Missouri State Genealogy Trails


Adam Matheny's Experiences in the War Following the Whitman Massacre.

The Expedition From The Willamette Led by Gilliam, the Fighting Parson.

Two Hot Battles With the Red Murderers.
Sad Scene at the Desolated Mission


I was born in the state of Indiana, in 1820, and emigrated to Missouri in 1835, remaining there until the spring of 1843. On the third day of March [error-it was May 6; Adam was married May 3] that year, I started with the emigrants to Oregon. I am now a resident of Tacoma, the City of Destiny. I came to the Willamette direct from old Missouri, driving three yoke of oxen and a wagon. Peter H. Burnett was the captain of our party. We had the road to make, which was no small task. For many miles the tall wild sage brush was to be mashed down without teams and there were other obstructions to our progress to be removed. It took six months to make the trip across the plains. The Indians were usually very friendly. We all enjoyed good health and had a jolly good time.

When we got to The Dalles, on the Columbia, or near the foot of the Cascades, we found there the end of wagon road. Here we halted, unyoked our jaded teams, and here started to the great Willamette Valley by other means of travel. Now, for the first time, we scattered like the people from the tower of Babel when their language was confounded. Some us went down the Columbia river on large rafts of dry logs, taking families and wagons, household goods, etc. The rest of the party went with the stock over the mountain by an Indian trail, round the North side of Mount Hood near the border of eternal snow. In even scale the battle hung, no bad luck attending, and in a few days we all joined together again at the appointed place on the Willamette, where Oregon City now stands, meeting our wives and children all well and happy. It really would make one laugh now to hear the hurried questions that were then so eagerly asked: "Is father and mother here?" "Is my wife here?" " Is my sister's little boy here?" and all answered in the affirmative.

It really seemed strange to see the eyes of so many filled with tears and their cheeks aglow with joy. One old bachelor, standing away back in the crowd, grew discontented and sang out, with a loud, coarse voice: "Is nobody sick- no property lost on the way down the river?" Then he energetically exclaimed: "Thanks be to the Eternal King of Heaven." Then the amens and thank God went around lively for a little bit among the old people.

Here we rested ourselves and teams on the verdant banks of the Willamette, where we found beautiful specimens of oak timber with their brown arms spreading out and forming a lovely shade, a grateful contrast to the somber pines, that none of us were accustom to.

In two or three days a lovely and exciting scene occurred. No quaint poet can portray or pen describe the alacrity and joy with which the emigrants scattered. They went all directions. Now only think for a moment. Spread out before them lay a virgin world inviting their approach. Town sites, locations for mills on the streams, beautiful valleys, as rich and beautiful as God ever let the sun rise on, and all could be had just for the taking. All the people seemed to get pleasantly and happily located, commenced their various vocations, some farming, some erecting sawmills, some locating sites, others preparing to go at various trades. All professions and trades were energetically represented. Peace and harmony prevailed throughout the forlorn but happy colony for four or five years, and all was pleasant as one could wish. But suddenly there came a day when a courier came dashing into the valley, bringing,
A tale of War, a tale of woe,
A tale of passion dark o'erflow,
A tale of dark and bloody hue'
Alas, alas, the tale is true.
Whitman, the famous pioneer and missionary, and his devoted wife, with quite a number of emigrants who had stopped at his mission on the Umatilla, with the intention of remaining through the winter and resting their animals, so as to be ready for an early start for the west again in the spring, had been murdered, or what was worse, taken prisoner. All the men and half-grown boys had been killed, leaving the women and children defenseless. The chiefs and their sons had taken the girls and young-like women for wives and the older women and children for slaves, and put everybody else to a cruel death.
All this had occurred at or about where Walla Walla now stands, near the foot of the Blue mountains, which was 400 miles from the Willamette. We were only a weak little colony but poorly prepared for defense, and still less prepared for aggressive war. A long, toilsome campaign lay before us; the season was late; snow was beginning to fly; and there was no rich government behind us to provide arms for the battle, means of subsistence or the necessaries of campaign life. Every man began to ask anxiously of the other what should, or could, be done under the circumstances. We all agreed that something must be done, and that promptly, but just how to do it none of us, just for the moment, seemed to know. But we found among us an old Baptist preacher a veritable Gideon. When he was asked what we could do to recover the poor women and children, he made known to us that he was already somewhat acquainted with Indian warfare, as he had once been a colonel in a regiment when he was a good many years younger than he was then, and had done service in the Seminole war in Florida. We did not then know or suspect how great a captain he was, nor what service he would render us and the new state or how long his name would be remembered. He said if we would stand by him he would have those women and orphan children safe in our valley within six weeks, or he would make the last mother's son of the Cayuses bite dust. To a man we said we would stand by him, and the organization began at once.

