The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Oliver Cromwell Applegate

The Tribe and the Common School:
IN THE 1860s
    Housed in a log cabin, a sod hut, a laboriously sawn frame shed, the district school on the moving frontier symbolized American faith in education. Today we know very little about what went on in these schools and what difference they made in the lives of the children who attended them. One reason for this ignorance about pioneer schools is a lack of records--a sign of their unbureaucratic character, for a bureaucracy is prolific in paper and ink. Much of the meager evidence which does remain consists of receipts, tax data, bills, and bids, just as the average citizen today keeps his canceled checks but throws away letters which would be far more interesting to a future historian. Fortunately one frontier schoolteacher, Oliver Cromwell Applegate of Ashland, Oregon, kept the essays and declamations and manuscript newspapers his students wrote. Together with his correspondence with friends and other records of the school he taught, these sources not only illuminate the school and its community, but also suggest its impact on students.1
    In early Oregon the school belonged to the community in more than a legal sense. Settlers often built the schoolhouse with their own hands. The school building became the focus of many neighborhood activities: there itinerant ministers of various sects met their flocks on successive sabbaths; politicians caucused under the common school's roof; families gathered there to watch lantern slides and to socialize.2 School and community were organically related in a face-to-face group in which everyone knew everyone's affairs. The families of a neighborhood were a loosely organized tribe; social and economic roles were overlapping, unspecialized, familiar. There was little mystery, little privacy, little professionalism in either the school or its neighborhood.
    As one of the few social institutions which settlers encountered daily, the common school both reflected and shaped a sense of community. If the families of a neighborhood were amicable, the school expressed their cohesiveness. If they were discordant, the school was often caught in the middle of warring factions. And sometimes schooling became itself a source of contention, often resulting in the formation of new districts. A friend in Yoncalla, Oregon, wrote to Oliver Applegate that the Yoncallans were quarreling bitterly, as was their wont:
our teacher has taught just as long as any man can in Yoncalla, and consequently, to use the popular phrase of the day, is "just about played out." The directors hired him for one quarter at forty dollars a month and also a young lady as assistant, the people got in one of their contrary ways and kept their children from school.… As to declamations [public performances of children] you know how they carried on when you lived here what subjects were treated on etc. The same subjects are treated on now in the same disinterested manner; the old people are opposed to such nonsense as they are pleased to call it and of course the young ones will coincide with their parents. The district is in an awful fix anyhow.…
Soon he wrote again saying that the tribe had splintered into three factions, each struggling unsuccessfully to maintain a school.3
    The pioneers regarded schooling as only an incidental part of child raising. Witness an indenture binding two little orphan girls to Alvin Smith and his wife in Oregon in 1847: it required the Smiths as surrogate parents "to cause them to be properly taught the useful branches of housewifery and to give them from time to time such opportunities for schooling and education as is customary for girls of their age in the common walks of life in this country and to use their best endeavor to have them trained in a virtuous and respectable manner."4 Many lessons the child learned from his family, his community, the hard tasks set by his environment. The district school was really a voluntary institution, the creature of the tribe more than the legal offspring of the state. No law compelled parents to send their children to school; no truant officer chased the young. Attendance in Ashland, for example, fluctuated wildly, probably reflecting the public estimation of the teacher or the need for the child on the farm.
    The position of the teacher in the tribal school was tenuous. In fact if not in law, the local school directors were free to select instructors (since the examinations given by the county superintendents were usually perfunctory). With no bureaucracy to serve as buffer between him and the community, with little sense of being part of a professional establishment, the teacher found himself subordinated to the community. The results of his instruction, good or poor, were evident at the Friday spelling bees and declamations as neighbors crowded the schoolhouse to see the show. If he "boarded 'round" at the houses of the parents, even his hours of leisure were under scrutiny. If he were a local boy, like Applegate, his faults and virtues were public knowledge, and a rival local aspirant to the office of village schoolmaster might find ways to make his life unpleasant. If he were an outsider to the tribe, he would have to prove himself. With ghoulish anticipation patrons waited to see if the big boys would throw a new teacher out. Romance was sometimes as much a threat as brawn. Matrimony stalked one Yoncalla teacher: "It was not the  fault of the Yoncalla 'gals' that the young Gent …
escaped here in single blessedness. It was a manoeuver of his own. He was attacked on several occasions mostly in the usually quiet manner but one time furiously, but he artfully overlooked the gantlet and was not carried away.…"5
    Against the tyranny of public opinion the teacher had little recourse; against the wiles of the "scholars" he had as allies only his muscles, his wit, and his charm.
    Though usually half-educated at best, the pioneer teacher was often regarded by the community as an intellectual. It didn't take much to convince him that he was a man of letters. A friend of Applegate's wrote that he "was in Portland recently at the State Teachers' Institute, where there was an immense gathering of the literatim--no less than eleven men with the title of 'Professor'--and fourteen with the title of Reverend besides about fifty lesser lights."6 Frontiersmen were ambivalent about these literati in their midst. The "old folks" in Yoncalla derided spelling schools "and societies of that kind" as "a sparking school or some silly thing."7 The children shared their parents' doubts about "all singing Schools, Sabbath Schools, Spelling Schools, Grammar Schools, and all debating Societies."8 But there lurked in the pioneer a bourgeois, secret desire for refinement (at least for the womenfolk). When a teacher could successfully bridge the world of the tribe and the wider world of intellect--as Oliver Cromwell Applegate did--the community rejoiced.
    The Ashland School--District No. 5, Jackson County--was fairly typical of Oregon common schools in size. In 1873-74, the first year for which there are reasonably accurate statewide statistics on attendance, there were 670 school districts with an average enrollment of about 31 and average attendance of about 23 (by contrast, in 1965-66 Oregon had 400 districts, with District Number One--Portland--alone having an enrollment of over 80,000). The state was very thinly populated: only six of twenty-two counties in 1873-74 had more than 1000 children in average attendance in the schools. In 1865 Oliver Applegate reported as district clerk (a hat he wore as well as that of teacher) that his Ashland district had 34 legal voters, 56 children over 4 and under 20, 33 students enrolled, and an average daily attendance of about 17. That year the teachers were paid $285.76 from the county school fund (money derived from sale of public land) and $6.00 went for "incidental expenses."9
