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Two Constrasting Views of the Indians: Methodist Involvement in the Indian Troubles in Oregon and Washington

  • Frederick A. Norwood (a1)


In the 1850s, when both Oregon and Washington were pioneer lands just emerging from wilderness conditions, sporadic Indian warfare made life dangerous and miserable for white settlers and threatened the very existence of the Indian subtribes which inhabited the mountains and valleys south and north of the great Columbia River basin. In the previous decade a provisional territorial government had been organized, even before the treaty of 1846 set the international boundary at the forty-ninth degree of latitude. Federal territorial government dates from 1849. In 1853 Washington territory was set off from Oregon.



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1. The two principal sources consulted in the preparation of this article are both located in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. One is a manuscript collection of letters written by David Blaine and his wife Catharine Paine Blaine between 1853 and 1862, preserved in typescript copy and edited by Thomas W. Prosch. The other is a small and rare book by John Beeson, A Plea for the Indians; with Facts and Features of the Late War in Oregon, privately printed by the author in New York in 1857.

2. For general information on these earlier ventures see Brosnan, Cornelius J., Jason Lee: Prophet of the New Oregon (New York, 1932);Loewenberg, Robert J., Equality on the Oregon Frontier, Jason Lee and the Methodist Mission 1834–43 (Seattle, 1976);Drury, Clifford M., Marcus Whitman, M.D., Pioneer and Martyr (Caldwell, Idaho, 1937);idem, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Oregon, 2 vols. (Glendale, Calif., 1973).

3. See for example David's letter, 21 June 1854, p. 56, in which he reports that settlers, far from yearning for the gospel, were quite “indifferent” to it. Hereafter the designation David or Kate will indicate the letter writer.

4. Kate, 14 Nov., 1854, p. 101; David, 19 May 1855, p. 144.

5. Kate, 30 Oct.,. 1854, p. 96; David, 20 Nov.,. 1854, pp. 103–109; David, 24 Jan., 1855, p. 128; and many other references.

6. David, 20 Dec.,. 1853, pp. 19–20.

7. Kate, 3 May 1854, pp. 40, 42.

8. Kate, 4 August, 1854, pp. 77–78.

9. Kate, 28 June 1854, pp. 59–60; David, 4 August 1854, p.72.

10. David, 19 December. 1854, p. 123; David, 24 Jan., 1855, p. 127, and David, 5 Feb., 1855, p. 134.

11. Kate, 7 March 1854, p. 27; Kate, 28 March 1855, pp. 141–142.

12. Kate, 16 September. 1855, p. 163; the letter refers to the murder of four white miners by Indians who lived around the new diggings. The MS has two pages numbered 164.

13. David, 18 December. 1855, p. 169.

14. David, 29 January. 1856, p. 176.

15. David, 20 June 1856, pp. 191–192; Kate, 30 October. 1854, p. 98.

16. Kate, 23 November. 1854, pp. 111–112.

17. Beeson, , A Plea for the Indians. Outside of this work the main source for Beeson's life is an autobiography in The Calumet 1 (1860): 49. Beeson began this periodical with a view to promoting the cause of the Indian, but his effort was swamped in the controversy of the Civil War. Only one issue was published. Notice is taken of Beeson in Prucha, Francis Paul, American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865–1900 (Norman, OK, 1976), and Mardock, Robert W., The Reformers and the American Indian (Columbia, MO, 1971), esp. pp. 1014. In his later life Beeson continued to press the cause of the Indian through the Indian Aid Association of Philadelphia and other means. He also took up other causes, such as a dream for a universal system of thought, world government, universal language and a world university. He dabbled in spiritualism. See Beeson correspondence in Huntington Library: to his wife, 19 Feb. 1859; 5 Oct. 1862; to his son, 23 Dec. 1869; 26 May 1874. On the last mentioned date, he wrote: “I ask no favor of either God or Man for myself or for the Indians, but only that Justice, JUSTICE JUSTICE may rule.”

18. See Beckham, Stephen Dow, Requiem for a People, the Rogue Indians and the Frontiersman (Norman, OK, 1971).

19. Beckham, , Requiem for a People, p. 125.

20. Beeson, , A Plea for the Indians, p. iii.

21. Ibid., pp.14, 15.

22. Ibid., pp. 32–37; final quotation from p. 37.

23. Ibid., pp. 47–48. Compare Beckham, , Requiem for a People, p. 152. Beckham unintentionally garbles this episode through ignorance of Methodist polity and practice.

24. Beeson, , A Plea for the Indians, pp. 92, 104; compare p. 117.

25. Ibid., pp. 100, 101.

26. Ibid., p. 112.

27. Ibid., pp. 125–133.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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