The Battle of the Cabins
See also Lieut. Sweitzer's and La Fayette Grover's accounts.
A few days ago some twenty Indians were were found by four of our spies, who came upon the Indians so suddenly that they were discovered before they had time to secrete themselves; so that they had to go among the Indians and make terms of peace, agreeing to come back in a few days, bring the agent, and make a treaty with them. They then came in and reported, after which about 150 volunteers and fifty regulars went to attack the Indians, taking with them a mountain howitzer with which to throw bombs into the house where the Indians were. They attacked them and succeeded in throwing one shell into the house and killed three Indians, and had four men wounded.
In the course of the night following, the enemy passed the sentinels and made their escape, leaving our soldiers to guard an empty house, and utterly failed to take the enormous number of 20 Indians!
Dr. William Miller, "Letter from Oregon," Wabash Express, Terre Haute, Indiana, March 12, 1856, page 1
A third party who were out in the direction of Applegate Creek discovered a band of Klamath Indians who had taken refuge in some cabins built by miners, but had been abandoned; two of the cabins I believe were built by the Indians. The volunteers apprehending they were not sufficiently strong to cope with their red enemies or otherwise sought to take advantage of them, called for a talk, told the Indians they had not come there to fight, but were miners and desired their friendship. After some consultation an agreement was made that neither party should molest each other, and that each should be left to pursue their usual avocations, without fear of molestation. The volunteers immediately reported the fact, and raised what was supposed to be a sufficient force to take the house. Upon repairing thither it was found they had a more formidable enemy than on two former occasions. Assistance was sent them from Fort Lane. On the morning of the second of January, Lieut. Underwood in command of a detachment of thirty five men with a mountain howitzer, started for the scene of action. While on the road about three miles south of Jacksonville Mr. Angel, an esteemed citizen of this valley, who had volunteered his services to accompany the command, while riding a few hundred yards in advance of the troops, was shot dead by some Indians in ambush. Before the infantry could reach the spot, although in sight, the Indians had fled up a precipitous mountain and made their escape.
On the following day when within three or four miles of the Indian houses the pack mule loaded with the ammunition for the howitzer fell off a precipice, near seventy feet into deep water. Nothing was seen of it after. An express was immediately dispatched to Fort Lane for another supply, which reached there about 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
A point being selected for the howitzer, the attack began. Several shells were soon thrown through the roof. Instead of the Indians breaking and running in every direction, as had been supposed they would, they quietly [sic] returned the fire through the opening the shell had made through the roof. To the utter astonishment of all present they shot with such remarkable precision as to hit men standing by the howitzer, distant over five hundred yards. During the day one man was killed and several wounded; the firing continued till about dark without effecting anything decisive.
About 2 o'clock that night the Indians abandoned their house, and charged through the lines of the volunteers, firing their guns and revolvers and yelling like so many demons, effecting their escape without any loss known to the whites.
An examination of the premises after the attack showed that Indian ingenuity or cunning could hardly be excelled by the whites. Their cabins were built on the points of a triangle, so arranged that any two could defend the remaining one. Their portholes were also cut in accordance with this plan.
Excavations had been made underground with a small aperture for the entrance floored overhead with two feet of solid earth, thus women, children, provisions and ammunition were all stored in safety below. From some secure corner the would watch the operations of the whites, and when safe would sally to their portholes, fire and slide back into the ground again.
Several cans of powder & considerable quantities of provisions were left behind in their flight, showing clearly that they were well supplied and that the abandonment was voluntary on their part.
Letter, George H. Ambrose to Joel Palmer, January 4, 1856. Frames 560-566, National Archives Microfilm Publications Microcopy No. 234 Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs 1824-81, Reel 609 Oregon Superintendency, 1856.
THE WAR.--We had expected to be able, by the close of this week, to give an account of the destruction of the band of Indians on the upper Applegate. Capt. Rice's command, with a large citizen force from Sterling, reached their position and surrounded them on Tuesday night, and Capt. Bushey's company were on the way. The party from Fort Lane, with the howitzer, were endeavoring to join them on Wednesday night, and the prospects were for an attack on Thursday. In consequence of an accident, however, the measure was defeated for two or three days. A mule belonging to the howitzer train, and loaded with ammunition for the piece, lost its footing and fell down a steep bank into the river, and thus the ammunition was lost, and a necessity produced for obtaining another supply from the fort. The Indians are in possession of three miners' cabins--one stockaded--a few miles above Star Gulch, on the south side of Applegate. The houses are put in such a condition that a force of thirty men may defend them against almost any number of riflemen. With shells they can be readily driven out. They are well known as a desperate and terrible band of Indians. It is supposed that in times of peace, since the settlement of this country, they have murdered more than their own number of whites, and generally have subsisted upon plunder. They are such marksmen that on Wednesdays at a distance of over two hundred yards they had wounded four men, one very seriously if not fatally.
Table Rock Sentinel, Jacksonville, January 5, 1856, page 2
Deer Creek, Jan. 7, 1856.
Dear Bush:--The express from the south this evening confirms the report of the death of Martin Angel, surrounding of the Indians on Applegate, &c., which have been in circulation for a day or two. Martin Angel and a man by the name of Hull were killed by the Indians within three miles of Jacksonville. It is also reported that two Chinamen were killed by the same band of Indians on Applegate, and robbed of three or four hundred dollars in dust.
The Indians, twenty-five or thirty in number, were corralled in three log cabins on Applegate by the volunteers and regulars, who had a howitzer along with them to make, as it was hoped, an effectual attack upon the Indians, but it did not work as it was anticipated it would, and after dark the Indians broke through the guards and made their escape certain. Three Indians were killed and some are supposed to have been wounded. Doctor Myers, of Sterling, was killed and some three or four whites were wounded. They were shot from three to four hundred yards. The Indians evidently have good marksmen and good rifles.
