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Dr. John McLoughlin
Punishment of Indians


The policy of the Company, as well as that of Dr. McLoughlin, was to keep Americans, especially traders, out of all the Oregon Country. The difference was that he believed that they should be kept out only so far as it could be done lawfully. But he did not allow them to be harmed by the Indians, and, if the Americans were so harmed, he punished the offending Indians, and he let all Indians know that he would punish for offenses against the Americans as he would for offenses against the British and the Hudson's Bay Company. Personally he treated these rival traders with hospitality. In his early years in Oregon on two occasions he caused an Indian to be hanged for murder of a white man. In 1829, when the Hudson's Bay Company's vessel, William and Ann, was wrecked on Sand Island, at the mouth of the Columbia River, and a part of her crew supposed to have been murdered and the wreck looted, he sent a well armed and manned schooner and a hundred voyageurs to punish the Indians.

Jedediah S. Smith was a rival trader to the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1828 all his party of eighteen men, excepting four, one of which was Smith, were murdered by the Indians, near the mouth of the Umpqua River. All their goods and furs were stolen. These four survivors arrived at Fort Vancouver, but not all together. They were all at the point of perishing from exhaustion and were nearly naked. All their wants were at once supplied, and they received the kindest treatment. When the first one arrived Dr. McLoughlin sent Indian runners to the Willamette chiefs to tell them to send their people in search of Smith and his two men, and if found to bring them to Fort Vancouver, and Dr. McLoughlin would pay the Indians; and also to tell these chiefs that if Smith, or his men, was hurt by the Indians, that Dr. McLoughlin would punish them. Dr. McLoughlin sent a strong party to the Umpqua River, which recovered these furs. They were of large value. Smith at his own instance sold these furs to the Hudson's Bay Company, receiving the fair value for the furs, without deduction. Dr. McLoughlin later said of this event that it "was done from a principle of Christian duty, and as a lesson to the Indians to show them they could not wrong the whites with impunity." The effect of this Smith matter was far-reaching and long-continued. The Indians understood, even if they did not appreciate, that the opposition of Dr. McLoughlin to Americans as traders did not apply to them personally.

Dunn, in his History of the Oregon Territory, narrates the following incident: [John Dunn was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company. He came from England to Fort Vancouver, in 1830, by sea. He returned to England in 1839 or 1840. The first edition of his history was published in London in 1844.] "On one occasion an American vessel, Captain Thompson, was in the Columbia, trading furs and salmon. The vessel had got aground, in the upper part of the river, and the Indians, from various quarters, mustered with the intent of cutting the Americans off, thinking that they had an opportunity of revenge, and would thus escape the censure of the company. Dr. McLoughlin, the governor of Fort Vancouver, hearing of their intention, immediately despatched a party to their rendezvous; and informed them that if they injured one American, it would be just the same offence as if they had injured one of his servants, and they would be treated equally as enemies. This stunned them; and they relinquished their purpose; and all retired to their respective homes. Had not this come to the governor's ears the Americans must have perished."

In 1842 the Indians in the Eastern Oregon Country became alarmed for the reason that they believed the Americans intended to take away their lands. The Indians knew that the Hudson's Bay Company and its employees were traders and did not care for lands, except as incidental to trading. At this time some of the Indians desired to raise a war party and surprise and massacre the American settlements in the Willamette Valley. This could have been done easily at that time. Through the influence of Dr. McLoughlin with Peopeomoxmox (Yellow Serpent), a chief of the Cayuses, this trouble was averted. In 1845 a party of Indians went to California to buy cattle. An American there killed Elijah, the son of Peopeomoxmox. The Indians of Eastern Oregon threatened to take two thousand warriors to California and exterminate the whites there. Largely through the actions of Dr. McLoughlin the Indians were persuaded to abandon their project.

