Volunteers vs. Regulars
Everyone's a critic.
Umpqua City, July 26, 1856.Friend Bush:--The bright star of peace once more shines upon our fair and sunny south, and is hailed with unadulterated joy by every age and sex. The last of those red belligerents are this far on their way to the reservation, and a permanent peace may now be hoped for in Southern Oregon. The war in which so many valuable lives have been lost, so many hearts made desolate, and so many widows and orphans left to mourn their fate, and grieve over the irreparable loss of a beloved father or brother who has fallen by this merciless foe, or perhaps groaned under the scalping knife before death has come to their relief--this war, I say, now being brought to a successful termination, the time for discussion approaches when the merits and demerits of volunteers and regulars will be carefully canvassed.
One very prominent point of discussion will be the necessity of the war, which I think we can show was unavoidable. Another, this singular and much to be regretted hostility which has existed between the volunteers and regulars throughout the war, which I think we can show was brought about by repeated insults and the most humiliating and undisguised contempt with which some of the officers of the regular army treated our volunteers. It has been my fortune or misfortune, as the case may be, to have met one of these lords of creation, (the would-be world-renowned) Col. Buchanan, before whom the fierce savage, king of the forest, crouches like the spaniel beneath his master's lash, lays low his arms, and makes an unconditional surrender. Unconditional surrender, does he say? Old John was too much of a general for that; he said he would retain the property captured in war, or fight, and only surrendered on those conditions.
Now let us notice Col. B.'s first introduction into the Port Orford district. Whilst he was leisurely marching up from Crescent City to Rogue River, he was informed by an express that there was a small party of volunteers at Pistol River, about 20 miles distant, who were besieged, and would probably all perish if he did not send them assistance, to which he coldly replied that the government could not alter its plans to save any self-constituted bodies. The messenger then asked for ten men, which was refused. Thus thirty-one of our citizens were compelled to stand under a deadly fire from 300 Indians for 36 hours, but the Col., poor fellow, I suppose could not get there any sooner, carrying the government upon his shoulders, and when he arrived at the scene of distress he only heaped insult upon injury, and said they had most unnecessarily gotten themselves into difficulty, and that they were most unnecessarily putting the government to expense, and had better go home and apply themselves to that which they knew something about, but he did not mention that this same party had saved several families from destruction in the meantime. How long are we to be d----d with such imbecility? It matters not what error these citizens may have committed in getting into difficulty; it was his first duty as an officer of the American army to relieve them and then inquire how it came.
How differently we were received by that great and good man, Gen. Joseph Lane, in '53; he greeted us with the kind and truly republican salute of "fellow soldiers," and although his address was brief, it warmed our hearts, nerved our arms, and buoyed our spirits to stem the tide of battle.
Col. B., when he arrived at Port Orford, fresh from the fountainhead of all this discord, with his brow so clouded with prospective laurels (which he was to win) as to obscure every ray of benevolence and humanity, cut off all the supplies and withdrew from the volunteers all the arms which had been supplied them by Maj. Reynolds, of the regular army, thus leaving 20 of Capt. Bledsoe's company without arms until they could be obtained from the Territory.
Now let us look at the Col.'s laurels; they appear, upon close examination, to have faded upon another brow before he got them. He pays Gen. Palmer a high compliment in his official report, says his presence was of some service to him in getting the Indians. Now I am frank to say that if Palmer had not been there not one Indian would have ever surrendered to Col. B. or any of his command. This I say from a personal knowledge of the Indians, and their own assertions. He has arrogated to himself the credit which is due to Palmer's influence and the volunteers, for the indefatigable courage and perseverance with which they harassed the Indians, and when we look at the difficulties with which the volunteers had to contend, their lack of arms, ammunition and provision, with all of their acts discountenanced and discouraged by the regulars, and then compare notes, it will show which has been the efficient party, and to whom the government is indebted for the successful termination of the war in Southern Oregon.
Capt. Bledsoe with his gallant little company of 60 men, from the first of March until the close of the war, killed 58 warriors (not women and children) and took 36 prisoners. Now let us see what Col. B. did with his command of 350 men in the same time, operating in the same country. From the most authentic account I can get, he killed 22 or 23 Indians, and took one squaw prisoner. This statement you can rely upon [as], if not literally, so nearly correct as not to be an unfair comparison. Now who is it putting the government to such unnecessary expense, or does it cost the government more to keep 60 volunteers than 350 regulars? If so, still we had better keep them, for they have done better service. I certainly have no desire to speak disparagingly of our regular army, but since its principal leader has evinced such an unwarranted determination to cast a slur upon everything done by the volunteers, and threw a veil over every act from which they might receive the applause of the government, and magnify their little indiscretions into unheard-of cruelty and barbarity, thus placing a stigma upon them which will make it a Herculean task for our Delegate to get an appropriation to meet their just demands, I feel that it is the duty of every citizen who has the interest of the country at heart to place us in that light before the world for which justice so loudly calls.
All the officers under Col. B. have shown themselves not only an ornament to civil society, but their gallantry upon the battlefield is marked with that distinction which characterizes the American army, and has placed it so high in the scale of civilized warfare, and we have only to regret that such men as Wool and Buchanan should be placed over them.
