Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/Reminiscences of Wm. M. Case

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Oregon Historical Quarterly volume 1  (1900) 
Reminiscences of William M. Case by H. S. Lyman

See also Volume 2/Notes by William M. Case from Volume 2 of the Quarterly



William M. Case, a pioneer of 1844, who is still living on the donation claim taken by him in 1845 on French Prairie, was born in Wayne County, Indiana, not far from the Ohio line, in 1820. He is consequently now eighty years of age, but is still vigorous, of unimpaired memory, firm voice, and still master of affairs on his large farm of over, one thousand acres. He is six feet tall, of wiry build, and rather nervous temperament, and very distinctively an American. In mind he is intensely positive of the most definite views and opinions, and has the peculiarly American qualities of fondness for concrete affairs. His hair and beard are now nearly snow white, and worn long; and his face is almost as venerable as that of the poet Bryant, which it somewhat resembles.

His life covers almost numberless interesting experiences, but is perhaps most intimately connected with the part played by the Oregonians in the California mines. This sketch will be confined more particularly to the peculiar facts of his life not common to all the pioneers. Mr. Case is particularly the man who can tell of the effects of the gold mining and California life upon Oregon and Oregonians, and he can explain a number of facts, quite apparent in their effects, but seldom or never given in their causes, of the feeling that has arisen between Californians and Oregonians.

It was an interesting incident that first directed his attention to Oregon. By William Henry Harrison, while serving as delegate to congress from the then territory of Indiana, public documents were forwarded freely to his constituents. To William M.'s father, who was an acquaintance of Harrison's, there came, among other volumes, a journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Columbia River. Over this the boy used to pore, even while still young, and out of the crabbed volume, whose matter (certainly not the literary style) interested the whole nation, a most vivid picture was constructed of Oregon scenery, with the big trees, and the mild climate, and grass green all the winter. He made up his mind to come to Oregon when he was old enough. Before he was twenty he told his father of his intention, and was met with no opposition, the father being both considerate and intelligent; but with his consent, was given this advice: "Don't go, William, before you are married; take a wife with you." This wise and not at all unpleasant counsel young Case put into execution; hating, like all born men of action, to keep an idea long which he did not carry out in performance. By his young wife, who was from New Jersey, he was encouraged, rather than otherwise, to make the journey. She said, "My father used to dip me in the surf of the Atlantic on the New Jersey shore, and I would like to go and dip in the surf of the Pacific Ocean."

Proceedings in congress in regard to Oregon were carefully watched by Mr. Case, especial note being taken of the Linn bill, by whose provisions there were to be given a square mile of land to each man, another to his wife, and a quarter section to each child. It was well understood that the United States government could not give title to land in Oregon; but this bill was introduced as a promise of what it would do; and w T as in reality a test of the American spirit. Would the American people settle Oregon? If so, the United States would claim the territory.

Men like Case were found, who had a broad outlook, who understood the value of land in the Columbia or Willamette Valley, and who saw that the United States must front the Pacific as well as the Atlantic. These ideas were largely formed by the broad spirit of the west, the Ohio and Mississippi Valley, whose chief representatives were men like Doctor Linn and Colonel Benton in congress. Such men wished to live their lives on a more liberal scale than was possible even in the old west. Mr. Case, like his father, was an old line whig, and later an uncompromising republican. He says: "The United States Bank helped the country a great deal. But when, upon the expiration of its charter, the bill to grant a second charter was vetoed by President Jackson, there followed a crash such as can never be described. The country never fully recovered from the depression until the discovery of gold in 1848.' Wages, he says, were twenty-five cents a day in Indiana, or $6 a month, or $100 a year, in special cases. Under such circumstances, a young man saw no chance for accumulating a competence, but in Oregon he might begin with a better outlook.

During the year of 1841, when he was married at the age of twenty-one, Case was making his preparations, and on April 1, 1842, started out for Platte City, Missouri, which he reached Jucie 10. However, he was too late to catch the Oregon train, which had left the first of the month. Going to Northern Missouri, he remained until 1844, but was on time to catch the first train of that season. The crossing of the Missouri River was made at a point about ten miles below the present City of Omaha, at a place now called Bellevue. The train of sixty wagons was organized under Captain Tharp; and a regular line of march was established, the train moving in two divisions, on parallel lines, and about a quarter to half a mile apart, to be in easy supporting distance in case of an attack by Indians. The whole train was brought together at nighttime, the wagons being driven in such a way as to form a perfect corral, inside of which the tents for the night were placed; although frequently no tents were set, especially after Nebraska was passed, where the season of 1844 was very late and stormy. With the company of General Gilliam of that year, traveling with which were R. W. Morrison, John Mintp, W. R. Rees, and other well-known pioneers, the company of Captain Tharp and Mr. Case had no connection, and were in advance all the way. John Marshall, however, who went to California in 1846, and discovered gold in 1848, was a member of the train.

