A prominent chief of the Cayuse tribe on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton accidentally caused his own death in a Chicago hotel while traveling to testify before the government about tribal land sales in February 1920.
Yumsumkin, the chief of the Cayuse tribe and thought to be one of the wealthiest tribal members in the area, was traveling from Pendleton by train to Washington, D.C., in February of 1920 of his own accord to object to the methods being used by the U.S. government for selling and leasing Indian lands. Yumsumkin, who also went by the name Johnson Sumkin, and whose Indian name meant “Grizzly Bear’s Shirt,” lived on his property about a mile south of Adams — 320 acres of the best land in the section. He also had a financial interest in another 80-acre tract on the reservation. His net worth was estimated at $80,000.
The 65-year-old Cayuse chief had stopped in Chicago on his way to the nation’s capitol, and it was there he met his untimely end. Before going to bed, it was reported that he blew out the pilot for the light, and was asphyxiated by the gas while he slept. News of his death was wired to Indian Agency Superintendent E.L. Swartzlander on Feb. 25.
“He was wealthy, very smart and very shrewd,” said Major Lee Moorhouse, the former Indian agent, when told of Yumsumkin’s death. “He always held onto his lands and wanted the other Indians to do likewise. He was on his way to Washington to personally seek relief from the system which allows the Indians to sell out and then find themselves without land or money.”
Yumsumkin left behind his wife Petinta, a sister of the late Chief Umapine, and a 15-year-old daughter, Josephine, who was attending the Catholic school on the reservation.
The chief’s body was shipped back to Pendleton for burial.