Yours,Oregon Statesman, Salem, August 12, 1856, page 1
R. B. Metcalfe.
The Indian War in Oregon.--We commence today the publication (on our first page) of a very interesting memoir on this subject. The portion we insert today embraces a succinct account of the details of the war in question. Tomorrow we shall publish the writer's criticism upon those events and the manner in which they have been managed by the authorities of the general government and the Territory. Our subscriptions list in Washington and Oregon Territories is large, and we have many warm friends among the Star's patrons there. We cheerfully do our best to repay our many obligations to them, by thus essaying to do our share in bringing their case--as involved in their current Indian war--to the thorough knowledge of Congress and the Atlantic-side public.
Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 4, 1857, page 2
THE WAR IN OREGON.
(CORRESPONDENCE OF THE STAR.)
Salem, O.T., Dec. 2, 1856.Editor of the Star: Justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside in different portions of the United States who entertain misconceived views in relation to the war in Southern Oregon, induces me to write to you for the purpose of giving you a plain, unvarnished statement of some of the facts connected with this war as they exist. But before I proceed I will say that it is not strange that there should be prejudices existing averse to our interests throughout the land, when we have those amongst us who willfully and maliciously make false representations concerning this war--men with hearts grown black in infamy, and consciences so seared by corruption as to be lost to any sense of humanity or sympathy for the weak and defenseless of our country. There are but few of this class, who have so richly merited the appellation of "traitors" to their country and her citizens--who have rendered themselves so totally unworthy [of] the name they bear as American citizens--yet, although the number is limited, they have wielded an influence with the authorities at Washington City, which, if not counteracted, must prove disastrous to the interests of this Territory, as hundreds of our citizens have contributed their all to assist in prosecuting this war, since that was the only alternative left for us.
It has been stated, and is generally believed by a great many persons who are personally unacquainted with the true history of the war, that the whites have been the aggressing party, and "they considered the United States Treasury a legitimate object of plunder," but we are able to show that there has been a state of war existing on the part of the Indians since the treaty of 1853, and that the tomahawk of the savage has drunk the blood of over fifty of our citizens in Southern Oregon since that treaty, before we took up arms in defense of our lives and property in October last, that they had frequently cut off small parties, killing them and mutilating their bodies in the most horrible manner, and there never has been a period in the history of Oregon when such transactions were not of almost daily occurrence.
In the month of July, 1855, a band of Rogue River Indians killed ten or twelve white men in the vicinity of Klamath River, and then retreated to the reserve on Rogue River, to which place they were followed by three companies of volunteers raised in the mines for the purpose of avenging the wrongs perpetrated upon their fellow miners by the ruthless savage. When the murderers were demanded of them, they refused to give them up in the most peremptory manner and said they were ready for war, and had it not been for the intercessions of the people of Rogue River Valley they would have wreaked a summary vengeance upon the foul murderers, which they most richly merited. I went myself, at the solicitation of the citizens and Dr. Ambrose, the Indian agent that that place, to the commandants of companies and begged them to desist. I told them that our grain in the field was ripe for the harvest, that we were not prepared for war, and that we would only resort to it in the last extremity. When those officers heard the frequent importunities of the citizens to withdraw with their forces and not strike a blow which would inevitably cause their homes in a few days to present nothing but a scene of desolation, they very gallantly did so, leaving the cold-blooded murderers to go unpunished and unharmed. But it was better thus, for if a war had been commenced then, not only all the improvements in this section of country would have been burned, but all the grain in Southern Oregon would have been swept off by the flames, thereby rendering the people of Rogue River Valley destitute of the means of subsistence.
Thus things passed on until about the first of October, 1855, when the Indians murdered the men on the Siskiyou Mountain, whereupon Capt. Hays, with a company of volunteers, followed on the trail of the murderers to a point near their ranch, when they were attacked, the Indians opening the fire. [The whites attacked the village at dawn.] A battle ensued and Major Lupton fell. Our forces found that the Indians were fully prepared for them, and, also, that they fought desperately. [More than thirty Indians were killed; two whites died.] After routing the Indians they went into the ranch and found various articles which had been stolen from the whites and also the scalp of a white man, which had been taken off only a few days before. I should have stated, however, that before coming to the camp of the Indians they found where they had butchered several head of cattle which they had stolen and driven off from the whites.
This is the affair that was so disgracefully represented as being a cold-blooded butchery of peaceable and inoffensive Indians.
After these Indians went to Fort Lane (which they did immediately followed by the volunteers) and called on Capt. Smith, of the United States army, he refused to receive them as friendly Indians, and drove them away. [This is not known to have happened.]
This is the nature of the first demonstration on the part of the whites for redress, and we leave it with a candid people to say whether this was justifiable on our part, or whether we had the right to resist the foe when he was continually waging a war with our citizens, plundering their houses and driving off their stock. For evidence that this state of things did exist I will refer you to the letter of Dr. Ambrose, Indian agent, bearing date September 30, 1855.
About the 10th of October, the enemy made an attack upon the citizens living on the road from the Willamette Valley to Rogue River, and for several miles burned all the houses, barns, grain &c., and killed all the inhabitants without respect to age or sex, except Mrs. Harris and daughter. The people of Southern Oregon then petitioned Governor Curry to call out volunteer troops to subdue the enemy. Accordingly, on the 15th of October the Governor issued his proclamation calling for nine companies of volunteers to aid in a war then existing against the Rogue River and other Indians. The people of Southern Oregon responded to the call nobly, and in a few days the required number of companies were in the field, and on the 31st of October a portion of them, and Capt. Smith's company of United States troops, met the foe in the Grave Creek Hills and fought the battle known here as the "Battle of Hungry Hill." In this battle the Indians fought most desperately, killing and wounding over forty of our men, and from the nature of their position it was impossible to dislodge them or gain any material advantage over them. After two days' hard fighting both parties left the field. The loss was about equal on both sides. We lost thirteen in killed, and thirty wounded.
