William Grandison Hill
From the Douglas County Historical Society's Umpqua Trapper. Almost all editor's comments are by the Trapper editor.
The Adventures of Wm. G. Hill
The following manuscript, containing the recollections of William Grandison Hill, was prepared by his daughter, the late Mrs. O. C. (Ella Hill) Brown, and was transcribed for publication by Mrs. Harry Bakken from a copy in the possession of Judge Carl C. Hill of Dixonville. Judge Hill has kindly given permission to print the story of his father's experiences in the Trapper, and we reprint it verbatim, with the addition of a few explanatory notes. An exciting saga of frontier life, the Hill story depicts life on the plains, in the California gold mines, and in the Indian wars of Oregon.My parents' ancestors came with the first English settlers to Virginia, then early moved to Tennessee. There several of my brothers were born and again my parents migrated to near Lexington in Lafayette County, Mo. Here they established their plantation home. This was about 1825. Here I was born in 1835.
My father's family consisted of five boys and three girls. He had a few Negroes. The crops consisted mainly of cotton and corn. It was beautiful country, with large hickory forests and winding streams. My early childhood years were happy and carefree, but at the age of ten my father died and as my mother was an invalid she, too, passed away when I was six. My grandmother Hill then assumed control of the family. From then on my best remembrance of a mother is the old Negro mammy who took care of me. I have always had a sweet remembrance of a beautiful woman who came several times a day to play with me when I was a baby, but as most of my childhood was spent in the Negro quarters, I was well versed in their superstitions and folklore.
Grandmother was a very stern woman and the boys soon began to scatter. My brother, Fleming R. Hill, went north to Winnipeg, Canada, and joined up with the Hudson's Bay Fur Company and came west to Fort Vancouver with Dr. John McLoughlin. The others settled around that part of Missouri except my brother, Ryland, and me, who were the youngest. Major Fletcher was appointed as our guardian and he immediately, according to the custom or law of the times, proceeded to "bind us out" to a blacksmith to learn his trade, as every boy must learn a trade. The blacksmith's name was John Eckles. I was about nine years old and Ryland was two years older. We had not been to school yet, and one of the terms of the contract was that we were to stay with Eckles until I was nineteen and that we should have two years' education. We soon learned that the schooling was to be the last two years. When I was about fifteen I began planning to run away as I longed to be in school. But Ryland was afraid to run away for fear they could bring us back and punish us. We had comfortable living rooms and good food, but I wanted to be in school. We had to work long hours as well.
When I was about sixteen years old I began to scout around to get enough money to venture out. I finally succeeded in selling my birthright for a pony and twenty dollars. I had heard that Flem had gone down into California and I decided to try to find him. I started that night and got as far as Kansas City and went to work in a blacksmith shop. My boss heard of me and sent for me. He sent word that if I would come back he would give me my time and outfit me to cross the Plains. But by the time I got there he had changed his mind. I assured him I would soon get away again. He finally agreed that if I would pay him $150.00 he would give me my time. I went to see my guardian and he finally agreed to get $200.00 from my father's estate. With this I paid Eckles the $150. With the $50 I bought a horse for $40 and clothes with the $10 remaining.
The next day I hired out to a man named J. G. Bray to drive cattle across the plains for my board and keep. The outfit was composed of seven men and five ox teams, hitched to as many wagons loaded with provisions. We were driving about three hundred cattle. We left Fort Leavenworth the 25th of March, 1849. The first few weeks were real sport as the weather was mild and the boys were all jovial and cheerful; but the traveling was slow and we had to make long stops for the cattle to eat all across Northern Kansas and Southern Nebraska until we came to the Platte River. Here we turned south through Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming. Here we began to contact many trains of western emigrants. The cholera was very bad and the road was strewn with new graves. Several of our men took it, but none died. We stopped at Fort Bridger for several weeks to rest the cattle and then went on to Salt Lake City.
We had been several months on the road and it was getting late in the fall. Bray was afraid to cross the coast range [sic] of mountains with the cattle and decided to stay at Salt Lake until spring. But as the drivers had hired out to drive across the Plains in order to get into the gold fields of California, they didn't want to wait. They asked for a hearing before Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormons who had founded Salt Lake City, and were given a trial. I will never forget his austere appearance as he sat as judge. He decided that if Bray didn't want to take his cattle across the mountains, he could leave them there, but he must outfit the men that wanted to go on with horses and provisions to take them into Sacramento.
Five of the men and myself decided to go on. We bought a small wagon, packed our provisions and started on the most southern route. It was the shortest but the most dangerous. We crossed a ninety-mile desert in Nevada and then another forty-mile desert on the road that goes by the Steamboat Springs. About the middle of the desert are the boiling springs that shoot up about ten or fifteen feet every five minutes. About eighteen miles farther on we came to the Truckee River. Here I got in with two men that claimed they were going into the gold mines. I sold my horse and joined up with the strangers. We bought a small horse for packing and loaded him with our blankets and grub and started up the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I had traded with a boy at a trading station for a pair of boots. They were good looking, but too small and hurt my feet. Remember, I was a sixteen-year-old and a little giddy. I dropped behind the men in the forenoon and kept jockeying along barefooted, expecting to come up with them at any time. But I did not and at about sundown I would have to pass the cabin where the Donner Party had all starved to death in the winter of 1848. I had been told the story the night before and that the house was haunted. All the Negro superstitions of the old Negro mammy who was my nurse and the Negro children I had played with came to life as I came in sight of that cabin. I took one look and imagined I could feel my hair raising the hat right off my head. It was getting dark, but I forgot my sore feet and increased my speed to sprinter speed for several miles until I had passed that cabin and came to the place where my partners had eaten their dinner and had left a big pine log burning. It was cold, so I lay down by the fire and went to sleep. I stayed till morning, but was awakened several times in the night thinking I heard someone talking, but it must have been coyotes or mountain lions as I was well along in the mountains.