The three following incidents on the plains may be mentioned as presenting something new. One was a charge, or stampede, of about one thousand buffaloes. This occurred in the Platte Valley. As the two divisions were moving along deliberately, at ox-speed, in the usual parallel columns, the drivers were startled by a low sound to the north as of distant thunder. There was no appearance of a storm, however, in that or any other direction, and the noise grew louder and louder, and was steady and uninterrupted. It soon became clear that there was a herd of buffaloes approaching and on the run. Scouring anxiously the line of hills rimming the edge of the valley, the dark brown outline of the herd was at length descried, and was distinctly made out with a telescope, as buffaloes in violent motion and making directly for the train. The front of the line was perhaps half a mile long and the animals were several columns deep, and coming like a tornado. They had probably been stampeded by hunters and would now stop at nothing. The only apparent chance of safety was to drive ahead and get out of the range of the herd. The oxen were consequently urged into a run and the train itself had the appearance of a stampede. Neither were they too quick; for the flying herds of the buffaloes passed but a few yards to the rear of the last wagons, and were going at such a rate that to be struck by them would have been like the shock of rolling boulders of a ton's weight. Mr. Case recalls measuring one buffalo that was six feet, two inches, from hoof to hump, and was over four feet from dewlap across the body.

Another most important occurrence was near Fort Platte, where a Frenchman by the name of Bisnette was in command, and in which another Frenchman, Joe Batonne, was also an important actor; something, perhaps, that has never been related, but which probably prevented the destruction of the train. It happened that at Bellevue Mr. Case found and employed a young Frenchman by the name of Berdreau, and about two hundred miles out from Omaha he was asked by this Berdreau to take in another young Frenchman, Joe Batonne, who had started with a Doctor Townsend of the train, but had fallen out with him and now was seeking another position. Batonne was therefore traveling with Case. As they were approaching Fort Platte, however, word was received from the commandant, Bisnette, to come forward no further; but if they had anyone in the train who knew the Sioux language to send him. "There is a war party of Sioux Indians here," was his information, "and I cannot understand why they should be here. The place for them at this time of the year is on the Blackfoot or Crow border, while this is in the very center of their territory. I fear they mean some mischief to the train.Batonne was the only one in the train who understood Sioux. He was accordingly sent forward, being inconspicuously dressed, along with some others, all riding their horses. The party reached Fort Platte and passed freely among the Sioux Indians. These formed an immense host, being a full party of six men to a tent, and five hundred tents, which, although crowded together irregularly, still covered a considerable space.

Batonne kept his ears open as his party rode here and there, but said nothing. Finally, as they were passing a certain tent, a young Sioux was heard to exclaim, "It always makes me itch to see an American horse; I want to ride it so bad.' A chief answered him in a low voice, "Wait a few days, until the immigrants come up, and we shall have all their horses.' This was soon reported by Batonne to Bisnette, who at once sent word back to the train to wait until he had contrived some plan to send the Indians off. The plan he hit upon was this and he told it afterwards only to Mr. Case and Joe Batonne, under strict promises of secrecy:

He called all the chiefs together with the message that he had very important news for them. They accordingly assembled and sat in solemn council. After the pipe was passed and smoked, the first whiff, as usual, being directed to the Great Spirit, Bisnette began:

"I have lived with you now many years and have always dealt honorably."

"Yes," answered the Sioux. "I have never told you a lie."

"Never," said the chiefs.

"And have been as a brother."

"You have been our white brother,' they said.

"Well," he continued, "I have just heard news that is of utmost importance to you. The immigrants who come from the sunrise and will soon be here have been delayed; a man died; they buried him; he had the smallpox. I advise you, therefore, to leave this place as soon as possible, and to go to your northern border and not return for over a month."

No news could have been more alarming to the Indians, who understood only too well what the smallpox was; not many years before infected blankets having been distributed among them through the agency of white trappers whom they had been allowed to rob, as a sort of punishment for having robbed lone trappers heretofore; and by this the whole tribe had been decimated by the scourge, very many dying, and some even of those who recovered, but were badly marked, had killed themselves. They had been told by the trappers that the smallpox pits were the mark of the devil. "The devil will get you sure now" they told them. As soon as Bisnette told these Indians that there was smallpox in the train the chiefs slid out to their tents, and within fifteen minutes the whole army was on the move, going to the north, and not returning while the immigrants of that season were passing.

