George and Skookum John
and the massacre of the Ledford party.
Calapooia April 5th 1856Mr. Joel Palmer
Sir, by the request of several of the citizens of this settlement I make communication relative to one Skookum John, an Indian who inhabits this region. He has a small band with him consisting of 3 men and 4 or 5 squaws. They have generally been considered friendly Indians, but from some recent maneuvers the settlers are becoming alarmed, fearing that he is not genuine. The facts relative to the case are these. He keeps himself along a route leading from Klamath Lake to Oregon City through this hilly region and is in the habit of building large fires near the trail and keeping them up during the night. He is now located on the South Santiam at the edge of Sweet Home Valley, where the trail crossing the Cascade Mountains connects the Klamath trail, and has lately stuck up a painted pole with a bunch of feathers on it right on the trail that comes down the Santiam. He has been known to have former communication with the Indians east of the Cascades previous to the present Indian difficulties. There has also been other strange Indians reported to have been seen among them occasionally. These Indians are of the Molalla and Klamath tribes. This John is a very smart and brave Indian and is well calculated to do great damage to the settlement if he is so disposed. On account of the present weak condition of the settlement a large number of our ablest bodied men being volunteered and absent, and our exposed condition to the two inroads from across the mountains. We therefore solicit a speedy removal of these Indians, as we neither consider them nor ourselves safe. They now are regarded as enemies and for their protection and safety should be on the reserve. I was told by a Mr. Woodfine well acquainted with John that he said if you would send for him he would go to the reserve.
Yours respectfullyMr. Joel Palmer
P. V. Crawford
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 14; Letters Received, 1856, No. 153.
Oregon Linn Co. April 9th 1856Mr. Palmer, we the undersigned wish to inform you that we have met this day for council to see what can be done with a certain little band of Indians, Skookum John and company, which is roving the country, insulting people and frightening our families.
We wish you to take charge of all the Indians that is traveling to and from through our country or inform us what to do with them.
Jacksonville Oregon May 10th 1859Sir
I left this place for Klamath Lake last Tuesday but found the Cascade Mountains impassable on account of snow. I then tried to follow the trail of a party that left this (Rogue River) valley about two weeks before to go to the lake. We trailed them to the foot of the mountains on Big Butte Creek where after trying the snow they returned to the first prairie and encamped. From this camp we could find no trail, but a great many Indian tracks. We finally found that the Indians had taken three shod horses with them (for they had been living on the prairie near where the party had encamped, but had since left) to the northward along the foot of the mountains. After a more particular search we found four horses that were recognized as belonging to the party of white men tied to trees in the woods and shot with bullets. From those circumstances and others we supposed that the party had been cut off by the Indians, although we failed to find any bodies. I learn that the Indians that are supposed to have perpetrated the massacre are a party of Indians that have been skulking in the mountains since the removal of the various tribes to the reservation and a few of the La Lake tribe of Klamath Lake, who are connected with the mountain band by marriage. This I was told by an Indian of the La Lake tribe who was with me.
Under those circumstances, my party being small, I determined to return to this place and await further developments.
The citizens of Jacksonville and vicinity have organized a party to make search for the missing men and follow the trail of the Indians and if possible secure the offenders.
The missing party number five men with seven horses. The Indians supposed to be connected with the massacre of the party number about fifteen. I would earnestly recommend that you use every exertion to procure a military force for the Klamath Lake country, as it is only removed by a few miles from the settlements of this valley, and the Indians are in my judgment not to be considered entirely friendly.
Your obdt. svt.J. W. Nesmith Esqr.
G. H. Abbott
Superintendent Ind. Affrs.
Oregon & W.T.
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 17; Letters Received, 1859, No. 79.
Five men are reported to have been killed by Indians near Klamath Lake. A party of thirty men, with provisions, have started from Jacksonville in pursuit.
"Stabbing Affray in Jacksonville," Sacramento Daily Union, May 11, 1859, page 1
From the Jacksonville Sentinel, Extra.
FROM THE VOLUNTEERS.
Mr. James Clugage, who went out with the volunteer company, returned from Rancheria Prairie last night, bringing in an express from Capt. Hillman to the committee of citizens. The following is the report of Capt. Hillman:
Rancheria Prairie, May 11, 1859.Messrs. Ross, Kilgore and Anderson:--Gents:--We arrived at this camp this morning at 9 o'clock, and proceeded to make search for the bodies of the missing men. They were discovered by Indian Agent Abbott, at about 1 o'clock p.m. He came and reported his discovery to the camp, when a portion of the company proceeded with him to the place where they were buried. The men dug them up and found the bodies of four men, much mutilated, but recognizable. The names of those discovered are: Samuel Probst, A. J. Brown, J. G. Crow and S. F. Conger. We could not find the remains of E. Ledford, unless they were amongst the remains of the Indian rancheria, which was burned to the ground. There was a jawbone supposed to be a man's found in the ashes of the fire.
It is very evident from all the circumstances, and from the fact of blood being found around their camp, that they were murdered while asleep. It is the wish of the friends of the murdered men, and the wish of the company, that you would make some arrangements for their removal and burial.
It is our intention to proceed and cross the north fork of Butte Creek, follow it down to Rogue River, and make thorough search for the Indians, who, if found, will learn to their cost that it is dangerous to murder small parties of travelers, no matter how skillfully they may conceal them.
Our company was strengthened this morning by seven footmen from Butte Creek, which I think is very much of an acquisition, as they are all well acquainted with this part of the country and appear to be perfectly at home in the mountains.
We are progressing finely. The men are all in good spirits, and willing to do all that is required of them. I believe they are all animated by one desire, and that is revenge.
Our company consists of 43 men all told.
Yours, most respectfully,Further Particulars.--We learn from Mr. Clugage some items of interest not given in Capt. Hillman's report.
J. W. Hillman.
The men had been assailed while lying in bed, as was very evident from their wounds. Two were shot through the head, one cut in the head with an ax, and the other shot and stabbed, also in the head.
The dog of Ledford had been shot and thrown into the creek nearby, and was found a short distance below.
The murderers had dug the hole in which the bodies were concealed, about four feet deep, in the middle of a dense thicket of young pines, about three hundred yards from their camp.
Mr. Clugage left the company on the trail of the Indians, on the north side of Big Butte Creek. The snow on the mountains is still very deep, and it was thought the Indians would find it impossible to cross, in which case they are sure to be overtaken somewhere on the head of Rogue River, as there is too large a party of them to conceal their trail.
The massacre was committed by a party of wild mountain Indians with whom several of the Lalakes were known to be living. It is thought the Lalakes planned and incited the deed, thinking the bodies would never be found, and the loss of the party would stop the emigration to Klamath Lake.
Indians Arrested.--All the Indian men who could be found about Jacksonville have been arrested. They will be confined to prevent them from carrying news of the movements of the whites to the band who committed the murders.
Still Later--Two More Men Missing.--Mr. Thomas Moore has just arrived from the volunteer camp, bringing the following news from Butte Creek:
At Bozart's he was informed that a few days since Mr. James Miller and Mrs. Parrish left Butte Creek, on horseback, with a pack mule, for a hunt in the mountains. Night before last the mule returned to Miller's alone, with its pack on, and up to this morning nothing has been heard from the men. It is supposed that Miller and Parrish have been killed by the Indian murderers from Rancheria Prairie, and the mule escaped in the melee and came home. They were hunting on the same route taken by the Indians.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, May 31, 1859, page 2
THE LATE MURDERS BY INDIANS IN THE NORTH.--A telegram from Yreka, dated 14th May, says:
James Clugage has returned from the scene of recent Indian murders on the trail leading to Klamath Lake about sixty miles from Jacksonville. He reports that the party have found the bodies of four of the murdered men, and the jaw of the fifth; they were buried in a thicket and the graves covered over with brush. Mr. Teal is in Yreka in search of an Indian chief by name of LaLake, to act as guide in search of the offending parties; all the Indians in Jacksonville were arrested yesterday.
San Francisco Bulletin, May 16, 1859, page 1
ANOTHER INDIAN MASSACRE NORTH--THE LATE PARTY OF FIVE.--James Miller and one Parrish recently left Butte Creek (near Jacksonville) on horseback, with a pack mule, for a hunt in the mountains. On the 14th of May, the mule returned to Miller's house alone, with its pack on, and as nothing has been heard of the men, it is supposed that they have been killed by the Indian murderers from Rancheria Prairie. They were hunting on the same route taken by the Indians. The party of five who were killed several days ago were attacked while lying in bed, as was evident from their wounds. Two men were shot through the head, one cut in the head with an ax, and one shot and also stabbed in the head. The fifth was burned, either alive or after having been killed along with the others.
San Francisco Bulletin, May 20, 1859, page 1
INDIAN MASSACRE IN SOUTHERN OREGON.--From an extra of the Jacksonville Sentinel of May 8th, it appears that the Indian Agent Abbott had returned from the Rancherie Prairie, Klamath Lake County, with the startling intelligence of the probable murder of a party of five men--E. Ledford, Samuel Probst, Jas. Crow, F. Conger and J. Brown--by the Indians. Their horses were found shot and tied to the trees. No traces of the bodies have yet been found, though evidences were plenty of the presence of Indians. A meeting was held on the evening of the 8th, to raise a company to pursue the murderers and search for the bodies.
San Francisco Bulletin, May 30, 1859, page 1
Men and Matters at Yreka.
Yreka, May 20, 1859.Editor Evening Bulletin: Considerable excitement was created in town today by the appearance of Lalake, one of the chiefs of the Klamath Lake Indians, having in his possession the heads of three Indians killed by him at or near the Klamath River. As you have already been informed, there were some five persons murdered lately, at the head of Butte Creek, in Oregon, who were on their way to Klamath Lake to settle there. When found, they were horribly mutilated; their horses, arms and everything valuable gone. Suspicion fell upon the Klamath Lake Indians as having committed the murder, none others being known to have been about that country, and some who were in Jacksonville at the time were arrested. Lalake, their chief, being here, and himself and tribe always having been friendly towards the whites, resolved to find the murderers and if possible bring them to punishment. He started out, and found near the scene of the murder three Indians (a father and two sons) who detailed and confessed to him all the circumstances of the murder, and even had the horses, guns etc. of the murdered men in their possession. These Indians were a remnant of the Rogue River tribe, who had all been sent to the reserve, and had either been accidentally left behind or escaped from it. They have been roaming in the mountains for some time. Lalake killed them all, and brought their three heads here to show the whites that they were not of his tribe. A white man who had been with him fully confirms his statement. This, I suppose, will end an Indian war, which likely would have occurred had these murderers not been brought to just and speedy retribution. . . .
NOSMA.San Francisco Bulletin, June 3, 1859, page 3
THE LATE INDIAN MASSACRE IN JACKSON COUNTY.--We learn from the report of Capt. Hillman, who was chosen captain of a volunteer company of thirty men raised in Jacksonville, to go in pursuit of the Indian murderers of the Klamath Lake party, that the bodies of the missing men were discovered by Indian Agent Abbott on the 11th ult. From their wounds it was evident that the men had been attacked while asleep. Their bodies were buried about four feet deep in a dense thicket of pines, near the camp. The names of those found were Samuel Probst, Jas. Conn, S. F. Conger and J. Brown. Mr. Ledford has not been found. The volunteers returned to Jacksonville without being able to find the Indians.
Oregonian, Portland, June 4, 1859, page 2
INDIANS BEHEADED NORTH.--Three weeks ago a party of white men were killed by Indians on the trail between Jacksonville and the Klamath country. The murderers were an old man and the four remaining warriors of his tribe, the rest having perished in wars. The old man's son went to the white men's camp and stole a box of matches, in which he was detected, and suffered indignity. Returning to camp the boy related his insult, and after counciling all night the Indians attacked the campers at daylight, shot four of them dead, pursued the other till nearly night, and killed him in the mountains. A squaw related the affair to the Klamath Indians, who sent for the old man and his party, extorted confession of the murder and then shot him twice in the face. Thus wounded, he shot a Klamath Indian mortally, and then fell with six more shots in his breast. His son was also shot, after which the remaining four fled, but the Klamaths pursued and killed another. The heads of the dead were cut off and brought to town on Sunday by La Lakes and some of his men, as evidence that three of the murderers had been killed. The other three, La Lakes says, will suffer the same fate. The chief killed was a most ferocious fellow; he had never been friendly with white men and with his six warriors had waged relentless war. The Klamaths feared that his murders would bring resentment on themselves, and accordingly determined to destroy his party, but the ghastly trophies exhibited here were not obtained without a most savage battle.--Yreka Union, June 2nd.
Sacramento Daily Union, June 7, 1859, page 2
FROM THE SOUTH.--We learn from the Yreka Chronicle that Lalakes, the old chief of the Klamath tribe of Indians, had brought to that city the heads of three Indians of the old Rogue River tribe, who, he said, had confessed to the murder of the white men near the lakes some weeks ago. As a proof of their guilt, he produced two guns, said to have belonged to the murdered men. Lalakes had interested himself in the discovery of the murderers--going to the mountains with some trusty followers in pursuit of them--in order to relieve his own tribe of suspicion of being concerned in the murders. Lalakes is well known in Yreka, and enjoys the confidence and esteem of the best citizens of that place. He carried the heads to Jacksonville, and procured the release of some of his tribe, who had been detained until it could be ascertained who were the guilty parties.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, June 21, 1859, page 2
Mr. George W. Brown, of this place, handed us, on last Saturday, a copy of the Sentinel, published in Jacksonville, Oregon, containing an account of the murder of his brother, A. J. Brown, and four other persons, by the Indians, about the first of May. He also gave us a letter from his brother, F. M. Brown, containing all the particulars.
It seems the party left their homes, in Jacksonville or vicinity, for the purpose of selecting stock farms in a region of country as yet uninhabited. As they had no intentions of intruding on Indian territory, they, of course, entertained no apprehensions of an attack, but were well armed. After the day had passed on which the party was expected to return, their friends began to fear that they had fallen into the hands of the Indians. A party was immediately organized for the purpose of searching for them. They immediately started on the trail of the missing party. The first expedition failed in discovering any clue to their fate, except that two or three dead horses, shot with bullets, were discovered; they were identified as belonging to the missing men. A new expedition was organized, which finally succeeded in discovering the dead bodies of four of the party just as the search was about to be abandoned as hopeless. F. M. Brown and Indian Agent Abbott made the discovery. A correspondent of the Sentinel says:
"The men had been assailed while lying in bed, as was very evident from their wounds. One was shot in the head, one had his head split open with an axe, one was shot in the breast and stabbed, and the other was shot through the breast. The throats of all were cut."
Mr. Brown in his letter says: "I found our brother in the grave. He had his throat cut, and a gash on the side of the head made by an axe. The wound extended from the back of his ear to the middle of his forehead." The following are the names of the murdered men: A. J. Brown, Eli Ledford, Samuel Probst, James Crow and S. F. Conger. The body of Mr. Ledford had not been discovered, but doubtless he shared the fate of his companions. A volunteer company had started in pursuit of the Indians, but with what degree of success we have not learned.
Mr. Brown had on his person about three hundred dollars in money at the time of his murder. Of course, the Indians appropriated it to their own use before burying his remains. He was born and reared in Butler County, in this state, and was, we understand, about 24 years of age at the time of his death.
Democrat & Sentinel, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania July 6, 1859, page 2
Jacksonville Ogn. Sept. 11th 1859Sir
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of instructions from your office dated August 24th directing me to take measures to secure the arrest of the Indians remaining of the party that perpetrated the murder of the Ledford party last spring. The instructions will receive prompt attention.
In case of it becoming necessary for me to visit the Indian country to make the arrest, which I think it will, I will take about ten men with me, which force I think will be sufficient to effect the arrest of the two Klamath Lake Indians if they can be found. The Molallas have gone into the mountains about the headwaters of the Willamette and will probably elude pursuit for the present.
I will delay the purchase of presents for the Indians until I learn how they are disposed to act in regard to the surrender of the murderers, but will use every exertion to secure their cooperation
P.S. Be so kind as to forward a check on San Francisco for my quarter's salary at the end of the quarter together with the necessary vouchers which I will receipt and return to you. Provided you can make the arrangement with any of the banks.
G. H. AbbottE. R. Geary Esqr.
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 17; Letters Received, 1859, No. 180.
Pioneer Indian Agent Writes of Ghastly Find
George H. Abbott, Government Agent in Oregon Territory in Late
'50s, Tells of Discovery by Him of Bodies of Ledford
Party Massacred in 1859.
Reminiscences of George H. Abbott, Indian agent in Oregon Territory in 1859, written by him in 1896, while they were still fresh in his memory, were discovered by his daughter, Mrs. Lucy Nelson of Fairfield, a few months ago in cleaning out an old desk, and realizing that they are now of historic interest, she sent them to the pioneer department of the Statesman. The first installment gives a graphic account of the finding by Agent Abbott of the bodies of the Ledford party, which started from Jacksonville, Ore. to cross the Cascade Mountains.
