Rogue River, Yakama and Klickitat War

Oregon was organized as a territory in 1848 by Congress, and its territorial government went into operation in the following spring, on the arrival of the governor, General Joe Lane, an Indianian who had won distinction in the Mexican War. Under the organic act, it embraced the country west of the Rocky Mountains north of parallel 42. The part of this north of parallel 46 to its intersection with the Columbia, and north of the Columbia thence westward to the ocean, was organized as Washington Territory in 1853. At the time of the organization of Oregon, the part afterwards erected into Washington Territory was still virtually in the hands of the Hudson’s Bay Company, except that a few families had settled in 1844 at Tumwater, now a suburb of Olympia, and one or two more at the latter place. Its first governor, Isaac I. Stevens (the Brigadier general Stevens of the Union army who fell at Bull Run), arrived, overland, in the fall of 1853, with a surveying party, examining the country which they traversed with regard to its availability as a railroad route. To these territories we must now return, for, while a restless peace has been maintained in Washington and Northern Oregon for several years, trouble has arisen in the South.

Along the southern boundary, extending into both California and Oregon were several warlike tribes, who, though not very friendly among themselves, were in general sympathy in their hostility towards the whites. On the Rogue River were several bands of the Shasta family, sometimes known by the names of their chiefs, but almost always called “the Rogue River Indians.” There were two principal clans of them, the Upper and Lower Rogue Rivers; the former were led by “Joe,” whom they called Apso-kah-hah (the Horse Rider); the latter were under “Sam ” (Ko-ko-kah-wah – the Wealthy), a wily and avaricious old man, who generally restrained them from hostility to the whites, and managed to reap a heavy harvest of presents and profits for himself. South of these, on the Klamath River, were the Lutuami or Klamaths (Klamet, Klamac, Clammat, Tlamath), the several tribes included under the name having no close relationship. Those nearest the ocean, called the Lower Klamaths (Eurocs, Youruks or Pohliks), were a dark people, inferior to their relatives above, a distinction which is always marked between the tribes who subsist on fish and roots and those who eat flesh. Above them, on the river, were the Upper Klamaths (Cahrocs, Kahruks or Pehtsik), a finely formed, energetic, and cleanly race. The Modocs (Moädocks, Moahtockna), formerly included in the Klamaths, but really a branch of the Shoshonee stock, lived about the lakes in which the Klamath heads, and others near them, extending to the bounds of the Bannocks and Pah-Utes. In their own language they are called Okkowish, their common name (pronounced Mo’-ah-dock) being a Shasta word which means strangers or enemies, a coincident signification that has doubtless caused them to be blamed for many wrongs which they did not commit. South of the Klamaths were the remainder of the Shastas (Tshastl, Chasta, Shasty, Sasté, Shasteeca), of whom a part were friendly, especially a band of the Scott’s River Indians (Ottetiewas), under their chief, Tolo, who was called by the whites “Old Man” or “Charley.” The Shastas, Rogue Rivers, and Scott’s Rivers have all one language, and had formerly one head chief, who was accidentally, killed a short time before the discovery of gold in California. After his death a contest arose as to the chief command between John, the old chief’s son, Sam and Joe of the Rogue River, and Scarf ace of Shasta, Tolo remaining neutral. When the whites began to come in they separated, each aspirant retaining supreme control of his own faction. These bands were further subdivided under various sub-chiefs, and with them had confederated the Umpquas, who lived north of the Rogue Rivers.

These Indians had never been friendly to the Americans. Away back in 1834 the Umpquas attacked a trading party of fourteen men under Captain Smith, of Smith, Sublette, and Jackson, and killed eleven of them. In 1835 a party of eight was assailed in the Rogue River Valley; Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, Mr. Sanders, and an Irishman called Tom were killed; the other four escaped, badly wounded. In 1838 they attacked the first party sent out by the Wallamet Cattle Company to bring in stock from California, but were beaten off after wounding Mr. Gay, one of the survivors of the party of 1835. In 1845 the Klamaths attacked Fremont’s third exploring expedition, in camp, at Klamath Lake, and killed three men before Kit Carson’s trained ear caught the sound, and the party was awakened to win safety in a hand to hand conflict. In the spring of 1851 the Rogue Rivers killed two men on Grave Creek, and two or three on Rogue River, in consequence of which Major Phil. Kearny, the same gallant cavalier who fell at Chantilly, was sent against them with a detachment of regulars. He defeated them in two actions; the men fled to the mountains and about thirty women and children were captured. He was taking the prisoners into California when he was met by General Joe Lane, who persuaded him to permit them to return with him to the Rogue River. Lane arrived at Rogue River shortly after the commissioners who were treating with the various tribes arrived at the same place. The Indians had refused to make any terms with Major Kearny; but when they saw their women and children returning, under charge of a “tyee” in whom they had great confidence, they came in, and a treaty was made. Just about this time, unfortunately, the commission received instructions to discontinue its labors, and the treaty was never ratified. Nevertheless, the Rogue Rivers committed no further serious depredations for about two years.

