Lawrence L. Dodd Address

 

 

Members of the Wainwright family, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honored guests, Wainwright commemorative committee, hospital staff & patients, and fellow speakers.

 

One hundred eighteen years ago Company K, First Cavalry, of the United States Army, arrived at Fort Walla Walla after several months of participating in the last major conflict between Pacific Northwest Indian tribes and the military.  At that time the officers of Company K were Captain Charles Bendire, commanding; 1st Lieut. Frank K. Upham, and 2nd Lieut. Robert Powell Page Wainwright, the father of the man for whom this Veterans Administration Medical Center is being officially named today.

 

When asked if I would participate in this program I requested some time to think about it. Upon learning that Mr. Peter Wainwright was going to speak about the general I proposed going back further in time and develop a presentation about the general's father and the years he was stationed at Fort Walla Walla. My proposal was accepted and as my research progressed so did my enthusiasm. Each day I became more convinced that the general's father also deserves the honor of being recognized on this historic day.

 

Robert Powell Page Wainwright was born on the 19th day of May, 1852, in Philadelphia, just one year before the Territory of Washington was created. He was the son of Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II, who was killed while on active duty with the U. S. Navy when Robert was 11 years old. His mother was Maria Page, daughter of Robert Powell Page, a Virginia doctor.  Wainwright was appointed a Cadet (at large) and on the first day of July, 1870, entered the U. S. Military Academy with a class of 65 members. Five years later he graduated 24th in a class of 37, promoted in the Army to 2nd Lieut and assigned to Company K, 1st Cavalry, which was stationed at Camp Harney, centrally located in Eastern Oregon.  There the 23 year old 2nd Lieutenant started an interesting and successful 27 year career with the U.S. Cavalry.

 

Assignments at Camp Harney for the approximately 68 members of Company K involved scouting trips in central Oregon and Idaho, and an 1877 Nez Perce War expedition as a reserve column, of which Wainwright acted as Adjutant.  In May of 1878 Company K was relieved from duty at Camp Harney and assigned to Fort Walla Walla, which had been established as the departmental headquarters for the 1st Cavalry two years earlier. This move took several months, for Company K was in the field from May to October.

 

In the 1878 Bannock Indian War a total of 19 companies of Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry, having some 540 men, were scattered through Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho. Company K was part of this force, earning the reputation as "the celebrated fighting Co. K, First Cavalry."

 

Reports of Indian problems flowed into the Walla Walla Valley and a local newspaper reported that "outbreaks may prove a serious thing for this portion of the country."  As the local citizens' concerns about the possibilities of fighting in the valley increased, delegates from Washington and Idaho Territory met in Walla Walla for the first Constitutional Convention of Washington Territory. Commencing in mid June, the convention lasted 40 days.

 

While the delegates were in their 31st day of deliberations a battle between the military and the Indians was waged near Pendleton, Oregon. Here Lieut. Wainwright distinguished himself for his "gallantry and also for tact displayed on the field." His leadership and courage was noted by Colonel Evan Mills (commander of the 21st Infantry): "Lieut. Wainwright showed conspicuous gallantry in charging and driving the Indians, that largely out numbered his force, from a strong position on top of a hill." Later General 0. 0. Howard, Commanding Officer of the Department of the Columbia, in his recommendation for awarding Lieut. Wainwright a brevet promotion, noted that Wainwright "charged with his men upon between 300 and 400 Indians, driving them from their position. The charge was made under a heavy fire."

 

Company K arrived at Fort Walla Walla in early October, while the Lieut., due to detached service at Fort Boise, Idaho Territory, did not arrive until late November.  The Lieutenant had become, as noted by the Walla Walla Statesman newspaper, a "household" word. The July 1879 article reported that "We have been with him in several tight places, and always found him in the front with his company. Lieut. Wainwright is a soldier and a gentleman, and deserves all the prosperity that usually falls to the lot of mortals."