The other point was the cause of the breaking up of the organization. After passing the Sioux country, fear of the Indians wore off, and the necessity of rapid travel became more and more apparent, but among the one hundred and twenty men of the train as many at least as two to the wagon at least one hundred, says Mr. Case, were "worthless," or dangerously near that line. The daily labor of the march was devolved more and more upon the twenty men or so that felt the necessity of pushing on. The majority, however, often spent their evenings playing cards to a late hour, or dancing and fiddling with the young folks around the fire, and slept the next morning until called for breakfast by the women. Various ways were devised to equalize these matters; the women, among other devices, being put up to taking and burning the packs of cards, unbeknown to the men. But it finally became old getting up 2 o'clock of a morning to hunt the cattle, which, in grazing, always attempted to go ahead of one another, and thus sometimes were spread out for several miles on the prairie. Doing this again and again, for men who would not take their turn, but were sleeping at the camp, was finally too much to be borne. Case and some others, accordingly made ready, and one morning struck out with their wagons, and before night the whole train was resolved into two sections; the jolly boys who danced and fiddled being left behind.

Arriving in Oregon, Mr. Case first stopped at Linnton, but soon went over to Tualatin Plains, and settled first near Mr. Hill's place, now Hillsboro. In 1845, he recalls that he was employed in building the first frame barn in Oregon (W. M. C.), on the Wilkins place; and he here made the acquaintance of the old mountain men, Wilkins. Ebberts, Newell, Meek, and Walker. He was not well satisfied, however, with the locality. It was a long way over the hills and through the deep woods to the Willamette River at Linnton, or at Oregon City Portland then being a mere camping station on the Willamette. Case wished to locate on the river, and accordingly, in 1846, moved to French Prairie, and acquired, partly by donation claim, and afterwards by purchase, two sections of land, being about one-half prairie, and the other half timber. It was three miles from Champoeg, where* Newell acquired the Donald Manson place, and became town proprietor. Here he has remained, engaged in farming, saw milling, and running a tile factory, performing his duties as a citizen, being known during the war period as an unyielding union man, and occupying the responsible place during that time and later of County Judge of Marion County. He has had a family of thirteen children, eight of whom are now living. He has twenty-three grand-children. His life has been one of intense activity, and he has performed almost no end of hard physical work, and has borne heavy responsibilities.

He says, however, that the most intense and thrilling experiences of his life were during the season that he spent in California, and going to and returning from the mines. This was 1849. It is worthy of the most careful record, being remembered to the most minute details by Mr. Case, and affording a chapter in human experience seldom equalled. It also shows the moulding influences brought to bear upon Oregon men, who showed themselves as perhaps of the firmest fibre to be found on the Pacific slope in 1849; which is saying a great deal. It deserves to be told in the language of Mr. Case himself, and perhaps it will be. But for some reasons it will be proper to give these recollections in a somew^hat condensed form, as in their entirety, as told by himself, they would compose a volume. Indeed, in his rapid and energetic conversation, with which only the most experienced stenographer could keep pace, it required him four hours to tell the whole thing even omitting many of the details that he remembers. However, it is only an idle thought or wish to imagine that what men were years in living in the fastest period of Pacific Coast history, can ever be told in full or the life itself be reproduced. There are distinct parts to his narrative. The Voyage; the Oregon Miner's Vengeance; and The Return Overland.


News of the discovery of gold in 1848 was first brought to Oregon by an Oregonian by the name of Barnard. Marshall was building a mill, as is well known, for Sutter, on the American River, and after allowing the water to run through the tail ditch to sluice it out, examined the bed, as the water was again shut off, and found at the bottom of the ditch many little yellow rocks, which were highly polished and very heavy. Not being acquainted with gold, which he had an idea occurred in native form only as dust, not as nuggets, he tried pounding out one of the little yellow rocks which instead of crumbling under the hammer, was flattened finally to the size of a saucer, and of course was made very thin. Even then, however, the true nature of the rock was not suspected; and it was not known that it was gold until Marshall had word from the United States' Assay Office at San Francisco to which he had sent a small collection of nuggets to the value, however, of $1,000.

