Another version of the Battle of Fort Hay, as well as John S. Miller's telling of the Battle of the Cabins and the Harris cabin siege.
We will now let Mr. [Orville] Olney occupy the center of the stage while he tells what he knew of Indian hostilities in 1856. He does not sign his initials and speaks of himself always in the third person, but evidently he was an interested participator in some of the events he so graphically chronicles.
"Early in March, 1856, an election of regimental officers of the 2nd. Regiment Oregon Mountain Volunteers was held in all the company camps, which resulted in the election of John Kelsey as Col., W. W. Chapman as Lieut. Col., Bruce and Latshaw as. Majors. Gen. Lamerick then issued orders to the Southern Battalion, under Bruce, to rendezvous at and in the near vicinity of Vannoy's Ferry on Rogue River; the Northern Battalion, under Latshaw, to establish camp at Grave Creek and vicinity, preparatory to a march down Rogue River to the Big Meadows, where it was believed the Indians were encamped, waiting an attack by the volunteers. Major Bruce's battalion was scattered around Vannoy's Ferry, up and down Rogue River five or six miles, and one company was encamped at the foot of Eight Dollar Mountain, fifteen miles from the ferry. Each company remained inactive in camp until the memorable 23rd of March, 1856. The Northern Battalion remained encamped in various places in the Umpqua Valley until early in the following April, when they began their march by way of Grave Creek to the Big Meadows, under the immediate command of John Kelsey.
"Scouting parties were sent out from time to time by each company to ascertain if any Indians were in its vicinity; occasionally a few signs would be discovered, but in all but one instance the signs were not deemed sufficiently encouraging for the volunteers to pursue. In the instance mentioned above, Capt. Mike Bushey, a noted scout and captain of one of the companies encamped at Grave Creek, had been for several days scouting down the Illinois River with a part of his command, and succeeded in discovering, in his view, sufficient evidence of the near proximity of Indians to warrant general alarm.
"Accordingly he dispatched a messenger with the important tidings to Major Bruce, at Vannoy's Ferry, who immediately issued orders to several companies to march without a moment's delay to Grave Creek, from whence an expedition would start the next day to attack the Indians.
"Marching all night, the companies reported to Major Bruce the next morning at Grave Creek. In the meantime Capt. Bushey had returned to the locality where he had at first discovered the hostile signs. On his return to Grave Creek he informed the Major that the Indians had retreated down towards the Big Meadows, and that he did not think it advisable to pursue them, consequently the companies returned to their respective camps
"All was now quiet in the Umpqua, Rogue River and Illinois valleys until about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of March a messenger arrived at Vannoy's Ferry with the word that the Indians had ambushed a small party of travelers on Slate Creek and killed two of the party. Wright, a partner in Vannoy's Ferry, and Olney, a member of Capt. O'Neil's company, which was encamped at the foot of Eight Dollar Mountain, that after killing the two men and dispersing the remainder of the travelers, they had pushed on towards Hay's ranch, that just before they reached the ranch they were met by five of Olney's messengers who had come oat to rescue his dead body, and the Indians had killed one of them, John Davis, and forced the others to retreat back into the ranch; that the Indians had then pushed on and surrounded the ranch, and that when they (the messengers) left, the firing was brisk and determined on both sides. Orders were at once sent to all the companies belonging to the Southern Battalion to repair immediately to Hay's ranch, and at about ten o'clock the same day the companies began to assemble at Vannoy's Ferry, for a start for the scene of the conflict.
"It now becomes necessary to change the scene. To better understand what follows, and to have a clear view of the situation, we will return to the morning of the 23rd. of March. On this morning, Olney, a member of Company "E" which camped at Eight Dollar Mountain, and who had been on a special mission to the camp of Capt. Abel George, five miles below Vannoy's, was on his return to camp. Being of a cautious temperament, he concluded to go by headquarters, which was a little off the most direct trail, and see if he could not procure company, as it was considered dangerous to travel along Slate Creek, up which the trail wound its crooked way to Hay's ranch. In answer to his inquiries, if anyone was intending to go down from there to Hay's, he was informed that a party of five persons, had but a short half hour before, started to the ranch, and if he would move briskly along he would be likely to soon overtake them. This was good news, and off he went at a smart pace to overtake the party. It was a long chase, but he was soon rewarded by a sight of the men slowly making the ascent of the hill, up which the trail ran before it reached the open flat just below the forks of the creek. The pattering of his horse's feet arrested the progress of the party and caused them to stop and await his approach, for at that time all rapid riding seemed to savor of something unusual. The party was composed of Wright, Willis Hay, Cox, Blake and Thompson. As Olney rode up to within 30 paces of the party he was saluted with: 'Hello! Any news? Have you seen any Indians? Where have you come from this morning?'
"To all of which he answered, 'No, wanted to overtake you; afraid to go through alone, horse nearly done for.' 'Come along then, we've got one more gun and revolver in the party; think we will have some fun before we reach the ranch. Willis says he thinks he smells Ind-- Bang! Bang! Bang! followed instantly by a heavy volley of rifle shots on the left flank, front and rear, brush and trees filled with smoke and Indian yells, horses plunge and snort; but in a few seconds the party regained their self-command; the Indians showed themselves--half a dozen, ten, fifty, a hundred--no use to show fight, it was better to run, and run they did; horses and men all willing. So off they turned to the right, through the woods, scampered for dear life, for sure enough life was at stake, and they were making good time, all of them but Olney, whose horse would only plunge up and down, making no headway, and he saw the only course to save his life, and that was not a certainty, nor did it seem even to approach a possibility, yet it was the only chance. It was to dismount and try his own legs; for had he not read how Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and a host of other renowned Indian fighters had outrun, outshot, outwitted smarter Indians than these after him. So dropping the bridle on his horse's neck he sprang to the ground, and in doing so he saw his horse's flank covered with blood, and blood oozing out of several holes in his side. All was taken in at a glance, and with gun in hand he started to run, but on each foot was strapped a large heavy Mexican spur. He could make no headway with such gear on his heels, they must come off; bat it would not do to stop, sit down and calmly displace them; he had not nerve enough for that. But he took a zigzag course and would throw his right heel in front of his left toe and give a pull as he jumped, for he must keep his body in motion so that the Indians could not draw a bead on him, and he must keep going ahead, and, if possible, increase the distance between himself and his pursuers. The right spur, boot and all, came easily off, and when he put the left spur under his toes and pulled, the rowels of the spur cut through his stocking, penetrated the flesh, and caused him to stumble and fall. (The reader must bear in mind that all that has been described did not occupy more than a few seconds, and that the others of the party were not more than fifty yards distant, and the Indians only just starting from their hiding places.) As he fell, Willie Hay called out, 'See, he is killed.' At the same moment Olney sprang to his feet, freed from his boot and spur, which he had kicked off while down. Wright, the noble, big-hearted and brave man, called out to the others--'Boys, it won't do to leave that man; come, let's stay with him,' at the same time turning his male toward the the fleeing man, and facing the swarming, yelling savages.