At daylight I started on the road hoping I might come up with my partners and get something to eat. At about nine o'clock I came to a trading post, a small store and eating house. I inquired for my friends and found they had passed at about five the evening before. I was surely getting hungry, but had no money. At about noon I came to another trading post. By this time my feet were getting so blistered and sore that I stopped and told the landlord my troubles. He had seen my partners pass the day before and urged me to come in and get something to eat, but I told him I was not hungry. He insisted that I must eat something anyway. (He knew I was lying.) I tell you I had an appetite when I got to the table! Pork and beans and the finest cold water to drink! I have never enjoyed a meal so much since. He took pity on me and invited me to stay with him until the next day and I could ride with him to Placerville in his wagon. I accepted his kind invitation and rested until the next day. We got to Placerville about noon. I sincerely thanked my kind friend, and then rushed around looking for work.
I looked for a blacksmith shop, and the first one hired me. He set me to work cutting wood to burn for charcoal. I worked for about two hours and gave out. I had never cut wood before and was too soft, just off the plains, so had to quit. He gave me $1.50. I hunted for a bakery and bought a pie, a dried apple pie! I paid one dollar for it. The fifty cents I spent for candy and nuts. I had a feast! The first pie I had eaten for six months, not since I had left old Missouri!
I had lost my blankets with the men I had tied up with at the Truckee River, so I went to a hay yard and slept in the hay that night. The next morning I was up early and found a man with a team going down to Sacramento and told him I was looking for my brother and would like to go with him but didn't have any money. He said he knew a man there by the name of Hill that was keeping a store. We were three days on the road and he had three other men in with him. At noon we put up at a stand along the road and they all went in to dinner. I stayed with the wagon, and we did the same way in the evening. The next day one of the men asked me to go in and have some dinner with him but I told him I wasn't hungry. The next day at dinner time I was so hungry I could have eaten the leg of a poor crow, and raw at that! Then the men went in out of sight and I stole around to the kitchen and stuck my hand in through a broken window and actually stole a crust of dry bread, stale at that. I got back into the wagon without being caught. That was all I had to eat till I got to Sacramento, over three days.
As luck would have it, almost the first person I met was an old friend from my home town in Missouri. He was about my age and had left home at about the same time, but had passed me on the Plains and got in ahead of me. He loaned me $10. I was then fixed for another feast.
We went to the hotel for dinner and they had boiled salmon, the first I had ever seen. I can't tell how much I really ate, but it was put on the table in a large platter. The platter was full when we sat down and it was empty when we left. There were several dried apple pies on the table when we sat down, but they also disappeared. Our dinner cost each of us $1.50.
I then hunted for a store to get a straw hat and a pair of shoes. The store keeper was not my brother, so I took in the town for a few days. As I had used all of my borrowed money and had not found work, or my brother either, I left Sacramento and went up the American River for eighteen miles to work for a man that had come from Lexington the same spring I had. He had passed me on the road with some men he had contracted with to bring him to California to work for them for six weeks after he got here to pay for his transportation. He had now bought some mining ground on the American River called Mississippi Bar. He had a force of about twenty men working. My job was to pump water on a rocker for washing gold out of the gravel. I had to stand on a platform about ten feet above the river and pump pretty lively for seven hours in the morning, having one hour off for noon, and then another siege of pumping until sundown, usually about eight or nine hours more. This was in September and the sun was hot enough to cook an egg in the sand. Sometimes I thought it would never set. I got three dollars a day and board. By working ten days I had enough money to buy some blankets and concluded that if I was going to find Flem, I would need to change my camp.
I rolled up my blankets, spit in my hand, and struck the spittle to see which way the most spittle would go, as I always did when I was hunting my lost marbles. It pointed upstream, so I took my blankets on my back and started, not knowing where I was going, only I wanted a change.
I had gone about ten miles and the sun was very warm, so I sat down on a log by the side of the road and went to sleep. A man riding on a mule came along. He woke me up and asked if I wasn't afraid a grizzly bear might come along and pick me up and walk off with me, as they were very common there in the woods. I asked him what a grizzly looked like. Then I asked him if he knew a man by the name of Hill living around there. He said, "Why, Flem Hill?" I told him that Flem was my brother and I wanted to find him. He told me Flem was about eighteen miles back in the mountains on that same road. I lost no time in going on.
I found my brother the next day and also received another surprise. My brother, Ryland, had finished his blacksmith apprenticeship and had struck out west. He had passed me somewhere on the Plains and found Flem ahead of me. He had taken up some mining ground and was making sixteen dollars a day. He had as partners an Indian boy and a Mexican. I made the fourth partner. We all slept in the same bed and did well mining. We stayed here all winter mining at the same camp. It was here I had my first experience with graybacks. I'd bought a heavy red flannel shirt and had not changed it for quite a while. I scratched quite a bit, but thought it was the flannel. I noticed the boys scratched also and noticed them laughing at me when I scratched. I finally asked the Mexican what made us itch so much. He said with a laugh, "Plenty lice!' I found that I had scratched so much my body was raw. I pulled off my shirt and looked inside and very quickly discovered what had caused so much misery and sleepless nights! My shirt was full of the body lice and I threw it as far as I could out into the night. It had just commenced snowing and did not quit until spring. The shirt stayed there till the snow melted and I thought I'd get it and wear it again. I found it much farther down the stream, where the lice must have carried it, for there were more on it than when threw it away, and they weren't dead either!
