The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


Famous Indian Chiefs


I HAPPENED to know a Umatilla scout who bore the English name of Cut-Mouth John. The Umatilla tribe of Indians to which John belonged lived along the upper waters of the great Columbia River. This country, called the "up-river country," is used also by the Cayuses, Walla Wallas, and other Columbia River Indians. There were many of them on the lands called reservations, and many others roaming about everywhere, far and near, like herds of wild horses on the great prairies of the West where there were no fences to stop them.

I was then living in Portland, Oregon, and all the soldiers in that part of the country watered by the great western rivers, were under my command. I was to use the soldiers to keep peace all the time between the white inhabitants and the roaming red men. The whites were mostly farmers, cattle raisers, and shepherds, who had made their homes in all the rich valleys, along the streams of water, and on the beautiful hills and green slopes of the mountains. These people wanted all the good land to pasture their herds and flocks; and the red men wanted the same land for hunting and for feeding their ponies and for gathering for themselves things which grew without sowing or planting, such as camas, the wild onions, the berries, and the fruits of trees. There for many years the red men had found acres and acres of "bunch" grass which made their ponies lively and fat. But the white men, when they came, put tip fences, bars, and gates. These the red men, when they came along every spring, tore down and kept saying: "This land is ours. Our fathers had it before any white men came to this country."

"Uncle Sam" then sent Colonel Watkins from Washington to Oregon and to the "up-river country" to talk with the red men, and to settle the troubles which everywhere had sprung up.

I went with him on a large steamer up the Columbia. The steamer could go only to the Cascades. Here we changed to a train of cars for a few miles, going past some foaming rapids as far as Celilo. There we had a smaller steamer which bore us through smooth water forty miles to the Dallas, a small village near that part of the Columbia where it tumbles foaming and roaring over more narrow rocky rapids. People say the river here is "on edge." Colonel Watkins, Captain Wilkinson, and I crossed to the north side of the Columbia and then went by rough roads over a broad shaggy mountain. We had with us an Indian Chief, Skemiah, and his son, eight years old. I had taken them from prison and set them free upon Skemiah's promise of obedience to Uncle Sam's laws in the future. When well over the mountain we found the rich prairie, vast in extent and covered with the pretty cabins of the red men. It was called the Simcoe Reservation, and the agent, tall as Abraham Lincoln, was called Father Wilbur. So the red men were named Simcoe Indians, the most of whom looked like our farmers dressed in clothing such as white men wear; but a few in one corner of the reservation still had on blankets and skins of animals. Father Wilbur called them Blanket Indians,—these few were the restless roamers. Skemiah was their chief, and they were happy to see him again, and seemed more pleased when the lad, his son, rode among them having on a pretty cap and a bright belt.

Colonel Watkins and Father Wilbur called in many red men far and near for a meeting, so that we had a "big pow-wow." Smoholly, Moses, Indian Thomas, One-Eyed John, Young Chief of the Umatillas, and his friend the famous scout, named Cut-Mouth John, came together to meet us and many Simcoe Indians near Father Wilbur's house,—each chief had with him a few of his tribesmen.

It proved to be a great meeting; a council
where white men and red men for two whole days spoke their minds to one another, and this gathering had the good result of keeping nearly all the Indians who were north of the Columbia away from those terrible Nez Perces who were about to go on the war-path.

The next day after the council in a nice large wagon drawn by good-sized mules, Watkins, Wilkinson, and I, escorted by Chief Stwyre and several Simcoes mounted on ponies, went across the prairie, through the white settlements north of Simcoe, and then followed the sluggish Yakima River eastward for miles to its mouth, where it ran into the Columbia. Cut-Mouth John and two or three of Smoholly's men had come on with our escort. When others, becoming weary, left us for their homes, they stayed with us all day. Smoholly and his Indians had hastened on before us and crossed the broad Columbia in canoes before our arrival a little after sunset. Wilkinson became very ill. The mules and driver were too tired to go further. Wallula, the steamboat landing from which I had to go up the Snake River to Lewiston to see the Nez Perces, was twenty miles below.