"'Let me take hold of your horse's tail and I can get away,' called out Olney, and Willie Hay--only 14 years of age--turned back with Wright and they both rode toward him, right into the blaze and smoke of the hostile guns. As they met Olney, Wright turned his mule sideways and said in a husky voice, 'Jump on.' On he jumped behind the noble Wright, Willie turned, and away they went, the Indians firing as rapidly as possible. Still neither of the three men was touched, but the bullets tore up the ground and knocked the bark from the trees into the faces of the fleeing men. Willie Hay and the others were soon out of sight, leaving Wright and Olney alone. While crossing a shallow gulch a bullet pierced the flank of the mule and caused it to drop its hinder parts on the ground, which threw Olney over backward upon his head and shoulders. The mule immediately righted itself, with Wright still in the saddle. Olney jumped to his feet instantly, and Wright asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied that if he was wounded at all it was in his shoulder, as he felt more pain there than in any other part of his body, for the fall was a rude one, and he was jarred all over. The noble Wright seemed to have no care for himself, but thought how he could save his companion, and urged him to try to mount the mule again, seeming to think that was the only chance; but Olney refused and told Wright to go on and leave him to his fate. The noble man saw he had done all he could to save his companion, who was to him a total stranger until only a few minutes before, and with a sorrowful 'Oh' he dashed down the gulch as fast as the wounded mule could go, and left Olney to his apparently certain death."
Our last quotation left Mr. Olney in a very critical position, which continued to grow still more critical as he retreated. His story continues as follows:
"The Indians were by this time close up to them and seemed by their exulting yells to feel certain of both of their intended victims. Olney ran over ridge and gulch, aiming to get into the brushy bottom of the creek, about a quarter of a mile above the forks. Many a time he thought to get behind a tree and stand his ground, if only for a short time, for he felt that death was certain. The Indians seemed to know his thoughts, for every time he made for a tree the savages fired furiously at it, thinking that when he passed behind it some one of the many bullets would certainly hit him, while he, seeing their object, gave up the idea, but with no intent to fire, only intending to make them take to trees for shelter, which they did in every instance, thus giving, as he thought, a little advantage of them in the race. But this kind of running would not do, for back behind him a few hundred yards he saw a squad of mounted Indians coming at full speed towards him. He had distanced the footmen, but he had no hopes of escaping from those who were mounted. Wright was out of sight. He was all alone save his pursuers. Suddenly stopping he took deliberate aim and fired, with a splendid result; the savage fell sprawling on the ground. But there could be no more loading and firing, and the gun was a burden, besides, he expected to fall any moment, and then the Indians would get a splendid gun. So, cocking the gun, he struck it against a tree as he ran and broke the lock, and then dropped it on the ground; his bullets he scattered broadcast; his box of caps were cast into a pool of water in the bed of the gulch.
"As he descended into the creek flat, he came near Wright, who was still in his saddle, but was holding on to the pommel apparently to steady himself, and seemed to sway from side to side. To Olney's inquiry if he was wounded, he answered with a groan. His gun, a double-barreled shotgun, was gone; the mule was still running, but slowly, no faster at least than Olney was, so they ran side by side up the creek bottom for nearly a quarter of a mile, the mounted Indians slowly gaining on them. The Indians on foot were left far behind, and seemed to have given up the race, but still they sent their bullets after the fleeing men, in showers; the deathly ping, ping, zip, of the bullets gave a continuous and urgent stimulus to the pursued.
"Across the creek bottom ran a line of thick, stunted crabapple and chaparral. As they neared it Wright called oat to his companion, as if to give him a fresh stimulus, 'Run now!' At the sound of his voice--for it was the first time he had spoken since the first separation--Olney looked towards him only to see him fall from his saddle to the ground with a dull thud and gurgle. Life had fled, and the noble Wright lay on his back, his limbs quivering in the last agonies, while the Indians yelled louder and more hideously than before. Olney was alone now in the flesh, but still the spirit of his murdered companion hovered around him and completed, in the invisible, what was begun in the visible body. Diving into the thick brush he made his way as fast as possible up the dry creek for a quarter of a mile and then, exhausted almost at death's door, with a bullet through one foot, a sharp dry stick run into the flesh between the toes of the other, the bottoms of both frightfully lacerated by the sharp stones over which he had been running, he cast himself under a pile of driftwood and listened, with no hope of escape, to the approaching footsteps of his savage pursuers.
"Let us now go up to the top of that low, sparsely timbered hill on the left, near the trail, and we shall soon see five men of company 'E,' Olney's messmates--John Davis, Shellback Smith, John Gould, Charley Abrams and J. Sargent, who had been stopping at Hay's ranch as a guard, and who had been told by Willie Hay and the others who had succeeded in reaching the ranch, that Wright and Olney were killed--came running up the hill as fast as their horses could be made to go, in the direction of Slate Creek. They had come to recover the bodies of their murdered messmates. They rise the hill and descend at a rapid pace the steep ridge down which the trail ran towards the forks of the creek. Halfway down, and they are saluted by a hundred rifle shots from front and both flanks, accompanied by the too well-known Indian yell. 'We're in for it now boys,' shouted John Davis, the leader of the party, 'Jump off and take a tree and we will give them a fight if they are on it.'
