The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Correspondence of the Oregon Superintendency
News articles and Southern Oregon-related correspondence with the Oregon Superintendency for Indian Affairs.

Click here for Superintendency correspondence 1844-1900.

This Famous Character, After an Eventful Life of Bravery and Courage, at Last Succumbs to the Bullet of an Assassin.
    At this season of the year the Indians of the Klamath Indian Reservation are allowed to go on their annual fishing expedition to Lost River, some 35 miles from the Agency, where they camp during the run of suckers in that stream and catch tons upon tons of them. Hundreds of Indians have been camped there. Dave Hill, the Indian policeman and preacher, was with them and on Sunday held the usual religious services. Among the other reservation Indians there was Ben Wright, who is a half breed and has a wife and two papooses. Wright got drunk and was raising a racket at their camps on Lost River when Dave Hill arrested him and started with his prisoner for the Agency. Wright's hands were tied about a foot apart. They rode in a one-horse cart which seated two men snugly. Hill was on the right side, and in his right coat pocket carried his revolver. They were alone and had come in over the Lakeview road and branched off near Linkville to the Ft. Klamath road bound for the Agency. They reached a point on this road about five miles from Linkville, between the wood camps of Jos. Seeds and Hank Willis, where Dave Hill was murdered sometime about midnight on Sunday.
    Ben Wright came into Linkville that night and stated that while he and Hill were driving to the Agency, at a point about five miles from Pinkville an unknown white man rode up and without any warning whatever shot Dave Hill dead instantly, and compelled him (Wright) to get on behind his (the unknown white man's) horse, taking him to a point near Indian Jonah's camp, which is about 2½ miles from Linkville on this same road, the Ft. Klamath and Agency road, where the white man told him to "get." Ben Wright was lodged in jail.
    Monday morning the authorities and citizens went to the scene. They found the point where the murder occurred by a stream of blood in the road, near which the horse had turned out of the road and was standing alongside of a tree, with the dead body of Dave Hill lying in the cart. The bullet--a .44 caliber--had entered the lower extremity of the neck on left side, cutting the jugular vein, going clear through and coming out of right arm just below the shoulder, breaking the arm and lodging in his coat sleeve. No powder marks were visible.
    They found no tracks anywhere between the scene of the murder and Jonah's camp, other than those made by their cart. And only found a man's track leading from the scene to near Jonah's camp. There was considerable snow on the roadside where the murder occurred, but no tracks were visible.
    Dave Hill's revolver was in his right coat pocket with all the barrels loaded, and no exploded cartridges were discovered.
    At the examination held by Coroner John W. Siemens and a jury, Ben Wright held fast to his story about the unknown white man doing the killing, but when confronted with the evidence that the bullet conformed in size to the rifle of his brother-in-law, the Indian Jonah, Wright confessed that it was Jonah who had committed the murder.
    The Indians were greatly excited and some three or four hundred were in Linkville at the coroner's examination. They are highly indignant and would like to get at Jonah and Wright to deal with them summarily.
    Wright and Jonah are in the county jail, and as the murder occurred off the reservation will be punished by the state through the circuit court. Two Indian policemen are in the jail with them as guards so as to prevent them putting up a job in regard to evidence, and to prevent a fight when Jonah finds out that Wright had confessed on him. Jonah was feeling very nervous.
    The Indians procured the handsomest casket to be found at the undertaker's and buried Dave Hill at the reservation "Happy Hunting Ground" in Boston style. One poor squaw who mourned poor David's loss was particularly grief-stricken. Not being satisfied with the usual noise attendant upon the sobbing and shedding of tears she would occasionally turn loose with an ungodly bellow that sounded like the bellowing wail of a broken-hearted cow. But she could shed tears and bellow well.
    Dave Hill is an Indian with a great history, and a splendid record for benevolence, honesty and straightforwardness. He was government interpreter for the whites in the Modoc War and was a scout in Capt. O. C. Applegate's command, and at one time saved Oliver's life from the treacherous Modocs. Oliver Applegate and Meacham, who was scalped in the Captain Jack massacre, took Dave Hill, Winemah Riddle and her husband, Schagnasty Jim and others on a lecturing and exhibition tour through the eastern cities after the close of the Modoc War. While in New York City Dave Hill was kidnapped. He was given up as lost but finally got away, worked his way back to his tribe and native land after many months. In fact his life seems to have been well crowded with vicissitudes and historic incidents. He was a noble fellow, greatly respected by his tribe.
    This Jonah is a bad Indian that has been in much trouble before. When Mart Childers was sheriff he stole some whiskey and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
He made a camp in an impregnable point near Linkville and with his rifle invited all the white men in the country to try and arrest him if they wanted a dose of cold lead. The crime being so small that Childers didn't want to kill him while arresting him let him alone. But Dave Hill, as Agency policeman, arrested Jonah. As Jonah had imagined, in his conceit, that he had been holding the sheriff and the law at bay, his arrest at the hands of a brave Indian soured him. This, and the fact that Dave Hill had arrested him many times, caused him to hold a deep-seated grudge against Hill, which was generally known and was the cause of his immediate arrest.
    After the killing of Hill he went to the fishery at Lost River and tried to persuade the Indians to make war against the whites, claiming that a white man had killed Hill. Like the Jonah of old, they didn't want any of it.
    New evidence is cropping out right along. One theory is that Wright and Jonah had put up a job by which Wright was to commit a misdemeanor which would naturally terminate in his arrest and transfer to the Agency by Hill.
    If Jonah did the killing he left Lost River after Hill had arrested Wright and started for the Agency, following them horseback, and when the cart was going downhill no doubt Dave Hill turned around slightly to the left, receiving the bullet from Jonah's trusty rifle in the neck.
    Jonah was not about his camp 2½ miles from Linkville.
    At the preliminary examination Wednesday evening Jonah was confined to jail without bail and Wright's bail was placed at $25,000.
Valley Record, Ashland, March 17, 1892, page 3

