Book Review: Correspondence Relating To The Massacre of Immigrants

Correspondence Relating To The Massacre of Immigrants: By the Snake Indians, in August, 1854

I am frequently on the lookout for the daily books published by Forgotten Books that they offer for free, as they can occasionally provide an excellent reading experience.  As someone who has read a great deal about the territorial period and early statehood of my present area of residence [1], I found this book to be very interesting and worthwhile, as it provides a delicate set of correspondence related to an attack by Snake Indians on a group of settlers during the late summer of 1854 and the immediate consequences of that attack.  For those who like reading letters–and I must admit a certain fondness for reading the letters of others–this book provides an interesting perspective of the nuanced and complicated perspective of civil and political authorities in an atmosphere of emigration and settlement where boundaries are in a great deal of flux.  This is an example of a book where one would want to read even more material, and to wish that this was a more complete volume rather than a collection of excerpts, because they are intensely revealing of a variety of divides that still exist within the Pacific Northwest.

The contents of this book are somewhere around 25 pages of letters written in second half of 1854, and they are from a variety of people.  The letters between with the melancholy relation of a massacre just outside of Fort Boise, followed by the territorial governor calling up two companies of mounted volunteers as part of a posse comitas and seeking logistical support from the local regulars, who stoutly refused to offer any help, after which the companies were disbanded and the territorial governor sent some fierce letters back to Washington about the laziness of the regulars and the perfidious nature of the remaining English traders of the Northwest Company in the Oregon Territory.  The aftermath appears to be quite an anticlimax, as some regular troops from Fort Hall and the Dalles are sent to pursue the Snake Indians, a spring campaign is planned, and a bright and ambitious officer is sent to be an agent in the remote territory of Eastern Oregon and Washington, presumably in order to prevent a recurrence of the melancholy events written of here.  The letters are the sort that would make the rich material for a historical novel and give a complicated picture of people who are struggling to get along.

Particularly revealing is the divide between several different parties.  The territorial governor represents settlers looking to increase their land holding while also desirous of avoiding conflict with the local tribes or having to spend much money.  The regular soldiers have their own habits and resent the intrusion of bloodthirsty civilian volunteers into their affairs.  In addition, there are British citizens on the forts that had been a part of the trade empire of the Northwest Company that were engaging in trade that was slandered by Americans looking to find cause of muscling the British merchants out of the trading posts along the Oregon trail.  The overall picture is complicated and the letters demonstrate the fault lines between the parties as one reads of accusations and counterclaims and efforts at self-defense that also pay at least lip service to the honor that is due to tribes and to the difficulties of dealing with the lower elements of American society.  For those who want to get a brief but powerful picture of the different perspectives of important territorial Oregonians concerning a massacre in their own words through their letters, this brief book is an immensely worthwhile little book that deserves to be better remembered.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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