Seattle 1978

Seattle 1978

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Battle of Seattle January 26, 1856

We went to visit the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) on Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday).  I am looking forward to returning and spending time lingering with the history preserved there.

There was one painting I recognized of The Battle of Seattle on display. I had seen it before as a black and white - I had looked around for more images of various Seattle events after reading "Four Wagons West - the Story of Seattle" written by Roberta Frye Watt in 1931.  She is the daughter of Louisa Denny Frye who was a pioneer child in the Wagon train out of Illinois to Seattle. (Louisa's parents are  Arthur Armstrong Denny (1822 - 1899) and  Mary Ann Boren Denny (1822 - 1910) )

I snapped a quick photo of it but my family was moving pretty quickly in this part of the museum.  It was painted by Emily "Inez" Denny, Roberta's older cousin.



I wish I had noticed next to it was more information about the Battle of Seattle that is now obvious to me as I look to the left of the painting in my photo.



This week I reread The Battle of Seattle chapter again and learned today marks the 157th anniversary of this historic event.  History is often awkward.  I'm appreciative that Seattle grew to what it is today.  But it wasn't without a history that can make you cringe. I'm including extensive excerpts of Mrs. Watt's chapter on the subject.  All text is hers except for text in yellow to clarify information.


Four Wagon's West - The Story of Seattle Roberta Frye Watt 1931

“The Battle of Seattle” Chapter 14 pages 227-241
Excerpts (a LOT of excerpts – all copyrights gratefully acknowledged)


“The weather that winter of ’55 was ironically beautiful. The settlers remembered afterward the lingering Indian summer days; the soft, warm rains that kept things green. David Denny remembered how they worked on the blockhouse in their shirt sleeves. Just before Christmas Mrs. Blaine wrote, “our little peach and apple trees are not stripped of their leaves yet.
“How this good weather mocked the farmers who had been obliged to come into the village and leave their farms to the Indians. How powerless they felt to be gathered in Seattle, waiting --- waiting for the forest to give up its secret.
 . . . . .
“It was a dark Christmas for Seattle and for the whole Territory. Of the gloom of those weeks Professor Meany writes:
‘The year 1855, as it drew to a close, saw the Territory of Washington enshrouded in gloom. It was not known how many Indians had suffered. They always managed to conceal their dead and rescue their wounded. But it was known that a considerable number of white people had lost their lives, many others had lost their homes. The survivors collected into blockhouse for mutual protection. The Indians gave continuous evidence of their presence. . . . Good was growing scarce – ordinary business was out of the question – starvation, flight, or the tomahawk seemed the only alternatives.’
. . . . 
“The suspense and ominous quiet in the village increased as the days passed. Where was Leschi? What move was he planning to make? Would the deep snows in the passes keep the warlike Owhi from crossing with his fierce Yakimas? Some pioneers felt confident that with the Decatur (sloop stationed in the Puget Sound harbor for protection - pictured in the Sound in the above painting) and their own armed volunteers they were well protected; others were afraid they would be overwhelmed by the greater number of the enemy.
 . . . . .
“In that week preceding the battle rumors of an attack were brought by friendly Indians, one of whom was Curley. Curley’s loyalty to the whites has been questioned by many, and undoubtedly the truth of the matter was that he was friendly to both sides. He would get a little ammunition and tobacco from Mr. Yesler, whom he knew very well since he had worked in the mill, and trade it for information which he would in turn bring back to Mr. Yesler. Indian Jim, whose sincerity was never questioned, also brought news to the whites; likewise the ‘klootchmen’ and other Indians who had worked in Yesler’s Mill and were his ‘tillicums.’
 . . . . .
“A few days previous he (Captain Gansevoort of the Decatur) had sent an Indian scout over to Lake Washington to find out what was going on. The scout returned on the afternoon of the 25th . . . with the startling news that one thousand Klikitats had crossed the mountains, and that for two days the local Indians had been bringing them across the lake in canoes.
The defenses were hurriedly strengthened. The disbanded (as of just the day before) volunteers took up their guns and were put on watch. Four divisions of soldiers and marines were posted by Captain Gansevoort to guard the town. . . . .
“The only vessel in the harbor beside the Decatur was a lumber bark, Brontes, which proved a faithful friend by sheltering some of the women and children.