By this news, Barnard, the Oregonian, was incited to return home and tell his neighbors. But at San Francisco he was detained two months, being positively refused passage on the ships for the Columbia. He believed that he was purposely hindered by parties who wished to go to Oregon and buy up all the provisions, tools, etc., to be had here, at low prices, and to sell them at San Francisco at a great advance. Finally he got a ship, and reaching Oregon late in August, the news was published, and the Oregonians, many of them just returning from the Cayuse war, formed a company, and that season broke and completed the first wagon road to California, taking the high table-land route by way of Klamath Lake, Lost Lake, the lava beds, and across the Pitt River Valley far to the eastward of Mount Shasta—or Shasta Butte, as called by the old pioneers. Mr. Case was not ready to go with the overland party, but found passage on the bark Anita, which sailed from the Columbia the middle of February. There was a large crowd of men on board, considering the size of the ship, being sixty-six in number, and the quarters were very narrow, 12x20 feet, and the ceiling being only 5 feet high, with two tiers of berths arranged around the sides of the apartment. The voyage, moreover, was long and tedious. As the crossing of the Columbia bar was made, with a stiff w^ind, Mr. Case was reminded by the breakers as they ran and tossed and finally broke upon the rocks of Cape Disappointment, of the herds of buffaloes that thundered over the plains the movement of the waves seeming about equally swift and tumultuous. But the wind soon stiffened to a gale, the bark put to sea, and land was lost to sight; and the storm did not at last abate until they were far off the coast to the west of Vancouver Island. Then, however, with a west or north wind, that was bitterly cold, the voyage was made down to the latitude of San Francisco, but in. constant storms of snow, frequently sufficient to leave as much as a foot of the article on deck over one night. When at last the clouds dispersed and a fair west wind blew, and the skies were again clear, the entire sweep of the horizon appeared as one world of water, except that far to the northeast, the very tip of Shasta, white and glittering, just jutted out of the sea. It was then seventeen hours sailing before the shore appeared in sight. Then the Golden Gate was reached and passed, and the voyage was over. It occupied a month. Sailing to Sacramento and proceeding thence to Coloma, Mr. Case, being a mechanic, found employment at such good prices as to detain him from the mines. But the season proved to be one of excitement during which even bloodshed occurred; and Mr. Case was forced to play an important part in the program.


Very soon after reaching Coloma, Mr. Case found that the community was in a broil. No open troubles had yet occurred, but there were causes of exasperation which were working rapidly to a climax. It was due primarily to a difference in system and ideas between the various elements of the people then in California. It was in fact a part of the final clash between the old Spanish system and the American; the beneficiaries of the Spanish system, or Grandees, being on one side, and on the other the Oregonians, representing the American idea. It was proved in the event that men who could establish an independent government in Oregon, and were able to compel the obedience of the Cayuse Indians, were able also to make in California a deep impression for their idea of liberty. The disturbed, or rather the entirely unorganized condition of government in California, made possible the following course of events. The military government of this territory, just taken from Mexico, had not given place to a civil organization, and it was not thoroughly known what authorities were in power. Sutter had received a large grant of land, and with this was coupled certain power to enforce justice among the Indians, and he was recognized as a sort of justice of the peace; but this was of very limited extent, and there was no central authority in the whole state, unless military.

California was occupied originally by men who had received great land grants, some of which were as much as six leagues square. These men were at first SpanishAmericans, who were thus rewarded for government services. They formed a sort of nobility or aristocracy, and held their places like the baronies or counties of the old world, and their possessions were frequently of the dimensions of a county. Their ranches were on an average about twenty-five miles apart, and the ranges between were stocked with great bands of cattle. The Indians, a mild and inoffensive people, were employed as laborers and cattle drivers by the Spanish-Americans, and a genuine European feudal system was in force. The first Amercans (or Germans, or English) who went to California acquired some of these ranches, and continued the Mexican system. Only they employed it with characteristic American energy, and pushed it to a much greater extreme. With the discovery of gold and the opening of the mines, a prospect of vast profits appeared to the early Calif ornians, who were English, or American, or German; and their first intention was to work the mines in the same manner that they worked their ranches by the labor of the native Indian, or by importation of Mexican debtors, who could be procured very cheap. It was still the law in Mexico to put debtors in prison on the complaint of their creditors, and they could be held until the debt was paid, and the debtor himself failing in this, his son could be held. Many of these debtors were imprisoned for but trifling sums, and upon settlement with the creditors, could be practically bought by other parties almost like slaves, the purchase of the debt giving the right to hold the debtor. Hundreds of Mexicans were thus procured and sent to the mines, at a cost in some cases of but a few dollars to the purchasers, and contracted to work for some trifling sum, often not over twenty-five cents a day, in washing gold. Contract labor from Chili (W. M. C.) was also obtained, and it was estimated that by the midsummer of 1849 as many as five thousand such laborers were at work on the California placers.

But the original traders were making even more profit by trade with the contract laborers, or with the Indians who were employed to wash gold, the Indian women doing such work along with the men. When they had a little dust their natural fondness for finery was stimulated, and cheap and gaudy articles, such as shawls and shirts, were sold for dust. But the dust that was brought by the Indians was balanced by the shrewd trader with a weight which was the Mexican silver dollar, weighing just an ounce, with whose value the Indians were well acquainted. By this method of reckoning, the gold was valued the same as the silver. A shirt, for instance, which was marked to begin with at the regular price of $3, was bought with a balance of three silver dollars in gold dust, making $48 in actual value. Indeed the amount of dust obtained of the Indians for some of the articles was truly "fabulous." Mr. Case recalls that a certain shawl of unusually magnificent pattern and blinding colors, which cost the trader but $1.50, was bought by an Indian chief for his favorite daughter for $1,500 worth of dust.

