War breaks out between the Territorial Government, Settler's and Indians - it is a clash of cultures.
In the years after the voyages of Christopher Columbus and explorers who followed, Europeans became more aware of the shape of the two American continents. They learned some things about the people who lived there. In the century after Columbus, Spain became the most important European power in the Pacific Basin. However, the Pacific Northwest remained largely unexamined for decade after decade. Finally, in the eighteenth century, the Russians reached Alaska and began trading for the skins (or pelts) of sea otters. They were aided in their efforts by a native people of the southwest Alaskan coast, the Aleuts. These people were skilled at hunting on the ocean.
The Spanish, French, British, and Americans followed the Russians into this corner of the Pacific Rim. It was well known to the indigenous people, but unknown in Europe. Explorers came as part of government-sponsored expeditions. Ship captains, who were also businessmen, came toacquire sea otter pelts. They had great value in China. The Europeans and American relied on the members of the tribes of the coast; who did the actual catching and skinning of the sea otters. The Indian people offered the pelts in trade for manufactured goods.
In the early nineteenth century, fur traders set up posts across the Pacific Northwest and traded with Indians for beaver and other pelts. Trade provided some benefits to the Indians, the Europeans, and the Americans, who briefly had fur trading posts in the region.
However, as the possibility grew that the Pacific Northwest might become part of the United States, American settlers began to arrive via an overland route, the Oregon Trail. These people began to arrive in the thousands in the 1840s. Unlike the fur traders, who valued the land in its near natural state as a place for fur-bearing animals, the settlers came to own, clear, and farm the land.
Most settlers intended to put up fences, build buildings, and establish communities for their families. The settlers expected the help of the United States government in achieving their goals, particularly after a treaty with Great Britain in 1846. It made the present-day Pacific Northwest part of the United States. Indian people were no longer valued as sources of important trade items. They were often seen as obstacles to building prosperous farms and communities.
The aboriginal people of the Northwest believed they had always lived here. They roamed the woods, the plains, the mountains and the coastline freely, finding all they needed to survive in the animals and plants that were indigenous to the area. There was a cyclical rhythm to their lives, dictated by the changes of season and the availability of food, and there was generally enough for all.
The people caught salmon and other fish and harvested shellfish on the coast; the excess they dried and traded. Some tribes, traveling far into the mountains in search of game, dried large quantities of meat and loaded it onto canoes to trade for other needed supplies. In the winter, the men would hunt seals or ducks. The inland tribes raised horses, used to traverse the wide-open spaces and to hunt elk, buffalo and deer.
Women were the gatherers, their efforts providing all the vegetable foods common to the native meal. In the prairie lands they would dig roots, in the mountains they picked berries, and at the lakes they found wild potatoes and the roots of brake fern. Steamed camas and lily bulbs were a staple of the Indian diet. (Haeberlin and Gunther, 20-21) While each tribe would have specific regions for fishing and hunting, the gathering fields were often shared between two or more groups.
In the days of the fur traders, the number of Europeans was small, and their presence did not put much strain on the land; however, the unseen diseases they carried with them wreaked terrible devastation on the tribes. In the 1840s, many more families began pushing westward, placing Indian ways of life in peril.
Slowly, the abundant resources began to dwindle. The newcomers needed large plots of land for raising crops, grazing herds, and building cities. To make certain the land would be made available, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens pressured the tribes to sign away vast amounts of their traditional homelands through the treaty process.
The militia has always filled a special role. It is the only armed force with a connection to both the state and national governments. By law, the militia was defined as the "able-bodied portion of the population, aged 17-45," and could be used only for defense. Militia companies were composed of men from the same general area, who developed a sense of fellowship with one another by training together during times of peace. Militia units could be called into action during times of war, but unfortunately, were rarely called up as an intact unit. More often, militia men would be used to augment existing U. S. Army units, finding themselves suddenly commanded by unfamiliar, more demanding, regular Army officers. (Mahon 1)
In 1854, the Washington territorial authorities deemed it prudent to establish a militia. Volunteers were easy to find during times of strife, but being hastily gathered, they were much less well-trained and far less organized than the Army regulars. As a consequence, they were held in a measure of contempt by their professional counterparts. Part of the problem stemmed from an "excess of democracy." Militia men elected and removed their officers at will. (Richards 243-244)
Although the lands added through conquest, treaty, and purchase from Mexico in 1848 constituted more than half of the continental United States, there were only about twenty-five U. S. Army regiments available to carry out the orders of the federal government. The area from west of the Mississippi River, south to Mexico, north to Canada, and east of the Pacific Ocean was patrolled by only a few thousand troops. Charged initially with serving as the vanguard of American western expansion, the Army often fought Indians to make way for settlement. Later, the same forces were made responsible for the protection of the Indian reservations established by the treaties from the very same settlers for whom they had cleared the way. (Langellier 5)
Having served the interests of both the whites and the Indians, Army officers may have been better equipped than anyone else to understand the roots of conflict in Washington Territory in 1855. The Indians were understandably dissatisfied with treaties that forced them to cede huge amounts of their best lands to the government for distribution to an anticipated flood of white settlers.
The concerns of the settlers prompted the authorities in both Oregon and Washington territories to establish militias. When war came, U. S. Army officers found themselves integrating hastily organized, poorly trained, undisciplined volunteers into the ranks of professional soldiers. Lieutenant George Crook, who served in Oregon in the 1850s, was heard to remark that "he did not care to ride in the rear of the column because in the event of an Indian attack, he would likely be trampled to death." (Richards 243)