"Dismounting and tying their horses to the brush, with the bullets and yells growing thicker and louder, the brave little party boldly went into the fight. Taking each a tree, they loaded and fired with good effect, as was plainly indicated next day when the battle ground was visited. Louder and fiercer grew the uproar; the Indians, numbering near 200, soon gained the rear of the little party, and poured upon them a hail of rifle and pistol shots. 'We must get out of this,' shouted Gould. 'They've got as in a tight place, come on.' He ran to his horse, and all followed but Davis, who, seeing a number of Indians running towards them, shouted to his companions, 'Hurry up boys and mount. I'll keep those devils away until you are ready to start. Charley, untie my horse and hold him until I come,' and almost in the same breath, he added, 'Go ahead boys, I'm shot right through the tum tum [heart].'
"As Davis spoke he dropped his gun from his hands and fell forward upon his face. Shellback Smith and Charley Abrams ran to him, but he was fast stiffening in death, and they left him lying on his face, for they could do him no good. And to take away his dead body was not possible, for the Indians were pressing around them, and retreat would soon be impossible. As it was it was extremely difficult. They were on a narrow ridge which was quite steep on both sides, and as they dismounted their horses, that of Charley Abrams was shot through the body and rolled down the steep side of the ridge, rider and all, some 20 yards, until it struck the bottom of the gulch. Luckily Abrams was on top, and easily extricated himself. The animal regained his feet and Abrams again mounted him and turned his head up the hill to regain his companions, who had again dismounted and were bravely fighting back the Indians until they could ascertain the result of Abrams' tumble down the hill.
"In the sudden change of affairs, Gould, who had secured Davis' horse, let him go, so that he would better be able to take care of his own and use his gun in the fight. John Sargent had Davis' gun, and in the retreat carried it safely to the ranch. As soon as Gould loosened his hold on the bridle, Davis' horse ran wildly down the hill into the midst of the Indians.
"Abrams had no sooner mounted his horse than it fell again, riddled with bullets. Abrams escaped unhurt and clambered wildly up the hill, where his companions awaited him, urging him to renewed exertions by repeated calls of 'Hurry up, Charles, they're all around us,' and hurry up he did. His escape was seemingly miraculous, but the most miraculous of all was a large brown mule, saddled and bridled, all ready to be mounted, came running up the road towards the little party, from the direction of the Indians, and reached them at precisely the same moment as Abrams did. He ran gently towards the mule calling coaxingly, 'Whoa! Whoa!' which the mule well understood, and stopped till Abrams had secured it and mounted it. Then away all scampered' through a line of smoke and fire on each flank, and forced their way through the savages who had formed a line in front. Holding their guns in the bridle hand, discharging rapid shots at the Indians, they streaked it up the hill and down the trail to the ranch, closely followed by the yelling and disappointed Indians, who were but a few rods in their rear, when they reached the gates of the palisades surrounding the ranch."
Mr. Olney's story is continued, with the excitement all the time verging on the sensational order, and with the Hay hill and the Hay ranch and Eight Dollar Mountain all the time in the foreground.
"When Willie Hay and his companions made their appearance at the ranch with the news of the Indians' attack upon them and the killing of Wright and Olney, a courier was at once sent with the intelligence to Capt. O'Neil's camp at the foot of Eight Dollar Mountain. As soon as the news was received, O'Neil ordered the horses and pack mules to be immediately brought up and saddled and packed, and at once set out for the ranch, endeavoring to reach it before the Indians did. But in this he failed, as I shall now relate. Calling the roll, he found he had but 50 men fit for duty, and with a pack train of fifteen heavily laden mules, he must spare three or four men for the special duty of attending to the packs. Forming a vanguard of fifteen men, he sent them forward under the command of Lieut. Armstrong. The mules followed, and the rear was brought up by the remainder of the company under his immediate command.
"Away they went at a sharp trot until they had crossed Deer Creek and had entered the heavy timber within two miles of the ranch, when they overtook a pack train, passing which with some difficulty they kept on their way, with the loss of two or three mules which had run into the other train and could not be easily extricated, so were allowed to remain and come along with the train, which was put to its utmost speed, when the packers were told that the Indians were ahead. On they go through the heavy pine woods, the bell on the bell mare tinkling out hasty music to the loaded train mules behind, while the 'Huppah mulah' and 'Caramba' and the everlasting string of Mexican epithets calculated to urge forward a train, were being bellowed and hissed in a hasty and excited way. They have reached within half a mile of the ranch and they hear an occasional rifle shot. Soon comes a crash of reports, succeeded by the usual rattling reverberations through the timber of each separate but continuous report and the near yells of Indians; On they go, the vanguard at a gallop, pack mules ditto; they are too slow. 'Forward faster.' Another train in the road--J. Lowery and Billy Sutherland's train--Billy of the bell mare. Jimmy driving up the train; trains at this time on the keen jump. 'Damn the train' says the Captain, but it doesn't make matters any better. The train behind is making good time, and its bell mare has overtaken the rear guard, so there they are, two pack trains and a company of volunteers surging together along the road through the woods towards the ranch.
"Volunteers have left their pack mules behind and gone pell mell through the line of Indians who had encircled the ranch and are firing from behind every tree and bunch of brush into the very faces of the men. Each man with revolver in hand yelled defiance and sent shot after shot at the Indians, who in a few minutes turned their attention to the pack trains.
"When the Captain gave the order to his men to leave the pack mules and make the best time they could towards the ranch, some of the men so far disobeyed him as to continue to hurry forward some of the mules that were loaded with their own individual effects and succeeded, by loud yelling and rough whipping, in driving them in the palisades surrounding the ranch; while the remainder of the mules stampeded helter skelter in all directions through the woods. As soon as the Indians saw the volunteers abandon their mules and flee towards the ranch, they left their coverts and made a rush towards Lowery and Sutherland's train, firing rapidly at men and mules alike. Sutherland, being in advance on the bell mare, increased his speed by a vigorous application of whip and spur, and made a bee line for the ranch, calling lustily to his partner: 'Let the mules go to ----, Jimmy, and come along, they're bound to get them anyhow, save your scalp,' and with a 'Go it old hoss,' and an additional slap with his tapojo, away he went closely followed by a part of the mules, while the others went scudding through the woods in all directions, except towards the ranch. Jimmy, seeing that he could not reach the friendly protection of the house, turned his mule off to the left and was soon out of sight and immediate danger.