About this time our brother Flem came out to see how we were getting along. He had sold his store and was going down to Sacramento to spend the winter. Our mines were about exhausted so we broke camp and went in partners with three old miners, James Pool, High Acard and Will Acard. Flem took the Indian boy with him. Then the men and Ryland and I proceeded to build a large cabin on the creek. We laid in a large supply of food for the winter and then opened new mines. We worked all winter with fair success, making from $12 to $16 a day apiece. Flem came up in the spring to see how we were making it and we told him we had made around $16 a day. He was pleased and wanted to see some of the dust. We told him that Pool and the Acards had it as they would win it off us at cards every night. Flem was surely angry, as he had grubstaked us all, including the men, at a cost of some six hundred dollars.
He took us away with him to his mines on the Sacramento River, where he was also gathering up a band of horses all through the winter to drive north for the Oregon market. He had about forty head. This was the first of May, 1851.
A man by the name of Cooper had also collected about twenty head of his own horses and he and Flem decided to join bands. Flem, Cooper, Ryland, the Indian boy, Levi Bird, and I made up this party. We had about sixty head of horses. We started early in May. The Indians were hostile then and we had to build corrals and stand guard every night. Several times we had skirmishes. The Klamaths had been down among the Diggers of Northern California and Nevada and had several battles. We met up with a band of Klamaths going back to Oregon and they had a little Digger boy they were taking back to kill. They were tormenting him and punishing him in every way as they went along. Flem wanted them to give him to us, but they would not. Finally Flem offered them a pony for him. They agreed and so we added the little fellow to our band. Flem took him home with him and he stayed around with him till he died. After Flem was married, "Dock," as he was called, became a part of his family. He went to school with Flem's children and lived among them. Dock was a great favorite in the family.
We picked a man up on the road tramping. He was very excitable and we gave him the name of The Wild Man. He was always boasting of his bravery and Flem, who was always playing jokes, thought he'd try him out. The Wild Man was on guard one night stationed at the base of a large pine tree some distance from camp. It was a dark night and Flem slipped around and crawled up behind the tree and commenced howling like a coyote. The man didn't scare worth a cent. He just jumped around the tree and commenced shooting. Flem had to yell, "Don't shoot, don't shoot," and the joke turned on him. The Wild Man very calmly said, "Well, is that you, Flem? I thought it was a wolf."
We crossed the mountains from Red Bluff, and a part of the road or trail was along a long narrow ridge known as The Devil's Backbone, and it was here the Indians were supposed to lie in wait to catch stragglers. This ridge led down into the Shasta Valley. It was here that I got careless and dropped behind. The men had gone down the mountain and struck camp sometime before they missed me. Then the idea struck them that I had been captured by the Indians. Flem and some of the others jumped on their horses and came back, expecting to find me scalped. They had come back a mile or so, when they saw me walking leisurely along, not thinking of danger. Flem threw his hat and laughed when he saw I was safe. I hadn't thought of Indians.
We were now traveling along the Sacramento Valley and the grass was luxuriant. The horses were doing well and we let them go slow to eat. We did not ford the Sacramento until we came to the foot of Mt. Shasta, near Shasta Butte. We camped at Soda Springs, now a noted health resort for invalids. At that time there were only two or three houses of homesteaders to mark the spot. We then circled around Mt. Shasta to Yreka Flats. Here we came into a new mining district. Claims were being located every day. They were very rich and about two thousand miners were already there. They were living in tents or bark shanties. It was laid out in the form of a village, with streets. There was one wooden building in the town. It was a huge log cabin and owned by a woman who used it as a boarding house. When a new miner came in they gave him a lot to put his tent on and it often was a good mining claim, as the gold was even found at the roots of grass the same as on the bedrock.
We stayed around here for several days and had some trouble with the Indians. They had stolen a horse from one of the drivers and would not give it up. Flem went with the man to the Indian camp and took the horse. It looked a little serious for a time as there were about a hundred bucks in the camp and only four of us. They seemed to be making preparations to fight at first but finally withdrew. They had their bows and arrows ready, but for some reason let us lead the horse away.
We then wandered around the foot of Mt. Shasta until we came to a ford in the Klamath River basin. The water was deep and full of boulders. I was riding a small pony and the water came up to his middle. He finally stumbled and fell, but I stayed with him and came out all right. The ford was about three hundred feet wide.
We were now across the [Siskiyou] Mountains and soon struck the headwaters of the Rogue River. We followed down this beautiful valley for several days before we crossed the river by ferry boat and then several days travel before we came to Dan Levins on Cow Creek, in Oregon. The place is now known as Galesville.
Our next stop was at the Hardy Elliff place south of the Big Canyon. We stayed here several days to rest our horses. It was a beautiful, wide valley and very productive.
Then we tackled the Big Canyon. It is eleven miles through, and nothing but a trail, although they told us several wagons had been through. We crossed the creek about seventy times in going the eleven miles and much of the way stayed in the bed of the creek. The horses were well trained to drive by this time, or I doubt if we could have got them through.