This is the battle that was published in numerous papers in different portions of the United States as being nothing but a farce, gotten up by us for the purpose of creating a sympathetic feeling in our behalf that we might be sure of being paid for our services, and that no such battle was ever fought. How shameful that there are men in this Territory, holding high and responsible stations, who are so lost to a sense of truth and veracity, and so ungenerous, as to represent matters in a light which has led men to such erroneous conclusions.
After this, the war was prosecuted with as much effect as it was possible to do under the circumstances, as one of the most rigorous winters closed in upon us, and in order to follow the enemy to his strongholds we were obliged to march over the most rugged mountains, through almost "eternal snows," which rendered it impracticable to prosecute the war to as speedy a close as might have been done under other circumstances.
During the winter the volunteers met the enemy frequently and drove him from his position, but it was impossible for them to follow up his retreat in such a manner as to render their services as effective as they might have done had it not been for the inclemency of the season and scarcity of ammunition which has attended us through the war. In the month of January last, Mr. Drew, Quartermaster General of the Territory, sent an agent to San Francisco to purchase ammunition. After he had reached that place and made the purchases, the merchants from whom they were made refused to let the articles go from representations made to them by General Wool that if there was any war whatever existing in Oregon it was an unjust one. That it was a war waged by the whites against the innocent and defenseless Indians, and that such debts would never be paid. Under the influence of these and like representations, the agent totally failed to accomplish the objects of his mission and returned home. The troops remaining in the field almost destitute of ammunition, and as a necessary consequence almost powerless, only being able a portion of the time to keep the foe out of the frontier settlements. Here I will remark that most of the ammunition used during the war in Southern Oregon was purchased with money advanced by individuals for that purpose.
On the 24th of March there were three foraging parties of Indians discovered by the volunteers and driven back with considerable loss to the latter. One of the parties was discovered on Cow Creek and defeated by Major Meacham's command, another on the headwaters of the Coquille River by Captain Buoy's company, and the third party on the same day by Major Bruce's command in Illinois Valley.
These parties were sent out for the purpose of robbing and burning the houses of the settlers, killing them and driving off their stock, a practice which has been common ever since there were settlers in that portion of the country.
The Indians then fell back to the Meadows on Rogue River, one of their strongest positions, and prepared to make a strong stand, having collected their entire forces at that point. We immediately made arrangements to march against them, and on the 24th of April we reached a point near to where their combined forces were encamped, but they were on the opposite of the river, and we found that they had selected a very strong position for defense, but by discreet management of the officers in command, and moving in the night, we succeeded in gaining a point from where we opened a deadly fire upon them early on the morning of the 27th of April, and after two days' hard fighting we succeeded in routing them and taking from them the position which had served as their headquarters during the war.
On the 24th day of May, a military post was established at the Meadows, and a portion of the command went out for supplies. The remaining portion stopped to guard the post until their return, as it was on the main thoroughfare of the Indians from the Lower Rogue River out to the settlements in the valley. On the 26th of May (having succeeded in procuring supplies, which was very difficult and tedious), we marched down the river towards the Big Bend, the Indians having fled in that direction. Early on the morning of the 28th we made an attack upon a large party of the enemy and gained a signal victory over them, killing and taking prisoners a great many of them. On the 29th we met Old John's band and were attacked by them. A fight ensued in which we were completely victorious; we killed several of his men in this engagement. When we met him he had just drawn off his forces from the Big Bend of Rogue River (which was only eight miles below), where he had surrounded Capt. Smith, of the United States army, and killed and wounded thirty-one of his men the day before. Our command then proceeded to the Big Bend, where we found Lt. Col. Buchanan with a command of United States troops.
Upon our arrival here we found that two or three of the most prominent bands of hostile Indians had made a precipitous retreat (when we made the attack on them on the 28th of May) to the camp of Col. Buchanan and called upon Gen. Palmer, who was there, for terms of peace, and that they had given up their arms and surrendered unconditionally. We then proceeded down the river to the coast, and during the march we took a number of prisoners on the river and drove the remainder into the camp of the regulars to an unconditional surrender. We ranged along the coast for several days below the mouth of Rogue River, and succeeded in defeating the Indians in several engagements and bringing them all to our terms. By the 25th day of June, 1856, all of the hostile Indians in Southern Oregon, except Old John and 35 of his band, had surrendered. Gen. Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, turned them over to the regular troops, and they were taken in their charge to the reserve. The volunteers left the field at this time, our service having expired, but before we left the field, John had agreed that he would come in on the same terms that the other Indians had. After our forces had withdrawn, however, Old John concluded he would not come in under that agreement, and Col. Buchanan then agreed with him that if he would come in and deliver up his arms, that he nor none of his men should be put upon trial for any outrages or murders committed by them, and that they should retain all the stock and plunder they had taken from the whites previous to this time. Mr. Nathan Olney, one of the Indian agents, and a man of unquestioned truth and veracity, is my authority for this statement. However much the course of our executive officer, or the volunteers, may be censured, we can say that there never has been during this war an agreement made by them with the enemy so disgraceful to the American people as this.
This agreement was made by Col. Buchanan with John when he was well aware of the fact that this band was composed of desperadoes from other tribes to a great extent, and they were deeper dyed in crime than any band which had participated in this war.
