United States troops known as the Mounted Rifles, destined for Oregon. The troops came as far as the Snake river when winter caught them, and they built winter quarters on the bank of that river about six miles above Fort Hall, where they spent the winter. The camp was called Cantonment Loring... In the fall of 1850 he came to the Bitter Root valley, and having bought the improvements of the Catholic Fathers, erected a trading post at that point and christened it Fort Owen... The fort was constructed of a stockade of logs placed in an upright position with one end planted in the ground. The stockade was necessary to protect the inmates and their property from the incursions of numerous war parties of the Blackfeet Indians... Fort Owen was the nucleus around which the early settlers gathered, obtained supplies and sought protection in the hour of danger... Major Owen on his annual visits to Oregon, and from other sources, had accumulated an excellent library of several hundred volumes, which he kept open for the use of his friends, and being one of the most genial and companionable of men, it is not surprising, that Fort Owen was a favorite resort for the early settlers and hardy mountaineers -- or that the Major is oft and kindly remembered by those who have reason to remember his kindness."]

[Also, in,The Flathead Indians, author John Fahey stated: "Where the mission had been, John Owen opened business in competition with the Hudson's Bay Company. Taking notice, Richard Grant at Fort Hall wrote Sir George Simpson,'"Mr. McDonald, in charge of the Flathead company post, will be required to be better supplied than the Snake country has been for the years past..."' Grant heard that Owen prospered. At his adobe post, '"The whiskey keg stands just where the Rev'd Father did when saying mass, and the measure's on the altar. If this is the case, I am inclined to the opinion that religion and the fur trade in these parts are hand in hand declining as civilization is increasing."' (p.88) John Owen served as special agent to the Flathead Indians from 1857 until the middle of 1862. Fahey stated that "Owen resigned because of the failure of appropriations to reach his Indians. He had not been paid as agent for fourteen months..."]


May 28, 1859.

CAPTAIN: Your letter of this date is received, and I am somewhat startled and surprised at its singular manner. While I do not, by any means, acknowledge the right of General Harney to interrogate me in the style he has in the letter referred to, I will still take pleasure to inform him that I have acted, and still am acting, under the instructions and orders of the Indian department, of which I am an agent.

My actions have met with the expressed approbation of the late superintendent, Colonel J. W. Nesmith. I hold documents in my possession that show my authority.

I regret exceedingly if any act of mine has produced doubt and confusion in the minds of the Indian chiefs who are here with me. I have sought to engender it, but have desired simply to perform my duty.

I would be pleased to have an interview with the general when it may be convenient. It is possible I may be able to explain my conduct so as to meet even his approbation.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Special Agent Flathead Nation, W.T.


Headquarters Department of Oregon,
Fort Vancouver, W.T., May 28, 1859.

Sir, Brigadier General Harney instructs me to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, and, in reply, to state it is not a satisfactory answer to his question of this morning.

The general further directs you will not, in any way, interfere with the Indian chiefs now at this post, so long as they are under his charge.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Captain 2nd dragoons, Asst. Adjt. General.
John Owen, Esq., Special Agent, Etc.,
Flathead Nation, Fort Vancouver, W.T.



General Harney also furnished a letter to Father De Smet in conjunction with these letters to John Owen. While this letter did not address the Reverend in the manner used with Agent Owen, it did notify him that his services were terminated:

Headquarters Department of Oregon,
Fort Vancouver, W.T., June 1, 1859.

MY DEAR FATHER: The general commanding instructs me to enclose a copy of his Special Orders No. 59, of this date, authorizing you to return to St. Louis through the different tribes of the interior, which you are so desirous to visit once again, for the purpose of confirming them in their good disposition towards the whites, as well as to renew their zeal and intelligence in the elements of Christianity – the means so signally productive of good will and confidence in your labors of the past winter requiring such self-denial and resolution.

On your arrival in St. Louis the general desires you to report by letter to the adjutant general at Washington, when your relations with the military service will cease, unless otherwise ordered by the War Department.

The general is anxious that I should communicate to you the deep regret with which he feels your separation from the service, and in making the announcement he is assured the same feeling extends to all those who have in any way been associated with you.

By the campaign of last summer submission had been conquered, but the embittered feelings of the two races excited by war still existed, and it remained for you to supply that which was wanting to the sword. It was necessary to exercise the strong faith which the red man possessed in your purity and holiness of character to enable the general to evince successfully towards them the kind intentions of the government, and to restore confidence and repose to their minds. This has been done; the victory is yours, and the general will take great pleasure recording your services at the War Department; for such services no one feels more sensibly than yourself the proper acknowledgement is linked with the hopes that are cherished in the fulfillment of a Christian duty.

Satisfied that all necessary blessings will be bestowed upon you in whatever sphere of duty you may be called to serve, the general will always be happy to tender to you the evidences of his esteem and friendship.

