Stories about Nineveh Ford by Cecil Clark Rulaford  

FastCounter by bCentral
Stories about Nineveh Ford by Cecil Clark Rulaford
These stories were hand written to my mother circa 1955 by her father (my grandfather), Cecil Clark Rulaford.  There is a funny story about fresh bread, the new baby, and he tells of the death of Dr. Marcus Whitman, and the escape of one family from the slaughter at the Whitman Mission.

Cecil Houk
San Diego CA

                                - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By Cecil Clark Rulaford circa 1955
Fresh Baked Bread
        One bright sunshiny morning Martha Ford had just finished baking a batch of bread and had turned the loaves out on the kitchen table to cool.  A canoe came down the river and in it were five Indians.  They sniffed the aroma of fresh baked bread.  The chief gave orders to pull for the river bank.  Then they all got out and went up the trail to the little log cabin.  Martha went to the door in response to a loud knock.  She asked the Indians what they wanted.  The chief spoke up and said, "We want bread and butter."  So Martha cut slices of the fresh bread and buttered it.  When she came to the chief, he wanted his slice of bread buttered both sides.  Martha said, "No, you don't get butter both sides," and the chief said, "I am chief Crooked Finger.  You butter both sides."  Martha reached over in the corner and picked up her rifle and chased them all down to the river and they got into their canoe and paddled away.

                                - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The New Baby and Chief Joseph
        In 1859, Nineveh Ford had a fire which completely destroyed his tannery.  So he gathered his cattle and horses and migrated to the Walla Walla Valley.  He took a 160 acre homestead on the Walla Walla River, close to Freewater, Oregon.  [Note that Milton and Freewater were seperate towns at this time.]
        Shortly after he got his family settled in a log cabin, the Indians began to make trouble not far away.  Nineveh Ford saddled his horse and volunteered to help the soldiers quell the Indians.  About the same time little Martha (my mother) was born.  September 8, 1859.  Three days later Chief Joseph, Chief of the Nez Perce tribe, came to the log cabin with sixteen of his warriors, all decked out in their war paint.  The chief entered first, and said, "We want see white papoose".  So they all came in single file, took a look, gave a grunt and walked out.  Grandmother settled back in her bed with a sigh of relief.
[Note: Martha Jane Ford was the first white girl born in the Walla Walla Valley.]
                                - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Whitman Massacre
      More than a hundred years ago, a white man, who was a trapper in the Western wilderness happened to spend the night with a wandering band of friendly Indians.  As night drew on and they sat around the campfire, the Indians noticed the white man take a small book from his pocket and after looking at the pages, slowly turn them.  Presently he closed the book, shut his eyes, and moved his lips in some magical incantation (they supposed).  When he had finished, they asked him what he had been doing and he told them that he had been reading from the White Man's Book, which pointed the way to a better land, and he had been praying to the White Man's God.  The Indians showed that they were interested and soon this news spread throughout their tribe.  Some time later, four Nez Perce chiefs started out to find the White Man's Book of Heaven, and in September, 1831, they appeared in St. Louis.  Two years had been spent by them on their strange quest, years of suffering, danger and doubt.  They were unable to find words with which to make known their wants.  They wandered tongue tied through the streets.  Finally coming under the notice of Governor Clark, they were sent to a Catholic Priest and from him the story reached the country.

     It produced a profound interest among the churches, seeming to them a veritable Macedonian cry.  The result being, that missionaries were sent to the great Northwest.  So, in the early spring of 1836, in company with his newly made bride, Narcissa (Prentice) Whitman, and Rev. H. H. Spalding and wife, Dr. Whitman started across the plains.  They traveled part way with the fur company's annual detachment until they met a body of Nez Perce Indians who had come to meet them, into whose hands they committed their fortunes and lives the rest of the way.

     They reached Fort Walla Walla on September 1, 1836.  Whitman
established his mission six miles west of Walla Walla where he brought over two hundred acres under cultivation, built a grist mill and also a sawmill.  Mrs. whitman's was the first school for teaching the Indians.  Dr. Whitman heard rumors that the United States was about to make a treaty with England whereby England would get the Oregon country.  The more Whitman thought of it, the more he became convinced that it was his patriotic duty to go to Washington and inform the authorities of the nature and value of this great country.  So, in the winter of 1842-43, Whitman crossed the continent on horse back.  He had an Indian guide part of the way, but the going got so bad that the Indian turned back and Whitman went on alone.  He was received by President Tyler and Secretary Webster, who took an entirely new stand and began to raise the demand of "Fifty-four forty" or fight.

