Well Spring
OTCC Interpretive Kiosk

Well SpringThe Well Spring

Amelia Stewart Knight, emigrant of 1853, described the well at this site as "not much better than a mud hol...." A mud hole it may have been, but sixteen dusty miles from the last water source at Butter Creek, and fifteen miles from the next at Willow Creek, it was essential to the survival of both emigrants and livestock.

"...we found a great hole of water 12 or 15 feet across had to water a hundred and fifty head of cattle with pails had to stand out all night in the rain to keep the cattle from drownding each other after water in this hole."
Elizabeth Dixon Smith; October 17, 1847

Ice Age ErraticsIce Age Erratics

Oregon Trail emigrants choked on clouds of dust as they approached Well Spring, and the path they followed presented a landscape very different from today's. Huge granite boulders, deposited by the Lake Missoula floods during the last Ice Age, punctuated the region. The appearance of these boulders in otherwise featureless terrain must have seemed strange. Very few of these erratic boulders remain: most were removed during the 1960s and made into tombstones. One small erratic may still be seen across the road near the old well.

Oregon MilitiaThe Oregon Militia

In 1847, local Indians attacked the Whitman Mission near Walla Walla. They killed thirteen people, including Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. In December of 1847, the Provisional Legislature organized a volunteer militia,, commanded by Col. Cornelius Gilliam, to wage war with the Indians. Near this site in January, 1848, the militia encountered a large band of Indians. Also near here on March 24, 1848, Col. Gilliam accidentally discharged his rifle when pulling a rope from a wagon and died from the wound. The legislature subsequently named Gilliam County in his honor.

"We had our next encounter with the Indians at Well Springs between Willow Creek and Butter Creek. We camped there for the night- in the morning we had just gotten out of camp when we began to see Indians - Indians in every direction, in squads of ten and fifty, just coming thick. there were enough of them to eat up our little band of three hundred. We went only about a mile and a half when Col. Gilliam called a halt and we began preparations for a fight. It was estimated over one hundred thousand Indians were on the ground. A party of chiefs came out and called for a talk. Col. Gilliam, Tom McKay, Charlie McKay and Mungo, the interpreter, went out to meet them.
W. W. Walter, "First Oregon Riflemen," 1847-48 (Recollection)

Emigration & Plague Lead to WarEmigration and Plague
leads to War

The 1847 emigration brought 4,000 overlanders to the Oregon County, and along with wagons and livestock they also brought the measles. The ensuing plague was resfonsible for the deaths oa great many local Indians. Distraught by these deaths, and by Dr. Marcus Whitman's inability to cure the sick , a few impassioned Indians attacked the Mission killing thirteen people. When the Oregon Militia mobilized in 1847 and moved against the Indians, local tribes near this site marked the beginning of the Cayuse War, and has been recorded in the Native oral tradition.

"...they'd stand up there and taunt the cavalry. They'd look down there and see the cannon and this one man sitting on his horse and three or four men loading up. Then they'd move the cannon around and aim it at them. The lead man would blow the eagle bone whistle and the cannon would go off. The man would blow, then all the Indians would scatter. That cannon would shoot, hit right where they were at, but yet they wouldn't hit nobody. Then they go and stand in another place, and then they'd move the cannon around, aim it at them, the whistle would blow, the cannon would shoot up there and then all the Indians would duck or dive. They fought like that for three hours, I guess. Then the cavalry just kinda give up on them because they weren't hitting anybody."
Marvin "Wish" Patrick, Tribal Elder; May 21, 1992

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