No. 24
Victoria Vancouver's Island
8th November 1855
Sir
I have nothing of much importance, respecting this Colony, to communicate, except the pleasing facts, that peace and quietness reigns within its limits, and that an abundant harvest, has yielded a bountiful supply of food for the consumption of the white population.  
Those blessings we have been taught to appreciate, by the deplorable state of American Oregon, which is now
involved
involved in a disastrous war, with the native Tribes of that country, who appear to be animated with a rancorous hatred of American domination; and they have conducted their hostile attacks with a degree of skill, courage and success, that fills every heart with dismay, and has so much intimidated the settlers, that they have altogether forsaken the open country, and abandoning their property and habitations, have taken refuge with their families, in the sea coast towns. Many unfortunate persons have nevertheless been slain, and much property destroyed.  
The latest accounts from Oregon, report that Major Haller's detachment of United States Troops, had been compelled to retire before the Indians, and were hotly pursued by the enemy, to one of their military stations, on the Columbia, and that another detachment of 240 regulars and volunteers, under the command of Captain Maloney, U.S. Army, were surrounded in a mountain pass, and nearly all destroyed. It is also reported that the hostile Indians are
making
are making descents by all the passes from the mountains, into the settled country. Those disasters tell seriously against the American cause, for besides the direct loss, they serve to teach the Natives their own power and strength, and inspire contempt for a foe, whom they have beaten with impunity from the field. With the excitement of victory they have also tasted the sweets of plunder, and I conceive will never return to a state of peace, until they have been signally punished. I hope they will receive a timely check, or the evil spirit may spread among the aboriginal population of the British Territory, which is far more ignorant and barbarous, and in point of numbers is, as five to one, compared with the Native population of American Oregon. In that case we would have to bear the brunt of an Indian war, which I trust a kind Providence may avert until we are better provided with means, to encounter so dangerous an evil. I am of opinion that there must have been some
great
great mismanagement on the part of the American authorities, or it is hardly credible that the natives of Oregon, whose character has been softened and improved by 50 years of commerical intercourse with the establishments of the Hudson's Bay Company, would otherwise exhibit so determined a spirit of hostility against any white people.  
I have been led to make those remarks in consequence of a communication which I lately received from Major Tilton, Acting Governor of Washington Territory, dated Olympia November 1st, and enclosed therewith a note from William Fraser Tolmie Esqre, acting agent for the Puget Sound Company's settlements, within the American Territory, copies of which I herewith transmit for the information of Her Majesty's Government.  
The object of those communications is to represent the danger, to which the American settlements in Puget Sound are exposed, from the attacks of the hostile Native Tribes, and to solicit aid, and assistance from this Government. [Marginal note: Has not the HBC still an interest there? HM See p. 7]  
With a deep feeling of sympathy for a christian people, so unfortunately situated, I responded to the call for assistance by immediately sending a
supply
supply of fire-arms and ammunition; I would also have despatched one of the Hudson's Bay Company's Steam vessels, into Puget Sound, had any of them been within reach, but it so happened that they were both absent, and have not yet arrived.  
The object I propose to accomplish by sending a Steam vessel to Puget's Sound is to deter the coast Indians from uniting with the Confederate, and to extend our protection, as far as available to any unfortunate settlers, who may be exposed to the fury of the savages, but we would of course not engage in hostilities with the Natives, nor take any part in a war, which is not waged with us, against natives, however barbarous, that are on terms of amity with our country; and who entertain a high degree of respect for the British name.  
Another object I have in view is the protection of the Hudsons Bay Company's settlements in American Oregon, which the hostile Tribes, out of a friendly feeling have hitherto respected.  
The
The Americans are disposed to ascribe their immunity from attack to other motives, and the mob have gone so far as to accuse the Company's servants of maintaining a secret correspondence with the natives, and affording them encouragement and support.  
I wish by exerting all our influence in mitigating the horrors of a cruel war, and by shewing the native Tribes, that we do not approve of their conduct; to convince the American population, that their suspicions against the Company's servant's are groundless, at the same time, I do not wish to incense the Native Tribes, or to become a party in the war. It is I confess a difficult game to play, but the same course of policy was adopted with success during the Cayuse War, when we were enabled to save many valuable lives, and otherwise to render essential service to the country. I trust therefore that my proceedings will meet with the approbation of Her Majesty's Government.  
The Hudson's Bay Company's
Fort
Fort at Nisqually, Puget's Sound, was by last accounts, a few days old, crowded with the wives and families of American Refugees. The loss of life has been very great in Washington Territory, and the Indians are becoming every day more active and daring.  
The Americans are also very unpopular with the Indian Tribes inhabiting our frontier country, and from a feeling of sympathy with their race, they exult in the successful exploits of the Oregon Tribes, but their sympathy has not as yet taken a practical form, and I shall not fail to use every exertion to restrain and prevent any open interference on their part with the affairs of other nations.  
I have the honor to be Sir
Your most obedient humble Servant
James Douglas
Governor

