The Treaty Trail: Isaac Stevens' Treaty Councils 1854-1856
Aftermath of the Treaties: Steptoe's Defeat

Excerpt from Indian War in the Pacific Northwest: The Journal of Lieutenant Lawrence Kip:

Col. Edward J. Steptoe
Col. Edward J. Steptoe, from THE CONQUEST OF THE COEUR D'ALENES, SPOKANES AND PALOUSES by B.F. Manring, Spokane. John W. Graham, 1912.

The month of May, 1858, was a disastrous one for the army on the Pacific. On the 8th, Colonel Steptoe, set out from Fort Walla Walla, with a small command of one hundred and fifty-nine men, to make a reconnaisance of the country, to examine into affairs at Fort Colville, and to seize some marauders belonging to the Pelouze tribe, who had stolen cattle from the Fort. As this is a feeble tribe, his force was considered quite sufficient to overawe them, while the more powerful tribes through which he was to pass had always professed friendship, and there had been as yet no reason to distrust them.

On the morning of the 16th, however, after passing Snake river, he found himself unexpectedly in the face of a force estimated at from one thousand to fifteen hundred Indians. They were Spokans, Pelouzes, Coeur d'Alenes, Yakimas, and warriors of the smaller tribes, all painted and in their war dress, evidently meditating an attack. The hills around were covered with them, and it being evidently impossible under such circumstances to penetrate into the country, it became necessary for his little command to return, and endeavor to make good its way back to Snake river. The train was therefore closed up, and a retrograde move begun. The moment this was done, the attack commenced, and the fight was kept up through the whole day. Most of the men, too, were new recruits, who had never before been under fire. Yet everything that could be done by the officers was accomplished. It was a series of gallant charges, driving the Indians back with loss, to have them after a brief interval close up again around the troops.

Night at last settled down upon the battle field, and found the little command perfectly exhausted, and with their ammunition almost gone. Two officers,—Captain Oliver H. P. Taylor and Lieutenant William Gaston, both of the First Dragoons,--had fallen, with a number of the men. The remainder were gathered on a rising ground, while every hill around swarmed with their exulting enemies, who seemed to have them now completely in their toils. A consultation of the officers was hastily held by Colonel Steptoe, at which there was but one opinion. The force against them was overpowering, and by the next morning would undoubtedly be still further increased: without ammunition they would be almost defenceless,—and it was evident, that long before the close of the next day, not one of the command would be left to tell the story of their fight.

Nothing remained, therefore, but to attempt a retreat during the night. The bodies of the fallen, which were within their reach, were buried,—the two howitzers were cached—and the command mounted and struck off in the direction of Snake river. Fortunately the Indians did not make a night attack, and their retreat was unimpeded.

Still, they knew that the morning would bring their foes upon their track, and therefore they pressed on. They rode seventy-five miles by ten o'clock the next morning, and succeeded in crossing the river without the further loss of a single man, or even of an animal belonging to the command. Here Colonel Steptoe was met by Captain Dent who, having received intelligence of the ambush, was advancing by forced marches from Fort Walla Walla to his rescue.

Among those who were reported as ""missing" after the fight, were two non-commissioned officers. They were both wounded, but escaped from the Indians; and finding that the command had retreated, commenced their own return on foot. Fortunately the Indians next day did not follow them, being probably engaged in the division of plunder, and their attention directed to the main body of the retreating command. After several days they reached the river, where they were seized by the Indians on its banks. One of them,—Sergeant Williams,—they killed, but permitted the other to cross the river, and he finally reached Walla Walla in safety.

To view the entire journal of Lawrence Kip, under the title of Army Life on The Pacific, visit the Washington Secretary of State's Classics in Washington History website.


Excerpt from the Introduction written by Clifford E. Trafzer to Indian War in the Pacific Northwest: The Journal of Lieutenant Lawrence Kip

Throughout the document, Kip's portrayal of white and Indians reflect the national attitude of superiority over "savage" native nations and the supposed benevolence of his country to offer Indians a better way of life through three treaties. Kip's account is one of Manifest Destiny working against Native Americans who challenged federal authority by going to war to protect their people, culture, and "splendid country." The lieutenant admits that the soldiers "cannot wonder that" the Indians "are aroused when they think the white men are intruding on them." This was one of the few admissions that the Indians were reacting to an invasion of their country by shite men bent on forcing their will and ways on native people. By 1855, Northwestern Indians had experienced a lengthy association with explorers, traders, trappers, and missionaries. But the era between 1855, when Kip attended the Walla Walla Council, and 1858, when he participated in the final phase of the Plateau Indian War, was a watershed in Native American history—one that changed native life forever

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