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The Whitman Massacre Trial: 1850

Five Cayuse Braves Arrested, The Trial Begins, Passionate Closing Arguments, The Sentence Is Death

Defendants: Telokite, Tomahas, Kiamasumkin, Isiaasheluckas, Clokomas
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Kintzing Pritchette
Chief Prosecutor: Amory Holbrook
Judge: Orville C. Pratt
Place: Oregon City, Oregon Territory
Dates of Trial: May 21-24, 1850
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by hanging

SIGNIFICANCE: This trial was the foremost attempt by the newly created Oregon Territory to move away from makeshift, frontier justice and to conduct a disciplined trial following formal court procedures such as: a written summary of proceedings, appointment of defense counsel, pretrial motions, organized selection of jurors, provision for interpreters, right of cross-examination, and observance of other decorum and safeguards. In spite of these protocols, former folkways surfaced and the trial reflected just the beginnings of a new order yet to be fully embraced. The trial also foreshadowed the degree to which U.S. courts would go in prosecuting Indians for crimes committed against U.S. citizens on Indian lands.

On November 29, 1847, deep in the wilds of the so-called "Oregon Country,"13 missionaries and white settlers were brutally murdered at a mission located off the Oregon Trail and near the Waiilatpu Camp of the Cayuse Indian nation. Eight months later, Congress and President Polk made Oregon a U.S. territory and sent officials (including Governor Joe Lane, Secretary Kintzing Pritchette, U.S. Attorney Amory Holbrook, Judge Orville C. Pratt, U.S. Marshall Joe Meek and a mounted rifle regiment) to bring U.S. government to the Pacific northwest and more specifically to try and punish the murderers.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882