Abbott's story follows:
In the month of April 1859, I held the office of Indian agent in Oregon, and received instructions from the then-Superintendent of Indian Affairs for that state, J. W. Nesmith, to proceed to Jacksonville, thence to Klamath Lake and open negotiations with the Indians of that region to open the country to settlement by the whites and to place the Indians on a reservation.
When I arrived at Jacksonville, the Cascade Mountains, which had to be crossed to reach the lake country, were covered with snow and looked to be impassable, but learning that a party of five men had started to the lakes before my arrival and had failed to return, I concluded that they had got safely over the mountains, and I made ready to go also, following their trail.
I employed three or four white men and one Indian--a Klamath Lake Indian--who with a few others of that tribe had passed the preceding winter at Jacksonville. Of the party I remember the names of T. J. Sutton [Thomas J. Sutton, later editor of the Idaho World] and a Mr. Birdseye, while the Indian was called "Jim."
We followed the trail of the party ahead, called the Ledford party from the fact that a Mr. Ledford was one of the party. From the tracks and other sources of information we learned that there were five men, seven horses and a dog in the party.
When the trail reached the snow and got as far into it as was possible, it turned and by a different route than that followed up returned to the valley of Butte Creek, at the western base of the mountains, and went into camp. The plan of their camp was clearly defined by marks of the camp fire, tent pins left in the ground and other indications, unmistakable to frontiersmen, but no trail could be found leading from it.
We made camp some distance away and made [a] systematic search, but only found the carcass of the dog, in the creek, and a piece of rope fastened to a block of wood, evidently part of a picket rope, the animal having been so picketed to allow it to drag the block from place to place while feeding on the young grass. The rope had been cut with a knife or other sharp instrument.
Evidences of Indians.There was evidence that Indians had been in the vicinity about the same time, presumably a hunting party, who had burned their brush camps when they left there. We could only find tracks of one horse at any one place, leaving the prairie valley and going into the timber. Indian Jim and myself went hunting the first thing after dinner and I shot a deer, but did not get it. Mr. Birdseye, the Indian, Jim and I each took the track of a horse, entering the timber at different places, and proceeded to follow to see where they would lead to. When I had gone about two miles in a northerly direction I saw the Indian, apparently following a track, but gradually nearing me as we advanced. Soon he joined me, the two tracks having come together. At my request he continued on the trail while I returned to camp, where I found Birdseye, who had got in before me. On my inquiring if he had found his horse he answered that he had, but that the horse was dead.
By this time I had concluded that the Indians had killed all of the Ledford party, but had not expressed my opinion to the others. Dinner had been prepared, and while we were partaking of it the Indian, Jim, returned to camp and, catching my eye, beckoned me to where he was unsaddling his horse and said that he felt certain that the Indians had murdered the men whose trail we had been following and had taken their horses and other property and had gone north.
He showed me a stirrup from the saddle of a white man which he found in the trail. He reported that after I had turned back he followed the tracks of both horses about a mile, when another horse track joined in, and that while following the trail over a piece of soft ground he found moccasin tracks in the trail. This confirmed my opinion, and after dinner Mr. Birdseye and I went to look at the dead horse found by him. We had some difficulty finding the horse and separated in the brush, when I found the carcass of a horse of a different color to the one found and described by Birdseye.
Find Dead Horses.In short, I found three carcasses, neither of them answering to the one found by him. They had been taken to such a hidden place as the Indians supposed would never be found and shot in the head in each case. I called Birdseye to me, showed him the carcasses found by me, told him that I was quite certain that the Indians had killed all or nearly all of the Ledford party, and in order to conceal the fact had brought four of their horses by devious routes to this place, had killed them and taking three of the seven head that we knew had belonged to the party, together with other valuables, had gone north, repeating what Indian Jim had reported, and the discoveries made by him, and giving it as my opinion that the bodies of the murdered men were hidden in the brush between where we were at the time and the place where the camp was so plainly marked.
We undertook to search the brush and did so to some extent, but found nothing. We then went to camp where the other men were, reported our find and the conclusions reached, made another vain search for the bodies, packed up and started on our return to Jacksonville, as it was impossible to cross that mountain at that time. We wished to report our ghastly discoveries for general information, and especially for the purpose of obtaining means to remove the bodies, when found, to a suitable place for burial, we having no such means other than to pack them on horseback.
Start for Bodies.On our arrival a public meeting was called, the facts stated, opinions exchanged, and as a result a company of 35 men, who chose for captain one John Hillman, was fitted out and sent to find the bodies, if possible, and return them to Jacksonville, a wagon being provided for that purpose, after which the company was expected to follow the trail of the murderers and if they could be found punish them or secure their arrest, as circumstances seemed to favor.
Indian Jim and I accompanied them, but before starting I requested the sheriff to receive and place in jail the Indians about Jacksonville, and to protect them should any person or persons attempt to take vengeance on them for the murder of their friends or relatives.
The sheriff very kindly complied with the request, but I am proud to say that the precaution was unnecessary, as there was no disposition to molest them.
It sometimes happens that the innocent suffer for the crimes of the guilty under the excitement incident to our frontier troubles, hence the precaution.
The company was fully mounted and about 10 o'clock of the second day out made camp at the place of the tragedy. A brother of the murdered Ledford, also the brother of another of his party whose name I have forgotten, was with us, and of course were very anxious to see the dead horses.
I guided them and several others to the carcasses, and one of them recognized his brother's horse beyond doubt by a mark on one of the hoofs. We then began a close search for the bodies, I advising a careful notice of the ground to see if the surface had been disturbed, as I had adopted the theory that the bodies had been buried. Seeing that the search was being but superficially made, I took it upon myself to make it thorough, and by penetrating to the center of a cluster of spruce bushes, which I had looked through before sufficiently to see that there was nothing on the surface of the ground that could be taken for a cache, I found a space clear of brush about six feet square.
The surface looked natural; spruce leaves covered it as if fallen from the bushes, but while looking carefully over it I discovered a short stump, not over an inch in height above the ground, that had been cut off with a knife or ax. Next I found a clod of fresh-dug clay in the brush some three feet to the side of the clear spot, with the imprint of the hollow of an Indian's foot thereon.
Stepping out the brush, I called some of the men, who were looking about the last camping place of the missing party, and leading them into the thicket drew their attention to my discovery and told them that by uncovering the spot we would find either a grave or a cache. Then it was discovered that we had forgotten to bring tools to dig with, but knowing of a fallen tree much splintered, we went to our camp, chopped with an ax two wooden shovels out of large splinters, took dinner which we found ready, and returned to open the grave, if it was a grave.
Discover Bodies.Removing a few inches of the surface we found a pick and shovel, under which was spread a white blanket, which being removed revealed a most shocking sight. There before our eyes were four bodies, nearly nude, showing the ghastly wounds through which their lives had ebbed away. The hands and feet of all four were bound together with plaited bark ropes, such as are made by squaws and were in general use by the natives. One body was missing and was never found, that of Ledford, but I learned later from the Indians that while his comrades were being killed in their tent he escaped therefrom, ran for his life, but was overtaken and killed some two miles down Butte Creek and his body thrown in the creek.
The bodies were taken to Jacksonville for Christian burial, and the company followed the trail of the Indian murderers until it could be no longer found, when all returned to Jacksonville. [None of the victims are listed in Jacksonville Cemetery records. Abbott must have assumed the bodies were returned, as intended.]
I proposed to take about 30 men and proceed to Klamath Lake to quiet any hostile feeling that might develop among the Indians there, everybody of course laying the murder to Indians of that vicinity, and to arrest and bring to punishment, if possible, all who might be implicated.
(To be continued.)
Idaho Statesman, Boise, June 17, 1928, page B2
Old Indian Agent Tells of Cremation Rites of Dead
George H. Abbott Writes of Experiences of Friendly Oregon
Redskins Who Bring Heads of Guilty Hostiles to
Whites as Peace Offering
George H. Abbott, father of Mrs. Lucy M. Nelson of Fairfield, a government agent in charge of the Indians in Oregon Territory in 1859, wrote for his daughter the story of some of his experience with the western tribes, and after his death the manuscript was found.
Abbott is relating the story of the massacre of the Ledford party in 1859, which started out from Jacksonville, in the Cascade Mountains. In the first installment of the article Abbott tells of his finding the bodies after others had given up the search. He tells of the burial of the bodies at Jacksonville and then says he proposed to take about 30 men and proceed to Klamath Lake to quiet any hostile feeling which might, he felt, develop among the Indians there, and to arrest any Indians he felt might be implicated.
The story continues:
A meeting was called to consider the matter, but it was thought too dangerous for less force than 100 men to go. I believed that if the force was so large they would be difficult if not impossible to restrain from acts of violence and that an Indian war, for which no cause existed, would result. With about 30 men there would be but little danger of such trouble. I reasoned that if the Indians had killed the Ledford party as an act of war, no effort to conceal the murder would have followed, that therefore the killing had been done for plunder and by a small band, without authority or the consent of the tribes. That if the proper course were pursued the guilty could be punished and peace maintained. Therefore I would not consent to take a force greater than I could control in the interest of peace.
Finally I declared that I had so much confidence in my knowledge of the Indian character and my own judgment that I would go alone if no others, not to exceed 30 in number, would take the risk, and closed by inviting as many as would volunteer to accompany me to step to the front.
Two men, I say MEN, T. J. Sutton and a Mr. Moore, responded, and they were all out of some 200 then present who had the courage to do so, so great was the danger apprehended.
The next day we made the necessary preparation and on the second day after the meeting, taking the Indians from the care of the sheriff, we set out for Klamath Lake, taking them with us. This time we went by the southern route and, passing the Cascade Mountains near Klamath River, made good time and arrived at the southern end of what we called Big Klamath Lake, now called Upper Klamath Lake, on the fifth day from Jacksonville.
Friendly Overtures.There was a considerable village of Indians there, and as we approached the warriors could be seen taking position on a ridge running in a southwesterly direction from the village, on which they had constructed defenses consisting of piles of rock. We went into camp about a mile from them, sent two or three Indians to let them know who and what we were and awaited the result. In due time our Indians returned accompanied by five or six from the village, who were delighted to know that we were friends. They also brought the most important and satisfactory intelligence, which removed all fear for our safety, if such fear found place in the minds of any of the party.
The substance of the information was that some renegade Molalla Indians had killed the five white men, and that the chief of the Klamath Lake Indians, named La Lake, a great friend of the whites, had killed three of the murderers and had taken their heads to Yreka.
When the Indians from the village had returned to their home, those that we had brought from Jacksonville let us fully into the secret of the whole matter. The murder was committed by five Molalla--renegades from their tribe, which was located on the Grand Ronde Reservation--and two Klamath Lake Indians, who were relatives of the chief medicine man of the Lake Indians, and that through his influence all of the tribe was pledged to secrecy as to them, and in fact to deny that any of their people would do such things.
This medicine man was called Cumtuckna and was a bad character, as will appear to the reader of this narrative. The Indians of Oregon, in the primitive state, believed that the medicine man, or medicine warrior, for that matter, could kill as well as cure, hence their influence caused by dread of their supposed powers was very great, and this superstition is not fully extinct yet. This statement will explain what might seem unaccountable in the conduct of these people in our intercourse with them. The information so fully given us by the Indians Jim and George was accompanied by a request that we should never let it be known that they told us. It was necessary for their safety; their lives were at stake.
The next day we crossed Klamath River where it flows from the lake and continued on our way around the eastern side of the lake, toward the principal village, the headquarters of the tribe, situated between the upper lake and the Klamath Marsh, just below the confluence of Sprague River. We camped on the lake and in the night were aroused by the tramp of a horse coming along the trail that we had followed.
The rider proved to be one of the trusted warriors who had gone to Yreka with the chief La Lake.
He reported that the people of Yreka had sent the chief and party with his heads to Jacksonville, that the people there had rejoiced over them, had made valuable presents to them and told of our venture, and that La Lake had sent him to travel night and day until he should overtake us for fear of trouble between us and some of the Indians, [and] that he was to see that we were properly received and cared for by the Indians.
Meet Chief La Lake.Early the next day we pitched our camp at the principal village and there awaited the coming of the chief, the Indians expressing the most friendly sentiments. Some two days passed before La Lake and party arrived, and it was with much pleasure to us that one of his party was a white man by the name of Callaway, who had gone with the chief from some point on the way to Yreka and to Jacksonville, and had returned to the lake to be present at our councils with the Indians. This arrival made our party of white men four strong, and so far as we knew we were the only white men on the east side of the Cascade Mountains south of The Dalles and were therefore completely isolated.
Proffer Heads as Peace Offering.While the chief La Lake and his men were killing the three Molallas whose heads were taken as a peace offering to the whites, one of his warriors was mortally wounded and died of his wounds before the return of the chief, and preparations for the funeral were in progress. The custom of these people was to cremate their dead or at least such as fell in battle; therefore we had an opportunity to witness the unusual spectacle of burning the body, with the hideously savage ceremony pertaining to such funerals among the Klamath Lake Indians.
Old Cumtuckna, "medicine man," priest, wizard, sorcerer or whatever he was or claimed to be, was in his glory. He conducted the ceremonies, which seemed congenial to his nature, therefore pleasant. Before the funeral there were 15 or 20, possibly more, such piles--a cemetery. I had noticed a mysterious council pile, nearly the shape of an eastern haystack, covered with rush mat such as are worn by squaws and are commonly in use as carpets and for bedding by the Indians. This pile was pulled down and opened out until only about two feet high and 12 feet in diameter of surface fuel of the most inflammable kind, mostly dry pitch pine, placed thereon to about 16 inches in depth, the body on that, the treasures, arms and so forth of the deceased with the body; more fuel, two horses slain and put in the pile; more fuel, and the whole set to burning, while the chanting and mourning, led by Cumtuckna, was kept up until the whole pile of combustibles was consumed, and through most of the night. When cool enough the pile was carefully rearranged, covered as before and prepared to await the next victim. The pile was composed of earth, wood ashes and incinerated bones of dead Indians and their horses, pieces of guns, pots, pans and scraps of clothing, beads and other debris, only partially burned.
(To be continued.)
Idaho Statesman, Boise, June 24, 1928, page B2
Three Idaho Men Display Rare Courage in Danger
George H. Abbott Tells of Interview with Murderous Indians
Experienced by Himself and Two Companions in Early
Days in Oregon; Friendly Indians Come to Aid
The concluding installment of the story of George H. Abbott, Oregon Indian agent in the '50s, which has been published in two former installments of the pioneer department of the Statesman, is an exciting story of an experience with murderous Indians participated in by two other former Idaho citizens, whom Abbott designates as "Caliway" (one wonders if he does not mean Calloway) of Caldwell [probably either Thomas Henry Callaway or Abner Early Callaway], and Sutton of Boise City.Idaho Statesman, Boise, July 1, 1928, page B2
In the previous stories Abbott tells of discovering the murdered bodies of a party of whites which left Jacksonville, and of the secret information given two friendly Indians, Jim and George, of the real culprits, while Abbott was on a twofold mission, to acquaint the Oregon Indian tribes, including "Cumtuckna," a famous medicine man, of the government's desire to place them on a reservation and to throw the land open to settlement by the whites, and also to arrest the two Indian murderers.
His diplomacy in the matter is seen in the development of the story which follows his description of an Indian cremation ceremony:
After the funeral our business was taken up in earnest, prominent Indians from the Klamath Lake country but one being present. The council lasted nearly three days, the Indians being exceedingly well pleased at the prospect of being placed on a reservation under the care of the government and the opening of the country to white settlement.
The general business of my visit to them, under my official instructions, was readily and pleasantly accomplished, but the matter of the participation of two members of the tribe in the murder of the Ledford party, a very important addition to my official business, was not so easily disposed of. I commended their action toward the Molallas, but told them that I knew that two of their people had taken an active part in the murder, which they denied most solemnly, as they had agreed to do. I insisted and told them that the law required them to deliver the murderers to the whites to be dealt with as white murderers were treated for such crimes. Thus matters went from day to day, I accusing and they denying. They demanded: whence my information?
Great Spirit Reveals.I replied that the Great Spirit revealed the facts to me, and also led me to find the murdered men, though carefully concealed. This evidently impressed many of them, but Cumtuckna would head off in a weak denial. Finally on the last day of the council, after having discussed the propriety of such proceeding with men of my party, and being as well prepared as possible for any emergency, I determined to point out the individuals accused. They had been made known to me by Jim and George, two of the Indians whom we had brought from Jacksonville. I thought this a dangerous procedure, especially as one of them, known as Skookum John, always carried his rifle in our presence, and when in council always held the rifle across his knees, as he squatted in the circle around the council fire. But believing it to be my duty to make the accusation personal, in order that innocent Indians would have no cause to fear for themselves personally, I, at the proper time, said:
"I know and can point out the two guilty men," and being challenged by Cumtuckna to do so, I pointed to Skookum John, saying, "There is one of them," and "there is the other," pointing to the other accused man.