There were several buildings at the north end of the canyon but [I] have forgotten the names of all except Jimmie Clark, a lame man. He was keeping a hotel about three miles north of the canyon. We then drove down the South Umpqua through beautiful valleys and foothills till we came to Briggs Ferry. Here we crossed to the east side. From the east side the trail was narrow and steep. Timber and brush was very dense on both sides. We had considerable trouble getting through with the horses as they had to take it single file most of the way. The distance was six or seven miles to Missouri Bottom, lower down the South Umpqua.
The name of Missouri Bottom was given to that section south of Myrtle Creek, where the early settlers were mostly from Missouri. They were mostly Weavers. The valley is four or five miles long and two or three miles wide. The South Umpqua River flows through the center. The soil is very rich. The choice land had been taken by the Weavers and log cabins had been built. We also noted that foundations for other cabins had been laid. We camped here overnight. At the present site of Myrtle Creek, a man by the name of Lazarus Wright was the only settler, and four miles further on Sam Hadley kept a meeting house and some of the worst blue rum a man ever got outside of. That is what the men said that tried it. I couldn't say for myself, as at that time I had not tasted stimulants. We camped here for the night. [Editor: Present Hadley Flat, between Dole and Myrtle Creek.]
We then went on to Tom Burnett's in the beautiful Round Prairie. We rested here for a day and then went over Roberts Mountain and down to the mouth of Deer Creek where Aaron Rose had his homestead, where Roseburg now stands. Mr. Rose was then trying to organize a town and asked us to return as soon as we had sold the horses. They had a small store here and a saloon. This was about 1851.
After leaving Aaron Rose's place, we crossed Deer Creek and went about five miles further north to the North Umpqua River. Here there was a ferry run by John Aiken and Thomas Smith. We had to pay fifty cents apiece for loose horses and a dollar apiece for saddle horses and pack horses. We went on to Bunton Pass, later named Wilbur, to spend the night. There were many new settlers coming in here from the north at this time, among them the Grubbes and Reeds and Kuykendalls. Elijah Bunton had a store where they sold whiskey, cards and tobacco. It seemed to be a lively little settlement.
We went on the next day to Reason Reed's, situated on the Calapooia Creek, and on north over the mountains to John Long's and Billy Wilson's, just south of Yoncalla. Here we turned a little east and went north through Scotts Valley. The only settler in Scotts Valley was John Applegate. From here we had the long drive through Pass Creek Canyon and struck the headwaters of the Willamette.
We traveled down this beautiful valley for several days and made several camps before we made our final camp about nine miles north of Salem. Here we arranged for pasturage for the horses; and Flem left Ryland, Levi Bird and me to look after them while he went on to Portland to dispose of them. Flem took his little Digger Indian, Dock, with him.
When Flem came back he had sold most of the horses and Ryland and I went to Salem and bought a blacksmith shop and the tools from the Poindexter boys. This was in the fall of 1851. We had all the work we could do at good prices and were doing well, but I couldn't forget the wonderful mines of Southern Oregon, so in the spring I sold out to Ryland and went back to Jacksonville.
Flem had, in the meantime, settled at Bunton Pass, now Wilbur, and had built a stage station. He was running it and had also taken a homestead near it. I stopped and stayed several days with him.
I then went into the Jacksonville mines. I prospected all summer but didn't make anything. I was broke and had very little grub, and I might say very little clothing, just buckskin pants and coat and one flannel shirt. But I had two pair of good heavy blankets, and a good constitution. I was happy as a lark!
This was in November and it was getting a little frosty. My fir bough shanty was getting rather cool, so I began to look around for more comfortable quarters for the winter. An old friend of Flem's was here also, and not in much better shape than me. He was rigged in the same kind of clothing, buckskin pants and coat, but he had outgrown the pants, or let them stay wet too long at a time, and they struck him about halfway between the ankles and knees. His name was John E. Ross. He was a grand old pal! Later he became a noted Indian fighter and I served in his company. He rose to the rank of general in the Indian wars of Southern Oregon.
At this time he had a mule and a pack saddle. We assembled our tools, and our grub for the winter, packed it on the mule and went up the left fork of Jackson Creek and made camp. The next day Ross had to go down to Rogue River on business and be gone three days. I overheard a man talking about a claim he had between the Dillard claim and the Chauncey Nye claim, and he didn't think it was much good. If he didn't get a good prospect today he was going to leave it. I had heard that the Dillard claims were considered to be very rich so I watched him when he went to work. I saw him jump down in the hole with his tools and go to work. I got back on the hillside and watched for results. He worked for a little while then threw his pick and shovel up on the bank, jumped out, took his tools and left. He had hardly got out of sight before I was down in the hole with my pick and shovel and pan. The hole was about six feet deep and he had struck a boulder that about filled the bottom of the hole. No gold had stopped on the top of the rock as it was too smooth. I picked around the rock and found it was not bedrock, so I dug out a hole and went down about a foot and took out a pan of gravel. When I washed it out, the first pan netted me about sixteen dollars. By the time Ross got back I had panned out over a hundred dollars. He had picked up a young fellow along the road and we took him in as a partner.
The next day Ross and I went to Jacksonville to get some lumber to make a "long tom" to be able to wash the gold easier. We left our new partner to pan and wash what gold he could with the pan. We didn't get back till night and asked him what luck he had. He said he didn't know, but thought about ten dollars. This surprised us, so we asked the boys what he had been doing all day. They said he had shown several pans of dirt that was as rich as the one Ross had panned the evening before from the same spot and it had yielded twelve dollars. We were going to run him off, but he put up such a pitiful story about his wife and baby that Ross gave him a hundred dollars and the money he had stolen. He left camp.