     As a result of his published broadcast, Whitman succeeded in conducting a thousand people with wagons and cattle to the promised land of Oregon.  The immigration of 1843 was the deciding contest in the struggle for the possession between England and the United States.  The American home vanquished the English fur trader.  My Grandfather, Nineveh Ford, was with this caravan.  The people scattered to different parts of the West.  Grandfather went on down the Columbia until he reached The Dalles.  Here he took two wagon boxes, lashed them to a raft and floated down the Columbia to Fort Vancouver.  From there, he went overland to Oregon City, driving the first ox team to enter the town.  Here he went into the tannery business, then started a shoe factory.  In 1847 the Indians of the Eastern part of Oregon country went on the war path.  Grandfather Ford volunteered and went with a company of soldiers.  When they reached the Whitman Mission, they found that the Indians had killed fourteen people and burned the mission.  Mrs. Whitman was the only woman killed.  Forty-seven women and children were taken prisoners, and were later ransomed from the Indians for several hundred dollars.  After the return of Dr. Whitman from the East in 1843, the Indians became restive and ugly.  They could only see that the coming of the Americans was a sign that their wild hunting grounds would soon be no more.  During the summer of '47, measles broke out among the Cayuse Indians and became epidemic.  The native method of treating anything of a feverous nature was to enter into a sweat house, stripped of clothing, and remain there until thoroughly steamed.  Then plunge, naked and perspiring, into a cold stream.  Death was the most inevitable result.

     At this time, a renegade half-breed by the name of Joe Lewis, who
had been befriended by Dr. Whitman, exercised his vile nature.  He made the Indians believe that Whitman was poisoning them.  To prove the point they took an old sick woman that was nearly dead; they gave her some of Dr. Whitman's medicine.  The woman died.  Then the Indians laid their plans to kill the missionaries.  Whitman was warned by a friendly Indian by the name of Istickus of the Umatilla tribe.  But the Dr. laughed it off.  Mrs. Whitman, with her womanly intuition, felt the darkening of the approaching tragedy.  The Dr. promised her that he would make arrangements to move down to The Dalles at once.  But the next day, the fatal 29th of November, 1847, dawned.  Dr. Whitman was sitting reading about 1 o'clock on the 29th when a number of Indians entered and requested medicine from the Dr..  While he was preparing it an Indian by the name of Tomahas drew forth his hatched and buried it in the back of the head of his benefactor.  None of the white men scattered and unsuspecting, could offer effective resistance.  All were shot down except some who were in remote places and could hide and glide away when night came.  Five men escaped in this manner after suffering many hardships.

     Here is an account of his escape, given by Mr. Osborn to Mr. Spalding years after.  Mr. Osborn says, "I and my whole family were sick in bed with measles.  When I heard the firing of the guns and the yells of the Indians, I leaned my head upon the bed and committed myself and family to my maker.  My wife removed some loose board from the floor.  Then we all dropped under the floor in our night clothes, taking only two woolen sheets, a piece of bread, and some cold mush.  Then pulled the loose floor over us.  In five minutes, the room was full of Indians, but they did not discover us.  The firing of guns and yells of the savages and the crash of clubs and knives and the groans of the dying continued until dark.  Soon after this we removed the floor boards and went out, I carried my two youngest children and my wife held onto my clothes in her great weakness.  We had all been sick with measles.  The naked painted Indians were dancing the scalp dance around a large fire at a little distance.  A dense cold fog shut out every star, and it was so dark we could not see our hand before our face.  We had to feel out the trail with our feet.  We bent our steps toward Fort Walla Walla.  We had to wade Mill Creek which was high and came up to the waist.  My wife was almost washed away.  I had to cross the stream five times for the children.  The water was ice cold.  We had gone about two miles when Mrs. Osborn fainted and could go no further.  We crowded into the wet brush of the Walla Walla River.  We could see nothing.  I spread one wet sheet on the frozen ground; wife and children crouched upon it.  I covered the other over them.  I kneeled down and commended us to our Maker.  When the day finally dawned we could see the Indians riding furiously up and down the trail.  The day seemed a week.  Expected every moment my wife would breathe her last.  Tuesday night felt our way to the trail and
staggered along to Dog Creek (Sutucksinna), which we waded as we did Mill Creek.  We had gone about two miles when my wife fainted and could go no further.  Again we crawled into the brush to shake and suffer on from hunger and cold and without sleep,  The children, wet and cold, called incessantly for food.  But what they had heard and seen frightened them so that they did not speak loud.  Wednesday night my wife was too weak to stand.  I took my second child and started for Walla Walla.  Had to wade the Touched.  Had to stop and rest quite frequently from weakness.  I reached Fort Walla Walla after daylight.  I begged Mr. McBean for horses and dry clothing so I could bring my family into the fort.  He refused and said I could not bring my family into his fort.  I next begged the priests to show pity, as undoubtedly I and my family would parish, but they refused to aid me in any way."

     He finally did get help and rescued his family -- his wife never fully recovered.

This page created January 24, 2000     comments