This, as I had expected, created a profound sensation. Skookum John rose to his feet, shouldered his rifle and left, followed by his partner in crime, who was his brother. Cumtuckna and a few others denied the charge, but not with much decision or energy. The council dissolved without ceremony, while I announced my intention to start on the following morning to see the absent band under War Chief George, some 35 miles up Sprague River.
Admits Indian's Guilt.La Lake said that he, with some of his men, would go with us. Accordingly we, with some six or eight of La Lake's men, were on the way up Sprague River early on the day appointed, and when out some 10 miles, and when the chief and I were out of hearing of others, he said:
"Mr. Abbott, I am ashamed."
My reply was: "Yes, I suppose you are."
"What you said about two of our people taking part in the murder of the white men was true, and the two that you pointed out were the guilty men, but I was compelled to deny it and I am ashamed of it.
"How you got the information I don't know, but you are right about it, and if we induce Chief George to assist us, we will arrest the murderers and you can take them to Jacksonville for punishment, but you seem to know much about Indian customs, and therefore you know the powers exercised by the medicine men and the dread of them by the Indians; therefore you can understand that we may not be able to enlist Chief George in our enterprise.
"The two murderers are near relatives of our great medicine man, Cumtuckna, and he will use all means to shield them."
He further said that without the cooperation of Chief George, he--La Lake--was helpless. I assured him that I fully understood and appreciated his position, and did not blame him for what had passed, and that if we failed to obtain assistance from George, the arrest of the two murderers would have to be postponed to a future and more favorable time.
Refuse to Arrest Murderers.Our business with Chief George and his band concerning the opening of the country to settlement, placing the Indians on a reservation, etc., was, like that with the other bands, very pleasant and satisfactory, but, though they were willing that the two murderers should be arrested and punished, they declined to take part in making the arrest, pleading in justification that it would lead to bloodshed among themselves and to a feud that would divide the tribes for a generation or more.
That settled it, and we had no further business to detain us longer than until the following morning, when we would start on our return to Jacksonville.
About 5 o'clock in the evening a party of mounted Indians were observed coming over the trail that we had traveled in coming, and we soon recognized Cumtuckna, the two murderers, and about six more of their relatives and adherents.
I, suspecting them of intended treachery and foul play, directed the three white men to spread out their bedding near some large pine trees, some 10 steps from our campfire, to place their rifles under the edge of their blankets so that they could bring them into instant use, keep their revolvers where their hands could find them readily, to lie down on their blankets and watch and await developments. I would receive the delegation and entertain them as if their visit was the most natural event.
Visitors Arrive.When the Indians had secured their horses and presented themselves in camp, I invited Cumtuckna to a seat beside me on a large pine log near the fire, and on the side opposite to where my men were quietly resting on their beds. This brought the other members of the band directly between me and my men. Each of the Indians, Cumtuckna excepted, held blankets around their bodies up to their necks, concealing such arms as they might carry.
This being the usual trick among Indians when a surprise was intended served only to confirm our belief in the true object of their visit, that is, that they hoped to catch us off guard, unsuspecting, and to kill us all, the motive being to remove all evidence of the guilt of two of their number, they probably thinking that no other white men had knowledge of the facts, that we only could convict them or expose them, therefore our removal meant safety for them.
When they got into our camp they found me whittling a pine stick with a large bowie knife, and while talking to them about the reservation business, which was the subject of conversation for the evening, that knife was continually in my hand, while the revolvers of our whole party were in [a] most convenient position.
One of Chief La Lake's men came up soon after the arrival of the Cumtuckna party and took position directly behind me and Cumtuckna. He was arrayed as the others were, covered with a blanket to the chin. Thus we continued to talk, that is, I and Cumtuckna, everybody else being silent, until about 9 o'clock at night, when the Indians withdrew. Then La Lake's man came into the light of the fire, opened his blanket and showed a pistol with the remark, "Cumtuckna, damn, shoot him," showing that he suspected treachery as we did, and that he was there to aid us. This was the most trying ordeal that I have ever had to pass through.
Ready for Attack.To feel certain that this desperate band was watching to find us careless and for a moment off our guard, to throw aside their blankets and with pistols and knives hidden thereunder to murder us like so many coyotes.
My official duty restrained me from any action until attacked, self-defense alone being permitted us; otherwise I believe that I would have "opened the ball" by driving my bowie knife through old Cumtuckna, as I intended to do if they began the fight. There was but little sleep in our camp that night, for we looked for them to try to crawl in and try that method to surprise and murder us. We made such arrangements that, had they come, they would have been surprised. We all rested--I won't say slept--together, with the understanding that if they came no noise or movements on our part should be made until we could give them a volley.
About midnight we could hear horses approaching at a lively gait, and we knew by the sound that there was only two. When near, one of the riders hailed us. I recognized the voice of our friend, Indian Jim, and answered him. The two turned their horses out to graze and came to where we lay. It was Jim and George whom we had left at the chief village, 35 miles away. They, in suppressed tones of voice, inquired if Cumtuckna had been there, being answered in the affirmative. They told us that as night was setting in the squaws of Cumtuckna's part of the village began to talk of his intention to kill us that night, that Jim and George left the village slyly and unseen, caught their horses and hastened to warn us, if possible to do so in time to avert our doom. They also joined us under the blankets with the assurance that they would help us in case we were attacked. They had ridden 35 miles between 8 o'clock and 12, or in four hours. At daylight nothing could be seen of Cumtuckna's party, neither men nor horses. During the night they had quietly stolen away.
We started on our return to Jacksonville, after taking leave of our friends, Jim, George, La Lake and his band. We reached Jacksonville in due time without further adventure.
In conclusion I wish to bear witness to the valor and loyalty of my comrades on that expedition. No braver men ever lived than they proved to be.
No three men were ever placed in a more trying position than they were and lived to get out of it with more credit. Their patience was equal to their courage. There was no complaints, no expressions of fear or uncertainty. They were there to do their duty at any risk, and it is a great pleasure to me to know that two of them are living, Mr. Caliway at Caldwell, and Sutton at Boise.
I have had many remarkable adventures in the early days of the Pacific Coast, but I have always considered this Klamath Lake experience among the most trying. That we three who had these experiences so many years ago should be living this month of January, in the year of our Lord 1896, in the same state, too, is to me cause for rejoicing.
Let us hope that we may meet again in the near future and before passing to the great hereafter.
GEORGE H. ABBOTT.
G. H. Abbott, Indian agent, starts today for Klamath Lake, to arrest the Indians concerned in the massacre of Ledford and his party last spring. Abbott will be accompanied by ten picked men, citizens of this valley, to aid him in his desperate service.
"Southern Oregon," Sacramento Daily Union, October 12, 1859, page 1
RESULT OF THE KLAMATH LAKE EXPEDITION.--The Jacksonville (S.O.) Sentinel gives an account of the recent expedition by G. H. Abbott and others to Klamath Lake, in search of the Indians who were engaged in the massacre of Ledford and his party last spring. The expedition was gone twenty days. The Sentinel says:
"That the Indians who had been engaged in the massacre were secreted by members of their tribe Mr. Abbott was well satisfied, but the paucity of his force, and the difficulty to be encountered in pursuing and capturing them, prevented him from making the effort. The Indians were peaceably disposed while the party were among them, although they evinced considerable dissatisfaction at not being furnished with goods and presents, but they were made to understand that until they delivered the murderers of the Ledford party over to the proper authorities, no such articles would be dispensed to the tribe.
"Mr. Abbott made careful inquiry into the correctness of the report brought to town just before he left of the massacre of a party of emigrants by the Modoc Indians. The statements were conflicting--some declaring that there was a massacre, others as stoutly declaring that the rumor was without foundation. Among others, Mr. Abbott met the chief of the Modocs, who assured him it was the Pit River Indians who had committed the massacre upon the emigrants about the time specified, and that the Modocs had nothing to do with it, nor were they within several miles of the scene.
"A broad, extensive valley of surpassing fertility, and thickly grown with luxuriant bunchgrass was discovered to the north of the lake, beyond the divide which separates the emigrant trail, some twenty miles. It is described to be larger than the Rogue River Valley, and admirably adapted to the grazing of numerous herds. By abandoning the old trail and striking over the northern slope of the great butte, the party obtained a full view of this delightful valley, with which they were very much charmed.
"The whole party returned in first-rate health and in fine spirits. They found a superabundance of elk, deer, bear and other game during their absence, and brought in the saddles of three or four bucks. The rain prevented them from hunting two days, but they did not suffer any lack of game from this cause."
San Francisco Bulletin, November 3, 1859, page 3
The Calapooia Indian "John" I am satisfied is not now this side of the mountains. He is much dreaded by the majority of the Klamath Lake tribe by reason of their having pointed him out as one of the murderers of the Ledford party last spring. The Indians here believe him to be in the vicinity of the Dalles.
Letter, Special Indian Agent Thomas Pyle to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Edward R. Geary, March 4, 1861; Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 19; Letters Received, 1861, No. 42.
I am induced to believe that this portion of the tribe that has been within our settlements this winter are well disposed towards the whites but are greatly in the minority in their own country or at least have little or no control over a portion of unfriendly Indians that do not visit our settlements except to commit unlawful depredations.
They acknowledge our right to arrest "John," who participated in no small degree in the murder of the Ledford party, but dread an unsuccessful attempt, as it would greatly exasperate him and his party and cause him to vent his spleen upon them, our informants, who are but poorly armed & munitioned for hostilities.
Letter, Special Indian Agent Thomas Pyle to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Edward R. Geary, March 9, 1861; Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 19; Letters Received, 1861, No. 47.
As to the probabilities of arresting "John," the murderer of Ledford, nothing has been developed since I last wrote you. If his whereabouts should come to my knowledge I shall try to arrest him.
Letter, Special Indian Agent Thomas Pyle to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Edward R. Geary, March 18, 1861; Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 19; Letters Received, 1861, No. 51.
Enclosed I send you vouchers of expenses for my last expedition in conducting those Indian women out of our country.
On the trip I saw George, the head chief of the Klamath Lakes. He is desirous of cultivating peaceful relations with the whites but says that John, the murderer of Ledford, has about fifteen men and will not permit a white man to pass through their country if he can help it with the force he now commands.
Letter, Special Indian Agent Thomas Pyle to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Edward R. Geary, May 15, 1861; Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 19; Letters Received, 1861, No. 96.
"La Lake's" conversation was to the effect that his tribe consists of about one hundred and fifty able-bodied men and some seven hundred and fifty including women and children. that so far as he was concerned his heart was right, that he was friendly disposed to the white men, but that "George" (an Indian recognized by some as the war chief of the Klamaths) and an Indian known as "Skookum John"--half brother to "La Lake"--were not disposed to be friendly at all times, nor did they care to cultivate friendly relations with the whites; that they were constantly trying to seduce from his control those of his people over whom they had any influence, and were planning his destruction. This he had no doubt they would have effected long ago, only that a portion of his people who were true to him had thus far succeeded in protecting him from their evil designs. . . .
"La Lake" charges the murder of the "Ledford party," so called, to a party of roving "Modocs." This murder was committed in the spring of  just at the outside of the settlements of this valley, and less than forty miles from this town. I am informed by Col. Keeler of this county that a full report of this massacre was mailed to the Supt. of Indians for this state at the time it transpired. Their bodies were found buried, carefully concealed in a thicket, with evident intentions of removing all traces of the foul deed. The opinion prevails here that the Klamaths were responsible for this outrage, and that "Skookum John" and "George," spoken of before, were of the party who committed the murder. The whole party having been killed, however, renders it impossible to fully identify the murderers. "George" wears a gold ring known to have belonged to one of the party, which has led to suspicion of him. "La Lake," however, says they had no hand in it.
Letter, Sub-Indian Agent Amos E. Rogers to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs William H. Rector, May 8, 1862. Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 20; Letters Received, 1862, No. 92.
Our whole community is a little nervous just at this time with reference to Indians. Absolute war in the region of the Klamath Lakes seems almost inevitable. Indeed I am of opinion that the presence of troops only in that region will prevent it. Indians coming from the reserve just at this time--their numbers and intent wholly unknown--could not fail to create some excitement in the present nervous condition of society. . . .
The Indians have all left the settlements with the exception of one family. These came to me today and said if there was about to be trouble at the lakes they did not want to go and asked permission of me to remain here. I have given them such permission on condition that they keep me well advised of matters occurring at the lakes, such as comes to their knowledge, and that they give no trouble or annoyance to the settlers. They tell me that "Skookum John," whom I mentioned in my letter of the 8th inst., was of the party that murdered Ledford & party in , and further that he is known to kill white men whenever a chance occurs that he can safely do it. He ("John") is known to be the acknowledged leader of the party now making the trouble at the lakes.
Letter, Sub-Indian Agent Amos E. Rogers to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs William H. Rector, May 15, 1862. Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 20; Letters Received, 1862, No. 92.
ARRIVAL OF THE TROOPS.--Captain Kelly's company of Oregon cavalry arrived at Camp Baker, near Phoenix, about noon, on Monday the 28th. They are a fine, orderly company of men, well mounted, and will be effective in any service that the government they love may require of them. The officers understand their duties and appreciate their position. Major Drew accompanies them. We welcome them, as the first installment of justice to Southern Oregon, and hope that, under their protecting patriotism the broad and fertile acres of the Klamath Lake Valley may be opened up to settlement and civilization.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 2, 1862, page 3
On the 3rd of September last I was ordered by Major Drew to proceed with a detachment of forty men of my company to "Little Butte Creek," Jackson County, with instructions to establish my camp there, to send out scouting parties to Rancheria Prairie and around that neighborhood, and to take up and bring into this camp all Indians found in the neighborhood.
Letter, Captain William Kelly to Sub-Indian Agent Amos E. Rogers, October 30, 1862. Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 20; Letters Received, 1862, enclosure to No. 261.
The troops went over on the 6th and established camp on Little Butte Creek. When I arrived at their camp on the evening of the 10th Capt. Kelly had but just returned from Big Butte & Rancheria Prairie, where he had been with a detachment of men to satisfy himself whether or not there were any Indians on this side of the mountain. He now went to the summit of the mountains between this valley and the lakes, but found no Indians, nor any traces of their having very recently been there. The summer road to Klamath Lakes is through this region. Some of the Indians had been in town and returned about two weeks previous. There had probably been none there since. Capt. Kelly's orders were to arrest and bring into camp all Indians that came within reach. I asked him if any measures had been taken to let the Indians know of this order. None that he was aware of. I conversed with settlers in the vicinity with reference to the conduct of the Indians as they passed to & from the lakes. The general feeling seemed to be that they were annoying. "Sometimes they left fences down as they passed through fields &c."; yet I could discover no feeling of alarm, nor any fear of the Indians beyond these put by annoyances. Miller I did not see. He was not at home, but I learned from some of his neighbors that he had frequently had little difficulties with the Indians about going through his fields &c., yet there was very little importance attached to it by them (the neighbors). . . .
I expressed a desire to Capt. Kelly to go to the lakes and see the Indians for the purpose of getting some explanations in regard to these rumors, as also to acquaint them with the determination to arrest any of them that came in, until these hostile demonstrations had been satisfactorily explained. Capt. Kelly was "very willing to take the trip" and "would march at a single day's notice if the Major would give the order and furnish two pack mules for the transportation of supplies." The Major had heretofore divulged that he was "not authorized to expend the money for transportation consequent upon such a trip."
I came home on the 12th and immediately called on Major Drew, repeated to him the substance of my conversation with Capt. Kelly and desired him to issue the order. The Major would not "trust forty men to go there." He "really believed the Indians were bent on mischief and were only making an opportunity to make demonstrations in earnest. If he sent "any it must be the whole company," but he "really saw no necessity for going there at present, and should refuse the escort." Under these circumstances I could do nothing but await future developments. No Indians, except now and then a straggler that did not seem to hail from any place, came in for more than a month. On or about the 20th Oct., "La Lake," "George" & "Long John" came to Rancheria Prairie with about forty of their tribe. A messenger at once came to Major Drew to know if they were all to be arrested. He gave an order, as he told me, that they had leave to hunt there for ten days.
Letter, Sub-Indian Agent Amos E. Rogers to Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs William H. Rector, November 17, 1862. Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 20; Letters Received, 1862, No. 265.
