History of Oregon (Bancroft)/Volume 2/Chapter 8

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3277115History of Oregon, Volume 2 — Chapter 8Frances Fuller Victor




Officers and Indian Agents at Port Orford—Attitude of the Coquilles—U. S. Troops Ordered out—Soldiers as Indian-fighters—The Savages too Much for Them—Something of Scarface and the Shastas—Steele Secures a Conference—Action of Superintendent Skinner—Much Ado about Nothing—Some Fighting—An Insecure Peace—More Troops Ordered to Vancouver.

General Hitchcock, commanding the Pacific division at Benicia, California, on hearing Kearny's account of affairs between the Indians and the miners, made a visit to Oregon; and having been persuaded that Port Orford was the proper point for a garrison, transferred Lieutenant Kautz and his company of twenty men from Astoria, where the governor had declared they were of no use, to Port Orford, where he afterward complained they were worth no more. At the same time the superintendent of Indian affairs, with agents Parrish and Spalding, repaired to the southern coast to treat if possible with its people. They took passage on the propeller Seagull, from Portland, on the 12th of September, 1851, T'Vault's party being at that time in the mountains looking for a road. The Seagull arrived at Port Orford on the 14th, two days before T'Vault and Brush were returned to that place, naked and stiff with wounds, by the charitable natives of Cape Blanco.

The twofold policy of the United States made it the duty of the superintendent to notice the murderous conduct of the Coquilles. As Dart had come to treat, he did not wish to appear as an avenger; neither did he feel secure as conciliator. It was at length decided to employ the Cape Blanco native, who undertook to ascertain the whereabouts, alive or dead, of the seven men still missing of the T'Vault party. This he did by sending two women of his tribe to the Coquille River, where the killing of five, and probable escape of the rest, was ascertained. The women interred the mangled bodies in the sand.

The attitude of the Coquilles was not assuring. To treat with them while they harbored murderers would not do; and how to make them give them up without calling on the military puzzled the superintendent. Finally Parrish, whose residence among the Clatsops had given him some knowledge of the coast tribes, undertook to secure hostages, but failed.[1] Dart returned to Portland about the 1st of October, leaving his interpreter with Kautz.

Between the visits of Governor Gaines to Rogue River and Dart to Port Orford, disturbances had been resumed in the former region. Gaines had agreed upon a mutual restitution of property or of its value, which was found not to work well, the miners being as much dissatisfied as the Indians. From this reason, and because the majority of the Rogue River natives were not parties to the treaty, not many weeks had elapsed after Gaines returned to Oregon City before depredations were resumed. A settler's cabin was broken into on Grave Creek, and some travellers were fired on from ambush;[2] rumors of which reaching the superintendent before leaving the Willamette, he sent a messenger to request the Rogue River chiefs to meet him at Port Orford. Ignorance of Indian ways, unpardonable in a superintendent, could alone have caused so great a blunder. Not only did they refuse thus to go into their neighbor's territory, but made the request an excuse for further disturbances.[3] Again, there were white men in this region who killed and robbed white men, charging their crimes[4] upon the savages. Indian Agent Skinner held conferences with several bands at Rogue River, all of whom professed friendship and accepted presents;[5] in which better frame of mind I will leave them and return to affairs at Port Orford.