I remain, father, with the highest respect, your most obedient servant,


Captain 2nd dragoons, Acting Asst. Adjt. General.
Rev. P. J. De Smet, S. J.
Chaplain, Etc., Fort Vancouver, W.T.



In a further letter, General Harney wrote that the Reverend De Smet had furnished him another report on the Indians of the upper Washington Territory, including the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Kootenai country. In the letter Harney stated that white occupation of the area would not occur for twenty years. However, the following year rich gold strikes in soon to be Idaho Territory would quickly prove him wrong. (See #10 – Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860)


General Harney to the General-in-chief.

Headquarters Department of Oregon,
Fort Vancouver, W.T., June 1, 1859.


SIR: I have the honor to inclose, for the information of the general-in-chief, an interesting report from the Rev. P. J. De Smet, describing the country of the upper Washington Territory, in the vicinity of the Rocky mountains, now occupied by the various Indian tribes.

This report is valuable from the rare advantages Father De Smet possessed for many years, in his position as missionary among these tribes, to obtain accurate information of the country; and his great purity of character will always give respect and importance to his statements.

The description he gives of the upper Clark’s fork, the St. Mary’s or the Bitter Root valley, the valley of the Hell’s Gate fork, the upper valleys on the headwaters of Beaver river, and the Koetinay country, in connection with his suggestion of collecting the remnants of the Indian tribes of Oregon and Washington Territories in that region upon a suitable reservation, is well worthy of the serious consideration of the government.

The country spoken of will not be occupied by the whites for at least twenty years; it is difficult to access, and does not offer the same inducements to the settler that are everywhere presented to him on the coast.

The system adopted in California of placing large numbers of Indians upon a single reservation, and causing them to adopt summarily the habits of life of the whites, failed in consequence of the abrupt transition brought to bear upon these simple and suspicious people. The plan proposed by Father De Smet is not open to this objection; it places the Indians in a country abounding in game and fish, with sufficient arable land to encourage them in its gradual cultivation; and by the aid of the missionaries at present with them, that confidence and influence will be established over their minds, by degrees, and will induce them to submit to the restraints of civilization when the inevitable decrees of time causes it to pass over them.

From what I have observed of the Indian affairs of this department, the missionaries among them possess a power of the greatest consequence in their proper government, and one which cannot be acquired by any other influence. They control the Indian by training his superstitions and fears to revere the religion they possess, by associating the benefits they confer with the guardianship and protection of the Great Spirit of the whites. The history of the Indian race on this continent has shown that the missionary succeeded where the soldier and civilian have failed; it would be well for us to profit by the lessons its experience teaches in an instance which offers so many advantages to the white as well as the red man, and adopt the wise and humane suggestion of Father De Smet.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. S. Harney
Brigadier General, commanding.

Assistant Adjutant General,
Headquarters of the Army, New York city.



Following is the report by the Reverend De Smet referenced by General Harney above: (See #10 – Letters - Secretary of War - Military Affairs in the Department of Oregon – Presidential Report to Congress, 1860)

FORT VANVOUVER, W. T., May 28, 1859

DEAR CAPTAIN: In compliance with the request of our worthy brigadier general, I herewith give you a short narrative of the upper Washington Territory, as yet occupied by various Indian tribes, as far as my views and observations may have extended during the several years’ residence in that region, and particularly during the last winter trip I performed under the special directions of the general.

The distance from Fort Walla-Walla to the great Spokane prairie, through which the Spokane river flows, is about 150 miles. This whole region is undulating and hilly, and though generally of a light soil it is covered with a rich and nutritious grass, forming grazing fields, where thousands of cattle may be easily raised. It is almost destitute of timber until you are within 30 miles of the Spokane prairie, where you find open woods and clusters of trees scattered far and wide; this portion, particularly, contains a great number of lakes or ponds, with ranges of long walls of large basaltic columns and beds of basalt. The country abounds in nutritious roots, (bitter-root, camash, etc.,) on which the Indians principally subsist for a great portion of the year.

