The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised



Gleaned from Tales Told by a Settler Who Is Still Living.
    On the 20th of September, 1851, W. H. Riddle and family reached Canyonville, having come across the plains via the Southern Route and Humboldt, and on the 21st Joe Knott took him over to the valley of Cow Creek, only six miles distant, where he built a small foundation of logs on the spot where his son, George W. Riddle, still lives. He took up his residence there the same fall and claimed a donation. The discovery of mines in Southern Oregon caused much of that region to be taken up that same year.
    At that time the Cow Creek Indians were in two bands, being on either side of the creek, which is one of the main branches of the Umpqua, the beautiful valley, surrounded by the romantic hills of Umpqua, being scarce a mile wide. In these hills, looking down on the Riddle farm, is the famous nickel mine, on which the future of that region places so many hopes--if it ever gets out of the courts and into operation. Its value is shown by the fact that one of the Douglas County banks had at one time half a million, or more, on deposit to pay for it, if it could be purchased.
    The Indians talked the Shasta tongue, which was used by the natives of the Rogue River Valley, adjoining on the south, as well as the Shastas, over the Siskiyous, on the Klamath and waters of that river. Mr. Riddle says the Shasta language is very euphonious, distinctly different from all other Indian languages, and far more pleasing than that of the surrounding tribes--as the Modocs, Klamaths and others. It was so melodious and useful that he learned to speak it, and as he was a boy of some 12 years, he knew the Indians well and often acted as interpreter to his own family, and afterward to Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, when he held conferences with the natives.
    A singular fact, worth keeping in record, was that the Klickitats were often there to trade, coming from their homes on the Columbia, at the Cascades or east of there, on the plains of Klickitat, north of The Dalles. I have written of this tribe and said they were the Yankees of aboriginal days, for they traded far and near. It seems now that they not only took in the Sound country and Western Washington, as well as the Willamette Valley, for they were looking out for chances to profit about Portland 50 years ago--or where Portland now is--but made trading trips to this far south, showing enterprise that belonged to no other of the Columbia River tribes.
    In that early time Captain Cowles had a ferry on the Umpqua, near the town site of Riddle, below the junction of Cow Creek with the main stream. In those days they never had trouble with the natives. Miwaleta was chief of the band occupying the west side of Cow Creek, and Quintiousa lorded over the east shore. They were pretty much the same people, but each had his own side. The last named ruled back to Canyonville. The Indians down the Umpqua were the Myrtle Creek kind: each preserved its autonomy. Miwaleta was the most influential chief of all, had the most to say and commanded the implicit obedience of all who came under his control. He had rather a remarkable character, was arbitrary in his rule, yet was so kind and fatherly to them all that his reign was beneficent and his people happy under it. He was between 70 and 80 years old. The two bands were nearly the same in size, and contained 150 to 200 together. The old man had been a great warrior, and when in his war paint and in his majesty wore an elkskin garment that enveloped his body. This had been his protection in the wars, for there seemed to be a great many wars in the previous years, and this elkskin coat was made loose so the arrows could not go through it. All over its surface were scars left by arrow points it had caught, but that could not penetrate the tough hide. The old man was very proud of this coat and those arrow marks; but prouder yet of the many scars that left their record on his arms of wounds received, for while the elkskin coat protected the body the arms had to be free to use, and they were covered with arrow marks received in these fierce conflicts. That coat had been all covered with heraldic emblems painted on its surface, and was a wonderful garment altogether. It is not told that there was another like it. The old chief was eloquent and would sit for hours and tell his young men the legends of their race and the history of his own fighting days--of the time when he had rather fight than eat--and now he fought his battles over again until his eyelids would no longer wag.