    Although Ashland was fairly typical of Oregon schools in size, Oliver Applegate was no ordinary teacher. The son of Lindsay Applegate and nephew of Jesse, Missourians who became prominent trailblazers and men of political and social influence in Southern Oregon, Oliver was equally at home in the drawing room and the bear hunt. Witty, a talented artist, knowledgeable about politics, a humorous rhymer if not a poet, a skilled penman in a day in which elegant script was a mark of refinement, Applegate was able to raise the horizons of the students while knowing first-hand their rustic way of life. From November 1863 to April 1868 he taught at least one quarter per year. When not teaching during those years he tended sheep and did farm chores like his older scholars.10
    During Applegate's tenure Ashland could boast a new schoolhouse far more palatial than many rural Oregon schools. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction complained in 1874 that many of the log cabins and unpainted boxes serving as school buildings, unlike the Ashland school, were "inferior in construction and in provision for the comfort of their inmates to the barns of some of the farmers who live near them."11 The Ashland building was twenty-eight by thirty-two feet, painted white on the outside and sheathed with boards on the inside, balloon-frame in construction, with ample windows.
    In 1865 the thirty-three children in Applegate's school ranged in age from six to eighteen. There were four Applegates, four Grubbs, four Helmans, three Millions, two Smiths, and six Walkers--all in all a family affair. Applegate enjoyed his teaching, and so, apparently, did his students. "I get along first rate in the capacity of 'village schoolmaster' and have about 20 interesting and studious scholars," he wrote in 1864.12  "Boys and girls are glad when School commences for they like to learn and gain knowledge Sometimes," wrote one student tentatively. F. Walter Myer, aged fourteen, expressed his feelings about school to Applegate thus in 1865:
Dear Teacher
    As all the scholars are writing letters I will try to write one too, for I think it is a pretty good thing to learn to write letters, for if a person has any friends he aught to write to them once in a while. Well I am sory that school is so near at a close but as circumstances is it will have to close.
    Well the studies that I have is Reading Geography Arithmetic Writing and Spelling and I believe that I like Arithmetic the best and I would like to know whitch you think is best I think that Grammar would be an important study. I think that we have had a very good school here this winter and we have had a very good teacher. Well I think that I canot write any more at present.
    Applegate seems to have had little trouble controlling his charges. Describing himself as "knight of the Birches," he said he needed mere apple switches.13 But one parent, at least, objected to his discipline. This was Mr. B. Million, who wrote this note to Applegate:
    I am vary sorry to informe that in my opinion you have Shoed to me that you are unfit to keep a School, if you hit my boy in the face accidentley that will be different but if on purpos Sir you are unfit for the Buisness, you Seam to punish the Small Scholars to Set a Sample for the big wons that is Rong in the first place Sir Make your big class Set the Sample for the little ones Sir is the course you Sould do in My opinion Sir
    I shall in forme the Superintendant in which this Scool has been commeced and how it Seames to go on
    The first bell announcing school rang at 8:20 a.m. Applegate began school with a New Testament reading lesson, proceeding then to graded readers and geography. At 10:30 came the separate boys' and girls' recesses. After recess until 12:00 dismissal, the students recited from their grammars and spellers, group by group. The afternoon session began with more Bible reading, continued with their graded readers, and finished after a 2:30 recess with arithmetic and spelling. He dismissed the school at 4:00. Applegate managed to squeeze in study of the primer for the littlest children and recitations in history and natural philosophy for the oldest. The textbooks varied year by year, but the favorites were Sanders' and Wilson's series of readers, Sanders' and Webster's spellers, Mitchell's geographies, and Clark's grammar.
    Tacked up on the wall of the school were Applegate's "Rules of the Ashland School":
1. No scholar shall willfully infringe upon the rights of another in or out of School on School days.
2. No scholar shall be allowed to indulge in obscene, profane or vulgar language, in or out of School on School days.
3. Scholars must sit facing the Teacher's desk, and cannot be permitted to raise a hand or foot to interfere with another scholar, or to call attention to another scholar. If they desire anything of any other scholar, as a pencil or pen, or to leave the room or to drink, they can ask permission of the Teacher when at recitation, or when sitting by a signal with the right hand for him to come when he is not busy.
4. The privilege is hereby extended to members of the First and Second classes, to whisper when sitting together and studying a mutual lesson, in assisting each other. This rule will be in force on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Scholars will be held strictly accountable for an abuse of his privilege, which will be withheld on abuse of it. A scholar who does not report a violation of this rule is as liable to punishment as the violator himself.
5. No unnecessary noise shall be allowed in or about the School House on School days.
6. Every thing shall be done decently and in order.
7. No playing can be allowed inside of the School room, and scholars shall make it a point to walk across the floor with as much ease and as noiselessly as possible.
8. A class being called by "No 1" must not rise until all members of the class last up (if there have been reciters up) be seated and all be quiet.
    Applegate's fourteen-year-old sister Alice wrote in 1867 a pious essay  on "Order in School"--whether as a gesture of sisterly support or as a  punishment for mischief we will never know:
Thare is nothing like Order in School. Scholars should always be orderly, and when any one is Speaking, they should pay strict attention to all that is said and be as quiet as possible. They should sit facing their teacher and not be turning around and looking at those behind them, and doing things to attract their attention and make them laugh. they should try to get their lessons and if they do not get them very well, what more can they do but try. When they are reciting a lesson they should try to answer every question correctly and if they can not give to answer just as it is in the Book, if they can give it in their own language it will do just as well. they should try to obey all the rules and be able to answer perfect every evening.
    All was not grim propriety in the Ashland school, however. Applegate emulated the young literati of Santiam Academy, Willamette University, and other cultural centers by writing and staging plays and helping the students to write ambitious manuscript newspapers. And sometimes the children performed for the tribe, the girls demurely reading their essays and the boys boldly declaiming their pieces. At such an occasion Charles Henry Hargadine, age 6 in 1865, sounded a (more or less) confident note:
Friends, Teacher and Parents:
    Your friend Mr Charles Henry Hargadine, who now makes his appearance before you, would like to say something to please you, but I am not used to speaking, and I may not succeed. But I can say that I have determined to be somebody when I come to be a man. I don't think I can ever consent to be tied down to a yard stick, or watch the tiresome motions of a sawmill. I'll clime the ladder of fame. I may go away up, and then come down "ker-spat." But what of that, we are bound to have our ups and downs in this world any way.
A less bumptious welcome was this "Opening Address":
Respected Parents and Friends--
    It affords us pleasure to see you here on the present occasion, and we bid you a cordial welcome to our pleasant School room. Here we are wont to meet from day to day, to spend our time in attending to those Studies which will tend to make us more useful and happy when we are grown up. To you we feel that we are under great obligations for the privildges we enjoy and we trust that we feel grateful for them. We will try at this time to show you that we have not been wholly idle or inattentive to our lessons.
    In listening to our performances
"Do not view us with a Critic's eye,
But pass our imperfections by"…
    Throughout the essays, the declamations, the school newspapers, echoes the moralistic rhetoric of the textbooks of the time, with only the faintest indications that the students suspected that this treacle-coated world was unreal. Clarence Darrow recalled that in the Ohio district school of his youth "We were taught by our books that we must on all accounts speak the truth; that we must learn our lessons; that we must love our parents and our teachers; must enjoy work; must be generous and kind; must despise riches; must avoid ambition; and then if we did these things, some fairy godmother would come along at just the darkest hour and give us everything our hearts desired." In practice, he said, "we were young savages," but Darrow recalled that he probably believed as a child that the stories of Providential payola were true, his own experience notwithstanding.14
    Clarence Darrow was not the only unregenerate boy who swallowed whole the saccharine morality of the textbooks. A young newspaper reporter on the Brooklyn Evening Star wrote the following message on October 10, 1845:
    Boy, or young man, whose eyes hover over these lines! how much of your leisure time do you give to loafing? What vulgar habits of smoking cigars, chewing tobacco, or making frequent use of blasphemous or obscene language have you begun to form? What associations and appetites are you idly falling into, that future years will ripen into wickedness or shame? Consider these questions as addressed, not to everybody in general, but to you, in particular--and answer them honestly to your own heart.
The author was no budding parson, but Walt Whitman, who would later say in "Song of Myself"
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
    The Banner, an Ashland school manuscript newspaper, had as its motto "Temperance, Education, Humility, Truth, Honor, Education." It sported
essays like Mary Hanna's on "Idleness":
Idleness is a sin, yet there are a great many who will idle away their time; and what do they gain? What kind of men and women will boys and girls make if they give themselves up to Idleness? I will tell you what I think: They will be lazy good-for-nothing men and women. The men they boys will become, will sit in the Bar room while their families are left in dark cellars to starve. Think of it. Thousands have perished in this way. I warn you to guard against the evil, hoping that you will never spend your precious time at the gaming table. For remember "time flies on Eagle's wings," and if you lose it once, you can never catch it again. A great many have written on this subject, but I do not think too much can be said about so great a sin as Idleness.
Idleness and intemperance were partners in evil. A scholar signing himself "Pie Biter" wrote this essay on "News Years":
A new year has begun again and if we would improve the time in usefulness we would be joyful all the year. In a new year a person trys to be happy but he never can be happy by Drinking Rum and getting drunk. to be happy  you must never taste strong drink it is very wrong to taste strong drink always take water in the place of it and you will feel much better.
    The question of ambition puzzled the Ashland scholars. Many wanted, like Charles Henry Hargadine, to be somebody, but pride was a sin and pomp was unAmerican. The cult of the self-made man ran headlong into the problem of the deserving poor. Inherited high rank was clearly foreign and undesirable: "a man need not be of great birth to do great deeds," said Applegate's sister Alice in praise of the poor man William Tell. Francis W. Smith, aged thirteen in 1865, wrote in good Populist style in his essay on "Man" that "if a man is rich he is no better than a poor man. Some folks think if they are wealthy that they are the wisest and do not notice the poor. No man would be better than an other one if his house was made of gold." Warming to this theme, Master Smith wrote "The Talent of Success":
Every man must patiently abide his time. He must wait; not in listless idleness, not in useless pastime, but in constant, steady, cheerful endeavor, always willing, fulfilling his task, "that when the occasion comes he may be equal to the occasion." The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, without a thought of fame. If it comes at all it will come because it is deserved, not because it is sought after. It is indiscreet and troublesome ambition which cares so much about fame, about what the world says of us; to be always looking in the face of others for approval; to be always anxious about the effect of what we do or say; to be always shouting, to hear the echoes of our own voice.
Ambition aside, all agreed that there was work to do. Despite his flowery diction, the scholar who declaimed on the "Resources of our State" saw hard cash ahead and lost no sentiment over conquered nature:
Oregon is yet young. Her "shadow scarce reaches to her father's knee." Her resources are undeveloped, her mighty accomplishments of the future are "veiled in obscurity." But they must become known. Who that has beheld the rising magnificance of the states, presided over by the Godess of Liberty, can doubt for an instant the grandeur she will attain. The fields of New-England, when the productions of the soil had already repaid the laborer for his toil, have discovered to her enterprising sons, immense deposits of coal, without which the great improvements of the age would be comparatively useless. Every land however barren or unsightly it may appear, will unfold to the industrious laborer, whose deeds are presided over by freedom, the rich fruits of glory and glow with grandeur and sublimity. Our state is not behind her sisters in the resources of power. The germ of greatness lies imbedded in her bosom, and when time with its necessary accompaniments, has revealed it, it will glow with such surprising magnificence, that a brighter ray would scarcely be perceptible. Coal, that necessary accompaniment of power, is imbedded in almost every mountain, waiting only the wild snorting of the iron horse to call it into the power of man.--He will come! …Iron, the "infernal material," which has become a necessary companion of resistence and power, is every where slumbering in our rich vallies, and mountain recesses. And ere long when the knell of coming greatness shall have awakened the dormant energies of our state, it will reecho to the sound of the anvil and pickaxe--and rise from its rock-bound bed, spread afar irresistible arms, protect us while "preserving the peaceful attractions of life," and with its more delicate power assist the husbandman at his plow, the smith at his anvil, and follow the enterprising miner into the dangers of the untrammeled wilderness, watch over his toils and assist him in bringing into existence the mortal God--Gold--Gold, the motive power of improvement, exists in matchless plenitude within our domain, … The products of our gardens and orchards rival in number and character the luscious productions of the tropics. Why attempt to enumerate our resources, Tis vain. Every mountain side or footstep of Empire reveals unknown splendor. Ere long, when our youthful state shall behold the unfolded wings of time, mighty changes will meet our gaze on every hand.… And the whole land will glow with the smile of plenty and satisfaction.…