Our place of rendezvous was where Portland now stands. We soon got our guns and ponies and put in an appearance at the camp. In a few days the old general had organized a nice little army of 200 or 300 resolute men, and we were almost ready to move, when far down the river some large boats came in view; full of poor, ragged women and half-starved and badly frightened children. Our hearts swelled big with joy when we learned that they were the poor unfortunates from the Umatilla, who had regained their liberty through the magnanimity of the Hudson Bay company's agents at Wallula, on the Columbia. They had been bought of the Indians for 400 pairs of blankets and some other things which had been used to excite their cupidity. The company put them in a bateaux and started them down the river for the Willamette Valley, accompanied by a few natives of the Sandwich islands, whose skill as boatmen has never been excelled. They had been ordered not to eat, sleep nor stop for rest until they were safe within the Willamette. It was reported the next morning after the prisoners had been ransomed that the Indians had returned and demanded the prisoners back, but the commandant at the fort told them they had been paid their price and should not grumble: that the people had gone to the Willamette. They became greatly enraged and said they would go to Willamette, kill the men, destroy the country and take the women and children for slaves and wives. When this news came to our ears we sent up many cheers and gave thanks to God for his kindness in liberating the poor unfortunate women and children who were now with us.

Our old Baptist warrior, whose name I have not mentioned, but who was the famous Colonel Gilliam, made a little address to his troops. "Boys," said he,
"the Indians are coming down to kill us, they say. Now we will meet them more than half way and introduce them to Nick Finnigan or Beelzebub if you say so." We said so with enthusiasm, and the next morning at dawn we started on our toilsome trip up the Columbia. We encountered both rain and snow, and the march was not only toilsome but extremely disagreeable. When crossing the high mountain spurs, we met blinding sheets of snow, and descending to lower lands near the river, we were drenched by torrents of chilly rain.

The first night we camped on the banks of the Columbia, above Vancouver, on a lovely prairie. There a droll incident occurred, which I venture to relate. Our camp was made in a grove of large oak trees, under which our tents were stretched. Now between the general's tent and my own there stood a large leaning oak, which was partly hollow and very dry, and as the incline was away from the tents, the boys set it on fire, in order to have a good warm beside it, and this was really enjoyable under the circumstances. It soon grew dark; we established our guards; and, after drying ourselves as well as could, we rolled ourselves in our blankets and soon forgot the tree, the fire, the Indians and everything else, for this was then end of our first day's march and we were all very tired. Most of the boys slept late in the morning, but I have always been an early riser, and the old general had too much on his mind to sleep the next morning. As we were both up early he got his ax, and I followed suit, and we commenced to chop down what was left of the old leaning tree. The boys were all asleep and the chopping failed to awaken them. I suppose none of them remembered which way the tree leaned, so when we yelled out to the boys to look out for it, and then down it came with a tremendous crash. One of my bothers and five or six other big tall men were in one of the tents nearest the tree; and, when we gave the alarm, they sprang to their feet more than half asleep and scampered in every direction, tearing up the tent pegs and entangling themselves, in a most ludicrous way in the tent cloth and ropes, in spite of which they all started to run down the hill with might and main, screaming as they went, taking the tent a good part of the way in their mad rush. This aroused the whole camp, and their plight caused a general laugh, at their expense.

The fallen tree provided plenty of dry wood, and we soon had a rousing fires with the aid of which we soon got breakfast, after which we saddled our horses and trudged along our weary way up the Columbia. We swam the river on the way up, some of us going over by the aid of canoes, and at the end of three or four days we reached The Dalles, all very glad to get into dryer climate. We found there a few boys and men that the Indians were holding cooped up in an old mission house where the missionaries Perkins and Brewer had been employed as Christian teachers among the "dear Indians." but who had now been compelled to fly for their lives to the city of refuge. It was a joy to us to see these poor prisoners emerge from the wreck of their former station- the old mission house. Several of them had been wounded. One of them had been shot through the heel, but he was so glad to see us come marching up in martial style that he forgot his crutch and never once thought to limp. He joyfully exclaimed, though the tears were standing in his black eyes, "Do you see them Indians yonder, on the hill?" pointing to a high ridge about a mile away. Looking in the direction indicated, we saw Indians plain enough. There was a large band of them in full view. "Now boys," said he, "we will give them fits," and he gave a loud yell of the war whoop order, loud enough to make one's hair fairly raise.

" Never mind, boys," said Colonel Gilliam, " dismount and graze your horses and take a good rest. We will feel their heads by 10 o'clock tomorrow, if they are only brave enough to stand our music."