As to the charges that were made by Gen. Wool and Gen. Palmer, that this war was a speculative scheme gotten up by the people of Oregon, thinking "the treasury of the United States was a legitimate object of plunder," &c., I will only say that it bears no semblance of truth or reason on the face of it. It is not reasonable to suppose that men who were making from $4 to $16 per day at their accustomed labors would have created a disturbance with the Indians for the purpose of going into the ranks and enduring more than the ordinary hardships and privations incident "to a life on the tented field," furnishing their own horses, equipments and arms for $4 per day in the perspective. [Mining had ceased seasonally in October 1855, due to a lack of the water necessary for placer mining.]
The territorial troops have conducted themselves gallantly during this war, and whatever credit is due for so successful a termination it is due to the volunteers. They have gained every victory over the enemy which has been gained--they have endured every hardship and suffered every inconvenience attendant on a winter campaign in one of the roughest countries in the world.
[TO BE CONTINUED.]Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 4, 1857, page 1
THE WAR IN OREGON.Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 5, 1857, page 1
I cannot close this communication without reverting to a few statements made in Generals Wool and Palmer's official dispatches, and also Agent Ambrose.
Gen. Wool and Gen. Palmer say that the Indians attacked by a party under Maj. Lupton were friendly and on their way to the reserve. Such is not the fact. They were on their way to the reserve, I have no doubt, but were they peaceable? They had been trailed from the murders on the Siskiyou Mountain, committed about a week previous, and the scalp of a white man was found in their ranchos. Look at the conflicting statements of Wool and Palmer, and also of Agent Ambrose, who was on the ground. Wool and Palmer were from three hundred to three thousand miles distant. Palmer says "thirty persons--men, women and children." Wool says "twenty-five in all, nineteen being women and children." Agent Ambrose says "thirty-two in all, eight of them men," and further says, "the attack was made so early in the morning that the women were indistinguishable from the men." It seems very singular that such discrepancy should occur in official documents.
Gen. Wool has set himself up as a commander, a legislator and a judge, and has endeavored to influence Congress about the payment of the war debt. The General has committed a great military blunder himself, and, because the Governor of our Territory acted promptly and with knowledge of the circumstances which reflected some on the General's tardiness, he (the General) would like to
"Compound for crimes he is inclined toGen. Wool knew that war existed in Southern Oregon from the 8th of October, 1855, and in the early part of November he sent the only company, under Major Fitzgerald, that at that time could be of any service, to the Dalles--Capt. Smith's company being hardly sufficient to retain and keep peace with those Indians on the reserve at Fort Lane--thus leaving the country destitute of protection against those hostile savages who, at that time, were murdering, burning and plundering all over the country, and not until the middle of March--some six months after the war broke out--was there any United States troops sent to the assistance of the people in Southern Oregon.
By damning those he has a mind to."
Had it not been for the volunteers during this time, what would have become of the country? Those who reside there can best answer. Had a body of one hundred and fifty troops been stationed at the Big Bend of Rogue River within a month or six weeks after the war broke out, to stop communication amongst the Upper and Lower Rogue River Indians, all the murders and destruction of property at the mouth of Rogue River could have been prevented. Here were the lives of some forty of our citizens, and $250,000 worth of property, sacrificed to either the incapacity of willful mismanagement, or bad information, of an officer whom we pay $292 per month for superintending the very military movements which he has so wantonly neglected. And when the troops came to that part of Southern Oregon they were under the command of Lt. Col. Buchanan, who forthwith sent orders to Capt. Smith's command to join him at the mouth of Rogue River, leaving Rogue River Valley to be protected by either volunteers or the citizens themselves. This part of the southern country, too, being exposed to the Indians of John, George and Limpy, who were the most warlike Indians on the Pacific Coast.
How can General Wool account to the country for neglecting to send troops to Southern Oregon and Northern California? Will it be said that nearly six months is too short a time to get troops from San Francisco to Crescent City or Port Orford, when they could have been landed from the steamer the third day from San Francisco? How will he acquit his conscience, having the means, not to use it for the protection of those citizens who were so inhumanly murdered on the night of the 22nd of February, 1856, at the mouth of the Rogue River, and within three days' sail of General Wool's headquarters? But as soon as Col. Buchanan came up, instead of punishing those murderers, he, from his acts, apparently had instructions to coax them into a treaty. But even then, none of them would come to terms but showed fight at the mouth of the river, and when the Colonel was urged to give them battle by Capt. Bledsoe, of the volunteers, he very graciously said "it was not his day for fighting." At that time the Indians were all around his camp, firing into it. While stopping at the mouth of Rogue River with his command, the Colonel killed several beef cattle belonging to some of the citizens, who managed, with the assistance of some volunteers, to save, when the balance of their property was destroyed by the Indians, and when the owners told the Colonel that they would like to have pay for their cattle, or, they would rather he would not kill them, the Colonel told them "he had captured them from the Indians, and they therefore belonged to the United States." Thus what the Indians left, the Colonel took good care not to leave.
Having only one company of volunteers on Rogue River, near its mouth--and that consisted only of about fifty men--it was not enough to attack a large body of the enemy, and Captain Bledsoe, who was commanding, urged the necessity upon Col. B. to allow a company of regulars to cooperate with him up the river, but the Colonel refused to do this, and spurned the idea. Capt. Bledsoe's men were well acquainted with the country and rendered important service, and could have done more, could he have induced the regulars to move in concert with him. But that was beneath the valued Colonel's dignity, and not until old John, through the instrumentality of Chief George, out-generaled Col. B., and got him to divide his command and send Capt. Smith up to the Big Bend to receive some of them as prisoners, when the command had thirty-one men killed and wounded, with but little or no loss on the part of the Indians.
