Cayuse Tribe of Washington and Oregon


Cayuse Chief Umapine, by Joseph Kossuth Dixon, 1913

Cayuse Chief Umapine, by Joseph Kossuth Dixon, 1913

Of the Waiilatpuan language stock, the Cayuse tribe was originally located in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington state. They call themselves Liksiyu. The tribe was always closely associated with the neighboring Nez Percé and Walla Walla, and was regarded by the early explorers and writers as belonging to the same stock. However, they were linguistically independent. The word Cayuse is derived from the French cailloux, meaning “Rock People” because of the rocky environment of parts of their homeland.

Before European contact, the members of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla people were 8,000 members strong. Living in the Columbia River region for more than 10,000 years, they moved in a large circle from the lowlands along the Columbia River to the highlands in the Blue Mountains. They once were one of the most numerous and powerful tribes of the Plateau Culture area, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle of fishing, hunting, and gathering wild plants for food.

The introduction of the horse in the 1700s brought about a change in their lifestyle as they adopted some of the cultures of the Plains Indians — hunting buffalo and using teepees. They soon became skilled horsemen and horse breeders.

Cayuse woman in Oregon, Edward S. Curtis, 1910

Cayuse woman in Oregon, Edward S. Curtis, 1910

The Cayuse came into conflict with the white settlers when the Oregon Trail was opened. In 1838 a mission was established among the Cayuse by Marcus Whitman at the site of the present town of Whitman, Washington. In 1847 a measles epidemic killed about half of the tribe Because Whitman was unable to check the epidemic, some of the Indians came to believe he was poisoning them to make way for settlers. As a result, the Cayuse attacked the mission on November 29, 1847. Known as the Whitman Massacre, 13 people were killed, including Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and 49 people were captured. The massacre, which set off the Cayuse War (1848) and temporarily ended Protestant missionary efforts in the Oregon country.

Whitman Massacre

Whitman Massacre

After the battles raged for seven years, the Cayuse were defeated and moved to the Umatilla Reservation in 1855. At this time the U.S. Government negotiated a treaty with the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes in which 6.4 million acres were ceded in exchange for a reservation homeland of 250,000 acres. As a result of federal legislation in the late 1800s, the size of the Umatilla Reservation was reduced to 172,000 acres.

By the turn of the century, their number was estimated at about 400, but all were of mixed blood and their language was almost extinct.

Today, the Cayuse tribe shares a reservation in northeastern Oregon with the Umatilla and the Walla Walla tribes as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

More Information:

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
46411 Timine Way
Pendleton, Oregon 97801

Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated November 2019.

Also See:

The Cayuse War – Revenge for the Measles

Indian Conflicts of Washington

Whitman Massacre

Native American Tribes

2 thoughts on “Cayuse Tribe of Washington and Oregon”

  1. Some lady has published findings on her recent research about the horse and concluded that the horse has been here since before the “discovery” peoples arrived. The notion referred to as the coming of the horse now sounds like a story beginning with words: once upon a time…and date these events as the 1600’s. The earlier documented presence will change the written history for sure. Some explaining is due to reflect an accurate characterization of the ndn and the horse!

  2. There is so much to history of the Cayuse nation to know from the Cayuse people themselves. In the wars with the American settlers they were tough but outnumbered. The Cayuse won the Umatilla Indian Reservation as their home land. They refused the US Government order to become a part of the Yakama or Nez Perce Reservations. The Cayuse fought in the 1847 Cayuse War, the Walla Walla and Yakama Wars, the Coeur d’Alene War, the Nez Perce War, the Bannock War and Shoshone Sheep-eater War. They were instrumental in getting the surrender of the Bannocks in the 1878 Bannock War. When the railroads connected from east to west at Boise, ID, in 1884, a Bannock delegation came to the Umatilla Indian Reservation by railroad train. The purpose was to affirm the Bannock surrender to the Cayuse that would stop war. The Bannock delegation presented the Cayuse a ceremonial War Dance and friendship. This is a story told by my grandfather, a Cayuse, who’s father was a warrior that fought in the 1878 Bannock War. That is all.

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