. . . it was first planned to attack and massacre the settlers at two o’clock in the morning. But in order to have time to warn the whites, Indian Jim cunningly proposed waiting until later when the marines would have returned to the Decatur for breakfast after the night watch, leaving the town unguarded. This plan pleased the council and was decided upon. Curley, who according to one account, was also present, wanted to spare Mr. Yesler, who had given many of the Indians work in the mill, but the others insisted that everyone must be killed.
 . . . .
“Early the next morning, January 26, 1856, the Indians crept in close to the village and lined up along what is now Third Avenue, prepared to make a sudden attack on the cabins . . . Close as they were, however, the forest was dense enough to hide them from sight.
"Just at daybreak Indian Jim managed somehow in his native fashion to elude the others and slip in the back door of Dr. Williamson’s store with the whispered word that the Indians were upon them. The attack had come. Word was sent to Yesler at once.
“The night watch had reached the Decatur. The men were just beginning to eat breakfast when a canoe shot out from land carrying Mr. Yesler. Immediately the roll was sounded and the marines rushed ashore, back to the stations they had occupied the night before. The opportune moment for the Indians to rush on the cabins had passed.
 . . . .
“It was now eight o’clock. Candles in some of the cabins were still burning. Many of the men had just come in from the night watch. Some were eating breakfast when suddenly came the shattering, deep-throated report of the howitzer; the savage, fiendish yell of the natives; and the quick fusillade of shots. The battle of Seattle had begun! No one mistook this for a false alarm.
“Such a running for the fort! Louisa Denny grabbed Baby Inez (one month past her second birthday and the artist of the painting above) with one hand and tumbled a pan of biscuits just from the oven into her apron with the other and ran. David (Denny – Inez’s father, Louisa’s husband), who was on guard at the blockhouse, ran to meet her and helped her in. Mrs. Blaine and her new baby (born the Sunday before) bundled into a rocking chair and taken to the shelter of the Decatur. Virginia Bell, running for shelter, darted like a little scared rabbit between the legs of a marine who was in her path as she entered the blockhouse, knocking him to the floor with a scramble that added to the panic.
 . . . . .
“The first shot from the howitzer was followed by firing from the ship’s battery and an exchange of gunfire between the Indians and the volunteers and the marines. For two hours there was a steady booming and hammering of firearms while the white-faced women and children, huddled in the fort, prayed for the safety of their loved ones.
“Milton Holgate, an adventurous lad of fifteen, wishing to be outside the fort with the soldiers, started out and was shot and instantly killed as he was passing through the door. This tragedy added to the horror of the day to those waiting in the fort.
 . . . .
“A young man named Robert Wilson was also killed when standing on the porch of the Felker House. These were the only casualties of the day among the whites; they never knew how many Indians were killed . . . . . .
“The Indians had never engaged in such warfare before but stood their ground remarkably well. The cries of the squaws were heard urging their men on toward the blockhouse The Decatur’s guns rained cannon balls, shell, and grapeshot upon the forest beyond Third Avenue. This cannonading was supplemented by volleys from rifles and musketry of sailors and civilians. For years afterward shells from the Decatur were found embedded in the ground (some are in a display at MOHAI and you can see a few in the photo above). . .

“About noon Sheriff Thomas Russell, who had been across the Sound, came paddling to the rescue bringing with him some men from Meig’s Mill. In the afternoon the firing continued intermittently until about three o’clock. Once there was a prolonged lull. It was learned afterward that the Indians had stopped to feast on beef prepared by their squaws from the cattle of the settlers.
 . . . .
“Toward evening, scouts were sent out who reported that the enemy were placing inflammable material under and around the deserted cabins preparatory to burning them. Shells from the Decatur scattered incendiaries, but not before they had robbed some of the cabins of food and clothing.
“Mary Denny’s wedding gown was taken and she often wondered which squaw it was that went trailing her treasured dress through the woods.
 . . . . .
“According to Grant, this conflagration, planned for the evening after the battle, was believed “to have been the signal for all Indians on the beach and across the Sound to join in the attack” . . .the attack on Seattle was to have been so bold and successful that Indians on the reservations who were either neutral or friendly to the white men would be won over to their side.
“By ten o’clock that night both sides had ceased firing and all was quiet. But it was an ominous quiet. It was not peace.
 . . . .
“When the morning of the 27th dawned, the Indians had disappeared, taking many of the cattle with them. Chief Leschi sent back a boastful message that he would be back in another month and destroy the town. But he never came.
 . . . .
“The attack on Seattle, which was to have been the Indians’ decisive and triumphant act, had failed. Although the war continued in other parts of the Territory all that year, it was this battle that decided the struggle in Washington Territory between the Indian and the white man.
“The Indian chiefs miscalculated in many ways. For one thing, the fierce tribes that were leading the uprising defeated their own plans of uniting the Indians, for they had terrified the weaker tribes for so that it was now hard to gain their cooperation. . . .
 . . . .
“But for the presence of the Decatur Seattle might have been wiped off the map. But the ship alone could not have saved the village. The friendship of the settlers with the Sound Indians, and the fact that there was not one of these pioneers but did active service in the protection of the settlement helped immeasurably. At every step in its history, whatever the need, those enthusiastic young men swung an axe or shouldered a gun to make their vision real.

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2 comments:

Cindi Bri said...

I'm glad you posted about this, there are so many people, even Seattle natives, who don't know about this story. I'm reading 4 Wagons West right now plus several other books about Seattle's history, including a historical fiction series of 6 books called Sweetbriar by Brenda Wilbee, which is actually more factual and then fiction. The painting about the Battle of Seattle was, as you said, painted by Emily Inez Denny, the daughter of David and Louisa Denny. It's never too late to learn the history of your hometown. I love Historylink and Paul Dorpat's sites and I think you for sharing the history of Seattle with others.

Jana said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Cindi. I still haven't made it back to MOHAI to learn more about about local history - I certainly hope to this summer! I'll have to look for Sweetbriar - that definitely sounds like my kind of thing!