Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known - O. O. Howard

Homili, Chief of the Walla Wallas

Homili, the chief of the Walla Wallas, lived in two places: a part of each year on the Umatilla Reserve with the Umatillas, Cayuses, and other Columbia River Indians who were willing to stay there with the government agent; and part of the year, indeed, the greater part of it, at what he called his home just above the steamboat landing near the hamlet of Wallula.

On the Umatilla Reserve, Homili had good land, pasturage all around for his ponies, and a good farm-house. He could raise wheat and vegetables, too, in plenty when he could make his tillicums  (children and followers) work for him. But Homili was lazy and shiftless, and just managed to say "Yes, yes," to the good agent, Mr. Cornoyer, and to keep a poor garden-plot, and let his many ponies run about with the herds of horses which belonged to other Indians. Homili was always fat and hearty, and he loved best his queer home just above Wallula. More than ten miles broad is the strip of sand and gravel along the Columbia on the south side above and below Wallula; the first time I saw Homili he met me at the steamboat landing. He had with him four or five very poorly dressed Indians, wearing very long, black, uncombed hair. Homili was dressed up for the occasion. He had on a cast-off army uniform buttoned to his throat, and an old stove-pipe hat which had long since seen its best days. I wondered then how Homili could have found an officer's coat big enough for him, for while he was not a tall man he had so thickened up and broadened out that he looked shorter than he was. One of his tillicums could talk English a little and the miserable Chenook  jargon a good deal. He called all food "mucky-muk," and used many queer words. He was the interpreter. Homili took me in at a glance: "Heap good. Arm gone. Tillicum's friend." Homili's interpreter so delivered to me his first message. I said I was glad to see Chief Homili. He and I would be friends!

Homili wheezed and stammered, while he laughed aloud. Homili always laughed. "Heap glad for such friend. Come over yon way and see my house and my tillicums. Homili has good heart, but poor house." Indeed his lodge, where torn canvas was flying in the wind about some crooked lodge-poles, and where squaws and children were hanging listless and idle near the opening, was a poor house. The wind was blowing as it always did near Wallula. The sky was clear and it was a bright, comfortable day in June. My aide, Captain Boyle, was with me, and we went on to Homili's lodge. He had around him without any order rough, poverty-stricken lodges or wigwams of different sizes and shapes. His people with straight, black, coarse, disheveled hair, and ragged clothing to match, appeared to my inspection about as low and forlorn as any human beings I had ever seen. Cobblestones, thick in places, but usually scattered around, like potatoes spilled from a cart, were strewn on a foundation of sand, the surface of which every fresh breeze threw into the air. How could there be a more cheerless place to live in, where sage-brush had hard work to grow, and nothing whatever could be planted with the least hope of a crop?

Homili had a rough bench beside his lodge. He motioned us to sit down while he stood with his Indian talker in front of us. As soon as he could get his breath after our quick walk, Homili said: "This home better for Chief Homili!"

"How is that, Homili?" I asked.

"Oh, Umatilla agent good man, but Umatilla Reserve makes Homili a slave. Here tillicums all free, laugh and play, shoot sage-hens, fish in the river, do what they like. All his tillicums 'heap good'!"

I understood. "Anything more, Homili?" I inquired.

Homili, Walla Wallas


"Yes, Smoholly's my friend, my priest. He dreams great dreams, and he tells all the Columbia Indians, miles and miles up and down the great river, about the Great Spirit; and often what's coming. He cures sick folks by good medicine and drumming. He's a great Indian—Homili's friend. Umatilla agent don't want my friend, says Smoholly makes trouble. Not so, he makes my heart glad!"

That was all, and we parted good friends. He rode a small half-starved Indian pony to see me off on the little "strap railroad" that then ran eastward to Fort, Walla Walla thirty miles away. From the back platform of the only passenger-coach Boyle and I waved our hats to Chief Homili, for he rode on the side of the train for half a mile. A good smart pony could have kept up with that strap-rail train all the way, but thin grass, very poor sage-brush, and the fat Homili riding, half the time, did not allow his pony either proper food or strength, so that the good-natured, jolly chief and his mount soon fell behind what the Wallula white people called the "burro-cars." Homili, losing the race, took off his tall hat and shook it at us for a good-by, and then turned back to the barren home of his choice. Two of his cross yellow Indian dogs, more like young wolves or fierce coyotes than civilized dogs, continued the race a while longer, hopping about near the engine and barking at the fireman who threw chunks of wood at them. At last they turned toward Wallula, dropping their tails behind them and looking at us as they passed for all the world as if they were ashamed of such a slow coach as ours. So ended my first visit with Homili.

The next time I came up the Columbia I stayed overnight at the Wallula Hotel, a funny tavern, where the partition-walls were as thin as laths. My friend the tavern-keeper always gave me a room situated, as he said, in the "bosom of the family," where I could hear everything that took place in all the house. I had hardly reached that lively inside room, when I was called to the office. "Two Indians want to see the General!" so the office boy called out at my door. On entering the office I met two Indian messengers with a white man called Pambrun. Pambrun had an Indian wife, and could talk several Indian languages. He lived ten miles from Wallula toward Walla Walla, and was much respected by whites and Indians. The Indian messenger's speech was brief and clear, for Pambrun put it in good English. They had paddled across the Columbia from Smoholly's village. He wanted General Howard, the new commander of the soldiers, to come over the great river and see him and his tillicums; they had come together from many tribes. His village was opposite the Homili Falls, above where the Snake River comes into the Columbia. I told Pambrun to tell the messenger to say to Smoholly that General Howard would remain the next day at Wallula, and that if Smoholly wished to see him during the day he could do so by coming to Wallula.