"On came the other train at full speed, some of the mules with packs askew, some with packs turned, drivers yelling, swearing and whipping; the bell on the bell mare jingling and clattering; Indians firing and yelling, and all in a wild stampede. Such an uproar, such excitement, such reckless riding, will never be seen again on that road between Hay's and Deer Creek. The packers scattered and rode towards the ranch, each on his own hook; over logs, through brush and mire and smoke and whistling bullets; now mixed up in a jam of crazy mules, again almost unseated by a crashing impetus of one that is running across cuts and strikes the fugitive horse amidships. At last all have reached the palisades. Leaping from their foaming horses, and setting them adrift, they dart through the gate that has been opened for their reception, and are once more in safety.
"Safe indeed are they, but their horses, their friendly, noble preservers, are huddling and jamming one another outside the gate, whinnying as if calling their faithless riders to open the gate and take them in, for the Indians were sending showers of bullets into the surging mass of horses and mules and dropping them one by one. The volunteers had taken as many of their riding horses into the stockade as possible, for the enclosure was small and many were necessarily left outside.
"All are now inside the enclosure and are returning the enemy's fire with vehemence, and successfully beating back the swarming savages who had twice rushed forward in a solid circle around the house with the apparent intention of taking it by storm, but in each attempt, met with such vigorous resistance that they at last gave up the design of assaulting it, and retired to a distance of two hundred yards and settled down to a steady exchange of shots and yells with its defenders.
"'Where is Alex Caldwell, has anyone seen him inside? He was with us just as we crossed the creek.' And thus inquiries were going the round when, 'What is that lying yonder in the road, partially concealed by a log?' 'See, he raised his head and looks this way, as though asking for help.' 'How the bullets are knocking up the dust all around him.' 'Hear the devils yell.' 'See those two Indians running down towards him, they are going to finish him, poor fellow.' Such were the various remarks of the men as they stood inside of the stockade watching their wounded companion lying in the road, silently appealing for assistance.
"'He must be brought in. Who are the brave men that will go?' said the Captain. He was answered instantly by a dozen or more of men, for they were more than willing to go upon the desperate undertaking. Desperate it was; they felt that they were cowards to let their comrade lie so exposed to death without making an effort for his rescue.
"'Remember boys,' continued the Captain, 'that I do not order you to go, but I want volunteers to go with me, for Alex shall not lie there alive five minutes longer, as sure as my name.is Hugh O'Neil.' 'I'll go for one,' said John Gould, stepping forward. 'And so will I' was repeated by many more, and John Macklin, Samuel Cowels and John Sargent stepped out from the crowd first and were, of course, the ones to go upon the errand. The four brave men then stripped off their clothing, save shirt and pants. Hay's boys brought out moccasins for their feet; and forming in line, about four feet apart, they stood before the gate, and when it was opened for them, they darted out and ran at their utmost speed--keeping in line and about four feet apart--towards their wounded comrade, who seeing them coming attempted to rise, but fell back exhausted from the shock of his wound.
The Indians saw the brave men leave the gate and immediately divined their object. Rushing out from their coverts, firing and yelling, against the little squad of heroes, intending to capture them, and would, no doubt, have succeeded, had not the men inside rushed out to the assistance of their companions. Now all is in a terrific uproar outside; from a siege it has turned to a battle. The Indians took to shelter and the volunteers fired from behind logs, stumps, horses and mules that were dead or alive. Some of the combatants of both sides took the open field and fired in true military style. During the melee, the four men ran up to Caldwell, and, taking him up in their arms--two under his shoulders and two under his thighs--they carried him safely inside the stockade, where they were received with demonstrations of gratitude and praise by all, and especially by the wounded man. Unable to speak, for he was shot through the throat and lungs, he looked his gratitude. As soon as the wounded man was carried inside, the Indians began to withdraw to a safer distance, for the volunteers had killed and wounded a large number of them, without receiving any other damage than a few slight flesh wounds. The volunteers retired inside the stockade and all then settled down to its former state of siege, with the exchange of shots and yells.
"Mrs. Hay, well advanced in years, but still spry and courageous, went [around amongst the 'boys,' as she] called them, patting them familiarly on the back and saying, 'Give it to them boys, that's the way to fetch them,' as she would see an Indian fall, and carrying bread and coffee to each. Instead of being a burden to the men she proved to be a blessing, for many of the boys said if it had not been for 'Mammy Hay' their courage would, in some stages of the fight, have slipped out at the heels of their boots. Not only 'Mammy Hay' but her daughter, likewise, was an active assistant during the whole time. Elizabeth Hay, or 'Big Sis,' as she was commonly known during that time of slack politeness and rough manners, was going around among the men chatting pleasantly with them and telling them that she knew every man was a brave, that if she only had a half-dozen of such fellows she could whip the whole of the Indians."
The battle at the Hay ranch continues to be the subject of Mr. Olney's exciting romance:
"No messengers had yet been sent out to give notice of the attack. It would have been certain death to have tried to leave the ranch in daylight, and the Captain had prudently waited until night had settled down, so that under cover of the darkness the couriers would have a better chance to get safely through the line of Indians. Darkness was fast settling down, and the landscape was becoming more obscure as the minutes passed, but yet the battle raged as loud and fierce as ever. Indians could be dimly seen as they ran from tree to tree, and occasionally a sprightly young buck would stop in some open space that could be seen from the house and go through with some of his distortions and utter peculiar yells from his (so it sounded) tin-lined throat, thus drawing upon himself the fire of all the besieged, who were on his side of the circle. Thus the time passed until objects could no longer be distinguished outside the stockade. Then a call was made for two men to run the gantlet and take the news to Vannoy's Ferry. Two were soon selected, and, mounted upon the swiftest and best-bottomed horses, were placed in front of the gate, one six paces behind the other, each man grasping a freshly capped revolver in his right hand; thus they stood when the order was given to open the gate. As the gate swung open the plucky riders dashed out at full speed, and away they went, faster, faster, faster still. What an uproar, the Indians have scented the game, and send a hurried line of fire after the rapidly retreating horsemen. The boys rush out and advance on the Indians, bantering them to come and take the ranch. 'Plenty of whiskey and tobacco. Come and get it, you greasy cowards,' thinking to draw the attention of the Indians from the pursuit. The Indians replied in equally bantering terms. 'Miserable Boston man afraid to fight. Why did you run so for today, we have got your mules and goods. Going to live high for a long time.' And thus the night was passing away, when suddenly the Indians ceased firing and all became silent, for the boys had been guided in their firing by the flash of the Indians' guns, and as soon as the Indians ceased the boys ceased also. Time passed on, ten minutes, twenty, half an hour, and still no hostile sounds. Have the red devils abandoned the siege? Another half hour has passed, and the suspense must be relieved, so volunteers are called for to go out and endeavor to fathom the mystery; anything will be better than this ominous silence. Carefully the gate is opened and a half dozen men step out into the outer darkness, soon followed by as many more. Cautiously and slowly they file around the stockade, intending to go and examine the old stable and other outhouses standing about sixty yards from the house, which the Indians had occupied as soon as it had become dark, and from which they had since been firing some damaging shots into the ranch. They had advanced about half way to the outhouses when one of the party proposed that two of them go in advance to the buildings and prospect them for the enemy, and if none could be found, then all would go beyond to where there was a brush fence which had been used by the Indians as a breastwork; and if no Indians were to be found there, then they had undoubtedly raised the siege, and the party could return to the house with the good news. Dick, a very quiet but attentive Irishman, and another of the party, volunteered to go on the forlorn hope.
