pokan Garry, whose original name has been lost in time, replaced by the almost mythical character named after his tribe, was born in 1811. His father, Illim-Spokanee, was the head of Sma-hoo-men-a-ish. Early traders mistook his name for the name of the tribe, and the Sma-hoo-men-a-ish became known as the Middle Spokanes. Garry grew up around the white traders who built their post near his tribe, so never feared nor was in awe of either the "King George" men (the British) or the "Bostons" (the Americans).
When Garry was a young boy his father told him an amazing tale. Illim-Spokanee was much younger when there had come in the night a great thundering in the sky, and violent shaking in the ground. The people awakened the next morning to see everything covered in ashes "to the depth of a finger." They were very frightened and confused, believing it to be the end of the world. In the midst of their panic, an old man, who was very calm, made an appearance, raised his hand for silence and shouted, "Be quiet, I have a message for you." The people grew quiet, and the old man said:
This is not the end of the world. Much more must come to pass before that time arrives. Let me tell you this! A strange people with skin of a different color, speaking another language and wearing peculiar clothes will come to us before the world ends. They will bring with them teachers who will show us how to learn things from marks made on leaves bound together in a bundle. Until these people come the world will continue. Let us get to work and clean up these ashes.
The authority in the old man's voice took away the fear of the people, and they began to clean up the ashes. No one asked the old man how he came to know these things, and a few days later, he died. No one realized that they were cleaning up after a mountain - the 1790 volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
Spokan Garry Goes to School
The strange people of a different color, with different language, and writing did come, and at the age of fourteen, Garry was selected as one of two boys from the surrounding tribes to be sent to the Red River School at Fort Garry, sponsored by the Hudson's Bay Company and run by the Church Missionary Society of the Church of England. It was the school custom for the boys to be renamed for their tribe and a well-known and respected person. Garry was named after one of the Directors, and became Spokan Garry. The boy who accompanied him was known as Kootenais Pelly, who became Garry's closest friend at the mission school.
The sprawling farms of the Red River settlement stretched for a hundred miles along both sides of the river. The students, who numbered an average of sixteen at any one time, were taught English through the device of the religious texts of the Church of England. Because of the large Scottish element at Red River, both Garry and Pelly learned to speak English with a noticeable Scottish burr. They also learned gardening, each boy on his own plot of ground. They were taught how to plant and grow vegetables and grain, and the fruit of their efforts contributed to the food stores of the compound.
In the winter of 1828, Garry's father, Illim-Spokanee, died. Although it was too late in the season for Garry to return home, the following spring he and Pelly made the 1800-mile trip back to the Spokane River. Spokan Garry was now a young man of eighteen years.
Return to the Tribe
With the encroachment of the white population on the tribes of the Northwest, the traditional religious beliefs of the tribes began to decay. Being an intrinsically spiritual people, they readily accepted the Christian teachings brought back to them upon Garry's return, a hybrid form of Christianity that well suited the needs of the native population. The books from the missionaries became "white man's book of heaven" which urged peace between the tribes and the whites.
The teachings of Garry and Pelly spread at a phenomenal rate across the Columbia Plateau. The famous Nez Perce delegation that arrived in St. Louis in 1831, as well as the Nez Perce known as Lawyer, likely received their inspiration from these two boys.
Two years after returning home, Garry and Pelly returned to the mission school, this time with five new students in tow. Among these young boys was Ellice, who would later become the first head chief of the Nez Perce.
Kootenai Pelly grew ill and died at the Red River School on Easter morning of 1831. Because the tribes had sent only their finest young boys to Red River, it was deemed best that Garry travel to Kootenai territory to break the sad news of Pelly's death. Garry was expected to return to the school once this duty had been performed.
However, Garry never did return to the Red River School. Instead, finding himself very pleased with his new, important standing in the tribe, he made arrangements to take a wife. He named her Lucy a name he had heard and liked at Red River.
The Coming of the American Missionaries
In 1835 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent Rev. Samuel Parker to observe the situation in eastern Washington. Although he found the Indians' form of worship to be simplified and a bit primitive, overall he was impressed with the Indians devotion, and filed a good report:
Why do these tribes present traits of character more pleasing and interesting than others to be found west of the mountains, and I may say west of Council Bluffs? Plainly because they have fathered a few rays of divine revelation, and are disposed to practice what they learn.
