|OTCC Interpretive Kiosk
The 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.
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
Ice 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.
The 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.
Emigration and Plague
"...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."