The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Jackson County News: 1835

    The first I learn of is that a small company of whites made the overland journey north in [1834]. This party reached Rogue River in safety, and drove their horses on an island where there was grass, so that they could be kept from roaming abroad, and possibly they had fears of them being stolen by the natives. They camped here several days to rest, and were all taken sick with the ague. While in this condition two Indians visited them, with only friendly pretenses to be sure, but the travelers argued to themselves that there was danger that these would report their condition, and bring their tribe upon them to murder them. They therefore deliberated, and concluded to kill these visitors; and the story told by one of the party is that they did kill them, and then pushed northward.
    The revenge for this act was that the next year, in [1835], another party of emigrants from California, seventeen in number, were attacked by Indians in that same vicinity, and only four escaped. Two of these men are living here now. I believe these stories many be received as authentic, and they serve to show that the first impression made on the Indians of Rogue River Valley and all Southern Oregon was unfavorable.
"Early Modoc History," Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 2, 1873, page 5  This article is attributed to an unnamed New York Tribune correspondent living in Salem.

    George Gay died near Wheatland, Oregon, on the 7th of October, 1882, aged 72 years. Mr. Gay's early life was full of adventure. He was born near Berkeley, in Gloucestershire, England, August 15, 1810. At the age of eleven years he went to sea as an apprentice, and served for four years. After following the sea for eleven years and making voyages to different parts of the world, in 1832 he shipped on board of the whaler Kitty, of London, for a cruise in the Pacific Ocean, and the next year left the ship at Monterey in California, and joined Ewing Young in a trapping expedition along the coast to the mouth of Rogue River. In 1835, he started overland from California with a small party under the leadership of John Turner--one of the three survivors of Jedediah Smith's party of (18) eighteen men who were murdered by the Indians near the mouth of the Umpqua in July, 1828. The other members of the party were Dr. Bailey, John Woodworth, Daniel Miller, ------- Saunders, "Big Tom" (an Irishman), and another man, whose name is forgotten, and a squaw belonging to Turner.
    The party had 47 head of good horses and a complete outfit for trapping. About the middle of June, 1835, the party encamped for the night near a place known as "The Point of Rocks," on the south bank of Rogue River. Early the next morning the Indians commenced dropping into camp, a few at a time. Gay was on guard, and not liking the appearance of the Indians, awoke Turner, who was the leader of the party, and the latter conversed with the savages through his squaw, who spoke Chinook. Turner concluded that there was no harm to be apprehended from their dusky visitors, and, forgetting the fearful massacre which he so narrowly escaped with Smith's party seven years before near the Umpqua, the party became careless. In the meantime, some four or five hundred Indians had assembled in and about the camp of the little party and at a signal furiously attacked the white men with clubs, bows and arrows and knives. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that the Indians obtained three of the eight guns with which Turner and his party were armed. The struggle of the trappers for life was desperate and against fearful odds. The eight men seized whatever they could lay their hands on for defense. Some of them discharged their rifles in the bosoms of their assailants and then clubbed their guns and laid about them with the barrels. Turner, who was a herculean Kentucky giant, not being able to reach his rifle, seized a big fir limb from the camp fire and laid about him lustily, knocking his assailants right and left. At one time the savages had Gay down and were pounding him, but they were crowded so thick as to impede the force of their blows. Old Turner, seeing Gay's peril, made a few vigorous blows with his limb which released him, and the latter, springing to his feet, dealt fearful cuts, thrusts, slashes and stabs with his long, sharp sheath knife upon the naked carcasses of the dusky crowd. The other men, following Turner's and Gay's example, fought with the energy of despair and drove the Indians from their camp. Dan Miller and another trapper were killed upon the spot, while the six survivors of the melee were all more or less seriously wounded. While the fight was going on, the squaws drove off the herd of horses and carried off all of the baggage and camp equipage, together with three rifles. Three of the remaining guns were rendered useless by having their stocks broken off in the clubbing process. The six badly wounded survivors took to the brush and kept the Indians at bay with their two remaining rifles. By traveling in the nighttime and hiding in the brush in the daytime they managed to elude the Indians but suffered terribly from their wounds and for want of provisions and clothing. Dr. Bailey had received a fearful wound from a tomahawk, which split his lower jaw from the point of the chin to the throat. From want of proper treatment, the parts never properly united, and many old pioneers will recollect the unsightly scar that disfigured his face for life. Saunders' wounds disabled him from traveling, and he was left on the South Umpqua, and "Big Tom" was left on the North Umpqua. The Indians subsequently reported to Dr. McLoughlin that both men had died of their wounds where they were left. Turner, Gay, Woodworth and Dr. Bailey, after reaching the head of the Willamette Valley, differed about the route. Turner mistook the Willamette for the Columbia. Gay, in his sea voyages, had seen a map or chart showing that the Columbia ran west, and determined to strike due north in search of the great river, upon the banks of which he expected to find Hudson's Bay trappers and traders. Turner, Bailey and Woodworth followed down the Willamette River until, in a famishing condition, they struck the Methodist mission below Salem. Gay kept along the foothills on the west side of the valley and crossed the Rickreall about where Dallas now stands, and crossed the Yamhill River at the falls near Lafayette, passing along on the west side of Wapato Lake, and crossing the Tualatin plains reached Wythe's trading post on Sauvie's Island sometime in August. Before separating from his companions, Gay had cut up his buckskin breeches to make moccasins for the party and made most of the journey in a naked condition, with the exception of the tattered remains of an old shirt. The mosquitoes nearly devoured him in the Columbia bottom. This perilous trip of nearly 500 miles was made nearly fifty years ago and was a terrible test of the endurance of a naked, wounded and starving man.
J. W. Nesmith, "Biographical Sketch of George Gay," Transactions of the Tenth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1882, pages 88-90