Such was the course of empire as baroquely painted for the children and neighbors in the Ashland schoolroom. Far from fleeing, like Natty Bumppo, the sound of the axe, they embraced the iron horse and saw sublimity in coal.
    At times, though. the children saw Nature through the conventionally tinted glass of the readers' and the ladies' gift books. Mary, a little girl, wrote "Spring":
Spring is the Season of beauty--then All are happy the birds the bees the boys and girls are gay and Joyful the birds are building their nests and the bees are stoaring away honey for winter use
Almeda, an adolescent, wrote of melancholy "Autumn":
Autumn has come at last
The leaves are falling the grass is brown and sear.
And the mountains have changed from their bright green to the
more sober brown.
The flowers are all faded and gone
Nature wears a sadder aspect. So it seems to me.
But this is only October yet. The sky is as clear as on
A midsummers day. And the birds sing their
Songs very sweetly.
yet my heart is sad and lonely.
No more.
To Walter Myer, age fourteen in 1865, Nature showed a sterner face in his Faulkneresque essay "A Hunt":
Once upon a time there was a man went out to hunt he trailed for some time before he saw any game by and by he came to a place where he supposed it to be bears den or some other kind of wild animals nest he was progican around their and direcly he saw a large Grizzly bear a coming and their was no trees around their that he could climb he did nor think it best to run so he thought he would stand still till it would come up enough to shoot at it and then he would shoot he shot and knocked it down but it got up again and took after him and he did not have a gun that would shoot fifteen times like Mr Applgate has and he did not have time load before it catch him then he thought it best to run so he took to his heels and skedadle the bear fowled hin a little peace and stoped the man run on a little peace and stoped and loded his gun and went hack in search of his bear direcly he came up to the spot where the bear was laying down he slipped around til he got close enough to shoot and then he hauld up and shot and killed it then he went up to the bear layed down his gun and rested for a little while and direcly he heard something snorting through the brush and he thought it was another bear he sit for a moment and then got up and went to the place where he heard the noise in the brush but could not find any trace of it so he though he would hunt around their a little more and then go back to where he had killed his other bear then he cut off some of its hind quarter and then started back to his cabin.
In the 1860s the prime political issue was of course the Civil War. The martial Applegate clan firmly opposed secessionist and pro-Southern sentiment. Oliver's sister Alice had this to say about "The Copperhead":
Ever since the commencement of this desperate Struggle for national existence the land has been infested by a kind of reptiles called "Copperheads" they are to be found in every saloon in the County, drinking and gambling. It was by such that the war was brought on. Bush whackers is another name applied to them. They go by this name in the North-western states. But all good men rejoice in the name of "traitors" & "Lincoln slaves" when applied by "copperheads"
The scholars read the Bible aloud twice daily. Christianity was inseparable from Americanism and morality in the textbooks, and probably so, too, in the minds of the children. The Bible explained and ordered their universe. Alice Applegate told a familiar, unfinished story in one of her themes:
Addam was the first man that looked upon the face of the earth and he was then in the garden of eden. Around him were all kindes of fruit and flowers and in the center of the garden grew the tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil
To be continued.
    Genesis; the grizzly bear; polite accomplishments; Copperheads; the perils of ambition, drink, and idleness; the dream of mountains of coal, iron, and gold--these merged in the school with the lessons the frontier community taught the children. The scholars read textbooks written by men from afar who told of distant lands, who painted technicolor panoramas of virtue and vice, who talked in language never heard on the Ashland playground. Slowly the conventional wisdom of the tribe became tinged with the conventional wisdom of formal education. In Ashland, Oliver Cromwell Applegate, who wrote poetry and had a gun that fired fifteen times, mediated the two worlds.
Reed College
1. These records are deposited in the Library of the University of Oregon, hereafter cited as Or U. Besides the scattered clues like those left by Oliver Applegate,
perhaps the best insights into the pioneer school appear in fiction and autobiography, notably in Edward Eggleston's The Hoosier Schoolmaster. Eggleston artistically simplifies the transaction of district school and rural community, far different from the compulsory, standardized present-day urban or suburban school.
2. Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction, First Biennial Report (Salem, 1874), p. 25. Marshall Barber, who attended a rural school in Kansas in the 1870s,
recalls in The Schoolhouse at Prairie View (Lawrence, Kansas, 1953), that "Prairie View was the official name, so far as it had any, of a country school district in southeastern Kansas. Its capitol was a small white-painted building which was not only the schoolhouse, but the center--educational, social, dramatic, political, and religious--of a pioneer community of the prairie region of the West."
3. John Miller to Oliver Applegate, June 21 and August 15, 1863, O. C. Applegate Papers, Or U.; in his delightful chapter on education in The Sod-House Frontier (New York, 1937) Everett Dick narrates a number of pitched battles over the location of school houses, telling of one enterprising crowd who moved a school one mile secretly at night.
4. Indenture dated November 24, 1847, in A. J. Smith Papers, Or U.
5. John Miller to Oliver Applegate, February 16, 1867, O. C. Applegate Papers.
6. Henry Cummins to Oliver Applegate, February 17, 1863, O. C. Applegate Papers.
7. John Miller to Oliver Applegate, April 15, 1863, O. C. Applegate Papers.
8. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Report (1874), pp. 58-59.
9. Figures taken from Applegate's manuscript report for 1865; this report and all the succeeding information on the Ashland school are quoted from the file on
School District No. 5, Jackson County, Or U., which contains yearly statistical and financial reports and the students' manuscripts cited later in the text. All sources not otherwise footnoted are taken from this file.
10. Applegate's correspondence, sometimes written in humorous doggerel, and his diaries delightfully illuminated with doodles reveal a broad and attractive mind and personality.
11. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Report (1874), p. 25.
12. Oliver Applegate to Thomas Applegate, May 1, 1864, O. C Applegate Papers.
13. Oliver Applegate to John Miller, December 18, 1866, O. C. Applegate Papers.
14. As quoted in Claude Fuess and Emory Basford, eds., Unseen Harvests (New York, 1947), pp. 42-43.
David Tyack, The Call Number (semi-annual publication of the University of Oregon Library), Spring 1966, Vol. 27, No. 2, pages 13-23