Many explanations have been proffered with regard to the simple piety displayed by the Spokane Indians. Some have advanced the theory that the Hudson's Bay Company officials taught Christianity to the tribe, others have tried to claim that Roman Catholicism was the source, but most serious study of the phenomenon points to Garry and the others who were educated at the Red River school to the teachers of Christianity to the Spokane tribes. The missionaries who arrived on the scene beginning in the 1830s found a ready-made congregation thirsting for more instruction in the white man's religion.
Garry's star within the Spokane rose and declined numerous times, and the first period of gradual decline coincided with the arrival of the missionaries, Elkanah Walker and Cushing Eels, from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The focus shifted from his own teachings to those offered by the religious professionals who, rather than building on the foundation of faith already instilled by Garry, began attacking his primitive interpretation of Anglicanism. The rigidly moral Protestants preached that many of the Indian's favorite entertainmentsgambling, horse racing, dancing and smokingwere immoral and un-Christian.
When Roman Catholic priests, bitter rivals of the Protestants, also came to the region, the conflict and antagonism escalated. Despite the eager competition for their souls, not one member of the Spokane tribe was converted by either the Protestant missionaries or the Catholic priests.
Unable to compete with the theologians, and probably disinclined by nature to engage in theological arguments, Garry gave up his school and public preaching, along with his practice of wearing white man's clothing, gradually returning to traditional dress and activities, many of which did not meet the approval of either Christian faction.
Garry Takes a Second Wife
At about 30 years of age, Garry met and married the niece of a leader of the Umatillas, a girl of some fifteen summers. His first marriage to Lucy, an arranged match, did not develop much affection, so Garry was now, for the first time, smitten with love. He approached the girl's uncle with proper etiquette, who reported the proposal to the girl's father. Despite the concerns of the mother, who felt Garry was too old and owned "only a Bible," the marriage was approved. The dowry included a number of Appaloosa horses, and Garry became a horse-owner and breeder. He adopted the habit of riding only white horses, which became his mark of distinction.
Garry gave his new wife the name Nina, and he was happy in the relationship, but quite naturally, Lucy was much less so. Nina maintained her home at Pleasant Prairie among the Upper Spokanes, while Lucy and her daughter of the same name, remained in the area near the remains of Spokane House, northwest of present-day Spokane. Garry's household with Nina was prosperous, prompting the Upper Spokane to grant him the stature of a chief, as did his own people, the Middle Spokanes.
Turning Away from the White Man's Religion
Garry's avoidance of the Protestant missionaries increased during this period, as he was embarrassed about his polygamous relationships, and keenly aware of the ministers' disapproval of his gambling and horse racing. Mary Walker, wife of Elkanah, wrote following one of his infrequent visits:
Garry interpreted but seems embarrassed. He does pretty well at teaching and learning. I hope we shall be able to obtain much help from him, but I fear we shall not have the wisdom to manage him as we ought; that Mr. W & E will not have patience enough to get along.
The revivalistic Calvinistic approach of the missionaries, which emphasized the total depravity of man, was too much at odds with Garry's simple Anglicanism and his natural Indian philosophy of life. There was no point of understanding, and for that reason, no meaningful relationship developed between Garry and the Protestant missionaries, Walker and Eels, in these early years.
A Fateful Journey to California
Leaving the Tshimakain mission, Garry returned to his farm, his horses and to his wife, Nina. He grew prosperous, and was once again regarded as an important man of his tribe. In 1844, he and Nina, and several Spokane chiefs, joined with others of the Walla Walla, Nez Perce and Cayuse tribes to embark on a trading mission to California. They comprised a large party, as they would have to travel through hostile lands and would need to protect themselves and their property. They all considered themselves Christians, although only Garry and Elijah Hedding, young son of WallaWalla chief, Peopeomoxmox, were members of any church.
They set out in the fall, decked out in their finest English costumes, fully equipped with horses, furs and other trade articles to trade for cattle. Driving their horses up the John Day River, then south through the rugged and unfriendly lands of the Klamath and Shasta Indians, they finally arrived at Fort Sutter in the Sacramento Valley.
