Captain B. R. Alden
Bradford Ripley Alden
New Yorker Traces Steps of Indian-Fighting Grandfather
In Medford, Ft. Jones Areas
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Alden Derby of New York City recently left Medford for their home after a stay of several days, during which Mr. Derby visited spots in this vicinity where his grandfather, Captain Bradford Ripley Alden, fought the Indians in 1853. The New Yorkers went first to Fort Jones, near Yreka, Calif., where Captain Alden was in charge of a garrison for a time, and later visited Jacksonville and the scene of a battle on Evans Creek where the captain was wounded in action.
Mr. Derby is in possession of a number of letters written by his grandfather during the time of the officer's western service. Letters by brother officers, and other documents in the descendants' possession also bear on the subject. The letters to Captain Alden's wife cover his experiences after arrival at Fort Columbia [sic], Vancouver, Wash., and give a vivid account of pioneer-day existence.
In the winter of 1852, Captain Alden had set out from the east coast for Fort Roger Jones in command of Company E, 4th Infantry, comprising 60 men, six wagons and 60 mules, the outfit having been ordered to garrison the far distant fort.
Start Oregon TrekCrossing the Isthmus of Panama, Capt. Alden embarked his men on a ship for Vancouver, from which point they commenced their march across Oregon toward northern California sometime in April 1853.
The strenuous journey required 37 days, and when the command reached the Umpqua River a number of the men deserted, lured by the tales of riches to be gained in the gold fields of that area. A bit further along Capt. Alden encountered more trouble when it became impossible to take the lumbering military wagons through the Canyon, near where [Canyonville] now stands. But despite the desertions and hardships, the leader finally brought 22 men to Fort Jones sometime in May of 1853.
Settling into garrison routine had barely been accomplished when a petition was received August 8 from residents of the Rogue River Valley to come to their aid, the settlers reporting 250 warriors of Rogue River, Shasta and Klamath tribes had killed a number of valley residents, burning their homes and threatening extermination of all whites in the valley. The warlike tribesmen were reported to have taken up a position near Table Rock after visiting their wrath on the hapless settlers.
Hasten to AidCapt. Alden at the time had only 11 effective soldiers, but he packed all available rifles and ammunition on muleback and set out for the scene on August 7. He had heard that the settlers were unarmed.
At Yreka, 80 volunteers joined the little band and through forced march the rescue expedition pulled into the Rogue River Valley the night of August 11. The sight of burning homes was too much for the volunteers, who left the military party to go after the Indians individually.
Capt. Alden, in an effort to keep some semblance of coordination among the forces opposing the Indians, appointed four commissioners. Additional volunteers joined the group, which had set up headquarters at Camp Alden near Jacksonville. Alden, having organized a considerable force of men, wagons and supplies, then relinquished the command to General Joseph Lane, who had reached the scene from his [home] in the Umpqua Valley.
Lane led the combined force after the Indians, who retired to the northwest, setting fire to the forest behind them. The punitive expedition then divided into two forces. One went down the Rogue River to the mouth of Evans Creek and following up the creek. The other force, led by Lane, went around Table Rock, and the two met at the west fork of Evans Creek, which is now called Battle Creek.
The Indian force was found deployed on Battle Mountain quite high up, but view of the enemy was obstructed by underbrush. The Indians had fallen trees and made breastworks.
Capt. Alden WoundedFirst contact with the Indians was made by Capt. Alden, leading Goodall company, and soon after the fight began Capt. Alden was shot in the neck by an Indian sharpshooter, perched in a tree. General Lane, in an advance, reached the spot where Alden lay wounded, only to be wounded himself, an Indian bullet striking him in the shoulder.
Both leaders were able to retire from the scene and the Indians, led by chiefs Joe, Sam and Jim, soon convinced that their stand was hopeless, asked for peace.
Some in the punitive expedition were all for exterminating the redskins, but Gen. Lane, insisting on orderly processes, refused to sanction the wholesale slaughter and granted an armistice until September 10.
On that date the Indians and whites gathered at Table Rock and signed a treaty of peace at a spot which is now marked by a monument. [The monument is a considerable distance away from the actual treaty site.]