    After a long and tedious ride we reached the Willamette opposite to the Camp Maude du Sable or [Champoeg] where we took up our quarters in a house belonging to George Gay, who after this became my guide. George is full as much an Indian in habits as a white can be & bears them no love & is a terror to them, having not infrequently taken the law into his own and applied it after the Lynch fashion. George is of that easy kind of lounging figure so peculiar to an Indian or backwoodsman, has a nice & useful Indian woman who does his bidding and takes care of his children, horses & guards his household. Though his property does not consist of many valuables, superfluities with him are not to be found, and when you see George & his woman & child traveling you may be sure his all is with him. But George is a useful member in this small community, he gelds & marks cattle, breaks horses, and cows for milking, assists in finding them; in short he undertakes any and all irregular sort of business, and few things with him are deemed impossibilities, and in the words of one of the settlers George was not a man to be trifled or fooled with. He afterwards became my guide and I had much confidence in him.
Lt. Charles Wilkes, June 9, 1841, "Diary of Wilkes in the Northwest," Washington Historical Quarterly, January 1926, page 56


    To the editor: A matter of very early history in Jackson County has to do with an early battle between whites and Indians in June [1835], near Foots Creek. Invariably those to whom this has been mentioned have questioned the possibility of such an early date. The following facts have come to my attention, and if published may give rise to further data about those early years. "In June [1835], a party of whites including George Gay, well known in early Oregon history, Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, Dr. Bailey, J. Turner and his squaw, ------ Sanders, and ------- Woodworth and a man known as Irish Tom, were attacked near the mouth of Foots Creek (below Rock Point) on Rogue River, and Miller, Sanders, Barnes and Irish Tom were killed, while the others badly wounded made their escape."--Walling.
    Nesmith says, "The party, under the leadership of Turner, was on a trapping expedition. About the middle of June they encamped at Point of Rocks, on the south bank of the Rogue. Several hundred Indians dropped into camp, no danger expected, no precautions taken, suddenly attacked with clubs, bows and knives. They got possession of three of the eight guns with which the whites were armed, and for a time the trappers fought them with firebrands, clubbed guns, and whatever came handy. Turner, a big Kentucky giant, seized a fir limb from the fire and fought lustily. He released Gay, who was held down by the savages, and finally the assailants were driven from the camp. Dan Miller and another trapper were killed on the spot, while the six survivors were all more or less wounded. The latter took to the brush and without horses and deprived of all guns but two traveled, fighting Indians by day and walking by night, making their way northward. Dr. Bailey was wounded by a tomahawk blow which had cleft his chin. Sanders' wounds disabled him from traveling and he was left on the South Umpqua. The Indians reported to Dr. McLoughlin of the Hudson Bay Company that both men soon died of their wounds where they were left. Turner, Gay, Woodworth and Dr. Bailey ultimately reached the settlement on the Willamette."
    "Two years later, or in 1837, a party of Oregonians proceeded to California to buy cattle to drive to the Willamette. They secured a drove and returning passed through the Umpqua and Rogue River valleys. The party was composed in part of Ewing Young, the leader, R. L. Edwards, who kept a diary of the trip; Hawchurst, Carmichael, Bailey, Erequette, Des Pau, B. Williams, Tibbetts, Gay, Wood, Camp, and about eight others, all frontiersmen of experience. While encamped at the Klamath, Sept. 14, 1837, Gay and Bailey shot an Indian who had come peaceable into camp. This in revenge for the Foots Creek affair, but that locality was far away, and the crime of 1835 was revenged on an individual who had not heard of the event.
    "The act was deeply resented by the Indians throughout the whole section and the party met with the greatest difficulty in continuing their course. On the 17th of the same month they encamped at Foots Creek, and on the next morning sustained a serious attack of savages."
    Edwards' diary: "Moved about sunrise. Indians soon observed running along the mountain on our right. There could be no doubt that they were intending to attack us at some difficult pass. Our braves fired upon them when there was a mere possibility of doing any execution. About 12 o'clock while we were in a stony and brushy pass, between the river (Rogue) on our right and a mountain covered with wood on our left, firing and yelling in front announced an attack. Mr. Young, apprehensive of an attack at this pass, had gone in advance to examine the brush and ravine and returned without seeing Indians. In making further search he found them posted on either side of the road. After firing of four guns the forward cattle halted, and myself (Edwards) having arrived with the rear, I started forward but orders met me from Young that no one should leave the cattle, he feeling able with two or three men to rout the Indians. In the struggle Gay was wounded in the back with an arrow. . . . Camped at the spot where Turner and party were molested two years ago." Some further description of the following night when they were unmolested, and then the diary breaks off.
    There seem interesting historical experiences which claim a battle either in 1835 or 1836. It is an early date, yet it is many years after the beginnings of the Hudson Bay Co. activities and seems altogether credible.
    There may be further unpublished facts that could be brought to light from some of our pioneers still living.
JOHN W. HOYT, Ashland.
Medford Mail Tribune, October 12, 1920, page 5  In the first paragraph the writer had placed the attack in 1836.