We worked out this mining claim in three weeks and had made eleven hundred dollars apiece. Ross opened up a butcher shop in Jacksonville and wanted me to go in with him, but I had the wanderlust and couldn't think of settling down. I was broke in a few weeks, but Ross got rich.
This was the early fall of 1852 and I returned to the stage station of Flem's at Wilbur. There was much discussion about organization of the county and real government, also the selection of county seats. This was about the time of the great struggle between the North and South. Feelings were beginning to get warm as the settlers were from both the North and the South; Flem was taking much interest in all the community work and especially the county organization. He was selected as the first sheriff of Douglas County. This meant that he was in many of the arguments concerning not only county organization, but many of the hot discussions concerning states rights and slavery. This led to one of the greatest sorrows of my life. This tragedy took place in Walton's store at Winchester. Flem and a man named Levi [sic--Joseph] Knott were in a heated argument when Knott drew a gun. Ryland was in the room and dodged between them and was killed. As Flem was sheriff, he took the prisoner in charge when a large crowd of men had congregated to have a lynching party. Flem insisted that the law should take its course. Knott got a change of venue to the Scottsburg court and was finally set free.
Editor's note: Here may be an opportune place to discuss the death of Ryland Hill and the details of the murder case following. Accounts are so varied that it is difficult to decide which is truth and which is fiction; there also exists a confusion in names connected with the case.At this time the Governor called for volunteers to go out and meet and act as guard to the emigrants that were coming into Oregon by the southern route. My friend John Ross was appointed Captain. I volunteered. This was the fall and winter [that] so many emigrants were murdered near Tule Lake by the Modoc Indians. A bluff on the east side of the lake was known as Bloody Point. Quite a number of emigrants had been killed here earlier in the season.
At the time we were organized here a volunteer army Was also gathered in California. It was under Captain Ben Wright. Our company met them at the Natural Bridge on Lost River about four miles above Tule Lake. This lake has no outlet. The two companies separated the next day after finding 28 skeletons, most of whom were women and children. Our company followed a wagon track (that had left the road) for about a mile out in the sagebrush where we found a wagon that had been burned, and also the remains of eight people. One or two were men and the rest were women and children.
We had a little skirmish with the devils the next day, but no one was hurt on our side. We couldn't tell if we had killed any Indians or not as they hid so well in the tules. Nor could we follow them, as it was too marshy. We went back to Lost River that night and the next day a party of our men were detailed to go up the valley, cross the mountain and strike the Lost River higher up to spy out Indian camps if there were any in that part of the country.
We expected to be gone several days and took supplies for the trip: one blanket, two pounds of raw bacon, two quarts of flour, a little coffee, and a tin cup. I can assure you I relished our food hugely! We were gone three days and found no fresh Indian signs. We mixed our flour with water on our saddle covers and cooked the hoe cakes before the fire on our ramrods. We also used the ramrods to cook the bacon. It was food fit for a king!
We stayed here during the fall and winter and escorted in about fifteen emigrant trains through the most dangerous part of the country. We had several scraps with the Utes and Modocs, but none of our men were killed or wounded. We returned to Jacksonville and were discharged.
In a very short time we again received word that the Klamath Indians had murdered some men. The Indians that had done the murdering crossed the Siskiyou Mountains and had taken refuge with the Rogue River Indians. We were called out again and a company quickly organized at Yreka with Captain Steele in command.
The Rogue River Indians refused to give up the murderers. Capt. Steele sent out a company under command of Lt. Lamerick and we encountered the Indians at Big Bar on Rogue River about three miles above Rocky Point. They asked for a talk. They were in command of Chief Joe and Chief Sam, and they had about 50 warriors in the band. Chief Joe seemed to be the spokesman and asked for a "close wa wa" [literally, a "good talk"] which meant a parley. We talked for a long time but couldn't come up with any satisfactory agreement. Chief Sam made some excuse and left the band and crossed the river where there was another large band of Indians just across from where we were holding council. When Sam left the council broke up. We decided to hold Joe as hostage with several others that had taken part in the council until the murderers were given up. We lined them up and were marching them ahead of us to an old deserted cabin when one of the braves, a very large burly buck, refused to go. He was armed with a bow and arrows. One of the men stuck a gun against him and told him to "Hi-ac clatta wa!" ["Fast go away!"] meaning emphatically to go ahead. The Indian made a motion to draw his bow and the soldier shot him dead. I never heard the soldier's real name as we called him "Buckskin" [Editor: John Galvin]. After the first shot there was a regular fusillade. We were all mixed up and with the smoke from the guns and the fire it was hard to tell which were Indians. They made for the ford, expecting to get across under cover of fire from the Indians across the river. But few of them made it, as many of them floated down the stream.
We divided our company here and part of us went down the river to Evans Creek, about eighteen miles. Quite a band of Indians were camped here. We went at a gallop as we wanted to get there before they got the word of the battle. We got there just as they were breaking camp. There was a large log drift in the river at this place and it extended up on the bank. The dogs began barking and the Indians yelling and giving the war dance. We opened fire on them and got quite a reception in return. Several of the boys were slightly wounded. Joe Burnett and I were standing close together. An Indian had hid in the log drift across a small creek. He fired a musket at us and the bullet passed between us. It sounded like it was as big as my fist. Joe clapped his hand on his stomach and cried out, "Bill, I believe he hit me!" We looked for the bullet hole, but couldn't find it. We finally agreed he was mistaken but he said, "I guess I was mistaken, Bill, but I tell you that was a close call--an awful close call!" I agreed with him. We looked and saw the Indian crawling farther under the logs. We fired. We got his gun and ammunition. We didn't know how many Indians were killed in this battle.