"The two had advanced to within about ten paces of the old stable when Dick, who was in the lead, said softly. 'Whist, pard, the divil take me if I don't belave I schmell 'em.' They had both stopped and were listening attentively when Dick continued, 'And what is that now, a-leaning up agin the house?' 'That is a stump. You're afraid, Dick,' replied his companion, 'Let me go ahead,' and made a step forward when Dick pulled him back with the remark, 'Don't now, be easy, there is another stump for yez. Begorra, pard, just hold me hat, and I'll give them two divilish shtumps a blizzard wid my old soger (musketoon)."
His companion looked and sure enough there were two now, where there was but one before. Believing them to be Indians who were only waiting for a good chance to fire at them, he told Dick to blaze away, while he would watch and see what the result might be. Dick put the lock of his musket under his coat to deaden the click, and, cocking it, he raised it to his shoulder and fired. The whole scene was lighted up by the blaze of the musketoon.
Dick went over backwards like a wheel rocket, emitting from his throat a noise between a screech and a howl. while a terrific fire was poured into them from the old stable and from each flank, accompanied by yells no less horrible than the one given by Dick. Now was heard rapid tramping and cracking of dry twigs, and all seemed to be rushing toward the old stable, which for the once was to be made the center of the conflict.
Dick jumped to his feet yelling like a madman, 'Come on boys, Divil of a shtable shall they gave to shoot from. Come on and we'll bate 'em out in a sicond.' The men who were behind waiting for developments were by this time up to Dick and his companion and were all yelling and firing away like wild men, and rushed headlong for the stable, where there seemed to be the most Indians. A line of fire now encircled the ranch; the battle was begun again in deadly earnest; the besieged are keeping up a continued blaze of light from every crack and porthole in the palisades; while at the stable there seems to be a struggle hand to hand. Now the boys have the advantage and push the savages back, then they fall back towards the house and the Indians are master, until one of the men called out: "Boys, we must take the stable, and keep it, and all who are not cowards come on,' and again they made a rush for the stable. Pistol in hand they rushed along, keeping up an incessant pop, pop, pop, and their own peculiar yell, which was promptly and sharply answered by the hoarse guttural yells of the Indians and the clear crack of their rifles. Now the struggle is harder than ever, the Indians have the advantage, for they are inside behind the logs, and do not intend to yield. The boys crowd them away from the end of the stable and from behind some stumps. Both parties put their guns between the logs and fire into each other's faces. A reinforcement comes to both sides and they meet before the door--the blaze of their guns gives sufficient light to see each other's position, and at last the boys give an exultant yell and are masters of the field, for the Indians are scampering away and have ceased to fire.
When the uproar ceased at the stable the boys became aware that a fierce encounter was in progress on the opposite side of the ranch, and soon they heard a call from the house. Come here boys, they are trying to get in on this side. Hurry along for they are making it hot for us.' Off they go to the house to help drive back the horde of Indians who had concentrated there while the garrison was weak, to try and gain an entrance while the fight was going on at the stable.
In front of the gate and on the south side were a number of large pine logs behind which the Indians had taken shelter while trying to fight away the boys from the palisades, before making their anticipated rush into the stockade. As the men came running at full speed to the gate, they were met in front by a fierce fusillade from behind the logs. But it did not last long--the Indians ran, after delivering their fire, to the south side of the stockade, while the men ran inside. After a short time the Indians retreated to a greater distance and settled down to the monotonous firing and yelling. It was now about one o'clock and the boys were wolfishly hungry, so Mrs. Hay and her daughter Elizabeth, with help from some of the boys, began to prepare them some food. In a short time the stove and fireplace were in full blast, loaded with kettles and coffee pots, frying pans and Dutch ovens, and the savory odor of frying bacon and beefsteak mingled with the sulfurous smoke of burnt powder was wafted upon the night air--an incongruous perfume for the savage warriors outside, which seemingly cooled them off, for in a short time they built a large fire out in the woods a safe distance from the house and set their cooks to preparing a meal for themselves.
The fury of the conflict was perceptibly abated while these culinary preparations were in progress on both sides and while the contending warriors were satisfying their ravenous appetites. When the meal was ready and set out upon some boards, the men went to work by relays, some eating, some yelling at the Indians, who seemed to be doing the very same thing themselves. When at last all were satisfied war broke out in stout earnest and continued after the same old plan,
shooting and yelling, until one o'clock, when the fire of the Indians began to slacken, and at last was only maintained by an occasional shot, and then after a short time it ceased entirely.
"Let us now take the track of Jimmy Lowery, who was forced to leave his train and take to flight. When his partner, Billy Sutherland, called to him to 'Come on and let the mules go to ----,' Jimmy struck his spurs deep into his mule, and with vigorous strokes of his tapojo forced the animal into a run. Bearing off to the left, he endeavored to pass the train and get to the ranch, but he had only started when a gang of yelling Indians pushed in ahead of him and compelled a rapid flight towards the mountains on the left, followed for some distance by the speed-increasing zip, zip, zip, ping, ping, sput of the bullets, as he dashed through the brush towards a safer place."