The Right Honble Sir William Molesworth Bart
Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State
For the Colonial Department.
Minutes by CO staff
Mr Merivale
Should, unhappily, the spirit of hostility displayed by the Native Indians in American Oregon extend itself to the adjoining British Territory I regret to say that the Settlement is totally destitute of a military force, and that due presence of a ship of War cannot be relied upon. There is no doubt that in such case Mr Douglas, who is an extremely brave man, & of a energetic character will do all that is in his power to put down any attack. I presume that this desph should be [or] a copy shd be sent to the H.B. Company for information.  
ABd
17 Jany/56
Mr Labouchere
In the vast extent of territory with which the H.B.Co. have to deal, not one case of serious hostile collision with the native races has become known to this department in my time. On the other hand, the opposite side of the geographical line, which politically divides their territory from that of the US has been the scene of constant wars, massacres, & violence—not in Oregon only, but on the Eastern side of the Rocky mountains also. The discipline & uniformity of action which the system of a close corporation enforces seem to constitute the only means of maintaining peaceful relations between Europeans & natives for any length of time.  
This being so, it seems a little hard that they should be drawn, by calls for their assistance, into the quarrels of their Yankee neighbours, in which one can have little doubt that the Yankees are really the aggressors. And I should have doubted the policy of sending the steamer to Puget's sound: but the truth is the Company have establishments there, on American ground, which they are endeavouring by treaty with the U.S. Government to dispose of, but hitherto without effect. This a little accounts for the mission of the steamer in question. I think however Mr Blackwood's minute may be followed?  
HM
Jan 17
I think the answer should be in the terms proposed by Mr Blackwood, adding that I place reliance in the discretion & energy of the Governor to meet the difficult circumstances in which he may be placed. I wish a copy of the Governors despatch to be Made for Circulation.  
HL
J 19
Copies given to Lord Sandon for the Queen & for Circulation.  
VJ
22 Jan
Other documents included in the file
  • Draft, Merivale to A. Colvile, Hudson's Bay Company, 4 February 1856, forwarding copy of Douglas's despatch.  
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
  • 1. James Tilton, Adjutant General and Acting Governor of Washington Territory, to Douglas, 1 November 1855, advising of the serious nature of the "Indian War" and asking for assistance, with enclosures.  
  • 1.1 William Fraser Tolmie, Agent for the Puget Sound Company, to Tilton, 1 November 1855, advising that in view of the uncertain loyalty of coastal First Nations, he should apply to Douglas for assistance.  
  • 2. Douglas to Tilton, 6 November 1855, advising that such arms and ammunition as he had available would be sent, but that a steamer could not yet be despatched.  
  • 3. Douglas to Tolmie, 5 November 1855, advising on the course that should be taken, and of the assistance he is presently able to provide.  
 
Despatch to London:
Douglas to Molesworth, 8 November 1855, National Archives of the UK, 380, CO 305/6. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871. Ed. James Hendrickson and the Colonial Despatches project. Victoria: University of Victoria. http://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/getDoc.htm?id=V55124.scx. Accessed 22 March 2017. 

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