Some three or four days after this affair, Capt. Bledsoe again urged him to send a company with him to a large camp of the enemy, who were congregated some eight miles below the mouth of Illinois River, on Rogue River. Col. B. this time reluctantly consented, and sent Capt. Augur, who took the north side of the river, and Capt. Bledsoe with his company of volunteers on the south side, and on the 5th of June they attacked them, and completely routed them, killing fourteen on the ground and some twenty-five in the river; eight were killed on the side of the volunteers, and six on the side of the regulars.
I only revert to these things to show that even Gen. Wool's saying there was no war did not prevent his regulars from getting badly whipped sometimes, and it is now a question of doubt whether if the volunteers had not fallen upon the enemy's rear, Col. Buchanan or any of his men would have got out of the mountains before chiefs John, George and Limpy would have had their scalps. A great ado is made by some of those pseudo-philanthropists, especially Generals Wool and Palmer, when an Indian woman or child is accidentally killed, or when an Indian is scalped, or his ears cut off, and there is none more opposed to that than the citizens of Oregon--but is the whole community to be censured for the indiscretion of one or two wild young men? And in every letter Gens. Wool or Palmer write, something must be said of the killing of an Indian squaw or two accidentally, but when the innocent, smiling infant is plucked from its mother's breast, its brains dashed out, perhaps against the corner of the house in which it was born, and then thrown into the well, head first, and this too in the presence of its mother and father--the mother then taken in the presence of her husband, who has to witness indecencies upon the companion of his bosom too horrible to mention, her bowels then cut open and she thrown into the well on top of her child, the father and husband all the time being overpowered could only look on--but now it comes his turn--he is knocked in the head with an axe, his thighs are split open, his breast is next cut open and his heart taken from thence, his scalp cut from his head, and if he has whiskers most of the skin cut from his face, and the greatest indignity of all, the parts which designate the man are cut from his body and stuck into his mouth. All this has been done, not to one family only, but to several. Yet those philanthropists never say a word about this, nor even move out of the even tenor of their way to prevent such things from occurring. And even now in Southern Oregon and Northern California murders of white citizens are of daily or weekly occurrence, and the United States troops even in the very neighborhood are falling back in "masterly inactivity." This course seems to be forced upon them to sustain the position of Gen. Wool, who, it appears, wishes to coax the Indians into a treaty instead of conquering a peace.
Since I came in from the war south, I have been on the Grand Ronde Reservation and have talked with many of the chiefs, Old Sam in particular, who says Gen. Palmer has told him lies, that he promised to let him and his people go back to Rogue River Valley as soon as the war ended, and now he will not do it--and most all of the petty chiefs of the Rogue River Indians talk in the same way. I am of the opinion that it will require a sleepless vigilance by those having charge of the Indians on the reservation to prevent a greater outbreak amongst these people than has ever cursed the country. Having made this communication longer than I expected, I am most anxious that truth and justice may dispel the clouds that now darken our horizon, and that praise and censure may be placed to the credit of those to whom they justly belong.
J. R. L. [John R. Ladd?]
The Indian War in Oregon.--Some time ago we published an interesting letter from Oregon, criticizing the conduct of the Regulars in the conduct of their share of this war with no little severity. Below will be found a reply to that criticism upon it from the pen of a gentleman of the army who, as will be perceived, contends that our Oregon correspondent has done the service, and Col. Buchanan especially, much injustice.
Washington City, March 11, 1857.Editor of Star: My attention has recently been attracted to a communication published in the Weekly Star of February 7th, dated Salem, Oregon Territory, December 2nd, 1856, headed "War in Oregon," and signed with the initials J.R.L.
The author commences by stating that his object in writing the said letter is "to do justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside in different portions of the United States who entertain misconceived views in relation to the war in Southern Oregon, and for the purpose of giving a plain, unvarnished statement of some of the facts connected with the war as they exist."
In his desire "to do justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside elsewhere," he has done such manifest injustice to others directly engaged in the war alluded to, that I feel constrained to contradict certain statements made by him, and especially the one prejudicial to the character and conduct of a distinguished officer of the army, Bvt. Lieut. Col. R. C. Buchanan, 4th Infantry, who commanded the U.S. troops serving in Northern California and Southern Oregon from March, 1856, till the final close of the war in July, 1856.
I do not propose to enter into any discussion concerning the merits or origin of the late Indian war in Southern Oregon. I desire simply to state certain facts, concerning which I have a full and personal knowledge, in contradiction to the statements of J.R.L., and to the authority which he has introduced to sustain his assertions.
After detailing the services and exploits of the volunteers, he says: "Before we (the volunteers) left the field, Old John and his band had promised to come in and surrender themselves on the same terms as the other hostile Indians, but as soon as our forces had withdrawn, they refused to accede to the terms; that Col. Buchanan then made another agreement with Old John and his band, assuring them that if they would come in and deliver up their arms, they should be allowed to retain the plunder which had been taken from the whites, and that they should not be put on trial or punished for any of the murders or outrages committed by them." This statement is unqualified untrue, notwithstanding the authority of Mr. Nathan Olney, at that time Indian agent at Port Orford, O.T., but who shortly afterwards resigned his position. No such agreement was ever made by Col. Buchanan with Old John and his band. They delivered themselves up on precisely the same terms that all the other hostile Indians did, viz: as prisoners of war; which arrangement they were positively made to understand by the Colonel before they did surrender themselves. As for plunder, they had none, being in a destitute condition, but they did give up all they possessed of worth and value to them, viz: their rifles, revolvers, bows and arrows and knives; beyond their weapons they had nothing.