When intelligence of the massacre on the Coquille was received at division headquarters in California, punishment was deemed necessary, and as I have before mentioned, a military force was transferred to the Port Orford station. The troops, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Casey of the 2d infantry, were portions of companies E and A, 1st dragoons dismounted, lieutenants Thomas Wright and George Stoneman, and company C with their horses. The dismounted men arrived at Port Orford October 22d, and the mounted men by the next steamer, five days later. On the 31st the three companies set out for the mouth of the Coquille, arriving at their destination November 3d, Colonel Casey and Lieutenant Stanton leading the mounted men, with Brush, a survivor of the massacre, as guide, and a few stragglers. The Coquilles were bold and brave. One of them meeting Wright away from camp attempted to wrest from him his rifle, and was shot by that officer for his temerity. On the 5th the savages assembled on the north bank to the number of one hundred and fifty, and by their gesticulations challenged the troops to battle. The soldiers fired across the river, the Coquilles returning the fire with the guns taken from T'Vault's party;[6] but no damage was done. Constructing a raft, the main body crossed to the north side on the 7th in a cold drenching rain, while Stanton proceeded up the south side, ready to coöperate with Casey when the Indians, who had now retreated up the stream, should be found. It was soon ascertained that a campaign on the Coquille was no trifling matter. The savages were nowhere to be found in force, having fled toward head waters, or a favorable ambush. Marching in order was not to be thought of; and after several days of wading through morasses, climbing hills, and forcing a way among the undergrowth by day and sleeping under a single wet blanket at night, the order to retreat was given. Nothing had been met with on the route but deserted villages, which were invariably destroyed, together with the winter's store of provisions—a noble revenge on innocent women and children, who must starve in consequence. Returning to the mouth of the river, Casey sent to Port Orford for boats to be brought overland, on the arrival of which the campaign was recommenced on a different plan.

In three small boats were crowded sixty men, in such a manner that their arms could not be used; and so they proceeded up the river for four days, finding no enemy. At the forks, the current being strong, the troops encamped. It was now the 20th of November, and the weather very inclement. On the 21st Casey detailed Stoneman to proceed up the south branch with one boat and fourteen men; while Wright with a similar force ascended the north branch, looking for Indians. After advancing six or eight miles, Stoneman discovered the enemy in force on both banks. A few shots were fired, and the party returned and reported. In the course of the afternoon Wright also returned, having been about eighteen miles up the north branch without finding any foe. On the 22d the whole command set out toward the Indian camp on the south branch, taking only two boats, with five men in each, the troops marching up the right bank to within half a mile of the point aimed at, when Stoneman crossed to the left bank with one company, and the march was resumed in silence, the boats continuing to ascend with equal caution. The Indians were found assembled at the junction. When the boats were within a hundred and fifty yards of them the savages opened fire with guns and arrows. Wright then made a dash to the river bank, and with yells drove the savages into concealment. Meanwhile Stoneman was busy picking off certain of the enemy stationed on the bank to prevent a landing.

The engagement lasted only about twenty minutes, and the Coquilles had now scampered into the woods, where it would be useless to attempt to follow them. Fifteen were killed and many appeared to be wounded. Their lodges and provisions were burned, while their canoes were carried away. Casey, who was with Wright on the north bank, joined in the fighting with enthusiasm, telling the men to take good aim and not throw away shots.[7]

The troops returned to the mouth of the river, where they remained for a few days, and then marched back to Port Orford, and took passage on the Columbia for San Francisco, where they arrived on the 12th of December.[8] This expedition cost the government some twenty-five thousand dollars,[9] and resulted in killing a dozen or more Indians, which coming after the late friendly professions of Indian Agent Parrish, did not tend to confidence in the promises of the government, or increase the safety of the settlers.[10]

I have told how Stanton returned to Oregon with troops to garrison Fort Orford, being shipwrecked and detained four months at Coos Bay. He had orders to explore for a road to the interior, in connection with Williamson, who had already begun this survey. The work was prosecuted with energy, and finished in the autumn of 1852.

The presents distributed by Skinner had not the virtue to preserve lasting tranquillity in the mining region. In the latter part of April 1852, a citizen of Marion county returning from the mines was robbed of his horse and other property in the Grave Creek hills by Rogue River Indians. This act was followed by other interruption of travellers, and demand for pay for passing fords.[11] Growing bolder, robbery was followed by murder, and then came war.[12]