"Umpqua Correspondence of the Statesman," Oregon Statesman, Corvallis, January 15, 1856, page 2
Jacksonville, O.T., Jan. 5, 1856.The 1st of this month a report came into this place that three men had found a number of Indians fortified in cabins on Applegate. Major Bruce immediately sent an order to Capt. Rice to go there with his company. Capt. Smith also ordered 25 infantry under command of Lieut. Hagen and Underwood to go to the same point, taking with them a howitzer and shells for the purpose of routing the Indians from the cabins. On leaving this place many of the citizens volunteered to go with them. Mr. Angel of this valley and a Mr. Walker, being about 200 yards ahead of the regulars, were fired upon and Angel killed about two miles from Jacksonville. The Indians were pursued a short distance and fled to the hill, out of gunshot. The infantry still marched on for Applegate, and had the mule which was loaded with ammunition fall from a cliff, killing the mule and losing all of their ammunition in Applegate. They immediately sent an express back to the fort for more, which left with Lieut. Sweitzer and 16 dragoons. The quartermaster of the volunteers furnished them mules to pack the ammunition, as they had no mules and could not hire any. They arrived at the cabins on Applegate yesterday about three o'clock, planted their howitzer and let a shell through the roof of one of the houses, killing only two Indians. They still kept a guard around the cabins, intending to attack them again this morning, but the Indians broke by the guard about 2 o'clock this morning, and all escaped. The volunteers are pursuing them today.
In the fight five whites were wounded and one killed; one of them was shot through the leg about five hundred yards from the cabin. The whites all say the Indians can shoot well. The Indians were well fortified, having gone in the cabins and then dug cellars some six feet underground.
JIM.Oregon Statesman, Corvallis, January 15, 1856, page 3
Progress of the War in the Interior.
MOVEMENT TOWARDS APPLEGATE--THREE WHITES KILLED--
ESCAPE OF THE INDIANS.
About New Year's Day a small party of whites discovered a band of Indians on Applegate Creek, some twenty-five or thirty miles from Jacksonville. Pretending to be miners on a prospecting tour, they managed to remain on the creek, unsuspected by the Indians, until they could send word to the nearest settlements. These Indians appeared to belong to the band that committed the depredations on the Upper Klamath, as they pretended to entertain hostile feelings against the whites in that region only, and did not care to fight the "Bostons" about Jacksonville.
As soon as information of their whereabouts was received in the valley, about 150 of the troops, and many citizen volunteers, took up the line of march for Applegate on the 2nd of January, carrying one of the mountain howitzers along. When about two miles from Jacksonville, Mr. Martin Angel and John McLaughlin passed ahead of a troop of thirty soldiers, and within a distance of only 40 yards of them were shot at by Indians. Mr. Angel's horse took fright, and while cantering off the trail the Indians succeeded with several more shots to kill horse and rider, and then stripping them, taking Mr. Angel's two revolvers and rifle. Angel's companion, McLaughlin, succeeded in rejoining the soldiers, who immediately loaded their guns and then advanced toward the spot where Angel fell. They came soon enough to make the Indians hasten their escape and drop some of the plunder, but Angel was already dead. Mr. Henry H. Hutchins, our informant, learned that on the same morning Mr. Hull was out hunting with his son when the latter was killed by the Indians, and it is thought this was done by the same scout which killed Angel.
On the 3rd of January, pursuing the march towards Applegate, the soldiers had the misfortune to lose one of their mules, loaded with ammunition for the howitzer, and consequently had to send back for a new supply, which came only upon the 5th. Meanwhile a portion of the force of the whites had got up to the Indian camp, which consisted of several log cabins formerly occupied by miners, but now changed into forts with numerous apertures, through which they fired in such a manner that several whites were wounded at a distance of 300 yards. Their camp was, however, surrounded, and the success of the whites depended upon their ability to keep the Indians in position.
Late in the afternoon of the 5th the howitzer was got ready, fired, and the shot fell directly upon one of the cabins, killing three Indians. Several more shots were fired before night, but without effect. During the night the Indians, judging discretion to be the better part of valor, broke through the guards of the whites and escaped. We learn with great regret that in this untoward affair our friend, Dr. Wm. Myers, of this city, was killed, and several others wounded.
The disappointment of the public, in hearing of the inglorious issue of this movement, is the more acutely felt, as from the previous successes on Butte Creek it was confidently expected that the troops at length had made up their mind to go at it with a will. The escape of the Indians remains to many inexplicable. Five weeks earlier from 4 to 500 troops withdrew from before 150 Indians at the "Big Meadows"; now thirty-three Indians eluded the vigilance of eight times their number of whites. We are too remote from the scene of action to judge correctly of the merits of the case, but this much we might infer from the past: that it takes a long time to whip 200 hostile Indians.
Crescent City Herald, January 16, 1856, page 2
Dec. 26th I ordered Capt. Rice to move his company up Bear Creek to Camp Lindley, where he remained until January the first 1856. Having the day before received an express from Capt. Wright of an independent company of citizens from Sterling, informing me that a band of Indians were in possession of some deserted log cabins up Applegate Creek, I immediately ordered Capt. Rice & Alcorn to repair for a campaign in the mountains, while I proceeded to Fort Lane to ask the assistance of Capt. Smith with his howitzer. Early on the first Jany. I made a forced march up to the forks of Applegate Creek with Capt. Rice's company of 40 men. On the 2nd I marched up Applegate 20 miles and there found Capt. Wright with his camp of 50 citizens surrounding the cabins.
