News of Jackson County and the "Applegate Trail"--the southern emigrant route.
AGED DIGGER INDIAN DIES.In the spring of 1846 young Burch was manlike at 18 and joined a company of sixty or seventy men who went through to California with Duncan E. Cameron, one of the Hudson Bay company's leaders. . . .
Saved from Enemies in 1846 by Fleming Hill, Pioneer.
ROSEBURG, Ore.--Doc Hill, a full-blooded Digger Indian, and a well-known character of the Wilbur community, died recently at the age of 91 years. Hill was saved from death when a mere boy by Fleming Hill, one of the early pioneer settlers of Southern Oregon, who traded a horse to a chief of the Rogue River tribe in exchange for the boy, who was about to be tortured to death.
It was in the early part of the year 1846, and the Digger and Rogue River Indians were engaged in a fierce war. Hill, who was then about 14 years old, was taken captive by the Rogue River tribe and was held prisoner for several days.
Fleming Hill, who was one of the first white men in the Southern Oregon country, stopped at the camp of the Indians and found them preparing for the torture of a captive. He saw the boy and, taking pity upon him, entered into a powwow with the chief, which resulted in his exchanging one of his best horses for the Indian lad.
Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, August 28, 1923, page 6
. . . when the company Burch was in was passing through Rogue River on the way to California, at the first crossing of Rogue River they were beset by a large party of Indians, who made unfriendly demonstrations, and were helping themselves freely to the articles at the camping place. The men sprang to their guns and brought them to bear on the aggressors, holding them terrified, while seventeen were taken prisoners. These men they tied by their wrists and kept them so two days. When they finally let them loose they all jumped into a stream and swam across. When they tied these prisoners they gave the others to understand that whenever they were attacked they would kill those captives. Some of them were chiefs, so they served the part of hostages to good advantage. They kept them until they had crossed over the mountains, and had crossed Klamath River into California, and as they let them loose on the south side of the Klamath, that was the stream they swam to get back to their own country. During that two days they were surrounded by hostile bands, and saw numerous parties of them on the Siskiyou Mountains, but the threat of killing their captives was efficacious, and they were not in any manner disturbed by them. Five years after a young brave came to him when camped on the same spot, and by signs recalled the fact that he was once tied by Burch and others in that company, which was the fact.
SHOWERS OF ARROWS FROM HIDDEN FOES.On that same expedition, hardly a day's drive further south, they were attacked by a large party of siwashes, as they were camped almost at the foot of Mt. Shasta. It was probably the Modocs or Pit Rivers, who have all been freebooters in the past. They were camped at Soda Springs. A cloud of arrows flew, and one of them struck Aleck C. Obershaw. He was shot in the thigh. They carried his body for several days, to deceive the Indians, and finally buried him at the very water's edge. He was a very good man and much liked; was half French and half Indian, and the pilot of the expedition. The same night the Indians fired into the camp, but no casualties occurred. of course they were on the defensive all the while and retaliated as best they could, but while the Indians were in great force they never saw but three of them, and had no idea if their own shots occasioned any loss to their enemy.
In California they found Milton W. Wambaugh, one of the five who went in advance of the emigration of 1843, who escaped from Oregon to avoid the penalties of justice. He ran away when Knighton was the marshal, and taking the overland road to California was fortunate in overtaking a party in advance. But when alone, on Rogue River, the Indians of that region attacked him and he told them a graphic story of his fight for his life. Being driven to close quarters he said he drew his revolver and shot five of his assailants dead. Wambaugh was a machinist, and worked for some time with the Hudson Bay Company. He was well educated and a natural orator. Not long ago (in a historical sense) Wambaugh was prominent in public life in Ohio, as we read of his stumping Ohio for Hayes or some recent candidate.
Samuel A. Clarke, "Pioneer Days: Reminiscences of C. W. Burch, of Yamhill, an Immigrant of '44," Oregonian, Portland, September 13, 1885, page 2
The Rt. Rev. Norbert Blanchet was consecrated Bishop of Oregon Territory on the 15th of July, 1845, in the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Montreal, Canada.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, July 23, 1846, page 2
On the morning of the 26th [of June, 1846], we divided our forces, part going back to explore the canyon, while the remainder stayed to guard the camp and horses. The exploring party went back to where we left the canyon on a little trail the day before and, returning through the canyon, came into camp after night, reporting that wagons could be taken through.