 

In May of 1879 Company K and M of the 1st Cavalry escorted Department Commander Howard and Washington Territorial Governor Ferry to the mouth of the Wenatchee River where they met with a number of Indian chiefs, under the leadership of Chief Moses, to discuss on which reservation tribes would reside and to investigate the possibility of establishing a military post in the area. After the meetings the cavalry escorted the party to Lake Chelan, Fort Coeur d'Alene and Spokane Falls. When the two companies returned to Walla Walla, after marching some 460 miles, the Walla Walla Union newspaper reported that "The cavalry animals looked well considering the hardships they had undergone. The pack animals were badly skinned up."

 

Two months later the Walla Walla Statesman reported that, "Lieut. Wainwright left the Fort last Thursday [July 20th] for New York on a leave of absence."  The lieutenant was away from Fort Walla Walla for four months. On Tuesday, September 2nd at the church of the Heavenly Rest, 5th Avenue and 45th Street in New York, he was married to Josephine, the daughter of retired General Edward Wellman Serrell, of New York.

 

It was interesting to discover that while on leave the Lieut. requested that the Walla Walla Statesman be sent to him in New York, a certain clue to his interest in keeping track of what was happening in Walla Walla and at the fort.  By mid November the lieutenant and his wife arrived at the fort.  The Walla Walla Statesman greeted the newlyweds: "Lieutenant Wainwright and his fair young bride have safely returned and our city is a larger gainer. We predict more popularity in the future for them than ever the gallant soldier had even in the past."

 

Two days after Christmas (1879) Walla Wallans celebrated the accumulation of snow by having a Sleighing Carnival, and among those who joined in the celebration was the lieutenant. The Walla Walla Statesman reported that among the finest of animals that were on display from Fort Walla Walla were the horses "owned by Lieutenants Bomus and Wainwright." The Lieutenant's love of animals was also reported in a 1904 biographical sketch: "He was an enthusiastic sportsman; a great lover of horses and dogs and was never without them." His commanding officers also understood this interest in horses, for on two occasions in 1882 the lieut. was a member of a Board of Officers who were responsible for purchasing Cavalry and Artillery horses.

 

By 1880 the population of Walla Walla County was 8,700, of which 3,500 were residents of the city of Walla Walla. By mid year Camp Harney, the lieutenant's first post, was abandoned. Fort Walla Walla had 5 companies of the 1st Cavalry, with 264 enlisted men and 18 officers and of the 13 posts in the Department of the Columbia it had the most personnel. Although headquarters for the 1st Cavalry, the men's quarters were small, kitchen and mess rooms were unfit and Cavalry horses were sheltered in sheds open to the weather. This was a serious problem for the winter of 1880‑1881 was one of the more severe experienced by the residents of the Walla Walla Valley.

 

Five years after graduating from the military academy, and almost to the day, Wainwright received his 1st lieutenant's commission on June 12, 1880. 

 

In early October President and Mrs. R. B. Hayes, accompanied by the Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey, General W. H. Sherman, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Brig. General 0. 0. Howard, Commander of the Department of the Columbia, staff officers, and other dignitaries, visited Walla Walla. A presidential parade down Walla Walla's main street was the order of the day and as part of the parade Fort Walla Walla furnished five companies of the 1st Cavalry and the famous 1st Cavalry band.

 

In November the Walla Walla Statesman ran a story about "The Bold Hunters. Lieuts Boutelle and Wainwright and detachment of soldiers have returned from their hunt in the mountains. Although they had 160 rounds of ammunition each and saw a deer, they could not catch him because they neglected to take any salt along. The market is not flooded with game as we predicted it would be."

 

On the 15th day of February, 1881, the first child was born to the Wainwrights, a daughter whom they named Helen Serrell Wainwright.

 

1881 Was fairly uneventful for the Lieutenant. He was dispatched on general court martial duty several times, but most of the year was spent at the fort. Mrs. Wainwright made an August trip to San Francisco, being away from Walla Walla for about a month.

 

On September 19th President Garfield passed away and Vice President Chester A. Arthur became president. In Walla Walla a new court house was constructed, first gas street light installed; smallpox outbreak in Columbia County prompted Walla Walla to issue quarantine proclamation barring all Dayton people from Walla Walla, and a new newspaper, the Morning Journal started publication.

