Umatilla, Walla Walla & Cayuse
Traditional Culture
  Who's Who
Since Time Immemorial
All My Relations
Camp Life & Seasonal Round
Horses, Trade, & Travel
Cultural Continuity
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Sovereignty & Tribal Government
Arts and Artists
Recommended Web Sites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Lewis & Clark and the Early Fur Trade
Establishment of Fort Nez Perces
Life at Ft. Walla Walla
Missionaries and Early Settlers
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Horsehair bridle.
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA

Gilbert Minthorn holding horse with his mother, Modesta Minthorn and unidentified child at the Pendleton Round-up.
Date unknown. Photo courtesy of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

Umatilla men on horseback at the Pendleton Round Up. Oregon, 1910
Photo by Walter S. Bowman. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division, NA1441.

Fourth of July horse parade on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, led by (left to right)
Fermore Craig Sr., David Wolf, and Samson Sampson. All three hold traditional eagle staffs.

image image
image image
image image image image image
Roberta Conner
Director, Tamastslikt Cultural Institute of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
What role did gaming play at Celilo?

Click Here to get Quicktime   Quicktime
HTML Transcript

Why were the Indians so good at bartering?
Roberta Conner

Umatilla River > Culture > Horses, Trade, and Travel
Wild horses on the Umatilla Reservation, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Courtesy of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute.
Acquisition of the Horse

A Strange Dream

Gilbert Minthorn told A. W. Nelson this story of the Walla Wallas acquiring horses:
Gilbert Minthorn
Photo courtesy Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

"hellip;When the Walla Wallas were numerous and powerful, one of their wise men dreamed a strange dream, but thought little of it. When the identical dream occurred with annoying regularity, he took council with his chiefs.

"Continually I see a strange animal, not unlike an elk but without horns. There is long hair on his neck and on his rump. Astride this queer spectacle sites a man dressed in a long, black garment, and on his head a queer black object, wide and flat. I see it towards the south. I shall go to it."

"Ignoring expostulations and objections the dreamer of dreams set forth, going south, always south. Faith and hope finally deserted him and one night he collapsed in a state of thorough dejection. He was lonesome and defeated. But a crow appeared nearby, cawing in a raucous manner. It circled and darted south only to return and repeat the maneuvers often. "I have arrived," cried the wanderer, and fell asleep.

"The next morning he saw in the distance a padre riding a Mexican mustang-exactly as his dreams had pictured it. Arguing not with his conscience he slew the padre, mounted the beast and rode it home. The mustang was a mare and it was with foal. Soon after the wise man retuned to his W Ws, very much a hero, a male colt was born, and from the resultant inbreeding came the cayuse pony…" (Minthorn; Nelson: 1934).

According to Cayuse tradition…

…sometime in the early 1700s, a war party of Cayuse and Umatilla camped on the Malheur River, a tributary of the Snake River. Some spies were dispatched to bluffs that overlooked the river to watch for their enemy, the Snakes or Shoshone. They saw something that caused great bewilderment. The Shoshone appeared to be riding either elk or large deer. The spies hurried back to tell their war chief, Ococtuin, of this strange site. The chief sent other warriors to find out the reason for what he thought must surely be a trick. They, too, saw what appeared to be their enemies riding either elk or large deer. Puzzled, the group crept in for a closer look. Much to their amazement, they discovered that the hoofprints were not split but solid and round. Thoroughly disturbed by this discovery, Ococtuin deserted the war plan for peace instead. This turned out to be a very wise decision. They arranged a truce with the Shoshone and asked to trade for some of these amazing creatures. The reply was a stern "no!" The Cayuse and Umatilla warriors laid down all they had to give. Finally, Shoshone consented and gave a mare and a stallion. The party went back home with the pair of Spanish descent horses. The Indians treated these treasured gifts with great care, and the following year the mare gave birth to a colt.

Lifeways Change and Wealth

Many of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse people became excellent horse breeders, maintaining large herds. Their homelands in southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon were rich with abundant grass covered hills for grazing. Lewis and Clark wrote of these great herds on their journey down the Columbia River.

Horse Heaven Hills
Krista Anderson photograph
View Map

"…the river hills are about 250 feet high and generally abrupt and Craggey in many places faced with a perpendicular and Solid rock. this rock is black and hard. leve plains extend themselves from the tops of the river hills to great distance on either Side of the river. the Soil is not as fertile as about the falls, tho' it produces a low grass on which the horses feed very Conveniently. it astonished me to See the order of their horses at this Season of the year when I knew they had wintered on the dry grass of the plains and at the Same time road with greater Severity than is Common among ourselves. I did not See a Single horse which Could be deemed poor and many of them were very fat. their horses were generally good. [Lewis] Friday April 25th, 1806"" (Moulton: 1991).Prestige and wealth became partially measured by the amount of horses an individual or family possessed. By the 1830s a Cayuse with only 15-20 horses was thought to be poor, while the wealthy may have owned more than 2,000 head"" (Stern 1998).The horse greatly changed the life-ways of the Plateau peoples. Horses gave them more mobility, which allowed them to travel greater distances faster and expand their territory, improving their already extensive trade networks. Of the various Plateau groups, the Cayuse, in particular, became skilled horsemen. By imposing themselves as middlemen between the trading companies and their traditional enemies, the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Northern Shoshone, the Cayuse were able to increase their trade goods and obtain more land to the south"" (Stern 1998).Cayuse teamed with Nez Perce, and to a lesser extent, Umatilla and Walla Walla people, crossed the Rocky Mountains and formed intertribal parties with some Salish groups to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains. At times they wintered on the Plains, participating in the customs and practices of Plains life.

"To survive in this environment they adopted Plains-style clothing, methods of packing and transporting goods with parfleches and travois, respectively, and integrated tepees into their housing repertoire. Along with clothing and containers came new designs in paint and beadwork. New songs and ceremonies, war honors dances, and the idea of electing headmen based on warrior skills came from these associations with people of the Plains" (

Intertribal Trade

Many new trade goods were exchanged between the Plateau region and the Plains. Aside from the above mentioned, horses, pipestone, obsidian points, buffalo meat and hides were traded for fish, dried roots, basketry, and ornamental seashells, to cite just a few of the many items bartered. At the Dalles, people of the Northwest Coast, Plateau, and Plains cultures intermingled and exchanged foods, goods, and cultural ideas.

K. Furrow photo
Background:Portion of Maj. Lee Moorhouse. PH 36, Special Collections & University Archives,
University of Oregon, M5143.