Cayuse War 'n stuff (was Re: Colorful old anecdote

Mike Cleven ironmtn at BIGFOOT.COM
Wed Mar 10 07:16:44 UTC 1999

At 09:26 PM 3/9/99 -0800, David Robertson wrote:
>'...But when we come to this Shoulder or jump off We had a indina
>boy about thirteen years old He pointed dow in the hollar and
>seiz (Hyeu Siwash) From that it apeards as tho there was a thousand Devils
>had come in combat ... Whilst the chief old joe roerd like a lion An Seze
>in the Chenoke tungue This is my land my cuntry and we are a going to
>Fight Till we di for it, com on. com on.'
>--From the Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, volume 66, number
>3, September 1965, page 223 [Thomas H. Smith, "An Ohioan's Role in Oregon
>History", the writer being named Blair, I think].
>All is spelled and punctuated as in the original.
>The event in question is the "Battle of Evans Creek", August 24, 1853.

Was this part of the Cayuse War?  Or somewhere else in the territory?  Is
there a good reference account of this war, by the way?  I'm not familiar
with it, and I think that's pretty much true for most Canadians, I think
even of most academics.  BC First Nations persons probably have a better
grasp on some of it because of their oral tradition; more than the most
basic historical discussion of the mainland before the declaration of the
mainland colony seems to have been the norm, at least in what I've seen of
what I could find.  The Cayuse War's effects on the development of the BC
Interior seem more than a bit important historically - for one thing, it
kept American colonizers out of the de facto political vacuum in the
Interior north of the 49th Parallel, which the British and the HBC had no
ability whatsoever to control in practical terms; that area would remain
largely empty of settlers until the advent of railway-related development
in the 1880s, and by then British/Canadian political control had become
better established and development was (only barely) controlled by the BC
and Canadian governments (Joe Hill notwithstanding).  Also the memory of
the Cayuse War (and/or other Indian Wars in the Oregon territories?) in the
nascent Island Colony must have been a big influence on the attitudes and
policies of the Douglas regime in the establishment of the mainland colony
and the controls placed on the American element in the goldfields, which
surely enough did prove troublesome until the Governor made a show at Yale
and they agreed to observe "British law" thereafter (I'm thinking of the
Fraser Canyon War of the winter of 1858).

Another idea - more of a speculation - is that British restrictions on
travel overland to the British Columbia goldfields was directly related to
fears that American transit through the Interior territories might be
uncontrollable not only politically but also in terms of the violence
against Her Majesty's First Nations subjects - a restaging of the Cayuse
War in the Okanagan and Shuswap.  Most Americans were giving the area a
wide berth at the time anyway, I believe, but still it must have been a
major worry for the British.  One little-understood fact about the 1858
Gold Rush is that miners heading for the goldfields were required to land
first at Victoria, thence taking riverboats up the Fraser to Port Douglas
and Yale; overland travel from Washington State was not permitted, although
the border at Whatcom County and up through the back end of the Skagit
River is pretty porous and a large number of Americans must have come up
that way whether the British liked it or not.  The native population of the
Lower Fraser Valley at the time was MUCH higher, by the way, so river
travel was also possibly perceived as a little, um, safer than coming
through the bush. ;-)  The Lower Fraser, by the way, had one of the largest
riverboat fleets in North America for a fear years there, rivalling the
Mississippi (or so we're told).

One last item about the Cayuse War - as mentioned here a little while ago,
I'm starting to be convinced that it was the reason that Lillooet's old
name of Cayoosh was dropped because of the hatreds resulting from the war.
The reason for the change is supposed to be that Lillooet's residents (90%
American, other than the First Nations people) didn't "like the sound" of
the old name, and wanted something more euphonious; in those days, also,
Lillooet was perceived as a port to the Lillooet River country to the west
("the real Lillooet) - this might also be partly because the shortly-famous
route through the lakes had been recently eclipsed by the new wagon road
from Yale to Ashcroft.  The possible "political" history of the term
cayuse/cayoosh might also explain why the word "Cayoosh" doesn't appear in
the lexicons, even though I'd always been told by old-timers that it was
from the Jargon.  It might be a local St'at'imcets word, but my native
acquaintances up there didn't seem to think so (it's the name of a major
stream flowing into the Fraser at Seton Lake, as well as of the mountain
range limning the south shores of Anderson and Seton Lakes).  It is still a
term in horsemanship in the Chilcotin and Lillooet districts, and for all I
know also in the Shuswap, Cariboo and Okanagan - it refers to a special
type of hybrid pony - a "Chilcotin mountain pony" being the other name.  If
I recall right, it's some kind of quarterhorse strain mixed into a really
tough little pony line someone brought into the Interior, perhaps before
the Gold Rush.  I think that in the US "cayuse" (especially in old
western/cowboy songs) simply meant horse - or did it also have this meaning
of a certain breed there, as well?

Mike Cleven
ironmtn at

The thunderbolt steers all things.
                           - Herakleitos

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