Immediately after the bloody uprising of the Indians in 1855, mentioned in previous chapters, the whites began preparations for the desperate war that now seemed inevitable. Fifteen companies of volunteers were organized to cooperate with the federal forces, which they proceeded to do, despite the implied interdiction of Gen. Wool. The first engagement of any consequence occurred on the 17th of Oct., near the mouth of Galice Creek, on what is Skull Bar. The battle lasted nearly all day and when night closed in nearly one third of company 'B' were hors de combat. J. W. Pickett and Sam Saunders were among the killed, with B. Taft and J. D. Adams among the mortally wounded.
While the forces were thus contending with the Indians down Rogue River, other depredations were being perpetrated along the main-traveled road on Cow Creek. On the 23rd, says Mrs. Victor, in her history of our early wars, "While a party of wagoners and drovers were at the crossing, they were ambushed and attacked, Holland Bailey of Lane County being killed, and four others wounded. The remainder of the party retreated with all the haste possible, pursued and harassed
for several hours. On the same day the houses of Turner, Bray, Redfield, Fortune and others in Cow Creek Valley were burned."
And this brings us up to one of the most notable battles of the Rogue River War. Mrs. Victor continues as follows: "On the 28th, Fitzgerald, being in the Grave Creek Hills, south of Cow Creek, discovered an Indian encampment, and wishing to attack it sent a dispatch to Ross, who immediately ordered Captains Harris, Welton, George, Williams and Lewis to reinforce him. Bruce and Rinearson, coming in a little later, were also ordered to Grave Creek, whereupon the 30th were concentrated 250 volunteers and 105 regulars, although on account of the illness of Fitzgerald, only a portion of his troops were available. When Ross arrived at the rendezvous late that night, he found Capt. Smith of the first dragoons impatient to attack. Spies from his own and the volunteer force had found the enemy's position to be on a hill difficult of approach, and well fortified. A map had been made for use by the officers, and Smith assumed command of the combined forces. Although it was already half past ten o'clock in the evening, orders were issued to march at eleven.
"Smith’s plan was to plant howitzers on an eminence three-fourths of a mile from that occupied by the Indians, and having divided the companies into three columns, stationed so as to enclose the Indians, to open his battery upon them before he had been discovered. His design was frustrated through someone having set fire to a tree, and after a toilsome night march he was unable to surprise the enemy. On arriving on the edge of a ravine in front of the enemy's position, instead of shelling the Indians in their stronghold, a charge was ordered. [The howitzer did not arrive.] The hill on which the Indians were fortified was bald on the south side, by which the troops were approaching, except for a short but tangled undergrowth with which also the ravine they had to cross was filled. On the north of the Indian position there was a heavy forest. An unexpected reinforcement arrived during the night, consisting of two companies of a battalion called out by Gov. Curry, their captains being Joseph Bailey and Samuel Gordon. To these two companies was assigned the duty of flanking on the north to intercept the Indians in the woods when the charging force should have driven them from their fortification.
"The captains who led in the charge were Rinearson and Welton, their companies being augmented by portions of others, and a part of the regular force also, all rushing with eagerness to fire the first shot. As had been anticipated, the Indians took shelter in the woods, but were not met by Bailey and Gordon as designed, their men finding it impossible to penetrate the dense and tangled underwood in a body, and the Indians were not driven back upon the companies of Harris and Bruce, who were awaiting them in concealment, as had been anticipated. These two commanders therefore joined the army in front. Thus nothing happened but the unexpected.
"The day passed in vain efforts to get at the Indians, who could not be approached without extreme peril, until three o'clock in the afternoon, when Captain Smith, with a small force of dragoons, made an assault. Several rounds were discharged with the short cavalry arms, which were wholly ineffectual against the rifles of the Indians, when the troopers fell back, having several killed and wounded. Firing continued until dark, when the whole force went into camp at a place named by them "Bloody Spring," where the wounded were being cared for, and where they all went supperless to their blankets."
The last part of the last sentence gives the key to the name of the battle, which has gone down into history as the battle of "Hungry Hill." On the part of the whites there were some 26 of the volunteers killed, wounded or missing, and of the regulars 5 were killed and seven wounded. Among the volunteers reported mortally wounded is the name of Charles Goodwin, but this was a mistake. He was wounded but not mortally. He lived many years afterward on Williams Creek, until he went in his old age to the Soldier's Home at Roseburg. Next morning after the battle the Indians renewed the fight, but being repulsed both parties retired; making it a draw.
Mr. Sutton [apparently Ashland Tidings editor J. M. Sutton] has left us an eloquent tribute to one of the men who fell in this engagement, as follows: "The object of this writing is to renew the memory of one who fell defending the hearthstones of Southern Oregon. I have in my mind's eye a few among the old pioneers of the valley, who will remember the name of Jonathan Pedigo. Few have passed the stage station on Grave Creek, on the O.&C. stage road, who have not noticed a row of mounds in an open pasture on the west side of the road, just north of the stage buildings. Beneath those mounds lie all that is left on earth of J. W. Miller, James Pearcy, Henry Pearl, John Winters and Jonathan Pedigo, a part of those who fell during the two fearful days of the battle of Hungry Hill, sixteen miles from that point.
"Jonathan Pedigo was a young man who had just passed his majority. During an acquaintance of six months in the mines, I did not learn anything of his former history in reference to his place of birth, parentage or relatives. My only intimacy with him was during our service in the war of 1855, from the 7th day of October to the time of his death, less than one month. Yet, during this short period, all his comrades had learned to love the name of Jonathan Pedigo for the great benevolent heart that beat within his bosom. Brave to a fault, ever ready to do his duty and more. The old men of our company, of whom we had several, were relieved by his rigor of Indian warfare. He would ever ready hand from much of the rigor of Indian warfare [sic]. He would attend to their horses, and occasionally take their place on guard on a cold rainy night. Being large and robust, his greatest pleasure seemed to be in relieving the hardships of those possessing in a smaller degree the power of endurance.
"Some two summers since, while passing the little cemetery referred to, I halted for the purpose of visiting the grave of my old comrade. I stood beside the little row of graves that I found blended in one, although the mounds are yet plainly visible, and will remain so yet a little longer; no board or stone at head or foot is found; no one can tell these graves apart. In unity they met a common foe, in unity they lie beneath these sods, and are long in unity they will be forgotten. In vain I sought to determine the grave in which reposed the mortality of my old friend; it was lost, lost among its comrades. After a short search among the weeds and grass that grew over their graves, I found a small fragment of half-decayed wood on which I could quite plainly trace the following inscription, which my own hands had carved full twenty years before: 'Jonathan Pedigo; Killed by Indians at the Battle of Hungry Hill, Oct. 31st, 1855.'