We found everything all right on the morning of the 27th, although the Indians had hovered around us all night, frightening our horses a number of times. From the tracks we could see that they approached very closely to our encampment. Making an early start, we moved on very cautiously. Whenever the trail passed though the cuts we dismounted and led our horses, having our guns in hand, ready at any moment to use them in self-defense, for we had adopted this rule, never to be the aggressor. Traveling through a very broken country, the sharp hills separated by little streams upon which there were small openings, we came out at about noon into a large creek, a branch of Rogue River, now call Grave Creek, on which we rested about two hours. During the afternoon our course was over a more open country--through scattering pine and oak timber. Towards evening we saw a good many Indians posted along the mountainside and then running ahead of us. About an hour by sun we reached a prairie of several hundred acres, which extends down to very near the bank of Rogue River. As we advanced towards the river, the Indians in large numbers occupied the riverbank near where the trail crossed. Having understood that this crossing was a favorite place of attack, we decided. as it was growing late, to pass the night in the prairie. Selecting a place as far from the brush as possible, we made every preparation for a night attack.
In selecting our camp on Rogue River, we observed the greatest caution. Cutting stakes from the limbs of an old oak that stood in the open ground, we picketed our horses with double stakes as firmly as possible. The horses were picketed in the form of a hollow square, outside of which we took up our positions, knowing that in case of an attack there would be a chance of losing our horses. and that would be a complete defeat. We kept vigilant guard during the night, and the next morning could see the Indians occupying the same position as at dark. After an early breakfast we began to make preparations for moving forward. There had been a heavy dew, and fearing the effects of the dampness upon our firearms, which were muzzle-loaders, of course, and some of them with flintlocks, we fired them off and reloaded. In moving forward we formed two divisions, with the pack horses behind. On reaching the riverbank the front division fell behind the pack horses and drove them over, while the rear division faced the brush, with gun in hand, until the front division was safely over. Then they turned about, and the rear division passed over under the protection of their rifles. The Indians watched the performance from their places of concealment, but there was no chance for them to make an attack without exposing themselves to our fire. The river was deep and rapid, and for a short distance some of the smaller animals had to swim. Had we rushed pell mell in the stream, as parties sometimes do under such circumstances, our expedition would probably have come to an end there.
After crossing we turned up the river, and the Indians in large numbers came out of the thickets on the opposite side and tried in every way to provoke us. Our course was for some distance southeast along the bank of the river, and the Indians, some mounted and some on foot, passed on rapidly on the other side. There appeared to be a great commotion among them. A party had left the French settlement in the Willamette some three or four weeks before us, consisting of French, half-breeds, Columbia Indians and a few Americans; probably about eighty in all. Passing one of their encampments we could see by the signs that they were only a short distance ahead of us. We afterwards learned that the Rogue Rivers had stolen some of their horses, and that an effort to recover them had caused the delay. At about three o'clock, we left the river and bore southward up a little stream for four or five miles and encamped. From our camp we could see numerous signal fires on the mountains to the eastward. We saw no Indians in the vicinity of our camp, and no evidence of their having been there lately. They had evidently given up, and followed the other company which the same night encamped in the main valley above. Under the circumstances we enjoyed a good night's sleep, keeping only two guards at a time.
On the morning of June 29th, we passed over a low range of hills, from the summit of which we had a splendid view of the Rogue River Valley. It seemed like a great meadow, interspersed with groves of oaks which appeared like vast orchards. All day long we traveled over rich black soil covered with rank grass, clover and pea vine, and at night encamped near the other party on the stream now known as Emigrant Creek, near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains. This night, the Indians having gone to the mountains to ambush the French party as we afterwards learned, we were not disturbed. Here our course diverged from that of the other company, they following the old California trail across the Siskiyou, while our route was eastward through an unexplored region several hundred miles in extent.
Lindsay, Applegate, "Notes and Reminiscences of Laying Out and Establishing the Old Emigrant Road into Southern Oregon in the Year 1846," Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, March 1921, pages 17-19
A SCRAP OF EARLY HISTORY.
A Statesman Reporter Visits the Scene of the Battle of Pilot Rock in 1846.