THE INDIANS.--Tyee George and Jack's band of Indians came from their country about two weeks ago, and have established their headquarters in Dead Indian Prairie. On the 27th ult., while on their way out, passing through the fields of farmers and throwing down fences, five or six of them went to the house of Mr. Bunyard, in the vicinity of Ashland, one caught him by the arm and another by the collar, and drawing knives threatened to kill him. Parties who were out hunting have been ordered to leave by the Indians, they claiming that country as their own. The carcasses of cattle found attest that the Indians are having plenty to eat at the expense of the farmers. It is also said that the Indians have taken possession of a settler's ranch and cabin on the prairie, during the owner's absence, and are making free use of his cooking stove and supplies. The citizens of the upper portion of the valley, many of whom have horses and cattle running in the Dead Indian country, intend presenting their grievances and petitioning the removing of the Indians. Sub-Agent Rogers informs us that he will lose no time in forwarding the petition, setting forth these facts to Col. Drew, who it is hoped will compel the Indians to leave that section, for the citizens are not likely to submit to being robbed and generally annoyed by the Indians without retaliating on them, and may thus provoke them to a declaration of war. If it is within the power, or means, of the authorities, the Indians should be sent to or beyond Fort Klamath, under the eye of the military.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 7, 1863, page 2
Old George is a stout, robust Indian rather above the ordinary size. He speaks good English and seems to be well versed in Indian diplomacy. He affects an almost unapproachable dignity, scarcely deigning to speak to a citizen when in the presence of an officer. I frequently attempted to get into conversation with him, hoping to gain some information regarding the traditions and customs of his people, but was as often repulsed by his haughty demeanor. As a diplomat, he undertook to gain the good graces of Col. Drew, hoping thereby to obtain the scepter over all the Indians in that vicinity. He commenced by informing the Colonel of the misdeeds committed at various times by his fellow aspirants; next, by returning property which the rascally subjects of his opponents had dishonestly and adroitly taken from his white friends. He returned one revolver, four stolen mules and one horse, the revolver and one mule being U.S. property. But Old George, like other mortals, must have his disappointments. Great was his indignation when he found that his disinterested honesty was not to be rewarded by "numerous" flour, beef and other ictas ["things"] suitable to the dignity of an aspiring prince.
"Klamath Lake," Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 7, 1863, page 7
San Francisco, Cal., Nov. 7th 1863.Captain,
I have the honor to submit, for the information of the genl. commanding, the following report of an inspection made in compliance with S.O. No. 232, dated Headquarters Dept. of the Pacific, Oct. 10th, 1863.
I was directed by this order to make a critical examination of everything which pertained to the military in the vicinity of Camp Baker and the new fort at Klamath Lake, Oregon, and also to inquire into certain reports adverse to the conduct of Lieut. Col. C. S. Drew, 1st Oregon Cavalry, who is now the commanding officer at Fort Klamath.
The report adverse to the conduct of Col. Drew, to which my attention was specially directed, emanated from Amos E. Rogers, U.S. Sub-Indian Agent, and are very voluminously set forth in copious extracts from his official letters to Mr. Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon.
The gist of these complaints is contained in the following propositions:
First: Col. Drew has located the new fort in the Klamath Lake Valley at a place where it can be of little or no service to the Indian Dept. in controlling the Indians, and of no utility to the military in protecting the citizens and emigrants from the hostile tribes that live in that section of the country.
Second: That Col. Drew has openly declared himself inimical to the policy of the Indian Dept. and has taken every opportunity to insult its dignity, weaken its power, lessen its influence and to destroy its authority.
In giving my opinion in regard to the first proposition, it is proper for me to state that the lateness of the season prevented me from making a personal examination of the country which surrounds the Klamath Lake Valley. The information which I obtained concerning this region was collected verbally from many individuals who have partly explored it, and from the official reports of those officers who have partly surveyed it.
I have conversed with some twenty persons living in and about Jacksonville and Yreka, all of whom seemed to have more or less personal knowledge of this country, although I found some difference with regard to their statements, the conclusion at which I have arrived is based upon that which I considered the best and most reliable information offered.
There can be no question as to the fitness of the place selected for this new fort, if the only considerations are the health of the troops and economy in their support. It also appears equally clear that as a strategic position, taken for the purpose of holding in subjection Indians that are considered hostile, it offers very many advantages.
Indeed, with the limited means at Col. Drew's disposal for the construction of a new fort in that section of the country, it is hardly possible that one could have been located which would have offered greater advantages and have secured like protection to emigrants and to citizens.
With regard to the second proposition, I have only to say that Col. Drew pronounces as wholly untrue the language which Sub-Agent Rogers has imputed to him.
Col. Drew claims that he has ever been willing and ready to cooperate with the sub-Indian agent whenever such cooperation would have added to the public safety, or have reflected credit upon either department.
I am of the opinion that no cause can be cited, at least I have heard of none where cooperation was refused, which if closely examined will draw censure upon Col. Drew's conduct or reflect indiscretion upon his judgment.
I have listened to many complaints against Col. Drew made by respectable citizens in Jacksonville, the complaints having reference to the manner in which the troops in that vicinity have been supplied, and to the persons who have supplied them.
After giving the subject that careful consideration which the cause demands, I could only arrive at the conclusion that the cause for complaint was more apparent than real.
The citizens understand but little with regard to the mode of supplying troops, therefore transactions which in themselves are strictly proper, and which save the government much unnecessary expense, excite their suspicion and call forth from them remarks which have not the slightest foundation in reason or fact, and this is more especially the case when a person whose political faith is a question with a portion of the community is in any way engaged in supplying troops.
I find in this case but one person, a Mr. Glenn, who is known in any contract against whom objection is made, and that on account of sympathies which it is said he has with the Rebellion.
This person, however, has taken the oath of allegiance and is in partnership with one whose Union sentiments none dare asperse.
With regard to Mr. Glenn's loyalty, Col. Drew has been the judge, and I have had no proofs offered to me which are sufficient to induce me to believe him disloyal.
Before closing these remarks with regard to the complaint of the sub-Indian agent and citizens against Col. Drew, it becoming upon me to state that I have not considered it necessary to mention in this report all the facts and all the statements, which have induced me to the conclusion I have formed. I trust I have given the matter a careful, thorough and impartial investigation. That there exists in the minds of a few a strong feeling, and in some cases honestly but nevertheless erroneously entertained, against Col. Drew, there can be no question. That petty jealousies, personal interests and party prejudice have had more or less to do with its formation, it would be folly for anyone to deny.
I have therefore endeavored to be guided by facts, and from these alone have I formed any conclusions.
Camp BakerCamp Baker, situated about eight miles from Jacksonville, consists of a few old log buildings now of no use to the government.
I would recommend that everything which is of any value, such as locks, windows and doors, be removed, and the rest be abandoned or left in charge of any person who will take care of it for the privilege of living in some of the houses and of using the remainder for any purpose he may desire.
"Fort Klamath"Fort Klamath, Oregon is situated 8 miles north of the waters of the upper Klamath Lakes. It is about 86 miles from Jacksonville by the new wagon road leading to it, about 20 miles south of the Rogue River and John Day turnpike, which runs from Jacksonville to the Boise mines, and about 50 miles north of the Southern Emigrant Road leading into Oregon. Near to where the post is located run all the trails leading from Yreka northward.
The fort is placed in the most beautiful and pleasant part of the valley. It has a southern exposure and is surrounded by wood and water in the greatest abundance.
The soil appears of a peculiar nature, but the luxuriance of the grass would seem to indicate that it was capable of producing grain and many of the vegetables in general profusion. It is my opinion that within a year or two cavalry will be as cheaply sustained at the place as it is now in the Rogue River Valley. It is claimed by many that there are at least six townships of good land in close proximity to the fort which holds out great inducements for settlers.
That it is quite cold in this vicinity during the winter is certain, its elevation being about 4000 feet above the sea. Still, the Indians say that the lake is seldom frozen over for more than a few weeks, and it is quite certain that they winter their stock but a few miles further south.
"Roads"The road from Jacksonville to Fort Klamath was made in about one month by Co. "C," 1st Cavalry, Oregon Vols., commanded by Capt. Wm. Kelly, who has been all the time on duty with the company, and 2nd Lt. D. C. Underwood, who has performed the duties of quartermaster and commissary. The road runs near Mount McLoughlin and is as good as could be expected. The work expended upon it shows that the men must have labored with more than ordinary industry to have finished it in so short a time. It is anticipated that soon a wagon road will be opened from the fort to the John Day turnpike north, and also to the Yreka wagon road south. It is my opinion that the fort can be supplied much more cheaply by the way of Yreka than it is now through Jacksonville.
Again the present location of the fort is on the old Nez Perce Indian trail leading from California to Snake River, and it is on the road from Yreka to the emigrant road leading from Fort Boise to the middle fork of the Willamette River, and it is also in the vicinity of the new wagon road leading up Rogue River to the Boise mines. It is more than probable that three times the amount of travel will pass these trails, and this road than will pass over the old emigrant road through the Modoc country. (The above is taken from a petition addressed to the Governor of Oregon, praying that he will use his influence that the new fort may not be removed.)
There can be but little reason to doubt that soon cavalry stationed at this fort will find roads in all directions, by which they can operate and hold in subjection the Indians in all the surrounding country.
"Buildings at Fort Klamath"NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 30; Miscellaneous Loose Papers 1850-1873. Drew murdered Tyee George on November 20, 1863, less than two weeks after this letter was written.
The buildings now in process of erection are being constructed under estimates and plans made by Col. Drew and approved at Dept. headqrs. Col Drew appears to be exercising the best of judgment in their location and the greatest economy in their plans. In the original plan the store house was found to be too small to answer the purpose of the quartermaster & commissary. It has accordingly been built 80 by 30 feet, which is quite small enough for a two-company post.
There is no estimate or plan yet made for a stable, and I would recommend that the stables be at once built. The carpenters are now at the fort, and they will work quite as cheaply, if not cheaper, during the winter than they will in the spring.
An office building for the comdg. officer and also for the office of the Q.M. & commissary should also be added to the original estimates.
"Quartermaster & Commissary Dept."Lieut. Underwood is the acting Q.M. & commissary. He, up to this time, has done the duties at both Camp Baker and Fort Klamath. This has to some extent made him responsible for property beyond his immediate control, inasmuch as the horses are this winter to be kept in Rogue River Valley, and a sufficient number of men to care for them. I recommend the responsibility be divided between two officers, one with the horses, and this at Fort Klamath, which Col. Drew has decided to order.
The business in these depts. has been conducted with economy. It is true that in all cases the usual mode of advertising for contracts has not been resorted to, but in every case, before supplies have been bought, authority for the purchase has been received from the headqrs. of the Dept. The dispatch necessary in building and supplying the new post would hardly allow the usual method of advertising in all cases, and it is very questionable, had this method been followed, if the government would have profited by it.
I therefore believe that although the course pursued has promoted some jealousy among the citizens, nevertheless the government has not been the loser.
The papers in these departments seem to be well kept and very well understood.
"Company 'C' Oregon Cavy."Company C numbers 79 men, rank and file. 76 of this number are present. The men appeared in good health, only 3 being sick at the time I inspected.
The arms and accoutrements were good, the clothing apparently new, and the company dismounted made a fine appearance. The horses are nearly all American and Oregon raised, in fine condition, and serviceable for any duty. These horses I inspected at Fort Klamath and in Rogue River Valley.
The company books are well kept, as well as the company property accounts.
The officers and men were in camp at the time I inspected, and just having moved and not yet being settled, there were allowances to be made for many things relative to official papers and records.
"Indians"Col. Drew thinks that about 10 miles south of the for there is a good place for an Indian reservation, and which, if selected, will place all of the surrounding Indians directly under the command of the fort.
Lalakes' tribe now live in this vicinity. The Indians have already given up to the troops several horses and one mule, showing that their presence is already felt and appreciated. I have little fears of murders on the emigrant road, where they are said usually to have occurred, if Fort Klamath is occupied by cavalry. During the winter the troops at Fort Klamath will hold completely at their mercy all the tribes in the vicinity of the Klamath Lake Valley.
I have the honorCaptain E. S. Purdy
To be, Captain,
Your obt. sert.
Jas. Van Voast
Capt. 9th Infty.
Asst. Adjt. Genl.
Dept. of the Pacific
Headquarters Department of the Pacific
San Francisco Nov. 10th 1863
OfficialHeadquarters Department of the Pacific
A. D. C.
San Francisco Nov. 12th 1863
Geo. Wright, Brig. Gen. U.S.A.
TYEE GEORGE ARRESTED.--On Thursday evening Town Marshal Banks arrested George, of the Klamaths, at the instance, we understand, of Col. Drew. Indian Sub-Agent Rogers had forwarded a petition, from the citizens of the upper portion of the valley, setting forth that George, with part of his faction of the Klamath Indians, had taken possession of the Dead Indian Valley, had driven off the settlers, threatened their lives, were destroying their property, etc., and asking that the Indians be removed. On receipt of the petition, the Colonel hastened to this place, and yesterday learning that George was in town, secured his arrest by the Marshal. Yesterday morning the prisoner was taken to Camp Baker by a guard of soldiers, where, we understand, he was to be tried by a court-martial.
George for some time has been aspiring to the war chieftaincy of the Klamaths, and undoubtedly has a commanding influence over full as many Indians as any other aspirant in the tribe. La Lake is called by the Indians the peace or squaw tyee, while George numbers among his followers the most insolent and dangerous men of the tribe. He last summer led his party, in connection with the Modocs, in an expedition against the Pit River Indians, and captured a number [of] squaws and horses.
There appears to be a general desire in this community that the result of the military examination will be hanging or shooting of George, but we doubt whether sufficient evidence can be found against him to hang him. On "general principles" they might hang him and try him afterwards, and there would be no complaint on the part of our citizens, but we hardly think that responsibility will be taken by the military authorities.
N.B.--Parties just returned from Camp Baker inform us that George was hanged about four o'clock. He is said to have confessed to having participated in the murder of the Ledford party (five persons), in the spring of 1859. He also said an Indian known as "Jack" was guilty of the same crime. The cavalry force have returned from Camp Baker to town, with Jack in custody. He will probably share the fate of George. The hideous wailing and moaning of the disconsolate and terror-stricken Indians is now being heard all around us. George evinced none of the stoical indifference for which the "noble savage" is so remarkable. He wept like a child.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 21, 1863, page 2
Office Superintendent Indian AffairsSir
Salem Oregon November 27th 1863
Your letters of Nov. 11th and Nov. 23rd instant, with their enclosures, have been received at this office.
My letter of 9th instant, which it is presumed you have received before this time, contains sufficient answer to the points raised in your letter of 11th instant. I will remark in addition, however, that it is your duty wherein your judgment the public welfare demands it to require the officer in command of the nearest military post to arrest and detain any Indian guilty of violation of law or refusal to submit to the authority of the Department.
The use of this power however is to be tempered on your part with mildness and discretion and must be so regulated as to inspire respect and good feeling among the Indians, not only toward the officers of the Indian Department but toward the whites generally.
It is equally your duty to require the military to arrest and confirm any white person guilty of infraction of the laws regulating intercourse with Indian tribes (especially the act of 30th June 1834) or who shall in any manner trespass upon the rights of the Indians. You are in fact by your official position a guardian alike of the rights of Indians and the rights of whites, and if the military officer in command should so far forget his duty as to refuse to cooperate with and assist you after having received a written requisition to do so, you will thereupon promptly report the facts to this officer. It is proper that I should say however, in view of recent occurrences detailed in your letter, that if you have reason to believe that the officer in command will cause an Indian to be hung, or will connive at or permit such hanging by other persons, without previous trial and condemnation in due course of law, it will be a violation of duty on your part to put him into the power of such officer for any purpose. These remarks are intended of course to apply only to a time of peace, such as now exists, and not to time of actual war, when the powers of military are much enlarged.
The action of Lieut. Col. Drew in hanging and Indian in time of peace, without trial, without indeed any charge of crime of a capital nature, after having notified the agent that the Indian would be removed to Fort Klamath, and not having given any notice of his intention to do otherwise, is so extraordinary, so gross a violation not only of law but of the principles of right and the dictates of good policy, that I am reluctant to give credence to the whole statement, but am constrained to believe that you have misapprehended the facts, or have learned only a part of them. You are directed to make immediate inquiry as to the details of the action of Lieut. Col. Drew in the premises and report the same to this office without delay. Explicit information is particularly desired upon the points enumerated below, to wit:
1st Whether the Indian "George" was hanged by the order of Lieut. Col. Drew, or upon the order of some subordinate officer.
2nd Upon what charges was he hung? What was the accusation against him.
3rd Did Lieut. Col. Drew refuse to permit you to be present at the trial or investigation? Or were you ignorant that it was in contemplation to dispose of the case summarily.
4th Was there any trial? And if yes, before whom.
5th What has become of the Indian "Jack." Is he still in the hands of the civil authorities? And what are Lieut. Col. Drew's intentions toward him.
In addition to the above you will add such particulars as will throw light on the transaction.
In view of the fact that the Indians have all left Rogue River Valley, and are now at the lake, your presence at Jacksonville can no longer be required, and you will therefore lose no time in removing to the vicinity of Fort Klamath and remaining there during the ensuing winter. You will use your own discretion about the issues of flour and beef to which you refer in your letter of Nov. 23rd. No issues will be made which are not necessary, but your former letters have stated that the Indians could not live at the lakes without aid of that sort. If they can subsist themselves the office will be very much gratified to have them do so.