The other tribes were not so quiet. In June, 1852, the Pitt River Indians killed four men who were locating a wagon road, and in August the Modocs massacred an emigrant party of thirty-three persons, of whom several were Californians who had gone out to assist the emigration. Volunteer companies were at once organized at Yreka and Jacksonville and despatched to the scene of the affair, near Tulé or Rhett Lake. The California Company, under Captain Ben Wright, reached Bloody Point, on the lake, just in time to relieve an emigrant train of sixteen wagons which had been surrounded by the Indians for several hours. At the approach of the volunteers the Indians took to their canoes and continued the fight from the lake, which is shallow, full of islands, and bordered with a heavy growth of tulé reeds. They soon discovered that they were playing an unequal game, and after losing a dozen or more warriors they retired out of range. The next day the volunteers found and buried the bodies of eighteen murdered emigrants and settlers. They remained in the locality for three months, together with the Oregon Company, under Captain Koss, which had arrived after the battle and consolidated with the Yreka Company, with Captain Wright commanding. They employed their time in escorting emigrant trains through the more dangerous places, and concluded an otherwise meritorious campaign by a most disgraceful massacre. It was on the morning that they left for home that they had, as one of their number reported it, “a smart engagement, in which we killed about forty of them, impressing upon the minds of the balance, no doubt, the opinion that we had avenged the wrongs their tribe had committed towards the whites, at least during that season.” In reality Wright sent out a captured squaw by whose representations forty-eight of the Modocs were induced to come to the camp to have a feast and make a treaty. The original plan was to poison the food given to the Indians, and so be rid of them, but it did not succeed. Some say that the squaw got an inkling of what was going on and notified the warriors, who thereupon refused to eat. Others say that they ate, but the poison did not operate; that Wright used to swear afterwards over the way he had been imposed on by the druggist. At any rate, the feast part of the programme passed and they sat down to talk. While the talk was going on Wright opened fire with his revolver, killing two of the principal Indians. At this prearranged signal his men fired, their rifles having been charged afresh for the occasion, and thirty-six more of the Modocs fell. The remaining ten managed to escape before the volunteers could reload. Wright broke camp and returned to Yreka in triumph, his men carrying the scalps of the Indians on their rifles. He reported that he had demanded the return of stolen property of the Modocs, and, on their failure to surrender it, had punished them. A general welcome was extended by the citizens of Yreka, and the legislature of California paid the volunteers for their services, but Wright met his punishment four years afterwards, when the Rogue Rivers killed him, at his agency, with twenty-three others. The Modocs never forgot this outrage, and the bad faith shown bore fruit long afterwards, as we shall sec hereafter.

From these conflicts no very peaceable disposition had been produced in either whites or Indians, but, aside from this, there was a continuing cause which was the chief occasion of both the wars that followed. In 1852 President Fillmore said, in his message to Congress: “The Senate not having thought proper to ratify the treaties which had been negotiated with the tribes of Indians in California and Oregon, our relations with them have been left in a very unsatisfactory condition. In other parts of our territory, particular districts of country have been set apart for the exclusive occupation of the Indians, and their right to the lands within those limits has been acknowledged and respected. But in California and Oregon there has been no recognition by the government of the exclusive right of the Indians to any part of the country. They are, therefore, mere tenants at sufferance, and liable to be driven from place to place at the pleasure of the whites.” What the President thought “liable” to occur was at that time occurring. During the controversy with England, as to the ownership of the country, and afterwards, strong representations of future benefits had been held out to emigrants, by statesmen who favored an occupation of Oregon, and these had been made good by Congress, by allowing each actual settler before 1850 to preempt three hundred and twenty acres of land, with an equal amount for his wife, if married, while settlers from December l, 1850, to December 1, 1853, took half that amount. As there was no restriction in regard to what lauds were to be taken, the settlers naturally took the best they could find, and, as gold was discovered at various points, farms were opened about the diggings, and all of the better part of the country was overrun by the enterprising immigrants. In the meantime treaties were not ratified, and the Indians failed to receive the promised consideration for the lands of which they had been dispossessed. Of course, the same possessory title remained in them as had always been recognized in the eastern tribes, and disinterested persons, particularly the army officers, regarded them as being imposed upon. In 1852, Brevet Brigadier general Hitchcock, commanding the Pacific division, wrote: “As matters now stand the United States troops are placed in a most delicate and awkward position.

