The story of the Dick Johnson and Old Mummy murders of 1858, was of well known Klikitat settlers in that period. None less than the prominent and politically powerful Applegate Family who lived in Yoncalla, Oregon, were their friends and neighbors and tried to help Dick and his extended family of in-laws maintain their settlement in the Umpqua Valley. Letters from Jesse Applegate in this era were received by Territorial politicians and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, James W. Nesmith, first to help the family secure their land in the Umpqua Valley, then to help stave off the impending attacks by white settlers, and finally after the murders, there was a flurry of correspondence attempting to get the territorial and the federal officials to bring the murderers to justice. But, Indians in this time, by territorial law, could not testify in a court of law, and so there were no legitimate witnesses to testify against the murderers.
Native peoples between 1850 and 1855 could have gotten a land claim if they were dissociated with a tribe. Dick Johnson and his family did not have such a claim, only a letter from the superintendent allowing them to remain on their land. This was not enough for some of the white settlers in the Umpqua basin. As you read the following narrative you can see that the family was constantly being harassed, just because they were Indians. The Klikitat people were not originally from Oregon but were well known for coming into Oregon to hunt elk, especially on the Umpqua River. There were numerous Klikitat people who chose to break off from the main band and take up residence in the new American settlements. They normally would be laborers for the white farmers. Old Chief John who lived in locations near Oregon City and near Blue Lake, was one of these Klikitat settlers, as well as William McKay (pronounced Ma-kye) who settled in Dallas, Oregon and married a native woman of the Grand Ronde Reservation.
The writer of this narrative is Sallie Long, one of Jesse Applegate’s daughters. She was clearly intimately involved in the history of the area and was present when the events happened. It would be a future project to integrate Long’s memory here, with other Applegate accounts in letters in the future. Long is writing to the Oregon Historical Society, suggesting that George Himes, the President of the Society, use her narrative in some way. A search of the OHQ has yet to turn up a story in print associated with Long. The Reed College Bulletin, however, appears to have printed a version of the story, as well as a version in the book Jesse Applegate: A Dialogue with Destiny by Leta Lovelace Neiderhaiser.
The following is yet another story of how Tribal peoples in Oregon had no rights to freely live like other people. There were a few laws but the laws could be easily manipulated to make white settlers blameless. It did not matter if the Natives in question were assimilating, living quietly and at peace, and finding ways to integrate into American society, exactly as the Federal government wanted them to do. A few racially charged settlers could still take whatever actions they wanted and destroy the native peoples and take their lands without any worries of being held responsible for their actions. Its is startling that this story, and those of the multitudes of other native peoples who had the same treatment in the West, is not being taught in our history books as US history.
The family consisted of Dick Johnson and his wife and two (I Think) little children- his sister- (name I think was Eliza) and her husband “Jim” and her little son (four or five years old) old “Lemyei” Dick’s mothers and her husband- not Dick’s father- “Old Mummy”. These were very old people- some one had named him “Old Mummy” and told him it meant a “very old person” which name was then accepted in good faith by the simple kindly old fellow. We sincerely liked the Johnson family- Mamma always enjoyed a visit from “Old Lemyei” very much- and the young woman Eliza was very intelligent talked easily- was clean and neat, in person and dress, Dick’s squaw who was an Umpqua was inferior to the others in appearance and intelligence. “Old Lemyei” like a true mother in-law did not think her good enough “Cultus Cloochman Hilloo amy Tillacum” She was young, fat and sleek looking, liked red handkerchiefs and shawls- beads etc.- Lemyei in spite of her age was straight, tall, and lean, walked with a long, strong step, wore always upon her head a little conical shaped basket from below which, her long straight hair , mixed with white, hung down her back. I don’t remember ever seeing it braided, but it was tied back with a leather string sometimes, once there were big red and blue beads on the ends of this string which took my fancy, and the old woman noticed me looking at them- so she said to Mamma “Nica-ticka saplil pe musum gleese- ict tenas me Cloochman ticka nica beads- Spose close-copa mica?” Which meant that if Mamma was willing, that she would give me the beads- and I should get her a piece of bread and butter- Sapalil pe musum gleese- The exchange was made. They were the kindliest, friendly people I ever knew, never obtrusive, never saucy, very industrious, very honest, every promise was kept, every debt was paid. My father kept a little store, and they bought a good many things for which they paid promptly- dressed deerskins were a legal tender, smoked venison, wild nuts and berries, all members of the family worked. Their little farm was not by any means the best land then unoccupied, it was away from any of the white settlers in a little nook in the hills where it would not seem that it would be coveted by anyone. They had 2 little log cabins some log outhouses for their horses- and fowls- all made by themselves, a small field where they raised wheat for their bread, and the oats for their horses- a nice little orchard, with peach and apple trees in bearing. Their desire to be like white people was intense, and every kind of useful plant, seed, or shrub, that was given them, was carefully planted, and tended. When the first gooseberries came on their bushes, they took samples of them to their white friends with the utmost pride and gratitude. They went to their grain fields step by step and pulled out all injurious weeds from amongst the growing crop- such as tarweed, thistles etc.- no one had such nice clean crops. The women asked to be taught the secret of making patch work quilts, which they greatly admired, and with the patient persistence for which they are renowned mastered, and practiced, this very laborious and useless art- that is I mean the two young women – Eliza and Mary- Old Lemyei made no attempt to imitate the mechanical arts of the white man. While the two young women wore the fashions of their white sisters and attended church (they were great church people) in ruffles and collars and cuffs.