Mr. Lindsay Applegate is a gentleman well qualified by his long residence in the country, his acquaintance with those Indians and with Indian character generally, to render you valuable aid, and if his services as interpreter can be secured you will do well to employ him. Otherwise you are recommended to confer with him frequently and secure his influence with the Indians in the discharge of your duties as sub-agent.
I can see no occasion for your visiting this office at this time so urgent as to warrant you in remaining away from the Indian country. The "communications concerning the existing condition" of affairs in your district which you propose should be made by letter.
I take this opportunity to again remind you that your accounts ought to have been forwarded long since, and to call your attention once more to your mission to furnish my annual report.
Very respectfullyAmos E. Rogers Esq.
Your obt. servant
J. W. Perit Huntington
Supt. Indian Affairs in Oregon
U.S. Ind. Sub-Agent.
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 9; Letter Books H:10, pages 441-443.
The hanging of Tyee George, of the Klamaths, the arrest and discharge of Jack, a prominent siwash of the same tribe, and the subsequent removal of all the Indians in the settlements to the Klamath Lake country, have been for the past week the subject of very general comment in our community, and we therefore hope to be pardoned for filling a small space in our paper with even so mean a subject as "Indians."
On the eve of going to press on Friday evening last, persons just arrived from Camp Baker informed us that "George" had confessed to having participated in the Ledford massacre in 1859. This has been contradicted by a number of persons who were present at the execution, and we are therefore led to believe that he made no such confession. He received no trial whatsoever, Col. Drew having previously determined to hang him. On Thursday evening the Colonel met George on the streets of Jacksonville, and told him that he must go to Klamath Lake within three days. George refused to say whether he would go or not, but said he would see the Indian agent, and talk to the Colonel on the following day. Shortly after[wards] Lieut. Underwood met George and demanded an immediate answer from him as to whether he would go to the lakes or not. George insolently refused to talk with him on the subject, and in consequence was arrested. The next morning Agent Rogers inquired of Col. Drew what he intended to do with George, and the Colonel replied that he intended to "make a good Indian of him before night." On being asked by the Agent as to whether his presence and testimony would be required, the Colonel gave a negative answer, and further said that George was in his hands, and he would take the responsibility of disposing of him. At about 9 o'clock George was taken from the guardhouse by a squad of Col. C soldiers and conveyed to Camp Baker. He was then notified of his fate, but he appeared to think it impossible they would hang him. Col. Ross, acting as interpreter, asked if he had anything to say, and George commenced his confession, which, we are told, amounted to nothing more than charges against others. He especially insisted that Jack was a worse Indian than he was. A party of soldiers and Indians were then sent after Jack, and proceedings were postponed, with the design, probably, of hanging them both at once. Four o'clock p.m. arriving and Jack not being found, George was "strung up," and when pronounced dead, the assembled witnesses dispersed, the cavalry returning to town, with Jack in custody. Thus has perished George, tyee of a faction of the Klamaths. Having no trial, he was convicted of no crime, but the convictions of the people, both civil and military, were strongly against him, as a "bad Indian." He but lately came in from Fort Klamath, evidently soured and embittered against old Tyee La Lake and the soldiers. In conversation with Agent Rogers he was impudent and defiant. His subsequent conduct in driving settlers and others from the Dead Indian country indicated that he was in a mood for war and murder. The country is well rid of him no matter how taken off, but the policy of hanging him appears to us a little doubtful. It would be in keeping with Indian custom for them to retaliate by murdering an unsuspecting white man whom chance may throw in their power, but as George was believed to be in a murdering mood the risk is probably not increased.
The Indians have all gone from the settlements, and we shall probably be troubled with them no more. They will be gathered and compelled to remain on a reservation, the boundaries of which are described in an advertisement in this paper. There may they hunt and fish, until God, in His wisdom, sees fit to people the country with a better race.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 28, 1863, page 2
ANOTHER NOTORIOUS INDIAN KILLED.--One day this week, the noted Indian "Skookum John" was killed at Fort Klamath by Captain Kelly, and other officers of Company C, under the following circumstances: Early on Saturday morning last Col. Drew dispatched a courier to Capt. Kelly, commanding at Fort Klamath, with an order to arrest Skookum John, should he venture about the fort, as he had recently done. The courier's horse failed him on the mountains, but, nothing daunted, the soldier unsaddled his horse, headed him for Jacksonville, and then continued his journey to the fort on foot with all possible dispatch, very fortunately arriving there before the Indians in that vicinity had received any notice of the hanging of George at Camp Baker. Captain Kelly read the order, and reflecting that, in as much as Skookum John had by his very prepossessing exterior and general good and pleasant behavior become a favorite with the soldiers, he determined to take the smallest possible chance of the wily victim receiving the least intimation of what was in the wind. He therefore at once called on Lieut. White and several noncommissioned officers to procure their pistols, as he required their assistance alone in making the arrest. They found John in an Indian camp, close by the fort. He was called to one side, and the Captain, addressing him, said: "I have come to arrest you, sir." John at once attempted to draw his revolver, but, quick as a flash, the soldierly Captain sent a bullet through his breast. The savage staggered, but still desperately essayed to draw his weapon, when Sergeant Underwood gave him a shot in the head that brought him down, and another shot from a third person stretched him bleeding and dying upon the ground, but even then nervously grasping the death-dealing revolver.
Skookum John was one of the most noble-looking, intelligent and daring Indians on this coast. He has been a terror to his own tribe. While they all hated him he had them so cowed that they dared not attempt to arrest or kill him. La Lake, chief of the tribe, and John's uncle, says he was the chief Indian of the five who murdered the Ledford party, and all Indians questioned on the subject corroborated that testimony. He has always been a bloodthirsty advocate of war, but had no influence with the tribe, because of his murderous cruelty to any one of them who incurred his displeasure. He would leave his own tribe and join the Modocs whenever emigrants were expected. Old Mary says he secured a buckskin bag full of gold and silver watches, bowie knives, razors, etc. by those murdering and thieving expeditions.
The news of the killing of Skookum John was received with a general exclamation of joy by our people. He is the fourth Indian who has met a violent, retributive death for the diabolical murder of five confiding, helpless white men. The fifth and last is still at large. He is unknown to the whites, but Indians say he has lately been with La Lake's band, but it is not likely that he can at present be found.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 28, 1863, page 2
Jacksonville OregonHon J. W. P. Huntington
Dec. 2nd 1863
I have seen Mr. Rogers' correspondence with you, and notwithstanding he has said to you that it was possible, and that he desired to remove and remain at the Klamath Lake the coming winter, yet I feel constrained to say it would be very imprudent and even personally unsafe for him to do so. As he has believed it to be necessary to the good of the service, he has determined to risk it against the advice of friends. Since the hanging of Indian "George," the arrest of "Jack" and the shooting of "Skookum John" and the consequent impression made upon the mind of the Indians and sought to be made in regard to the agent and his authority, the case to my mind scarcely admits of a doubt. In fact it seems to me that the proceeding was calculated to impress upon the mind of the Indians that the gravest of the offenses for which he suffered death was that he attempted to recognize that the agent had any authority at all.
The Col. [Drew] actually appears to ignore the agent, his authority and that of the whole department and to treat as a usurpation and a crime the mere claim of it in any shape.
There is a dreadful state of affairs here, and some incredible things have transpired which could only be known by a personal interview with the agent. The war made upon him is so bitter, and the spirit manifested so reckless and malicious, there is in my candid opinion no judging to what extreme lengths it might be carried towards him. There is traitors in this combination against him as dark-hearted as any in Quantrill's band--in fact of the same breed and the same stripe. There is no telling, I say again, what might happen to the agent under this most unfortunate train of circumstances.
I believe that before any investigation into the hanging is had that the agent ought to be ordered to report in person to your office.
I hope you will excuse me for appearing to advise, and permit me to say again that I positively believe--yea, I know--Rogers should be ordered immediately to your office.
In hasteP.S. Mr. Rogers has received yours of the 27th ult. James T. Glenn only a few moments ago confessed to Rogers, in my presence, that George positively had no trial of any kind whatever. He also stated that he was the man who took down the Indian's testimony, which was published in the Intelligencer. [That issue of the Intelligencer, along with George's testimony, is now lost.]
Your most respectfully &c.
E. L. Applegate
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 21; Letters Received, 1863-1865, no number.
ANOTHER CHIEF DISPOSED OF--Jacksonville papers report that Skookum John, a noted Indian desperado, was killed last week at the Klamath Fort in the following manner. An order was sent to Capt. Kelly by Col. Drew for his arrest, and the Captain, on receiving it at once called on Lieut. Waite and several noncommissioned officers to procure their pistols, as he required their assistance alone in making the arrest. They found John in an Indian camp, close by the fort. He was called to one side and the Captain, addressing him, said, "I have come to arrest you, sir." John at once attempted to draw his revolver, but, quick as [a] flash, the soldierly Captain sent a bullet through his breast. The savage staggered, but still desperately essayed to draw his weapon, when Sergeant Underwood gave him a shot in the head that brought him down, and another shot from a third person stretched him bleeding and dying upon the ground, but even then nervously grasping the death-dealing revolver. The Sentinel says:
Skookum John was one of the most noble-looking, intelligent and daring Indians on this coast. He has been a terror to his own tribe. While they all hated him, he had them so cowed that they dared not attempt to kill him. La Lake, chief of the tribe, and John's uncle, says he was the chief Indian of the five who murdered the Ledford party, and all Indians questioned on the subject corroborate that testimony. He has always been a bloodthirsty advocate of war, but had no influence with his tribe, because of his murderous cruelty to any one of them who incurred his displeasure. He would leave his own tribe and join the Modocs whenever emigrants were expected. Old Mary says he secured a buckskin bag full of gold and silver watches, bowie knives, razors, etc., by those murdering and thieving expeditions.
The news of the killing of Skookum John was received with a general exclamation of joy by our people. He is the fourth Indian who has met a violent, retributive death for the diabolical murder of five confiding, helpless white men. The fifth and last is still at large. He is unknown to the whites, but Indians say he has lately been with La Lake's band but it is not likely that he can at present be found.
Oregonian, Portland, December 3, 1863, page 2
Office Supt. Ind. AffairsSir
Salem Ogn. Dec. 8th 1863
I have been permitted to read a private letter from you to Hon. J. W. Drew of this place, in which you state that the Indian "George," needlessly hanged by Lieut. Col. Chas. S. Drew at Camp Baker, made no confession of having been guilty of murder of white men, had no trial &c. &c.
In order to arrive at a full understanding of this matter it is desirable to ascertain just what took place at and before the hanging, and you will if possible procure sworn statements of credible persons who were present, of the details, and especially as to what proof was had either by confession or testimony of others of the criminality of "George."
These statements should be brief, explicit and include no unnecessary verbiage.
Very respectfullyAmos E. Rogers Esq.
Your obt. servt.
J. W. Perit Huntington
Supt. Ind. Affrs. in Oregon
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 9; Letter Books H:10, page 453.
PARTICULARS OF KILLING OF "SKOOKUM JOHN."--Skookum John, a noted Indian desperado, was killed recently at Klamath Fort, in the following manner: An order was sent to Capt. Kelly by Col. Drew for his arrest, and the Captain, on receiving it, at once called on Lieut. White and several non-commissioned officers to procure their pistols, as he required their assistance alone in making the arrest. They found John in an Indian camp, close by the fort. He was called to one side, and the Captain, addressing him, said: "I have come to arrest you, sir." John at once attempted to draw his revolver, but, quick as [a] flash, the soldierly Captain sent a bullet through his breast. The savage staggered, but still desperately essayed to draw his weapon, when Sergeant Underwood gave him a shot in the head that brought him down, and another shot from a third person stretched him bleeding and dying upon the ground, but even then nervously grasping the death-dealing revolver. The Jacksonville (Southern Oregon) Sentinel says:
"Skookum John was one of the most noble-looking, intelligent and daring Indians on this coast. He has been a terror to his own tribe. While they all hated him he had them so cowed that they dared not attempt to arrest or kill him. La Lake, chief of the tribe, and John's uncle, says he was the chief Indian of the five who murdered the Ledford party, and all Indians questioned on the subject corroborate that testimony. He has always been a bloodthirsty advocate of war, but had no influence with his tribe, because of his murderous cruelty to any one of them who incurred his displeasure. He would leave his own tribe and join the Modocs whenever emigrants were expected. Old Mary says he secured a buckskin bag full of gold and silver watches, bowie knives, razors, etc. by those murdering and thieving expeditions. The news of the killing of Skookum John was received with a general exclamation of joy by our people. He is the fourth Indian who has met a violent, retributive death for the diabolical murder of five confiding, helpless white men. The fifth and last is still at large. He is unknown to the whites, but Indians say he has lately been with La Lake's band, but it is not likely that he can at present be found."
San Francisco Bulletin, December 17, 1863, page 3
Office Indian AffairsSir
Northern Dist. Cal.
Yreka March 2nd 1864
I have the honor to report that on the 14th ult. the Klamath Lake Indians with their chief Lalakes, the Modocs with their chief Schonchin, the Shastas with Josh & Park their chiefs, the Scotts Valley Indians with their chief John and the Hamburg Indians with their chief Jim met me in council near Yreka for the purpose of arranging their difficulties among themselves and arranging terms with the whites.
Upon my entering upon the discharge of the duties of my office these Klamath Lake & Modoc Indians were making preparation for war and exhibiting hostile intentions which I then arranged by a temporary agreement as stated in a former report.
Since then owing to some of their warriors having been killed by the Shasta & Hamburg Indians within the lines of the white settlements, in retaliation for the supposed protection rendered the Shastas, the Klamath Lake & Modoc Indians commenced depredations by stealing the cattle of the frontier settlements, robbing travelers passing through their country and uttering threats of murders or war on the opening of the spring. In view of these demonstrations & threats Col. Drew arrested and caused to be executed an Indian commonly known as George and killed an Indian commonly known as "Skookum John," two very, very vicious and illy disposed chiefs, who were counseling war continuously. George had acquired some knowledge of the English language & fully comprehended the Civil War under which our unfortunate country is now suffering & he thought or professed to think that if all the Indians should unite they could kill off all the whites and retake the country!
The country of the Klamath Lakes & Modoc Indians is about equally divided by the line between the states of California & Oregon. the Shastas, Scotts Valley, Hamburg & Pit River Indians inhabit entirely within California. Owing to this fact and the fact that an unhappy difference existed between the agency at Jacksonville & the Military Department and in view of the impending danger to our citizens, I deemed it my duty to call the council, believing that if I could arrange a settlement among the Indians and thus relieve our citizens and authorities from the charge of molesting the Shastas in their depredations upon the Modocs & Klamath Lake Indians, I could arrange a permanent treaty with all for our benefit. The result is herewith transmitted with a hope that my acts in the premises will meet with approval.
The expense to the government was but a trifle, as nothing but two pairs of blankets were given in presents, and the Indians fed as also their horses during the conference.
I have faith to believe that this conference has saved the country from a bloody war with a numerous band of Indians inhabiting the western slope of the [Sierra] Nevada Mountains in Northern California & Southern Oregon.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I have the honor to be yourTo
Most obedient servant
Late Agt. Ind. Affairs N.W. Cal.
Hon. Wm. P. Dole
NARA Series M234 Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs 1824-81, Reel 614 Oregon Superintendency, 1864-1865, frames 589-592. Click here for text of Steele's Valentine's Day Treaty.
REMOVAL.--Rogers of Department [of Indian Affairs] notoriety of this place is about to be removed, and sent to Humboldt County, Cal., where he can engage himself extensively in persecuting U.S. officers for killing innocent Indians like George, who never murdered over a dozen white men, women and children.
Oregon Intelligencer, Jacksonville, May 7, 1864, page 3
Indian have a reputation, high and unenviable, for treachery and cunning. Certain Klamaths--one notably--vindicated their claim to it on both counts in the instance I am about to relate. A squad of braves belonging to the tribe mentioned, with a warrior called Skookum (strong) John at its head, killed five white men, constituting a surveying party. The people of Jacksonville, Or. demanded that the murderers be given up to them. This very Skookum John (who was not known to the citizens to be one of the offenders) appeared to treat for the tribe, when the following dialogue ensued:
Citizen--"We want you to bring us the Indians who killed those five white men."
Skookum John--"Mebby they no come. Mebby they fight. Mebby me have to kill 'um."
Citizen--"Well, then, kill them."
S.J.--"Mebby when me come say me kill 'um, you no believe me. Mebby you think me lie. You want me bring 'um here?'
S.J.--"Well, then, bring me their heads here."
The citizens agreed, and off went Skookum John.
Now there is a feeble branch of the Klamaths, called the Olallies, or Berry Eaters, who live constantly in the mountains. John the Strong musters the squad of Klamaths whose necks are in peril, climbs the mountains and persuades five of the Olallies to go hunting with him. The Klamaths then fell upon them, killed them, cut off their heads, and took them to Jacksonville, where they were received by the citizens as payment in full of their account against the Klamaths. This was late in the fall, and the snows shut the Olallies up in their mountains all winter. So it was not till spring that the people of Jacksonville found out how they had been duped by Skookum John.