By this time the Indians had got away across the river and we went farther down to Vannoy's Ferry. On the way we met three Indians coming up the river in a canoe. We turned loose on them, but two of them got away. I had lost the front sight off my gun and couldn't shoot very true. One big buck was almost out of sight going over the ridge before we could shoot. We fired and the Indian fell, but we never went to see if he was hit. Frank Stricklin, now living at Lookingglass, said, "Bill, I believe we hit him." We then went back to Roseburg and were disbanded.
I stayed a while with Flem and then went north as far as British Columbia. I drifted around among the settlers, but didn't find any permanent work, so came back to Wilbur. Flem had married and was improving his home. His wife was Delinda Reed, the daughter of Dr. Calvin C. Reed. They had added a story on the house and were running a regular hotel and stage station. The hotel was at the meeting place of the Scottsburg road with the direct road north and south through the state. He also kept a big barn to take care of teams and horses. About this time they were planning for schools and churches here.
Father James Wilbur, a circuit rider in the Methodist Church, settled here. He was also an Indian agent. The families were large and most of the settlers were very anxious for their children to have an opportunity to get an education. Father Wilbur was also anxious to establish a feeder for the Methodist College at Salem, the Willamette University, so with his help the Umpqua Academy came into existence. It was for many years one of the leading schools in the state.
In August of 1853 quite an excitement over the discovery of a large bay directly west of Wilbur was created. The following men organized at Wilbur to investigate: Louis Bird, an Indian, Isaac Miller, Wm. Musgrove, Jessie Pool, Nelson Grubbe and me. We took three pack horses and our riding horses. We crossed the North Umpqua at Winchester by ferry and forded the South Umpqua at Aaron Rose's. We then went west through the Lookingglass Prairie, a beautiful round valley of tall waving grass. There were no settlers here then, but a few miles farther on we passed between two small hills or ridges and came to a smaller valley where we found one homesteader by the name of Flournoy. He had settled here in 1851.
Mr. Flournoy had with him his family and had built a large double house made of logs. It looked more like a small fort than a dwelling. There were port holes in the second story. He had with him at home then his two sons, Roland and Jones. We camped there the first night. Thus far there had been beautiful open country, but the next morning we started out through an unknown forest, the only trails being those made by wild animals.
We aimed for a low pass in the Coast Range where the Camas Valley road is now located and passed over the ridge and struck the headwaters of the Coquille River, the middle fork. We followed down this stream for about six miles and came in on the north side of Camas Valley. The river runs nearly through the center of the valley. Here we made our second camp. We found a small band of Indians camping here and hired one of them to act as our guide through the dense forests and rough mountains ahead. The rest of our men had good Indian ponies that were used to following trails, but I had a heavy black cayuse that was clumsy and several times when I used my Mexican spurs on him he had a way of jumping sideways and landing me somewhere ahead or behind.
We followed down this stream for about 26 miles to Enchanted Prairie, and it was while going down through a steep mountain trail made by elk when I was walking and driving Ajax ahead of me that I spurred him a little and he raised his heels and sent me about ten feet back up the hill and when I lit I was minus several inches of the seat of my trousers. We stopped early so I could sew on a patch.
We had pitched camp and were unsaddling our horses when a band of elk came across the prairie. There were about forty in the band. We followed them and killed two. We stayed here two days to jerk the meat. Old Washington, the chief of the Coquille Indians, had his headquarters here for the hunting season. He had about fifty bucks with him and the squaws and papooses. We saw no evidence of them cultivating the soil, but they had potatoes. Probably raised down nearer the coast. Old Washington was a tall, large dignified-looking Indian. They were all very peaceable. We divided our meat with them. Our Indian guide ate so much of the meat it made him sick and we had to leave him and get another guide from Washington.
From here we followed down the middle fork of the Coquille to its junction with the South Fork where we crossed over and went north to the North Fork which we followed down to Burton Prairie. We made camp here.
The next morning I had another encounter with Ajax for which I didn't blame him so much. The boys were ahead in the train and had stirred up a yellowjackets' nest. About a quart of them settled on Ajax and me. If ever a horse bucked and bawled, he surely did. He rolled over about one-fourth acre of ground and in doing so rolled over me once. I lost my gun in the brush and had to go back for it, but soon found it and we went on.
We crossed over by the Isthmus Slough to Empire City. Here we found the Coos Bay Company in charge of Marple who claimed they were the discoverers of the bay that they had named Coos Bay. There were about fifty people in the company. They were building log cabins and had a hotel in charge of a man named Noble. They had come in on a sailing vessel, the first they thought to ever cross the bar. There was great rejoicing among the members of the company. Marple claimed to be an ex-preacher. Other leading men in the company were Capt. Hams, Dr. Coleman and a young lawyer named Pierce. We noticed the next day they were having trouble about something. They called a stockholders' meeting the next day. I was down on the beach when I heard the report of a gun. I looked around and saw the man named Pierce running with his hat in one hand and a roll of papers in the other. Marple was close behind, bare-headed, and yelling to "Stop him, he has all the company papers!" Pierce succeeded in reaching a board shack, slamming the door in Marple's face. By this time the whole mob came running up and surrounded the house. Pierce held them at bay with a gun. They finally came to some agreement and Pierce opened the door. We didn't learn what the difficulty was.