Old Lemyei stalked about in her red blanket and basket head dress- an Indian. Strolling Methodists were the most frequent teachers of religion- in those early days. They visited us about once a month. The Indians usually attended meeting. I don’t know how much they understood of the sermons- but they liked the music which was altogether vocal- every body singing at once. Many Ideas are the children of custom- and I who have spent a life time on the outskirts of civilization- still believe that the truest worship went up from little log cabins of the Pioneers, borne on the voices of those untrained singers. That was before we learned to praise with a machine.
The Indians bought leather and made their own harness- in imitation of that used by their neighbors- learned their little ponies to work. Mrs. “Jim” acquired a side saddle and rode like her white sisters- Mrs. Dick tried it but as she always had a “pappoose” to carry- gave up the idea. But “Old Lemyei” rode her Indian saddle with a foot on each side till the end. The Indian saddle was queer looking affair- made of undressed hide stretched over a wooden frame the principal part of which was a forked stick.
Dick came often and consulted with my father in regard to his affairs- and my father wrote letters on his behalf to the different Indian agents- who gave him permits to stay on his little farm. But they did not seem to have power to protect him in the enjoyment of his labor, or to avenge his murder. The Constitution of Oregon at that time did not permit an Indian to become a witness- and the only witnesses of the murder of Dick Johnson and Old Mummy were their women and children- Jim was away from home.
Old man Canady coveted the little farm, more from the improvements than the value of the land- for at that time there were thousands of acres of vacant land in this county- better in location and quality than this- he ordered the Indians to vacate a number of times- and threatened them. My father advised Dick to be very careful to give no plausible cause of complaint and explained to him his defenseless condition but with his letters from the agents and his strict avoidance of offense he hoped to overcome the enmity of his foe. Different acts of aggression were committed against him to provoke some word or deed which could be seized as an excuse. On one occasion a big white brute John Marshal- jumped onto “Old Mummy” at Camp Meeting and beat him cruelly because he was an “Injun” – a circumstance for which the poor old fellow was not entirely to blame- as he had not been allowed any choice in that matter. It was expected that Dick would resent this outrage- and no doubt he wanted to do so, but he realized its purpose, as did “Old Mummy” himself.
It was early one evening that the murder was committed. The twilight was just coming- Old Mummy was the first of the family to be killed, he was out in front of the house cutting some wood to start the fire- and the first shot was fired at him through his back. He fell forward across the stick of wood- and was found there by those who came to bury them. Dick on hearing the shot run out of the cabin and seeing at once what had happened- tore open his shirt and turned his naked bosom towards the murderers, saying “shoot if you wish it!” They shot him at once.
[Jesse Applegate’s accounts state that it was Dick who chopping wood and was shot first and found slumped over the wood, and Mummy second and Jim was shot at and grazed by the bullet which killed his horse. There were eight men in the posse, three of whom hid in the woods and five confronted the Johnsons, the first stated he was Nesmith (James Nesmith, Superintendent of Oregon Indians), which Dick knew was a lie. Charlotte Blake, Jesse Applegate: His Attitude Toward the Oregon Indians, Reed College Bulletin, November 1942]
The women and children fled to a little gully or ravine close by and hid in it- but I think no attempt was made to hurt them. “Jim” arrived home in time to see something of the matter but too far away to interfere in any way. He was unarmed and I suppose afraid. He hid from the party of murderers and as soon as he got a chance made a run for the house. He was shot at but not hurt. Soon as they were gone he gathered the women and children together and took them to the house of some friends R. Smith in Yoncalla valley. A party of settlers gathered at once when the word came to them. Went to the place and held an inquest. My father was one of these. The Indians lived in Rice valley south and west of Yoncalla Valley.
I remember my father telling that at the Inquest Old Lemyei stripped the shirt from “old Mummy’s” back and sitting down beside the body placed one finger on the bullet hole then pointed it straight at the face of an old man present- and said in plain jargon [Chinuk wawa] “Your son did this”- “The old man shook like a person with ague.” My father said- This was old man Allen- John Allen the son lives near Drain at present, the only one of the murderers band that is left. There was an attempt to bring the murderers to justice, but there were no witnesses to the deed who were permitted to give testimony. And the ashes were not cold upon the desolated hearth stone, when one of them, moved into the little cabin. There was a nice little field of grain growing two fat pigs in the pen- wheat and oats in the barn- hay in the little stable- chickens and geese- several cows. The friends of the Indians protected them in removing all movable property and live stock- but “Jim” a cowardly fellow would not attempt to live on the farm- and the family finally went to the Reservation and finally back to the same savage condition from which Dick had made such heroic efforts to rise.
What I have written you is my impression and memories when I get some accounts from the old people that I shall visit as I have time- I will write them to you, just as they are given me- perhaps they will not agree with what I have written in all respects. You will be judge and jury.
Lemyei, Dick and Jim’s wife, were Clickitats- Mummy perhaps the same. Lemyei told my mother that Dicks father was a “skookum Tyee” [Strong chief]. That he was killed in war. That she and her children became the property, or slaves of his conquerors, another chief, or tribe. That she hated her new owners. That Mummy helped her to escape with her children- and she never returned to her people. But once she and Mummy were gone for several months- some where north- when they returned she told my mother that she had been to visit her “Illahee.” [land]
Further records suggest that the family did indeed go to the Grand Ronde Reservation, likely for protection from this type of treatment. Dick’s wife Lemyei died there in the early 20th century.
From the Meacham Collection at the Oregon Historical Society.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.