For a brief summary and introduction to the events leading up to the Cayuse Indian War of 1848, please click here to read Ken Burns and Stephen Ives, Places In The West, "Marcus and Narcissa Whitman."

Please use link below to read one of my own pages, The Whitman Massacre by Mary Marsh Cason. From a letter provided by a dear friend, Court Duncanson, Salem, Oregon, this is a vivid childhood account of the same incident.

"The Whitman Massacre - Letter by Mary Marsh Cason."

*These links are offered as background history, in the event that you'd like to know more about the Oregon Cayuse Indian War, before reading the letters that follow.

The foregoing documents are in response to the Senate resolution of January 29, 1889, report of Capt. W. E.Birkhimer dated Dec. 09, 1889, and is an original copy.

Within these next eight pages you'll find several letters written by the surviving personnel of Captain Lawrence Hall's company of Oregon Volunteers. You'll read vivid, firsthand accounts of the hardships endured, battles fought, and "roll call" recollections of the surviving few.


In response to Senate resolution of January 29, 1889,
report of Capt. W. E. Birkhimer.

December 09, 1889. - Referred to the Committee on Pensions,
and ordered to be printed.

War Department,
Washington City, December 07, 1889.

Sir: In response to the resolution of the United States Senate,
dated January 29, 1889, as follows -

Resolved, That the Secretary of War be, and he is hereby, directed to cause an investigation to be made into the organization and service of what has been commonly known in Oregon as "Capt. Lawrence Hall's company of Oregon Volunteers," which, it is alleged, was organized in the early part of the year 1848, for service, and which served in the Indian war in Oregon known as the "Cayuse war," and to report to the Senate, at his earliest convenience, all the facts relating to such alleged organization, whether of record or otherwise, together with the names of the officers and privates constituting such company -

I have the honor to report that Capt. William E. Birkhimer, U.S. Army, was designated in orders of March 15, 1889, to make the required investigation, and his report, dated November 07, 1889, and the accompanying papers, are herewith submitted.

Very respectfully,

Redfield Proctor,
Secretary of War.


Vancouver Barracks, Wash., November 7, 1889.

Sir: I have the honor to report that, pursuant to indorsements by thc War Department and from Headquarters Department of the Columbia, of date, respectively, February 18 and March 15, 1889, upon Senate resolution of January 29, 1889. and letters of the honorable Secretary of War and Senator J. H. Mitchell, of Oregon, relating thereto, I have investigated as fully as I have been able to do the subject-matter of that resolution.

The first step taken was to publish in the columns of thc Oregonian a communication to the general public setting forth the resolution in question and soliciting authentic information from any one who could give it as to the organization, service, and personnel of Captain Hall's company. [Copy of communication to thc Oregonian appended, marked "A."] This appeared to be the best means of giving publicity to the resolution of the Senate and disseminating a knowledge of its scope and purpose.

I have received numerous communications relating to the subject under investigation from interested parties, which are appended, marked "B." The affidavits of several survivors have been collected and form Appendix "C.' The affidavit of Colonel Cornelius is particularly valuable, as that gentleman is in the full possession of his faculties, and the tracing showing routes pursued by the troops on the map accompanying this report was made out by him.

The facts and attendant incidents of the service of these troops seem to be as follows: In very early days Dr. Whitman and his wife established a missionary station at Waiilatpu, in the valley of the Walla Walla River, between the present Walla Walla and Wallula. This was in the territory occupied by the Cayuse tribe of Indians. On the 29th day of November,1847, the doctor and his wife, and numerous others assembled at the station were either killed or wounded, and carried off captive by these Indians, who razed the buildings to the ground, and tried by one blow to wipe the mission from the face of the earth.

The distance by trail from Waiilatpu to Oregon City, the Territorial capital [just above Portland], was about 275 miles, and news of this massacre reached the latter place on the 7th of December following. The legislature of the provisional government was in session. On the 8th Governor Abernethy communicated the fact to that body. On the 9th a bill was passed, and on the 10th signed by the governor, authorizing the raising a mounted regiment of volunteer riflemen five hundred strong, to serve ten months unless sooner discharged by proclamation of the governor, and which, while in service, should be subject to the rules and regulations of the United States Army.

One hundred of the five hundred troops authorized came out by proclamation of the 10th of December, but the rest were called out by another proclamation of the governor dated the 25th of December, 1847, and Capt. Lawrence Hall's company was among the latter. The regiment was commanded by Col. Cornelius Gilllan (who was accidentally killed during the progress of the campaign), and Hall's was designated as the second company thereof. A roster of the company will be found hereto attached, marked "D."

The company left the vicinity of Portland about the first week of January, 1848, crossed the Columbia River to Vancouver, followed the trail on the north side of that river to a point above the Cascades, thence recrossing and proceeding on the south side to The Dalles.

The belief was then general that the Cayuse, Walla Wallas, Nez Perces, Yakimas, and others were joining forces against the whites. Accordingly the policy was adopted of fighting the Indians wherever found, which led to a scout up the Des Chutes River, where, on the 30th of January, Halls company, with some others, first met the enemy. The Indians were driven off. The casualties on each side were few, the Indians having the advantage of fresh horses and judiciously keeping at a respectful distance from the riflemen. The moral effect of this attack was excellent, leaving the country comparatively secure from raids by these particular Indians, as the troops penetrated still further into the interior of the Indian country.