The rumor which troubled all the Indians of that up-country was that General Howard had been ordered by the Washington President to put them all on the reservations to which they belonged.

The Indians went back to Smoholly with my message, but he was afraid to put himself in my power, because he was the head and front of all the lawless bands which went roaming over the country—Indians of whom the white settlers never ceased to be afraid. Then Pambrun sent Smoholly word that "Arm-cut-off" (the name Homili gave me) was a mild man and would do him no harm. Surrounded by a multitude of harem-scarem tillicums, men, women, and children, Smoholly, the next day, early in the afternoon, made his appearance at Wallula.

The tavern-keeper gave us the use of his tumble-down store-house, an immense building large enough for Smoholly and his four hundred red folks to crowd into. My aide, Smoholly, the Umatilla agent, Pambrun, and I sat upon chairs perched on a long, broad box, which the tavern-keeper loaned us for a platform. It was a wild-looking set of savages down there that I looked upon, squatted upon the floor or standing by the back and sides of that roomy place. When Homili with a few followers came to honor our talk with his presence, I sent for another chair and seated him proud and laughing by my side. I took a long and searching look at Smoholly, and he did me a like favor, as if trying to read my thoughts. He was the strangest-looking human being I had ever seen. His body was short and shapeless, with high shoulders and hunched back; scarcely any neck; bandy legs, rather long for his body; but a wonderful head, finely formed and large. His eyes, wide open, were clear, and so expressive that they gave him great power over all the Indians that flocked to his village. That day Smoholly wore a coarse gray suit, somewhat ragged and much soiled. Over his head was a breezy bandana handkerchief, two corners tied under his chin and the wind, coming through the cracks of the store, kept his head-cover in motion all the time.

Smoholly, who had asked me to come, was requested through Mr. Pambrun to tell General Howard what he and his followers wanted. Smoholly covered his face with both hands and remained in silence like a man praying; then commenced his talk, using short sentences. Pambrun translated each sentence into good English. "Smoholly heard that General Howard, a great chief in war, had come to command all the soldiers. He heard also that there was a new President in Washington. Indians call him Great Father. Major Cornoyer, the Umatilla Indian agent, sent messengers to Chief Homili, Chief Thomas, Chief Skimia, and to Smoholly with words: 'Come on the reservation. All Indians come now. If you don't come before one moon, General Howard, obeying the new President, will take his soldiers and make you come to Umatilla or to some other government reserve.' Smoholly, the Spirit Chief of all the Columbia bands, who gives good medicine, who loves right and justice, now wants General Howard to tell Smoholly the Washington law."

I answered: "I did not come to the Far West to make war, but to bring peace. Major Cornoyer has the law, he takes the law to the Indians. We will listen to him."

Major Cornoyer began: "You all know I am the Indians' friend; my wife is an Indian woman, she is always your friend; the law is for all the Indians to come on my reservation or some other, there are many other reservations. Why not come without trouble?"

I said: "Homili, I am sure, can answer that question." Chief Homili hemmed and hawed, wheezed and laughed, and at last began his speech.

"Homili and his tillicums to go to Umatilla Reserve! Cornoyer gives Homili leave to visit his home, the home he loves, right up there where the winds blow, where the sand flies, where the stones are piled up. Smoholly is our good friend and we like to see his face. Smoholly is wise and has a good heart. I am done."

I had no message from Washington, so I dismissed the council, saying I would write to the President what Smoholly, Major Cornoyer, and Homili had said. I was obliged to obey the President's law, and I think Smoholly would give good medicine if he taught all the Indians to obey the Washington law. The advice I gave worked well. Before September nearly all the Indians came to some reservation and were quiet for some time. Homili, too, stayed more on the Umatilla Reserve, but he and his pony made frequent visits to his wigwam among the stones of Wallula.

To keep the Indians contented, Cornoyer, helped by his Indian wife, induced Homili and six other Indian chiefs to visit Washington. My aide, Major Boyle, took charge of the Indian Delegation on the journey both ways. When some young hoodlums in San Francisco saw them walking along Sutter Street, they put their hands to their mouths and made as they thought an Indian war-whoop. Homili was somewhat frightened; he thought it might be a white man's war cry, and he had no weapon, not even a bow and arrows. He stammered and said, "Major Boyle, what's that? Insult unarmed Indians! We treated you and General Howard better in Wallula. White folks—bad manners!"

On the overland railroad he liked most the barren sands and long stretches of worthless country, better than cultivated fields, thriving villages, and prosperous cities. "Bad lands, you say; I like best, more like my sand and bushes on the Columbia."

Homili saw the "Great Father," but laughed and stammered too much to say anything except to Pambrun: "Tell the President that Homili always has a good heart."

Homili got very tired of Washington, and was homesick all the time. He kept saying: "Moucho tillicums" (too many people). His face brightened and his laugh had a happier ring when the steamer was going out of the Golden Gate into the great Pacific Ocean. Then Homili stammered: "Home, home!" His mind's eye was on the familiar scenes of the, upper Columbia, and when the steamer had been a day or more at sea Homili caught sight of the shore two or three miles to the east and cried, "Oh, oh, stop this boat and let Homili go over there, he wants to walk!"

When I met the fat and jolly chief again he said: "You, General Howard, may like Washington, but," shaking his head with a disgusted frown, "Homili best likes his home by the Columbia River. Stones and sands and Indian tillicums always kind, make him happy there."