    In the olden times their enemies were the Shastas--or Rogue Rivers--and his tales of long ago were of raids made to the southward, when they swooped down on their enemies and made mincemeat of them--murdered them, in fact--then cut down oaks and built brush defenses to shield themselves from sudden attacks in reprisal. The coming of the Bostons seemed to let in an era of peace on them all. The Shastas, or Rogue Rivers, had all they could do to hold their own against the miners who possessed their land, and came over to induce the Cow Creek bands to become their allies and let loose the dogs of war all along the line. But Miwaleta had grown old. His elkskin armor was so full of arrow holes as to be covered with glory, and his white neighbors had become his friends; they did not molest the camas fields, drive away the game of the hills or the fish that came up from the ocean. It was in the early days of settlement that these emissaries of war came over the hills and through the canyons to find allies in their old enemies, but Miwaleta was smoking the pipe of peace, and grew eloquent in advocacy of a quiet time. He was for peace. They had powwows for a week at a time, and the old chief had a flow of words that seemed like the lost art of perpetual motion. One time he commenced in a low tone of voice and wound himself into an argument that was so conclusive that it occupied two days and nights to conclude it. Yet the ambassadors of the Shastas sat there on their bear skins and took it all in without a murmur. Finally the old man gave out; his powers were limited. Human nature, even in its wild state, cannot run like a mill tail in perpetuity. So the old chief's voice, that had risen like a cyclone, died away to a whisper, and his weary soul said, "Give us a rest." The Shastas were eloquent, too, after a fashion; but they could not persuade the natives of Cow Creek to go to war. So they wended their way homeward, sadder, but not much wiser men than when they came.
    After all, while not willing to go to war with the whites, these same Indians warred much with each other. I am sorry I cannot say the primitive inhabitants of this Eden set a good example for us to follow. They quarreled, they fought. they murdered and robbed each other with a profusion and abandon that was not so romantic as it was antic. Every little band was in constant fear of some other band; they lived in a state of war while they were at peace. They sold their squaws to the detriment of family relations. They believed in witchcraft, and one squaw was killed because she was supposed to be a witch. Somebody died and somebody else laid it to this poor squaw that she caused the death by witchcraft. So Curly, the accuser, killed the squaw for a witch, and one day Mrs. Riddle heard Indian Charley threaten to kill Curly to get even. Without malice prepense, rather in the way of a joke, Mrs. Riddle--who had no great faith in Charley's promise--told him she would give him a calico shirt when he did so. Curly was a desperado, and a week or so later went to Charley's fortified camp, and, standing his gun up in the brush that was piled at the doorway, he walked in. Curly thought himself invulnerable--a very Achilles--for it was claimed that a warrior who should go without meat could not be killed by an arrow. So he walked in fearlessly, but while he was talking inside to others, Charley stepped outside, took the gun, and, poking it through the brush heap, shot Curly dead, and ran for dear life and the calico shirt. It was fully five miles to the Riddle place, but he ran such a race as no tale or song of a shirt ever told or sang. He reached the house out of breath, and lisped that he had earned the shirt. He broke his wind and his life in that race, and died within a month. Such was the fate of Curly and Charley. It is said that Curly, and Big Jim, and Little Ike were three brothers of the Myrtle Creek band, and Myrtle Creek and its beautiful valley lands were not far away--say five or six miles. These brothers were desperadoes and always in mischief or in some murderous work at the expense of the whites and their own people. Little Ike was taken, tied to a tree and shot to death by whites for some deed he or they did not long after.
    In 1853 a fever broke out among the Indians, and most of them died. It was called the "mountain fever," but no one knew its real character; old Miwaleta went to his fathers in his old age from this disease, and most of his people went the same road. Several died a day, but none of the whites suffered. When the good old chief was gathered to his sires, then Quintiousa was supreme and reigned in his stead. There were not many to rule over, but there was great grief and deep sorrow among all the people, and they wept sore because Miwaleta could not share his kindness and counsel with them. He must have been a good old savage.
    The original inhabitants of Myrtle Creek were a hard lot--I am glad to say the present population are a clever and kindly people--and they tell a story to illustrate their wickedness, that once on a time, when a party of the Cow Creeks were camped on a mountain spur--probably hunting or gathering berries--a lot of the Myrtle Creek scoundrels went there--no doubt in the nighttime--and killed almost every one of that inoffensive race. We can excuse moderate wickedness in people who hadn't modern advantages; but, really, this act seems not to have been justified in any manner. It was a pity that only the two brothers--Curly and Little Ike--were killed off as examples to those murderous Myrtle Creek natives.
    In 1855, late in the fall, the Indians joined the Shastas and went on the war path--as Nichols had ill-used them. These were inhuman brutes, who passed for white men, who had killed and ravaged among these people until all the man there was in Quintiousa was roused, and he could stand no more. He or his people never did harm to the whites around them, but went off and joined the Shastas. When it was known that the Indians were roused, George Riddle, then a boy, was sent to them and was glad to get away in good form. Then Mrs. Riddle, whom they all looked on as a friend, went to them herself to try persuasion, but the game was up. Someone had given the old chief a blow. He wanted two hours to pay back that blow; also the murder of the Indians, told of in the recent reminiscences of Mr. Hartin--people that Arrington had gathered in the band of Lookingglass--added fuel to the flame. The war of 1855 had begun before that. They left the country, and few of them were heard of again. With the treaty of 1856 they probably--if any more left--were taken to the Siletz Reservation, and the land that had known them [omission] They left the reservation General Palmer had provided for them, where they had homes secure, for the evil conduct of a few evil men had driven them desperate.