E. G. Marne, "Lodge and Border," Cincinnati Daily Gazette, November 30, 1878, page 8
The event of the hanging of this Indian, Tyee George, on the nineteenth of November, 1863, is well remembered in Jackson County, and with its attendant circumstances has there become one of the principal romances of the time. Some Klamaths sought and obtained from their agent, [Amos E.] Rogers, nicknamed "Sugar Foot," permission to reside on the west side of the Cascades. They came in small numbers, their chief men being George and Jack, and made themselves at home, roaming at will over the land and somewhat disturbing the settlers. They were said to have threatened individuals' lives, shot cattle, thrown down fences, and committed divers other misdemeanors. In consequence of these charges, George, who was indiscreet enough to come to town, was arrested in Jacksonville, and immediately delivered over to Charles Drew, commanding the volunteers at Camp Baker. Here his doom was speedily met: for by an unexampled stretch of arbitrary authority, the man in command ordered the Indian's execution at once, and he was hanged in the presence of the soldiery, without the least delay. Jack escaped death, and with the most of his people hastened to safer fields, leaving George's mother, Old Mary, to enact her part in this little but sorrowful drama, by burying her son where he now lies, by the side of her own humble wickiup, and kindling upon his grave the sacred fire that in the beautiful Indian superstition is supposed to guide the wandering soul to the islands of the blessed. Poor old Mary is still known in Jacksonville where her woes and maternal devotion have raised up sympathizing friends; and poetry has lent its aid to make memorable an episode resembling that of Rizpah and her sons, described in the scriptures.
A. G. Walling, History of Southern Oregon, 1884, page 347
THE LAST ACT IN THE ROGUE RIVER INDIAN WARS.
By Merritt Bellinger, Medford, Pioneer 1853
In April  occurred the Ledford massacre, the last of the tragedies of the Indian wars of the Rogue River Valley. It occurred at Rancheria Prairie at the head of Big Butte Creek and consisted in the murder of five white men by some Indians of the Klamath tribe, who were camping at that place at the time. The party consisted of Eli Ledford and J. Brown of Jacksonville, and S. F. Conger, W. S. Probst and James Crow of Butte Creek, and they set out to cross the Cascade Mountains eastward to the Klamath Lake country. They were mounted and provided with arms and proceeded up Big Butte on a trail that had not been traversed thus far during the season. They were not subsequently seen alive by any white man, and their fate was only discovered through the merest chance.Sketch of Tyee George and Skookum John
On the 4th of May following, Indian Agent Abbott with a small party set out from Jacksonville for his station among the Klamaths and followed the trail of the Ledford party up to a point in the mountains where the snow prevented further progress. It was seen that the Ledford party had also been stopped by the snow and had turned back. Abbott and his party turned back and followed the trail of the Ledford party until it ended at the Indian rancheria or camp. Abbott found its deserted bark cabins burned. The indications showed that the five men had been murdered. Four of their horses were found dead, having been taken to a thicket, tied to a tree and then shot. Abbott and his men returned to Jacksonville and reported the probable murder of the Ledford party.
A company of thirty men with John Hillman and Henry Klippel as leaders set out for the scene of the massacre and after considerable search found the bodies of Ledford's four companions hidden in a thicket and covered with brush and trash. Their throats had been cut and by the character of the wounds and bruises upon them it was plain that they had been killed as they slept. Ledford's body was afterwards found at some distance away. The Indian murderers had fled and left no trace as to their whereabouts. They were sought for far and wide but without success. It is thought that they had gone into hiding in the prairies above Flounce Rock until the snow had melted, allowing of their escape across the mountains to their own country. The search had lasted a month, when the searchers disbanded and left for their homes.
A close watch was kept of the Indians, and in after years suspicion fastened upon several prominent Klamaths, among them a war chief, Skookum John, who was killed at Fort Klamath in November 1863 by Captain Kelly and Sergeant Underwood while they were trying to arrest him. Two others, who were supposed to have had something to do with the massacre, met with violent deaths and finally the last, as supposed, of the suspected braves [was] wiped out of existence at Camp Baker near Phoenix, at about the same time that Chief John was shot at Fort Klamath. The hanging of the Indian Tyee George, on the 19th of November, 1863, is well remembered in Jackson County, and with its attendant circumstances [has] become one of the principal romances of pioneer days.
During 1863 some Klamaths sought and obtained from their agent, Rogers, nicknamed Sugar Foot, permission to reside on the west side of the Cascades. They came in numbers to the Rogue River Valley, their chief men being Tyee George and Captain Jack, and they made themselves at home, roaming at will over the valley and seriously disturbing the settlers. They were said to have threatened the lives of individuals, shot cattle, and to have thrown down fences and committed other depredations.
The settlers were so annoyed by these Indians that a clash with them was imminent, and it was determined to force them back to their home in the Klamath country. This was undertaken by Colonel Drew, then in command of the Oregon volunteers stationed at Camp Baker. This camp was located in a fine oak grove and prairie on Coleman Creek a mile west of the present town of Phoenix. Tyee George and Captain Jack were the leaders of these marauding bands of Indians, and they were ordered to leave Rogue River Valley. Jack, who at the time was camped at a rancheria at the foot of and to the southwest of Roxy Ann Butte, made no reply to the notice sent him by Colonel Drew, but George, who was stopping with his mother who was residing with some Rogue River Indians at their rancheria located on the hill just back of where now stands the Sisters Academy of Jacksonville, sent word for Colonel Drew to go to hell. This insulting answer and the fact that more proof had been recently secured that George had taken part in the Ledford massacre made Colonel Drew resolve to hang this worthless Indian. The new proof found against George was that he had at Yreka traded to a white man a ring that was recognized as belonging to one of the Ledford party.
On the evening of November 18 Colonel Drew sent a detachment of soldiers to George's camp. He was taken by surprise and made no fight. He was taken downtown and guarded that night, and early next morning he was taken to Camp Baker; a large number of men of Jacksonville went with the party to Camp Baker. I was then living on my farm a mile and a half out from Jacksonville on the stage road that led by Camp Baker. On seeing the soldiers pass with their prisoner I saddled my horse and accompanied the party to the camp. We arrived there about 10 o'clock that forenoon, and George was placed in the center of the camp with a strong guard around him. George was a big, athletic Indian fully six feet in height and about 30 years old. He acted like a wild lion just caged that day, for he was not still a moment from the time he was brought to camp until he was taken to the place for execution. He constantly walked about, watching every move of the soldiers and of the crowd of angry settlers that had gathered at the camp, and the desperate look on his face showed that at the least chance he would make a break for liberty, but the soldiers had their loaded rifles ready for instant use and George had to await his fate.
At the time that Colonel Drew sent the detachment to Jacksonville to arrest Tyee George he sent another detachment to capture Captain Jack, for it had been determined to hang both of them for taking part in the Ledford massacre and for the depredations that they had committed since the massacre upon the settlers of Rogue River Valley. They had been repeatedly warned to leave the valley but refused to do so. Jack was known to be at an Indian rancheria located near a big spring on Clark Taylor's donation claim, just south of Roxy Ann Butte, then known as Skinner's Butte. Either [by] Indian spies or by signals to him by smoke by the other Indians Jack learned of the coming of the soldiers and fled, and got himself on the other side of the mountains never to return to Rogue River Valley again, for if he had he would have been shot or hung. Had Jack been captured at this time it is probable that the Modoc Indian War fought in 1872 and of which Captain Jack was the leader and chief instigator would have never occurred. For his part in this war Jack was hung at Fort Klamath, so his escaping the hanging bee at Camp Baker only postponed for a time his stretching hemp.
The soldiers who had gone to round up Jack, finding that he had fled, returned to camp about 2 o'clock that afternoon, and at once preparations were made for the hanging of George, which took place at 3 o'clock. No trial was given George, and he was hung on a military order issued by Colonel Drew. Among the fine old oaks that were on the camp ground was one with a large horizontal limb about fifteen feet from the ground. Over this a rope was passed, one end made fast to the tree and the other end was left hanging with with the noose ready for George's neck. A box was placed in a wagon, and upon it George was made to stand. The wagon was then by a team hauled under the limb of the oak, the noose adjusted about George's neck, and then driven on leaving the Indian hanging in the air. His hands had been tied behind his body, but his feet were not tied nor was he blindfolded. As he swung off the box the rebound of his body brought him near the tree and he threw his legs around it. He held this way but a moment when the strangulation on his neck caused his muscles to relax and his legs released the tree and his body swung by the rope, and after a few struggles he was dead.
Indians condemned to die usually maintain a stolid disdain and make no plea to be spared, but George begged frantically for his life as he was being placed upon the wagon and saw no chance of escape. From the defiant, desperate attitude that he had maintained up to the hour of his execution he broke down entirely and promised to be a good Indian, but Colonel Drew and all the other whites felt that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, so no heed was paid to George's promises. As George mounted the box upon the wagon he saw in the crowd of settlers Colonel John E. Ross and with tears filling his eyes he piteously implored the colonel to save his life. Colonel Ross stepped forward and took George by the hand and bid him goodbye, saying as he did so, with tears in his eyes, "George, I cannot save you, for Colonel Drew knows that you helped kill the Ledford party, and he is mad and you must hang." The reason for Colonel Ross feeling so kindly toward George was that in the Rogue River Indian Wars, in which he took part, George had acted as guide and servant for him. George was then a bright boy above the average in intelligence of the Indians and, being true to the whites, Colonel Ross had become much attached to him and tried to make a civilized man of him and a good citizen, but the efforts of the kindly old colonel were of no avail. As to who was George's father the whites never knew, but his mother was known as Indian Mary. Mary came among the whites when the first settlement was made at Jacksonville and lived there until her death about twenty years ago. During all the Indian wars and even after her son had been hung she remained a true friend of the whites. While she mourned deeply the death of her son, yet she said he had killed white men and deserved to be punished. She did washing and housecleaning for the white women and being a kindly, motherly old woman, honest and industrious, she was much respected by all who knew her. She said bad Indians were the cause of the downfall of her boy. After George had left Colonel Ross he got to roving about the country with a band of Modocs and soon fell into their thieving, marauding ways.
A number of Indians had come to Camp Baker to see what was to be done with George, and as they saw the rope placed about his neck they gave a dreadful howl and fled from the camp. His mother was there, and with some of his Indian friends remained near the camp overnight. The next morning George's body was given to her, and at about 8 o'clock they passed my house on their way to their camp at Jacksonville, having the body of George lashed on a pack horse. Arriving at their destination they built a big log heap and on it placed the body of George and then set fire to it. Just why they burned George's body I never learned, for the usual custom of the Rogue River Indians was to bury their dead.
Rogue River Fruit Grower, March 1909
INDIAN WAR "VET" BURIED
Cyrus Henton Laid to Final Rest at Laurel, Oregon.
HILLSBORO, Or., Feb. 13.--(Special.)--The funeral of Cyrus Henton, Indian war veteran, was held here yesterday, and burial was made at Laurel, eight miles south of this city. Mr. Henton was born in Missouri in 1843 and came to Oregon in 1852 with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Henton, who settled three miles northeast of Hillsboro. Of his immediately family, all are dead excepting one brother, Smith Henton, of Beaverton.
He enlisted in William Kelly's company, Oregon First Regiment Mounted Volunteers, March 10, 1862, at Fort Vancouver. While in the service he was camped at Forts Baker and Klamath, and was present when Colonel Drew hanged Cayuse George, who was implicated in the Ledford massacre. Henton carried a message to Captain Kelly, ordering the arrest of Skookum John, who was also a leader in the Indian atrocities, and but for Henton and his comrades the Indian would have killed Kelly.
Oregonian, Portland, February 14, 1911, page 8
Two Desperate Indian Outlaws Whose Tragic Deaths Occurred
the Same Day, Though a Hundred Miles Apart
Written Several Years Ago by the Late W. J. Plymale
Since the hanging of Tyee George at Camp Baker in 1863 has been made the subject of so much comment and given rise to such diversity of opinion regarding the order for his execution, the justice or injustice of the proceeding can only be understood and appreciated by a recital of the facts and circumstances which led up to it.
George was an intelligent Indian, large, powerful and aggressive, and had little respect for the authority of the whites and less for their personal and property rights. He was independent, captious and defiant, and considered to be a character dangerous to rebuke or oppose in his designs. Unlike the ordinary Indian, he possessed the faculty of accommodating himself largely to circumstances. He could be a courteous and considerate diplomat, suave and deferential, or the veriest outlaw and marauder, roving the country, killing stock, intimidating settlers and making himself generally a bad man. Up to the massacre of the Ledford party no specific charge of murder had been made against him.
In April, 1859, a party consisting of Eli Ledford, S. F. Conger, James Crow, W. S. Probst and John Brown started from the valley to cross the Cascades for the purpose of looking over the [Klamath] Lake country. They took the Rancherie trail, and in going up the mountain soon came to where the snow was so deep they were unable to proceed farther, and they returned to Rancherie Prairie and camped. Some time during the night they were murdered, apparently while asleep. About a month afterwards, in May, Indian Agent Hi Abbott, with a small party, left Jacksonville to assume his duties among the Klamaths. They followed the trail of the Ledford party and passing up the mountain some distance beyond the point reached by that party finally encountered snow too deep to go farther and returned to Rancherie. While there they discovered the Indian camp had been burned, and certain camping odds and ends aroused them to believe that something serious had happened to the Ledford party. Abbott and his men, anxious that their suspicions should be investigated, returned to Jacksonville and related what they had seen. Henry Klippel and John Helman, two prominent young men, quickly raised a company of thirty and went out to investigate the matter. On arriving at the scene, search was at once instituted and four horses belonging to the murdered party were found tied to trees and shot. Further search discovered the bodies of Conger, Crow, Probst and Brown buried a short distance away in a thick clump of underbrush. Their throats had been cut and their bodies bruised and mutilated and showing every evidence of savage brutality. Ledford's body was not found. It was supposed he had been wounded and escaped in the mountains and died.
The party remained there something like twenty days patrolling the country, with a view to the discovery of some clue to the murderers, but so completely had they covered their tracks and gone into hiding that nothing further than suspicion resulted from the search.
This murder was committed after the close of the Indian wars, when the Indians had all been removed upon reservations.
The agent at Klamath frequently gave permission to Indians to leave the reservation and hunt and trap in the Cascades and foothills of Rogue River Valley, and many took the liberty of leaving without permission. There was little control over the Indians at that time, and they went pretty generally when and where they pleased. Tyee George and Skookum John were always defiant malcontents and roamed at will from Pitt River to Walla Walla, but mainly between Klamath Lake and the mountainous Elk Creek country about the heads of the North and South Umpquas. They were a law unto themselves and brooked neither authority nor restraint from any source. Later, and after the establishment of Fort Klamath, more authority was exercised over the Indians. The agent had the military at the fort to enforce his commands, and they were obliged in some measure to obey.
Some time before the arrival of Tyee George, Indian Agent Rogers had given permits to George and several others to leave the reservation for an extended hunt to the mountains. George was of course the leader and controlling spirit of the party. They crossed the Cascades and ranged mostly along the low hills of the valley, where they became a great annoyance to isolated citizens. There were many stockmen and settlers in the outskirts, and complaints were constantly coming in that the Indians were insolent and overbearing and were trespassing upon them and killing their stock. Finally appeal was made to Colonel C. S. Drew at Camp Baker to compel the Indians to leave the valley and go east of the mountains. The colonel met George a short time afterwards and told him of the complaints, and directed him to take his Indians and go at once to the reservation. George informed him that he and those with him had permits from the agent to hunt and fish in the foothills, and that if he, Drew, would attend to his soldiers, he, George, would take care of his Indians. This offended Colonel Drew, and he said to George: "If you don't quit terrorizing the settlers and killing their stock, and take your band and go back to the reservation, I will hang you. Now obey my order or take the consequences." George shrugged his shoulders and went away, but with no thought of respecting the command. The order was no doubt inspired as much by the colonel's dislike of Agent [Amos E.] Rogers for his lax methods of dealing with the Indians as his desire to get rid of George and the complaints concerning him.
Suspicion had long rested upon George and Skookum John as being the chief actors in the massacre of the Ledford party. John was a powerful and desperate character and more dangerous and daring, if possible, than George, and his suspicion, through certain facts which had come to light, had crystallized in the public mind into a conviction that these two men were responsible for the murder, if they did not actually participate in it. Yet the evidence against them was so general in character that it would have been insufficient in any court of justice to have convicted them of the crime.