Capt. Alden, because of the wound suffered in the Battle Mountain engagement, was forced to resign from the army and later on the wound made it impossible for him to gain readmission to the army, which he sought in order to serve under the Union banner in the Civil War. The captain died in 1870 at Newport, R.I. His old Company E, which had gone out to Fort Jones with him, continued to garrison that strong point until it was abandoned in 1858, later commanders being Capt. Judah and Lt. Bonnycastle.
Letters from General Joseph Lane and Captain Bradford Ripley Alden to the adjutant general of the army, in Washington, D.C., and published in the Congressional [Globe], give further details of the battle with the Indians in this region which the two officers led in 1853.
Names of several of those mentioned in the letters are still familiar here and, in fact, some of those prominent in the winning of this country still have descendants here.
From his headquarters at Camp Alden near Jacksonville [the camp was on the Rogue River], General Lane in August reported to the adjutant general as follows, in part: [This version is abridged, but contains a few details not contained in another version of his report, transcribed here]:
"On August 17 I received information at my residence in the Umpqua Valley that the Rogue River Indians, assisted by the Klamaths, Shastas, the bands living on the Applegate and Grave creeks, had united and attacked the settlements in Rogue River Valley; that a number of persons had been killed, a large amount of stock killed or driven off, and houses and grain burned, and that companies were being formed for the defense of the settlements and for a general war upon the Indians.
Starts for Scene"I promptly notified citizens of the neighborhood and advised with Major Alvord, who was then engaged in location of the road from Myrtle Creek to Camp Stuart, and immediately proceeded accompanied by Captain Armstrong, Messrs. Clugage, Nickell and some ten others, to the scene of the hostilities.
"On the 21st I arrived at the headquarters of our forces on Stuart Creek. Here I found Captain Alden of the 4th Infantry with 11 men of his command, from Fort Jones, all who were fit for duty, and all the volunteers for whom arms could be procured. Alden's force consisted of companies under Captains Goodall, Miller, Lamerick and Rhodes, commanded by Col. John Ross.
"At the request of Col. Alden and the troops I assumed the command of the forces, and on August 22 at 4 a.m. left camp for the mountains, having divided the forces into two battalions in order better to scout the whole country. [It is noted that Lane hereafter refers to Alden as "colonel."--Mail Tribune ed.]
"After advancing about 15 miles beyond Table Rock, I discovered the Indians' trail. We followed it next day with difficulty, the Indians having used every precaution to conceal it. The country was exceedingly mountainous and almost impassable for animals. The Indians had fired the forest behind them, the falling of the burning timber and the heat delaying our progress.
Indians Located"The Indians were finally found two days later in a dense forest, thick with brush. We prepared for battle, and Colonel Alden, at the head of Goodall's company, proceeded on the trail to attack the enemy in front, while a portion of Captain Rhodes' company followed a ridge to the left of the trail. Colonel Alden proceeded to engage them in the most gallant manner. On arriving on the ground I found Colonel Alden, who had been shot down early in the fight, dangerously wounded, in the arms of his faithful sergeant, and surrounded by a few of his men.
"The battle was now raging with great fierceness, our men coolly pouring in their fire, unshaken by the hideous yells and war whoops of the Indians, or by their rapid fire. I determined to charge them but soon received a rifle ball in my right arm near the shoulder. Finding myself weak from loss of blood, I retired to the rear to have my wound examined and dressed.
"The Indians then cried out to our men that they wished to talk, that they desired to fight no longer, that they desired peace. Mr. Tyler was dispatched by Captain Goodall to inform me. Robert Metcalfe and James Bruce were sent into the Indians' line to talk and found the Indians much superior in numbers, being about 200 warriors, well armed with rifles and muskets and plenty of ammunition.
"Entering the lines I met the principal chief, Joe, and the subordinate chiefs, Sam and Jim, who told me their hearts were sick of war, and that they would meet me at Table Rock in seven days, where they would give up their arms, make a treaty and place themselves under our protection.
Alden Praised"Too much praise cannot be awarded to Colonel Alden; the country is greatly indebted to him for the rapid organization of the forces, when it was entirely without defense. Captains Goodall and Rhodes, with their companions, distinguished themselves from the beginning to the end of the action.