They fled toward the mountains and we gave pursuit. The direction they took was toward the head of the Deschutes river, and we knew their plan was to toll us into some deep gorge or canon where they could wait in ambush and take us at a disadvantage on ground of their own choosing, and we followed cautiously. They crossed the Deschutes, and we went up just such a canon as we expected they would seek, quite narrow with bluffs, perhaps 4000 or 5000 feet high, and toward the upper end of it on very high ground they took their stand. Raising a war hoop that fairly jarred the earth, they fired a volley right down into our ranks, after which their chief yelled: "Come up here General Gilliam, damn you, we want to kill you." The old general refused to accept the invitation but replied: " You stay up there fifteen minutes, you black scoundrel, if you dare." Then we counted off by sevens, and every seventh man was detailed to stay with the horses, and the rest of us formed a line, the general gave the word and we started up the hill. The hilltop turned spotted with the smoke from Indian's guns and the bullets came down over our heads, raising a cloud of dust as they buried themselves in the ground below us. We soon came to where there were three draws, or ravines, crossing the ridge, and we sent a detachment up each of these while we kept the Indians watching those directly in front of them until our flankers got well around them. Then as the flankers got behind them we felt that we had them surrounded, but they stood their ground and fought us about an hour, when they fled, giving up their country to the conquerors, and we immediately prepared to enter it.

We followed them about ten miles and burnt their town and lodges. They were full of fat salmon, which they had prepared for their winter's food, but which made splendid fuel for fierce flames, which soon fairly illuminated the sky as the work of destruction went on. After destroying the village, we turned back to the battle field to pay our respects to the Indians who still remained there, and to crimp their long straight hair. Then, mounting our horses, again we struck across the country in the direction of Walla Walla, or where Walla Walla now is; and then we met the main body of warriors near the Well Springs on the Umatilla trail at a place called Battle Hollow, which is a broad, dry ravine.

We first saw the Indians away in front of us like a cloud on the prairie. As we came up, they seemed to part in front of us on the trail; and, as we traveled on they closed in behind us; and after we had gone a mile or two, we could turn our eyes in no direction but we could see Indians. So the general called a halt, formed a hollow square, and, with our baggage for defense, formed a small, secure place for our scanty stock of provisions and the surgeon. The Indians all the time kept closing in on us as their circle got smaller we formed a still smaller square with in it, hitching our horses in the middle of it, prepared for battle. Finally they raised their war hoop, and then came down on us on a run. Our general faced the situation bravely, and so did his little army. "Now, boys," said he, "don't touch a trigger until I give the word," and we obeyed. They came up to within 80 or 100 yards of us, everyone mounted on a fine black horse, and most of them stripped nearly naked, all frightfully painted, and yelling like so many demons. When the general spoke it was with a voice easily heard above the yells of our assailants. "Now, boys, give them a shot," said he, and immediately there was a cloud of smoke in front of each line. When this smoke lifted a little our boys ran out and snatched a scalp or two from the fallen Indians. The riderless horses were running about in every direction, and, after we got the scalps we wanted, we fell into line again. The Indians gave another yell and came down on us once more, and the same thing was repeated as before. All this was early in the morning, and from that time until the sun went down they fought us at long range.

Just at dusk they left the field and drew off to a ridge where they kindled a fire of sagebrush, remaining around there until about midnight, when they seemed to scatter off toward the Blue mountains. When day began to break, we examined the field for the wounded. Our surgeon dressed the wounds of such Indians as he found alive; and we did the best we could for them, and "made good Indians of the rest.' We shot a horse for breakfast, and after we had eaten, we took up the line of march toward where Walla Walla now stands, by way of Butter creek and Umatilla, crossing Wild Horse creek near the Blue mountains.

When we got to the mission, we saw a horrible spectacle, which made every man anxious to wreak vengeance on those who were guilty of the crime which had been committed there, the evidences of which were everywhere apparent. The old adobe mission house was a ruin, the walls blackened with fire where the Indians had tried to burn it. In the front yard lay the skull of Dr. Whitman, bearing the mark of Tom Sockeye's hatchet. Bits of the long yellow hair of Mrs. Whitman were strewn profusely about the front yard, having been lapped by the wind around every little sprig, and looking like thousands of spiders' webs all about the yard. J. Matheny gathered and straightened out quite a lock of these golden strands, platted it and fastened it in the foretop of his war horse, and swore, as James Fitzjames, eternal, vengeance against the redskins; and many a one did he scalp afterwards. He once said laughingly, that he really did believe that the color of that hair was improved every time he took the scalp of an Indian. [transcription error; should say "I" for IsaiahMatheny]

About 200 yards from the mission we could plainly see where the Indians had piled up the dead bodies in a heap and had thrown a few shovels of dirt over them leaving their bodies an easy prey to the wild beasts, and there were many other evidences of the hideous work the murderous rascals had done.