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    SICK.--We regret to state that Mr. O. C. Applegate, of Ashland, is lying very ill at Salem. He sprained his wrist several months since, and the consequences were so serious that his physician told him his arm was poisoned by impure matter during the smallpox last winter. His arm seemed to improve for some time, but has grown worse within a week, and it is now feared that he will have to submit to amputation.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, September 25, 1869, page 2

    IMPROVING.--The friends of Mr. O. C. Applegate, who is lying sick at Salem, will be glad to learn that he is improving. His symptoms are now favorable, and strong hopes are entertained that he will not lose his arm.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, October 2, 1869, page 2

    Captain O. C. Applegate lives at Klamath Falls. He is a son of Lindsay Applegate, who, with his brother Jesse, came across the plains in 1843. Major Lindsay Applegate was the first agent appointed for the Modoc Indians. He was one of the men representing the government when the treaty was made with the Indians in 1864. In a recent letter to me Captain O. C. Applegate gives much interesting history of the early days. In speaking of the causes leading up to the Modoc War he writes:
    "My father, Captain Lindsay Applegate, the first agent to take charge of the Indians of this region after the treaty of 1864, assisted in making the treaty. He was well known to many of the Indians, and it was at their request, made at the time the treaty was signed, that he was appointed. He took charge of the Indians in 1865. I was his clerk and assistant. In the summer of 1869, having served four years, he was succeeded by Captain O. C. Knapp of the United States army, supernumerary army officers having been placed in charge of nearly all the Indian agencies.
    "Captain Jack, a sub-chief of the Modoc tribe, had signed the treaty as Keintpoos, but was never on the reservation with his band during the incumbency of Agent Applegate. Old Schonchin, head chief of the Modocs, voluntarily came onto the reservation with more than half of his people soon after the treaty was made, although it was not ratified until some years after, and loyally remained thereafter. In the fall of 1869 Superintendent A. B. Meacham, of the Oregon superintendency, removed Captain Jack and his band to the Klamath Reservation and established them at Modoc Point, where they remained during the succeeding winter, but in the spring of 1870 they folded their tents like the Arabs and quietly stole away to their old country about Tule Lake. They claimed that the Klamaths mistreated them and that Captain Knapp, the agent, did not treat them as well as he did the Klamaths.
    "During succeeding years several councils were held with Keintpoos, and repeated efforts were made by the authorities, and by the old loyal chief, Schonchin, to induce him to come onto the reservation in accordance with the treaty, but without avail. Finally, in the fall of 1872, Superintendent T. H. B. Odeneal, whose office was at Salem, was instructed by the authorities at Washington to bring Captain Jack's band onto the reservation, 'peaceably if possible, but by force if necessary,' they having become a menace to the settlements in the region occupied by them.
    "Now we come to the actual cause of the war. On the arrival of Superintendent Odeneal at Linkville (now Klamath Falls) he sent a Modoc Indian woman to Captain Jack, asking for a conference with him, but Jack abruptly refused, and Mr. Odeneal immediately placed the matter in the hands of Colonel John Green, commander at Fort Klamath, and asked that Jack and his band be removed to the reservation without delay. It had been supposed that Colonel Green could detach the 50 troopers for this purpose on short notice, but the sequel proved that only 25 men were available, and these, under Captain James Jackson of B troop of the First United States Cavalry, left Fort Klamath at noon on November 28, 1872, and after riding 65 miles arrived at Captain Jack's winter camp on Lost River at daylight on the morning of November 29. Preliminary efforts for a peaceful settlement failed and the fight was on. The force proved insufficient. Though Jack's men were driven out of this encampment, about a fourth of Captain Jackson's men were killed or wounded and the Indians escaped to the lava beds and there occupied one of the strongest natural fortifications in the world, and 18 settlers in the settlement at the head of Tule Lake were killed by a band of the Modocs who were en route to the lava beds.
    "Had General Frank Wheaton, who was in command of the District of the Lakes, his garrisons being Camp Harney, Bidwell and Warner and Fort Klamath, been called upon, he could have put into the field 150 troopers without depleting
his garrison too much, and this force in all reason could have protected the menaced settlers and made the efforts to bring in the insurgent band a success. It was my belief then, as it is now, that had that been done there would have been no Modoc War. This was the advice of the man who had charge of the loyal Modocs, the Piutes and the Upper Klamaths at Yainax subagency, a man well informed on the situation and who was in correspondence with General Wheaton and knew how promptly that fine officer would have complied had he been called upon.
    "When Superintendent Odeneal received the rebuff from Captain Jack he failed to heed the counsel of the man at Yainax, and the result was a failure. Doubtless no living man knows the truth of this statement better than I do myself, for I represented the Indian Department as United States commissary at Yainax and had made a trip to Klamath agency on purpose to advise calling on General Wheaton for 150 men, in case force should be required to compel Jack's return to the reservation and make the settlements safe."
Fred Lockley, "Observations and Impressions of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, October 22, 1921, page 4

Captain Applegate Gives Modoc War History
for Daughters of Revolution
Well-Known So. Oregon Pioneer Witnessed Many Stirring Days
When Whites and Indians Came to Grips