"Our loss was three killed: Captain Pleasant Armstrong, Privates John Scarborough and Isaac Bradley. The Indians lost eight killed and 20 wounded.
"Soon after my return from the mountains, Captain A. J. Smith, First Dragoons, arrived at camp with his troops from Port Orford. The governor of the territory ordered Captain Nesmith and a company from Fort Vancouver with a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
"To Robert Metcalfe, John Cosby and James Bruce, who acted as scouts and guides, I am indebted for faithful discharge of their duty.
"Dr. Edward Sheil, George Dart, Richard Dugan and L. A. Davis, appointed as commissioners by Colonel Alden, were most active in discharge of their duties, and kept the command supplied with provisions, transportation and other necessities."
Writing from Yreka, Calif., October 18, to the adjutant general, Colonel Alden reported in part:
"I regret that I have suffered so much from debility, consequent upon my wound, that I have been unable to make a detailed report of my participation in the late military operations. As some official communication from me may be of importance in showing the necessity of furnishing more regular troops of the defense of this frontier, and also to prove the necessity of the call I made upon the volunteers, I made an effort today to communicate a brief statement.
"On August 7 last I received at my post, Fort Jones, Calif., a petition from principal citizens of Jacksonville, Ore., representing that the settlers were threatened by a combination of several tribes. They earnestly requested me to furnish them with all the men and arms at my disposal for their defense.
Many Men Ill"Of the 22 men of my company present, 11 were on sick report and unable to march. I packed 25 muskets, 5 carbines and 600 rounds of ammunition on mules and with all my disposal force, amounting to 11 men, marched for the scene. Passing through Yreka I enrolled 80 volunteers. I enrolled two companies of volunteers at Jacksonville and on the 11th instant mustered the companies at Camp Stuart, seven miles from town. A company of 20 independent volunteers joined me there, making the whole force, including my own men, about 200.
"I learned that the Rogue River Indians had taken a strong position near Table Rock, about 10 miles distant from Camp Stuart. Their force was estimated at 250 warriors. I planned to attack them that night when suddenly a man rode into camp at full speed, announcing in the hearing of all the troops that the Indians had appeared in force in the valley, killed two white men and burned a house and several haystacks and that families in the north of the valley were in imminent danger of massacre.
"At this announcement, 20 men of the independent volunteers darted off on horseback in the direction of the burning house, light of which was distinctly visible at the camp. I was compelled to suspend the attack and permit the companies raised in the valley to mount and hasten to the defense of the houses and homes. This disconnected the movement and it was not until the 16th instant that I had force enough present to organize another plan of attack."
Colonel Alden busied himself with organizing his supplies and believing the valley would be endangered if he continued to carry the burden of the details of all subordinate departments, "did not hesitate to request General Lane to relieve me from the command of the volunteers. On August 20 General Lane assumed the command and on the 22nd marched in pursuit of the Indians."
Colonel Alden added that he hoped to be able by next mail to forward a report in detail, including two skirmishes of Lieut. Griffin's scouting party with a large body of Applegate Indians, the scattering of the troops from the 11th to the 16th, the gallant defense of Lieut. Ely's scouting party of 25 men against a band of 100 Indians, and the prompt movement of Captain Goodall with his company of volunteers preceded by a small detachment led by J. D. Cosby and Elijah Heard to the rescue of Lieut. Ely.
Serialized in the Medford Mail Tribune, September 2-4, 1947
21st day of September
The captain that was severely wounded by the Indians at the last battle arrived here [Yreka] today, having recovered so as to be able to ride in a wagon. A company also arrived this way going to Rogue River. Col. Wright commanded them.
The citizens of Yreka, hearing of Col. Alden's coming, assembled together and greeted him with a hearty welcome. He is much esteemed by the citizens here, and respected by those of Jacksonville for his promptness in coming to their relief. On once seeing him you behold the gentleman. When he fell at Evans Creek and was supposed mortally wounded, his men crawled around him, determined to die as a man rather than fall back and leave him exposed to the fury of the Indians.
