Yakima Indian Wars

views updated May 08 2018


YAKIMA INDIAN WARS. Following the American conquest of northern Mexico in the Mexican War (1846– 1848), hundreds of thousands of white settlers and migrants traveled west along the Overland and Oregon Trails. Heading to the fertile river valleys of the Oregon and Washington Territories, white migrants brought devastating changes to the Northwest Coast and the Columbia River plateau. European diseases killed thousands of the region's Indians, settlers' herds and horses consumed precious grasses and water, and whites occupied and settled strategic valleys and passes. Throughout the Columbia River plateau, bands of Yakimas, Umatillas, Klikitats, Nez Perces, and Cayuses joined in extended trading and political alliances to head off the encroachment of white settlers.

Beginning in 1855, state authorities in Washington, led by Governor Isaac Stevens, negotiated a series of treaties and land cessions that recognized the power of interior tribes. The Yakima Treaty, signed on 9 July 1855, ceded more than 10 million acres to the U.S. government in exchange for over 1 million acres of reservation lands in which no white settlers could travel or settle without Yakima approval. Following the discovery of gold in the eastern Cascades that same summer, white prospectors and settlers crossed into Yakima territory without Indian agreement, and tensions escalated throughout the region. Prospectors consumed Indian resources and often indiscriminately attacked Indian parties.

Facing the loss of their traditional homelands and the destruction of many of their forests and game reserves, the Yakimas no longer trusted the promises of Stevens and other white authorities. When the region's Indian agents went to confer with Yakima leaders, including Chief Kamaiakin, they were killed. War, not hollow words, the Yakimas decided, would determine the future survival of their peoples. As the state militias in Oregon and Washington mobilized and attempted to prosecute those responsible for killing the agents, Yakima emissaries visited Indian communities throughout the region. Umatillas, Nez Perces, Spokanes, Klikitats, and other Indian groups began preparing for war.

The Yakima Wars involved not only affiliated bands of Yakimas but many of the region's other Indian groups, and military conflicts engulfed Indian communities. As allied Indian groups drove settlers from their farms and communities, threatening to push many whites further west to the Pacific, the U.S. Army mobilized and drove Indian groups further east of the Cascades and across the Snake River. Long winter campaigns taxed resources and health on all sides. Following a series of losses in central and eastern Washington, the Yakimas and Spokanes sued for peace and settled onto reservations, where the story of the bravery and suffering of their people during these difficult years was often told.


Pace, Robert E. Yakima Indian Nation Bibliography. Topenish, Wash.: Yakima Indian Nation Media Services, 1978.

Trafzer, Clifford E. Yakima, Palouse, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Wanapum Indians: An Historical Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992.


See alsoIndian Treaties ; Tribes: Northwestern ; Wars with Indian Nations: Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900) .


views updated May 23 2018

Yakima Native North Americans of the Plateau culture, whose language belongs to the Sahaptin branch of the Penutian language group. In the early 19th century some 1,200 Yakima lived along the Columbia, Wenatchee and Yakima rivers in central Washington. In 1855 an attempt by the US government to force the Yakima onto a reservation resulted in war. Led by Kamiakin, the Yakima stoutly resisted for over three years, until suffering a decisive defeat at the Battle of Four Rivers. In 1859 they were placed on a reservation in Washington, where their descendants remain to this day.


views updated May 18 2018


The Yakima (Pakiut'lema) lived on the lower course of the Yakima River in south-central Washington and now live with the Klickitat as the Confederated Tribes of the Yakima Indian Reservation of Washington. They speak a Sahaptin Language of the Penutian phylum and numbered over six thousand in the mid-1980s.


Daugherty, Richard D. (1973). The Yakima Peoples. Phoenix, Ariz.: Indian Tribal Series.

Schuster, Helen H. (1982). The Yakimas: A Critical Bibliography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.