I thought I might go down the river in a small boat. At first the brave John and two red men offered to swim a half mile across the Columbia and get a boat, but I would not allow them to risk that. Then they gave the Indian "whoop" several times and when an answer came from the other shore they cried in Indian: "Send a boat for the white chiefs." Smoholly, across the river, had one made ready. After some delay two stalwart Indians could he heard paddling over what proved to be a long log dug-out, rather old and the worse for too much water soaking. Watkins and I ate our supper; Wilkinson being at first too ill to eat. We fixed a bed for him and placed him in the bottom of the dug-out. Cut-Mouth John took the steering paddle, and the other two crouched near the middle of the boat, paddling skilfully when necessary in the rapid river, while Colonel Watkins and I placed ourselves in front to watch the water, the shores, and the abundant stars in a cloudless sky. Pambrun, the interpreter, enabled us to talk with the Indians, and helped when necessary to manage our strange craft. It was a very dangerous and exciting passage. We ran into many dark eddies, avoided the small islands, and coursed swiftly through the Homily Rapids, roaring frightfully enough to disturb our nerves.

As we passed the mouth of the Snake River we shot into smoother water with the wind—the current and the Indian paddles giving us the speed of a railroad train, though not the jar. About two o'clock the next morning just as the dawn was appearing we reached the steamer landing at Wallula. The deck-hands were just ready to haul in the gang-plank when our strange boatload of people called to them. We were soon in safety upon the steamer's deck. Wilkinson had recovered from his illness, and as soon as possible ate a hearty breakfast with Watkins and myself in the steamboat galley.

Mr. Redington, who was a messenger for me during the Indian Wars, has told me several facts about the faithful scout, Cut-Mouth John, who brought us so skilfully to safety in the ungainly dug-out. Cut-Mouth John was with our old officers long ago, campaigning in that upper country of the Snake River in pioneer days, and he thinks he was at a later period with General Sheridan in an Indian War in which the Simcoe Indians were against him. In one of those early wars, when the red men were trying to keep back the white men from taking their country, Cut-Mouth John was with our soldiers, became their friend, and remained with them all the time.

Once the Indians had made a fort on the Powder River, from which they believed that they could not be driven back. The scout John was a guide to our men. When he came near the fort he saw his own brother over there inside of the trenches, and he called to him with all his might to come out and leave those angry red men. But his brother said: "No, I will shoot you, John, if you come another step my way."

John was too brave to yield to his brother, so he led the charge upon the barricade. His brother kept his word and fired at him. The bullet only cut his lip or cheek, but disfigured him badly for life. The fort was captured and our soldiers praised John for his fearless conduct.

Cut-Mouth John was one of my scouts in the beautiful Blue Mountains during the Piute and Bannock war of 1878, and he was again with Lieutenant Farrow when he captured the red men called "Sheep Eaters," a small tribe in the Salmon River Mountains in the year 1879. Cut-Mouth John was then an old man, but he was full of life, being the last man to roll himself up in his saddle-blanket at night, and the first one, long before sun-up, to turn out in the morning.

His only reward for all his faithful service to "Uncle Sam" was to be made an Indian policeman on the Umatilla Reservation with the poor pay of five dollars a month.

Once he came down to see me in Portland a short time before he passed over to the happy hunting grounds. He came in his soldier uniform to my office. "Who is this?"—I said gently, looking up but not recognizing him, at first.


"Don't you know me, General? I am your scout, 'Cut-Mouth John.'"

I am very, very sorry that the aged scout was neglected in his old age by the red men round about him. Uncle Sam should have done more for him. He was a steadfast friend to the white men at all times, even to the end.


HOMILI, the chief of the Walla Wallas, lived in two places: a part of each year on the Umatilla Reserve with the Umatillas, Cayuses, and other Columbia River Indians who were willing to stay there with the government agent; and part of the year, indeed, the greater part of it, at what he called his home just above the steamboat landing near the hamlet of Wallula.