We then kept a continual watch day and night waiting for the regulars from Fort Lane with the howitzer. Whenever an Indian showed himself he was fired at by some of our men, some of the enemy were wounded and three killed. Three of the citizens of Capt. Wright's camp were wounded and one man in Capt. Rice's camp was killed. The weather being very cold, and snow from 6 to 12 inches deep, much suffering was experienced by us all. On the 4th day at 3 p.m. Lieutenant Underwood with 40 regulars & the howitzer arrived. I immediately consulted with the Lieut. as to the propriety of an immediate assault. He thought he could finish the job before sundown. The first shell fell into one of the cabins, wounding one Indian & two children; 8 of the warriors then retreated to a rather fortified cabin a few yards distant. Six or seven shells were thrown without doing any damage. It being near dark we drew off, intending to renew the assault in the morning at a closer distance. Our men were under arms all night. The regulars were stationed up the creek in a line across back to the hill a distance of 50 yards. Capt. Rice's men were stationed along the creek opposite the fortification. Capt. Wright's comp. were stationed below from the creek round to the hillside. Our men thus posted, we thought we had them secure till morning. About 11 o'clock in the night the Indians crept up to the line of the regulars, fired their guns and then commenced yelling & a portion of them broke through the lines the regulars opened a fire on them and turned a portion of them down towards the creek it being very thick and brushy, they succeeded in breaking through the line of sentinels, crossing the creek and making their escape, although many of them were wounded, by the blood seen in the snow next morning in their trails. Immediately after the Indians made their escape the regulars left their posts and returned to their camp, a distance of 600 yards, but the Lieut. ordered them back to their posts again, but while the soldiers were absent the women with their children & baggage passed out leading a horse with them, as was seen by their tracks in the morning.
After daylight I called the men from their posts and examined the cabins, found there an Indian boy wounded, the dead having been burned. We were surprised to see with what skill [the] wily foe had fortified those cabins. They had a passage dug underground by which they could gain ingress & egress, also deep pits in each corner of the cabins and loopholes under the bottom logs, so that they could stand in the pits and shoot out without being exposed. After examining the cabins I proposed to Lieut. Underwood to take the enemy's trail and follow it up, but he declined on the ground that his men were not accustomed to traveling in the mountains, and Capt. Wright's men were not prepared to go forth & returned back to Sterling. The force under my command, 32 men, much fatigued with three days & nights watching in the snow & cold, I deemed it most prudent to return down Applegate to Camp Spencer, where we could get grass for our horses and recruit the men a little.
Report of Major James Bruce to Oregon Adjutant General E. M. Barnum, March 18, 1856; Oregon State Archives, Yakima and Rogue River War, Document File B, Reel 2, Document 584.
Jan. 10th, by express from Jacksonville, we learn that 40 Indians in a log house were attacked by 150 whites, with a piece of artillery (on Applegate Creek), when the Indians rushed out, broke the line, killed four and wounded five, and escaped without the loss of a man.
Hornellsville (New York) Tribune, April 24, 1856, page 2
The following incident will show how near a considerable portion of his tribe were to being taken. In the early part of January 1856, a company of men went up the mountains in search of the Old Chief. They had made their encampment in a convenient place; and for several days sent out scouts, two or three in a company, in all directions. On one occasion, two of these scouts fell in with a fresh trail; and following it up, came to a cabin. Gladly would they have concealed themselves; but they were perceived by the occupants, and had no alternative but to assume courage, and make the best of their discovery. They found the tenement in the occupation of several Indian women and children. Therefore they pretended to be miners in search of gold; and to ensure the confidence of the women, they made them an offer of the two mules, with their provisions. This liberality was induced by the fear that the warriors, who could not be far off, might suddenly return and kill them. They persuaded the women to go with them to camp, promising to make a treaty of peace. They were soon met by the returning warriors, and their lives were only spared through the intercessions of the women.
They found that this cabin consisted of logs, and was also covered with the same, upon which were brush and earth. It was guarded by a deep ditch, with slanting cuts for the rifles, so that they could defend themselves, and be in tolerable safety from the shots of an enemy.
On the report of the scouts at their camp, it was resolved to get a reinforcement, and take the place by storm. This was, undoubtedly, for some special object rather than necessity, since the Indians were anxious for peace, and had spared those whom they had in power, on promise of a treaty being made. Accordingly, "a battalion of the army," "with a great number of spirited citizens from Jacksonville" --I quote from the papers of the day--"marched to the attack."
But upon approach, it was found that they could not get within the range of rifles, without danger; for you must know that these refined warriors had an especial daintiness in regard to the manner of their being killed; and they themselves particularly disliked to be shot. This, in connection with their common treatment of the Indians, shows what respect they had for the Golden Rule, and why so many high clerical and canonical functionaries should have patronized them.
But to return to the battle. As one of the besiegers fell dead, and others were wounded, without making any impression on the besieged, it was resolved to send to Fort Lane for a cannon, and blow them up with bombshells. Pursuant to this resolution, on the afternoon of the following day, the cannon was duly poised; and its awful echoes boomed over the mountains and ravines, rousing the terrified Indians, who had never heard the like before. But although the firing was continued until the curtain of night fell and closed the scene, only one shell entered the cabin, killing two, and wounding others. The roar of battle then ceased, but only to be resumed, with greater vigor, in the morning; and the weary troops, some of whom had been on guard more or less for four days, once more slept upon their arms.
The number of the besiegers was variously estimated at from 200 to 400, including the "spirited citizens"; that of the besieged was about 30, including women and children.
The morning sun arose; and, lo! it was soon discovered that the Indians had retreated beyond the reach of bombshells, carrying along all their arms and ammunition, leaving only the deserted logs, instead of human bodies, for the balls and bombs to fall upon and scatter. This is conclusive proof of one thing, if not two. It shows either that the white soldier-men slept very soundly, or that they winked at their escape.
As might be expected, there was a strong reaction among the "spirited citizens" at this general explosion of their brilliant achievements, past and prospective. They put a bombshell in their cannon, and it came out a bubble; and, to their dismay, they found that even women and little children were too wide awake for them. In short, they were quite mistaken when they thought that Indians had no more sagacity or self-respect than to lie still and sleep in the night, only to be bombarded and blown up in the morning. This state of things was particularly annoying, in view of the fact that the snow was melting from the mountains, and the Indians, who had been long confined in the meadows, would soon be at large.
And what was still more alarming, the Indians had gained caution by suffering, skill by practice, and courage by success; and they were, in the beginning of 1856, after months of continuous war, better prepared for its prosecution than when it first commenced. They had intercepted several pack trains, from which they had obtained plentiful supplies of arms and ammunition. But what tended more than all other things to give them power was a sense of right. While, on the other hand, there was a great lack of the moral element, as a basis for the volunteers to act upon. Many of them were far from being assured of the righteousness of their cause, and not a few who had at first sanctioned the war, and aided in its operations, became convinced that the Indians were in the right; and rather than stand in the wrong against them, they had left the ranks, and thereby forfeited their claims for previous service. It was owing to causes of this kind that so little was done during the winter, for notwithstanding the newspaper accounts of "victories gained and battles won," it was notorious that the enemy were, in reality, the victors, and that the rifles' crack from a few Indians in ambush would cause large bodies of well-armed and mounted men to fly for safety.
