Stirring-up Trouble

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
March 2010

In March 1833 a letter appeared in the Christian Advocate. This letter indicated that Indians in the Pacific Northwest desired the Christian religion. When missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman arrived in the area three years later, they were welcomed with open arms. Even more than that, they were actually fought over. Narcissa wrote:

“The Nez Perce women said we were going to live with them, and the Cayuses said, No, we were going to live with them. The contradiction was so sharp they nearly came to blows”

In the end, the Spaldings settled with the Nez Perce. The Whitmans settled with the Cayuse.

By 1840 the Whitmans were feeling good about the progress being made. On March 27, 1840, Dr. Whitman wrote about the Cayuse’s adoption of agriculture:

"There is no abatement in interest for cultivation. A spirit of independance is manifesting itself among them which is seen in a desire to purchase plough's & hoes for themselves. if they could be obtained. They appear not to feel now as they used too formerly that it was to accomodate us that they plant & cultivate their lands."

But not every Cayuse was equally happy about the changes that were occurring. Marcus described one tense encounter that occurred in the fall of 1841:

"… Tilkauaiks another Indian was most insolent because when some horses were eating up our corn I sent some Indians to catch them… he [Tilkauaiks] put them there because it was a shut up place & convenient to keep them from straying … I then told him that I thought our field was for a plantation, & not for a horse pen but if he thought good to eat up our crops, I had no more to say about it. He replyed that this was his land, that he grew up here … & demanded of me what I had ever paid him for the land…I spoke to him of the original arrangement for us to locate here…that the land was fully granted us…in a short time one of the chiefs came to me & asked why I allowed those troublesome horses to eat up the corn?"

Whitman did not totally blame Tiloukaikt for the conflict:

"I fear Joe Gray [a half Iroquois individual from the east] may have been the cause of much of the present excitement. An Indian told me he had been telling Tiloukaikt how the Indians did in his country and raised disturbances and by that means got property."

With a lot of effort the Whitmans and staff of the Hudson’s Bay Company were able to calm the situation. In a letter that fall Marcus described one of the meetings he had with the Cayuse:

"On Tuesday Oct 5th [1841] we called the Indians together to hold a talk with them…The former [Cayuse] agitators were very full in their expressions of sorrow for their past conduct… [Ishishkaiskais, who had arrived after the disturbance] then proposed to require of us that we must distribute cattle among them or else they would require us to leave…But Tilaukaik who had been the principal agitator before intreated them not to do it – assuring them they would not extort cattle by fear & desiring them not to follow in his bad track…Kamashpalu who also had arrived since the disturbance said he advised all to be still & say no more about causing themselves to be paid for the land wood water &c. He did not think we expected such things when we located on these vacant lands."

Meanwhile other troubles were brewing. Some of the missionaries had sent letters of complaint to the board that sponsored them. Now, the missionaries were concerned that the board might close the missions down.

This is part 23 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2

Next: The Dreaded Letter



Drury, Clifford M. Chapter 9 (pdf 2.2 mb) and Chapter 16 (709 kb) of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.

Whitman, Marcus. March 27, 1840. Letter to Rev. Greene, Corresponding Secretary, of the American Board. Whitman Mission Collection.

Whitman, Marcus. September 30, 1841. Letter to Mr. Archibald McKinlay, Chief Trader at Fort Walla Walla. Whitman Mission Collection.

Whitman, Marcus. November 11, 1841. Letter to Rev. Greene, Corresponding Secretary, of the American Board. Whitman Mission Collection.

Last updated: January 16, 2018

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