"Poor boy, poor boy, were the only thoughts iterated and reiterated through my mind for some moments, as I gazed at the sad relic. A retrospective train of thoughts took possession of my mind, which occupied the entire time at my disposal by the side of the unknown grave of my friend. Vivid memories crowded past in panoramic regularity, sad memories of the distant past, such as we love to contemplate in the solitude where we can indulge the silent tear. Ah yes, and weep as in the days of our childhood to relieve the pangs of grief and make sorrow a pleasure for a reason."
As showing how wide was the military field of operations in 1856, the battle of upper Applegate now calls for attention. John S. Miller, who took part in that engagement, gave me some of the particulars, but as Mrs. Victor has preserved a pretty correct account of that fight. I will quote from it first:
"About the last of December, 1855, Major Bruce, being informed by express from Sterling that a party of Indians had fortified themselves in three deserted log cabins on Applegate Creek, ordered Capt. Rice and Alcorn to prepare for a campaign in the mountains and himself proceeded to Fort Lane to ask the assistance of Capt. Smith with his howitzer. Obtaining the promise of this, he made a forced march up to the forks of Applegate with Rice's company of forty men on the first of January, and on the second twenty miles further up the creek, where he found an independent company of fifty citizens from Sterling surrounding the cabins.
"Nothing could be done before the arrival of the howitzer on the afternoon of the fourth, the intervening time being spent in snow from six to twelve inches deep, with severe weather, the volunteers exchanging occasional shots with the Indians. In the three days of waiting and suffering, three Indians were killed and several wounded, while Capt. Rice lost one man killed, and the citizen company three wounded.
"On the arrival of Lieut. Underwood from Fort Lane with forty regulars and the howitzer, a shell was dropped into one of the cabins, wounding one Indian and two children, when several were seen to retreat to another cabin a few yards distance. A few more shells were thrown without effect, when night coming on, the several companies were posted in a manner which was intended to prevent an escape; the regulars being between the Indians and the hills, and the volunteers and citizens on two other sides, the lines almost meeting.
"With all this precaution, about eleven o'clock the Indians crept up to the line of soldiers, firing and yelling. In the first surprise a number broke through the line and escaped to the hills, but the regulars recovering themselves turned a portion of them back towards the creek, across which they succeeded in escaping to the hills, we the sentinels being unable to get at them by reason of the thickets along the stream, their trail being found by daylight to be stained with blood.
"It was only the fighting men of the besieged, however, who had taken wing when the sentinels of the regular force, not liking the cold, and perhaps not liking to fight an unseen enemy, returned to camp, and before their commander could order them back to their posts, the Indian women and their children, and a pack animal, also passed the line, and gained the hills.
"On examining the cabins it was found that the Indians had burned their dead, but had left a wounded boy to the mercy of his captors. From him it was learned that the party occupying the cabins belonged to Chief Joe, and the skill with which he fortified his camp would have defied the volunteer arms; it was only the howitzer which could dislodge him. A subterranean passage had been excavated leading from the cabins to the open country and pits dug in each corner of log cabin deep enough to stand in, with loopholes under the bottom logs through which they could shoot without being exposed; all of which was surprising in savage military science, but was probably learned from communication with white men.
"Bruce wished to follow the trail of the Indians, but Lieutenant Underwood declared his men unfit for traveling in the mountains; and the citizen company were unprepared. They therefore returned to Sterling, and Underwood to Fort
Lane; while Bruce retired to Camp Spencer, on the lower Applegate Creek, to recruit the horses, and give his company a much-needed rest after three days and nights watching in snow and cold, remaining there until the eighteenth. On that date he was joined by Captains O'Neil and Alcorn, with a part of their commands, making his available force 73 men, rank and file. Alcorn, with 38 men, took the trail of the Indians up Applegate Creek, while Bruce, with O'Neil and the remainder, marched up Williams Creek. Scouting continued for five days, when Bruce fell in with two Indian spies, running them to camp, a distance of 12 miles. Sending an express to hasten forward O'Neil, the major dismounted his men, 21 in all, and stationing Alcorn with 11 men on the left of the canyon in which the enemy was camped, himself occupied the right with only 9 men.
"It was discovered that the Indians were 60 or 70 strong. Firing became general, and both sides sustained losses. Wiley Cash was killed in this preliminary engagement, and Daniel Richardson severely wounded. Soon after these casualties, eight men were cut off from the little force, when Bruce collected the ten left him and charged the Indians, driving them out of the canyon, relieving the men and securing a favorable position for himself, though surrounded and cut off from his horses. Night coming on, he was compelled to retreat towards these, but found that half of them had been driven off before the arrival of Capt. O'Neil, who was on the ground with the news that he had sent Lieut. Armstrong an hour before dark with 20 men to engage the enemy on the right, while with 20 men he had flanked their left and fought them until dark. The night being very dark and cold, the whole force present withdrew to camp five miles distant, when it was discovered that Lieut. Armstrong had not returned. Instead he remained on the ground and renewed the attack at daylight next morning, the Indians giving way and retreating soon after daybreak. It was found they had burned heir dead in the night, making it impossible to determine their loss."
The first battle here mentioned was fought where Steamboat City was afterwards located. Further particulars of that battle, as gleaned from Mr. Miller. follows:
"The mule that was transporting the howitzer rolled down the mountain into the Applegate. The soldiers improvised enough, however, to startle the savages from their lair. The Indians could stand off the whites pretty well so long as rifles alone were used but when the soldiers got to 'shooting wagons at them,' as the Indians called it, demoralization was apt to set in. One of the soldiers put his hat on his ramrod and set it out for the Indians to shoot at. He thoughtlessly stuck his head around the tree to get a shot himself, when an Indian plugged him through the head.