The Spokane prairie is about thirty miles from north to south and from east to west, bounded all around by well-wooded hills and mountains of easy access. The soil is generally light, though covered with abundance of grass. Along the base of the hills and mountains patches of several acres of rich and arable land may be found. The Spokane prairie is claimed by the Coeur d’Alene Indians. Taking the Coeur d’Alene lake as a central point, their country may extend fifty miles to every point of the compass. The lake is a beautiful sheet of clear water, embedded like, between lofty and high mountain bluffs, and shaded with a variety of pines, furs, and cedars; in its whole circumference, to my knowledge, their is no arable land. The low bottoms in several of its many bays are subject to frequent and long inundations in the spring. The lake is about thirty miles in extent from north to south, its width throughout is from one to two or three miles. It receives its water principally from two beautiful rivers, the St. Joseph’s and the Coeur d’Alene rivers, running parallel from east to west; each is from sixty to eighty yards broad, with a depth of from twenty to thirty feet. After the spring freshet their currents are smooth and even, and are hardly perceptible for about thirty miles from their mouths, and until they penetrate in the high mountain region, which separate their waters from the Clark’s fork and of the St. Mary’s or Bitter Root river; their respective valleys are from one to three miles broad. They are much subject to inundations in the spring; the narrow strips of land which border the two rivers are of the richest mold; the deep snows in winter, the ice and water, keep these valleys literally blocked up during several months; (the last winter it continued for about five months.) Small lakes, from one to three miles in circumference, are numerous in the two valleys. Camash prairies and other nutritious roots and berries abound in them. Beautiful forests of pine trees of various kinds; fur trees, cedars, larch, and yew trees, poplars, etc., are found all along. The mountains bordering the two valleys are generally of an oval shape, and well wooded—a few only are snow-topped during the greatest portion of the year. All the rivers and rivulets in the Coeur d’Alene country abound wonderfully in mountain trout and other fish. The forests are well stocked with deer, with brown and black bears, and with a variety of fur-bearing animals. The long winters and the deep snows must retard the settlement of this country.

The Clark’s fork, at its crossing below the great Kalispel lake, is about 40 miles distant from the Spokane prairie. Clark’s fork is one of the principal tributaries of the upper Columbia. From its entrance into the lake to the Niyoutzamien or Vermillion river, a distance of about 70 miles, I counted 38 rapids. You meet with a succession of rapids and falls to its very head before it joins the Columbia; for a distance of about 30 miles its rapids and falls are inseparable. In its whole length the Clark’s river has few spots of good arable soil, with range of dense and thick forests. The upper portion of the river and its upper tributaries have a succession of large prairies of light soil filled with water-worn pebbles, indicating bottoms or beds of ancient lakes. All these prairies are covered with a luxuriant and nutritious grass; and owing, probably, to the position of the high mountains by which they are surrounded, they are little or not covered with snow in the winter season.  Such are Thompson’s prairie, Horse prairie, Camash prairie, St. Ignatius prairie, Iaco prairie, Flathead Lake prairie, with several other minor grazing fields. Far and wide apart spots of less or more acres of good arable land are found, but too few, indeed, to make it for years to come a thickly-settled portion for the whites. The country of the upper Clark’s fork, the St. Mary’s or Bitter Root valley, the valley of the Hell’s Gate fork, the upper valleys on the Beaver headwaters, the Kotenay country, within the 49th degree, and under the jurisdiction of the United States, appear to be laid out and designed by Providence to serve as reserves for the remnants of the various scattered tribes of Oregon and Washington Territory, at least for some years to come. This region, I should think, might contain all the Indians, and afford them the means of subsistence. The rivers could supply them with fish; the prairies with domestic cattle; deer and elk are still abundant; the buffalo grounds are not far off; wild edible roots and fruits are plenty; whilst in each section a sufficient portion of arable land might be found and reclaimed for their sustenance.

Should all the remnants of Indians be gathered in this upper region, one single military post might suffice to protect them against all encroachments and infringements of evil-disposed whites on Indians, and of Indians on the rights of the whites. In the way the reserves are laid out in Oregon and Washington Territory—far and wide apart, surrounded and accessible on all sides by the whites—experience teaches that it must lead to the speedy destruction of the poor Indians. Liquor and its concomitants, sickness and vice, will soon accomplish the work.

Providence has intrusted and placed these weak tribes under the care and protection of a powerful government, whose noble end has always been to protect and advance them. If aided and assisted, in a proper situation, with agricultural implements, with schools, mills, blacksmiths, etc., I have no doubt but thousands of the aborigines might be reclaimed, and live to bless their benefactors. In the topographical memoir of Colonel Wright’s campaign, recently published, (page 75,) I read to this effect: “The government, in its wisdom and prudence, should make some timely provision for these many Indians by selecting for and placing them upon proper reservations, in order that they may not be caused to disappear by the fast approaching waves of civilization and settlement that must otherwise overtake and eventually destroy them.”

I have labored for several years among the upper tribes in the capacity of missionary. My companions have carried on the work to the present time, and will, I hope, continue their labors. The want of adequate means has greatly retarded one the principal objects we had in view—their civilization. We can all, and do, cheerfully testify to the good dispositions of these upper tribes. Should they be supplied with the necessary implements of agriculture, with oxen, etc., they would all work, and would place themselves above want and in comfortable circumstances. As for schools, all are anxious to have their children taught.

These are a few points I desire to be allowed to present to the consideration of the general, if they can in anywise tend to the amelioration of the lot of the Indians.

With the highest sentiments of respect and esteem, I remain, captain, your humble and obedient servant,

P. J. De Smet, S. J.
Chaplain, Etc., United States Army

A. Pleasanton.
Captain 2nd dragoons, Asst. Adjt. General



Last Updated on Saturday, 14 January 2012 16:24