Elizabeth Hurst Ellwood, The Life of Captain Stephen Palmer Blake from his Journals, Genealogy Publishing Service 1995, page 331
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We are informed by Mr. Horsley, Cram, Rogers & Co.'s Express messenger, that John D. Colden, messenger from Col. Alden, arrived in Yreka just before he left, bearing the intelligence that Col. Alden was yet alive, although in an extremely critical condition. He was shot with a half-ounce ball while stooping behind a log just in the act of firing at an Indian. The ball entered his neck near the jugular vein and came out just below the arm on the opposite side of his body, inflicting a ghastly wound of sufficient size to enable a man to thrust two fingers into it. Just about the time he fell the old chief Sam stepped out and proposed a parley with the "Big Boston," when another gentleman was sent to him in place of the Colonel. The result of this talk was that some dozen of the whites were permitted to enter the Indian camp, where they observed the dead bodies of twelve Indians piled up ready to be burned. The Indians asked to make a treaty, and the whites had agreed to meet at Table Rock in a few days and talk over the matter. The probability was that on that day either a treaty would be formed or a general battle fought.
Some of Sam's Indians packed Col. Alden some sixty miles from the battle ground, and within twelve miles of Jacksonville, where he now lies.
Shasta Courier, Shasta, California, September 3, 1853, page 3 Jacksonville is about thirty-five miles by trail from the battle site.
A correspondent of the Herald, writing from Jacksonville on the 29th, says: Col. B. R. Alden, and some of the other men wounded in the last battle, reached town yesterday. The Colonel is doing well and in fine spirits, and I am happy to learn that his wound is not considered dangerous.
"From the North," Shasta Courier, Shasta, California, September 10, 1853, page 3
Ft. Reading Cal.Dear Freeman,
Cottonwood P. Office
Septr. 7, 1853.
The newspapers of this region contain an announcement that Capt. Alden is mortally wounded in an encounter with Indians about 200 miles north of this [the battle was about 70 miles from Cottonwood], and as I fear this false intelligence may reach his wife by the next steamer I write you to give you the facts in the case. We have received here a letter from his subaltern Lieut. Collins stating that his wound is not dangerous. So he has only been inflicted with glory instead of death, a difference which I hope you will communicate to his family as speedily as possible, as it may save them much anguish. Please to mention also to Mrs. Alden that the daguerreotype sent out by Mr. Trowbridge has been sent to the Capt. and is no doubt in his hands now. I brought it in my trunk from San Francisco and put it in charge of Dr. Sorrel, who left here for Fort Jones a week since; it will reach its destination very opportunely. I have never seen Mrs. Alden, but I have frequently heard of her, and I never was more tempted to break a seal than when I had her daguerreotype in my charge. Tell her that instead of regretting the circumstance, she has cause for congratulation as it may be the means of her seeing the Captain much sooner than under other circumstances.
60 men from Benicia arrived here yesterday on their way north to the region of the difficulties. There may be no necessity for them, but they will probably continue their march until the matter is certain.
I am very busy and only write to relieve Mrs. Alden and the Captain's other friends.
With many kind feelings & wishes for you & yoursLt. Col. W. G. Freeman
I am very truly
Your friend & classmate
Bradford Ripley Alden papers, MS 29, California Historical Society
Capt. Alden, U.S.A., has been removed to Fort Jones. His general health is restored. One arm, however, seems paralyzed, and fears are felt that it will be useless for life.
"From Yreka," Shasta Courier, Shasta, California, October 1, 1853, page 3
An unpublished account of the Rogue River war, and incidents connected therewith, is promised us. The author says there was another person figured in the war. He is known out there by the name of Capt. Alden. He is just the man, he says, for almost any emergency, and has a heart as big as a mountain. He thinks there is not much éclat to be gained in an Indian fight nohow, but if there be never so little it ought not to be wrongfully appropriated. A stranger would think, on reading the accounts already given, that there was no person else there except Gen. Lane. He did all the fighting--he did all the wawa-ing and per consequence he ought to have all the credit. This self-glorification appears cool to us.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 20, 1853, page 2
This letter is dated Antwerp, Belgium, Aug. 21st, 1856.
Memorandum book vol. 20, B. F. Dowell papers, University of Oregon Special Collections Ax 031
Last revised June 26, 2019