Linkville, Or., April 10, 1886.Editor Statesman: Remembering my promise, I now write you. I crossed the mountains from Ashland to this place about three weeks ago, with a buggy and horse, and in company with the old pioneer Lindsay Applegate, now of Ashland, who crossed the plains in 1843, and built the first log cabin in Polk County. He will soon be an octogenarian. The road we now travel from Rogue River Valley to the Klamath Basin is the same, Mr. A. informed us, as viewed out by the "south road party" in [late June] 1846, of which party of fifteen men he was one. They were the first white men to cross the mountains by this route, and were six days hunting it out from Rogue River Valley to the Klamath River, a distance of thirty-three miles. They followed at times an Indian footpath. The old California trail ran south from Rogue River, crossing the Siskiyou Mountain ridge by the way of Pilot Rock. The road party left this trail about seven miles south of where Ashland now is, and struck out due east, finding and passing the soda springs, but it happened an hour or so before the road party left the California trail [that] a party of mountain men, trappers, traders and a few Columbia Indians, well mounted and armed to the teeth, had passed up the trail in the direction of Pilot Rock, and as the road party was passing along a ridge about a mile and a half from where it had turned east, the men then heard the Indian war whoop go up loud and shrill, seconded by the reports of many guns, only a few miles away. The battle of Pilot Rock had begun. The road hunters, however, appreciating the favorable turns of affairs, halted but a few minutes to listen to the conflict, but they heard distinctly while they tarried "the savage war whoop burst forth, and almost at the same moment a heavy volley ending in a perfect roar." All the sign of the deadly strife they could see was a thin cloud of blue smoke hanging along the side of the mountain, between their position and Pilot Rock, but as they continued their journey for several miles they heard occasionally the yells of the Indians and the reports of the rifles.
The old mountain man Turner was one of the seventy-five men engaged in this fight. He said they expected an attack where it was made, and so were ready for the red devils when they announced themselves.
The attack was made by three or four hundred warriors, their faces grim with war paint black and red--they came forth boldly from the shelter of rocks and bush, yelping and whooping like fiends and shooting arrows with great rapidity, but too high to harm the white men, who now with steady nerves returned the salute with a volley from fifty guns, which caused many braves to bite the dust, and sent the remainder back to shelter. This war party must have been under the influence of a "strong medicine," for the attack was repeated in less than a half hour, with unabated bravery, but being repulsed with a second volley more fatal in its effect than the first, the battle was finally over, though the Indians followed several miles shooting arrows from a distance and occasionally drawing the fire of the white men. Strange to tell, one white man was severely, and some horses slightly, wounded with arrows, and that was all. These Indians had no guns forty years ago.
This severe rebuke of those Indians secured the little party of road hunters. The war cry died upon the lips of the young braves. They clasped the little brown hands of the dusky maidens in their own, and made the nights hideous with the "death song," for their war chief, Kink-i-coony, "scalp-catcher," caught a rifle ball in his mouth.
Pilot Rock may be seen fifty miles away, as you pass up Rogue River Valley from the north, standing up against the sky like a large-sized wart on the backbone of the Siskiyou. Though not so broad at the base, it is higher than the great pyramid of Egypt, its top being exalted to the giddy height of six hundred feet from its base on the mountain. The sides are so precipitous that a man cannot scale them. There is, however, a crevice in the rock, running upward from the foot, along which people climb to the top, where there is said to be standing room for six hundred men.
J.A.A. [probably Jesse A. Applegate]Oregon Statesman, Salem, May 7, 1886, page 1
The public mind has been happily put at rest, in relation to the welfare of Captain Jesse Applegate and party, by the arrival of intelligence at Fort Vancouver, recently, to the effect that he had succeeded in discovering a most admirable road for the emigration--one much more direct, and in every respect more preferable than the old one. We trust to be able to speak more at large in relation to this important circumstance hereafter. Captain Applegate struck the old trail in the vicinity of Fort Hall in time to turn the bulk of the emigration which are now coming on under his guidance; indeed it is altogether probable that the advance wagons have already entered the head of the valley.
This achievement is a great piece of public enterprise on the part of Captain Applegate, and we hope that he will be rewarded accordingly.
Since writing the above, Mr. J. M. Ware, from the States, has arrived and informs us that he came in company with Captain Applegate--that the wagons, numbering some two hundred and fifty, will probably arrive in about two weeks. We regret to state that Mr. Wm. Trimble, from Iowa, was killed by the Pawnee Indians, in passing through their country.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 1, 1846, page 2
Monday, October 5--Cross a spur of the Siskiyou Mountains and camp without water or grass. Road bad and rough. 10 [miles]--2,133 miles.
Tuesday, October 6--Move six miles to a tolerable camp. Road fair. 6 miles.
Wednesday, October 7--Cross another spur of the mountain and camp at a high flat--good grass and water. Road tolerable except a steep hill [Jenny Creek Slide] to go down. Our teams very weak.
