Yakama War History Project Seeks Descendants Of U.S. Army Combatants

Aug 9, 2017

In the mid-19th century, Emily Washines' ancestors in the Yakama tribe fought the U.S. Army for four years in what became known as the Yakama—or Yakima—Indian War. She said few people in the Pacific Northwest today know much if anything about the bloody conflict.

So Washines produced a short video about the beginning of that war, partly narrated in the Yakama language with English subtitles. And now she is looking for descendants of the U.S. Army combatants to talk to for a follow up.

"My overall goal is to have people think of the power of historic enemies standing side by side and asking others to never forget our history in this Northwest,” Washines said.

Washines said she has already located three descendants from the U.S. government side just by asking around. The first of those contacts was surprisingly also digging into the old history and published a book last year about the final campaign in the war.

"Now we're email pen pals," Washines said of her relationship with author Steve Plucker of Prescott, Washington. Plucker identified himself as the great-grandson of Private Charles Plucker who fought in the Yakama War.

Plucker's book is, "The 1858 Yakama War...Fort Simcoe's Story of the 9th U.S. Army Infantry and their Western Prong Attack Campaign." 


"How to approach that (war) topic is a little bit tricky,” Washines said. “With each person it has been a little bit different.”

Washines is particularly interested in connecting with descendants of Major Granville Haller. Haller commanded a company of about 84 infantrymen who marched from Fort Dalles, Oregon, to the first engagement of the Yakama War on October 5, 1855. 


Haller was outnumbered when he encountered Chief Kamiakin of the Yakamas who led about 300 warriors. Kamiakin routed Haller in the Battle of Toppenish Creek or Haller's Defeat. 


Haller later commanded Union forces in the Civil War and afterwards returned to the Northwest to become a successful businessman. History books describe him now as a noted Indian fighter. Haller was buried in Seattle's Lake View Cemetery in 1897. Haller Lake in north Seattle is named after his son. 


"If the descendants are willing to be on film or even just have people show us conversing on film, I think that would be a very powerful message to send for people of the Northwest learning about this history," Washines said. "We can revisit our past and we can share about our past. We can know that we will never forget this history and we can extract meaning from it as well." 

The Yakama Indian War lasted from 1855 to 1858. Its roots resemble many of the other conflicts between Native Americans, settlers and the U.S. Army in the 19th century American West. Central Washington tribes signed a treaty with the U.S. government—the Treaty of 1855—and then rose up when unruly prospectors and farmers trespassed on reserved lands.

The Yakama War spilled over into Western Washington and Oregon at times as well. 

An artist development grant from The Evergreen State College funded Washines' video titled, "Yakama War, Ayat (Woman)." Another outcome of her historical research was a desire to highlight that Yakama women fought in the war as well. 


Earlier this year, Washines founded a business in Toppenish to connect language, culture and history called Native Friends. The short Yakama War video is for sale on the Native Friends website. 


Free screenings of Washines' video's followed by poetry readings from her upcoming book “Yakama Ayat" will take place on the hour from 11am-4pm on August 12-13 at the native-owned Eighth Generation store and gallery, located in the atrium above the Gum Wall in Seattle's Pike Place Market.