The other statements concerning Col. Buchanan's course of action and expressions are equally untrue and unfounded.
I will not discuss the question of doubt raised by the author of this letter as to whether or not if the volunteers had not fallen on the enemy's "rear," "Col. Buchanan or any of this men would have escaped from the mountains before the Indians would have had their scalps?" but will state that on no occasion during the entire war did United States troops feel the necessity or emergency of having the volunteers placed in the "formidable position" alluded to, nor in any other, for the purpose of saving their scalps or their reputation.
One significant fact is sufficient. The war in Southern Oregon was finally closed in July, 1856, by the removal of upwards of 1,300 hostile Indians to the new reservation provided for them by the government, which removal was carried into effect by the United States troops serving under the command of Col. Buchanan. Peace was then restored, which now continues in that section of country.
One word of advice to persons late of the Southern Oregon volunteers. In your future publications attempt, if possible, less self-glorification of yourselves and depreciation of others, but under all circumstances "tell the truth."
Yours, very respectfully,Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 16, 1857, page 2
C. H. C. [most likely Assistant Surgeon Charles H. Crane]
LETTER FROM OREGON.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
Fraser River Mines and the Oregonians--A Word of Advice to the Excitable--Indian Difficulties in Prospect--Causes of the Late Attack on Col. Steptoe's Command--What Will "Uncle Sam" Do?--The Indian Country East of the Cascade Mountains and the Late Action of Congress--Oregon Politics and Politicians--Position of Parties in the Late "Battle of the Forces''--Who Will Be United States Senators?
From My Cabin in the Woods,Editors Union: The "Rape of Helen," though it
Valley of the Umpqua, June 28th, 1858.
Union, who may feel approaching symptoms of the Fraser River fever. Wait until the end of July or middle of August. By that time the river will be navigable for a great way up, and the road will be cut through a sufficient distance to enable you to reach the mines without having to crawl through jungle "inaccessible"--as an old voyageur, familiar with the country, said to me a few days ago--"except to varmints." Added to this, provisions will then be there in abundance, and of course be cheaper than now, and the richness of the placers will be little if anything diminished from what they are now. This advice is the result of the accumulated experience of a thorough acquaintance with the Fraser River country. I do not pretend to a personal knowledge of the geographical position of that country, but I have conversed with many of the superannuated servants of the Hudson's Bay Company--who are scattered over this and the Willamette Valley--and are as familiar with every inch of the Colville and Fraser River country as a miner is with the few square feet in which he has delved for months. Besides, many of our young men, in the late wars against the Indians, though not penetrating quite as far north as the new gold fields, have brought home such a stock of experience of the neighboring country and its aboriginal inhabitants as is useful to conserve our public tranquility, and to repress our tendency to excitement consequent upon the recent discovery. All things considered, there are few Oregonians leaving for the mines. The few who are leaving are from the counties bordering on California. The bulk of these, I imagine, are Californians. I have encountered several companies bound landwise from Jacksonville and Yreka, and even as far south as Shasta County, to the new El Dorado. They are mostly on horseback and in large companies, led generally by one or more persons who know the route, having been north in the Indian wars, or to the Colville mines some two years ago. They go to the Dalles, lay in a stock of provisions, and proceed in organized companies to Fraser River. For persons starting from Southern Oregon or Northern California, and having their own animals, this is decidedly the best route. There is little danger from Indians, if they travel in bands of fifty to one hundred, from the Dalles northward. The Siwashes (Indians), no matter how numerous, will not venture to attack any respectable number of "Bostons," as they call all white men who are not regulars. The Indians have little or no fear of the regulars, and would sooner attack five hundred of them than a score of ragged "Bostons." The reason is obvious. The "Bostons" fight them upon their own plan--that is, with all the advantages of ambuscade, etc., taking "har" wherever they can find it, and showing no quarter. Not so the regulars, or the "pooh pooh men," as the Indians call them. They must march or halt to the beat of drum, load, aim and fire to the sound of trumpet, all of which are so many signals to the Indians as well as the regulars, and which the former are sure to take advantage of by squatting down in their hiding places (from which they always fight) when the charge is sounded, or the word to fire given. Even should they find themselves worsted in any engagement with the regulars, they have only to call for a "peace wawa" (peace talk) and immediately they are treated with according to the usages of civilized warfare. This is altogether wrong, and so long as it continues in our dealings with the treacherous aborigines on this coast, just so long shall we have repetitions of the late attack upon Col. Steptoe's command. The Indians east of the Cascade Mountains and north of the Dalles are a semi-civilized and semi-Christianized race--the French Jesuit fathers, under the auspices of the Hudson's Bay Company, having had missions established among them for nearly half a century. They are consequently acquainted with all the usages of civilized warfare, and the policy of the United States government towards them. Many of them--as the Klickitats--have been driven from this side of the mountains by the encroachments of the whites, and are aware of our growing power on this coast. They are also acquainted with the condition of the Indian races east of the Rocky Mountains, and are aware that the rising tides of civilization from the East and the West threaten, at no distant day, to engulf them, with the remnant of their race, in the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains. All these considerations make them doubly sensitive to any occupancy of their narrowed and narrowing limits by the whites. Hence the cause of the recent attack upon Col. Steptoe. There is no losing sight of this fact--Uncle Sam will either have to guarantee them all the country east of the Cascade Mountains and west of the Rocky Mountains from the encroachments of the white race, or else fight them. Which will he do?