On the 8th of July, a Shasta, named Scarface, a Notorious villain, who had killed his chief and usurped authority, murdered one Calvin Woodman, on Indian Creek, a small tributary of the Klamath. The white men of Shasta and Scott's valleys arrested the head chief, and demanded the surrender of Scarface and his accomplice, another Shasta known as Bill. The captured chief not only refused, but made his escape. The miners then organized, and in a fight which ensued the sheriff was wounded, some horses being killed. Mr E. Steele was then living at Yreka. He had mined in the Shasta valley when Lane was digging gold in that vicinity. The natives had named him Jo Lane's Brother, and he had great influence with them. Steele had been absent at the time of the murder, but returning to Scott Valley soon after, found the Indians moving their families toward the Salmon River mountains, a sign of approaching trouble. Hastening to Johnson's rancho, he learned what had occurred, and also met there a company from Scott Bar prosecuting an unsuccessful search for the savages in the direction of Yreka. Next day, at the request of Johnson, who had his family at the rancho and was concerned for their safety, Steele collected the Indians in Scott Valley and held a council.

The Shastas, to which nation belonged the Rogue River tribes, were divided under several chiefs as follows: Tolo was the acknowledged head of those who lived in the flat country about Yreka; Scarface and Bill were over those in Shasta Valley; John of those in Scott Valley; and Sam and Jo of those in Rogue River Valley, having been formerly all under one chief, the father of John. On the death of the old chief a feud had arisen concerning the supremacy, which was interrupted by the appearance of white men, since which time each had controlled his own band. Then there were two chiefs who had their country at the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains on the north side, or south of Jacksonville, namely, Tipso, that is to say, The Hairy, from his heavy beard, and Sullix, or the Bad-tempered, both of whom were unfriendly to the settlers and miners.[13] They also had wars with the Shastas on the south side of the Siskiyou,[14] and were altogether turbulent in their character.

The chiefs whom Steele induced to trust themselves inside Johnson's stockade for conference were Tolo, his son Philip, and John, with three of his brothers, one of whom was known as Jim. These affirmed that they desired peace, and said if Steele would accompany them they would go in search of the murderers. Accordingly a party of seven was formed, four more joining at Shasta cañon.[15] Proceeding to Yreka, Steele had some trouble to protect his savages from the citizens, who wished to hang them. But an order of arrest having been obtained from the county judge, the party proceeded, and in two days reached the hiding-place of Scarface and Bill. The criminals had fled, having gone to join Sam, brother of Chief Jo, Lane's namesake, who had taken up arms because Dr Ambrose, a settler, had seized the ground which was the winter residence of the tribe, and because he would not betroth his daughter to Sam's son, both children being still of tender age.

Tolo, Philip, and Jim then withdrew from the party of white men, substituting two young warriors, who were pledged to find Scarface and Bill, or suffer in their stead. A party under Wright then proceeded to the Klamath country. Steele went to Rogue River, hearing on the Siskiyou Mountain confirmation of the war rumor from a captured warrior, afterward shot in trying to effect his escape.

Rumors of disaffection reaching Table Rock,[16] seventy-five or eighty men, with John K. Lamerick as leader, volunteered to go and kill Indians. Hearing of it, Skinner hastened to prevent slaughter, but only obtained a promise not to attack until he should have had an opportunity of parley. A committee of four was appointed by the citizens of Table Rock to accompany the agent. They found Sam at his encampment at Big Bar, two miles from the house of Ambrose, and at no great distance from Stuart's former camp. Sam did not hesitate to cross to the south side to talk with Skinner. He declared himself for peace, and proposed to send for his brother Jo, with all his band, to meet the agent the following day; nor did he make any objection when told that a large number of white men would be present to witness the negotiations.

At this juncture, Steele arrived in the valley with his party and two Shastas, Skinner confessing to him that the situation was serious. He agreed, however, to Steele's request to make the delivery of the murderers one of the conditions of peace.

At the time appointed, Skinner and Steele repaired to Big Bar with their respective commands and the volunteers under Lamerick. One of Steele's Shastas was sent to Sam with a message, requesting him to come over the river and bring a few of his warriors as a body-guard. After the usual Indian parley he came, accompanied by Jo and a few fighting men; but seeing Lamerick's company mounted and drawn up in line, expressed a fear of them, when Skinner caused them to dismount and stack their arms.