By Fred Lockley
    George Gay, whose brick house still stands near Wheatland, was universally popular. I have talked with many pioneers of Polk County who knew him. He died at his home, near Wheatland, October 7, 1882. He was born near Berkeley, in Gloucestershire, England, August 15, 1810. When 11 years old he went to sea and for the next 11 years followed the sea. In 1833 he left the whaler Kitty, in the harbor at Monterey, Cal., to become a partner of Ewing Young. They trapped beaver, otter, mink and marten all up and down the California coast and on Rogue River.
    In 1835 he joined John Turner, who, with a small party, had started overland from California to the Willamette Valley. Turner had his Indian wife with him. Other members of the party were Dr. W. J. Bailey, John Woodworth, Daniel Miller, a man named Saunders and an Irishman called "Big Tom." As they proceeded northward they trapped on the various streams. While camped at the "Point of Rocks," on Rogue River, in June, 1835, Indians began dropping in, until Gay, who was on guard, awoke Turner, leader of the party, to ask if he should make the Indians leave camp. Turner's squaw talked to the Indians, and said they meant no harm. Turner had been with Jedediah Smith and his party when the Indians attacked them near the mouth of the Umpqua in July, 1828, and killed 15 of the 18 men. In view of this experience, it is strange that Turner, a survivor of this massacre, was not suspicious of the Indians, who continued to arrive until several hundred were in and about the camp.
    It is doubtful if a more desperate struggle ever occurred in the annals of Indian warfare than took place when the Indians attacked this little party of eight men. The Indians were armed with bows and arrows, knives, tomahawks and war clubs. Turner was from Kentucky, and was a man of tremendous physical strength. When the Indians attacked the white men they secured three of their guns, including Turner's. Turner seized a fir limb and started for the Indians, but seeing that the Indians had Gay down, he laid about him lustily with the heavy fir club, allowing Gay to regain his feet. The Indians had also secured Gay's gun, but he drew his long, heavy-bladed butcher knife and began hacking and slashing. Dan Miller and one of the other trappers were killed. While the fight was in progress the squaws of the Rogue River tribe drove off the 47 horses of the white men, captured all the camp equipage and made off with the three guns. Originally Turner and his companions had possessed eight guns, but the Indians stole three, and three were broken in the fight, so they had but two left. Dr. Bailey was badly wounded, a tomahawk having severed his lower jawbone and buried itself in his throat. Saunders was also badly wounded, as was Big Tom.
    Saunders made his way as far as the South Umpqua, where he played out and urged his companions to press on and leave him, which they did. "Big Tom" was left on the North Umpqua. Both died of their wounds. Turner, Gay, Woodworth and Dr. Bailey pressed on to the head of the Willamette Valley. Turner insisted that the Willamette was the Columbia, but Gay pointed out that the river was running north, and that the Columbia ran west. Gay struck out due north, while the other three followed the Willamette River till they reached Jason Lee's Methodist mission, on Mission Bottom, north of Salem. Gay traveled along the base of the Polk County hills, crossing the Yamhill River at about where Lafayette was later built. He had sacrificed his buckskin pants to make moccasins for himself and the other members of the party, so that he made the trip from the Rogue River to Sauvies Island in practically a naked condition, besides which he was without a gun, and was wounded. He reached Wyeth's trading post on Sauvies Island in August, the trip of almost 500 miles having taken him nearly two months.
    The following year, 1836, Gay joined the party of W. A. Slocum to go to California to secure cattle for the Willamette Valley. A public meeting was held at Champoeg to organize a company to purchase cattle in California. Among those who went with Slocum, aboard the Loriot, were Ewing Young, George Gay, Dr. W. J. Bailey, P. L. Edwards, Lawrence Carmichael, James O'Neil, Calvin Tibbetts, Webley Hauxhurst and two Canadians, DePuys and Ergnette. They left on January 21, 1836, and arrived at Fort Ross on February 19. Here most of the party were landed, while Slocum, with Edwards and Young, continued on the Loriot to the Golden Gate. Gay and the other members of the cattle company secured immediate employment in a mill at Fort Ross. After the unwinding of a great deal of red tape and visiting San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey once again, Ewing Young secured the consent of the officials, and 700 head of cattle were bought, at around $3 a head. They also bought 40 horses, near Santa Cruz.
    It would take a good-sized volume to describe the adventures and misadventures of the company in bringing the cattle from California to the Willamette Valley. In a fight in the Rogue River Valley Gay was wounded. They did not reach the Willamette Valley until the middle of October. More than 200 cattle were lost on the way, having wandered off or having been killed by Indians. The 600 remaining cattle were sold at the rate of $7.67 a head. The success of the importation of these cattle was due to the foresight, knowledge and enterprise of Ewing Young. Young built a sawmill on the Chehalem, and his death, shortly thereafter, resulted in the organization of a provisional government to take charge of his estate.
    George Gay became well-to-do. It was said that after the death of Ewing Young he was the wealthiest man in Oregon. He had large herds of cattle and horses in both Yamhill and Polk counties. He built, in 1843, the first brick house in Oregon. Everyone who came to Oregon put up at his home. Sometimes there would be 20 to 25 guests. Commodore Wilkes and his officers were his guests, as were also the officers of the American men-of-war Peacock and Shark. Gay died in poverty, through trusting unscrupulous men who took advantage of his big-heartedness.
Oregon Journal, Portland, May 22, 1927, page 10