John Beeson, A Plea for the Indians, 1858, page 63
Toward the last of December some scouts who happened to be near the forks of the Applegate discovered that a body of Indians probably twelve or so in number had taken possession of two deserted miners' cabins and had gone into winter quarters there, preparing themselves for a state of siege by excavating the floors of the houses and piling the dirt against the walls so as to form a protection against rifle bullets. The scouts withdrew unseen, and going to Sterling told the news. A body of sixty or more miners and others went immediately to watch the cabins and prevent the Indians from escaping, while word was sent to various military companies who began to repair to the spot. Captain Bushey arrived, and finding the position too strong for his small force to take, awaited the arrival of others. Captain Smith sent Lieutenants Hagen and Underwood with twenty-five regulars and the inevitable howitzer, with the design of shelling the savages out; but the fortune of war was unpropitious. The mule carrying the ammunition was so heedless as to fall into a deep creek and be killed, while the powder was ruined. More ammunition was sent for, and Lieutenant Sweitzer with sixteen regulars brought it on a mule. This animal was more fortunate; and the regular army drew up in front of the cabins and at a safe distance fired a shell which passed into or through a cabin and killed, as the records say, two savages. But before the howitzer's arrival the Indians had signalized themselves by a strong resistance. They had killed a man by a rifle-shot, at a distance of 500 yards, a display of marksmanship equal to the best known among the whites. Five whites had been wounded. After the shell was fired, the regulars postponed further operations until the morrow, as night was near. When they arose the next morning their birds had flown and the cages were empty. Quite a force of volunteers had gathered upon the scene. There were Captain Rice and his company, from the upper end of Bear Creek Valley; some men of Alcorn's company, a few volunteers from Jacksonville, and a delegation from the Applegate. A much regretted event occurred during the day; this was the killing of Martin Angel, of Jacksonville, who set out to accompany the regulars to Star Gulch, the scene of the siege. When two and a half miles from Jacksonville, on the Crescent City road, Angel and Walker, who were about two hundred and fifty yards in advance, were fired on by Indians concealed in the brush beside the road. Angel was killed instantly, four balls passing through his head and neck. Walker was not hit, but escaped death narrowly. When the troops came up the Indians had stripped the dead man and were just retreating into the brush.
A. G. Walling, History of Southern Oregon, Comprising Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Curry and Coos Counties, 1884, page 259
The year of 1856 opened much less auspiciously than the previous one. The ground was still covered with snow, although the weather was milder; while the Indian difficulties were apparently no nearer a settlement than when commenced in October of the preceding year. The withdrawal of the troops from an offensive campaign gave to Chief John, the leader of the hostiles, the desired opportunity to rob, kill and burn, as well as to supply his warriors with food; while the uncertainty as to the point of the next attack rendered travel unsafe, and much embarrassed every branch of business.
On the first day of January, Major Bruce was informed that a band of Indians had taken possession of three log cabins on Star Gulch, a branch of Applegate Creek, and were committing depredations from that point. The Major at once ordered Captain Rice to proceed there with his company. Upon reconnoitering the place, it was found that the cabins were held and so well fortified by the Indians that small arms would have no effect. Word was immediately sent to Fort Lane, and Captain Smith at once ordered Lieutenant Underwood and Lieutenant Hazen, with thirty-five men, in charge of the howitzer, to proceed to that point. On their way they were joined by many citizens, among whom were Martin Angel and Mr. Walker, who were riding nearly two hundred yards ahead of the command, when, at a point about two miles from Jacksonville, they were fired upon by the Indians. Angel was killed instantly, having received four bullets in his head and neck, but Walker escaped without injury. The Indians were immediately pursued, but easily made their escape up the mountain, through the chaparral, and were soon beyond gunshot. This was not the only misfortune experienced by the command. On the forward march to Applegate, the mule packed with the ammunition for the howitzer fell off a cliff into Applegate Creek, and was killed, and the ammunition spoiled. An express was at once sent to Fort Lane for more; and Lieutenant [Nelson Bowman] Sweitzer and sixteen dragoons left Fort Lane with the necessary ammunition, the transportation being furnished by the quartermaster of the volunteers, as it could not be furnished by the quartermaster at Fort Lane. The regular troops arrived at the cabins about three o'clock p.m. on the 4th of January, planted their howitzer, and sent a shell through the roof of one of the cabins which killed two Indians. It being now nearly dark, the attack was postponed until morning, a guard being placed around the cabins to prevent the escape of the Indians. The savages, finding that their quarters were getting too uncomfortable, broke through the guard about two o'clock in the morning and escaped. The force of the Indians was about thirty warriors, who were well fortified, besides having dug bomb-proof chambers inside, six feet underground. The loss of the whites was one man killed and five wounded, one having been shot through the leg at a distance of five hundred yards.
Elwood Evans, ed., History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, volume 1, 1889, page 445
About the last of December, 1855, Major Bruce, being informed by express from Sterling that a party of Indians had fortified themselves in three deserted log cabins on Applegate Creek, ordered Captains Rice and Alcorn to prepare for a campaign in the mountains, and himself proceeded to Fort Lane to ask the assistance of Captain Smith with his howitzer. Obtaining the promise of this, he made a forced march up to the forks of Applegate Creek with Rice's company of forty men on the first of January, and on the second twenty miles further up the creek, where he found an independent company of fifty citizens from Sterling surrounding the cabins.
Nothing could be done before the arrival of the howitzer on the afternoon of the fourth, the intervening time being spent in snow from six to twelve inches deep, with severe weather, the volunteers exchanging occasional shots with the Indians. In the three days of waiting and suffering, three Indians were killed and several wounded, while Captain Rice lost one man killed, and the citizen company three wounded.