Into this flourishing condition of things the Oregonians, or Columbia River men, as they were called, entered in 1849. The most of them went into the mines, but there were some who quickly saw that there was more profit in trading with the Indians than in digging the gold. Consequently they began setting up stores, and bought and sold goods. Competition thus began. The price of a shirt, a standard article, was forced down to $2, that is, to two ounces of dust; and then to one ounce, and even lower. By this operation the old traders, such as Weimer and Besters, of Coloma, and Marshall, and even Sutter, were offended, as it soon became apparent to those who were intending to operate the mines on the medieval Spanish system, and by the employment of Indians and contract labor, that their whole system of trade and business was in danger of collapsing. Mr. Case is confident that the Indians were then incited against the Columbia River men, that they were told that the people from Oregon were intruders and had no business there, and were taking gold that belonged to themselves. At all events, mysterious murders began to take place in the mountains and along the mining streams. This was not greatly noticed at first, but as one after another fell and it began to be asked who was killed, it became plain that in every case the victim was a Columbia River man. The authorities, such as they were, gave the subject no attention. Sutter himself, acting as a justice of the district under his old concession, showed no concern; and the Calif ornians, among whom were such traders as Weimer and Besters, Winters, Marshall and others, when asked for their explanation, replied that these murders were evidently committed by the Oregonians themselves; they were old trappers and mountain men of the most desperate character, and they were undoubtedly murdering and robbing one another. This the Oregonians knew to be false, and that it should be said created a presumption in their minds that the California traders were inciting the Indians to cut off the Columbia River men. This suspicion led them to talk quietly to one another and to consider what should be done. Finally a little band of about thirteen in number was organized quite secretly, and of this Mr. Case, as one of the most intelligent, was chosen virtual leader. In this band of Oregonians was Fleming Hill (usually called Flem), and Greenwood, a half-breed Crow Indian.

Affairs were brought to a crisis at last by the murder of six Oregonians, all on one bar. The first that Case heard of the affair was at the house of Besters, where he was boarding while he was working upon a building. Besters, coming in late to supper, was in great glee, saying that he had taken in $2,500 that afternoon from the Indians. The news of the murder of the six Columbia River men was soon abroad, and it seemed impossible but that the murderers were the Indians who had brought the dust. This was the conclusion at which the Oregonians arrived, but they would not proceed until full evidence had been procured. Meeting Hill, as if casually, on the streets of Coloma, Case told him to take the thirteen men and find and follow the trail of the murderers, whom he felt certain were the Indians of the tribe in the vicinity, belonging to that very valley, and not a distant tribe from the mountains. A circumstance favoring such a conclusion was the fact that the tribe in the valley numbered over a hundred; but those who had come in to trade at Weimer and Bester's store were only about twenty-five. The rest of the tribe, it was apparent to those acquainted with the Indians, had struck off in a body to make a trail to the mountains, to lead off suspicion, and would return, singly or in small groups, to their homes.

Case himself continued working as usual at Coloma, as it was very necessary that some one be at that point to watch the progress of affairs. He soon discovered, however, that there was a spy on him, an Indian employed at the sawmill of a Calif ornian, Mr. Winters. At the end of several days Hill appeared again in town. Seeing him while he was working upon the roof, Mr. Case contrived to meet him as soon as possible, and inquired what had been discovered. Hill replied, "We found various tracks from the pit where the six miners who had been killed and stripped were buried. These, taking across the river, then made one plain, broad trail out to the mountains. We followed this for two days, when it suddenly disappeared, scattering in all directions, and could be followed no longer." "Then they are not mountain Indians," said Case; "they belong right here in this valley."

This brought the Oregonians decisively to what was to be done; whether to tell their discoveries to the Californians, or Sutter, or to take vengeance into their own hands. The former course seemed entirely useless, as they felt sure that the Calif ornians knew enough of the affair already, and had decided to let the Oregonians take care of themselves. Confirmation of the guilt of the Indians, if any were needed, was found in the report of an American who kept a horse ranch at some distance from town. He had, shortly before, seen a large number of Indians coming down the mountain side on foot, and dispersed in separate groups, and not in single file, as he had always observed them before. They were evidently that part of the band who had led a trail off to the mountains, returning home . The Oregonians concluded, therefore, that the only way to put an end to the murders was to proceed precisely as they would out on the plains; that is, make war on the Indians irrespective of the California authorities and wipe out the tribe, if that was necessary. This was accordingly done. The tribe was found and surprised by the band of thirteen armed Oregonians. Twenty-six of the Indians were killed on the instant. No women were shot, however, though they fought the same as the men. They and six men surrendered. Greenwood shouted as the blow was struck, "Now, this is what you get for killing Columbia River men."