At Fort Sutter they set up an encampment and proceeded with their trading. Those of the party who had never been to California marveled at the new and unfamiliar trees and fruits; Nina was especially fond of the grapes. The men successfully traded for several herds of cattle, but they lacked sufficient trade goods to purchase all they wished, so the Oregon Indians made a hunting expedition into the mountains to supplement their goods with additional elk and deer skins.
In the mountains, they met and fought with a band of California Indians. Defeating the other band, they captured twenty-two of their horses and mules, and brought them back to the fort. Some of the settlers claimed that the animals had been previously stolen from their own herds, and demanded the return of the livestock, which the Northwest band refused to do. A conflict ensued with a man named Grove Cook, known for his hatred of Indians, and Elijah Hedding was killed, while Garry narrowly avoided another of the man's bullets.
Fighting their way out of the fort, the Indians fled northward, abandoning even their legally acquired cattle in order to save their own lives. By the time they arrived back in Walla Walla, they were filled with rage at the Americans and contemplating a war of revenge. Cooler heads prevailed, though, and no war was undertaken. Instead, the Indians tried to obtain justice through the Indian agent, Dr. White, who made promises, wrote a letter or two, but achieved no results for the Indians. Eventually efforts to punish the California murderer came to a halt when Dr. White abruptly left the region. None of the chiefs ever forgot or forgave the incident, and their memories of it were to greatly impact the treaty-making efforts yet to come.
Washington Becomes a Territory
Chief Garry, turning 40 in 1851, was a wealthy man by tribal standards, owning a large number of horses and farming a considerable area of land. The Spokanes had, for the most part, escaped the diseases that decimated so many other tribes, but they experienced tensions with the Roman Catholic Coeur d'Alenes. The Whitman Massacre in 1847 had soured Indian/white relationships, and the peremptory hanging of five Cayuses for that crime without trial served to heighten the developing atmosphere of menace.
Garry's influence among the tribes grew during the years following the California expedition, causing the whites who were rapidly moving into the area to refer to him as the "head chief." However, there was no such office among the three bands, the Upper, Middle and Lower Spokanes. As with other tribes, the influence of a chief was limited to his ability to persuade others to his point of view. A chief did not command his band so much as urge them to follow him, and the right of individual dissent was fully recognized. Thomas E. Jessett, in his book, Chief Spokan Garry, described the government of the Spokanes as "democracy carried to the point of anarchy."
On October 17, 1853, Garry was summoned to a meeting with newly-appointed Governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens, who was making his way east to Olympia, the new territorial capital. They carried on a lengthy conversation that evening, in both English and French, and Garry surprised Stevens with his fluency in both languages. Garry was uncertain of Stevens intent with regard to the Indians, so remained as noncommittal as possible on the issues. Stevens was somewhat annoyed by his caginess, and wrote in his diary that Garry "is not frank, and I do not understand him." Further conversations would prompt Stevens to write of Garry:
Beneath a quiet exterior he shows himself to be a man of judgment, forecast, and great reliability, and I could see in my interviews with his band the ascendancy he possesses over them.
Garry surely recognized by this time the overwhelming military might of the Americans, and the determination of the whites streaming into Washington Territory to have homesteads of their own lands that would inevitably be carved out of the ancestral homes of those who had always lived there.
Stevens and the Treaties
When in May of 1855, the Stevens treaty-making team arrived in the eastern Territory, Garry was invited to attend the council at Walla Walla as an observer. He watched as the chiefs of the Walla Walla, Nez Perce, Cayuse and Yakama Indians reluctantly signed treaties, the implications of which were undoubtedly misunderstood. Only two groupsLawyer and his band of Nez Perce, and Sticcas and his band of Cayusewent home happy following the council.
As Garry made his way home, he must have pondered the fate of the Indians. He had been told that Stevens, following his return from Blackfeet country, would be calling a council of the Spokane and Coeur d'Alenes. That the majority of his tribe, after hearing about the Walla Walla council, would oppose the proposed treaty was a certainty. He must have worried about the possibility of war on that long ride.