I perceive by late advices from Washington that Congress has passed a bill opening their country up to survey and settlement! Shouldn't Congress first take measures for the extinguishment of the Indian title, and the removal of the Indians? Take my word for it, either of these jobs are hard to accomplish. The Indians will not sell. They have no place to go to. They have their permanent homes where they are. They have houses, and cultivation and stock, and they do not mean to give up their country without a desperate struggle. Col. Steptoe is preparing to regain his lost position, and to chastise the rebellious semi-savages. Meanwhile, should Congress persist in its intention to send surveyors into their country to commence the work of white settlement, you may look out for an Indian war upon a scale more magnificent than any in which our Uncle has been engaged since the days of Black Hawk. All the Indians north to the British line, and many tribes beyond, will engage in it. Such are the threats of the Chief Kamiakin and his allies.
In our political atmosphere there is little worthy to be chronicled transpiring since the recent election. The result of that has not (as you are aware) disappointed my expectations. The faction which has ruled Oregon for the last seven years with a petty personal malignity akin to despotism has taken a new lease of its existence. The "Statesman clique" party has triumphed in the recent election for state officers, but by a decreased majority, which augurs well for the coming era of independent thought and action. For once, even in party-ridden Oregon, many voters have disregarded the orders of the drill sergeant, and made an effort for their own liberation. This, I say, is significant, and is just cause for hope when we take into consideration the amount of political intelligence pervading our atmosphere, the force of habit and of party drill--and above all the almost superstitious reverence with which the masses regard that mythical piece of India-rubber composition yclept "the Democratic Party." You know "confidence" is said to be "a plant of slow growth." Well, I don't see why a want of it, especially in the infallibility of "the party," should not be. At least, such is my experience. But once awaken doubt, and faith in "the party," as well as in "the Westminster Confession of Faith," is at an end. Such is the condition (in my opinion) of the great bulk of the voters of Oregon today, as evinced by the result of the late election. The trickery, treachery and selfishness of the handful of unprincipled pap-eaters (renegades, for the most part, from their old party associations for the sake of office), have shaken the confidence of even the honest, patient props of party despotism in this Territory. They are in a transition state--out of the Egypt of old party tyranny, but not yet in the Canaan of individual independence. But we are on the high road to it. Now, mark that! And had the unwise leaders of the late opposition been anything else but time-serving old grannies, the goal might even now have been obtained. But the "Nationals" or "Standard" portion of "the Democratic Party," though professing to hate the ruling faction or "Statesman clique"--as they undoubtedly did, because they stood between them and the public fodder--failed to make any issue involving principle. The Eugene convention not only endorsed President Buchanan, but swallowed Lecompton whole, without making a wry face. They did this in the hope of securing a few pro-slavery votes of men in Lane and Benton counties, principally, who yet hope that the Supreme Court can make a slave state of Oregon! Having done so, it was impossible that the Republican Party--however ardently they desired to overthrow the Salem Dynasty--could heartily support their nominees. Had the Nationals come out and endorsed Douglas and his popular sovereignty doctrine--as the convention that framed our constitution and the people in their action upon it did--and had they canvassed the Territory upon that platform with zeal and ability--neither of which they exhibited in the late canvass, the result might have been different. Oregon, which had the most ample fair play in the formation and adoption of her own constitution, would, I am convinced, have endorsed the apostles of popular sovereignty, and condemned the effete Administration, which sought to deny similar opportunities to a sister Territory. But the "Nationals" didn't put faith in the honesty of the people of Oregon, and, as a consequence, the people put little confidence in them. They went down, as I am glad they did, and nobody laments their fall. Let them go back and eat dirt for another decade under the lash of the Salem dynasty.
O'Meara (late of California and now of the Portland Standard) made the best run of any on the National, or opposition, ticket. This, however, was owing to the unpopularity of his rival candidate (Bush of the Statesman) for the state printership. Bush is elected by three or four hundred majority. O'Meara being a Californian, it was used against him with great effect. Bush ransacked the columns of the Sacramento Union--orthodox authority with him on this occasion, though at others he would not touch it with tongs--to prove the enormity of the California state printing swindle, and O'Meara's connection therewith. Bush, of course, knew that there was no analogy between the cases of California and Oregon in this respect, but no matter for that, he hung on to Dean Swift's old adage that a lie stuck to was as good as the truth. He did stick to it, and as our honest old farmers, hating taxes as they do next to California politicians, were fearful that by some unknown hocus pocus O'Meara might "come California" over their state treasury in the shape of printing bills, they kicked the balance slightly in favor of Bush. However, all things considered, the result is very complimentary to O'Meara, and had he been known better, I have no doubt he would have been elected.
The Legislature (for the election of two U.S. Senators) convenes on the first Monday of next month--July. Your humble servant means to be present to chronicle and send you the result in advance of all others. The contest will be rather of a personal than a political nature. My own opinion is that "old Jo Lane" and the Hon. Delazon Smith, of Linn County, will be the successful candidates. If Lane has got sufficient strength, he would prefer to have Governor Curry for a colleague. Lane may elect Curry, à la Broderick with Gwin. He both fears and hates Delazon for his abilities as an orator, and would greatly prefer a silent partner. Should Lane succeed according to his expectations, you may look out for radical changes in the federal offices in this Territory. A letter has been received by one of his friends here (this county is his home), in which he breathes no friendly spirit towards the federal officers appointed at the solicitation of his quondam friends the "Salem clique." But I am treading on private premises, and will forbear.
