Honored Enemy

Perhaps someday there will be a book devoted to the life and career of Stock Whitley.  Until then we will have to make do with a few yellowed press clippings from contemporary Oregon newspapers, and brief mementos left by men who knew him, or knew about him.  In recent years the most widely-read of these may be the one in Roy Alleman’s “The Bloody Saga of White Rock,” where Whitley is almost certainly the real-life basis for the Indian scout known as “White Feather.”

Years before meeting him, or meeting men who had known him, Thomas Lovewell may have come across the scout’s name in Kansas newspapers.  In June of 1857 when the Lovewells were living in Marshall County, the White Cloud Chief reprinted what was understood to be a prankish item with “the mark of the chief of the Indian Department upon it.”

On Saturday, the __ day of May, at the residence of His Excellency, Stock Whitley, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of all the hostiles east of the mountains, by Right Rev. Father Bussassi, General Victor Trevitt to her ladyship, the honorable Eugenia Isabella Victoria Clementinia Kangaroolla Antelopia Vonstouckershindershovenspidereater, Cousin Germain to Stock Whitley, Esq., aforesaid.

While the cast of characters may have been real, and there probably was a wedding, the announcement seems to have been a hodgepodge of fact, fiction, and good-natured exaggeration.  Victor Trevitt was quartermaster for the Oregon Mounted Volunteers, though he may never have risen to the rank of quartermaster-general.  Later a saloon-keeper and state legislator, Trevitt was married for a time to an Indian girl.  The widely-reprinted report of the wedding is the only known indication that the bride was related to Stock Whitley or was part-German.  The Indian's name would have meant nothing to readers in Kansas, but settlers throughout the Northwest knew him as one of the war chiefs of a coalition of native tribes who had tried to drive white invaders from their ancestral home.  Ever since the Yakima War of 1855, however, Stock Whitley was no longer “Commander-in-Chief of all the hostiles east of the mountains."

When the steamer Belle arrived at the port of New Orleans in December of 1855, it brought news of a decisive battle that had been waged between Army troops and hostile Indians near Walla Walla.  According to an eyewitness report:

…I never saw braver or more determined men engaged in deadly strife.  There were not less than 800 warriors against us, occupying ground of their own choice; a part of them among the trees and dense undergrowth along the river, and the others extending their line across the plain in the sage and small sand hillocks, and the remainder in the ravines and on the rolling hills to the northward.

The loss of the enemy is very great, according to their own admission, I think from seventy to eighty killed and as many more wounded, not less than one hundred and fifty in all.  Peu-peu-mox-mox is dead, Stock Whitley shot in the neck and through the hips, and many of their most influential and bravest warriors killed.  I believe they have received a blow from which they can never recover.

Stock Whitley did recover from his wounds, but understood that in battling white intruders he was fighting a lost cause.  Within a few years he was on friendly terms with most of his white neighbors, as Oregon pioneer Carson Masiker recalled:

Stock Whitley, war chief of the Warm Springs, commonly spoken of as 'Old Stock' Whitley, was the most noble-looking Indian I ever saw.  He was a large and portly man, of commanding presence, and always proffered the hand of friendship on meeting you.  He seemed to be an admirer of the white race; when some of his men in 1860 or 1861 murdered some white men near Tygh Valley, Stock surrendered them and they were hanged at the Dalles.

According to Indian agent Nathan Hale Olney, who was said to be Whitley’s brother-in-law, the murder of four white men happened in 1861, and Whitley’s Deschutes tribe was at that moment one of the few who were not part of a "secret society" still bent on destroying the white man.  Seeing the inevitability of white domination in the region, Whitley also saw the chance to use the Army to help him settle some old scores.  When Captain John Drake led an expedition against Chief Paulina’s band of raiders along the Crooked River in the spring of 1864, Stock Whitley signed on as chief of scouts and brought several warriors from his Warm Springs Reservation with him.  

A correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Union eulogized him after his final battle.

I knew Stock Whitley well three years since, and have visited him in his own wigwam.  He was no exception to the general rule of savage life, but there was character written on his face, and he was every whit a chief. He would tell us freely of his ancient battles with the whites, and of the scalps he had taken on the war-path, and, like any other warrior, he loved to ‘tell his battles o’er again,’ and delighted in reminiscences of the ‘deadly imminent breach,’ recognizing then the hostility to the whites remaining, and frankly owning that the ‘Bostons’ were too much for them.

The Snakes are the hereditary enemies of the other tribes north and west of them in Oregon, and last spring, when an expedition was being fitted out against them by the Military Department of Oregon, the old Chief, Stock Whitley, wanted once more to go on the war-path - this time as the ally of his ancient foe.  It was his last raid.  In the battle between the troops and their Indian allies on the one side, and the Snakes on the other, that took place on or near the waters of Crooked river, some time last May, the Chief fell, fighting like a Spartan… His death was not immediate, and he never regretted that he had fallen with the whites.  The Weekly Oregonian of May 28th, containing the account of the battle, says: ‘Old Stock Whitley showed himself a brave man on the battle-ground, and though shot almost to pieces, walked off to where he could receive assistance like an old grizzly.’  His last request was to be buried beside Lieutenant Watson, who fell in the same fight, and the young Lieutenant and the old Chief share, ‘like warriors taking their rest,’ their last couch amid the mountain wilds of Middle Oregon.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com