John Minto, a pioneer of 1844, in an address February 6, 1889, narrated the following incident. In 1843 two Indians, for the purpose of robbery, at Pillar Rock, in the lower Columbia, killed a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company. One of the Indians was killed in the pursuit. The other was taken, after great trouble. There was no doubt as to his guilt. In order to make the lesson of his execution salutary and impressive to the Indians, Dr. McLoughlin invited the leading Indians of the various tribes, as well as all classes of settlers and missionaries, to be present. He made the arrangements for the execution in a way best calculated to strike terror to the Indian mind. When all was ready, and immediately prior to the execution, with his white head bared, he made a short and earnest address to the Indians, showing them that the white men of all classes, Englishmen, Americans, and Frenchmen, were as one man to punish such crimes. In a technical sense Dr. McLoughlin had no authority to cause Indians to be executed or to compel them to restore stolen goods, as in the William and Ann matter and the Jedediah S. Smith case.

Under the act of Parliament of July, 1821, the courts of judicature of Upper Canada were given jurisdiction of civil and criminal matters within the Indian territories and other parts of America not within the Provinces of Lower or Upper Canada, or of any civil government of the United States. Provisions were made for the appointment of justices of the peace in such territories, having jurisdiction of suits or actions not exceeding two hundred pounds, and having jurisdiction of ordinary criminal offenses. But it was expressly provided that such justices of the peace should not have the right to try offenders on any charge of felony made the subject of capital punishment, or to pass sentence affecting the life of any offender, or his transportation-; and that in case of any offense, subjecting the person committing the same to capital punishment or to transportation, to cause such offender to be sent, in safe custody, for trial in the court of the Province of Upper Canada. As to how far this law applied to Indians or to others than British subjects or to residents of the Oregon Country under joint-occupancy, it is not necessary here to discuss. It certainly did not apply to citizens of the United States. So far as I can learn, Dr. McLoughlin was never appointed such a justice of the peace, but he caused his assistant James Douglas to be so appointed, at Fort Vancouver.

As under joint-occupancy it was doubtful if either the laws of the United States or of Great Britain were in force in the Oregon Country, it was necessary for some one to assume supreme power and authority over the Indians, in the Willamette Valley, until the Oregon Provisional Government was established, and over the remainder of the Oregon Country, at least, until the boundary-line treaty was made. It was characteristic of Dr. McLoughlin that he assumed and exercised such power and authority, until he ceased to be an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company. He did so without question. It is true that this might have been an odious tyranny under a different kind of a man. Under Dr. McLoughlin it was a kind of despotism, but a just and beneficent despotism, under the circumstances. It was a despotism tempered by his sense of justice, his mercy, his humanity, and his common-sense. No man in the Oregon Country ever knew the Indian character, or knew how to control and to manage Indians as well as Dr. McLoughlin did. The few severe and extreme measures he took with them as individuals and as tribes were always fully justified by the circumstances. To have been more lenient might have been fatal to his Company, its employees, and the early white settlers in the Oregon Country. They were of the few cases where the end justifies the means. The unusual conditions justified the unusual methods.

The Oregon Provisional Government was not a government in the true meaning of the word, it was a local organization, for the benefit of those consenting. It had no true sovereignty. And yet it punished offenders. It waged the Cayuse Indian war of 1847-8, caused by the Whitman massacre. It would have executed the murderers if it had caught them, although the scenes of the massacre and of the war were several hundred miles beyond the asserted jurisdiction of the Oregon Provisional Government. And it would have been justified in case of such executions. The war was a necessity, law or no law. Every act of punitive or vindicatory justice to the Indians by Dr. McLoughlin is greatly to his credit. These acts caused peace in the Oregon Country and were beneficial to the Indians as well as to the whites, both British and American, and, in the end, probably saved numerous massacres and hundreds of lives. Dr. McLoughlin was a very just and far-seeing man. I shall presently tell how Dr. McLoughlin saved the immigrants of 1843 from great trouble and probable massacre by the Indians.


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