    Capt. O. C. Applegate, well-known Southern Oregon pioneer, who observed as an onlooker many events of the Modoc War, has written a history of the great Indian struggle for Crater Lake chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. The history has been presented the Mail Tribune for publication, and the first chapter appears today. Next Saturday's story will tell the "Actual Causes of the War."
    Today's reads:
    The Klamath and Modocs are, or were, the same people, the Lu-tu-a-mi, speaking the same language, occupying the same country of Oregon and California, and for ages defending it with its abundant natural resources from all surrounding tribes. These Indians are regarded as mentally superior to many other tribes of North America and are not related to any other tribe in the region, as shown by their language, unless remotely, to the Cayuse, occupying a country further north. While the Klamath (Ouxy Ka-no) portion of the tribe occupied the country adjacent to the great Klamath Lake and its tributaries, the Modoc (Moa-dock) occupied the southern lake region, the watershed of Lower Klamath, Tule and Clear lakes.
    Modoc (or Moa-dock in their language) means farther south--near southerners, not "strangers" or "enemies," as stated by some writers.
    One of the most important events that ever occurred in this region was the great treaty of October 15, 1864, signed by 26 chiefs of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin band of "Snake," or "Piute," Indians. This treaty was made at Council Grove, near Fort Klamath, and about 1500 Indians of these tribes were present.
On behalf of the Modocs the treaty was signed by the old hereditary chief Schonchin and by Slackitet (George) Keintpoos and Chuck-ei-ox.Keintpoos, a young sub-chief, was afterwards known and became famous as "Captain Jack."
    Schonchin, with more than half his people, came onto the reservation soon after the treaty was made, although it was not ratified until some years later. In the fall of 1869 Superintendent Alfred B. Meacham, of the Oregon Superintendency [of Indian Affairs], whose office was in Salem, removed Captain Jack's band to the reservation and established them at Modoc Point, south of Williamson River, where they remained that winter, but in the spring of 1870 they folded their tents, like the Arabs, and quietly stole away to their old country about Tule lake. Later they claimed in defense that the Klamaths mistreated them and that the agent, Captain O. C. Knapp of the U.S. army, did not treat them as well as he did the Klamaths. (Personally, I was at that time in the hands of the surgeons in Salem, under treatment for blood poisoning, and so was never on the reservation during the period of Captain Jack's residence there, but I believe the superintendent made a serious mistake in not locating the band on Whiskey Creek, near Yainax subagency, where they would have been with the Schonchin people and under the influence of the forceful and loyal old chief.)
    During several succeeding years councils were held with Captain Jack, and repeated efforts were made by the authorities, as well as by old Chief Schonchin, to induce him to come onto the reservation with his band, but without avail. Finally, in the fall of 1872, Superintendent T. H. B. Odeneal, whose office was in Salem, was instructed by the authorities at Washington to bring Capt. Jack's band onto the reservation "peacefully, if possible, but by force if necessary," they having become a serious menace to the settlements in the region occupied by them.

Medford Mail Tribune, November 7, 1931, page B3

Captain Applegate Tells Real Causes
Modoc War; White Forces Inadequate
    This second installment of Capt. O. C. Applegate's history of the Modoc War tells the story of the real cause of the war and the exciting events which followed. Next week he will tell of the massacre of the peace commission.
    On the arrival of Supt. Odeneal at Linkville, now Klamath Falls, he sent messengers to Captain Jack, asking for a conference with him. Jack abruptly refused to hold a council with the superintendent, and Mrs. [sic] Odeneal immediately placed the matter in the hands of Col. John Green, commander at Fort Klamath, and asked that Captain Jack and his band be removed to the reservation without delay.
    It was supposed that Col. Green could detach 50 troopers for this purpose on short notice, that being the number called for by the superintendent, but the sequel proved that only 35 men were available, and these under command of Capt. James Jackson of B Troop, First U. S. Cavalry, accompanied by [Frazier] A. Boutelle and Surgeon Capt. McElderry, left Fort Klamath at noon on November 28, 1872, and after riding 65 miles, arrived at Captain Jack's camp on the west and south side of Lost River at daylight on the morning of November 29.
    Preliminary efforts for a peaceful settlement failing, the fight was on. The force proved insufficient. Though Jack's men were driven out of the encampment, about a fourth of Capt. Jackson's men were killed or wounded and the command was powerless to pursue. The Indians escaped to the lava beds, where they occupied one of the strongest natural fortifications in the world and 18 settlers at the head of Tule Lake, in the region now blooming with its evidences of an advancing civilization, were killed where they were pursuing their usual avocations about their ranches or at work in the woods, by a band of Jack's men en route to the stronghold in the lava beds.
    I was at that time commissary of subsistence for Modocs and Piutes at Camp Yainax on the Klamath reservation, and was the man who was to take charge of Captain Jack's band in case of their surrender, had put up hay for their horses and otherwise made provision for the band along with old Chief Schonchin's people at Yainax, and had recommended to the authorities that no effort should be made to bring Jack's band onto the reservation until Gen. Frank Wheaton, who was in command of the district of the lakes, which embraced Fort Harney, Camp Bidwell, Camp Warner and Fort Klamath, could have within reach 150 troopers which he could easily spare without depleting his garrisons too much; and this recommendation was known to Supt. Odeneal. It was my opinion then, as it is now, that had that been done, Jack would not have resisted and the settlers would have been spared. There would have been no Modoc War.
    Neither would there have been, had it not been for the unfortunate duel between Scarface Charley and Lieut. Boutelle, which precipitated the fight at Captain Jack's camp that fatal morning of November 29, 1872. When the firing began at Captain Jack's camp, it was instantly taken up by Black Jim's men, and the fight was on with us and at close quarters.
    Under orders of Supt. Odeneal to endeavor to settle things peaceably with Captain Jack's band, I was in the encampment of Black Jim. Captain Jack's half-brother, on the east side of Lost River, talking to the Indians in the interest of peace when the firing began in Captain Jack's encampment on the other side of the river, and it instantly began on our side. Several of the Indians had come forward and shaken hands with me, one of these being the Curly-headed Doctor, a leading man of Jack's band, and I am sure they would all have surrendered had it not been for the unfortunate duel on the other side of the river.
    I had with me five men on my mission, one of them my interpreter, Klamath sub-chief Dave Hill. Five settlers, who resided near, had come into the encampment while I was talking with the Indians, none of them making any aggressive action, hence the statement afterwards made by writers that the settlers attacked the Indians at Black Jim's camp that morning is not true.
    It was my brother Ivan, who also was under instruction of Supt. Odeneal, [who] was to visit Captain Jack's camp as guide to the troopers, in an endeavor to secure peaceable surrender.
    Passing over in this narrative many of the early incidents of the war, including the attack on Captain Jack's stronghold January 17, 1873, the fight in the fog so dense that we could not use artillery without endangering our men on the opposite side of the stronghold, when we withdrew at night without dislodging the enemy, with a loss of 41 men killed and wounded.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 14, 1931, page 8

