I have always been interested in the story of the Walla Walla Chief named Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox — a Native who I think was a very honorable man. I run across him often in these stories, but the most amusing encounter I had of him I found in a transcript of one of Thomas Lowe’s York Factory Express journals — in coming downriver, Lowe saw “Sargeant John, and his men.” It was not until I read the original that I realized that the man Lowe spotted, on the banks of the Columbia River, was a Walla Walla chief the HBC men called Serpent Jaune!
This is Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox!
Now, in my research for my next book, Working Title: “Brigades,” I keep running into Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox. I find mentions everywhere, and so to sort all this varied information out, I am putting it in a blogpost. I think you will like him as much as I do. And, yes: Sadly he will be a member of my “Deaths and Murders” stream.
My story begins with the Massacre of the missionaries at Waiilatpu Mission by the Cayuse Indians, in November 1847. The mission house was twenty five miles from Fort Nez Perces [Walla Walla], and the wars that resulted from the massacre not only shut down the Columbia River but enraged the American settlers who lived in the Willamette Valley south of Fort Vancouver. But it also angered some of the Indians. Immediately after the massacre, one of the participants rode into Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s camp on the Touchet River. The Cayuse man told the Walla Walla chief about the massacre, and Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox asked him what part he played in it.
He replied I have killed so and so. Then said the chief [Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox] to his men “take that fellow and hang him to the nearest tree,” and it was done. [Source: W.F. Tolmie, “History of Puget Sound and the Northwest Coast,” Mss 557, vol. 1, file 11, BCA]
As a result of Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s action in support of the missionaries who had just been murdered, the Cayuse Natives threatened to kill him. William McBean, who was then in charge of Fort Nez Perces, told the Gentlemen at Fort Vancouver, that “I have just learnt that the Cayuse are to be here tomorrow to kill Serpent Jaune, the Walla Walla Chief.” He may not have known why, but Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s killing of the murderer was almost certainly the reason. [Source: Oregon Spectator Newspaper, Thursday December 9, 1847]
All this was in 1847, and I have heard little of him since that time. I am now putting together the research for 1855, and I stumbled on Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox once again. This is the beginning of the time when the new Washington Territory Indian Agent Isaac Stevens is forcing the Interior Indians from their lands, moving them onto reservations. All the Native tribes in Washington State are upset. The Fort Nisqually Indians worry that they will be moved to a dark land where the sun does not shine. The Yakimas fight back by attacking soldiers that enter their territory, and collect 4,000 or more other Natives from various tribes to their battle. So far, they are winning the war against the regular soldiers and Volunteer armies, and they are confident they will continue to win.
James Sinclair is in charge of Fort Nez Perces, which most now called Walla Walla. The American Indian agent has forced the HBC men to abandon their post, and they have come down with their families to the American settlement that now exists at the Dalles of the Columbia River east of Fort Vancouver. On November 24, 1855, Chief Factor Dugald McTavish of Fort Vancouver reports to W.G. Smith, secretary to HBC House in London:
I advised you on the 7th that Mr. James Sinclair & party would return to Walla Walla protected by some Companies of Volunteers, and was then in hopes they would succeed in again getting possession of the Fort, and save the property there: in this however I have been disappointed, & it now seems likely that the Indians have, ere this, taken everything and may probably destroy the establishment… A communication dated 14th inst from George Taylor to Mr. Sinclair will explain to you that the Chief of the Walla Wallas, by name, Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox, better known to the Company’s people as Serpent Jaune, has taken possession of the fort and was moving all the goods he found there, for the purpose of subsidizing the neighbouring tribes, and thus strengthen his party against the whites, he had further under his command a force sufficiently large to compel the Volunteers, whom Mr. Sinclair had accompanied from the Dalles, to encamp on the Umatilla River about 40 miles from Walla Walla, to await reinforcements and so matters stand at present.
I do not think with Mr. Sinclair that Serpent Jaune will attempt to hold the Fort, but am rather of opinion, if he finds himself hard pushed by the Volunteers, that he will is possible destroy the place and retreat with his people across the Columbia, where if the Indians’ Canoes are broken up, the troops will have difficulty in following him, as owing to the scarcity of timber, some days must elapse before they can find the means of getting over the River… [B.223/b/41, fo. 99, HBCA]
There is an online article on the Touchet River war with the Walla Wallas, which begins with the words of Sam Warfield (Samuel Newton) as recorded by the author Clarence Andrews:
We came to the Umatilla River at the old ford, and there heard that the Indians of the whole upper country were gathering at the Walla Walla Valley, and intended to wipe us out. Also we heard that they had captured Fort Wallula [Walla Walla] and robbed it.
We stopped at the old ford, and built a stockade which stood on the west side of the river just at the left of the road and named it Fort Henrietta after Major Haller’s wife. [In 1883, the remains of Fort Henrietta could be seen across the Umatilla River, just opposite the town of Echo].
