A Startling History of the Cascades Indians, 1855-1862

On March 26, 1856, a year after the Willamette Valley treaty is negotiated (Jan. 22, 1855) there is an uprising on the Columbia near the Cascades. There are numerous versions of the story,  but it is associated  as an extension of the Yakima Indian Wars, where  Klickitat and Yakima and perhaps some Cascades Indians were upset with the Americans and killed some of them in a series of attacks on settlements and outposts on the Columbia River. The Yakima leader Kamiakin was upset about the invasion of his country and wanted to drive the Americans from the Columbia. The Klickitats were upset because they had not gotten a treaty for their lands, and many of the Klickitats felt that their recent occupation of the Columbia and apparent conquest of the the Willamette Valley meant they deserved a treaty.

Fort Rains, North Cascades, University of Washington Libraries
Fort Rains, North Cascades, University of Washington Libraries

This situation was created after epidemics wiped out a good portion of the Indians in the region. From 1829 to the mid-1840s numerous epidemics, mainly malaria, served to depopulate many areas, leaving room for other tribes and settlers to move in and begin claiming village sites for their own. The Chinook tribes though, maintained at the treaty negotiations that they owned the whole of the Columbia, and they were agreed with by the Americans. Sometime later, Klickitats tried to sue for land rights in Oregon, but their lawsuit failed and the Indian agents forced them back into Washington Territory.

The most dramatic event was the capture and hanging of the Cascade leaders at the Cascades, the first such in the region.  After the Cascades attack and their repulsion by the army, the Klickitats and Yakima Indians went back north and some of the Yakimas even went into British Columbia to escape the Americans. The Cascades were left to take the fall for the actions of many, and some say that they were not involved at all. The trial of the Cascade leaders consisted of checking to see if the guns had been fired recently. Lieutenant Philip Sheridan was responsible for bringing the Cascades to their trial, and later became the commander in charge of the Grand Ronde Agency Blockhouse.

The Cascades were imprisoned on an island in the Columbia and the army held a trial. The leaders of the Cascades were hung, shot, and one of them imprisoned. The elimination of the Cascade leaders took all of the leadership from the tribe, including the treaty signers, who had just signed the treaty the previous year. After the hangings, all previous plans for removal of the Cascades to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation were changed. The conflict at the Cascades caused some Americans to react in anger murdering a family of Cascade Indians sometime later.

Some histories suggest that the Cascades were removed to the temporary White Salmon Reservation, upriver.  Then when White Salmon was closed, the Cascades were removed again, this time to Yakima.  The mass removal of the whole tribe did not happen.

The history of removal to White Salmon and Yakima is incorrect for most of the tribe. What occurred instead is an anomaly in Indian history. Most of the Cascades were left where they lived as they were determined to be peaceful. Their leadership removed, the federal government went about changing the boundaries of the various areas of Indian administration. Isaac Stevens was appointed the Indian superintendent of eastern Washington. There were also superintendents for western Oregon and for the area east of the Cascades. The dividing lines were the crest of the Cascades and the Columbia River. Those Cascades at Dog River, now called Hood river, were a separate tribe and many of them eventually removed to Warm Springs. The Chief at the time did not like the Wasco people and did not want to move to Warm Springs, but many eventually did. The Cascades on the north bank was in Washington Territory and Isaac Stevens and the Army ordered them to remain as they were peaceful.

The Cascades at the rapids, now Cascade Locks have their own unique history. Those Cascades were on the southeastern bank of the Columbia and were in the western Oregon superintendency. Between January and March 1856 Palmer was ordering the tribes to remove to Grand Ronde. The order for the Cascades to remove came a few days after the battle took place. There is as yet no record of that journey. It is possible the some of the Cascades remained living on the Columbia and Some removed to Grand Ronde. Palmer’s journal entries for March 1856 suggest he was operating between the Dalles and Vancouver and was ordering the tribes to remove them. One entry states “ordered the local tribes to the reservation”.   One family has now been found to have come to Grand Ronde in the early period. That family lost a son at Willamette Falls, he drowned fishing. His father comes from Grand Ronde and asks for help to bury his son from the chief at the Cascades. It is unclear in the record who this man was at this time and it is likely the families of the Cascades were censused under the Clackamas tribes. The Tribal census for 1872 lists Susan Tamolcha and family at Grand Ronde. Members of the Cascades tribe have said this is the wife of Chief Tumulth. In the Grand Ronde Passbook Oregon City John travels off the reservation with a “Susan” who is an older woman,  several times.


The Army at this time was more concerned with fighting eastern Washington and eastern Oregon tribes and did not have the manpower to move the tribes. A few Cascades were able to gain allotments at Yakima and some of them married the upriver tribes and integrated with the Wasco and Wishram peoples. But it appears that the Cascades remained in their original territory unless they married into a tribe on a reservation. The census records of the reservation at this time do not always list names or tribal designation (at least 27-48 tribes moved to Grand Ronde) so it difficult to find people of some tribes on the reservation.