Thursday, October 8--Rest our teams and improve the road.
Friday, October 9--Travel ten miles of tolerable road and camp on the head of a branch of Rogue River. Timber heavy and fine and the land good but very rough and broken between this and Klamath River. 10 miles.
Saturday, October 10--Engaged all day in making 3 miles, the branch so near
impassable. Found a tolerable route at last. 3 [miles]--2,158 miles.
Sunday, October 11--The valley opens and we pass some very pretty locations. Timber in a great many varieties, some entirely new to me. Make 10 miles and camp at a considerable-sized creek [Bear Creek], the best camp we have had for several. Road very good. High mountains around. 10 miles.
Monday, October 12--Travel 15 miles of very pretty mountain country and camp in a fine prairie without water. 15 miles.
Tuesday, October 13--Move about one mile to a spring [probably Willow Springs] and spend the day to explore ahead, the road not being marked. 1 mile.
Wednesday, October 14--Travel 12 miles of good road and camp on Rogue River, a beautiful, pure stream about fifty yards wide, but shut in by mountains. 12 miles.
Thursday, October 15--Move down the river 10 miles and camp. Plenty of Indians about, but none come near. Lose some cattle by them 10 miles.
Friday, October 16--Cross Rogue River about 4 miles from last camp. Ford good. Camp on right bank.
Saturday, October 17--Travel 8 miles, road good and a good camp which is not
common, the country being mostly burnt. 8 [miles]--2,218 miles.
Sunday, October 18--Have some bad road that takes till after dark to go 6 miles. 6 miles.
Monday, October 19--Move one mile to a camp, having none last night, and spent the day burying Mr. Crowley’s daughter [on Grave Creek], who died yesterday evening, age about 14 years. 1 mile.
Tuesday, October 20--Our route continues over spurs of mountains with steep pulls and thick timber and underbrush. Make 6 miles.
Wednesday, October 21--The time from this to Monday, 25th, we were occupied in making 5 miles from the foot of Umpqua Mountain and working the road through the pass, which is nearly impassable. Started through on Monday morning and reached the opposite plain on Friday night after a series of hardships, breakdowns and being constantly wet and laboring hard and very little to eat, the provisions being exhausted in the whole company. We ate our last the evening we got through. The wet season commenced the second day after we started through the mountains and continued until the first of November, which was a partially fair day. [This was the same 1846 "wet season" that trapped the Donner Party in the Sierras, hundreds of miles to the south.] The distance through: 16 miles. There is great loss of property and suffering, no bread, live altogether on beef. Leave one wagon.
"Diary of Virgil K. Pringle, 1846," Transactions of the Forty-Eighth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1920, page 298
In regard to the remainder of the emigration, who are coming in by Messrs. Applegate and Goff's recently explored route, we can obtain no satisfactory information, further than [that] they are as yet a considerable distance from the head of the valley. We have understood that several families have abandoned their wagons, and come in with pack animals; likewise, that two or three parties have started out with provisions &c. to meet the emigration. We have a rumor that one hundred and forty wagons, of the two hundred and fifty reported to have been on this route have turned off and gone to California; this requires confirmation, however.
"The Emigration," Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 29, 1846, page 2
A. L. Lovejoy. A. A. Skinner.
LOVEJOY AND SKINNER.
ATTORNEYS AND COUNSELORS AT LAW, and Solicitors in Chancery, Oregon City.
Having this day entered into co-partnership in the business of the law, under the above style and name, L. and S. will attend to any professional business entrusted in their care; and will practice in the Supreme and Criminal Courts of Oregon Territory, and in the several County Courts.
Oct. 15, 1846.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 12, 1846, page 3
THE EMIGRANTS.--Our latest intelligence concerning the emigrants who are on the southern route comes to us from some gentlemen who have recently arrived in this place, after having "packed" into the settlements. At the time of their departure from the wagons (about twenty days since), which number altogether, as we are informed, only eighty, some few of the first were this side of the Calapooya Mountains; the most of them, however, were still engaged in crossing the Umpqua Mountains. They had experienced considerable suffering, from exposure and hard labor, and bravely surmounted numerous difficulties. We regret to state that Mr. William Smith died instantaneously--probably occasioned by overexertion--in the kanyon of the Umpqua Mountains. It is also our painful duty to record the death of David Tanner, of Iowa, and ------ Sallie, of Callaway County, Missouri, who died from wounds received in a skirmish with the Klamath Indians. [Sallie died on the Humboldt River, probably killed by Piutes.] In the same affair, Mr. Lippincott of New York City, a California emigrant, was severely wounded in the knee. We were acquainted with the parties; Mr. Sallie had left home in a rapidly declining state of health, which was as rapidly improved by the trip. He looked forward sanguinely to the enjoyment of a new life, as it were, in California, which an inscrutable Providence has prevented. Himself and two of his fellow emigrants have experienced the common lot--"In the midst of life, we are in death."
