Fort Simcoe (Yakama), 2 March 1883. 2 pp. Quarto (ca. 24,5x19,5 cm or 9 ¾ x 7 ¾ in). Black ink on lined wove paper with the printed letterhead of “United States Indian Service,” the Agency, address, and date completed in manuscript as “Yakama,” “Fort Simcoe,” “Mch, 2, (188)3.” Fold marks, very mildly age-toned, small damp smears affecting two words (legible), but overall a very good interesting Yakama letter.
A historically interesting original autograph manuscript letter penned by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and Indian Agent for the Yakama Agency, Gen. Robert H. Milroy (Ca. 1814-1890). “Gen. Robert H. Milroy was born in Indiana in 1814. He was educated a lawyer, but served as a volunteer in the Mexican war. When the Civil War began he offered his services as a volunteer. He commanded a brigade of Indiana troops in West Virginia and in the Shenandoah valley.” (The Coshocton Tribune. 10 May 1886. P. 3). After the war, Milroy was a trustee of the Wabash and Erie Canal Company and, from 1872 to 1875, served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Washington Territory and an Indian agent for the following ten years.
Dated March 2, 1883, the letter was written at Fort Simcoe during Robert’s second year of service in Yakama and only a few months before he found himself “out of business…and in debt.”
Fort Simcoe was a United States Army fort erected in Yakama in 1856 to maintain an uneasy peace between the local Indian tribes and the settlers. In 1859, a year after the US victory in the war against the Yakama Indians, the fort was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Facilities at Fort Simcoe were transformed into a boarding school, where Indian Agents and the BIA attempted to assimilate Yakama children into American culture.
Written on a paper with the Agency’s official letterhead, the letter is addressed to Robert’s son, a future judge and one of the pioneer attorneys of Yakama, Bruce Milroy (ca. 1858-1935). In the letter, apparently sent to Olympia (Washington Territory), the author mentions another one of his sons, a judge and the founder of the first law firm in Yakama, Walt Milroy (1857-1935). The author plans Walt’s theoretical travel itinerary in case he wishes to visit his “Pa” and suggests taking the quickest and most popular route from Olympia, traveling by rail to the Fort of Dalles, and then covering the remaining distance of over 100 miles by stage to Yakama City. According to the July 29th, 1884 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Walter apparently did visit his father a few months after he received this letter: “Rev. J. R. Thompston and Walter Milroy of Olympia…have just returned from a trip across the mountains. They were in the Yakima country, and say that the ride is a rough one, but conducive of one’s weakened constitution. They drove a band of twenty horses across with them.” Milroy also thoroughly instructs the addressee of the letter, Bruce, on how to use the enclosed draft of $150 (from “rent of agency buildings”) to pay a note held against him by his former colleague Mark Hartsuck (1825-1898). The two apparently met during Milroy’s previous position as an Indian Agent in the Nisqually Agency (1872-1882), where Mark worked as a boarding-school teacher. After providing detailed guidelines on the “Hartsuck note,” the author asks Bruce to immediately notify him once he receives the letter and to report to him the amount due “when this is paid.” Near the close of the letter, “sadly disappointed” Robert complains that he hasn't heard from Bruce, or yet another of his sons, Val (the future postmaster of Olympia), and urges them to write more often.
In 1885, two years after this letter was written, Robert Milroy was removed from the position of the Indian Agent at Fort Simcoe due to the election of a new U.S. President from a different political party. A few months after his removal, Milroy wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Indian affairs: “I believe I have laid up some treasures in Heaven, but know I have laid up none on earth while in the service, as I leave it as poor as when I came into it… I quit the service without regret but with some annoyance on one point – that is, the manner of leaving it, being thrust out through the suspended door constructed by Congress for President’s to thrust out discovered rascals and incompetents from Government offices.” (The Washington Standard. 30 Apr 1886. P. 4).
Following his retirement, General Milroy moved to Olympia together with his wife and was soon diagnosed with chronic inflammation of the ligaments around the hip joint. Milroy died from heart failure in Olympia on May 29, 1890.
Overall, a historically interesting letter written by the Indian agent Robert H. Milroy, mentioning the best possible route from Olympia to Yakama and talking about the “Hartsuck note” held against him by his former colleague in Puyallup.
The text of the letter (original spelling preserved):
Enclosed herewith I send a draft for $150 for rent of agency buildings during 3 qua/ 1882. Your mother has endorsed it so that it can be paid to any person who presents it. I want the rest of this check credited on the Hartsuck note. If Walt is in Olympia, I wish him to attend to it as he will be passing Puyallup on his way to and from Seattle. I suppose Hartsuck is still at Puyallup. If he is, it would be well to write to him that you want to make payment on his note against me as he may have left it in Olympia. But check from him for the 150$ will be good though it would be best to have it endorsed with note.
But Walt will know how to fix this matter. Write me the amount due on said note when this is paid. Write as soon as you get this that I may know you have read it. We are both in good health. Tell Walt to come over here during his vacation. He can come by R. R. (railroad) to the Dalles. Then by stage to Yakima city from there. Mail track comes here 3 times per week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. This is mail day. We have not heard from you or Val for several weeks. Wish you would write oftentimes. I have delayed closing this letter in hopes of receiving a letter from you or the other boys, but none has come. I am sadly disappointed. Wish you + Val would write often.”.