The Battle of Sand Hollows, Washington, also called the Battle of Dry Plains, occurring on February 24, 1848, began on a plain where depressions in the sand made convenient natural rifle pits. When a group of soldiers led by Captain Lawrence Hall left The Dalles and pressed out on the old emigrant road towards Whitman’s Station, they were attacked as they approached the Umatilla River.
The Native Americans were composed of Umatilla, Cayuse, Palouse, and a few Walla Walla braves, who were in arms, not so much for the protection of the Whitman murderers as for the defense of their country from a general white invasion. However, the Cayuse also had another objective, hoping to decisively defeat the volunteer regiment and bring other tribes into their coalition. When the attack began, members of the Kalispel, Coeur d’ Alene, and Flathead tribes observed them. The principal leaders were Cayuse Chiefs Five Crows and Gray Eagle, who had assured their followers that the white soldiers would never reach the Umatilla River because they were both “big medicine” men.
In the end, the three-hour battle was inconclusive, destroying the chance for the alliance with the Nez Perce, Yakama, and Spokan. Chief Gray Eagle was killed, and Chief Five Crows was wounded but able to escape. Seven other warriors were also killed, as well as four more wounded. The army’s casualties included five wounded, one of whom was Lieutenant-Colonel Waters.
The troops continued on to the old Whitman Mission, arriving about March 3rd. Upon their arrival, the remains of those who had been killed were given a decent burial, and a small stockade was built, which they called Fort Waters in honor of their fallen comrade.
Compiled by Kathy Alexander, December 2020.