The whites go in upon Indian lands, provoke the Indians, bring on collisions, and then call for protection, and complain if it is not furnished, while the practical effect of the presence of the troops can be little else than to countenance and give security to them in their aggressions; the Indians, meanwhile, looking upon the military as their friends, and imploring their protection.” The courts, of necessity, took much the same view of the question as the military authorities. In 1851 several Klickitats were indicted for malicious trespass, for destroying some timber in the Wallamet Valley, which a settler, named Donald McLeod, had prepared for a house. They maintained that it was their own timber, grown on their land, and that they had warned McLeod not to attempt to settle there. The United States District Judge held that they had a possessory title to the land, not yet extinguished by the government, and that the action would not lie. Another attempt to have the Indians punished for trespass was made by one Bridgefarmer. He had built a fence across an Indian trail, and they had torn it down and followed their customary highway. It resulted as the other case had.

The situation was one from which warfare was certain to result. The settlers had come to get their three hundred and twenty acres of land and go to farming, but no matter where they settled they were on Indian land. They saw other settlers peaceably established on their farms, under the same circumstances, and they settled also. But they went to inexcusable lengths in their appropriations. Nearly all of the Indians had adopted agriculture to some extent, and particularly the cultivation of the potato, of which they were very fond. In many tribes each family had its little patch of a quarter of an acre or more, which was carefully tended and quite productive. In preempting farms many of these were enclosed by the settlers, and so notorious had this evil become, in 1853, that Lieutenant Jones, commanding Steilacoom barracks, gravely writer: “The practice which exists throughout the territory, of settlers taking from them their small potato patches, is clearly wrong and should be stopped.” One is almost inclined to ask what he was there for, but it is well to remember that military interference, in the United States, has ever been regarded as the climax of evils, and no officer could be expected to do more than call the matter to the attention of the government.

The Indians of Oregon had, from the first, treated the Americans remarkably well. The Whitman massacre was the first serious trouble that had occurred, and, in Northern Oregon, almost the only one. But as the Indians saw their lands being taken without compensation, their treaties unfulfilled, and the men who “spoke with authority” to them being constantly changed, and unable to carry out their agreements, they lost all confidence in their white friends. One Rogue River chief said: “We have waited and waited, because the agents told us to be patient; that it would be all right by and by. We are tired of this. We believe Uncle Sam intends to cheat us. Sometimes we are told there is one great chief and sometimes another. One superintendent tells us one thing, and the great chief removes him. Then another superintendent tells us another thing, and another great chief removes him. Who are we to believe? Who is your great chief, and who is to tell us the truth? We don’t understand the way you act. With us, we are born chiefs; once a chief we are a chief for life. But you are only common men, and we never know how long you will hold your authority, or how soon the great chief may degrade yon, or how soon he may be turned out himself. We want to know the true head, that we may state our condition to him. Let him come here himself and see us. So many lies have been told him that we think he never hears the truth, or he would not compel us to suffer as we do.”

The Rogue Rivers chafed more than the others, because there were more miners in their country, and consequently more aggression. The road from California to Oregon lay across their lands; placers had been found on them; and miners and settlers had flocked in. Jacksonville was a flourishing town; villages had sprang up at several points; farms were opened all through the Rogue River Valley. The Indians saw but one chance for relief. On August 4, 1853, they began remedying the evil by killing Edward Edwards in his house, on Stewart’s creek; and rapine and destruction were the order from that time forward. On the next day Thomas Wills was killed within three hundred yards of Jacksonville, and, on the 6th, Richard Nolan was murdered about a mile from the same town. By this time the alarm had been sounded everywhere, and the people gathered together for protection, while the torch was applied to their buildings and haystacks, and their stock was being driven off to the mountains. Captain B. K. Alden, commanding at Fort Jones, in Northern California, was notified, and at once repaired to the scene. He brought ten regulars, all that were available at the fort, and some volunteers from Yreka, who, together with the volunteers at Jacksonville, made a force of about two hundred. On August 11 this force had prepared for a night attack on the Indians, who were strongly posted near Table Rock, but at dusk a messenger appeared, at full speed, announcing that a band of Indians was raiding the valley and that the families there were in imminent danger. As he spoke his words were verified by the red glare of burning buildings on the western sky, and the volunteers, without waiting for orders, hurried to the defense of their homes. The force could not be collected again for work till the 16th, and then the Indians had retired into the mountains, firing the pine forests behind them.

