Lucullus Virgil McWhorter

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Lucullus Virgil McWhorter
BornJanuary 29, 1860
Harrison County, West Virginia
DiedOctober 10, 1944
Prosser (North Yakima), Washington
OccupationFarmer, Writer, Native-American-civil-rights advocate
GenreHistory, Anthropology
SubjectNez Perce War, Yakama Nation's culture and spiritualism, Nez Perce culture
Notable worksHear Me, My Chiefs
Yellow Wolf, His Own Story
Notable awardsWas given a name by the Yakama Nation, "Big Foot".[1] Adopted into the Yakima Nation and given another name, Hemene Ka-Wan (Old Wolf).[2]
SpouseAdelia A. Swisher (married 1883)[1]
C. Annie Bowman (married 1895)[1]
ChildrenOvid Tullius McWhorter (born 1884)[1]

Iris Oresta McWhorter (born 1886)[1]

Virgil Oneco McWhorter (born 1888)[1]

Lucullus Virgil McWhorter (January 29, 1860 – October 10, 1944) was an American farmer and frontiersman who documented the historical Native American tribes in West Virginia and the modern-day Plateau Native Americans in Washington state.

His studies were anthropological, documenting the culture and history of the tribes. He became politically active as he represented the Plateau Native Americans against mistreatment by the United States federal government and published accounts to make this mistreatment known to the public. He was considered an amateur in his day, but today his anthropology studies are deemed important enough to have a permanent home in Washington State University's special collections department.[1] Current scholars consider his work as "significant" in his field, and helping to preserve the cultural heritage of the Native American tribes of the Columbia Basin.[3] His papers are an "essential and valued resource", and the collection of his papers is "widely and intensively used."[3] After more than 60 years, the work he did remains "extremely valuable for outreach and teaching purpose."[3]

His work earned praise from Professor Alanna Kathleen Brown in her review of a new biography of him, Voice of the Old Wolf: Lucullus Virgil McWhorter and the Nez Perce Native Americans, in the Universe Magazine, Spring 1997.[4] She called him an "amazingly interesting, courageous, dedicated, and insightful man."[4] As to his accomplishments, she said:

For over 400 years, while Euroamericans were moving west, they pretended that they settled a "wilderness." When confronted by native peoples, the vast majority asserted the privileges of a superior race, using force and law to take what they wanted, justifying their greed as the manifestation of divine will. For Native American peoples, their coming meant the largest genocide in human history. McWhorter understood, and was appalled. He dedicated his energies to comprehending the cultures of the Native American tribes who surrounded him, and he committed himself to recounting the legends and epic personal stories of those he saw passing. McWhorter also continually argued for fair treatment and decency towards Native Americans whenever he could be an advocate. For this love, he was ridiculed and isolated by many of his own white peers.[4]


Early life[edit]

Lucullus V. McWhorter was born one of twelve children to Reverend John Minion McWhorter and Rosetta Marple McWhorter on January 29, 1860 in Harrison County, Virginia (an area later admitted into the union as a part of the state of West Virginia).[5]:1 From his childhood on, Lucullus rejected a formal education and adapted his own methods of learning through his love for nature and the outdoors.

He married Adelia A. Swisher on March 17, 1883, and together they had three children: Ovid (born 1884), Iris (born 1886), and Virgil (born 1888). Adelia died in the winter of 1893.

He married his second wife in 1895 and in 1897, moved his family from Upshur County, West Virginia to Darke County, Ohio. Here, McWhorter continued his work as a farmer and rancher, as well as his in-depth study of Native American tribes, through constant reading and research and the experience of Native American life. His studies of Native American tribes of West Virginia were significant to documenting their histories; he founded the journal, The American Archaeologist, with A. C. Gruhlke and J. R. Nissley to further his research. McWhorter had his sights set on the American West.[5]:2

McWhorter and the Yakama Native Americans[edit]

McWhorter left Fort Jefferson, Ohio on February 26, 1903 and headed west to settle in Yakima, Washington[6]:1–2 (called North Yakima until 1918[7]). He arrived in April and set up a ranch on the outskirts of North Yakima on the Yakima River, where he was located on a trail connecting the town to the nearby Yakima Native American Reservation. "Anyone from the reservation with any business in town soon found the McWhorter place a convenient spot to camp, and the eager McWhorter began to make friends almost at once among the Yakamas."[6]:2 McWhorter closely observed the Yakama culture and spiritualism, which he found to be simple and inviting. He began to question his own Christianity, which he ultimately renounced, and began a comparative study between different religions.[8] McWhorter’s frequent contact with the Yakama led to his championing their struggles against federal officials and white settlers.