    General Lish Applegate, whose name has been familiar in Oregon since its earliest days, recently Indian agent at Klamath, a prominent politician and leader in the Republican Party of Oregon, was in the city today, and walked in at the open door of the Democrat office. General Applegate proposes to exercise the right of the American citizen, and will not support Harrison, who put into execution the star chamber on the General. Mr. Applegate is down on the "snivel service," as he calls it, and doesn't want any of it. The call of the General was a pleasant one, and we are under obligations for numerous erudite ideas advanced by Mr. Applegate.--Albany Democrat.
Valley Record, Ashland, September 22, 1892, page 1

    Colonel T. Jay Buford, Indian agent of Siletz Reservation, was at the St. Charles last evening, and when questioned by an Oregonian reporter in regard to the reservation of which he has charge, said:
    "The Siletz Reservation comprises about 225,000 acres of good land, and has a population of 568 Indians, according to a census just completed. Among these Indians 32 distinct tribes are represented, but the languages spoken are merged into three--the Rogue River, Tututni and Alsea dialects. There is a manual training school upon the reservation, in charge of Superintendent Fairfield and a corps of five competent teachers. The attendance of the school at present is 70, and the young Indians, during the time they spend in school, are allowed to speak nothing but the English language. They are taught the common English branches: farming, stock-raising and some trades.
    Many of the Indians are first-rate farmers, and they had for sale this year 10,000 bushels of oats and 4000 bushels of potatoes. The allotment of public lands has just been completed, each Indian receiving 80 acres, and total amount of lands allotted was 44,200 acres. The remainder of the land will be sold by the government for the Indians. When I first took charge of affairs at the reservation everything was a terrible state of ruin and neglect, but the present administration furnished me with every facility to put the government buildings in proper shape, and I think the coming administration will find it hard to improve upon the present management of Indian affairs.
Corvallis Gazette, December 2, 1892, page 4