On the arrival of Lieutenant Underwood from Fort Lane, with forty regulars and the howitzer, a shell was dropped into one of the cabins, wounding one Indian and two children, when several were seen to retreat to another cabin a few yards distant. A few more shells were thrown without effect, when night coming on, the three several companies were posted in a manner which was intended to prevent an escape; the regulars being between the Indians and the hills, and the volunteers and citizens on two other sides, the lines almost meeting.
With all this precaution, about eleven o'clock the Indians crept up to the line of soldiers, firing and yelling. In the first surprise a number broke through the line and escaped to the hills; but the regulars recovering themselves turned a portion of them back towards the creek, across which they succeeded in escaping, the sentinels being unable to get at them by reason of the thickets along the stream, their trail being found by daylight to be stained with blood.
It was only the fighting men of the besieged, however, who had taken wing when the sentinels of the regular force, not liking the cold, and perhaps not liking to fight an unseen enemy, returned to camp; and before their commander could order them back to their posts, the Indian women with their children, and a pack animal, also passed the line, and gained the hills.
On examining the cabins it was found that the Indians had burned their dead, but had left a wounded boy to the mercy of his captors. From him it was learned that the party occupying the cabins belonged to chief Jo; and the skill with which he had fortified his camp would have defied the volunteer arms; it was only the howitzer which could dislodge him. A subterranean passage had been excavated leading from the cabins to the open country and pits dug in each corner of the cabins deep enough to stand in, with loopholes under the bottom logs through which they could shoot without being exposed; all of which was surprising in savage military science, but was probably learned from communication with white men.
Frances Fuller Victor, Indian Wars of Oregon, 1894, page 364
BATTLE OF THE CABINSIn the fall of 1855 [sic], writes W. M. Pitney in the Junction City Times of recent date, two prospectors went on to the south fork, or main branch, of Applegate Creek, near the line between Jackson and Josephine counties, and took up mining claims. They built a cabin out of very large logs, some of them being about 30 inches in diameter, and, after getting things in shape for winter, they went to the settlement for supplies. On returning to their cabin they found that a band of about 30 Indians had taken possession and strongly fortified it. They had also built another cabin, about 15 feet away, also out of very large logs, and had dug a trench between the cabins to use as a means of communication in case of attack. They had made portholes in the cabins, so they might shoot with perfect safety to themselves.
INCIDENT OF EARLY INDIAN TROUBLES IN SOUTHERN OREGON.
Band of Redskins in Fortified Log Dwellings Withstands a Brief Siege by Body of Whites.
On discovering the Indians, the rightful owners of the cabin went to Sterlingville, a distance of about 30 miles, for volunteers to kill or capture the intruders. They succeeded in raising about 30 men, some of them from disbanded Company A, Captain Harris commander, which fought and defeated the Indians at Table Rock on the day of the massacre of the Wagoner family. A young man by the name of S. A. Mowder, clerking in Captain Harris' store in Sterlingville, accompanied the expedition.
The names of others who can now be remembered were: Dr. Myers, Robert Opp, John Goldsby. Mr. Rude, John Deadman, George Mantel, John Bogard and Ira Mayfield, the latter being a brother of Mrs. Dan Test, well known in Lane County.
Siege Established.The volunteers surrounded the cabins, cutting the Indians off from water, but the redskins were so well fortified that it was thought best to lay a general siege to the fort. On the second day of the siege, six men, under the command of George Mantel, who had been stationed behind the bank of the creek at the foot of a gentle slope behind the cabin, undertook to roll a large log up to the fort, in order to enable them to shoot at close range through the portholes. They rolled the log in front of them and got within 40 or 50 yards of the fort, but the redskins kept up such a firing at the log that they felt more interested in saving their own scalps than in taking those of the siwashes. One of the men, John Goldsby by name, received a bullet from the enemy's guns that creased his temple and cut the hair from his head. After a council, held under the most trying circumstances, it was concluded to retreat.
Now this was the most difficult part of it, as it was much easier and safer to push the log in front of them than to pull it after them. The log was considered a very necessary piece of furniture just at this time, and a retreat without it was not to be thought of. Every time a hand was placed on top of the log to give it a pull, zip would go a bullet, covering his hand with bark and splinters. But the men finally succeeded in rolling the log backward until they reached a low swag, and then they were compelled to crawl on all fours some distance until they reached a place of safety.
Strategical Maneuver.About 50 or 60 yards from the fort was an oak tree that forked near the ground. S. A. Mowder, seeing this tree and thinking that it possessed advantages over the position which he occupied, put his hat on the ramrod of his gun and held it up between the forks, when a bullet from an Indian gun put a hole through it. He retreated in good order, crawling on all fours, and on his way back he met Dr. Myers, who thought he would try his luck behind the same tree. Mr. Mowder showed him the hole in his hat and told him that evidently an Indian had the point covered and was holding a bead on the fork of the tree. But Mr. Myers thought differently, and crawled up to the tree and raised his head to take a peep, when a bullet went crashing through his brain, killing him instantly.
The savages, running short of water on the third night of the siege, sent a squaw to the creek for a supply. The volunteers not wishing to kill squaws, her first trip was made unmolested. A hasty consultation was held and it was decided that if she made a second trip, she must be killed. In a short time afterward she made her appearance and paid the penalty with her life.
The Indians were so strongly entrenched that it was a hard and dangerous job to drive them out, and it was thought best to send a messenger to Fort Lane, a distance of about 40 miles, for some regulars and a howitzer, which Captain Smith sent, with about a dozen soldiers, who arrived on the evening of the fourth day of the siege. The soldiers, against the wishes of the volunteers, who wanted to wait until morning, planted the cannon on an elevation above the fort, about 300 yards distant, and in plain view, and opened fire on the Indians, late in the evening. The Indians returned the fire, slightly wounding several soldiers.