The plight of the Yakama Native Americans had been well established by the time McWhorter arrived in Washington. In 1855 various Native American leaders signed treaties establishing reservations.[9]:53–55 The Yakima Native American reservation was one of three established during this time. The treaty guaranteed the Yakama rights to their land; however, miners soon converged on the Yakama reservation, which prompted a three-year war. It ended in 1858 with the defeat of the Yakama by United States forces.[9]:55–57 As the years progressed, whites continued to encroach on the Yakama Native American Reservation.

In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Allotment Act, which provided for allotment of communal Native American lands in reservations to individual households to force assimilation, and sale of "surplus" land to white settlers.[9]:57 In 1906, Washington Senator Wesley L. Jones proposed a bill in Congress that would require Yakama Native Americans to give up three-fourths of their land in exchange for irrigation rights.[10] Seeing that the odds were against the Yakama Native Americans, McWhorter quickly took action.

McWhorter befriended Yoom-Tee-Bee, then Chief of the Yakama Native Americans, and sought to aid the Yakama Native Americans in their fight to preserve their rights and land. Together, the two rode on horseback across the Yakama reservation talking to residents and encouraging them not to sign any documents for US government officials.[6]:51 McWhorter became a prominent figure in Yakama Native American affairs, invited to sit in on tribal councils; he wrote scores of letters to congressmen as well as prominent Native American civil rights activists on the east coast to bring the struggle of the Yakama to light.[11] In 1913, McWhorter published a pamphlet, The Crime Against the Yakamas, further detailing the Yakamas' long history of abuse at the hands of the United States government.[12]

Chief Yoom-Tee-Bee died in 1910 but, as a result of his and McWhorter’s efforts, the Jones bill died in Congress in 1914.[6]:5 Later that year, McWhorter received a letter of thanks from Yoom-Tee-Bee’s successor, Stwire G. Watters, who wrote, "We prayed for someone like you to come to us."[13] McWhorter was adopted as an honorary member by the Yakama tribe, being given the name Hemene Ka-Wan, or Old Wolf.[2] He continued as an active force in the Yakima Native American reservation for the rest of his life, attending council meetings, and acting as a mediator between the Yakama and the Bureau of Native American Affairs.[6]:76–77 In 1916 he published "The Continued Crime Against the Yakamas", another pamphlet about their treatment by the government.[14] McWhorter’s advocacy for Native American rights against the oppression of the US government was a lifelong mission. It contributed to his passion for recording Native American history as narrated from Native American perspectives.

McWhorter and the Nez Perce Native Americans[edit]

Lucullus V. McWhorter encountered a Nez Perce Native American by chance in 1907, when Hemene Mox Mox, or Yellow Wolf, came to his ranch near the Yakima River. After learning of Yellow Wolf’s experiences as a warrior and veteran of the Nez Perce War of 1877, McWhorter befriended the man. McWhorter saw the need to record Nez Perce accounts of their history. "To hear Yellow Wolf," he wrote, "was to be impressed by the unquestionable candor of his conviction that he and his associates were fully justified in all their actions".[6]:20–21 With a translator, McWhorter began studying Yellow Wolf’s life and the history of the Nez Perce. From this work, he published two books: Yellow Wolf: His Own Story (1944) and Hear Me, My Chiefs! (1951).

Up until then, the only accounts about the Nez Perce and the War of 1877 were written by white U.S. soldiers who fought against the Nez Perce Native Americans; they presented one side of the argument. General Oliver Otis Howard commanded the U.S. troops pursuing the Nez Perce during the Nez Perce War of 1877; he published his historical account as Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit and Capture (1881).[15] McWhorter wanted to present the Nez Perce perspective to help preserve their cultural identity. The Nez Perce had gone through much change since the signing of the Walla Walla treaties on June 11, 1855: "It had taken the commissioners less than a month to acquire over thirty million acres of land in three future states…and added a fresh layer to the shifting sands of Native American identity along the Columbia River".[9] Between 1855 and 1877, the United States forced a reduction in the Nez Perce Reservation to a fraction of its original size.