Most of the tribal nations were much like city-states.  Villages and bands had their own sovereignty, and some groups of villages or bands were part of a larger tribe. And due to marriage laws in the tribes, people of high rank were forced to marry outside of their tribe and family. So there were many interrelations between all of the tribes in the region. Chief Concomly himself married his daughters and sisters to many other tribal chiefs and fur traders in the area helping him create good relations among all of the tribes and thus making him very rich. One of his daughters was married to Chief Keasno of the Multnomah. After Concomly, Keasno was probably the most powerful chief on the Columbia from the Pacific to the Cascades. He died in 1848 and a surviving wife, Mary Ann Keasno, was brought to the Grand Ronde Reservation with several of her attendants (slaves) in 1856. We know that Chief Keasno had relatives among the Cascades. Alexander Henry’s journal reveals Keasno’s deep relations in 1812 when Keasno participated in negotiation for peace at the Cascades.  Afterward, he has a gathering with his family, who were the Cascades, on the north bank.

The Cascades were well-positioned to capture the trade between the upper river tribes and the lower river tribes. Lewis and Clark’s journals reveal that there were many traders from other tribes in the villages they stopped at. So relationships and political kinships were extremely important to the Chinookan tribes. This helped to keep all of the Chinook tribes in possession of the Columbia River. They fought off those tribes that coveted their great wealth until they were overwhelmed by American settlements. many assimilated into the Columbia river community and others went to reservations.

The events of the battle of the Cascades in March of 1856 precluded the government from removing them. It is unclear if they were ever paid for their lands, or that they ever got the services and support promised to them by the government when they ceded their lands by signing the treaty of January 22, 1855, which was ratified March 3, 1856.

17 thoughts on “A Startling History of the Cascades Indians, 1855-1862

  1. Speaking of the Klickitat…are there any good books on Klickitat history and culture of the middle 19th century? Many years ago my dad became interested in the case of a Klickitat man who was known in English as Dick Johnson, who married an Upper Umpqua woman and built up his own farm somewhere in modern day Douglas County. Jealous white neighbors murdered him for his land. Johnson has been a bit of a puzzle to me – why did he decide to live somewhere far from his own kin, except for a few of his Umpqua in laws? I’ve wanted to try to learn a bit more about him and the times he was living in. My dad wrote about it here: http://yachats.info/history/indigenous/HISTORY/DICK_JOHNSON.pdf

  2. Dear Mr. Lewis, My husband is Cliffford Marley Fite,great great great grandson of chief Tumulth. I know you are aware of the injustices of the Grand Ronde Tribal Committee. It breaks my heart for my husbands family to have so much history rooted in the Columbia Gorge Reigon, an undisputed descendant of the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty Signer. but because of the actions of a few he and our children have no place to call home as Native Americans. My entire family dis-enrolled because we could not prove he ever lived on the reservation which did not exist at the time of his hanging by Gen.Phillip Sheridan. My husband the descendant of 3 chiefs two on his grand fathers side one on his grandmothers, but yet he has no tribe to be a part of.This is a real shame and a huge injustice! Any other facts that you learn would be appreciated! Debbie Fite, Choctaw #1452nb

  3. Thank you for the interesting and informative reading.
    It is hard to find information about the White Salmon Reservation. For many years I had known that the Joslyns of White Salmon had been burned out during the Cascade uprising of 1856. History states that they moved from the area for a few years.
    Last year I was “startled” to learn that the reason they moved was because the United States Army had turned their farm into a reservation headquarters. A blockhouse was erected and Agent A. Townsend was in charge.
    Some government letters state the reservation was for Indians from the Vancouver area and for those who were afraid of Kamiakin. The letters claim there is plenty of ground for the Indians to support themselves and their livestock and the U.S. Government will help with supplies.
    Eventually, much of their livestock starved and died and the Native Americans themselves were starving since the government did not supply the needed food. Many of them gave up and moved to the Yakama Reservation.
    In 1856 Agent Townsend wrote: “The reservation lies in the Klikatat country, between the Klikatat and White Salmon rivers, a distance of fifteen miles along the Columbia river, and extending back to the La Camas prairie about twenty miles,….
    The country is well adapted for Indian use—containing within itself an abundance of wild roots, berries, game, and salmon–while it is poorly adapted for agricultural purposes; is very mountainous; while a short distance back from the Columbia river, owing to elevation, frosty nights prevail most of the summer….”
    That is a pretty good description of the area. The winters must have been devastating for the Native Americans who tried to live on this reservation.
    The White Salmon Reservation was eventually abandoned and Mr. Joslyn had to go to court to receive the money he was promised for the use of his land.

  4. I’m a bit confused about the Cascade uprising and the hangings. You mentioned trial and hanging in Oregon City but later say they were hung on the island where they were kept. Is there a record of the trial? It seems that if Sheridan presided over a trial it would be military and likely at Fort Vancouver. I believe the one native kept prisoner was held there if I remember what I read. I know the story passed down by the Tumulth descendants and would like to know more details of the independent history that intersects their history.

    You also didn’t mention that the tribes on the North side of Columbia from the Cascades downstream never got ratified treaties. that may be an additional piece of why those Cascades that resettled in Washington were allowed to live peacefully.

  5. As a descendant of the Cascades and growing up in the Gorge I can guarantee without a doubt, that not only was Sheridan responsible for the murder of Chief Tumulth and elders of our tribe but the treaty they had signed earlier was destroyed and not one Cascade native received any compensation for stripping these peaceful people of their leaders or land.

  6. Hello,
    My name is Erin Woody Samples. My 4th Great grandfather was Chief Chenuwuth of the Cascade indians who was killed by hanging and shot. My grandmother until she passed in 1984 had land on the Yakima reservation. I am not sure how she came to have it. I do know that when she passed my father, his two brothers and half sister gave it back to the Yakima tribe.

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