It is reported that Gov. Jas. Douglas, of Vancouver Island, has imposed a duty of $5 upon each boat navigating Fraser River, and actually forbids any goods being sent up the river except such as are bought from the Hudson's Bay Company. I believe this report is all or nearly "all bosh." He may impose license on gold digging, but cannot, in my opinion, do the other. The report was obtained from the Sound papers, and should be received, like most of their other statements, with caution.
Yours, &c., P.J.M.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 21, 1858, page 1
THE OREGON COUNTRY"We wintered in Salt Lake City in 1854-55," said Michael Kinny of Walla Walla. "In the spring of 1855 we started for Fort Lane in Southern Oregon. At Carson Sinks, near the head of the Humboldt River, Lieutenant Colonel Steptoe took two companies of the Third Artillery to California while the rest of us belonging to the First Dragoons under Lieutenant Oleson went on to Fort Lane. We reached Fort Lane in July and almost at once we were into the thick of the Rogue River Indian War. We were detailed to act as escort for pack trains to Yreka, Crescent City and Jacksonville.
By Fred Lockley
"I have fought for Uncle Sam for many a long year. I have been among Indians for more than 50 years, and in all that time I have yet to see the Indian war that was started by the Indians. Every time the trouble has been stirred up by bad whites and the rest of the country has been dragged into it. I mind how Lieutenant John L. Gratton, of the Sixth Infantry, one of the most popular young fellows in the service, was killed with 29 troopers over a lame cow belonging to an emigrant. The cow didn't keep up with the rest of the stock. The Indians, finding it without an owner, took it and ate it. The owner made complaint to the commanding officer at Fort Laramie, who sent Lieutenant Gratton out to round up the nearby Sioux Indians and arrest the thief. The upshot of the matter was the Indians refused to specify the thief or turn him over. They came to words over the matter and then to blows and Gratton and 29 out of his 30 men were killed. Next spring a force of 1300 cavalry and infantry were sent out from Fort Leavenworth to make further investigations about the lost cow. Little Thunder, the chief of the Sioux Indians, asked for a parley, but the officer said, 'No, we have come to fight, not to parley.' When the matter was adjusted there were a lot more dead soldiers, and they picked up and buried 83 dead Indians. They called this fight the battle of Ash Hollow.
"In August, 1855, a white man in Southern Oregon sold some Indians whiskey, and the result was a fight in which a number of the Indians and several white men were killed. A company of volunteers was organized, its members came to our captain, A. J. Smith, and demanded the Indians. Captain Smith would not turn the Indians over to be killed without trial. This made hard feelings toward the regulars. The settlers couldn't see what need there was of trying Indians. They thought hanging was too good for them. The settlers said they were tired of fighting the Indians and soldiers, too, but whenever there was any real fighting to be done I notice they always said we were paid for fighting and told us to wade in.
"The miners and settlers kept having brushes with the Indians, and finally Colonel John E. Ross of the Oregon militia organized a number of companies and took the field against the Indians. The Indians and volunteers had a fight on Skull Bar on Rogue River in October, 1855, in which some of the volunteers and some Indians were killed. Late that same month in the hills of Grave Creek to the southward of Cow Creek, 250 volunteers and about 100 United States dragoons had a fight with the Indians. Our captain, A. J. Smith, had grown gray in the service and yet he was outranked by the commander of the volunteers, so he had no voice in the matter. The volunteers had an idea they knew how to fight better than the regulars. Well, we had the fight and the Indians licked us. Captain Smith was told to charge up the hill and dislodge the Indians. We did so and had three men killed and seven badly wounded. During the next two days we killed some Indians, and they killed and wounded a good many whites, both volunteers and regulars. We were more afraid of the volunteers than of the Indians, for in the volunteers every man was his own boss and some of them were so inexperienced they would shoot if they saw a bush move, and as often as not the bush was moved by one of our dragoons working his way forward toward the Indians. If a regular was told to go he went, whether he knew he would be killed or not, but in the volunteers, the officers had but little authority and the men stopped to argue the question. The amateur officers of the volunteers were brave enough, but they had no experience. They were lawyers, clerks and politicians, and none of these jobs had trained them in military science.
"Toward the last of the year we were ordered to go to Applegate Creek, where the volunteers had surrounded Chief Jo and a band of Indians. We had been in the saddle for 24 hours and were dead for sleep, but we started out and rode through rain and sleet for 12 hours. There were 40 of us under Lieutenant Underwood. We had a howitzer along. The Indians were fortified in three log cabins. We dropped a howitzer shell through the roof of one of the cabins and scattered the Indians in that cabin to the other cabins. It was dusk, so we decided to wait till next morning and do the job by daylight. During the night the Indians escaped.
"Later we caught up with them and dispersed them with some loss on both sides. During the early part of 1856 Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Buchanan of the Fourth Infantry was in command and kept us in the field constantly. He had two batteries of the Third Artillery, four companies of the Fourth Infantry and our troop--Troop C of the First Dragoons. Our hardest fight was in May at the Big Bend of the Rogue River. We were 90 strong, and we stood off a vastly superior force of Indians for a day and a half until we were relieved by Captain C. C. Augur of the Fourth Infantry. More than a third of our force of 90 men were killed or wounded in the 36 hours' fighting. Captain John's band finally surrendered.
"We took about 700 Indians by boat to Portland and from there to the reservation at Grand Ronde in Polk County. We escorted Chief John's band and the Pistol River and Chetco bands from near Roseburg overland to the Grand Ronde Reservation. That settled the Rogue River War."
Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, May 12, 1915, page 6
Last revised January 11, 2018