The messenger to Sam's camp told Steele that he had recognized the murderers among Sam's people, and Steele demanded his arrest; but Skinner refused, fearing bloodshed. The agent went further, and ordered the release of two prisoners taken by Steele on the north side of the Siskiyou Mountains, Sam having first made the demand, and refused to negotiate until it was complied with. The order was accompanied with the notice to Steele that he was within the jurisdiction of the person giving the command. But all was of no avail. Steele seemed as determined to precipitate war as was Skinner to avoid it. Finally Skinner addressed himself to the prisoners, telling them they were free, that he was chief of the white people in the Indian country, and they should accept their liberty. On the other hand, Steele warned his prisoners that if they attempted to escape they would be shot, when Skinner threatened to arrest and send him to Oregon City. The quarrel ended by Steele keeping his captives under a guard of two of his own men, who were instructed to shoot them if they ran away, Sam and his party being informed of the order. His six remaining men were stationed with reference to a surprise from the rear and a rescue.

The conference then proceeded; but presently a hundred armed warriors crossed the river and mixed with the unarmed white men, whereupon Steele ordered his men to resume their arms.

The council resulted in nothing. Sam declined to give up the murderers, and the talk of the chiefs was shuffling and evasive. At length, on a pretence of wishing to consult with some of his people, Sam obtained permission to return to the north bank of the river, from which he shouted back defiance, and saying that he should not return. The white forces were then divided, Lamerick going with half the company to a ford above Big Bar, and his lieutenant with the remainder to the ford half a mile below, prepared to cross the river and attack Sam's camp if any hostile demonstrations should be made at the council ground. But the agent, apprehensive of an outbreak, followed the angry chief to the north side, the Indians also crossing over until about fifty only remained. Becoming alarmed for the safety of Skinner, Steele placed a guard at the crossing to prevent all the Indians returning to camp before the agent should come back, which he did in company with one of the Shastas, who had been sent to warn him. Though the agent was aware that this man could point out the murderers, he would not consent, lest it should be a signal for battle.

By the time Steele had recrossed the river, a fresh commotion arose over the rumor that Scarface was seen with two others going over the hills toward the Klamath. The Rogue River warriors, still on the south side, observing it, began posting themselves under cover of some trees, as if preparing for a skirmish, to prevent which Steele's men placed themselves in a position to intercept them, when an encounter appearing imminent, Martin Angell,[17] a settler, proposed to the Indians to give up their arms, and sheltering themselves in a log house in the vicinity, to remain there as hostages until the criminals should be brought back by their own people. The proposition was accepted; but when they had filed past Steele's party they made a dash to gain the woods. This was the critical moment. To allow the savages to gain cover would be to expose the white men to a fire they could not return; therefore the order was given, and firing set in on both sides.

It should not be forgotten that Steele's men from the California side of the Siskiyou, throughout the whole affair, had done all that was done to precipitate the conflict, which was nevertheless probably unavoidable in the agitated state of both Indians and white men. The savages were well armed and ready for war, and the miners and settlers were bent on the mastery. When the firing began, Lamerick's company were still at the fords, some distance from the others. At the sound of the guns he hastened up the valley to give protection to the settlers' families, leaving a minority of the volunteers to engage the Indians from the north side should they attempt to cross the river.[18]

The fighting lasted but a short time. The Indians made a charge with the design of releasing Steele's prisoners, when they ran toward the river. One was shot before he reached it, the other as he came out of the water on the opposite bank. Sam then ordered a party of warriors to the south side to cut off Steele, but they were themselves surprised by a detachment of the volunteers, and several killed,[19] the remainder retreating. Only one white man was wounded, and he in one finger. The Indian agent had retired to his residence at the beginning of the fight. That same night information was received that during the holding of the council some Indians had gone to a bar down the river, and had surprised and killed a small company of miners. Lamerick at once made preparations to cross the river on the night of the 19th of July, and take his position in the pass between Table Rock and the river, while Steele's company moved at the same time farther up, to turn the Indians back on Lamerick's force in the morning. The movement was successful. Sam's people were surrounded, and the chief sued for peace on the terms first offered, namely, that he should give up the murderers, asking that the agent be sent for to make a treaty.