After the surrender, the Indian women began weeping and wailing in a manner truly heart-rending over the bodies of their dead husbands and fathers; but they acknowledged that the punishment was just, as they had killed the Columbia River men. But they pleaded that they were told to do it, which, if true, cannot but create a feeling of sympathy for them, the unfortunate dupes. After the slaughter and surrender, Hill mounted his horse and rode to Coloma, and the six Indian men were hurried after under a guard, and the women and children were driven after these by the rest of the thirteen Oregonians. It was 4 o'clock when Hill arrived. The six Indians were but a short distance behind, and hardly had been placed in prison, together with the Indian spy, at Winter's mill, who was owned as a leading partner in the crime, when the remnant of the tribe, on the run, with the Oregonians galloping behind them, came into town. It was a burning day, the mercury standing at 106 in the shade, but the distance from the scene of the slaughter, forty miles, had been covered since 11 o'clock that forenoon. The town was excited beyond measure. Men and boys to the number of hundreds gathered in a circle about the Oregonians, who drove the tribe to the shelter of a spreading pine tree, in whose shade they lay stretched on the ground. There was great complaint and deep mutterings on the part of the Californians, who said, "See what you have done! We can stay here no longer. There are eighty thousand Indians in California, and now they will drive every white man from the mines.' So great indeed was the terror, that many new arrivals just up the river from San Francisco, coming to the mines from the east, turned around immediately and left. Others were scarcely dissuaded by the Oregonians themselves, or those who took their part, who declared that the trouble was now ended, if all stood together. However, it required great firmness on the part of the Columbia River men. Sutter, to whom word was sent asking if he would try the seven Indians in prison, replied that he had better not, as he could do nothing but release the men who had been captured by the murderers from Oregon. With this message from the civil authority, such as it was, the Oregonians proceeded to try the Indians themselves, disregarding Sutter entirely. But just as the Indians were being taken from prison, and were in the midst of a thick crowd of spectators, the one known as the spy made a sudden shout, and all the seven dropped on the instant to the ground and began wriggling on all fours between the legs of the astonished bystanders; the Oregon guard instantly attempted to shoot them which created a scene of strange and almost ludicrous excitement. Two were shot at once; two were shot after they left the crowd; the other two reached the river and began swimming away, and one of these was shot as he rose on the opposite side of the stream. What became of the seventh was not known.

The women and children were of course released, but with the warning that no Indian should again work on the bars. But this did not end the trouble. Another Oregonian was killed. The Oregonians again took the warpath, with the intention of killing all the savages they saw. One was soon found and dispatched. Eleven were next found and pursued to the cabin of an English rancher named Goff, who at first made no response to their summons at his door. But as the boys began picking the mud chinking out of the logs, and threatened to fire into the room, he opened the house and delivered the Indians, who were then immediately hanged. The tribe was then traced, and although taking refuge in the tules of a swamp of a marshy lake, were attacked by the guards on horseback, and all the men, and one woman, who was fighting with the men, were killed making in all seventy-six of the tribe that fell, the Oregonians having lost by secret murder thirty-three. The women and children were again brought back by the Oregonians to Coloma, and were furnished by them with provisions and pans, and were allowed to wash gold and support themselves. But they secretly took their leave, and were found at length in a distant canyon of the high mountains, at the limit of snow, nearly starved, but subsisting on pine nuts and the roots of wild clover, gathered by a few old men in a lower valley. It was a man named Smith who traced them, as among the tribe were his Indian wife and child. They were again induced to return to Coloma, and now in a pitiable condition, Calif ornians injudiciously sent them a large supply of beef and flour a sort of food to which they were unaccustomed, and of which they ate so greedily as to induce a virulent disease, of which fiftytwo died, practically exterminating the tribe.

This was Rocky Mountain men's justice that was thus dealt out in the California mines, and of the same piece as that of the Cayuse war, or that of the general Indian war of 1855-56.