Captain Applegate Tells of Modocs' Treachery
    The massacre of the peace commission is told in this week's chapter of Capt. O. C. Applegate's history of the Modoc War. In next Saturday's Mail Tribune the colorful story will be concluded. Captain Applegate witnessed the war and is one of the few persons left to review the actual events of the struggle, which had so much to do with the history of Southern Oregon.
    Uncle Sam had called a halt in military proceedings, hoping for a peaceful settlement, and had sent a peace commission under the chairmanship of [Alfred] B. Meacham, formerly U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon.
    General Canby, one of the ablest commanders of the Union army in the Civil War, was not technically a member of the commission, but was commander of this military department at that time and was under orders to act with the commission.
    Gen. [Alvan] C. Gillem was commander of the army in the field, and was encamped at the foot of the bluff at a point now known as Gillem's Graveyard. Meacham had without due consideration, as I have always believed, agreed to meet Captain Jack with five of his staff about a mile within the rugged area of the lava beds for a peace conference, notwithstanding that he knew that more than a month before, while the army was encamped at the Fairchild ranch on Cottonwood Creek, a plan had been laid by the wily chieftain and his warriors to lead the peace commissioners and army commanders into a trap on an area of the lava beds on lower Klamath Lake. This plan had been discovered by Winema and her husband Frank Riddle, and we warned the commissioners in time to save them.
    The telegram of Mr. Meacham to the Secretary of the Interior following this circumstance reads, I think, in these words: "The Indians mean treachery. Nothing can be done," and the reply was, according to my recollection (and I was with the commissioners under detail to assist them as secretary) from the all-knowing authorities at Washington: "We do not believe the Indians mean treachery. Continue negotiations," thus assuming to know more about conditions at the front than the selected and experienced men on the ground.
    We quote an eyewitness, who was conscious only a part of the time though during the massacre, Chairman Alfred B. Meacham himself, detailing the massacre:
    "General Canby and Dr. Thomas were the first of our party to arrive. They were greeted by the Indians with extreme cordiality, General Canby giving to each a cigar. Instead of five unarmed men including Scarface Charley, as promised by Boston Charley, in negotiations for the council, we found eight well-armed desperadoes, including the notorious cutthroats Hooker Jim and Black Jim. Captain Jack seemed anxious and ill at ease, and did not exhibit the friendship the others of his party pretended.
    "General Canby seemed calm and thoroughly self-possessed. General Thomas did not appear to note any suspicious circumstances but was endeavoring to impress the Indians with his good intentions. I made my election to abide by the consequences. I knew that the horse beneath me was one of the fleetest in the Modoc country and notwithstanding the rock trail could carry me out of danger with a few bounds, which he seemed more than willing to make at the slightest invitation. I made up my mind that Canby and Thomas should not be endangered by cowardly flight on my part.
    "Withdrawing from my overcoat and hanging it upon the horn of my saddle, I dismounted, dropping the rope halter to the ground, leaving my horse free to escape. Mr. Dyar dismounted, leaving his horse free. Mr. Riddle secured Wi-ne-ma's horse and we all gathered around the council fire.
    "Before the council talk began I sat down facing the chief and began the talk by referring to the proposition made the day before by Boston Charley, and continued by saying that we were ready to complete the arrangement for peace. Captain Jack asked if we were willing to remove the soldiers from the lava beds and give his people a home in the country. I felt that if his demand was met we could escape and although General Canby had refused to allow me to make this promise, I thought that, convinced as he must be of intended treachery, he would feel justified in assenting to the request. Cautiously turning to him I asked him to talk. After a moment's waiting he rose and stood erect. Every eye was upon him. All seemed to feel that if he assented to the withdrawal of the army the trouble would be passed over. Whether Gen. Canby realized the situation, with all its fearful possibilities, and would not swerve even from his purpose; or if he still thought the Modocs had not the desperate courage to execute the plan can never be known. If he said the soldiers should be removed, the phantom would have passed as a dream. If he said they should not be withdrawn the phantom must soon become a terrible reality. With a dignity that was peculiar to that brave soldier, he firmly pronounced his own death sentence, as well as that of Dr. Thomas, by saying that the soldiers could not be withdrawn."
Medford Mail Tribune, November 21, 1931, page 10