On the Umatilla Reserve, Homili had good land, pasturage all around for his ponies, and a good farm-house. He could raise wheat and vegetables, too, in plenty when he could make his tillicums (children and followers) work for him. But Homili was lazy and shiftless, and just managed to say "Yes, yes," to the good agent, Mr. Cornoger, and to keep a poor garden-plot, and let his many ponies run about with the herds of horses which belonged to other Indians.

I remember that the first time I saw Homili he met me at the steamboat landing. He had with him four or five very poorly dressed Indians, wearing very long, black, uncombed hair. Homili was dressed up for the occasion. He had on a cast-off army uniform buttoned to his throat, and an old stovepipe hat which had long since seen its best days. I wondered then how Homili could have found an officer's coat big enough for him, for while he was not a tall man he had so thickened up and broadened out that he looked shorter than he was. One of his tillicums could talk English a little. He was the interpreter. Homili took me in at a glance: "Heap good. Arm gone. Tillicum's friend." Homili's interpreter so delivered to me his first message. I said I was glad to see Chief Homili and that he and I would be friends!

Homili wheezed and stammered, while he laughed aloud. Homili always laughed. "Heap glad for such friend. Come over yon way and see my house and my tillicums. Homili has good heart, but poor house." Indeed his lodge, where torn canvas was flying in the wind about some crooked lodge-poles, and where squaws and children were hanging listless and idle near the opening, was a poor house. The wind was blowing as it always did near Wallula. The sky was clear and it was a bright, comfortable day in June. My aide, Captain Boyle, was with me, and we went on to Homili's lodge. He had around him without my order rough, poverty-stricken lodges or wigwams of different sizes and shapes.

Homili had a rough bench beside his lodge. He motioned us to sit down while he stood with his Indian talker in front of us. As soon as he could get his breath after our quick walk, Homili said: "This home better for Chief Homili!"

"How is that, Homili?" I asked. "Oh, Umatilla agent good man, but Umatilla Reserve makes Homili a slave. Here tillicums all free, laugh and play, shoot sage-hens, fish in the river, do what they like. All his tillicums 'heap good'!"

I understood. "Anything more. Homili ?" I inquired.

"Yes, Smoholly's my friend. He's a great Indian— Homili's friend. Umatilla agent don't want my friend, says Smoholly makes trouble. Not so, he makes my heart glad!"

That was all, and we parted good friends. He rode a small half-starved Indian pony to see me off on the little "strap railroad" that then ran eastward to Fort Walla Walla thirty miles away. From the back platform of the only passenger-coach Boyle and I waved our hats to Chief Homili, for he rode on the side of the train for half a mile. A good smart pony could have kept up with that strap-rail train all the way, but thin grass, very poor sage-brush, and the fat Homili riding, half the time, did not allow his pony either proper food or strength, so that the good, jolly chief and his mount soon fell behind what the Wallula white people called the "burro-cars." Homili, losing the race, took off his tall hat and shook it at us for a good-by, and then turned his pony back to the barren home of his choice.

The next time I came up the Columbia I stayed overnight at the Wallula Hotel. I had hardly reached my room, when I was called to the office. "Two Indians want to see the General!" so the office boy called out at my door. On entering the office I met two Indian messengers with a white man called Pambrun. Pambrun had an Indian wife, and could talk several Indian languages. He lived ten miles from Wallula toward Walla Walla, and was much respected by whites and Indians. The Indian messenger's speech was brief and clear, for Pambrum put it in good English. They had paddled across the Columbia from Smoholly's village. He wanted General Howard, the new commander of the soldiers, to come over the great river and see him and his tillicums; they had come together from
many tribes. His village was opposite the Homili Falls, above where the Snake River comes into the Columbia. I told Pambrun to tell the messenger to say to Smoholly that General Howard would remain the next day at Wallula, and that if Smoholly wished to see him during the day he could do so by coming to Wallula.

The rumor which troubled all the Indians of that up-country was that General Howard had been ordered by the Washington President to put them all on the reservations to which they belonged.