Returning to The Dalles, Captain Hall's company, leaving a few men behind as a guard and garrison at The Dalles, pressed out on the old emigrant road towards their first objective point, Waiilatpu, or Whitman's Station. When a few miles east of Old Wells, and, as the command approached the Umatilla River, it was attacked by the Indians and the battle of Sand Hollows, or Dry Plains, was fought on the 24th and 25th of February. Here some of the riflemen were wounded, and several Indians, including the Cayuse chief, Great Eagle, were reported killed. The troops arrived at Waiilatpu about the 3d of March, 1848. The remains of those who had been massacred were decently interred, and a small stockade built.

Accompanying the soldiers was a party of citizens en route to Washington City, headed by Mr. J. L. Meek, who was the bearer of dispatches from Governor Abernethy to the President. Some of the troops, including Hall's company, escorted this daring and gallant party to the summit of the Blue Mountains, to start them well on their perilous journey, and place them beyond the sight and hearing of the hostile Indians. The object was accomplished, and Mr. Meek, after much suffering, duly presented his dispatches.

Returning to Waiilatpu, the best mounted and equipped of the riflemen, and Hall's company among them, were selected for an expedition against the Cayuse Indians, whose eract location was at this time unknown. The object was to bring the Indians to terms by some means, by fighting or otherwise, and recapture the stock stolen from the whites. The expedition started about the 10th of March, 1848, and after a search of ten days or so found the enemy encamped on Tucannon River, about 4 miles above its confluence with the Columbia. The enemy adopted the ruse of hoisting a white flag, asked for and had a talk with the troops, anti pretended not to belong to the hostile party; but, upor the whites taking charge of the stock of the murdered pioneers, which were theding on the adjacent hills, the wily foe threw off the mask, and began an impetuous attack. The troops, greatly outnumbered, fought on the defensive, marching in retreat, formed in a hollow square, to resist the assaults made on all sides. The first night the captured stock was turned loose. The next morning the attack and retreat continued, and the Indians, as the Toucher River crossing was approached, took possession of it, attempting thereby to cutoff the retreat of the troops effectually. Here nothing but the most determined charge and fighting drove off the Indians and enabled the whites to cross that river and thus escape threatened extermination.

But it was not the policy of the Indians to push matters to extremities. Realizing that they had raised up a force against themselves which, in the long run, they could not successfully code with, and disappointed that the neighboring tribes did not openly join hands with them in hostilities, the Cayuse were now intent only upon escaping eastward with their plunder and stock, which they succeeded in doing.

About the middle of May anothor expedition, also including Hall's company; was fitted out to scour the Palouse and Spokane countries. After arrival in the Palouse country and finding no Cayuse, a detachment was sent off to Fort Colville for some missionaries and their families there stationed. The expedition, making a wide sweep, penetrating the country where Colfax and Lewiston now stand, and traversing the country which ten years latter became the theater of Steptoe's disaster and Wrigh's chastisement of the Palouse, returning to Waiilatpu about June 4, having been gone about three weeks. The Cayuse, as a tribe, had left thc country. A few days afterwards the Colville detachment returned, having successfully accomplished its purpose.

The troops were now started en route for their homes, arriving at Oregon City about June 20, 1848, where they were promptly mustered out of service, after about six months of active campaigning.

In the beginning, when raising volunteers was authorized, there were provided for and appointed by legislative sanction, a commissary-general and an adjutant-general. The former appears to have been entrused with supervision of the business affairs of the troops, equipments, supplies, rations, etc, while the latter kept the records. An extract from a report of the adjutant-general to the commissary-general as to the amount due each enlisted man engaged against the Cayuse in this war, in so far as it affects Hall's company, is hereto appended, marked "E." It is supposed that these dues were settled at the time. Every non-commissioned officer and private who furnished his own horse was to receive $1.50 per day and it will be seen that, making this allowance, the sums reported as due in Appendix "E" covered about six months' service, with such variations as might be expected under the circumstances.

The Cayuse war was attended by many privations and much suffering on the part of the troops. These were to some extent the natural incidents of warfare, but aggravated by a defective commissariat. So soon as the 30th of January, on the Des Chutes, after the fight there, we find the troops killing horses for food. After they succeeded in recrossing the Touchet from their prolonged contest of two days and a night with the Indians camped at Tucannon they found and killed some Indian ponies and ate the meat with a relish, being the first opportunity they had had to eat since the fight began. The night after the battle at Sand Hollows or Old Wells, on 24th of February, the whites slept on the field, without wood, water, or food, awaiting the renewal of the attack the next morning.

The secretary of the Oregon Pioneer Society informs me that the papers of Captain Hall, referred to in the letter of Mrs. L. J. Bennett to Senator Mitchell, dated Rockford, Wash., March 10, 1889 (see Appendix "B '), are now among the papers of that society, at Salem, Oregon, but he can not give more definite information, for he says that if he were to go and search for them himself he would not know where to find them, the records of the society having been removed from the room in the State capitol where they were formerly deposited.

I have not succeeded as I desired in procuring certified copies of the proclamtions of the governor calling out and disbanding these troops, nor a copy, duly authenticated, of their muster-rolls. The natural repository for these documents would be the archives of the State of Oregon. I have made an effort, through the proper authorities to secure the documents, but thus far without success, although these authorities are doing all they can in the premises. As, however, it is uncertain what may be the result of the searches now being made for the desired papers, it was thought best not longer to delay on that account the preparation and submission of this report.

The survivors of this gallant band of volunteer riflemen are now few in number. Some have visited and others have written to me. Age has impaired the vigor of their powers, but their patriotism has not diminished. There can be no doubt but that by the bold, determined, and aggressive course they took, this section was spared a ruthless and protracted Indian war. They look forth, with vision dimmed by years, it is true, upon the fair land which their prowess helped save to the Union, now grown into a mighty empire. They served their country well, and they deserve well of their country.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Wm. E. Birkhimer,
Captain, Acting Judge Advocate.

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