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Native America

The Yakama War

November 12, 2018

This KCTS 9 video is part of a larger series of local stories about Native groups in the Pacific Northwest. The promotional series is being produced in conjunction with the airing of NATIVE AMERICA, a four-part documentary series premiering Tuesday, October 23, at 9:00 p.m. on KCTS 9.

In 1855, Governor Isaac Stevens of the Washington Territory, negotiated a treaty with the Yakama (formerly Yakima), Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla tribes, forcing the tribes to relinquish in excess of six million acres of land to the United States Government. In exchange, the tribes were promised that white miners and settlers would not be permitted to trespass on tribal lands while they awaited ratification of the treaty from the United States Senate.

That promise was broken due to gold strikes in the Colville and Fraser River areas in British Columbia. Large groups of miners invaded tribal lands while crossing the region, and were known to steal horses from the Natives and mistreat Native women.

Retaliation from some of the Yakama warriors gave way to what would become a multi-year conflict between the United States and Yakama people. The Yakama war lasted from 1855-1858. By the end of the war, the Yakama had lost 90 percent of their traditional lands, and were forced onto a reservation. (historylink.org)

History offers little documentation of the Yakamas’ account of the war. Emily Washines wanted to change that.

Washines (Yakama/Cree/Skokomish) learned about the war as a toddler, via oral histories passed down from her family. Her relative was a Yakama Treaty signer.

In addition to producing a video about Yakama women in the war, which was partially narrated in the Yakama language, and writing blogs for her website, Native Friends, she began looking for descendants of the U.S. Army combatants who fought on the other side.

When Washingtonian Glen Hamilton heard Washines’ story on the radio, he contacted her. Hamilton’s relative, Supplina Hamilton, was an Oregon Volunteer soldier in the Yakama war from 1855-1856. Washines and Hamilton exchanged stories about their relatives and communicated via email for more than a year. When their two families finally come together in person, we were there to capture it.

Washines hopes that standing side by side with historical enemies will help change how we view history and ensure that the Northwest remembers that history.

Glen Hamilton embraces Jon Onley Shellenberger as their families meet. Credit: Lay Conn 

 

Living History of the Yakama Nation

by Emily Washines

Emily Washines poses with her Husband, Jon, and two young daughters at Fort Simcoe National Park. Credit: Lay Conn

There is a promise I gave to our tribal elders in front of hundreds of other tribes: Remember the role of women in our tribe. That day, they shared a hope that our generation would be heard on this topic. Women were in the Yakama War and there were violations against them.

Not many acknowledge that the reason for the start of the 1855 Yakama War was the rape and murder of Yakama women and children. This type of talk makes people lower their eyes.

It has been nineteen years since I made that promise. Through the years, I keep this knowledge close, but I was not always certain of when to bring it up.  I decided to share what I knew by making a short film about one of our historic battles.

When I set out to share this history, I recognized the impact of what people write or teach about this war. Also, it was difficult to unpack the historical trauma connected with this. I drew strength from those elders. Even though they have passed, their words are alive in their relatives. In keeping their memory alive, we also keep the belief that we can share the history of the Yakama Nation with our neighbors.

I set out to find descendants of the war from side of the U.S. military and militia in hopes that they would stand by my side as I shared our Yakama history.

After years of searching, I was able to find some descendants. Glen and I have been writing for over a year when we decided to meet for the first time on film. I was nervous when I asked him—there were no instructions to follow. Each descendent conversation has unique connections and stories to share. Each time an idea comes up, so do questions. With this idea, comes the question: How do we cross this historic boundary?

Right before we met, it felt like a reunion was being filmed: the questions, the explanations to our kids about what would take place. Our daughters were excited about which gift we would give to each person. After explaining about the war, I looked into their eyes as they asked, “But why?” It is hard to discuss horrible acts in the face of innocence. I re-center and explain, “The Yakama War is over, and the people we are meeting are friends.” Also, my husband Jon is there for support. I know this effort is matched from Glen and his family who would travel and have agreed to be on camera and meet us.

This is our version of living history. This is what we want shared in our daughters’ school. We want their classmates to see know this type of reunion is possible.

There are so many reasons for us to say no—and so many before us that have said no. Uncertainty and fear of public scrutiny are still there. I remember during my search for relatives of the military and militia, people said, “First, that is like finding a needle in a haystack. Secondly, even if you find them, what makes you think they will want to talk to you?”