But Skinner, who had found himself ignored as maintainer of the peace, and was busy preparing for the defence of his house and property, was slow to respond to this request. A council was appointed for the next day. In the explanations which followed it was ascertained that Scarface had not been with Sam, but was hiding in the Salmon River mountains. The person pointed out as Scarface was Sullix of Tipso's band, who also had a face badly scarred. The real criminal was ultimately arrested, and hanged at Yreka. A treaty was agreed to by Sam requiring the Rogue River Indians to hold no communication with the Shastas.[20] For the remainder of the summer hostilities on Rogue River were suspended, the Indian agent occasionally presenting Sam's band with a fat ox, finding it easier and cheaper to purchase peace with beef than to let robberies go on, or to punish the robbers.[21]

Such was the condition of Indian affairs in the south of Oregon in the summer and autumn of 1852, when the superintendent received official notice that all the Indian treaties negotiated in Oregon had been ordered to lie upon the table in the senate; while he was instructed by the commissioner, until the general policy of the government should be more definitely understood, to enter into no more treaty stipulations with them, except such as might be imperiously required to preserve peace.[22] As if partially to avert the probable consequences to the people of Oregon of this rejection of the treaties entered into between Governor Gaines, Superintendent Dart, and the Indians, there arrived at Vancouver, in September, 268 men, rank and file, composing the skeleton of the 4th regiment of infantry, under Lieutenant-colonel Bonneville.[23] It was now too late in the season for troops to do more than go into winter quarters. The settlers and the emigration had defended themselves for another year without aid from the government, and the comments afterward made upon their manner of doing it, in the opinion of the volunteers came with a very ill grace from the officers of that government.[24]