It was rough and terrible, and the Indians were the victims; but the old California system was the real cause. The attempt was made to work the mines upon a system of inequality of proprietors and peons. The Oregonians, accustomed to a system of equality, finding themselves exposed to outlawry, and not protected from the poor savagery of the Indians, struck as they could. It is to be remembered, too, that the secret murder of thirtytwo men, without any attempt at meting out justice, was an enormity that no community should brook. But that it was not mere personal vengeance, but the purpose to establish the system of free labor, and to root out the contract system, or rather the peon system, was shown by the following:

At length Case decided to go up into the mines when affairs were at last settled, and the men were working without trouble or danger; he had fallen in with a certain Major Whiting, an American by birth, who had, however, been living in Mexico, and had even served in the Mexican army against the United States. This Mexican officer was now bringing up from that region a long mule train of provisions and a company of peons whom he had taken from prison at a cost to himself on the average of but $2 each, and had contracted with them to work for him at eighteen cents a day. Case reached the mines before him. When Whiting arrived he called upon Case first of all to ask what was the intention of the Oregon miners about allowing his debtors to work upon the bars. Case replied, "I speak only for myself; but I am opposed to it. ' Whiting then asked him to call a meeting to determine the opinion of the miners. Case complied. Mr. Finley of Oregon City happened to be chosen chairman of this meeting, and a young man named ————, secretary. The call had been made most literally by Case's getting up upon a high rock and shouting so as to be heard all over the canyon, and then those that came first raised such a cry that it could be heard for a distance of two miles up and down, and a pistol was also fired. At such a summons, of course, the miners came to the camp in great numbers, and upon the object of the meeting being announced, resolutions were passed unanimously to allow no working of the mines except by those who were American citizens and intended to remain in the United States; thus forbidding those w^ho were not citizens or who came simply to work and then return to foreign homes. In the face of this decision, Whiting, of course, was obliged to leave, having no inclination to meet the Oregon riflemen; and took his Mexican debtors along with him. When Case came to inform him of the action of the meeting he showed the utmost coldness, refusing to speak except to say that he knew their action already, having been present. This resolution of the miners, backed by their reputation acquired as dead-shots and no let-up, not only decided Major Whiting to leave, but those very same resolutions forwarded to the military governor, Smith, were issued by him as a proclamation. He believed that this was the only way to restore and maintain order in the mines, the will of the mountain men not being safely disregarded. A national spirit and a certain primary justice also required that American mines and privileges for which many millions of dollars had been paid to Mexico should be preserved to American citizens and worked for the benefit of this country, and not be turned over to the speculators and contractors of the whole world.

By this proclamation the Mexican and Chelano peons were required to return to their own country. The system of equality which the Oregonians rudely, but rightly represented, was established. Thousands of miners in California who never heard of this little contest which was worked out principally by a few rugged young mountain men from Oregon, began to enjoy thenceforth the free and equal opportunity of the California mines, and California thus became Americanized, and in the end a great free state. The influence of Oregon, therefore, cannot be disregarded although the actions of the Oregon men at the time created intense feeling against themselves, and Mr. Case considers this the source of the still persistent dislike of Oregon shown by Californians; which has hardened into a sort of tradition.


The journey overland from the Sacramento up to the Willamette was, in 1849, one long adventure; and, on three hundred miles of the distance, that of no peaceful kind. Case had had enough of sea voyaging in going to California, and when, in the early fall, he counted over his earnings, amounting to about $2,800, he said that he would go home by land. The Indians of Northern California and Southern Oregon were hostile, being declared enemies to the whites. The Oregon men had, during the previous autumn, built a road through, making a long detour from the Rogue River Valley to the borders of Klamath Lake by the old Applegate route, and thence by Lost River and Lake, the Lava Beds, and the long plateau east of Mount Shasta, to Pitt River, and then two hundred miles across the chain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Sacramento. The Indians of this region had ever been of the wildest and most warlike character, regarding white men as natural enemies. The famous Modocs were a remnant of one of these tribes. The large party of the Oregonians who had passed through the previous year had, to quite an extent, overawed the natives, especially in the Pitt River Valley. The party of Case consisted of only eight men, himself being chosen captain, and they carried some $28,000 worth of dust.

Over the mountains, from the Sacramento to the Pitt River Valley, a distance of some two hundred miles, and through the Pitt River Valley, they proceeded in a leisurely manner, allowing their horses to graze at will upon the wild pea vines that grew luxuriously, and thus kept them thriving. A large number of travelers were met on the way, going to the mines, among whom was a party of strict Presbyterians from Springfield, Illinois, who always rested on the Sabbaths. It was almost universally taken by new travelers of that road that the Pitt River Valley was the main Sacramento, and they were loth to strike over the mountains as the way required.

Later upon the journey, Major Warner was fallen in with, having a party of one hundred soldiers, mostly Irishmen. With this officer pleasant conversations were held. He expressed his surprise that Case should try to go through the Indian country with but eight men, while he felt unsafe with his one hundred. But Case replied that his party was the best. They all knew the Indians were like snapping dogs, that would snap and run, while Warner's men knew nothing of Indians. The event proved only too truly Case's estimate. Warner with his one hundred men were subsequently attacked and all were destroyed (W. M. C.). Warner also had imbibed the California idea of Oregon. He once remarked to Case, "I understand that Oregon can never be an agricultural section." "Why?" asked Case. "The valleys are too narrow. I am told that there are few over a thousand yards wide— that gives no room for ranches." "The Willamette Valley" said Case, "where I live is forty miles across, not counting the foothills. That gives room for ranches."