After several disputes over land and resources, the Nez Perce people grew weary of the whites' influence over their land. The actions of three Nez Perce boys were the catalyst for the beginning of the Nez Perce War in 1877: "General Howard has shown us the rifle. We answer ‘Yes.’ We will stir up a fight for him. We will start his war!"[16] By recording what Yellow Wolf had told him, McWhorter provided a history from the Nez Perce perspective in Yellow Wolf: His Own Story (1944). Yellow Wolf’s story was the anthem of all Nez Perce who fought for their way of life and lost. He depicted the "non-treaty" Nez Perce not as savages, but as a strong people who were resisting their American oppressors. In doing so, McWhorter challenged the stereotype that had long been perpetuated by Native American histories told through white eyes.

Later McWhorter worked to complete his "Field History" of the Nez Perce, which was published as Hear Me, My Chiefs! Nez Perce History and Legend.[17] It was published posthumously; his son Virgil McWhorter completed the book in 1951. His final piece of work covered the history of the Nez Perce throughout Washington State’s Palouse region and the events following the end of the war of 1877. "On his deathbed, McWhorter made a request to his son, Virgil…to see his still untitled Field History through to publication."[6]:171 It was his dying wish that the voice of the Nez Perce people would be heard and told through their perspective.

The friendship which McWhorter developed with Yellow Wolf and the Nez Perce Native Americans proved to be invaluable to his historical findings. Up to his death in 1944, McWhorter remained very active in Nez Perce relations with the Bureau of Native American Affairs.[6]:77 For most of his life, he fought to preserve Native American identity as a persistent historian and caring friend. Without the efforts of Lucullus McWhorter, the Nez Perce story would have been told by men ignorant of their traditional life and culture.

Methods and research[edit]

McWhorter did not pursue a formal education. His inspiration for conducting research into Native American life, culture, and history was garnered largely from what he read. His voracious appetite for literature led him to the opinion that most books that had been written on Native Americans were lacking in that they included little or no input from actual Native Americans.[6]:24–25 McWhorter therefore, decided to combine his passion for advocacy with his pursuit for writing a history of Native Americans as told by actual Native Americans. In addition to McWhorter’s ranch, which allowed frequent encounters with Native Americans, he sought additional contact with Native Americans through the creation of mock Native American encampments that toured the Pacific Northwest rodeo circuit.[6]:25

These mock Native American encampments included traditional Native American dress, dances, and drumming. Native Americans from both the Nez Perce and Yakama tribes were frequent attendees. The reason for this is because the rodeo circuit mirrored the tradition seasonal round, or nomadic ways of life, that Native Americans had traditionally followed before the treaties that established reservations in 1855.[6]:25 These rodeos provided McWhorter with the opportunity to interview multiple Native Americans, "…with each rodeo or fair McWhorter learned more of the tribal oral tradition and he recorded what he heard. He well understood the unique opportunity at hand."[6]:27 The vast plethora of interviews provided McWhorter with the ability to fact check his history quite easily. Facts were often repeated by multiple persons, thus adding more weight to their potential for being faithful accounts of events. Furthermore, the rodeos provided the Native Americans and McWhorter as well, with a source of income.

In addition, these rodeos were in stark contrast to other rodeos, like those of Buffalo Bill Cody. Instead of a ‘white-washed’ version of the west, McWhorter’s rodeos presented traditional Native American culture to white settlers and served to stem the tide of ignorance that was so prevalent during the time. Through these rodeos, McWhorter was able to find additional contacts who shared his interest in Native American advocacy and history. In particular, at the Frontier Days celebration at Walla Walla in 1914, McWhorter was introduced to a lady named Cristal McLeod, also known as Mourning Dove. Mourning Dove was a half-blood Native American of Okanogan descent who had written, but not published, a semi-autobiographical novel called, Co-ge-we-a, The Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range. McWhorter would befriend Mourning Dove and help her publish her novel largely because her novel embodied the struggle of Native American culture versus white culture the McWhorter ardently fought to remedy.[6]:55