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 26, 1846, page 2
For the Oregon Spectator.
Mr. Editor:--As the people of the United States as well as those of Oregon are deeply interested in the success of the company who have lately returned from exploring a southern route from the United States to this valley, it is the intention of that party in due season to give to their fellow citizens, whose philanthropy has prompted them to contribute to the success of this arduous undertaking, a full report of their travels and discoveries, and until such report is ready to be made public, it is certainly doing an injustice to those who have been engaged in this important service to attempt to forestall public opinion by the publication of such statements as are made in an editorial headed "The Emigration," which appeared in the 20th number of the Spectator [article of October 29, above].
Notwithstanding the "early and safe arrival of all the emigration by the Mount Hood road," it appears that some are yet in the mountains, and many more beyond, who cannot either safely or unsafely arrive by the Mount Hood road this season, and those who have succeeded in passing the mountains have suffered losses in proportion to their numbers full as great as any previous emigration, some of those last getting through having lost half and others the whole of their animals.
Facts, so far from proving favorable to the old road, go to show the decided advantage of the new. The emigrants on the new route, though greatly delayed by sickness, and the opening and breaking the way over timbered mountains and trackless plains, have arrived in the valley west of the Cascade Mountains more than five weeks ago, and "the families who have abandoned their wagons" amount to one only. This they have done by traveling a distance not exceeding that from Fort Hall to Walla Walla, and without meeting the tenth part of the natural obstacles encountered on the old route. From the Rogue River Valley to Oregon City, in less than ten years, there will be continuous settlements, there being but two narrow ridges of Coast Mountain between; the one sixteen, the other eight miles over.
Were you, Mr. Editor, to take the trouble to examine the files of your paper, you would find that others, as well as Goff and Applegate, have spent their time and money in the public service, and are equally deserving the praise or censure of the public. And as the hope of pecuniary reward had no share in inducing them to undertake an expedition which was justly considered one of great danger, labor and privation, they have with equal magnanimity brought it to a successful issue. From the emigrants who are traveling the new road they have neither asked nor received anything except by purchase, and to those who have assisted them in opening the road, they have bound themselves as individuals to the payment of one dollar and fifty cents per day.
Let me tell you, Mr. Editor, the company to which I am proud to belong did not leave their homes to ride a few days up the Willamette River and return with a false report to the people: They went seriously determined to find a new road, if one was to be found; they went actuated by the purest motives, and in the spirit of patriotism and philanthropy, and were more than successful.
They have explored and opened a wagon road to the western valley of Oregon which may be traveled at any and all seasons, by a shorter and in all respects better route than any heretofore known.
They have made it easy for wagons to pass between Oregon and California, which has hitherto been impracticable.
They have found a way by which the southern rivers of Oregon may be connected by railroad to the bay of San Francisco without crossing a single hill.
On the road they have found a mail may be carried at all seasons, and a railroad may reach the bay of San Francisco from the U.S. without crossing the Sierra Nevada, or to the Willamette without crossing the Cascade Mountains.
And lastly, by their own unassisted means, they have succeeded in establishing a connecting link between the waters of Oregon and those of the great interior basin of California before unknown, and which one of the ablest explorers in the service of the United States attempted, without success.
Such, Mr. Editor, are the achievements of the exploring party, which envy and cupidity would render nugatory!!!
As I have stated nothing that I am unable to establish, I have nothing to conceal from the public.
MOSES HARRIS.Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 26, 1846, page 3
"GREAT CRY AND LITTLE WOOL."--In another column will be found an article over the signature of "Moses Harris," in which we are charged with an "attempt to forestall public opinion," inasmuch as in the discharge of our editorial duties we had occasion to prepare and publish an article in which we simply gave, in a statement of facts, all the intelligence that we could obtain concerning the emigration, without any reference in word, or even in thought, as to the comparative merits of the routes by which emigrants have arrived here this season. We do not know, however, that we would have hesitated in giving the information in question had it actually been necessary to have gone into an argument as to the merits of these routes. We are not easily deterred in the performance of anything that we esteem to be a duty. As to the charge of forestalling public opinion, we refer our readers with a great deal of pleasure to the article complained of, and feel well assured that every unprejudiced mind cannot fail to perceive how unfounded is the charge.