General Canby's Slaying Ends Applegate's Story
    In this, the last chapter of Captain Applegate's history of the Modoc War, the shooting of General Canby is related and a vivid story of the events following repeated.
    "Again and again the Modoc chief repeated the demand for the removal of the soldiers. General Canby, having once refused, was mute. Turning to Dr. Thomas, who was sitting at my left, I asked him if he wished to talk. The doctor dropped forward on his knees and made his last proclamation of peace. He assured the Modocs that he was a friend to them; that God had sent us to them as messengers of peace.
    "The Modoc chief leaned forward, and touching me on the arm, he once more declared that no peace could be made until the soldiers were taken away. I believe that to now Captain Jack had hoped it would be granted and bloodshed thereby avoided. Schonchin (John) sprang to the seat vacated by Captain Jack, and in loud, angry tones repeated the ultimatum. Wi-ne-ma had thrown herself on the ground in front of Dr. Thomas and was interpreting Schonchin's speech at the moment when Captain Jack gave the signal, 'Kau-tux' (all ready). Almost at the same instant the Modoc yell broke from the rocks and two Modocs sprang forward, bearing rifles.
    "Captain Jack drew a pistol and shot Gen. Canby. 'Ellen's man' joined him in the attack. Gen. Canby did not fall until he had run 40 or 50 yards, when a shot struck him in the back of the head. His assailants came upon him and, shooting him again, stripped him of his clothing, turned his face downward and then left him.
    "Dr. Thomas received a shot from the hand of Boston Charley. He sank slowly, catching by his right hand. He was permitted to get upon his feet and stagger away a few rods, his murderers taunting him with not believing Wi-ne-ma, jeering him and ridiculing his religion and the failure of his prayers. Finally pushing him down, they shot him through the head, stripped him and turning him also upon his face, gathered up the dripping garments and joined the other murderers at the council fire.
    "Mr. Dyar, having his horse for a cover when the attack began, made good his escape, although pursued by Hooker Jim. Mr. Riddle escaped by running, covered by Scarface Charley's rifle, who declared it 'was unworthy of a Modoc to kill unarmed men.' Simultaneously with the attack on Gen. Canby and Dr. Thomas, Schonchin sprang to his feet, and drawing a knife and pistol, shouted 'Chook-e-la' (blood), pointed at my head and discharged his pistol, the bullet tearing through the collar of my coat and vest. Before the next shot, Wi-ne-ma was between him and his victim, grasping his arms and pleading for my life. I walked backwards 40 yards, while my heroic defender struggled to save me. Shacknasty Jim joined Schonchin in the attack, and Wi-ne-ma, running from one to the other, continued to turn aside the pistols aimed at me, until I went down. After I fell I raised my head above the rock over which I had fallen, and at the instant Schonchin aimed at me so correctly that his shot struck me between the eyes and glanced over my left eye, which was blinded. A shot from Shacknasty Jim struck me on the right side of the head, over the ear, which stunned me and I became unconscious. From Wi-ne-ma and Scarface Charley I learned that Shacknasty Jim robbed me of my clothing in part, notwithstanding Wi-ne-ma's expostulations that while Jim was unbuttoning my shirt collar one of the other murderers came up with a gun, and pointing it at my head was just in the act of touching the trigger when Jim pushed the gun up and said, 'Don't shoot any more. Him dead. He no get up. I hit him high up. Save the powder.' Having taken my coat, pants and vest, they left me, saying to Wi-ne-ma, 'Take care of your white brother.' Wi-ne-ma wiped the blood from my face and straightened my limbs, believing me dead.
    "Boston Charley drew a knife which, however, was a dull one, and began the difficult task of scalping a bald-headed man, and what added to the difficulty was the strong arm of Wi-ne-ma grasping him and hurling him as though he was but a boy to the rocks beside me. But Boston Charley had Modoc persistency, and springing to his feet with his pistol he struck her a blow upon the head, at the same time threatening to shoot her should she again interfere, and resumed the delicate task. Wi-ne-ma, dazed by the blow for a moment, in half-bewilderment saw the dull blade cutting down to the bone, while Boston Charley, enraged and impatient, set one foot upon the back of my neck and muttering curses in broken English, succeeded in cutting a circle almost around the upper part of my head, and had already so far lifted the scalp that he inserted the fingers of his left hand below it, preparatory to tearing it off, when Wi-ne-ma, recovering her presence of mind, resorted to strategy, shouting exultantly, 'Kap-ho Bostee-na-sol-sier' (soldiers coming). Boston Charley, without waiting for proof of the announcement, giving his victim a parting kick, left him, as he still supposed, a corpse in Wi-ne-ma's care."--From Meacham's book, Winema.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 29, 1931, page 12

    Many years ago I met Captain O. C. Applegate in the Klamath country. He was a member of a party that went in search of the Blue Bucket mine. In an article he wrote for the paper at Klamath Falls many years ago, he said:
    "It was 42 years ago that I was one of a party of five men who made a trip across Central Oregon in search of the Blue Bucket mine. Before starting we conferred with Mrs. William G. Parker, who was 16 years old in 1845, when the gold was supposed to be discovered. She was a daughter of Captain Solomon Tetherow, who headed the train of which the discoverer of gold was a member. Mrs. Parker told us that she saw the metal that was picked up, hammered on a wagon tire until it was flattened. Her son, Sam Parker, had taken great pains to get all the details possible from his mother and also from his grandfather, Captain Sol Tetherow, who was still alive when we made our trip to search of the lost mine in 1877.
    "Here in brief is the story as given to us by Sam Parker: Captain Stephen Meek, brother of Joe Meek, was in command of a train of emigrants coming down Snake River on the old trail. He had 'a compass in his head,' as the old mountain men used to say. Before reaching the Blue Mountains he left the main trail, believing that he could cut across and save many days' travel on the way to the Willamette Valley. Sol Tetherow's wagon train was a few days behind Meek. He decided to follow Meek. He overtook Meek with his party at a spring that had made a marsh at the base of a hill. There was not sufficient water for the use of both wagon trains. Captain Tetherow and Steve Meek had a dispute about which was the way to make the cutoff. Tetherow said they were bearing too far south. Tetherow and his wagon train pulled out that night, heading northward. At 2 o'clock next day they struck a marsh. A man was sent back on a mule to notify the stragglers. The discovery of gold was made by members of the Tetherow wagon train before they had overtaken Meek. It was found in a range of hills sparsely covered with stunted juniper. The teams had to detour around the hills. The gold was found by the men driving the loose stock. They brought some of the nuggets in their shot pouches and produced them when they rejoined the main party that night. While one of the men was hammering out one of the pieces of metal on the wagon tire, someone said, 'How much of that stuff did you see?' The answer was, 'We could have filled that thar blue bucket with it,' and he pointed to one of the blue buckets used for carrying water.
    "Many years later Mrs. Parker, whose husband was a brother-in-law of Jesse Applegate, made a trip with her son, Sumner, into the Steen Mountain country to see if she could locate their old camp, but she was unable to remember just where the gulch was."

Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, March 12, 1932, page 4

    In traveling from Crater Lake to Klamath Falls last summer I stopped to revisit Fort Klamath. This fort was established in 1863. William Colvig of Medford gave me a most interesting history of this old fort. Captain O. C. Applegate also told me of its early history. The Indian name of Fort Klamath was Iukak, meaning "enclosed," and describing its location as enclosed by mountains. The Klamath Agency was established on May 12, 1866, on what was then known as Agency Lake. Klamath Marsh, in Klamath County, is named for the Klamath Indians, though the Indians called the marsh Eukshi. Klamath County was created on October 17, 1882, being cut off from Lake County. David Douglas, for whom our Douglas fir is named and who was killed in the Sandwich Islands, refers to this district as the Clamite country in his journal dated October 25, 1826. Colonel Fremont refers to the country as the Tlamath country. The city of Klamath Falls takes its name from the Klamath Indians.

Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, April 7, 1932, page 10

Last revised April 15, 2024