Oregonian, Portland, February 26, 1895, page 6

    I was not quite twelve years old then. I remember that we arrived at our destination at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon [in October, 1851] and camped under the oak tree that now stands in the yard immediately north of the Glenbrook farm house. In a very short time our camp was surrounded by Indians who seemed to come from every direction. This caused us no alarm. They came from curiosity--old Indians, squaws, papooses and all came to the number of a hundred or more. They were curious about everything--the children were objects of interest, many of them never having seen a white child. A cook stove was set up and a fire started in it, which excited their wonder and curiosity. One young buck came in contact with the hot stove pipe on his naked shoulder, which caused a leap and yell from the buck, but uproarious laughter on the part of the crowd. The Indians, although friendly and good natured, were crowding so closely about the camp that my mother and sisters were unable to prepare the evening meal, and this situation was becoming embarrassing. At that time we heard the word, "Miwaleta, Miwaleta," a hush fell upon the crowd, and an Indian appeared whose presence and appearance showed that he was one in authority. He was a man between sixty and seventy years old, about six feet tall, of heavy build, with full, round face, at least as I remember him, with none of the marked features of the moving picture Indian. The Indians seemed to regard him with reverence, more than fear. My father advanced to meet him, and by signs made him understand that he wanted the Indians to stand back out of the way, which they did, forming a circle around our camp where they seated themselves upon the ground or squatted upon their heels. My mother offered the chief a chair, which he declined, but seated himself upon his blanket on the ground. My father proceeded to tell him by signs that we had come to live there, that he would build a house. Neither of them could speak a word that the other could understand, but they seemed to arrive at a mutual understanding and liking that endured during the lifetime of Miwaleta.
    During the sign language conference, an incident occurred which in a way will illustrate the character of Miwaleta, and greatly impressed my mother. A very handsome Indian boy about 11 years old detached himself from the crowd and came near the chief, stretching himself at full length on his stomach near the chief. (This boy, I afterwards learned, was a son of Miwaleta's son, who was dead). The old man's hand went out and rested on the boy's head. My mother said she knew from that that he was a good Indian. At the close of the sign interview, my father offered the chief food, which he accepted, giving a portion to the boy. The boy, who was named Sam, and myself were afterwards boon companions, and in a few months had learned the Chinook jargon, Sam learning a great many English words while I learned the native Indian, and through this medium, with Sam and myself as interpreters, a perfect understanding was had between the chief and my father, it being understood that any overt act of the Indians should be referred to the chief, but so far as our family was concerned, there never was any trouble of any consequence.
    At the time of which I write, Miwaleta was the chief of five bands of Indians, all of whom comprised about two hundred souls, by far the strongest tribe of the Umpqua Valley. They spoke the same language as the Rogue River Indians, or Indians as far south as the Siskiyous. But the Rogue River Indians were the hereditary enemies of the Miwaletas, and they termed all the southern Indians "Shastas."
    The bands were divided about as follows, and each band and chief has the name of the locality where they made their home: All the north side of the creek in Cow Creek Valley was Miwaleta's, and the Indians numbered about 75. The south side of the creek was Quintiousa; the head man took the same name, and was sometimes called Augunsah, the name of the country of the South Umpqua east of Canyonville; the Quintiousas were about fifty strong. The Targunsans were about twenty-five. Their head man was called ''Little Old Man." And in the Cow Creek country east of Glendale was a band of twenty-five or thirty whose head man was named "Warta-hoo." In addition to the above there was a band known as the Myrtle Creek Indians, about forty in number, but who their chief was I never knew. There were three of their number who were always making trouble: Curley, who was a large, powerful young Indian, Big Ike and Little Jim.
    All the Indians north of Myrtle Creek spoke a different language, and were considered a different people, although they had more or less intercourse.
    Over the Myrtle Creeks, Targunsaw, Warta-hoo and Quintiousa bands, Miwaleta was head chief, and although there was often trouble between these bands, they held together against the Shastas and Rogue River Indians.