Fort Vancouver’s Chief Factor Dugald McTavish reported on the return of the HBC men to Fort Nez Perces (Walla Walla), as he heard it from James Sinclair:
The Walla Walla Indians after fighting for some days with the Volunteer force, have retreated across the Snake River, and Mr. James Sinclair informs me that on the 3rd December, he succeeded in getting to the Company’s Establishment. which had been abandoned in October [by the HBC], the Indians have taken away all the property, and have likewise done much damage to the Fort inasmuch as the doors & windows have all been broken — and the floors in the dwelling houses torn up. [B.223/b/41, fo. 101]
It seems the Volunteer army made a forced march to Fort Walla Walla, where the Natives expected them. They had by this time, however, abandoned the fort. When the Volunteer Armies camped, they turned their horses out to graze, when “about sixty Indians came down to stampede them, waving blankets, shooting, and yelling.” It seems that many of the officers were inside the fort drinking the brandy that the Natives had missed, and a captain ordered sixty men out to drive them off.
But that is not the whole story. Warfield, who was a member of the Volunteer Army, has this to add to it:
During the skirmish Peo-Peo-Mox-Mox came riding down to the camp accompanied by seven or eight Indians, carrying a white handkerchief in his hand. Nathan Olney, the Indian Agent, met him and told him that the volunteers came to make peace, not to have war unless they had to. The chief replied that he did not want war. Olney then told him to call his Indians off from stealing the horses and he sent and had them go away, but they had already failed to get the herd, which the volunteers had safely turned toward camp.
Old Mox-Mox then looked around and sized up the camp and talked with the officers, telling them that if they would come up on the Touchet [River] a council would be held and he would either make peace and pay the damages of the war thus far or would ‘give them a gentlemanly fight.’
So the volunteer soldiers came to the Touchet River and camped, but kept Chief Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox, and others, as their hostage. The soldiers tied the Native chiefs’ hands. “Peo-Peo-Mox-Mox was very angry to be tied like a ‘camoox’ when he was ‘Hyas Tyee’ of seven nations.”
The Volunteers battled against the Walla Walla Indians for most of the day, and the Chiefs who were still hostages under guard, once again had their hands tied. One hostage, a chief named Klickitat Jim, grabbed his knife and tried to stab a soldier. A guard shot him dead.
Almost at the same moment Mox-Mox grabbed my gun and tied to take it away. He was strong and I had to trip him to get it away. As he fell he let go of the gun and I jumped back and fired at him, but overshot him. He drew a knife from his legging and reached to catch hold of me as he rose, but before he could get up I struck him with my gun barrel and knocked him down and he lay there. The lick broke his skull.
So the interviewee, Sam Warfield (Samuel Newton), was the man who actually killed Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox, according to his own story. It seems he felt some guilt about the chief’s death. Warfield claimed that he took Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s scalp, but that nothing else happened to the body. The interviewer asked if the scalp was in the Salem Archives where it was said to be, and Warfield said “No. So many came to see it that I got tired of it and I buried it between my barn and a neighbour’s house, about half-way between. That is where it is still.”
Here is the link to that story: http://journals.lib.washington.edu/index.php/WHQ/article/viewFile/8824/7859
The HBC man in charge of Fort Walla Walla, James Sinclair, was also present at Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s murder, and he tells a different story. It is not pretty!
I was within a yard or two from the Great Wallawalla chief when he was shot. The whole scalp was taken from his head, and cut up into 20 pieces, his skull was divided equally for buttons — his ears preserved in a bottle of spirits — and large strips of his skin cut off along his back to be made into Razor strops — such is Indian warfare — but enough of this. [James Sinclair to Dr. Cowan, February 10 1856, Letter #5, E/B/Si6, BCA]
The rest of Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s story is here, and it confirms what James Sinclair said in his letter. http://washingtonhistoryonline.org/treatytrail/context/bios/peopeomoxmox-wallawalla.htm
It makes me sad, and it seems to me the story makes other historians sad, too.
You may ask why I am interested in Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox. His is a story that changed the history I write about, in all three of my books (two upcoming). In about 1846 he and his men rode south to Sutter’s Fort, on the Sacramento River, to trade for horses. On their return in summer 1847, they came with the measles, which infected many of the Indians in the territory and killed thousands. The Cayuse Indians, of whom many died, blamed the missionaries at Waiilatpu. The result of this was the Massacre at Waiilatpu by the Cayuse, which changed brigade trail history. This story is told briefly in my book The Pathfinder. It will appear in my “York Factory Express” book, and will be fully told in the “Brigades” book. Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox’s journey to Sutter’s Post changed the history of modern day Washington State, and of British Columbia. We are who we are because of Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.
- Charles John Griffin
- Salmon Runs, 1843 to 1858