We stayed around here about a week when Miller, Musgrove and myself followed the beach up to the mouth of the Umpqua River. Here we crossed Winchester Bay to Old Fort Umpqua and stayed two days. The Fort was in charge of Ed Drew and his brother, Dr. Drew. One of them was an Indian Agent. We then came by boat to Scottsburg and walked on home to Wilbur. The rest of the boys came back over the mountains and brought our horses.
In the spring of 1854 I went back to the coast to work in the Randolph mines, just south of Coos Bay, about sixteen miles south of Empire City. News came in from the upper Coquille that the bodies of two white men had been floating in the river at the mouth of Beaver Slough, a tributary of the Coquille River, coming in about five miles below Coquille City. The men were identified as settlers near Burton Prairie, by the names of Burton and Venable. Suspicion was at once directed toward Chief Washington's band of Coquille Indians, who were at that time encamped on the banks of Kitchen Creek, about five miles up the South Fork of the Coquille River. While these Indians seemed peaceable, they were independent and saucy, and in absence of proof of motive on the part of white men the Indians were naturally suspected.
As soon as the news reached Randolph a company of volunteers were organized, about twenty or twenty-five men under the command of Dr. Evans. We knew where the Indians were camped, and taking a flatboat and two small boats the company proceeded to the forks of the Coquille River, arriving sometime in the evening. John Dulley had settled on a homestead at the forks of the river. We found no Indians at Dulley's but heard that there were two bucks at Eph Kitchen's [Editor: Ephraim Catching's] homestead a mile or so farther up the South Fork. I was detailed by Capt. Evans to take two men and arrest the two Indians at Kitchen's that night.
We arrived there at about eight or nine o'clock that evening, after feeling our way along an unfamiliar trail through pitch dark woods. We were all armed with six-shooters and didn't expect the Indians to resist arrest. Kitchen called to us to come in when I knocked at the door. Upon entering we found the Indians sleeping on the floor in a corner of the one-room cabin. When we pulled the blanket off the Indians, I found that one of them, a light-complected, well-built buck, was the one I had hired as a guide on our first trip across the mountains several years before. He recognized me as soon as he saw me. When we started to tie their hands to take them back to camp, they fought fiercely, but as they were unarmed and were three to the two of them, we finally overpowered them and tied them with ropes.
The trip back was even worse than when coming up, as the Indians held back until we were compelled to tie a rope with a slip noose around the neck of each one and lead him. It was so dark that we found it necessary to make pitch pine torches to find our way through the thick brush.
The next morning we left the two Indians under guard at Dulley's and the rest of the company went forward to Chief Washington's camp a: the mouth of Kitchen Creek [Catching Creek]. He had a band of about 28 or 30 bucks with him at the time. They offered no resistance when the entire band was put under arrest. We took them to a homesteader's cabin by the name of Huffman [Editor: Abraham Hoffman]. The cabin was not very large and still unfinished. A doorway had been cut through the wall but the door had not been hung yet. A fireplace had been built in the back of the cabin in pioneer style--a hole cut in the log wall and a square of small logs built up to the height of about four feet and above this was to be built a chimney of sticks and mud. This had not been done, leaving an opening in the back of the cabin to guard as well as the door.
The band was put in the cabin for the night and a man stationed as guard at each opening.
I went on guard at about nine o'clock that evening and was stationed to guard the doorway. Up to that time the Indians had seemed resigned to the situation and had quieted down for the night, most of them lying on the dirt floor around a fire. But when I came to the door two of the biggest bucks began walking around and glancing at me in an appraising manner. I was only a boy at the time, 19 years old, and my lack of beard led them to believe they could get me out of the way easily and they could all escape. One of the big bucks, whom I learned afterward was Chief Washington's son, spoke to me in Chinook, saying the other Indian was sick and wanted to leave the cabin. Both of them were standing close to me at the time. Not suspecting anything, I called the guard from the back of the room to go with the sick buck. When the guard came he and the supposedly sick Indian walked toward the the first bench of the Coquille River, which was covered with thick brush. Before they had gone ten feet the Indian broke away from the guard and made a jump for the brush. The guard fired at the escaping Indian. I turned my head for an instant toward the sound, still unsuspecting the attempted breakaway. That gave Washington's son the chance they had planned for and he leaped for me, and grabbed my rifle with both hands. We wrestled for some time for the possession of the weapon, and finding he could not break my hold he dragged me with him down the bank into the thick brush of the lower terrace.
When we were out of sight of the cabin he let loose of the gun and plunged into the brush. I raised the rifle to my shoulder and fired as he disappeared in the darkness and I think I wounded him in the leg, as he was found later with his leg broken between the knee and thigh.
By this time the sound of firing had aroused the entire band, and as the Indians in the cabin began scattering into the woods, the men began firing in every direction. As I was out of sight in the brush, I had to keep hallowing to keep them from shooting me.
All of the Indians escaped from the cabin that night except five. None were killed or wounded except Chief Washington's son, who was found when a search was made by torchlight under the heavy foliage of the trees near the bank of the river. He was dead, evidently by a random shot in the firing when the Indians were escaping.
