Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Famous Cayuse twins overcome ‘bad medicine’ superstition

Some of the most well-known photographs taken by Major Lee Moorhouse were those of the famous Cayuse Twins, Tox-e-lox and A-lom-pum, daughters of Cayuse chief Ha-hots-mox-mox (Yellow Grizzly Bear). The photos, presented as a set, show the girls as infants in cradleboards: somberly studying the photographer in the first, and crying in the second. The photos became a financial windfall for Moorehouse in the early 1900s and brought worldwide attention to the Cayuse people. But the chief had to do some fast talking when they were born because of a superstition brought about by another set of twins that almost caused the decimation of the tribe before the arrival of white men to their land.

More than a century before the birth of Tox-e-lox and A-lom-pum, another set of twin girls was born to the Cayuse chief Qui-a-min-som-keen and his wife. As they grew up they became the loveliest maidens in the country, and not only the men of the Cayuse tribe but Walla Walla, Yakama and Nez Perce warriors sought to win the girls as brides. Their fame spread across the Blue Mountains to the Bannock tribe of the Grande Ronde Valley, the hereditary enemies of the Cayuse, and two Bannock chieftains crossed the mountains to assess these beauties for themselves. Seeing the rumors of the girls’ beauty were true, the chieftains managed to kidnap the twins, carry them back to their home country and marry them.

The Cayuse declared war on the Bannocks, and attempted to enlist the Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes to their cause. But the Bannocks heard of the declaration and moved swiftly, meeting 700 Cayuse warriors with 1,000 of their own at the site of present-day Umatilla. A desperate fight followed and many were killed on both sides, but the Bannocks had superior numbers and only a fierce wind storm brought the battle to a halt. After the wind abated and the air cleared of dust and sand, both sides attempted to return to the battle but were again stopped by a heavy rain and hail storm.

The superstitious tribes retreated and consulted their medicine men. A Bannock approached the Cayuse camp and said the Great Spirit had advised his tribe to compensate the Cayuse for the twins with a large gift of ponies. The peace offering was accepted, more for fear of the wrath of the Great Spirit than a desire for material gain. The opposing sides buried their dead in a common grave and departed for their homes.

But the trials of the Cayuse were not over. Their journey home was overshadowed by an intense thunder and lightning storm, and on returning to their encampment the medicine men were told to learn the cause of the Great Spirit’s wrath. After a time they reported the Great Spirit was displeased because the Cayuse had permitted the twins to live, and ordered all future twin girls must be killed at birth, or misfortune would overtake the tribe again.

Ha-hots-mox-mox was an enlightened man, and desperate to save his daughters. He told the tribe that he had been shown a vision while on a hunt on the Little Minam. He said the Great Spirit had promised him twins that would bring good fortune to the whole tribe. Visions being important to the Indian people, the girls were allowed to live.

The girls were joined by twin brothers when they were 15 years old. Major Moorhouse lost no time in adding a photo of the new twins to his collection, but he was unable to make them cry; the mother was present and it is said Moorhouse feared to resort to poking them with a stick, as he was rumored to have done with the girls (but vehemently denied).

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