    Sam related to me some of the battles and the mighty deeds of his grandfather, Miwaleta, and at one time the chief showed my father his war dress when I was present. The dress was made of two large elk's skins dressed soft, but left as thick as possible, then laced down the sides so as to hang loose about the body and leave the legs and arms free; the thickest part of the skins were back and front and were impenetrable for arrows. This elkskin armor was ornamented with Indian paints forming figures and designs of which I do not remember the meaning. I do not remember seeing the chief wearing a headdress, but have seen the younger Indians wear headdresses that seemed more for ornament than protection. In war times they wore a single white feather from the tail of the bald or white-headed eagle that was snow white.
    Miwaleta's war dress showed evidence that it had been of practical use, being pitted all over where arrow points had struck it, and the chief's arms, face and head showed many scars, which they claimed were made in the wars with the Shastas.
    It has always been a question in my mind whether Miwaleta had a genuine friendship with the white man or was wise enough to know the hopelessness of opposition. That he always counseled peace and was able to restrain his people from going to war with the whites, we had ample evidence. In the fall of 1852 there were runners from the Rogue River tribes who came to induce the Cow Creek Indians to join them in a war against the whites, and a great council was held. At this council I witnessed a sample of Indian oratory. When I arrived at the scene the Rogue River Indians had evidently submitted their petition and Miwaleta was making a reply. The older Indians were seated in a large circle, squaws and Indian boys forming the outer circle. The chief was also seated and talked without gesture in a moderate but oratorical tone, the Rogue River Indians sitting in perfect silence, and the elders of Miwaleta's people occasionally giving grunts of assent or approval. I, in company with Indian boys of my age, listened to the chief for some time the day he commenced to talk. I was there on the day following; the chief was still talking, and I was informed by the boys that he continued to talk until he fell asleep. Just what the chief could find to say in such a long talk was explained to me by the Indian boys. It appears that the history and legends are committed to memory and handed down from father to son through their chiefs. In this case the chief was reciting to the delegates the history of their tribal wars and remonstrating with some of his own people who were inclined to listen to the Rogue Rivers and join them in a war on the whites. The counsel of Miwaleta prevailed, and when the Rogue River Indians went on the war path, Miwaleta's Indians encamped near our house and remained at peace.
    There were many things happened to irritate the Indians and to threaten the peace. There was a class of white men in the country who acted upon the principle that the Indian had no rights that a white man should respect. In the fall of 1852 a young man, a mere boy, wantonly stabbed an Indian boy, who lingered a few weeks and died. The white boy was hastily gotten out of the country and the Indians conciliated. The settlers' hogs rooted up the camas, a bulb upon which the Indians depended largely for food. In settlement of any kind of trouble there would be a "powwow" in which Miwaleta, John Catching and my father would be the mediators. I remember a young Indian, a kind of a runabout among the Indians, broke into the cabin of a settler named Chapin at Round Prairie and stole a lot of clothing. Capt. R. A. Cowles came to Miwaleta's camp and reported the theft. The thief was apprehended with some of the clothing, his arms tied behind a tree, and was given a thorough whipping by the Indians.
George W. Riddle, History of Early Days in Oregon, Riddle Enterprise, 1920, pages 33-36. This anecdote, word for word, was part of an address Riddle gave before the Douglas County Historical Society January 22, 1912, printed in the Roseburg Review of March 1, 1912, page 2.

By Fred Lockley

    (Interesting incidents in the career of the newly appointed head of the soldiers' home at Roseburg are here related by Mr.. Lockley. The narrative embraces the long trek of a large family from the Middle West to Oregon in 1851, and reviews the Rogue River Indian War of the middle '50s.)
    George W. Riddle of Riddle, in Douglas County, newly appointed commandant of the soldiers' home at Roseburg, will take charge November 1. Judge Riddle saw service in the Rogue River War and also in the First Oregon Cavalry during the Civil War. He was born on a farm on the Sangamon River, 10 miles from Springfield, Ill., December 14, 1839. His father, William H. Riddle, was a native of Kentucky, and divided his time between his farm and working at the forge. In 1843 a neighbor, Isaac Constant, crossed the plains to Oregon. In 1850, with a saddle horse and a pack horse, he returned to dispose of his farm on the Sangamon bottom. His stories of the fertility and beauty of the Willamette Valley fired the imaginations of his neighbors, many of whom determined to go to the land of promise beyond the Rockies.