An Oregon Pioneer and a Well-Known Character of the Northwest.
    TACOMA, Dec. 13.--(Special.)--John Flett died last night at Steilacoom, aged 77 years.
    John Flett was born August, 1815, in Rupert's Land, about 600 miles northeast of Manitoba, in the valley of the Red River of the North, his father then being in charge of the Hudson Bay Company's store for the Cumberland district. When John was about 7 years of age, the family removed to the Selkirk settlement, where he continued to reside until 1836, at which time he went to the site of the present St. Paul, there being at that date three houses where that city is now erected. He remained there for a short time and then went to Chicago, staying there about a year, during which time he assisted as a bricklayer in the building of the third brick house erected in that city. In 1837 he returned to Manitoba, worked for a time as a blacksmith and at intervals engaged in hunting and trapping in the wild, at Minnesota and Dakota. In June, 1841, he joined the Red River colony, which was organized under the auspices of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, an organization formed by the Hudson Bay Company to acquire land west of the Rocky Mountains, which its license from the British crown prevented it from acquiring in its own name. The scheme failed, but the Red River colony made its way westward under difficulties incident to an overland wagon journey. In June, 1842, they reached Oregon, and John and a brother settled in Washington County, Or., where he was engaged in farming till 1854, when he accepted the position of Indian interpreter for Gen. Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Oregon. His services in that capacity were valuable, and he gave material aid in the successful negotiations of treaties then made. In recognition of his services he was continued as interpreter and appointed sub-agent, in which capacity he went to Southern Oregon. Alone he visited the war camp of the Rogue River Indians, and induced them to go upon the reservation. He visited the Indians at Crescent City and Port Orford. He accompanied Gen. Palmer and Indian Agent Chris Taylor to Klamath Lake and the Modoc country, that being the first party who visited that region. Mr. Flett attended Gen. Palmer in his councils with the Southern Oregon Indians, and at the Walla Walla council in June, 1855. Mr. Flett remained in the Indian service until 1858. In 1859 he settled at South Prairie in Pierce County and engaged in farming. He remained there until 1868, when he purchased a home six miles south of Tacoma, on the Steilacoom Prairie. Prom 1862 to 1878 he was employed upon the Puyallup Indian Reservation as interpreter and farmer. He was a thorough Indian linguist and an adept in understanding Indian character. He was a hale and vigorous man, and up to a short time before his death was often seen upon the streets of Tacoma. He leaves a family, all of his children being grown up.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 14, 1892, page 3

Famous Interpreter and Peacemaker of Early Times.
Pacific Speech at a Council Near Walla Walla--A Bloody Chief With Boston Men's Scalps Dangling From His Belt--Brave Governor Stevens.