    The mental picture I received of George Gay when I talked recently with his niece, Mrs. Clemens, at Helvetia, was of a free-handed, rather reckless man, popular with everyone--one who could drink or leave it alone but who usually did the former--a man who was at home on horseback, a good shot, hospitable, trustful of strangers, so much so that from being one of the richest men in Oregon he died poor. He died on his farm near Wheatland on October 7, 1882, at the age of 72. He was born near Berkeley, in Gloucestershire, England, August 15, 1810. He went to sea when he was 11 years old, served a four-year apprenticeship, and for the next 11 years sailed pretty well all over the world.
    From London, in 1832, he shipped on the whaler Kitty for a cruise in the Pacific. In 1833, at Monterey, Cal. he left his ship and cast his lot with Ewing Young. They trapped for beaver along the California coast, as far north as the Rogue River in Oregon. In 1835 he joined John Turner, one of the three survivors of Jedediah Smith's party of 18 who were attacked by Indians in the summer of 1828 near the mouth of the Umpqua.
    Dan Miller, John Woodworth, Dr. W. J. Bailey, John Turner, George Gay, an Irishman known as Big Tom, a man named Saunders, and one or two others started on a trapping expedition in 1835. In the middle of June, at the "Point of Rocks" on Rogue River, Gay was on guard. The Indians began gathering, so Gay woke Turner, who was in charge of the party. Turner decided that the Indians were peaceful and allowed them to come into camp. A few minutes later the Indians attacked the trappers and secured three of their eight guns. One Indian threw Gay down and was about to kill him. Turner, a Kentuckian tall and tough as wet buckskin, was laying about him with a fir limb he had picked up from the camp fire. With this he struck the Indian who was about to kill Gay. Gay sprang to his feet and with his long hunting knife charged the naked Indians, doing fearful execution. The trappers fought desperately for their lives. Miller and one other trapper were killed. The six survivors were all wounded. Finally they drove the Indians from their camp.
    While the fight was in progress the squaws had driven off the trappers' 47 horses and had taken all baggage, traps and camp equipment as well as three rifles. This left the six remaining trappers with only two usable guns. Dr. Bailey had been struck by a tomahawk, his chin being split and a gaping wound made in his throat. Saunders, badly wounded, was left on the South Umpqua. Big Tom, the Irishman, was left on the North Umpqua. Gay, Turner, Woodworth and Dr. Bailey traveled by night, hiding during the day, and reached a point near where the present town of Cottage Grove is situated. Turner, Bailey and Woodworth followed the banks of the Willamette to the Methodist mission near Salem. Gay, thinking to find a shorter route to Vancouver, struck westward and followed the foothills, crossing the Rickreall River where Dallas was later built. He arrived at Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's trading station at Sauvies Island in August. He had used his buckskin breeches to make a pair of moccasins, so he made the trip from Rogue River to Sauvies Island wearing moccasins and a tattered shirt.

Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, March 1, 1933, page 8

    I have often interviewed people who knew George Gay. He was born at Berkeley, England, on August 15, 1810. He went to sea when 11 years old and followed the sea 11 years. In 1832, while aboard the whaler Kitty, of London, he left his ship at Monterey, Cal., and joined Ewing Young on a trip to the Rogue River to trap beavers. In 1835 he joined a party led by John Turner, one of the three survivors of Jedediah Smith's party of 18 who had been attacked by Indians in July, 1828, near the mouth of the Umpqua River.
    The Turner  party--among whose members were Dr. W. J. Bailey, John Woodworth, Daniel Miller, George Gay, an Irishman called Big Tom, a man named
Saunders, another man and Turner's wife, who was a squaw--started on a trapping trip in the spring of 1835. They had 47 horses and a large number of traps. While camped at Point of Rocks on the south bank of the Rogue River, in June, 1835, a party of about 500 Indians came to their camp. Gay became uneasy and awoke Turner. Turner thought the Indians meant no harm. Suddenly they attacked. An Indian seized Gay and was about to kill him, when Turner grabbed a heavy stick from the campfire and knocked the Indian senseless. Gay drew his sheath knife and fought with desperation, wounding many. Dan Miller and one of the other trappers were killed, and all of the white men were wounded, some seriously. The squaws drove off the 47 horses owned by the white men and captured their baggage and camp equipment. Dr. Bailey's lower jaw had been split open with a tomahawk. Saunders was so badly wounded that he was left on the South Umpqua, and Big Tom was left on the North Umpqua. Both died. Gay, Turner, Dr. Bailey and Woodward traveled nights and reached the head of the Willamette Valley. Turner, Bailey and Woodward followed the Willamette until they struck the Methodist mission, north of Salem. Gay bore farther west and followed the foothills, eventually reaching Wyeth's trading post on Sauvies Island. Of his buckskin trousers he made moccasins for himself and the other three men, so he made the 500-mile trip in moccasins and the tatters of an old shirt. In 1836 Gay went to California and helped bring Spanish cattle to Oregon. He built his brick house in 1843.
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, February 26, 1936, page 6

    "Uncle Jack" Anderson, or, to give him his real name, Adam Gustave Waseman von Weisenstein, came of a good family, but ran away to sea when he was in his teens. He eventually landed in California, was associated with the employees of the Hudson's Bay company in California and in Oregon, went to California in 1848, and during the next year ran a schooner between San Francisco and Honolulu. He was not only a friend and associate of many pioneers of the late '30s and '40s, but had an intimate knowledge of many Indian tribes and could talk to them in their own language. One whom he knew well was William J. Bailey, who, like himself, had served before the mast but, after coming to Oregon, had become a surgeon, on French Prairie. Bailey, who had studied medicine and surgery in England, came with his mother and sister to the United States but soon left and shipped before the mast, came around the Horn, and quit the ship in California. In the summer of 1835, with seven other white men, he started overland for the Willamette Valley. While camped on the banks of the Rogue River they were attacked by Indians and four were killed. John Turner, with his Indian wife, finally reached the Methodist mission, and several days later George Gay and Bailey were seen on the bank of the Willamette, just across from the mission. Bailey was badly wounded. An Indian with a tomahawk had struck him in the face, the tomahawk severing both his upper and lower lips and laying open his chin and neck. Dr. Bailey married Margaret Smith, one of the Methodist missionaries, who had come in 1837 to teach the Indians. Dr. Bailey resumed the practice of medicine and became very popular. He was elected May 14, 1844 a member of the executive committee of the provisional government. He was a member of the convention in 1846 and represented the Champoeg district in the legislature of 1849. He died February 5, 1876, and is buried in the cemetery at St. Paul, on French Prairie.
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, September 5, 1938, page 4

Last revised December 11, 2023