"It was in this battle that Jacob Spores, son of old man Spores of Lane County, was mortally wounded. He was transferred back to Jacksonville, where he lingered for several days before he died. It was from Jacksonville that the troops started to make the fight on upper Applegate. Some may have gone from Sterling, but Jacksonville was military headquarters. After the troops left, Martin Angel and another man concluded they would follow and see the fun. They got a little ways down Poorman's Creek when they were fired on by some Indian scouts and Martin Angel ceased his troubling of Indians or anyone else, and the Indian boy he insisted on hanging was avenged. His wife was the reputed daughter of Dr. McLoughlin, and she had extensive matrimonial experience. She was married to a man by the name of Rice, then to Angel and after his death she married a notorious gambler by the name of Charles Williams, a man who, in a fit of passion, killed another man at Dardanelles with a stool."
Additional particulars of the Harris tragedy, and from the same writer, are herewith given:
"In the Harris domicile resided five persons, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, their two children, Mary [sic], a girl of 12, and David, somewhat younger. The fifth was Frank A..Reed. When the first alarm of Indians was given the latter attempted to escape to the woods, but was pursued and killed. His skeleton was found a year afterward. The boy David, who was at some distance from the house, was last seen running across the field. Subsequent trace of him was never found, but it is supposed that he was murdered and his body concealed. Mr. Harris was a few rods from the house when the redskins appeared, and in attempting to retreat to his shelter, was fired at and mortally wounded as he stood upon the threshold of his own door. His wife drew him into the house and closed and barred the door; and obedient to her husband's advice brought the firearms--a rifle, double-barreled shotgun and revolver--and, loading them, began to return the fire of the miscreants, who remained close to the house. Her husband was dying in agony the while, and of the two children, one, the boy, was she knew not where, but supposed with reason that he had already met the cruel fate that impended over them all. The child Mary had been painfully wounded in the arm, and the terrified sufferer climbed the ladder which led to the attic and there remained for several hours, the mute witness of the terrible conflict. While the Indians remained in the vicinity they kept beyond the reach of danger from her fire, bat repeatedly attempted to cast burning brands upon the roof over her head, intending thereby to cremate all that the house contained. In an hour, more or less, the husband and father breathed his last, and his bloody corpse with its wide-staring eyes and the expression of agony into which its features were molded added tenfold to the terrific nature of the surroundings which confronted the poor and despairing woman. Through this scene of horror she kept up such a an effective resistance as she was able, discharging her firearms in such directions and at such intervals as seemed to intimidate the savages, but probably not succeeding in any case in hitting any of them. Unfortunately this poor woman, who was suffering so much from the cruelty of her assailants, was not able to revenge herself effectually upon them, for never having fired a gun before, and gaining her knowledge even of how to load one by the instructions of her wounded husband, given in the first few minutes of the attack, it was as much as she could do to load and fire, hoping that the show of resistance might, as it did, keep her foes at a distance. She steadily loaded her weapons and discharged them through crevices of the logs of which the house was built, and the Indians, though numerous, dared not attack the building. They burned the outbuildings, however, first removing the horses from the stable. In the afternoon they decamped, leaving the dauntless woman mistress of the field and the savior of her own and her daughter's life. As soon as she assured [herself] of their departure, she called her daughter down from the loft and with her took refuge in the willow copse, and remained there until the arrival of the relief party, as before said. By them she was removed to a place of safety.
"It happened that on the morning of the 9th, Judge Deady, who was returning from holding court at Jacksonville, in company with Dr. J. W. Drew, setting out early on their northward journey, took breakfast at the Wagoner house, a few hours before the arrival of the murderous savages. Miss Pellet, well known in Oregon at the time as a temperance lecturer, was also at Wagoner's awaiting a conveyance which was to take her on her way to Crescent City. Judge Deady and his fellow traveler left first, and soon after the lecturer set out for Vannoy's Ferry, escorted by Mr. Wagoner. Very soon after their departure the house was invested, and Mrs. Wagoner, who with her daughter were the sole tenants, fell easy victims to savage brutality. The three travelers escaped narrowly indeed, for so close had been the call that Messrs. Deady and Drew, looking back from the summit of a hill near Grave Creek, saw the smoke of burning buildings, but did not know the cause until overtaken by the news of the dire catastrophe.
"Wagoner, the bereaved father and husband, returning from Vannoy's when he approached his home, found it on fire and encircled by howling savages. By them he was not observed, and feeling his inability to cope with them, unarmed as he was, he rushed in the utmost haste toward Evans' Ferry, to obtain help to rescue his beloved ones. Reaching the Jones place he saw the owner's dead body, and in the road below lay the murdered travelers.
"Returning as soon as he could obtain even one man to accompany him, he flew rather than ran to his home, only to find his wife's body smoldering in the ruins and his child gone, he knew not whither.
"The mail carrier that morning got as far as Wagoner's where he was joined by two men. A little way beyond, on the way to Evans' Ferry, they met a band of ten or fifteen Indians, armed and stripped for war. Getting past these they [met] a second band, a few hundred yards or so beyond, when the two bands began howling and firing at them, they being in the middle. The whites had to take to the woods, and making a detour, got back to Wagoner's only to find the house in flames and Indians surrounding it, yelling and dancing. Taking again to the woods, they traveled northward for some time, passing near Harris', where five or six shots were heard and flames were seen arising. Regaining the road where they adjudged it safe they kept on towards the north, giving the alarm and causing the settlers and travelers on that part of the road to seek safety at the Grave Creek house, where no disturbances had occurred. No murders were perpetrated on that day by the Indians on the remaining portion of the road, but all the inhabitants left their homes as far north as Canyon, and the vacant tenements were mostly burned. Only two or three buildings were left between Evans' Ferry and Turner's station, near the northern boundary of Josephine County. At Turner's a number of men stood guard, while all those who could be spared joined Rinearson and Sheffield, and effectually patrolled the dangerous space on the road. The savages came no further north, but plunged into the rough mountains to the west, and secluded themselves from the whites and for a time delayed the vengeance which was destined to fall upon them eventually. Their hiding place was well chosen. It is a country of craggy mountains, of precipices and steep gorges, of impenetrable jungles and baffling thickets. It contains as many mountains as can find room to stand."
Unattributed typescript, Oregon Historical Society Research Library Mss. 211, Olney Family Papers. The Olney account that forms the first two-thirds of the typescript was printed, with additional material, in the Ashland Tidings issues of December 1878, transcribed here. Clippings in the W. W. Fidler scrapbook, SOHS MS208, Fidler credited to "Olney." One omission in this typescript repaired with text from the Tidings version.
Last revised March 9, 2017