The Indians went back to Smoholly with my message, but he was afraid to put himself in my power, because he was the head and front of all the lawless bands which went roaming over the country—Indians of whom the white settlers never ceased to be afraid. Then Pambrun sent Smoholly word that "Arm-cut-off" (the name Homili gave me) was a kind man and would do him no harm. Surrounded by a multitude of harem-scarem tillicums, men, women, and children, Smoholly, the next day, early in the afternoon made his appearance at Wallula.

The tavern-keeper gave us the use of his tumble-down store-house, an immense building large enough for Smoholly and his four hundred red folks to crowd into. My aide, Smoholly, the Umatilla agent, Pambrun, and I sat upon chairs perched on a long, broad box, which the tavern-keeper loaned us for a platform. It was a wild-looking set of savages down there that I looked upon, squatted on the floor or standing by the back and sides of that roomy place. When Homili with a few followers came to honor our talk with his presence, I sent for another chair and seated him proud and laughing by my side. I took a long and searching look at Smoholly, and he did me a like favor, as if trying to read my thoughts. He was the strangest looking human being I had ever seen. His body was short and shapeless, with high shoulders and hunched back; scarcely any neck; bandy legs, rather long for his body; but a wonderful head, finely formed and large. His eyes, wide open, were clear, and so expressive that they gave him great power over all the Indians that flocked to his village. That day Smoholly wore a coarse gray suit, somewhat ragged and much soiled. Over his head was a breezy bandana handkerchief, two corners tied under his chin and the wind, coming through the cracks of the store, kept his head-cover in motion all the time.

Smoholly, who had asked me to come, was requested through Mr. Pambrun to tell General Howard what he and his followers wanted. He began his talk, using short sentences. Pambrun translated each sentence into good English. "Smoholly heard that General Howard, a great chief in war, had come to command all the soldiers. He heard also that there was a new President in Washington. Indians call him great Father. Mr. Cornoger, the Umatilla Indian agent, sent messengers to Chief Homili, Chief Thomas, Chief Skimia, and to Smoholly with words: 'Come on the reservation. All Indians come now. If you don't come before one moon, General Howard, obeying the new President, will take his soldiers and make you come to Umatilla or to some other government reserve.' Smoholly, the Spirit Chief of all the Columbia bands, who gives good medicine, who loves right and justice, now wants General Howard to tell Smoholly the Washington law."

I answered: "I did not come to the far west to make war, but to bring peace. Mr. Cornoger has the law, he takes the law to the Indians. We will listen to him."

Mr. Cornoger began: "You all know I am the Indians' friend; the law is for all the Indians to come on my reservation or some other, there are many other reservations. Why not come without trouble ?"

I said: "Homili, I am sure, can answer that question." Chief Homili hemmed and hawed, wheezed and laughed, and at last began his speech.

"Homili and his tillicums to go to Umatilla Reserve. Cornoger gives Homili leave to visit his home, the home he loves, right up there where the winds blow, where the sand flies, where the stones are piled up. Smoholly is our good friend and we like to see his face. Smoholly is wise and has a good heart. I am done."

I had no message from Washington, so I dismissed the council, saying I would write to the President what Smoholly and Homili had said. Before September nearly all the Indians came to some reservation and were quiet for some time. Homili, too, stayed more on the Umatilla Reserve, but he and his pony made frequent visits to his wigwam among the stones of Wallula.

To keep the Indians contented, Cornoger, helped by his Indian wife, induced Homili and six other Indian chiefs to go on a visit to the city of Washington. My aide, Major Boyle, took charge of the Indian Delegation on the journey both ways.

On the overland railroad he liked most the barren sands and long stretches of worthless country, better than cultivated fields, thriving villages, and prosperous cities. "Bad lands, you say; I like best, more like my sand and bushes on the Columbia," was Homili's opinion.


Homili saw the "Great Father," but laughed and stammered too much to say anything except to Pambrun: "Tell the President that Homili always has a good heart."

