Indians and Whites Clash on the Oregon Trail
Pioneers on the Oregon Trail traveled through Indian country. While some of these encounters were peaceful, many were violent. Newspapers at the time printed lurid accounts of “bloodthirsty savages” attacking peaceful families, but occasionally a different point of view was presented. Such is the case with the following letter, printed in the July 26, 1852, issue of the Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri):
[From a letter to the editors written from the Oregon Territory on March 25, 1852]
…it is absolutely necessary that emigrants should travel in compact bodies, and keep constantly on the alert, to prevent not only being robbed, but murdered. During the summer of 1851, scarcely a train of emigrants passed that part of the route without being in some way annoyed by the Indians.
I was informed, by gentlemen who came through with the last of the immigration, that thirty-two persons had been killed, and a number wounded by the Indians, among them several women and children.
…But unfortunately the conduct of a few reckless and unprincipled white men has excited among them the strongest passion of an Indian—revenge. On one occasion, an emigrant charged an Indian with stealing his horse, and immediately shot him down. The horse was found a few minutes afterwards, having strayed a short distance; and the murderer was told he had acted too hastily. He replied “Well there is one damned Indian out of the way.”
A few days after, a party consisting of three men and one woman passed the same place. The Indians attacked them, killed the woman and two of the men; the third man escaped only by the fleetness of his horse. It frequently occurs, that an Indian is tied up and whipped most unmercifully by white men, simply on the supposition that he wants to steal something or has stolen something. The first is, with many, as sufficient a cause as the latter. It is almost invariably the case that the Indian thus flogged kills some unoffending white afterwards, because he looks upon himself as disgraced, and his people hold him to be so until he is avenged; and as he cannot treat the white man as he has been treated by him, he substitutes the rifle for the whip, and in every instance the innocent have suffered for the guilty.
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