Salem Daily Record

Friday Evening, July 26, 1878
Vol. 3 No. 390.


The Indian Troubles.
Reminiscences of Captain J.B. Lister.


[By request, Captain J.B. Lister furnishes us a sketch of his observations up the Columbia, and through the country invaded by the hostile Indians.]

I left Salem on the 10 o'clock train for Portland, July 9th., with the intention of going to Eastern Oregon, to render all the assistance I could to the terror-stricken people. On reaching Portland I called upon Gen. Sprague, the general superintendent of the O.S.N. Company, and stated to him my intentions, and he generously gave me a free pass for myself and six men to Wallula and return. And let me here say, that I formed no exception - he would have sent any man, or number of men, from Portland, had they went to him and desired it. He has done more for the people of Eastern Oregon than all. He not only made the offer to carry men to the front and return over his line of steamers, but contribuated more towards fitting volunteers out than any other man in the valley. He also, as I understand, when the call was made for help to the destitute in Pendleton, sent to Umatilla $200 worth of substantial food at his own expense. He has proven himself a friend in time of need to that people.

On the morning of the 10th I left Portland on board of the Wide West, with the following roll of good men: James Queener, George Queener, Black Rock Joe, Dan. Brown, of Oregon City, James Sperry, Lish Sperry, brother to Captain John Sperry, who decided that I must be the spokesman for the little band. Found on board Mr. Tom Sutherland, the hero of the Lolo trail, correspondent for the Standard, and Mr. Moreland, for the Oregonian, going to the front to prepare war news for their respective papers. Just before we reached The Dalles I had the misfortune to lose the top of my scalp - or, in other words, my hat, which blew into the river, and you can imagine the figure I cut going into Umatilla House. Found the people all excitement here. Met several gentlemen from Salem; also, Clib Walker and Fred Zeiber, who had just come in from the Klickitat, with news that the Indians had shown a warlike disposition. Did not stop at The Dalles long, but spent the night on the soft side of the floor, on board of the new Tenino. About four o'clock the next day we began to see signs of the hostiles. Passed the island where Major Russ fired into a band of Indians who were attempting to cross horses a few days before. Counted 12 or 15 ponies yet on the island. After passing the island we came in sight of the patrol boat, under command of Captain Wilkinson, who turned and came along side, and went with us back to Umatilla Landing. I began to think we were in a hostile country to see this boat. Its pilot house was barricaded with sacks of wool, and its decks were fortified by sacks of flour, with a bright Gatlin gun on the forward deck, and twelve regular soldiers and twenty volunteers under command of Captain Wilkinson. On the Oregon shore we passed about thirty mounted scouts, with bristling guns, looking for poor Lo. No news until we reached Umatilla, and then your humble servant fell a victim to the raging excitement and flurry.

On landing I learned that Governor Chadwick had gone to Weston; that the Indian war was over in Oregon, and that Captain Wilkinson had been commanded by telegraph to come to Wallula, to take from there General Howard's command up Snake River, to head off the Indians. It was a hard thing for me to do, but I thought my only chance to see an Indian was that way, so I boarded the gunboat and went to Wallula. Reached there about 9:00 at night; everybody excited; General Howard had not yet arrived. Next morning about 9:00 o'clock, the train came in from Walla Walla with General, his staff, and fifty or seventy mounted men. I reported to him, and would have gone on from there, had there been room for me aboard the boat. In company with his chief scout, Abe George, and three others, myself and men were ordered to report to Col. Forsyth at Walla Walla for horses, etc. The gunboat left Wallula at noon with the General and his command, and Mr. Moreland, of the Oregonian, and Mr. Sutherland, of the Standard. Sarah Winnemucca and her sister, I believe, went along as counsellors and interpreters. I think General Howard made the move with the best intentions. He might have made a mistake; and again, had he not gone in that direction, the hostiles would have taken the course he believed they had, and escaped to the Lolo trail. The next day I reported to Col. Forsyth at Walla Walla, but the command was just ready to leave Walla Walla, and while at the garrison the news came that General Miles was fighting the Indians at or near the agency. At first it was considered false. The command under Col. Forsyth, consisting of five companies of the First Cavalry, had left, and were on their road to the Snake River country, when the settlers came pouring into Walla Walla from every direction. General Wheaton sent for Col. Forsyth to turn back, and go immediately to Vansyckle Canyon, which they did. I went to Gov. Ferry at the Stein House, and offered myself and men to go to Weston or Pendleton, if I could get the transportation. Everybody seemed to me crazy from excitement. I failed to get horses or wagons to take me to the front, and had to content myself with watching the action of a terror-stricken people. To describe the scene is a greater task than I can accomplish. Wagon after wagon came in with families from every direction, who had left their homes and were fleeing for their lives. One Salemite came in from Weston, Mr. Ap. Scott, and, with the rest, he thought the whole country would be burned and the settlers murdered. It was estimated that over a hundred families came in Saturday afternoon and night, and every one with a new version of the situation. One rancher drove in at a break-neck speed, with the startling announcement that the hostiles were then within five miles of Walla Walla, 11,000 strong, which many believed. Gov. Ferry was using every endeavor to quiet the people, sending out scouts in every direction to find out the truth. One party was headed by Captain H. Cardwell, well known in this city. Early Sunday morning I was out again, and the sight of people lying in the streets trying to sleep, was not an unusual thing. The excitement was intense.

To be continued ...,

[Sadly, this article was continued in a later vol. of the Salem Daily Record, which I have yet to locate.]

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R. Gess Smith