We have a "bone to pick" with Mr. Harris, for, by the article over his signature, he makes it our unpleasant duty not only to deny some of his asseverated facts, but to prove that which is quite the reverse. It is hardly worthwhile to state in passing that in no single instance has Mr. Harris quoted our language correctly; almost any sentence can be so perverted as to mean what was not intended. There is no occasion to quibble or use sophistry in this matter. If the emigrants by the southern route "arrived in the valley west of the Cascade Mountains more than five weeks ago," what then? They might suffer and starve on this side just as easily as on the other--the settlements, Mr. Harris, the settlements, what time did they arrive at the settlements, their destination? Or, have they yet arrived? What's the use of saying "the families who have abandoned their wagons amount to one only"? Did not Mr. James Campbell abandon two, Davidson one, Vanderpool one, Long one, Van Bebber one and Watkins one?
They did, and we have evidence to establish the same. It is not wise to live in glass houses and throw stones.
We are not aware that there are any emigrants by the Mount Hood road who are yet in the mountains and unable to get through this season, as intimated by Mr. Harris; on the contrary, we know that there are none. The rearward company, consisting of seven wagons, arrived here during the first week in the present month.
We have not the space, if we had the inclination, at this time to argue as to the advantages or disadvantages of either route; the pleasure, therefore, of surprising Mr. Harris and his friends with an exposition of our views thereupon, is unavoidably deferred to some future occasion. Far be it from us to speak disparagingly of any scientific undertaking--much less of one that promised such important beneficial consequences to Oregon. Nor would we withhold from any member of that exploring party a single iota of his deserts. We mentioned Messrs. Goff and Applegate because theirs were the only names that we knew of the party, nor do we know the number or names of the gentlemen who composed the expedition.
A word more and we have done. We do not love to be found fault with without the shadow of a cause, nor will we permit ourselves to be charged falsely and unjustly, especially by those whose fears would seem to be the only source of their imputations.
As the editor of this paper, we write and publish that which we believe to be the truth, with the promotion of the general interest always in view, and it is to be hoped that we shall continue to have nerve enough to pursue this course regardless of consequences.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 26, 1846, page 2
THE EMIGRANTS--SOUTHERN ROUTE.--We have no further information to give concerning the emigrants on the southern route, excepting that which is contained in the following letter, received a few days since:
Settlement of the Rickreall,Editor of the Spectator:—I have just arrived in the settlements of this valley from the Kenyon in the Umpqua Mountains. I left the people suffering beyond anything you have ever known. They must perish with hunger unless the people of the settlements go to their relief with pack horses and bring them in. They will have property with which to pay for such services. If they are not brought away they must perish. Before I left, they had already commenced eating the cattle that had died in the Kanyon. At least one hundred head of pack horses should be taken out immediately. I implore the people of this valley, in the name of humanity, and in behalf of my starving and perishing fellow travelers to hasten to their relief.
November 30, 1846.
In haste, I am sir, yours &c.We have understood that a considerable band of horses have been sent out from Champoeg County, sufficient probably to bring in all or most of the emigrants.
J. QUINN THORNTON.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, December 10, 1846, page 2
FREMONT AND THE MODOCS.Though one of the smallest tribes with which our people have come in conflict, none have exhibited a more determined hostility or displayed greater courage than the Modoc Indians, and few have cost the government more in blood and treasure to subdue. They were but a small tribe when first discovered by the whites, less than 200 warriors, and occupied a comparatively limited section of country, much of it barren and worthless. In that inhospitable region lie the graves of emigrants, volunteers and soldiers by the score, while the bones of old men, helpless women and tender babes lay for years in their tule marshes, and found no burial save that vouchsafed by the hand of pitying Nature.
The Modoc, or, as properly pronounced, Mo-a-dok, Indians were an offshoot from the Muk-a-luk, or Klamath Lake, tribe, inhabiting the country to the north and east of Lake Klamath, and took their name from Mo-a-dok-us, the chief under whom they seceded from the parent tribe. They were, to a degree, a tribe of Ishmaelites, living by the plunder of their neighbors on every side, and finding a secure retreat from their wrath in the marshes of Tule Lake or the rocky and mysterious caverns of the Lava Beds.