Emerging finally out of the Pitt River Valley and entering upon the great plateau east of Shasta Butte, Case's little party traveled so near the snow of the mountain region, and it was now late September, that the snowbanks seemed no higher above them than the tops of the trees. They were coming to the Modoc country, and the lava beds. These last were a great curiosity; the natural forts made by boiling and finally subsiding little craters of not over an acre in area, and looking so much like fortifications that many took them for the work of Indians, especially attracted attention. Here began the forced marches. For three nights and four days Case slept not a wink, and the distance covered during that time was about three hundred miles. Skirting the marshy shores of Lost Lake, where Lost River disappears, and the water is so stained with ochre as to be a deep red; and finally crossing the natural bridge, or causeway, and coming to the Klamath Basin; and crossing the Klamath River where there is a series of three low falls of about two feet high each, over some flat tabular rock formations they finally reached the dangerous Indian country of the Rogue River. Here occurred one of the strangest Indian fights. Mr. Case's party was not concerned in this, but was a few hours behind; yet enjoyed the results of the victory. The road at a certain point skirted along a bluff where there were many crevices and natural hiding places, and below the road ran the river. The wagon-way here was only just about wide enough for one vehicle to pass. This was a natural place for the Indians to ambush a passing party, and Case and his comrades would no doubt have suffered and probably have been cut off entirely, if it had not been that just before they reached this place, two other parties were passing, one on the way to California and the other but a few hours ahead of Case going to Oregon. The Oregon party was that of Robert Newell, consisting of thirty men, for California. As he came to this dangerous point, about four or five o'clock in the afternoon, Newell discovered that there were Indians in the crevices of the rock ready to attack him. With the capacity of a general, he divided his force so as to command the situation. Five of his men he sent forward so as to attract the Indians' attention along the road and to draw their fire, but still to keep out of reach. A reserve of seven he stationed under cover; and in the meantime he detailed the eighteen others to pass under the shelter of the wild plum bushes that skirted the river and faced the bluff, and under this shelter to creep up into the very midst of the Indians, select their men and shoot them down instantly which would surprise and stampede the savages, and is the true way, so says Mr. Case, to fight the Indians.

This manouvre was executed with perfect success. The eighteen men that crept up through the brush succeeded in falling upon the Indians in the rocks, and were shooting them down before their presence was discovered; and the Indians, surprised and confused, seeing white men in front and in their midst, rushed out of their hiding places and began retreating along the face of the bluff. But just at this time the party from California, under Weston and Howard, arrived from the other direction, and hearing the firing, hurried forward, and seeing the Indians pouring out of the rocks, began discharging their rifles upon them. By this the savages were entirely demoralized. The only space left was the river itself, and into its tumultuous current they began to precipitate themselves, the miners still firing upon them as they struggled in the water, until the river ran red. The slaughter must have been very great. Yet of all this, though but a few miles away, Case knew nothing. He placed his camp for the night in a sink, so that any Indians creeping up must be seen, and kept guard himself, with his ear to the ground, so as to hear any stealthy steps approaching. He saw or heard nothing. Nevertheless, the next morning, when one of his men went to the river for water, he reported upon his return that there were the footprints of as many as five hundred Indians upon the sand bar of the river, where the night before there were none to be seen. This, Case found to be about so, and with hands on the trigger, and hearts ready for anything, the little company started out, expecting an ambuscade at any moment. Case's advice to his men was, "If we are attacked, keep close together. If you divide up, we are lost." But they had not gone far before they heard a shot, and soon were greeted by the advance of Newell's men; and the next moment were met by Newell himself, who told them of the fight, and that the country was full of hostile Indians; but Weston and Howard were not far ahead, and the best thing for them was to shove forward and overtake them. Accordingly, Case shoved forward, passing hour after hour in the depths of the canyons, and hearing almost continually the Indians calling to one another from the mountains now on this side and now on that. But still they were not attacked. They were often upon the trail of the white men, but they, too, were shoving ahead, and not until the Rogue River Valley was passed and the Umpqua reached, was Weston's party overtaken. The junction was made early in the morning. The night be- fore, Mr. Case, although for the third night without sleep, kept guard, and at about 2 o'clock A. M. heard a dog baying not over a quarter of a mile away. He knew this indicated the white men's camp, and in fact recognized the dog. Very cautiously approaching the camp, for fear of being mistaken for Indians, and being fired upon, the little party advanced and were recognized. Then the peril was over. The rest of the journey was made more deliberately, but though now relieved of guard duty, Mr. Case felt sleepless, and scarcely rested until some days had passed.