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    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

Chief Beardy Helps the Captives

The following paragraphs are excerpted from The Whitman Massacre by Mary Saunders. Mrs. Saunders was one of the people held captive at the mission.
 

The Day of the Attack

I saw old Chief Beardy coming in great haste on horseback. Knowing him to be a member of Dr. Whitman’s church, I called to him repeatedly. He turned his head and looked at me, but did not slacken his pace until he reached the Mission, where the Indians were destroying the doors and windows. Going to Mrs. Hall’s door, I heard him talking in a very loud voice to the Indians as if scolding them.

I knew that the boys had been taken from my husband’s school and feared that the rest of us were going to be killed. It seemed to me as though someone said to me: “Go to their chief and beg for your lives.” I went to my bedroom, where were Mrs. Canfield and Mr. Gilliland and my children, and told them that God had told me to go and beg our lives and that I was going to the Chief’s lodge.

[Mrs. Saunders stopped at the lodge door and spoke with one of the students from the school. She recorded his account of events:] We heard several shots in the school house. My teacher upon looking out of the window cried: ‘They are killing Mr. Huffman,’ and he rushed out of the school room. We locked the door and kept the other pupils from going out. Seeing our teacher caught by the Indians, we began helping the other children up into the loft. . . We heard a great deal of shooting and we could hear the crash of breaking glass and the noise of breaking doors. We could also hear old Chief Beardy, who often had come to visit Dr. Whitman, talking very loudly to the Indians and trying to persuade them to stop their slaughter.

When I left the door of the council lodge it was near sunset. Several chiefs came out and walked towards the Mission; among them was good old Chief Beardy, who talked with me and smiled in a friendly way as if to say, “I succeeded in saving you,” and I reached home in safety.

 

Burying the Dead

On the first of December a gentleman came to me from Joe Stanfield’s who introduced himself as Reverend Father Brouillett, from the Catholic Mission at Umatilla. He took down the names of all the prisoners, saying that he would do all he could towards our rescue. . . Father Brouillett, his half-breed interpreter Snods, Joe Stanfield, Mr. Findlay, Chief Beardy and the two Walla Walla Indians helped to bury our dead. They dug a trench six feet long, twelve wide and four feet deep, and the poor victims were laid in side by side and the priest read the burial service over them. . . I was often in tears and afterwards heard that the Indians called me Mrs. Cry. They hate tears and I tried to hide my feelings, for they could have killed me if they wished; but they always treated me with decency and respect.

 

Chief Beardy Explains

On the second day of December Chief Beardy rode up to my door, calling for me. Eliza Spaulding came out with me to interpret. Beardy said that he had heard me calling to him on the day of the massacre, but that Doctor Whitman was his friend and he was hurrying to reach the Mission before the Doctor had come to any harm, but alas, he had been too late. He also told me that he had saved our lives in the council; that when the Cayuses had refused to let Dr. Whitman’s body be buried, he had drawn his pistol and said that he would fight if he could not bury his friend.

Did You Know?

Oregon Trail Wagon

Wagons used on the Oregon Trail had to carry nearly 2000 pounds of supplies. They traveled 2000 miles or more to the Oregon Country. Most wagons were pulled by oxen as they could eat the prairie grass and survive without lots of food for lengthy periods.