The region dominated by them was circumscribed, embracing a small strip of country along the Oregon and California line. The east and south shores of Klamath Lake, the Butte Creek country to the south of it, the sterile Lava Beds to the south of Tule, or Rhett, Lake, and Lost River on the north, were their country, though the general headquarters were at Tule Lake. Upon the little islands among the tules they built their wickiups, where they retired in times of danger, the caves of the Lava Beds forming their last retreat when driven from their island homes.
Such were the Modocs when first visited by the white man--a band of hardy and unscrupulous marauders, courageous and daring, living chiefly by plunder, and occupying a country apparently designed by Nature for the home of such a band of savage buccaneers. Among them were many renegades from other tribes, and the whole tribe was, in fact, but the descendants of a number of independent Indians who had gathered about Mo-a-dok-us and his little band of Muk-a-luks. Formed like the Romans, they adopted the Roman plan of procuring wives, beginning thus their habit of stealing squaws from their neighbors, which was never completely abandoned even after they came under the control of the whites.
In the spring of 1846 Lieutenant John C. Fremont entered California on his third exploring expedition to the West and his second trip across the continent. His party consisted of about sixty men, many of them old and tried mountaineers, and all of them hardy and daring men picked by their commander for the arduous service expected of them. After exchanging international compliments with General Castro, which at one time appeared certain to result in blows, Fremont started north to visit the Columbia. The regular Hudson's Bay Company trail passed up the Sacramento, along the western base of Mount Shasta, through Shasta Valley, and thus across Klamath River and Siskiyou Mountain to Rogue River Valley. This was many miles to the west of the Modoc country, while the route of trapping parties who crossed from Snake River to the Sacramento, by the way of Pit River, passed to the eastward. It thus happened that while they knew of the white man and his dealings with surrounding tribes, it is more than probable that Fremont was at the head of the first party of whites to pass through the country of the Modocs and partake of their bloody hospitalities.
Fremont's party turned off the regular trail to Oregon, at the mouth of Pit River, and followed up that stream, which was then called the east fork of the Sacramento. He proceeded by the way of Clear and Tule lakes to the west bank of Klamath Lake, just above the Oregon line, where he went into camp for a few days. On the 9th of May Samuel Neal and M. Sigler rode into camp with the intelligence that a United States officer was on their trail with important dispatches, which he had crossed the continent to deliver into Fremont's own hand. This was not all; the messengers had only escaped from the hands of savages by the fleetness of their animals, and they feared the officer and his companion would not be so fortunate unless they received immediate aid. Away dashed Fremont to the rescue--four trappers, five friendly Indians and the two messengers riding at his side. Back across the California line they rode, round and along the southern shore of the lake, until, at sundown, sixty miles from the camp of the morning, they met Lieutenant Gillespie and brave old Peter Lassen, unconscious of the danger from which they had been rescued.
That meeting was an important one to California and to America. The messenger of the government informed Fremont that war had been declared with Mexico. The instructions he then imparted have remained hidden in the Pathfinder's breast to the present day, and can only be inferred from the conduct of that dashing officer, who returned at once to California, inaugurated the Bear Flag War (carried on by his counsel and inspired by him), and organized the California Battalion, which played so prominent a part in the conquest of California.
Late into the night those young officers, on whose shoulders such weighty responsibilities had been thrown, sat by the smoldering embers and counseled about their future course. Around them lay their companions, wrapped in profound slumber, their weary limbs stretched upon the ground. Fatigue and the excitement of the news had made their leader incautious. He forgot that he was in a country where the natives had shown signs of hostility; that he had ridden sixty miles that day because of such hostility. Filled with the great projects of the future, his limbs weary with fatigue, he, too, lay down by the fire and closed his heavy eyes in asleep. In that silent camp lay the sleeping forms of Richard Owens, Lucien Maxwell, Kit Carson, Alex. Godey, Steppenfeldt, Basil Lajeunesse, Denne, Crane, and others of those hardy mountaineers who had trapped the whole western wilderness and fought the savage denizens for years, and never before been guilty of lying down to sleep in an enemy's country without posting a guard.
Slumber's chains bound the camp, but around it stole the sinuous forms of savage enemies. Nearer and wearer they crept, until they stood among the sleeping men by the fire. The Modocs were ready to claim the first white victims of that band of murdered ones who have fallen in that sterile land.