On the 20th, while preparations were being made for an extended chase, General Lane arrived and took command. At daybreak of the 22d the troops moved forward in quest of the savages. For two days and a half they searched through an almost impassable country, where nearly all traces of the trail had been destroyed in the forest fires. Near noon of the 24th, General Lane, who was in advance, heard a sound of voices, about four hundred yards away, in a dense forest. The troops were quietly dismounted, and, dividing into two parties, made their attack. The Indians quickly recovered from their first surprise and took positions behind logs and trees, from which they returned the fire vigorously. The battle was thus carried on for nearly four hours, and during it General Lane, Captain Alden, and three others were badly wounded and three killed, the Indians losing eight killed and twenty wounded, of whom seven died. While General Lane was at the rear, having his wound dressed, the Indians called to the troops that they wanted to make peace. Two men went to talk with them, and, on learning that General Lane was in command, they wanted him to come also. He went over, and, as there was no prospect for a victory over the Indians, he made arrangements by which they were to come to Table Rock and make peace. Both parties remained on the ground overnight, good faith being mutually observed, and in the morning the Indians moved off. They appeared at Table Rock as agreed, and a treaty was concluded there on September 10. The Indians were by no means conquered, but treated on equal terms, being influenced by their confidence in General Lane more than by any other consideration.

Discontent soon became an active force again, for all the old causes were in operation. Force seemed to be the only arbiter for which either party had any respect. There were murders committed by Indians, and murders committed by white men. On January 16, 1854, a party of citizens from Yreka undertook to chastise a party of Shastas for an alleged theft of cattle, but was driven back with a loss of four men. Over on the Oregon side, at daybreak of the 28th, a party of thirty miners, under a discharged sergeant of dragoons, named Abbott, attacked three lodges of friendly Indians at the mouth of the Coquille; killed sixteen, and wounded four. These Indians had only three good guns among them, and the number of warriors in the district was less than half of that of the whites. The assassination of some thirty men is attributed to the Shastas, Rogue Rivers, and Modocs between the treaty of September 10, 1853, and the outbreak of 1855. It may safely be assumed that at least as many Indians were murdered by whites, for there were many white men among the pioneers who, when a safe opportunity presented, shot an Indian as they would a wolf. In addition to these home affairs, the whites were greatly inflamed, all through the coast, by the barbarous massacre of an emigrant party of nine men, two women, and eight children on August 20. This crime was committed near Fort Boise by the Snake Indians. Before it occurred there had been murders all along the emigrant trails, and, in the summer, a company of militia had been sent out under Captain Jesse Walker. Ue attacked the Modocs at their rancherias on Tule Lake, forced them to take to the water, and destroyed their buildings and all their provisions. From August 18 to September 4 there was more or less skirmishing between them, and, on the latter date, the Indians, being wholly out of provisions, made peace, and promised to rob and kill no more. He then marched against the Pah-Utes and chastised them at Warner’s Rock, but was unable to bring them to terms. But troubles in Oregon were beginning to be more important than those along the trails.

Until 1855 the Klickitats (Robbers) had been friendly to the whites. In 1851 they had tendered their services during the Rogue River troubles, but had not been used. In 1853, sixty of their warriors, armed and mounted, had gone to assist General Lane, but they did not arrive until the treaty of Table Rock had been completed. These Indians, though not great in numbers, were among the most powerful and influential of the tribes, well supplied with firearms, and very expert in their use. From their home on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, north of the Columbia, they had sallied forth, at about the time the missionaries came into the country, and fallen on the weaker tribes below. They first attacked the Cowlitz, Chinooks, and other inferior tribes along the Columbia and in five years had reduced them to tributaries. In 184:1 they began raiding south of the Columbia, west of the Cascades, where the coast tribes, reduced by disease, were unable to resist them. They subdued the Clackamas, Yamhills (Che-am-ills, meaning bald hills, now hopelessly corrupted in the form given), Santiams, and other tribes of the Wallamet Valley, and forced them to pay tribute. The Umpquas next fell before their conquering arms, and the Klickitats controlled the country from the Columbia to the Rogue River Mountains, exercising possession and claiming title by right of conquest. In their palmy days they maintained a state more nearly approaching regal magnificence than did any savage tribe of America. Casino, one of their chiefs, was frequently attended on his travels by a hundred slaves, and, on visiting Fort Vancouver, it is said, his slaves carpeted the way from the landing to the fort, a quarter of a mile, with furs, and, on returning, the Hudson’s Bay men carpeted the same path with blankets and other goods. In 1851 treaties were wade with the coast tribes at Shampoag, in which the Klickitats were entirely ignored, notwithstanding their possessory title had been judicially recognized, as before mentioned. Nevertheless they retained their actual sovereignty. They maintained an extensive trade in furs and slaves with all the neighboring tribes, roamed the country at will, and exacted tribute on all fish and furs taken in their territory, as well as on all increase of stock. Their chief highway was through the valley of the Wallamet, and here, during the winter season, they usually kept their families. As the country settled up, their excursions became annoying to the whites, and, in 1853, Governor Palmer represented to the government that the property of the whites, as well as that of their subject tribes, suffered at their hands. In the spring of 1855, reduced by disease to a comparatively small band, they were compelled to remove to their original home, and from that time they were ready for war.

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886.

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