The next day we recaptured eight of the Indians that had escaped and took them down to Dulley's, and then on a flatboat down to Randolph. They were turned over to the court at Empire City and tried for the murder of Venable and Burton. Two of them were hung.
Our company was then disbanded and I went back to Wilbur. I did some work in school, tried to learn some spelling and writing, and also some work in arithmetic, but it was hard work to try to master fractions.
In the fall of 1854 we were again called out and Col. John Ross put in command, as he was then in command of the state troops. Capt. Jesse Walker was in command of my division. Our orders were to protect the incoming emigrant trains coming in from the south and passing near Clear Lake and Bloody Point. We also were to guard near Table Rock and the country around the Siskiyou Mountains. [Editor: Wm. G. Hill is shown on the muster rolls as sergeant.]
Capt. Walker led us toward Goose Lake where a band of Piutes were destroying and burning buildings and running off cattle and horses. They had committed several murders of the settlers, also.
We chased them several days and finally met them near Warner's Rock, east of Mt. Shasta. Here they were entrenched for battle. We attacked but were repulsed. We retreated and reorganized our company and planned to surprise them at daylight the next morning. To do this we planned to surround the rock and attack from all sides. Bill Bybee and I were sent out as scouts to locate their camp and found that the Indians had gone down on the creek to make camp. We were returning to our company to report when one of our men, thinking we were Indians, fired on us and I was severely wounded in my left arm and a shot through my jaw that took out most of my teeth and the end of my tongue.
They immediately arranged a litter of poles and fir boughs and started me for Jacksonville to get help. They sent with me my horse. He was a beauty I had purchased for this campaign, a beautiful black. I stayed on the litter all that day, but the next morning I begged the men to let me get on my horse. They stood the litter up against a tree and the men of the company said they found it several days later as they were coming back and that they spent several hours looking for my grave as they did not think I could live to get home.
The surprise attack by surrounding the Indians worked completely and they were driven pell-mell into the woods and up into the mountains. Many Indians were killed, but I was the only one of our company to be injured. But it took almost a year for my wound to heal and before I could join my company again. For several weeks I was fed through a quill placed in my throat, but thanks to the strenuous outdoor life I had led, I finally seemed as strong as ever and was able to join the volunteer company being organized at Roseburg in the fall of 1855. [The remainder of the narrative takes place in 1853, not 1855.]
Gen. Lane was sent out at the head of the state troops to get a treaty of peace with the many tribes of Indians gathering in Southern Oregon and Northern California. They were coming from all along the coast and Eastern Oregon and as far north as Northern Idaho. They were led by Chief Joseph of the Rogue and Klamath tribes. There had been many murders and much destruction of property of the settlers through this entire area. The Indians had burned many homes and run off both horses and cattle.
As the Indians seemed to be gathering around Table Rock in Jackson County, and were preparing to make their stand there, Gen. Lane called his meeting to talk peace terms at Table Rock. The settlers were represented by Gen. Lane in command of several companies of regulars under Col. John E. Ross and Capt. Smith and about ten companies of volunteers under Col. Wm. Martin, Col. Jesse Walker, Capt. L. F. Mosher, Capt. J. W. Nesmith and others I do not recall. There was also present the Indian Agent, Samuel Culver and Judge Matthew P. Deady, who was on his way to Jacksonville to hold court.
The Indians were in command of Chief Joseph and the many tribal chiefs: Joe, Sam, Limpy, Tipsu Tyee and several others.
The meeting was called for Sept. 10, , and the council was held out under the trees near Table Rock. The soldiers were assembled on the hillside and to the west and the Indians were in many groups to the east, almost under and along the side of Table Rock. It was a beautiful fall day and the meeting of the council was called to order by Gen. Lane early in the morning. As I was aide to Col. Martin, I was in the council.
Gen. Lane opened the meeting by carefully explaining the reason of it. He carefully defined the country to be allotted to each tribe and had an agreement with Joseph. He had a big buck standing near him who immediately yelled the decision in Chinook to the tribes, and it was relayed to all, and they waited for the return vote. This method was continued all through the day.
There was an incident that happened late in the afternoon that almost broke up the meeting. A young Indian runner came rushing into the meeting and announced that an Indian had been killed by a white man down near Jacksonville that day. The Indian braves in the meeting all sprang to their feet and many let out war whoops. It looked like war immediately. It was then that the great courage and tact of Gen. Lane came to our support. He calmly arose to his feet and in a clear voice explained what it would mean to the Indians if they killed one man in this council, or in any way injured them, they would be hunted down and killed like wild animals, while on the other hand, the affair where the Indian was killed would be investigated and the white man punished as he deserved. They must bear in mind that this was a treaty of peace council and they must act accordingly. They finally settled down to business and the treaty was finally concluded.
The troops all scattered the next day. Col. Martin took his troops back to Jacksonville where we were held for several weeks until all the Indian tribes had scattered to their allotments.
But it is a sad fact that, although the treaty meeting was carried out and all tribes attending agreed to the decisions reached that day, the Indian troubles were not over. Col. Martin and Col. John E. Ross finally made their headquarters in Southern Oregon and called out the volunteers many times before the Indians were finally gathered up and placed on regular Indian reservations. This continued well into the 1870s. [They were removed to the Coast Reservation in 1856.] I was then making my home at Wilbur and went out on many calls for protection of the settlers.
Transcribed from the Douglas County Historical Society's Umpqua Trapper of Winter 1968 through Summer 1969. Used by permission. Some back issues of these numbers are still available from the DCHS.
Last revised May 9, 2021