George paid no attention to the order of Colonel Drew and remained with his comrades in the foothills. Complaints continued to come in from the settlers, and Colonel Drew ordered his soldiers to arrest George the first opportunity. Some time after November 18, 1863, George went to Jacksonville and was immediately arrested by volunteers who happened to be in town. He was confined overnight and the next day taken to Camp Baker. Upon his arrival there a short consultation was held among the officers, when the order came from Colonel Drew to hang George at once. A pair of mules was hitched to a wagon, a goods box placed in the bed, the condemned man pinioned and lifted on the box, a rope put around his neck, and with two men holding him, the wagon was driven just outside the parade ground, the rope thrown over the limb of a tree, the wagon driven from under him, and all that was mortal of Tyee George was left suspended in the air. This summary execution gave rise to much severe and adverse criticism, while many endorsed and applauded the act. It must be understood that there was no specific charge against George. He was arrested upon no indictment or information, arraigned before no judge or magistrate, had neither attorney, judge nor jury, and was not court-martialed, but hanged solely upon his reputation as a vicious character and a menace to the public. There appears to have been nothing to warrant this infliction of the death penalty, no condition of affairs that would justify it, and no excuse for the savage and unseemly haste with which the extreme order was carried into execution. In taking an unbiased retrospect of the matter after the smoke has cleared away, and all passion and prejudice have been eliminated, there is no position from which the action can be viewed that will relieve the officers who ordered his execution from the imputation of the most arbitrary and shameful exercise of power. The straight, undisguised English of the fact is that he was unwarrantly lynched under cover of military authority, and the barbarous proceeding cannot be otherwise fitly characterized. This will more fully appear when it is understood the civil courts were in no way under restraint, that they were free to act and open to investigate criminal charges and punish violations of law.
The government had decided to build a military post in the Klamath country, and had stationed a company of volunteers on the site selected. D. Linn had been awarded the contract for cutting the lumber and, later, of building the post. The mill had been in operation but a short time when George was hanged. A day or two prior to his execution word came to Colonel Drew from Klamath that a conspiracy had been set on foot by Skookum John and Tyee George to surprise and murder the volunteers and mill men, of whom there were about a hundred in all, scattered over a half mile square and living in tents. Upon receipt of his information the colonel dispatched a fast courier to Klamath with an order to arrest Skookum John at once. It was night when the messenger arrived, and John had not been seen about the camp during the day. The commandant, Captain Kelley, knew the desperate character of the man with whom he had to deal and knew that every precaution must be taken in making the arrest to avoid a clash and possible serious consequences. The Indian village was about six hundred yards east of the volunteers' quarters, and in order to learn John's whereabouts and make the arrest quietly before daylight, "Chalk Line" Cardwell, a reckless roustabout, who was in the habit of visiting the Indian camps at all hours during the night, was sent out to locate him. Before Cardwell returned, conversation was heard in a wigwam a short distance back of the captain's tent, which belonged to an old Indian and his squaw, who did chores about the quarters. Upon listening, Skookum John's voice was recognized among those who were talking. The captain detailed fifteen men, and with this guard he and Sergeant Underwood went to the wigwam. It was a winter hut, but the entrance to it was so small a man had to stoop low to get into it. The guard formed a semicircle around the door, and the captain and Underwood went in to make the arrest. There were six or seven Indians sitting around the little fire that burned in the center. On entering, Captain Kelley said, "John, I have orders to arrest you." John jumped to his feet, and seizing the captain around the throat said "No," at the same time reaching for his belt knife. He had been out on horseback during the day and had securely tied the knife in the scabbard to prevent losing it, and though he wrenched at it desperately he was unable to free it. While grappling with the captain, and resisting arrest in the most vicious manner, the captain drew his revolver and shot him. The shot took effect in the face, but too low down to check his resistance, and he continued to clutch for his knife and to endeavor to overcome the captain with his great strength. The sergeant grasped the dangerous situation and, reaching around the captain with his pistol, shot the infuriated man near the heart. His body pitched forward and fell on the little camp fire, and he died almost without a struggle. The other Indians rushed from the wigwam after the firing, only to be confronted by the guard at the door, who arrested them as they came out, chained them together and marched them to the rude log building that had been erected for a guard house. La Lake [also spelled Leylek or Lalek], the chief, who was friendly to the whites and opposed to war, was with the Indians in the wigwam reasoning with them and endeavoring to dissuade them from carrying into execution their plot to murder those at the camp and mill. As he was known to be a peaceable Indian with no evil designs against the whites, he was not arrested.
Fearful of what might result from the killing of Skookum John the commandant at Camp Baker issued an order requiring all Indians who had firearms to bring them to the quarters by the Saturday night following and deposit them with the captain, and the order forbade their coming in numbers exceeding twenty. The order also warned all who refused to do so that they would be arrested and hanged. It was necessary under this iron-clad and double-riveted order that the Indians should be notified. How best and most safely to do it, in the excited condition of the Indians, was the question. In consultation with La Lake, he expressed the wish to send Celia [also spelled Celie], a sister of Tyee George, who like her brother was a cordial hater of the whites and, like him, brave and fearless. Celia was summoned, and on being informed by the chief of the mission upon which he designed to send her, she became at once violently angry and insulting and protested that she would be hanged on the nearest tree before being a party to a surrender so cowardly and humiliating. She denounced the chief as an old woman unfit to be at the head of the tribe, defied all authority and peremptorily refused to go. This was the same independent and daring spirit that had always been manifested by George. Celia said if she were the chief she would resist the order to the death and die fighting rather than surrender the rights and liberties of her people. Other couriers were sent out in her stead, and by Saturday night the arms of the tribe were in the custody of the captain and under a strong guard.
Tyee George's body, after the execution, was delivered to his mother, "Old Mary," who buried it near her wigwam on the slope of a hill in the southern limits of Jacksonville with many bitter tears and wails of heartbroken anguish. Mary was a fixture about Jacksonville for many years and was a kind, inoffensive old creature who was pitied and helped by all. After her death she was immortalized by Oregon's peerless poet, Samuel L. Simpson, in a touching tribute which will live and perpetuate her memory long after many distinguished persons now living have passed into the shadows beyond and been forgotten.
The deaths of Tyee George and Skookum John, who had always been roving, restless and dangerous agitators, were the last of the Indian troubles in southern Oregon and northern California until the Modoc War of 1871-72.
Medford Sun, April 26, 1911, page 3 For another version of the story, read "On the Trail of Skookum John" in the October 1908 issue of Sunset magazine. The tale is also told on my William M. Colvig page.
THE MOTHER'S VIGIL
The day and the year were a-dying together,
The crimson to crimson and gold unto gold,
While the pine, dropping burrs in the sweet autumn weather,
All sadly and softly its rosary told.
We leaned on our guns, and looked over the city,
Enthroned in the days that eternally thrill;
While one stood in silence, and one hummed a ditty
Of a love that was lost, and a wheel that was still.
And there were the scars of the days of endeavor,
The ditches and reservoirs, sluices and all,
Debris of a battle, pathetic forever,
As part of the resonant age they recall;
For silence had stooped on the desolate ditches--
Save only the querulous call of the quail
A-scolding her brood, from the tunnels and pitches
To chaparral shades and the leaf-covered trail.
A silence was there, but that silence sang dirges,
O hopelessly sad to the sorrowing soul,
So hopelessly sad, like the wail of wild surges
Gone mad in the gleam of their wandering goal.
"Ah! whither," I murmured, "in chances and changes,
Gilding or soiling, a curse or caress,
Now wanders the spoil of the gold-glutted ranges--
A crown for dishonor, a balm for distress?
The toilers, where are they, the bronzed and the knighted,
As gentle as childhood, and cruel as fire?
What hope was fulfilled, and what love was requited--
Ah! what was the fate of their kingly desire?
Lo, dirges of silence, the crested quail calling,
Answer me vaguely in mystical woe,
The glory of sunset, in benison falling,
Filled all the deserted old gulches below.
"The pick and the shovel are rusted and broken,
Faded the fires of the cabin and tent,--
The long roll has sounded, the Chieftain has spoken,
The owl sobs alone on the hills that were rent.
With a whispering sound, as of autumn robes trailing,
October is furling her banners of red,
And my heart is bowed down in the infinite wailing
That times the innumerous march of the dead."
"It is true," said my comrade, regretfully, lowly,--
"Death and expenses are all that are sure,
And we con the old lesson though hardly and slowly,
To follow and follow some fanciful lure;
But, yet" and he thoughtfully leveled a finger
Over the sheen of the storm-cradled town,
"There's a smoke on yon hillside that somehow will linger,
Like a mist on the shore when the tide has gone down.
"Have you marked it--a luminous violet column
On the gold and the bronze of the frost-tinted trees--
Soaring to victory, saintly and solemn,
With the wreathed immortelles that Fidelity weaves?
It is only the smoke of a cabin so humble
The squirrels romp o'er it unchecked by reproof,
Grimy and shaky, I wonder the rumble
Of the wagons down there do not shatter its roof.
"In the tempests of years that we fain are forgetting,
When the cards were religion and pistols were priests,
While the sun rode in scarlet at dawning and setting,
And a Bourbon was crowned at our funerals and feasts--
Yon oak that leans grandly, a culdee extending
His priestly hand over that ruinous cot,
Once thrilled to the shock of a ghastly descending,
And the Law was avenged with a loop and a knot.
"He was only an Indian, the son of Old Mary,
Swarthy and wild, with midnight of hair
That arose, as he sped to the Lethean ferry,
Like a raven of doom in the quivering air.
Ah, his crime? I've forgotten,--it was something or other
Judge Lynch's decisions were never compiled;--
But we left him, at last, with his forest-born mother,
As she camped by the tree that had strangled her child.
"Alone when the sombre and skeleton branches
Thrilled in the rush of the ship-wrecking storm,
And the glad little children, in hamlet and ranches,
Laughed at the ingle-side ruddy and warm;
Alone, when the sibyls of springtime, returning,
Flung over the forest an emerald mist;
And alone, when the stars of midsummer were burning,
When the musk roses dreamed of the god they had kissed.
"While the years have gone on, and the flush times have faded,
Forever the smoke of her vigil ascends,
And the oak, all the while, that poor altar has shaded,
Like a penitent soul that would make some amends.
And still, from his ashes, the dead day arises
A blossoming wonder of beauty and truth,
While the myrtle-wreathed moon in all gentle disguises
Remembers, and twines her a chaplet of ruth.
"Te Deums may roll in the gloom of old arches,
Where the white-handed preacher coquettes with his God,
But Truth finds her own in long battles and marches,
And the flowers will shine on that tear-sprinkled sod.
When the fire has gone out and the vigil is ended,
Poor Mary may sleep with the loved and the leal,
For the stars will mount guard o'er the ashes she tended,
And the beauty of morning return there to kneel."
Samuel L. Simpson, The Gold-Gated West, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1910, page 132
As Honoré Palmer, son of Chicago's one-time merchant prince, stopped his motorcar recently beneath the shading branches of a certain big white oak on the rising hills to the west of the river Rogue, he crossed, all unconsciously, the trail of Skookum John. Just beyond, their roots firmly planted in gravel loam, waving their green plumes with the uniform precision of the King's Irish Rifles on parade, are the Palmer pear trees, humble helpers in adding more to the Potter Palmer dollars. When, a few years ago, the railway engineers zigzagged and bow-knotted a route for steel to rest upon, across Siskiyou cañons and beside Rogue rapids, they touched many times the leaf-strewn pathway over which Skookum John's moccasined feet had often passed. Beside the railway now, between the shadows
cast by Pilot Rock and Green Spring Mountain, are three cities, and a half dozen towns, all with mayors and ice plants and churches, and bands that play ragtime, and all the other signs of arrived civilization. When the locomotives whistle on these grades, when dynamite blasts gold rock from these mines, the echoes crash and carom among crag and pine top, with a ringing
JOHN!From east to west, from the snow-topped Cascades to the ocean, from its source near Mt. Huckleberry's crest to its outlet near Humbug's frowning ridge, the Rogue River goes on its laughing way. A beautiful way and a beautiful land it is. It was all Skookum John's country once, but it's the fortune-making white man's now, with scarce a notch in anyone's memory for Chief Skookum or his tribe. Over to westward, in Curry County, a crest looms white and clear, and large and strong--Skookumhouse Butte--that and a painted pine slab in the cemetery at Fort Klamath are Skookum John's only monuments. [Skookum House was an Indian fort in the 1855-56 war; the butte was named after it.]
TRAGEDIES OF THE '60s.Every ridge and hilltop and watercourse--nearly every tree--in all this watered, forested, sunshiny land, have had their part to act in the aboriginal life and the early Indian wars of this region. Here in Southern Oregon, the Rogues (allied to the Klamaths) and the Klamaths, the Umpquas, the Piutes and the Modocs fought for their lands and their homes; fought, too, for revenge and lust, and their daring and deviltry made Oregon pioneering a fearsome thing. In the early '50's, following the discovery of gold in California, came the rush of miners to the placers of this region. Up from Yreka they poured in steadily, scattering among the watercourses and getting gold where they could find it. Reckless spirits there were among these, and their treatment of some of the peace-loving Indians soon made trouble. For over twenty years, up to the time of the General Canby massacre, in the Lava Beds in 1873, this irregular warfare continued, with right and wrong fighting on both sides until they became as well mixed as the ethics of a Kentucky feud.
Skookum John was a lad in the early days of this pitiless war, when shots from behind trees and logs and haystacks formed the common habit. He was a son of Chief John, one of his tribe's great men, and a nephew of Leylek, who was a sort of Washington among the Klamaths and the Rogues. After old Chief John had been captured and taken away to prison, Skookum became Leylek's right-hand man, and it was while so acting that he came to his death in October, 1863, under circumstances that have given him place in the Westminster Abbey of the Rogues, in whatever somber forest aisle that temple may be.
SKOOKUM JOHN'S ROMANCE.It all happened here in this setting, long the country of Skookum John's forebears. The story is told in some of the pioneer books, but all the first-hand facts came to me one night from a man who was there, Judge W. M. Colvig of Medford. He was a soldier then, serving under Colonel Drew of the Oregon state troops, and he saw Skookum die. Soon after that he left soldiering for law, and today he goes about among the orchards and factories, occasionally drawing a complaint instead of a sword, or discharging a jury in place of a gun.
There had been trouble over around Table Rock above Jacksonville. Two or three settlers had been killed, and the troops went after big game. They caught George, a young chief, and a close friend of Skookum John, and they hanged him high at Jacksonville, on a big locust tree that grows thriftily there, just before the Starlight saloon doors. [George was hung at Camp Baker, near Phoenix, coincidentallly on the same day as Skookum John's death.]
Now, George was not only Skookum's good friend, but he was the brother of Celie, a maid of the tribe for whom Skookum had plans that looked toward making her his squaw. Celie was evidently the Minnehaha of the Rogues. She was the fairest, fleetest, gayest and brightest of all the women in any of the thousands of tepees between the great Goose Lake and the sea. [There were few Rogue Rivers in Southern Oregon n the 1860s, the tribe having been removed to the Coast Reservation in 1856.] She was well educated, too, for General Joe Lane had once sent her to a convent in California. [This is otherwise unknown to history.] But Celie liked not the white man nor his ways, and she went back to tribal customs and life the first chance she had. She dressed in deerskin leggings and wore moccasins and no one knew that English speech and knowledge were hers. When Celie learned of her brother's sudden taking-off she lost no time in rousing her tribe to action. Old Chief Leylek was over in the Klamath country, and Skookum John and many warriors were with him. Celie knew that Captain Jack, chief of the Modocs--he who was afterward hanged for his part in the Canby affair--was a good friend of Skookum John, so she sped away through cañon and forest, across the rugged country, to her warriors in the Klamath, down below Crater Lake, a full hundred miles from Jacksonville when George's body was swinging in the night wind. In that camp, too, she counted on Blow, or Soltouk, a young brave, for whom she had great admiration, loving him as women will, even against the more ambitious claims of Skookum John. With the fiery aid of Soltouk and Skookum, Celie felt sure of getting the help of Captain Jack and his fighting crew of Modocs, and with an array of hostiles the whites could be routed and killed and her brother's cruel death avenged.
THE FIGHT IN THE TEPEE.At Fort Klamath was Captain Kelly, with forty men, and to him, soon after the hanging of Chief George, Colonel Drew sent a messenger of warning. The Colonel knew Celie's power and influence, and he knew that trouble was ahead. Fleet as was the messenger Celie was before him. The chiefs, five of them, including Leylek and Skookum John, met in hurried council in a tepee situated at a point remote from the rest of the village. The other fighting men of the tribe went silently from the village to meet at some forest rendezvous. Skookum John was the last to join the tepee conference. He had been out on a hunting trip and he went to the council fire--accoutered as he was. Hurrying through the underbrush in his haste to reach the assembly he had fastened his long hunting knife securely to his belt and tied the blade to the sheath lest he lose it in speeding through the chaparral.