Results of Firing.Two shots from the cannon took effect, knocking part of the fort down, killing two squaws and a pappoose and wounding a little Indian boy. That night every precaution was taken to prevent the escape of the Indians. The regulars were strongly posted up the creek, where it was thought the Indians might try to break through and escape. About 2 o'clock in the morning the savages stealthily crawled forth, and, giving the deafening war whoop of the tribe, broke over the soldiers at this very point, carrying with them a few wounds. They escaped with no loss. Snow had fallen several inches deep during the night, and it would have been an easy matter to have tracked the siwashes, which the volunteers wanted to do. But the soldiers were not willing, and this probably saved the lives of most of the company, as the Indians, not trying to conceal their tracks, had gone through a little prairie or opening and ambushed, by dividing and going back on the sides of the opening. As the snow had weighted the bushes down, they were well concealed and would have done fearful execution if they had been followed. They left their dead and plunder behind, and also the little Indian boy who had been wounded. John Bogard took him in hand and kept him for several years, after bringing him back to Sterlingville.
Waiting for Orders.The next morning the volunteers wanted to know of the soldiers why they were not able to kill some of the Indians, who had evidently run right over them as they lay asleep. Among them was a little Irishman, who, in defense, said: "Faith and sure, I could have probed one with the point of my bayonet, but I was waiting for orders from me captain."
After the battle the soldiers returned to Fort Lane and the volunteers to Sterlingville, carrying with them the dead body of Dr. Myers, and Robert Opp, who was severely wounded in the ankle. As he was being carried downhill by S. A. Mowder and another young man, the snow having covered the ruts made by the government teams a few days before, Mr. Mowder stepped into a hole and broke his right ankle. It caused his death in after years, as he was compelled to have his leg amputated, and died from the effects of the operation. He was well known in Jackson and Lane counties, and from him was gleaned most of the facts as stated in this record of the Battle of the Cabins.
Sunday Oregonian, Portland, April 15, 1900, page 32
A fine subject for study and experiment was a little Indian boy six or eight years of age that lived in my family during the years 1858 and 1859. He was a relic of the Rogue River Indian War of 1855 and 1856, having been wounded by a buckshot in the leg in "The Cabin Fight" and found in the cabin after the Indians had abandoned it. The Indians, being hotly pursued by the white settlers, took refuge in a log cabin from which they could command any approach and hold their assailants out of rifle range. To remedy this state of things, a mountain howitzer was being forwarded from the nearest fort, and the besieged Indians, guessing the cause of the apparent suspension of hostilities, awaited until dark, when they broke out, every fellow trusting to his heels, and escaped, it is said, without the loss of a man.
Timothy Woodbridge Davenport, "Recollections of an Indian Agent," Oregon Historical Quarterly, September 1907, page 258
As showing how wide was the military field of operations in 1856, the battle of upper Applegate now calls for attention. John S. Miller, who took part in that engagement, gave me some of the particulars, but as Mrs. Victor has preserved a pretty correct account of that fight. I will quote from it first:
"About the last of December, 1855, Major Bruce, being informed by express from Sterling that a party of Indians had fortified themselves in three deserted log cabins on Applegate Creek, ordered Capt. Rice and Alcorn to prepare for a campaign in the mountains and himself proceeded to Fort Lane to ask the assistance of Capt. Smith with his howitzer. Obtaining the promise of this, he made a forced march up to the forks of Applegate with Rice's company of forty men on the first of January, and on the second twenty miles further up the creek, where he found an independent company of fifty citizens from Sterling surrounding the cabins.
"Nothing could be done before the arrival of the howitzer on the afternoon of the fourth, the intervening time being spent in snow from six to twelve inches deep, with severe weather, the volunteers exchanging occasional shots with the Indians. In the three days of waiting and suffering, three Indians were killed and several wounded, while Capt. Rice lost one man killed, and the citizen company three wounded.
"On the arrival of Lieut. Underwood from Fort Lane with forty regulars and the howitzer, a shell was dropped into one of the cabins, wounding one Indian and two children, when several were seen to retreat to another cabin a few yards distance. A few more shells were thrown without effect, when night coming on, the several companies were posted in a manner which was intended to prevent an escape; the regulars being between the Indians and the hills, and the volunteers and citizens on two other sides, the lines almost meeting.
"With all this precaution, about eleven o'clock the Indians crept up to the line of soldiers, firing and yelling. In the first surprise a number broke through the line and escaped to the hills, but the regulars recovering themselves turned a portion of them back towards the creek, across which they succeeded in escaping to the hills, we the sentinels being unable to get at them by reason of the thickets along the stream, their trail being found by daylight to be stained with blood.
"It was only the fighting men of the besieged, however, who had taken wing when the sentinels of the regular force, not liking the cold, and perhaps not liking to fight an unseen enemy, returned to camp, and before their commander could order them back to their posts, the Indian women and their children, and a pack animal, also passed the line, and gained the hills.
"On examining the cabins it was found that the Indians had burned their dead, but had left a wounded boy to the mercy of his captors. From him it was learned that the party occupying the cabins belonged to Chief Joe, and the skill with which he fortified his camp would have defied the volunteer arms; it was only the howitzer which could dislodge him. A subterranean passage had been excavated leading from the cabins to the open country and pits dug in each corner of log cabin deep enough to stand in, with loopholes under the bottom logs through which they could shoot without being exposed; all of which was surprising in savage military science, but was probably learned from communication with white men.
"Bruce wished to follow the trail of the Indians, but Lieutenant Underwood declared his men unfit for traveling in the mountains; and the citizen company were unprepared. They therefore returned to Sterling, and Underwood to Fort
Lane; while Bruce retired to Camp Spencer, on the lower Applegate Creek, to recruit the horses, and give his company a much-needed rest after three days and nights watching in snow and cold, remaining there until the eighteenth. On that date he was joined by Captains O'Neil and Alcorn, with a part of their commands, making his available force 73 men, rank and file. Alcorn, with 38 men, took the trail of the Indians up Applegate Creek, while Bruce, with O'Neil and the remainder, marched up Williams Creek. Scouting continued for five days, when Bruce fell in with two Indian spies, running them to camp, a distance of 12 miles. Sending an express to hasten forward O'Neil, the major dismounted his men, 21 in all, and stationing Alcorn with 11 men on the left of the canyon in which the enemy was camped, himself occupied the right with only 9 men.