  1. Or. Anecdotes, MS., 58–61.
  2. Or. Statesman, Sept. 2, 9, 16, and 30, 1851.
  3. Two drovers, Moffat and Evans, taking a herd of swine to the Shasta mines, encamped with two others near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, their hogs eating the acorns used as food by the natives, who demanded a hog in payment. One of them pointed his gun at a pig as if to shoot, whereupon Moffat drew his pistol, and accidentally discharging it, hurt his hand. Irritated by the pain, Moffat fired at the Indian, killing him. Another Indian then fired at Moffat, giving him a mortal wound. In the excitement, Evans and the Indians exchanged shots, wounds being received on both sides. Moffat was from Philadelphia, where he had a family. Or. Statesman, Nov. 11 and 25, 1851; Or. Spectator, Jan. 6, 1852.
  4. There was at this time on the southern border of Oregon an organized band of desperadoes, white men, half-breeds, and Indians, who were the terror of the miners. See Popular Tribunals, this series, passim.
  5. U. S. Sen. Doc., 32d cong. 2d sess., i. 453.
  6. T'Vault says there were eight rifles, one musket, one double-barrelled pistol, one Sharp's patent 36 shooting-rifle, one Colt's six-shooter, one brace holster pistols, with ammunition, and some blankets. Here were fourteen shooting-arms, many of them repeating, yet the party could not defend themselves on account of the suddenness and manner of the attack. Or. Statesman, Oct. 7, 1851.
  7. The above details are mostly from the letter of a private soldier, written to his brother in the east. Before the letter was finished the writer was drowned in the Sixes River near Cape Blanco, while riding express from Port Orford to Lieut. Stoneman's camp at the mouth of the Coquille. The letter was published in the Alto California, Dec. 14, 1851. It agrees with other but less particular accounts, in the S. F. Herald of Dec. 4, 1851, and Or. Statesman, Dec. 16 and 30, 1851. See also Davidson's Coast Pilot, 119.
  8. Cal. Courier, Dec. 13, 1851.
  9. Report of Major Robert Allen, in U. S. H. Ex. Doc. 2, vol. ii. part 1, p. 150, 32d cong. 1st sess.
  10. 'The commanders went without an interpreter to the Coquille village, and just banged away until they gratified themselves, and then went to Port Orford and back to San Francisco.' Parrish's Or. Anecdotes, MS., 66. See also Alta California, Dec. 14, 1851.
  11. Hearne's Cal. Sketches, MS., 2.
  12. In the early spring of 1852 a party of five men, led by James Coy, left Jacksonville to look for mining ground toward the coast. Having discovered some good diggings on a tributary of Illinois River, now called Josephine Creek, they were following up the right branch, when they discovered, three miles above the junction, the remains of two white men, evidently murdered by the Indians. Being few in number, they determined to return and reënforce. Camping at night at the mouth of Josephine Creek, they were attacked by a large force. They kept the enemy at bay until the next night, when one of the men crowded through their lines, and hastened to Jacksonville for aid. All that day, and the next, and until about ten o'clock on the third, the besieged defended their little fortress, when a party of 35 came down the mountain to their relief; and finding the country rich in mines, took up claims, and made the first permanent settlement in Illinois Valley. Scraps Southern Or. Hist., in Ashland Tidings, Sept. 20, 1878.
  13. See Cardwell's Em. Co., MS., 15, 7.
  14. Id., 15–21; Ashland Tid., Dec. 2, 9, 1876, and Sept. 20, 1878.
  15. The Scott Valley men were John McLeod, James Bruce, James White, Peter Snellback, John Galvin, and a youth called Harry. The four from Shasta were J. D. Cook, F. W. Merritt, L. S. Thompson, and Ben. Wright, who acted as interpreter.
  16. Jacksonville was at this time called Table Rock, though without relevance. The first journal published there was the Table Rock Sentinel. Prim's Judicial Affairs in S. Or., MS., 3.
  17. Angell had formerly resided at Oregon City. He removed to Rogue River Valley, participated in the Indian wars, and was killed by the savages of Rogue River in 1855. He was regarded as a good man and a useful citizen. His only son made his residence at Portland. Lane's Autobiography, MS., 107.
  18. 'Before we reached the place where the battle was going on, we met a large portion of the company coming from the battle as fast as their horses could run. The foremost man was Charley Johnson. He called to me to come with him. I said, "Have the Indians whipped you?" He said nothing, but kept on running, and crying, "Come this way." We wheeled, and went with the crowd, who went to the house of Dr Ambrose. The Indians had started toward the house, and it was supposed they meant to murder the family.' Cardwell's Emigrant Company, MS., 24,
  19. Steele says sixteen, including the prisoners. Cardwell states that many sprang into the water and were shot. Skinner gives the number as four; and states further that 'a man by the name of Steel, who pretended to be the leader of the party from Shasta, was principally instrumental in causing the attack on the prisoners, which for a time produced general hostilities.' U. S. Sen. Doc., i., 32d cong. 2d sess., vol. i. pt i. 457. Cardwell's Emigrant Company, MS., 25; California Star, Aug. 7, 1852.
  20. Sullix was badly wounded on the day of the battle. See Cardwell's Emigrant Company, MS., 25–6.
  21. The expenses of Steele's expedition were $2,200, which were never reimbursed from any source.
  22. Letter of Anson Dart, in Or. Statesman, Oct. 30, 1852. Dart resigned in December, his resignation to take effect the following June.
  23. 'A large number of the 4th reg. had died on the Isthmus.' Or. Statesman, Sept. 25, 1852.
  24. Further details of this campaign are given in Lane's Autobiography, MS.; Cardwell's Emigrant Company, MS. ; and the files of the Oregon Statesman.