Posting his men outside, all with rifles bearing on the tepee, Captain Kelly, with drawn revolver and followed by only one of his men, Sergeant Underwood, broke abruptly upon the council and demanded the immediate surrender of all present. It was a dramatic moment. The tent was lighted only by the fire in the center. The chiefs were stretched out about it, none of them armed but Skookum John. At Captain Kelly's words John jumped to his feet and lunged forward across the fire toward Kelly, pulling vigorously at his knife, which he had forgotten to release from its sheath. At this action Kelly drew back and fired, and Underwood blazed away over the officer's shoulder. Kelly's shot struck John under the right eye, while Underwood's entered his breast. The brave young chief fell forward across the fire, partly extinguishing it and leaving the tepee in darkness. In the confusion Kelly and Underwood got outside, and one by one, as the four chiefs emerged, they were taken in charge. The prostrate form of Skookum John was lifted from the fire. His wounds were mortal, and he soon expired, amid the wailings of the few squaws who gathered about Celie, and listened to her words of lamentation and anger.
Captain Kelly promptly sent a detail of twenty men through the village to round up all the warriors, but it was too late--all had gone to the forest as soon as Celie had roused them--gone to await the awakening action of the Modocs and Piutes. The next day Colonel Drew arrived with a small force and took command. He promptly called for Chief Leylek, and told him that all the warriors of the Rogues and Klamaths must come in and lay down their arms.
THE OLD CHIEF A HOSTAGE."If your warriors are not all in by Saturday noon," said Colonel Drew to Leylek, "you will be hanged from that tree!"
After delivering this ultimatum, he continued: "Send to your men and tell them what I have said. Tell them to come in, not more than twenty at a time, and to put their guns at the foot of our flagpole. I will let all the chiefs go but you, and you must surely die if your braves do not come in."
Old Leylek moved not a muscle of his face as he heard this. When Colonel Drew had finished, Leylek asked first to see Soltouk, then the other chiefs, then Celie. Leylek, who was over seventy said at first that he would gladly die, if his people might be free. Soltouk and the others protested, arguing that the white men were so strong that Leylek's death would avail nothing in the end. The old chief reluctantly agreed. Then Celie came in, and her passionate denunciation of the action proposed soon brought about her all the soldiers of the little post. Leylek asked her to go out and to use her power to bring in the warriors, and Soltouk also urged her to give her aid.
"You coward," she hissed out at the young chief. "I thought you brave--I thought you a man--you are all cowards."
"We have talked it all over," interposed Leylek, "and we all agree it is useless to oppose the white man at this time. Even if our warriors keep their arms we can do little except to provoke and compel more bloodshed."
CELIE'S PLEA FOR HER PEOPLE.At this, this would-be Joan of Arc stood erect, folded her arms and answered scornfully:
"Let Leylek go out and sit with the squaws--let him take my dress, and I will hang, and die gladly for my people. It shall then not be said that the Klamaths were cowards, that they gave up when the white man beckoned. Where is the old-time spirit of my people? I would rather die and see them all die than to give up without fighting for their rights. My brother must be avenged."
As the girl finished, old Leylek shook his head sadly, and young Soltouk stole away from her scornful presence. All this talk was translated in part to Colonel Drew, who then took Celie to one side to question her. She was well-known among the troops as an Indian maid who was "full of ginger," and cared nothing for the blandishments of uniform or brass buttons. Even Joe Finnegan, the Irish corporal, and a premium lady killer, had found his arts useless with Celie. She never could understand the soldier language of love, whether in Chinook or English, or much less in Irish blarney.
Through an interpreter Colonel Drew explained to Celie that her brother had been executed because it was known he was concerned in the killing of a settler, and that Skookum John brought his fate on himself. Besides that Leylek had said that John had advised in council that the Indians attack the post at Fort Klamath that night.
To Colonel Drew's astonishment, when the interpreter had finished, Celie answered defiantly in clear, good English:
"My people here are cowards--the chiefs are all squaws!"
"Take care, Celie," Colonel Drew answered, "if you incite your people to revolt, we may hang you, too. And where did you learn English, and why have you not spoken it before?"
For answer, the Indian girl pulled out a bead chain from around her neck. To it was attached a small crucifix.
"I listen better than I speak," she said laconically.
THEIR LAST STAND.But Celie's passionate plea for her people was all in vain. Wiser counsel prevailed. She would not go to call her warriors in, but others went, and on the appointed Saturday she watched the Indians come in one by one, and sadly drop their arms by the pole where flew the stars and stripes.
It was the last stand of the Klamaths and Rogues. Some years before old Chief Sam of the Rogues and his people had been moved by the wisely paternal government away to the north, to the Siletz country, near the mouth of the Yaquina. Skookum John was buried near where he fell, and today the reservation of his kinsfolk, the Klamaths, is all about his grave. It is a beautiful, park-like country, most of it, with big forests of sugar pine, and lakes filled with trout. Over seven hundred Indians make their homes there, drawing on their Uncle Sam for any deficit in Nature's treasury. Travelers and campers bound for wonderful Crater Lake, by way of Klamath Falls, pass close by the reservation's west boundary. Here, if they are curious, they may see Soltouk, a little gray and a little bent, but proud of his army coat and his big silver star which proclaims him chief of police of all the Klamaths. Perhaps he might tell you of Celie--of her fate--and surely if you give him a good pipeful, or a generous tip, he may tell you of the prowess of his boyhood friend, Skookum John, of earlier days in the laughing valley country that both had so loved, and of all their people who loved it, too.
Charles S. Aiken, "On the Trail of Skookum John," Sunset, October 1908, pages 479-488
Mystery of the Oregon Prairie MassacreNowhere in the history of the Indian wars is there such mystery and uncertainty as surrounds this last chapter in the Indian troubles of Jackson County, Oregon. This is in part because no one knew for a certainty what tribe of Indians was camped that winter of 1859 at Rancheria Prairie.
Even After a Century the Brutal Rancheria Murders Remain Unsolved.
By Anne Weatherford
It could have been the Klamath (Athapascan) tribe, or a camp of Willamettes, who had been driven south by the powerful and regal Klickitats. Or it might have been a camp including both tribes. Certainly there was more than one tribe who used this rich meadow land as winter quarters, as was attested by the number of marriage trees to be seen in the timber near the Prairie. These marriage trees could be an important clue.
When my father homesteaded, a mile and a half from the massacre site, my brother and I noticed young fir trees which, contrary to nature, were split nearly to the ground and had grown into two trees. Then we noticed some, also split, but one side dead and grown over by the living side. We climbed a double tree and tied the limber tops into a knot. The tree stayed tied and was growing firmly together when we left the homestead some years later. We did not know about marriage trees, and I have often wondered if the loggers who came in later were not puzzled by the abnormal fir tree with its top tied in a knot.
We were told that among some tribes when a young couple wished to marry and a member of the tribe objected, the groom had to select a young fir tree and split it evenly down the trunk. If at the end of a year the two sides of the tree were healing and growing, the marriage took place. If one side died the marriage was forbidden. These marriage trees give the identification of the tribe that had been there.
Rancheria is far out of the range of the Modocs and, as far as is known, never used by the Rogue River Indians. However, some of the Indians who used this land and who liked the life of the white man had gone as far into the valley as Jacksonville.
In April of 1859, approximately three years after the close of the Rogue River Indian Wars, in which both white and Indian had each tried to exterminate the other, the Ledford party set out on an exploring trip which was to take them into eastern Oregon.
Eli Ledford, the leader, and his friend J. Brown left their homes in Jacksonville, Oregon and made their way to the Big Butte Trail. This was the only trail across the Cascades to the Klamath country at that time.
In the Rogue River Valley the black gumbo, called "sticky," was drying. But when they reached the trail they were in dense timber where the soil was red oolitic iron ore into which a horse would sink and struggle at this time of the year. Somewhere along this trail they were joined by S. F. Conger, W. S. Probst and James Crow, all of Butte Creek.
The men were all mounted and well provided with arms and ammunition, and the necessary things for a long summer's exploring expedition. Besides this, Eli Ledford had fastened around his waist a supply of fifty-cent pieces. These were known to the Indians as good wampum and also desired for their shiny beauty.
There were at least fourteen horses, including pack and riding horses. The Oregon histories mention only four horses, which is a ridiculous figure, considering that there were five mounted men and much camp equipment and food.
Traveling by pack train is slow, especially when the ground is deep with mud, so we do not know at what date the party passed Rancheria and the Big Butte Springs, or at what time they found the snow too deep to make further progress across the mountain near Snowy Butte, now officially Mt. McLoughlin, but called Mr. Pitt.
When their way was blocked by snow, they turned back to the Rancheria Prairie, where there was a rich supply of feed for their horses to graze. It is also possible that Eli Ledford might have known some Indian at this camp and considered him friendly. This is one of those things which cannot be either proved or disproved, but it is possible.
The party made their camp near a large pine tree, now dead, at the east end of the prairie, near a spring. Here they prepared to wait for the snow to melt on the mountain.
On May 4th, 1859 Indian Agent Abbott, with a small party, set out from Jacksonville for his station among the Klamaths, and followed the route taken by the Ledford party to a place where the unmelted snow prevented further progress, and from which Ledford and his party had turned back.
Following the previous party to the Rancheria, Abbott found it deserted, the houses burned, and indications that rendered it probable that the five men had been murdered.
Abbott and his men returned to Jacksonville and told their suspicions. A company of thirty citizens, with John Hillman and H. Klippel as leaders, set out for the spot. When Oregon John (Anderson) and his scouts arrived, the men searching numbered forty-three.
After several days of fruitless searching, Hill, Klippel and another man were standing in a grove of pine trees, discussing what would be the best thing to do now, when the third man kicked a small piece of dried mud which was on top of the pine needles. Thinking it a strange place to find dried mud, he pushed the needles away with his foot and found freshly turned dirt. They were standing on the grave of four of the men! All four had their throats cut, but their bodies also had many wounds and bruises. It was judged that they had been attacked while they slept. Ledford's body was not there.
The search was now localized and thorough and after some days Ledford's body was found about a half a mile away at the edge of the Rancheria Swamp. He had been fatally injured, but able to run. As he ran he threw four-bit pieces from the bag into the tall grass. Whether this was to lighten himself so he could run faster, or to keep the Indians from getting what they must have killed to possess is a matter for speculation. his body was taken up and buried beside his four companions.
The search party now crossed the North Fork of Big Butte Creek and followed it down to the Rogue River, making a thorough search, but found no sign of Indians. After a month they gave up and returned to Jacksonville.
However, Oregon John found what he thought might be a mark made by a metal horseshoe on a rock, and followed the almost invisible trail for three miles up the mountain from Rancheria. There is a beautiful natural field of about twenty-eight acres in the slightly sunken top of the mountain. There he found fourteen dead horses--all with their throats cut, like the men.
The field was kwnon as Dead Horse Flat until it was homesteaded, many years later, by Jess Fredenburg, when it became known as the Jess Fredenburg place. This incident of the horses was told me by the son of Oregon John when I was living at Cedar Prairie, a half mile from Dead Horse Flat.
As in all ages, someone must be suspect, and it is usually someone who isn't well liked. So suspicion fastened on several prominent Klamaths. To this day no one has troubled to explain how a whole camp could cross the deep snow to Klamath and not leave a trace or track, when the white men could not even get through the snow.
Among the suspects was Chief Skookum John, who was killed at Fort Klamath in November, 1863 by Captain Kelly and Sergeant Underwood, supposedly while trying to arrest him. Two others on the white man's list of suspects met violent deaths.
It was reported in a Yreka, California paper that Lalake, a Klamath chief, had brought to his white friends the heads of three Indians whom he had executed for being engaged in the Ledford massacre.
While this was never confirmed, there is reason to believe the report of the three heads. My father, who came to his brother's home in Lakeview, Oregon in 1875, just sixteen years to the month after the massacre and while it was still a hot topic for discussion, would be very perturbed when the heads were mentioned, and would always declare:
"No Indian would behead his own people for a white man! But the bloody savages didn't need to kill three innocent Modocs to satisfy the authorities." No one ever took issue with this statement, all apparently agreeing.
Finally the last of the suspects, Tyee George, died the same day as Chief Skookum John, November 19th, 1863, at Camp Baker near Phoenix, Oregon. This was a young man whose mother, Mary, lived near Jacksonville, and who had gotten permission to live on the west side of the Cascades.
This day he and his friend Jack went into Jacksonville. Evidently they were innocent of any wrongdoing, as they seemed to have no fear of living among the whites. George was arrested and delivered to Charles Drew, commander at Camp Baker. By an unexampled stretch of arbitrary authority, the man in command ordered the Indian's execution at once, and he was hanged before the soldiery without the least delay.
His companion, Jack, escaped and with the other Indians who had permission to live on the west side of the Cascades hastily left for the Klamath country.
Only George's mother, old Mary, remained. She claimed her son's body and buried it beside her own lodging, then kindled a fire upon his grave. This sacred fire is supposed to guide the wandering soul to the islands of the blessed. Mary's devotion to her son's memory won her many white friends. Even poems were written about her. She must have been a kindred soul to Rizpah of the Old Testament.
My grandmother Edmondson, who loved to read history, any history, insisted that the Oregon history as taught in the schools was not correct. On this account she asked her youngest daughter, Mrs. Ora Gordon, to write to Captain O. C. Applegate about the massacre at Rancheria. His reply agreed with my grandmother's memories.
My son, Robert Baker, learned that I was doing research on the subject and wrote as follows:
"Sat. Aug. 10th 1963"Dear Mother:
"Here's a clue on the Rancheria massacre. At the graves, years ago, I saw some markers put there by Perl Funeral Home in Medford, and they had the names typewritten on little cards inserted in them. I remember one of the first names was Eli, so maybe they (Perls) have some dope on the occurrence. I think the man's name is John Perl.
"Seems as though there was a massacre on Butte Creek below town (Butte Falls) too. Believe the Indians wiped out a family there. It was in the Oregon history book. Also Grandma mentioned it one time."
The creek which feeds the swamp and flows through Rancheria is called Four-Bit Creek because of the number of four-bit pieces which used to wash up on the sandy banks each year when the snows melted and the creek went on a rampage. How envious I was of a cousin, my own age, who found a number of these pieces. He was living at the scene of the massacre, which had now become the Bill Ulrich Ranch, and my uncle was the manager.
The story should be ended, but to me the most interesting part came later. When I was perhaps thirteen years old I heard a man saying: "The strangest thing happened. I was looking for strays and rode near the graves at Rancheria and there stood an Indian looking down at the graves. I watched him for quite a while and he didn't even move, so I rode on."
Once before I had heard the same strange story. No Indian lived closer than Fort Klamath, and that was a good two days' walk across a high and rugged mountain. It was apparent that this story was given about as much credence as if he had stated that he had just seen a ghost at the graves.
The last time I heard this story was around 1914 or 1915. This time a man living at or near Rancheria told of seeing an old white-haired Indian standing for half a day at the graves with his head bowed on his chest. When he left he started slowly walking toward the Klamath country.
With him went, perhaps, the only knowledge of what really took place at Rancheria Prairie. But who were the Indians whose heads were brought to Jacksonville? Maybe he wouldn't have known.
Then to add more confusion to the mystery, the editors of Real West, who seem to be fascinated with the mystery, have raised a point that everybody seems to have overlooked. They asked if there is any record of Indians going to the trouble to bury their victims and carefully cover the grave with brush. Also they asked why would an Indian cut the throats of fourteen horses when horse stealing is the great hobby of all tribes, and any warriors that could come in with fourteen horses would be heroes.
The flight of Ledford and his throwing the fifty-cent pieces in his tracks is an angle the editors don't feel has been properly explored. If the assumption is correct that Ledford and the others were killed for that money, why wouldn't the killers, who were chasing Ledford, have picked up these silver pieces. The fact that people many years later found the fifty-cent pieces where Ledford threw them would indicate the killers cared nothing for the money.
So the fact that Indians seldom cut their victims' throats (and it is not stated whether or not they were scalped), that Indians don't go to the trouble to bury their victims, that no Indian would cut the throats of fourteen horses--all this causes the editors of Real West to raise the question of whether white men committed the murders.
They point out that little evidence is given that the Indians did it, but the public was so Indian-crazed at that time that they would naturally look to the Indians for suspects and overlook the obvious fact that white men committed the murder.
I have done a great deal of searching of early day histories of the West. In only one instance have I found even a reference to the possibility of white killers. A. G. Walling, in his History of Southern Oregon, published in 1883, says, quote:
"There was not wanting unprincipled men of both races, whose delight was to stir up war and contention, and ruffianly bands of either color paraded the country and a condition of terrorism prevailed. Among the Indians, it was said, were several white men who had adopted Indian dress and manners, and these, if such existed, as there doubtless did, must have proved among the worst enemies of peace."
I remember my father, J. I. Patton, saying that the Indians had never caused the early settlers anywhere near the trouble caused by renegade whites. Still I am afraid the murderers will never be known for sure and the massacre will have to remain a mystery, like the disappearance of the entire camp of Galice Creek miners.
Walling, A. G., History of Southern OregonReal West, September 1965, pages 15-18
History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, Volume I
North Pacific History Co. of Portland, Oregon
Dunn, Massacres of the Mountains
Brady, Cyrus Townsend, Northwestern Fights and Fighters
and those given credit in the article.
Last revised May 19, 2018