Battle at the Touchet River, Washington

Cayuse Indian Warriors by W.S. Bowman, 1910

Cayuse Indian Warriors by W.S. Bowman, 1910

In early March 1848, Colonel Cornelius Gilllam and a force of about 268 men started out to locate the Cayuse Indians, whose exact location was unknown. The objective was to bring the Indians to terms by some means and to recapture some stock that had been stolen from white settlers. On March 14th, they rode into a Cayuse and Palouse camp of about 400 on the Tucannon River. Under a white flag, the Indians asked to talk with the troops, convinced the volunteers of their loyalty, and indicated that what they were searching for were situated on the Touchet River.

However, after the volunteers left, the Cayuse and Palouse turned on their pursuers, catching up with them, and attacked the troops with a band of 400-500 warriors. A battle raged for some 30 hours until the volunteers were able to cross the river. Disappointed that neighboring tribes did not join in the conflict, the Cayuse retreated. Just a few days later, on March 20th, Colonel Cornelius Gilllam was killed in an accident while encamped on the Umatilla River. There, while pulling a halter-rope from a wagon-bed, the rope caught on a gun trigger, resulting in Gilliam’s instant death.

Compiled by Kathy Alexander, updated December 2020.

Also See:

The Cayuse War – Revenge for the Measles

Index of Tribes

Indian Conflicts of Washington

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