Even in his slumbers the sensitive ear of Kit Carson caught the sound of the dull thud, as a blow fell upon the head of a sleeping companion. Leaping to his feet he kicked the smoldering embers of the camp fire, and by the light of the upshooting flame saw the dark forms of the Modocs. Springing to one side to avoid the light of the fire, the bold trapper cried "Indians! Indians!" and in an instant the camp was aroused. Crane, a Delaware Indian, sprung to his feet and endeavored to discharge his gun, which was unfortunately unloaded, and received five arrows in his breast. Remembering that his gun was also unloaded, Carson cast it aside, drew a single-barreled pistol and discharged it at the savage who was slaying his friend, but the brave was dodging about so continually that the bullet missed him and cut the string of his tomahawk. All but this Modoc were now in full retreat, and as he turned to flee two bullets from the now thoroughly aroused camp laid him dead upon the ground. He was the only one of the attacking party who remained long enough to be hurt, and had they all been as bold as he it would have fared badly with that unprotected camp.
With rifle in hand they kept close vigil till morning, but no enemy appeared to molest them. Lajeunesse and Denne, an Iroquois, had been killed in their sleep before the alarm was given, and the brave Crane had died in the struggle. Bearing their inanimate forms the sorrowful party started back along their trail to meet the main body, but after progressing about ten miles decided to bury them among the willows of a small stream. This was Hot Creek, in Siskiyou County, California, discharging into Klamath Lake from the south. Having performed this painful duty, and having driven their horses backwards and forwards across the spot to destroy all traces of the grave, so that the savages would not exhume the bodies, they continued their journey and soon met their friends and the company, once more united, went into camp for the night, cherishing thoughts of revenge.
On the morrow, when the party commenced its journey towards the south, fifteen men remained concealed near the camp, and were soon rewarded by the appearance of two Modocs, whose scalps were quickly taken. Skirting around the end of the lake, Kit Carson was sent out the next day in the direction of Tule Lake to search for the village, accompanied by ten picked men. The came suddenly upon a rancheria of fifty lodges, and having no time to send for reinforcements, charged boldly upon the astonished Modocs. The Indians fought desperately for a time, but the noise of the guns and the great execution they made were so novel and so terrifying that they soon fled in a panic, pursued by the avengers, who killed several of them before they disappeared amid the intricacies of the Lava Beds. The deserted wickiups were found to be artistically and beautifully woven of the tules from the lake, but the torch was applied to them, and the whole rancheria, with a large quantity of dried fish, was destroyed.
The main party soon arrived and then the journey was resumed. Twenty men stole back to the burned village to see if the Indians would not return, and though fifty were seen they disappeared before the party was prepared to attack them. In riding into camp one brave was discovered, who was ridden down by Fremont just in time to save Kit Carson's life. They soon passed out of the Modoc country, and though they had a little more trouble with Indians, it is probable that the Modocs were not responsible for it. A few days later they reached the Sacramento Valley, and Fremont began the conquest of California, changing a savage for a civilized foe.
Years later, in speaking of this affair to the Hon. Lindsay Applegate, a Modoc chief said the reason for making this attack upon Fremont was that these were the first white men who had ever come into their country, and they wanted to kill them to prevent others from coming.
On the 4th of July, 1846, but two months after this affair, a party of fourteen men from the Willamette Valley came upon that grave among the willows of Hot Creek. They were exploring an emigrant route from Fort Hall to the southern end of the Willamette Valley, the one since known as the Southern Route to Oregon, the Northern Route to California, or the Applegate Trail. Leading spirits in this party were Jesse and Lindsay Applegate, well known to all old residents of Oregon. They saw pieces of paper and other evidences of the presence of white men, and surmised that someone was buried where the ground was so badly trampled by the horses--a surmise which they verified by probing the ground with poles. The Modocs were much excited and apparently alarmed by this second invasion of their country, and signal smokes arose from the hilltops to apprise all members of the tribe of the presence of an enemy. The cause of all this was explained afterwards, when they learned of the attack upon Fremont and the chastisement he had administered. By keeping careful watch they passed through the hostile country without exposing themselves to attack and reached Fort Hall in safety. Upon their return that fall with a party of emigrants one of these loitered behind the train, near Tule Lake, and fell a victim to the Modocs. That was the first train of emigrants to pass through this inhospitable country, and no more followed them till 1852, that year of death at Bloody Point.
HARRY L. WELLS.West Shore, Portland, March 1884, pages 79-80
Last revised April 26, 2021