Another contact he made was with a former mountain man, Andrew Garcia, who had married three Native American women in his early life, including a Nez Perce woman who had been among those fleeing with Chief Joseph.[18] The meeting with Garcia and the letters between Garcia and McWhorter resulted in Garcia writing several thousand pages about life in Montana and among the Native American tribes there, and the creation of a book, Tough Trip Through Paradise.[18] The book gives some detail about the results of the native's encounters with the 7th Cavalry.[18] The pages that Garcia wrote are of sufficient historical significance to be kept by the Montana Historical Society, and might not have been written without that encounter and correspondence with McWhorter.[18]

Historical significance[edit]

McWhorter’s unique combination of advocacy and history allowed for him to befriend Native Americans, allowing him access to firsthand accounts of Native American history and legends. McWhorter was very much a historian who put his heart into his work, in contrast to the typical tendency of historians to remove themselves from the project to sustain objectivity. The history he sought to write was about a people who he felt of as family.[2] McWhorter was able to involve himself personally in his subject and still produce a product that attained academic acceptability.


  • The Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia, from 1768 to 1795: Embracing the Life of Jesse Hughes and Other Noted Scouts of the Great Woods of the Trans-Allegheny, With notes and illustrative anecdotes (1915), Republic Publishing Company, Hamilton, Ohio. (Many reprints)
  • Yellow Wolf: His Own Story
  • Hear Me, My Chiefs!
  • The Crime Against the Yakimas (1913)
  • "Coyote Stories" (1933) By Mourning Dove. Many of his notes were included in this book.
  • "Cogewa, the Half-Blood" (1927) By Mourning Dove. Many of his notes were included in this book.
  • Tragedy of the Wahk-Shum: The Death of Andrew J. Bolon, Yakima Indian Agent, As Told by Su-El-Lil, Eyewitness; Also, the Suicide of General George A. Custer
  • The Discards
  • Voice of the Old Wolf: Lucullus Virgil McWhorter and the Nez Perce Indians

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collection. "Cage 55 Lucullus Virgil McWhorter". Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  2. ^ a b c Letter, Louis Mann to Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, December 16, 1916. Box 33, in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), Washington State University.
  3. ^ a b c Association of Research Libraries. "Celebrating Research, Lucullus Virgil McWhorter Papers 1848–1945, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections". Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  4. ^ a b c Alanna Kathleen Brown. "Voice of the Old Wolf: Lucullus Virgil McWhorter and the Nez Perce Native Americans". Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  5. ^ a b Ault, Nelson A., ed. (1959). The Papers of Lucullus Virgil McWhorter. Friends of the Library: State College of Washington.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Evans, Steven Ross (1996). Voice of the Old Wolf. Pullman: Washington State University Press.
  7. ^ "City of Yakima, History". Retrieved 2011-12-26.
  8. ^ Aulst, Nelson A. The Papers of Lucullus Virgil McWhorter (Friends of the Library: State College of Washington, 1959), 5-7.
  9. ^ a b c d Fisher, H. Andrew (2010). Shadow Tribe. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  10. ^ McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil 1913. Page 2 McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil, The Crime Against the Yakamas. North Yakima, Republic Print. 1913. Page 2, Box 2. in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), Washington State University.
  11. ^ Yakama Tribal Council transcript, October 1, 1909, Box 34, in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), Washington State University.
  12. ^ McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil, 1913. 2.
  13. ^ Letter, Stwire G. Watters to Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, N. D. Box 36, in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), Washington State University.
  14. ^ McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil. "The Continued Crime Against the Yakamas". North Yakima, Republic Print. 1916. Box 2, in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), Washington State University.
  15. ^ Oliver Otis Howard, Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit, and Capture. Boston, MA: Lee and Shepard, 1881.
  16. ^ McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil. Yellow Wolf: His Own Story. Pullman Washington State University Press. 1940, 41.
  17. ^ McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil. Hear Me, My Chiefs!, Pullman: Washington State University Press. 1951.
  18. ^ a b c d "Tough trip through paradise, 1878-1879". Retrieved 2011-12-26.

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