Upon his arrival home, other matters overtook his immediate attention - gold had been discovered near Fort Colville, and ill-mannered miners were swarming through the hills, plying the Indians with whiskey, and bedding the squaws. In addition, retired French Canadian employees of the Hudson's Bay Company had begun taking up claims under the Donation Act of 1850, and recording them with Judge B. F. Yantis. Hostility toward the white men, now called Frenchies, was rapidly mounting.
As he had feared, trouble came to the Spokanes when they were informed that, despite the treaty, the Yakamas had decided to fight to keep whites out of their territory. They were eager to recruit other tribes to their cause, and many of the younger Spokanes were willing to aid their cause. Garry pleaded for no action against the whites until they could talk to Governor Stevens, which kept the Spokanes from taking up arms. However, several miners were killed on the Yakima River, followed by the murder of special agent to the Yakimas, A. J. Bolton on September 23, 1855, and the war with the whites had begun!
Stevens, hearing about the outbreak of war while traveling back from Blackfeet country, arrived suddenly in the Spokane village on the evening of November 27, and surprised the Spokanes by demanding an instant decision for war or peace. Garry must have felt the burden of his leadership as he rode to that pivotal meeting with Stevens, who was already mustering troops for war.
When the chiefs of the Spokane, Coeur d'Alenes, Colvilles and some French Canadians were assembled, Stevens opened the council with promises of friendship, then got right to the point:
I think it is best for you to sell a portion of your lands, and live on Reservations, as the Nez Perces and Yakimas agreed to do. I would advise you as a friend to do that…If you think my advice good, and we should agree, it is well. If you say, "We do not wish to sell," it is also good, because it is for you to say...
Sensing an unfavorable reaction in his audience, he tried to play down the importance of making an immediate decision, but Garry, having been appointed spokesman for the tribes, delivered a long and passionate speech revealing the Indians' point of view and enumerating their concernsthe Yakima war, the encroaching of the French Canadians, the unpunished murder of Elijah Hedding, the Whitman Massacre, and Stevens' own belligerent attitude at the treaty councils. This speech left Stevens, for the first time in the treaty process, on the defensive. Of all the councils held by Stevens with the Indians, the Spokane Council was the only one that failed to produce a signed treaty. The lands of the Spokane were, for that moment, safe from the influx of whites. Spokan Garry was 44 years old, and at the very zenith of his influence.
The Later Years
In the years and wars that followed, Garry consistently and steadfastly came out on the side of peace with the whites. His unwillingness to make war often placed him in direct opposition to younger factions within the tribe, and his influence suffered some on this account.
As the white settlers poured into the region in the years following the Civil War, the Indians found themselves time and again being squeezed out of their rightful land holdingsby settlers making claims against land held by the Indians, and by the railroad that came through and gobbled up the land all along its course. Garry's principal ambition in his later years was to protect himself and his followers from the pressure of white settlement by continually seeking to secure a treaty with the Government and preserve a portion of his country for his tribe. This, he felt, had been promised by Governor Stevens, but from 1859 forward his attempts were rebuffed. Instead, the Government strenuously encouraged the Spokanes to abandon their traditional territory and take up lands in individual ownership under the Indian homestead act. In 1887, Garry finally got his treaty, but no reservation.
The following year, while Garry and his family were at a temporary fishing camp, trespassers took possession of his own farm, which he had fenced and cultivated for many years. Although he and his family rushed home to remedy the situation, they were told to keep off the land. Endeavoring to regain possession peacefully, Garry maneuvered his way through the legal system while his property grew in value. Shortly before his death, a final judgment was rendered against his claims, and Spokan Garry's home, valued at $25,000, passed into the hands of another man with no compensation made to Garry or his family.
On January 14, 1892, Spokane Garry diedhomeless and penniless, his estate consisting of nothing more than "a few flea-bitten cayuses," his burial expenses paid out of the Spokane County pauper fund.
Jesset, Thomas E. Chief Spokan Garry: Christian Statesman, Friend of the White Man. Minneapolis, MN: T. S. Dennison & Company, Inc., 1960.
Ruby, Robert H. and John A. Brown The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
Josephy, Alvin M. The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
Stevens, Isaac Ingalls A True Copy of the Record of the Official Proceedings at the Council in the Walla Walla Valley 1855. Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1985.