 

One year minus one day, or February 14th, 1882, the second child was born to the Wainwright's, Jennie Pound Serrell Wainwright.

 

In April of 1882 the lieut. was assigned the responsibility of finding and returning to Fort Walla Walla Private Joseph Rose, a deserter. Wainwright and a sergeant started in pursuit and had gotten as far as Weston, Oregon, when the Lieut's horse gave out. "The Lieutenant at once took the horse of the sergeant and continued the pursuit alone." After three days the deserter was apprehended at Dalles City, Oregon and the next day Lieut. Wainwright was back at Fort Walla Walla where he turned the deserter over to the appropriate authorities.

 

1883 Was the last year for the Wainwrights at Fort Walla Walla. It was a busy year, from investigating alleged Indian outbreaks in several locations in Oregon and Washington; taking on responsibilities such as acting assistant quartermaster, for a time post treasurer, post signal and post engineer officer and being away from the fort on General Court Martial duty.

July was a frightening time in Walla Walla for diphtheria was spreading throughout the community, and it got so bad that the Fort quarantined itself against the city of Walla Walla.

 

On the 22 day of August fire visited the blacksmith shop of Wainwright's company, and through the quick action of a bucket brigade the fire was extinguished before much damage was done. The next day the third child was born to the Wainwrights, Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright Ill.

 

Improvements were being planned and made at the fort. A new water system was under construction, a guard house had been completed and new soldier's quarters were contemplated.

 

 Also during the month of August the lieutenants company was ordered to remove to Fort Bidwell, California. At 7 AM, on the 4th day of September the company moved out. Lieut. Wainwright was not with the company because he was on his way back from Fort Vancouver where he had been on court martial duty.

 

He remained most of the month of September at Fort Walla Walla as he had requested a leave of absence, which, when granted, would begin at the end of the month. The Walla Walla Union noted that the family would be leaving "for the Eastern States with a six months leave of absence and permission to cross the high seas."

 

The Walla Walla Union noted that on October 1st "Lieut. Wainwright, Mrs. Wainwright and her mother, Mrs. Surrell,  left for the eastern States." The three children also traveled with the family, Helen 2 years 8 months, Jennie, 1 year 8 months, and Jonathan, 1 1/3 months old. It is most likely the party traveled east on the Northern Pacific Railroad, which had just completed the east-west connection.

 

In 1884 the Lieut. rejoined his company at Fort Bidwell, California. Subsequently he was stationed at posts in Montana, Arizona, South Dakota, Utah and Nebraska. In February of 1892 he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He again distinguished himself while on active duty in the Spanish American War. When the squadron leader was wounded Captain Wainwright took charge and performed beyond expectations of the commanding officer. In May of 1901 he obtained the rank of Major.  He died November 19, 1902, at the age of 50, while serving with the 5th Cavalry in the Philippines.

 

A statement from Duane Schultz's book Hero of Bataan supports my choice to honor Robert Powell Page Wainwright today:  "The boy was every inch his father's son and in time he came to be like him, and more so. Tributes written about Robert Wainwright after his death can be used decades later to describe his son Jonathan."

 

And so on this 11th day of November, nineteen hundred ninety six, I give tribute to the father and the son, to the mother and the two daughters, who. were residents of our valley between 1878-1883 and who left behind their mark upon our community. It is important that we never forget the Wainwright family tie to eastern Washington and Oregon and the history that envelopes these historic hospital grounds.

 

Robert Powell Page Wainwright and his times are what legends are made of. Here we find the story of a true military gentleman. W. H. Miller, in his biographical sketch of Wainwright, wrote that he was a typical Cavalryman, and was never happier than when engaged upon mounted duty.  He was loyal in his friendships, carried no hates, was just, generous to a fault, envied no man his good fortune, and was gentle and kind in all his dealings with his fellow men.  In his home he was at his best, a devoted husband and loving father. His friends were legion and his enemies unknown."

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the Wainwright family, Thank You for your time and attention.

 By Lawrence L. Dodd. 11. 11. 1996 Copyright protected - LLD