Homili got very tired of Washington, and was homesick all the time. He kept saying: "Monche [illustration - Chief Homili followed our train for half a mile.] tillicums, monche tillicums" (too many people). His face brightened and his laugh had a happier ring when the steamer was going out of the Golden Gate into the great Pacific Ocean. Then Homili stammered: "Home, home! me go home!" his mind's eye was on the familiar scenes of the upper Columbia, that was really "home" to him; and when the steamer had been a day or more at sea Homili caught sight of the shore two or three miles to the cast and cried, "Oh, oh, stop this boat and let Homili go over there, he wants to walk!"

When I met the fat and jolly chief again he said: "You, General Howard, may like Washington, but," shaking his head with a disgusted frown, "Homili best likes his home by the Columbia River. Stones and sands and Indian tillicums always kind, make him happy there."


THE Shoshone Indians lived long ago in the Rocky Mountains, but they have gradually moved westward until now they live on the western
side, where there are two wonderful springs which send water eastward and westward to flow into our two great oceans. The water from one [illustration - General Howard and Washakie.] flows through the Yellowstone Park to the Missouri River, and then by way of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean; while the other one flows westward into the Snake River and follows its many windings till at last it joins the Columbia, and after passing the cascades, flows smoothly for one hundred and fifty miles till it finally reaches the Pacific Ocean.

Because these Indians live on the banks of the winding Snake River they are sometimes called "Snakes," but Shoshone is their Indian name.

As long ago as 1836 Washington Irving tells us that Captain Bonneville met Shoshone Indians on his way to the Pacific Coast. Even then
 the chiefs came together, smoked the peace pipe, buried their tomahawks and made up their minds to he good, peaceable Indians.

A tribe of Indians usually takes its character from the head chief. If he is a man who cares for his people, thinks for them, and leads them, then they follow and do what he says.

Washakie was such a chief, and his people loved and followed him. He had a large country, four hundred miles square, called the Wind River Reservation, and here he grouped his Indians in small villages. At his request Uncle Sam had an army post nearby, and for many years Washakie had chosen to be the friend of the white man.

Washakie was a tall, big man with fine eyes and a great deal of hair. He spoke broken English, hut could make himself understood. He was a great eater, and it was always a mystery to me how one Indian could eat so much. He ate very politely, hut it was like a giant taking his food.

The country where these Indians lived was very cold indeed. One of the stage-drivers, John Hanson, always tied shawls around his legs before he started on a trip, and he told me once that Bill Snooks, who drove the stage before he took it, froze both his legs when it was thirty degrees below zero, and that was nothing unusual; so the Indians were glad to wear furs to keep them warm.

Now there was a great deal of gold in the mountains where these Indians lived, and Sioux, Shoshones, Cheyennes, Crows, and others all agreed to sell their land, which was valuable for
mining, to our government, and go where there was no gold, but a bountiful supply of good water and plenty of game.

"Washington" agreed to pay the Indians for their land, and they moved away as they had promised, but the money did not come. The Indians all around Washakie had been sometimes friends to the white men and sometimes not, but when the money did not come they were ready to fight. They said: "You white men do not keep your promises." Washakie was the only one who seemed to understand that Washington was far away, and that the money must be voted by Congress before it could be paid. He would not fight, so the other Indians were angry with him, and a band of Crows attacked Washakie and his Indians. Now Washakie was a friend to the white men, but he knew how to fight. He met the Crows in battle, drove them northward, and they were glad to run away as fast as they could, leaving their lodge poles behind them; so you see he could fight when he had to.

I often met this good Chief and we were fast friends. Once when I was riding through the Yellowstone Park he told me of his latest battle. The Sioux Indians had been determined to break the power of the Shoshones, to defeat them in battle, and carry them off captive. Led by young Red Cloud, the son of the famous war-chief, a band of Sioux came upon Washakie, but he had so drilled his men that they held every pass through the mountains, and fought so hard the Sioux were obliged to give up, particularly as their young chief, Red Cloud, fell in the last attack. Washakie received praise from the Indian department for the ability with which he kept his Indians together, and the help he gave our officers and soldiers.

He was always glad to see me, and in the Yellowstone Park sent Shoshone Jack with a band of Indians to ride just out of sight on all sides of us as a guard. We were as safe in that wild country with them around us as we would have been anywhere else in America.