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Yakama tribesmen slay Indian Subagent Andrew J. Bolon near Toppenish Creek on September 23, 1855.

HistoryLink.org Essay 8118 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 23, 1855, three Yakima tribesmen slay U.S. Indian Subagent Andrew Jackson Bolon in what will become Klickitat County. Bolon is investigating the killing of white miners by Yakima tribesmen. (Note: In 1994 the then-named Yakima Tribe changed the spelling of its name back to the original form, the Yakama Tribe.)  The slain miners were among the prospectors for gold who had flooded through the Yakima Reservation on their way to goldfields on the Upper Columbia.  The killing of Bolon will help trigger war between Native American tribes and white settlers and the U.S. government.

Context of 1855

Andrew Bolon was Indian Subagent reporting to Indian Agent James Doty at the time of the Walla Walla Council in May and June 1855. He was tall, athletic, and sported bright red hair and a red beard. Kamiakin (ca. 1804-1877) of the Yakima signed a treaty with the U.S. government ceding title of vast lands in exchange for a reservation and cash. Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862) assigned Bolon responsibility for the triangular Yakima Reservation, which ran from the crest of the Cascades on the west, and Ahtanum Creek and the Yakima River on the north and east. Bolon spent the summer meeting tribal leaders and familiarizing himself with the territory.

One feature of the treaty not stressed with the tribes was that until the treaties were ratified by the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., whites were free to settle on reservation land. The Indians understood from Stevens that the treaties protected their lands. The whites understood from Stevens that the lands were open for settlement. In the June 21, 1855, issue of The Oregonian (Portland) in which  Stevens announced the treaties (even though they still had to be ratified by the Senate), there appeared an announcement that gold had been discovered in the Colville region of the upper Columbia. Prospectors began to flood into the Northwest across the passes and up the Columbia River to get to the new diggings. This put them across Yakima lands, where they victimized Indians and some Indian women -- one the disabled daughter of Chief Teias -- on the way.

Indian Responses

Many among the tribes of the Columbia Basin resented Stevens's manner and felt that he had forced upon them treaties that took from them their homelands. Kamiakin solicited support among the inland tribes -- Walla Walla, Palouse, Cayuse, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Wenatchee, and others -- to resist the whites. The Yakima chief also sent emissaries across the mountains to Puget Sound tribes with whom the Yakimas shared many family ties. For the most part, the inland tribes did not join the Yakima resistance, but many individuals rode to the Yakima country to fight the invaders. The appearance of men from various tribes led Army officers and Indian agents to believe that Kamiakin had organized a vast confederacy to annihilate the whites.

The Yakima chiefs were divided as well on how to respond to the white incursions and depredations. Kamiakin headed a war faction, which saw how the Indians of the Willamette Valley were degraded by white settlement. He was opposed by Teias and So-happy. Owhi agreed to war only if attacked.

With Kamiakin's encouragement, Qualchan, a son of Ohwi, and some confederates -- Ap-po-len-i, Soh-tel-ah, Sim-mi-en, Tul-i-tu, and Tam-tu-ah-an -- set out to punish miners. They found six miners -- L. O. Merilet, J. C. Avery, Eugene Barier, Charles Walker, and a Mr. Jamieson -- near where Wenas Creek entered the Yakima River and killed them. The warriors then caught and killed Henry Matisse (Mattic) and O. M. Eaton after they had crossed Snoqualmie Pass. Matisse was believed to be the assailant of Teias’s daughter.

Rumors of these killings reached Subagent Bolon in The Dalles and he left there on September 20, 1855, to investigate. In the Yakima country his friend Chief Shumaway (Kamiakin's younger brother) convinced Bolon that Qualchan posed a serious danger and that Bolon should return to The Dalles. Bolon accepted this advice and turned back.

Accounts differ as to Bolon's reputation among the Yakimas. Some historians describe his good relations with the Chief Shumaway (Showawai Kotiaken or Ice) as representative of his relations with the entire tribe, but others cite evidence that the agent was despised by Kamaikin and his allies.

The Killing of Bolon

On his way back to The Dalles, Bolon encountered Shumaway's son Mosheel (Me-chiel) and some other Indians who were on their way to Celilo Falls for dried salmon. According to eyewitness Su-el-il, Mosheel sought revenge against Bolon, who had a role in executing Mosheel's Cayuse relatives after the Cayuse War of 1847. One tribal account recorded by white interviewers held that Mosheel was jealous of Qualchan's status as the killer of whites. Still a third story places blame on Kamiakin, who got Mosheel to kill Bolon to prevent the agent from carrying word of the miners' deaths and to delay the inevitable war until after winter.

Mosheel convinced Wap-pi-wa-pi-clah, So-qiekt, and Stok-an-chan (Stah-kin) to help him kill Bolon. At a spring called Wahk-shum the Indians stopped to eat and to warm themselves at a fire. Bolon shared his food with them. While Bolon warmed himself at the fire,  Wap-pi-wap-pi-clah grabbed him from behind  and wrestled him to the ground. Bolon cried out in Chinook Jargon, “Do not kill me. I did not come to fight you!” (McWhorter, 28). Mosheel cut his throat with a knife. The Indians buried Bolon’s body and killed his gray horse.

Mosheel's father, Showaway, was horrified when he heard of the act. He advocated to the rest of the chiefs that the killers, one his own son, be turned over to the whites. The council refused.

News of Bolon's death reached Brevet Major Granville O. Haller (1819-1897) at Fort Dalles by way of a woman sent by Shumaway. (Historians for the Palouse Tribe say word came from Deschutes tribesmen dispatched by Indian Agent Olney when Bolon went missing.) Haller and his superiors at Fort Vancouver organized a military response, which became known as the Yakima War. Qualchan was hanged by soldiers for Bolon’s murder without a trial in 1858. Mosheel was betrayed to soldiers at Fort Simcoe in 1859. The soldiers went to arrest him at his tepee on lower Satus Creek and shot and killed him as he tried to escape. Wah-pi-wah-pi-lah and Stah-kin were hanged by at Fort Simcoe.

Sources:
Ray H. Glassley, Indian Wars of the Pacific Northwest (Portland: Binfords & Mort, [1953], 1972), 112-113; Kent D. Richards, Isaac I. Stevens: Young Man in a Hurry (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1979), 235-237; Robert H. Ruby and John H. Brown, The Cayuse Indians: Imperial Tribesmen of Old Oregon (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 207; T. G. Knudsen, Warrior of the Mist: A Biography of Qualchan Chief Owhi's Son (Spokane: The Author, 1996), 111-154; Clifford E. Trafzer and Richard Scheuerman, Renegade Tribe: The Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Inland Pacific Northwest (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1986), 60-63; H. Dean Guie, Tribal Days of the Yakimas (Yakima: Republic Publishing Company, 1937), 29-31; Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, Tragedy of the Wahk-Shum: The Death of Andrew J. Bolon, Yakima Indian Agent, As told by Su-el-lil, Eyewitness (Issaquah: Great Eagle Publishing Company, 1994), 5-32.


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left to right, Andrew Jackson Bolon, Curtis Short, Henry C. Morse, ca. 1850
Courtesy Anita Keller


 
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