*    *    *
    Selling their farm that winter and securing oxen and other equipment, the Riddle family started in April, 1851, for Oregon. The party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Riddle, their eldest daughter, a widow, Artenicia Chapman, with her baby son John; Isabella, who was 16; William H., 13; George, 11; Abner, 9; John B., 7; Anna, 4, and Stilley, the baby, who was 2. Lucinda McGill, Mrs. Riddle's half-sister, and Anna Hall, an 11-year-old cousin of the Riddle children, also came with them. Three young men, Newt and George Bramson and Jack Middleton, came along to help drive the wagons for their board. The Riddles started with three wagons drawn by oxen and a large omnibus drawn by four horses, and in addition they brought along 40 head of loose cattle. Stephen Hussey and his family, Sam Yokum and family and "Sandy" Yokum, all neighbors, were also of the party.
*    *    *
    Driving to Kanesville, now called Council Bluffs, they waited to be joined by other emigrants so as to form a large party for protection from the Indians. The first night out a party of white men dressed as Indians stole some of the cattle. A day or two later a party of Indians tried to make them pay for using an Indian bridge of poles and willows across a stream. The Indian chief presented a testimonial of character to impress them with his importance, which read: "The bearer claims to be an Omaha chief. He is a rascal and a bluffer. Don't give him anything. Go ahead." The party waved the chief and his followers out of the way and went ahead, the chief wondering meanwhile what was wrong--with his "big medicine writing," which was supposed to impress the white men with his importance.
*    *    *
    Stampeding buffalo, high water, violent rainstorms, muddy roads, mosquitoes, buffalo gnats, bad water, stampeding ox teams, dry camps and other annoyances kept the trip from being one of unalloyed pleasure, though pleasures there were, and experiences that made lifelong friendships. they reached Independence Rock, the halfway point of their journey across the plains, on July 4. At Soda Springs, on Bear River, the Husseys, Yokums and Bransoms kept to the northern trail by way of the Snake and Columbia rivers, while the Riddles, with Cornelius Hill, took the southern route, by way of Winnemucca, the Humboldt River and across the "desert" to Surprise Valley, Goose Lake, and from where the city of Klamath Falls now is across the mountains by the Green Spring Mountain road to where the city of Ashland was later located. They passed through the Rogue River Valley shortly before gold was discovered on Rich [Gulch], near where the town of Jacksonville now stands. They arrived at Canyonville September 30. At that time it had but one house, the home of Joseph Knott, who had taken up the site of Canyonville that summer. He sold his claim the next year, moving to what is now Sutherlin. Not long thereafter he moved to Portland and started Knott's steam ferry, across the Willamette. The Riddles took up a claim on Cow Creek, known as the Glenbrook farm, the first donation land claim to be taken in the Cow Creek Valley.
*    *    *
    During the winter of 1854-55 George Riddle attended Wilbur Academy, at Wilbur. The academy building was the first frame house built in Southern Oregon. Young Riddle while attending the academy worked for his board at the home of a man named Clinkenbeard. Sarah Tibbits, a sister of Mrs. Binger Hermann, was also working for her board in this family, doing the cooking, while George did the chores. In the summer of 1854 the senior Riddle moved to Roseburg to start a blacksmith shop and to make plows. He became a partner of John D. Bowen, and soon they had six men at work.
*    *    *
    In 1855 the whites killed a band of peaceful Indians on [Little] Butte Creek, near Rogue River. This slaughter of defenseless squaws, old men and papooses led to the Rogue River Indian War. Forty white men from Jacksonville were responsible for the murder of these Indians. The white settlers were very indignant, for these Indians were on their own reservation and were inoffensive. The Indians were killed October [8], 1855. [One day] later the other Indians started on the warpath, and more than 30 white settlers were killed. Young Riddle, then 16, joined Lieutenant Sam Bunton's company. At the close of hostilities the Indians were removed to the Siletz Reservation. During the fighting all adult males of the Cow Creek Indians had been killed.
*    *    *
    In 1861 Mr. Riddle became a  member of Company C, First Oregon Cavalry, where he did good service. Later he became county judge of Douglas County. Like many of the white men familiar from firsthand knowledge with the facts, he believed that had we treated the Indians fairly there would have been no war between the whites and Indians in 1855-56, but when the aggressions of the whites made war inevitable he shouldered his gun and did his part in bringing it to a successful conclusion.
Oregon Journal, Portland, October 21, 1921, page 10

Last revised May 20, 2019