After resting our horses a few days and scouring the country in every direction by our scouting parties, hunting for Indians , wild horses, cattle for beef- for some had strayed away in the mountains, which the Indians had been unable to find after the massacre, we left our sick and wounded at a little fort we had made out of the old mission, and started on a new campaign. Word had come through the friendly Indians that the savages were swimming their horses across Snake river, at the mouth of Too canon, preparing for a trip to the buffalo country, so we started for that point at a gallop. On arriving there we found an immense horde of Indians, seemingly an assembly of many tribes. They were swimming their horses across the river.

We had in our party a German soldier. Now everybody knows that a German who can speak only a few words of English easily gets insulted if you dispute his word on any matter of fact. When he knows he is right, the only way to stop him is to kill him. This German addressed the general thus: "General Gilliam, there is the very Indians we are hunting; there is the murderers." The general replied: "Never mind, Paul, I will attend to them;" but Paul was not satisfied with this and sung out at the top of his voice, "By Got, I gits one!" then raising his gun, which carried an ounce ball, he shot a large fleshy Indian who was in a canoe. The bullet struck him under the arm and the old fellow sprang to his feet, gave an awful leap into the air, and blood spouted out both sides of his body, forming as pretty a rainbow as a Christian need want to look at. When he struck the water, he sunk immediately, much to our gratification, because he had only got his just dues.

Just at this moment, and off on the high bluffs and surrounding hills, thousands of guns roared, shaking the earth like a clap of sharpest thunder. Then the battle opened with vim. Here we were, only 150 strong, and an assembly of tribes numbering thousands; and they were upon us. Just at the right moment our general ordered our men to surround a large herd of perhaps 1000 horses that were grazing on the river bottoms, and the order was promptly obeyed. The horses started up the creek called Too canon toward the Umatilla river. The Indians followed and the running fight thus began was kept up for four days and nights with only very slight intermission. By the fourth day, toward evening, we had killed so many of them that their women had commenced their funeral songs all around us on the hill, and that called the warriors from the field. So we traveled on up to Mill creek, put out guards, turned the horses on the range and lay on our guns all night according to orders, and I think all hands went to sleep and slept soundly. Four inches of snow fell during the night. It was in the month of March. Next day was lovely, and we traveled on past the present site of Walla Walla four or five miles, to where Whitman's old mission house is, and found the boys we had left there well and happy, no casualty having occurred during our absence. The friendly Indians, upon hearing of our return, flocked to the mission and had an old-time war dance.

There we rested ourselves and horses two or three weeks, then taking up the line of march across Snake river and the Red Wolf's land, thence up the river to Spaulding's mission on the Clearwater. From there a party of thirty men were ordered to strike across the headlands of the Palouse, across the Spokane, and escort Walker and Ells, missionaries among the Spokanes, to the city of refuge. It was with reluctance that they left their Christian Indian friends and the mission, for they had nobly defended their beloved white teachers.

When we all arrived at Walla Walla mission, Colonel Gilliam started to the Willamette valley. What the business was that took him away so hastily, nobody ever knew. On the way home near Wilson's creek, in pulling a rope out of the end gate of the wagon, a loaded gun was exploded by the rope catching in some way in the hammer, and the wiping stick, which happened to be in the barrel of the gun, entered his head directly between the eyes. The bullet went through his skull, but the stick curled up and broke off. The brave warrior fell dead in his tracks, exclaiming only, "My God!" as he put his hands to his head. His body was bore reverently on down to the Willamette valley, and delivered to his family.

The rest of the army soon returned, and we were all glad to see our friends and homes again. The seeding time was at hand, and we hastily prepared for the harvest and then for California gold mines, to which many of us were attracted by the excitement there.

Adam Matheny's Narrative

As historian of the Hewitt-Matheny-Cooper Family Association, I made a trip to Tacoma, Washington, in the summer of 1999. While at the Tacoma Public Library, in its excellent genealogical section, I found an index card with the name Matheny, Adam. The card referred me to the Tacoma, Washington's newspaper, The Daily Ledger for Wednesday, April 6, 1892. In 1892 the Tacoma Ledger was giving away free train rides to pioneers who would submit their recollections for publication. An ad to this effect was on the page opposite Adam's narrative. This would appear to be the motivation for his writing. Adam no doubt received a free train ride for his efforts. We are thankful to the Ledger for offering such a prize, for we would have nothing written by Adam otherwise.
Several members of our family were with Adam in the small army under Colonel Gilliam, including his brothers Daniel B. and Isaiah C. Matheny, Aaron and Andrew Layson, Joseph Garrison and William Athey. We have tidbits of Isaiah's memories from news articles, but nothing so complete as the following narrative of Adam's.
Adam died in 1895 at the age of seventy-five in a settlement along the Queets River in Western Washington. For more information about Adam, read the memoirs of his sister Charlotte Matheny Kirkwood, Into the Eye of the Setting Sun.

Contributed by Don Rivara submitted by Brenda W. 2009

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