"It was discovered that the Indians were 60 or 70 strong. Firing became general, and both sides sustained losses. Wiley Cash was killed in this preliminary engagement, and Daniel Richardson severely wounded. Soon after these casualties, eight men were cut off from the little force, when Bruce collected th ten left him and charged the Indians, driving them out of the canyon, relieving the men and securing a favorable position for himself, though surrounded and cut off from his horses. Night coming on, he was compelled to retreat towards these, but found that half of them had been driven off before the arrival of Capt. O'Neil, who was on the ground with the news that he had sent Lieut. Armstrong an hour before dark with 20 men to engage the enemy on the right, while with 20 men he had flanked their left and fought them until dark. The night being very dark and cold, the whole force present withdrew to camp five miles distant, when it was discovered that Lieut. Armstrong had not returned. Instead he remained on the ground and renewed the attack at daylight next morning, the Indians giving way and retreating soon after daybreak. It was found they had burned heir dead in the night, making it impossible to determine their loss."
The first battle here mentioned was fought where Steamboat City was afterwards located. Further particulars of that battle, as gleaned from Mr. Miller. follows:
"The mule that was transporting the howitzer rolled down the mountain into the Applegate. The soldiers improvised enough, however, to startle the savages from their lair. The Indians could stand off the whites pretty well so long as rifles alone were used but when the soldiers got to 'shooting wagons at them,' as the Indians called it, demoralization was apt to set in. One of the soldiers put his hat on his ramrod and set it out for the Indians to shoot at. He thoughtlessly stuck his head around the tree to get a shot himself, when an Indian plugged him through the head.
"It was in this battle that Jacob Spores, son of old man Spores of Lane County, was mortally wounded. He was transferred back to Jacksonville, where he lingered for several days before he died. It was from Jacksonville that the troops started to make the fight on upper Applegate. Some may have gone from Sterling, but Jacksonville was military headquarters. After the troops left, Martin Angel and another man concluded they would follow and see the fun. They got a little ways down Poorman's Creek when they were fired on by some Indian scouts and Martin Angel ceased his troubling of Indians or anyone else, and the Indian boy he insisted on hanging was avenged. His wife was the reputed daughter of Dr. McLoughlin, and she had extensive matrimonial experience. She was married to a man by the name of Rice, then to Angel and after his death she married a notorious gambler by the name of Charles Williams, a man who, in a fit of passion, killed another man at Dardanelles with a stool."
John S. Miller, from an undated, unattributed typescript, Oregon Historical Society Research Library Mss. 211, Olney Family Papers. Miller died in 1912.
Old Indian Wars
Interesting Account of the Early Troubles in Southern Oregon
Remembered by Old Timers.
To the pioneer reunion of Southern Oregon, held at Ashland, Ore., on September 7, 1911, the writer, A. G. Rockfellow, submits the following statement of his services in the Indian war of Southern Oregon during the war of 1855 and 1856:
After the Indian outbreak, Jacob Thompson and myself, two old friends from childhood, agreed that between ourselves we would keep one man in the service from that time until the close of the war, one of us only to serve at the same time, and it was decided that I should be the first one to take the field.
Accordingly, about the first of December, 1855, with my own gun bought for that special purpose at fifty dollars, I mounted Mr. Thompson's horse and wended my way to Fort Vannoy, two miles below the present site of Grants Pass, where I was duly enrolled in Major James Bruce's command, under C. A. Rice as captain and J. S. Miller as first lieutenant. I cannot now recall the names of our lower officers, but we were all under Colonel Robert Williams (known as private life as Bob Williams) as the Southern Battalion of Oregon Mounted Volunteers.
This organization constituted the army of the southern part of the state. But we were soon joined by a company from the northern part of the state under the command of Captain Rinearson, making altogether quite an imposing army. And now under the leadership of Colonel Robert Williams, who was by nature both escort and leader, on the forgotten day of September [sic] we set out for the "cabins" in the Applegate country where the Indians were known to be encamped. On arriving there guards were promptly placed around the cabins to prevent any attempt the Indians might make to steal away under cover of night, while the command was waiting the arrival of a howitzer known to be on the way under the escort of Captain Judah of Fort Jones, California.
In the placing of the guards a young man by the name of Miller and called "Doc" Miller, from Crescent City, Cal., and myself were placed together at the edge of the water of the Applegate, with a bank about four feet high in front of us and between us and the cabins, and about fifty yards away from the cabins. Immediately on top of this bank of the river and between us and the cabins stood a pine tree large enough to shield one man as long as he kept it between himself and the enemy. But to do good duty as a guard he had to put his head out to one side of the tree so that he could see if the Indians were making any movement toward going away. I had just had my turn standing at that place and watching by putting my head out from behind the tree, when Miller came to my relief and took my place, while I was now crouching between the bank and the water. I think it could not have been more than five minutes after our change of places when a gunshot report rang out from the direction of the cabins, and simultaneous with the report of the gun Miller fell over by my side dead, with a bullet hole through his head. Thus it can be seen how on many occasions one may barely escape the fatal shot that takes the life of another one. And why, you may ask, does it sometimes so happen? To this question I can only answer by saying I am not here to philosophize and can only answer you by repeating your own question, "Why?"
I cannot now recollect whether this circumstance transpired before or after the bombardment of the cabins, but I am quite sure that on the night after the bombardment the Indians made their way out of their perilous situation, through a dense growth of underbrush on the north side of the cabins.
But the question will be asked, "Did you follow them?" To this question the answer may be justly given. By the morning light of the next day the Indians were many miles away in a heavily timbered and brush-covered mountainous country, where to have followed them now would have been to court death from behind every tree, every rock and every clump of brush behind which an Indian could hide himself and, after shooting his man, slip away down the side of the mountain unobserved to a place of safety.