My confidence sometimes deflates. I think of ways to talk about our history, even with our historic enemies. Along the way, I have help and it often comes in the simple phrase, “I might know someone.” In Glen’s case, he was listening to my request on the radio and responded.

Where should we go from here?

There are some criticisms about the way Natives live. From food sovereignty issues to the safety of women, this makes talking about history difficult. There is a trust factor on both sides. We need space for Native historical accounts and voice. So, when opportunities for conversation comes up, we have support.

During filming, we talked about what’s next. Glen knew of an inaccuracy in a 1904 article about the Yakama War. I said, “Let’s write to the newspaper and ask them to retract that part in that article. Maybe we can set the record straight.”

Our efforts recognize the disservice to history that has come because of an us-vs-them mindset. This is just one reunion. There can be so many more efforts.

In our case, we have ancestors on opposite sides of the war, showing that today we have peace. We are friends.

This is a story of hope as much as it is of history.

What a journey!  Our family is forever changed.

by Glen Hamilton

I was listening to NPR on a beautiful north Seattle day in August of 2017.  Local reporter Tom Banse introduced Emily Washines, a woman from the Yakama Nation who was seeking descendants of combatants of the Yakama War.  Emily spoke about the power of current descendants on both sides of the brutal conflict now standing side-by-side.  It was a very personal and powerful NPR moment.  No, I didn’t stop the car… but I did get on my phone as soon as I got to my destination and found Emily.

We connected, and the result has been extraordinary: a group of over 200 descendants and family members of Pvt. Supplina Hamilton of the 1st Regiment, Oregon Mounted Volunteers, Company D were invited into dialog, friendship, remembrance and understanding with members of the Yakama Nation.  New light and hope has been brought to a dark and difficult chapter of our shared local history.

Pictured in photo: Supplina Hamilton, blacksmith and Yakama War Veteran. Circa 1860's-1870's. Image courtesy of Glen Hamilton 

Supplina Hamilton (known to his fellow soldiers as ‘Doc’) was a happy and humor-loving 23-year-old unmarried Oregon emigrant, living near Scio in Linn County, Oregon Territory in October 1855 when the urgent call-to-arms came from the governor.  Citizens were asked to leave their farms in the Willamette Valley to defend the settlers of the Walla Walla and Yakima Valleys from what was thought to be an imminent “uprising” by the native tribes of the Columbia Plateau.  The settler population was small: Washington Territory had less than four thousand settlers as counted in the 1853 territorial census—and there were only 170 in King County.

The U.S. Army presence was also very small, and they largely chose to sit out the campaign that winter in their quarters in Fort Vancouver.  The young Oregon farmers and pioneers who volunteered, like their native warrior counterparts, brought their own weapons and horses to the fight and began what would be an epic, brutal and consequential conflict that has been long forgotten by most non-native people.

Growing up, I learned that my grandpa’s grandpa was an ‘Indian fighter’ who had come west from Illinois. I later came to learn that he was an orphan, pioneer, farmer, husband, blacksmith, missionary, evangelist, church planter, rural doctor, county commissioner, school board director and community builder.  Along the way, he was part of a tragic and violent conflict between an expanding United States of America and the ancient nations of Native America.

So, where should we go from here?

We will continue to deepen the dialog.  We will continue to face difficult facts and look at hard truths.  We will believe the accounts that have been handed down from the native elders, mothers and daughters to this generation.  We will listen.  We will remember.  We will honor and move forward together better than when we began. Emily has won our hearts, expanded our minds and deepened our empathy for our fellow Americans of indigenous heritage. For that we are forever changed and grateful.

Sources:

  1. 1853 Census of Washington Territory http://www.historylink.org/File/2551
  2. Outline of the life of Supplina Hamilton https://myhamiltonfamily.org/hamiltondocuments/chronological-outline-of-the-life-of-Supplina-P-Hamilton.pdf

Featured image caption: Hamilton family and Washines/Schellenberger family stand side by side. From left: Rachel Hamilton, Alex Hamilton, Lila Hamilton, Glen Hamilton, Emily Washines, Zora Shellenberger, Alice Shellenberger, Jon Onley Shellenberger



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Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

More stories by Jen Germain