    The hero of this sketch, which is copied from the Tacoma Ledger, was an uncle of Robert Flett, who served as interpreter for Major Gwydir during the latter's term as agent for the Indians on the Colville Reservation, and is well known among the earlier residents of Spokane. There are many people in Eastern Washington who also remember the valuable services rendered his country by the lamented John Flett in the brave days of old.
    John Flett, most ancient of the old settlers of this state, died at his home near Fort Steilacoom at 9 o'clock last evening. Mr. Flett came to this state from Winnipeg in 1841, and was most intimately connected with the early history of the territory, having been present at many of the conferences between the territorial officers and the Indians, both in Washington and Oregon. At several of these councils he acted as interpreter. His familiarity with the Indian character, as well as his knowledge of their language, made him specially useful at these councils, and his influence no doubt made some of them successful that would otherwise have failed. His story of the removal of the Umpquas from Southern Oregon to the Grand Ronde, an enterprise which was accomplished with the utmost difficulty, as well as his account of the trial and execution of Chief Leschi were specially interesting. He was also present at the final and grand council held by Governor Stevens and General Palmer with the several tribes near Walla Walla. On that occasion he acted as interpreter for General Palmer, as indeed he generally did, and the account of this negotiation as he told it was specially exciting. The council lasted three days, The Indians were very defiant, and at times threatened to take the scalps of the commissioners then and there. They rejected all proposals, and as the conference lengthened grew more and more ugly. It was reported that a famous Blackfoot chief, who had recently taken many scalps of white people who had invaded his country, was on his way to join these Indians and strengthen their resolutions not to give up their lands. Finally on the third day he arrived, carrying on a long pole some of the scalps he had taken. He rode about the camp displaying these scalps, boasting of what he had done to exterminate the hated "Bostons," and derided the others that they should think of yielding, or even stoop to parley with the hated invaders. His taunts and his manner, and especially his display of scalps, greatly excited the other Indians, and it seemed that the efforts to reach an agreement with them must certainly fail, if indeed they did not murder the commissioners on the spot. Governor Stevens resolved, however, to make one more talk to them. This he did, Mr. Flett acting as interpreter. He told them that the white people claimed the land by right of discovery; that they were taking peaceful possession; that they had no desire to make war on the red men or to drive them away, and that both could live together in harmony. His speech was pacific, but had no effect. The Indians listened to it uneasily, and at times threatened to become unpleasantly demonstrative. All hope seemed gone, but Palmer, who was of less diplomatic temper, resolved to try something more  courageous--something the others thought to be even foolhardy. He told the Indians that the people he represented claimed the country by right of conquest, and that they were strong enough to take it. "Can you," said he, "count the stars in the sky, the trees in the forests or the blades of grass on the plain? My people are more numerous than these, and if you force them to do so they will come and exterminate you."
    This speech had the effect to make the more stubborn among the chiefs more tractable and negotiations were reopened, and finally brought to a successful termination.
    John Flett was born August 5, 1815, in Ruperts Land, about 600 miles northeast of Manitoba, in the valley of the Red River of the North, his father then being in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company's store of the Cumberland district. When John was about 7 years of age the family moved to the Selkirk settlement, where he continued to reside until 1836, at which time he went to the site of the present city of St. Paul, Minn., there being at that tine but three houses where that city is now erected. Having remained there during a short season, he went to Chicago and stayed there about a year, during which time he assisted as bricklayer in the building of the third brick house erected in that city.
    In 1837 he returned to Manitoba, worked for a time as a blacksmith, and at intervals at hunting and trapping in the wilds of Minnesota and Dakota. In June, 1841, he joined the Red River colony and made the journey with it. In June, 1842, he settled in Washington County, Oregon, and was engaged in farming until 1854, when he accepted the position of Indian interpreter under General Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Oregon. His services in that capacity were very valuable, and much was due to Mr. Flett for the successful negotiations of the treaties then made. As a recognition of these services he was continued as interpreter and appointed also subagent, in which capacity he went to Southern Oregon. Alone he visited the war camp of the Rogue River Indians and induced them to go upon the reservation. He visited the Indians at Crescent City and Port Orford. He accompanied General Palmer and Indian Agent Chris Taylor to Klamath Lakes and the Modoc country, that being the first party who visited that region.
    In all the meetings and councils of Superintendent Palmer with the Southern Oregon Indians Mr. Flett accompanied him as an interpreter; and on General Palmer going to the Walla Walla council in June, 1885, Mr. Flett attended. He continued in the service of the Oregon superintendency for three years, and during that time executed many delicate and difficult missions requiring courage and discretion. In 1859 he settled at South Prairie, in Pierce County, and engaged in farming. He remained there until 1868, when he purchased his recent home near Lake View, about six miles from this city. From 1862 to 1878 he was employed on the Puyallup Indian Reservation as farmer or interpreter. He was a thorough Indian linguist, and an adept in understanding the Indian character, and was long recognized as among the most efficient and valuable attaches of the Indian Department.
    Until within a few weeks he was a well-preserved, hale and hearty old man, being able to personally transact his business affairs without assistance. He drove about the country unattended and within the past month acted as pallbearer at the funeral of one of his pioneer friends.
    About a week ago he complained of a dizziness in his head, and a little later was found unconscious, lying on the ground. Since then he had failed rapidly until last evening, when he died.
    Mr. Flett's son was the first to discover coal at Carbonado, and John Flett made the first test of it in his shop at Puyallup. The son brought a sample of it down the valley on his shoulders.
    He died possessed of several tracts of valuable land adjacent to Tacoma, one of which is Flett's addition to this city. He leaves several children, one of whom, John Flett, Jr., is connected with the Tacoma police force as driver of the patrol wagon.
Spokane Review, December 26, 1892, page 7

Last revised August 28, 2023