The army now returned to headquarters at Fort Vannoy to recruit and get ready for the next expedition, when our scouts, chief of whom is now again our late Colonel Williams (now only Colonel Bob), again located them in a heavy wooded country opposite the upper end of the Big Meadows on Rogue River. All ready now for the renewal of the conflict at the Meadows with our gallant Colonel Williams still at the head of the army, though just now fresh from the scenes of the scout. We now move in warlike style for the scenes of the coming fray opposite the Big Meadows, hopeful of success this time. Arrived at the Meadows, we made camp for the night in the middle of that open and extensive meadow, with a strong guard all round us to prevent any attempt of the cowardly foe, who, not now more than a mile distant from us, did not dare to attack us, but under cover of their heavily wooded and brush-environed camp lay quietly during the night, wondering, I suppose, how we were on the morrow to cross the river and meet them face to face, and the sequel shows how vainly we strove to cross the river in the face of their well-selected place of defense.
On the morrow, at the sound of the bugle call, all hands were up and preparing the morning meal, with a noonday lunch, while engaged in an almost hand-to-hand encounter with the Indians in their stronghold. During the night, on our side of the river, the movements for the morrow were all arranged. Fully equipped for a day of hard work, the army, with the exception of a few campkeepers, were to march down to the river and of the drift logs that lay on the bank of the stream were to construct a raft on which the army could be rafted over into the timber, where it would have an equal fight with the redskins, and while the axmen were at work on the raft the balance were sitting on the high ground overlooking them. Very unexpectedly to all hands, a report as of the exploding of a gun cap was heard as if from across the river, and immediately followed by the loud report of a gun from the same direction. At once the whole force of the men on the side of the hill were on the run for the river, where they might find shelter among the rocks and logs and trees abounding there, a few of us stopping on the hillside to take advantage of the rocks and small trees there for shelter. Here myself and another young man took our chance for safety behind a tree whose body was not more than half as large as our bodies, and soon the rifle and yager balls came whizzing past us and some lighting in rather ominous proximity to our faulty retreat, my partner left me and ran for a better shelter among the rocks and trees at the river. When about halfway down, his arms flying high above his head, a yager ball struck and broke one of them, when he tumbled over and lay there for a moment only. On seeing the man fall the reds on the opposite side of the river were made jubilant with the glad shouts of the happy Indians hidden among the trees over the river. Well, now I was left alone, sheltered only by that little tree. As long as I stayed there I was a standing target for the bullets of the enemy, and if I run I may get shot as my comrade did, or I may be killed, and I said I will run. And asking the protection of my Heavenly Father, which was my everyday rule from childhood, I ran, not with Indians behind me, but with scores of them in front of me, all anxious to take my life, and I came out of the difficulty unscathed.
A few hours later myself and another comrade were sent as an escort with the broken-armed man to camp. And still a few hours later the whole command returned to camp. And why not? Does any reasonable person suppose that under the conditions just now brought to light, the army could have crossed the river on an open raft with that band of Indians in front of them and perfectly concealed from view? It could not have done any such thing, for supposing that in its sheltered position, out of sight of the Indians, it could have completed the raft and, loading it with men, sent it afloat on the water, where it now floats out in full view of the Indians, before it could be landed on the Indian side of the river every man on it would be killed and the raft would become the property of the Indians, to be used in the defense of themselves. Such, doubtless, it seemed to the command of the army, and it returned to headquarters to think of the difficulties of waging an Indian war in a mountainous and heavily timbered and brush-covered country, and in studying how best to keep the enemy quiet until peace could be brought about in some successful way.
I have written the foregoing movements of the army during the winter of 1855-6, for the remembrance of the old-time pioneers, of whom but a few remain to this present, but more especially have I written it for the later and younger pioneers--the second and third edition of them--and to the strangers also now among us, that all may understand what this now blessed and happy country cost the early pioneers, of whom, as said above, only a few of us now remain.
Thus ended my war experience in the Indian war of 1855 and 1856, when I turned over my war outfit to my friend, Jacob Thompson, with his own horse, to be by him used in the following campaign, when I returned home to look after business there and to prepare for the next call to arms, which never came and for which, in the name of a prosperous country and a happy people, I sincerely thank the Southern Battalion of Oregon Mounted Volunteers, together with the Indians of Southern Oregon by a treaty of peace made with them by General Joseph Lane, Governor of Oregon at that time.
ALBERT G. ROCKFELLOW.Ashland Tidings, October 7, 1912, page 4 Joseph Lane's term as Governor expired in 1851.
One Indian fight of the Rogue River War that has been described to me by several different Indian war veterans is the battle of Log Cabins, on the south fork of Applegate Creek, near the line of Jackson and Josephine counties. In the fall of 1855 two prospectors built two log cabins to winter in. While they were at Jacksonville getting supplies about 30 Indians went into the cabins and fortified themselves against attack. The prospectors, upon returning, found the hostile Indians in possession of their cabins. They went to Sterlingville, 30 miles distant, to secure help. Dr. Myers, John Deadman, Robert Opp, Jack Bogard, George Mantel, S. A. Mowdes, John Goldsby, Ira Mayfield and about 20 others came with them to dispose of the Indians. The volunteers laid siege to the cabin. Dr. Myers crawled up to a tree that forked about five feet from the ground. He put his gun through the forks. As he was taking sight he was shot through the forehead and killed. George Mantel and some others cut a good-sized log and Mantel, with six others, rolled it to within 50 yards of the cabin, keeping hidden behind the log as it was rolled forward. John Goldsby, who was back of the log, parted his hair on the side, but a bullet from the besieged cabin hit him high up on the forehead and made a new parting for his hair in the middle. The men behind the log couldn't raise up to shoot, so they lay there, spattered with the splinters from the log as the Indian bullets hit it. With great exertion they finally pulled the log backward, keeping hidden till they got back to the woods.
They sent a courier to Fort Lane for Company C, First Dragoons, under Captain A. J. Smith. The regulars brought a howitzer along and shelled the Indians, killing some. The rest escaped during the night.
Fred Lockley, "Oregon: In Early Days," Oregon Journal, Portland, February 20, 1915, page 4
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 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.
Michael Kinny, quoted by Fred Lockley, "Oregon: In Early Days," Oregon Journal, Portland, May 12, 1915, page 6
Last revised February 13, 2021