PIONEER DAY PONY EXPRESS RIDER
LED AN EVENTFUL LIFE
Memoirs of Wm. H. Byars, Former Roseburg Editor and Ex-Commandant
of Oregon Soldiers' Home, Tells of Precarious Service
in Southern Oregon and Bloody Clashes with Indians.
The following story is taken from the memoirs of Wm. H. Byars, formerly editor and owner of the Roseburg Plaindealer, later commandant of the Oregon Soldiers' Home, and deals with the days of the pony express in southern Oregon. Mr. Byars carried the mail on this run during the years of 1856, 1857 and 1858. It was furnished the News-Review through the courtesy of Benton Mires of Drain, a stepbrother of Mr. Byars. It gives a thrilling picture of those dangerous and exhilarating days.
* * *The mail routes from Oakland to North Canyonville, and from North Canyonville to Yreka, were established in 1850, but who the contractors or riders were prior to 1854 I do not know. Richard Forrest was the contractor and rider for 1854, and he employed a young man by the name of John Goodrich, who was on the line in 1855. Another young man named William Hickenbottom was on the road until I went on in 1856.
Forrest's contract expired July 1, 1858, and a man named Monahan got the contract but sold out soon afterward to the Oregon & California Stage Company, who put on a daily stage line and had the mail service increased to a daily line. The Oregon and California Railroad as fast as it was built relieved the stage line and took over the mail line. This was not fully completed until about 1885. [The railroad was completed to Ashland in 1884, and to California in 1887.]
The post office of Oakland, Oregon in 1856 was located on a high prairie surrounded by oak-covered hills about three miles north of the present town of Oakland. The postmaster was the Rev. Hull Tower, and the office was in his private residence, which consisted of two rooms--the kitchen, dining, sitting, parlor and living room and a bedroom. The office was in the first room. Oakland was the terminus of four mail routes. One west to Scottsburg and the coast, one north via Yoncalla to Corvallis, one northerly over [the] coast fork road to Eugene, and the other southerly via Winchester, and Roseburg to Yreka, California. These lines were all weekly routes, and all carried on horseback with an additional pack horse when necessary. The mail day was Friday of each week, and the hour was from 10 to 2 o'clock.
The mail matter was all dumped upon the floor in the middle of the room, and was then sorted into four piles, each pile representing a mail route and a fifth representing the local office. Each carrier then secured his pile in a mail bag or bags, packed it on his horse and was off on his separate route, and the post office was quiet for another week.
Pioneer Post OfficesThe post offices supplied by the southern mail route were, first--Winchester, located on the south bank of the North Umpqua River, James Walton, postmaster; second, Roseburg, at the junction of Deer Creek and the South Umpqua River, the present location of the town, Richard Dearborn, postmaster; third, Round Prairie, located just south of Roberts Mountain, on the South Umpqua River, James Burnett, postmaster; fourth, Myrtle Creek, located on the stream by that name, Lazarus Wright, postmaster; fifth, North Canyonville, located at the north end of the big canyon, James Clark, postmaster; sixth, Galesville, on Cow Creek, Henry Smith, postmaster; seventh, Leland, on Grave Creek, James H. Twogood, postmaster; eighth, Gold River, located on Rogue River, "Coyote" Evans, postmaster; ninth, Dardanelles, across the river from the present town of Gold Hill, [William G.] T'Vault, postmaster. (This office was discontinued about the time I went on the road, in 1856.) Tenth, Jacksonville, [William] Hoffman, postmaster; eleventh, Phoenix, on Bear Creek; twelfth, Ashland, A. D. Helman, postmaster; thirteenth, Henley, located just north of the Klamath River on Cottonwood Creek, and lastly, Yreka.
How Route Was ServedMy home was four miles below Oakland on the Calapooia Creek, so Friday after getting the mail I traveled over the hills through Green Valley down Dodge Creek and over the hill to Sloan's Creek and down said creek to the home station. Saturday I made an early start, crossed the Calapooia on the Scottsburg road, and followed that road south over the hill to Camas Swale Creek, which I crossed at the town of Wilbur; thence on to the North Umpqua River, which I crossed on a ferry boat, and am at the town of Winchester, and the mail is delivered for the postmaster to select the mail addressed to his office, and the journey is resumed to Roseburg, where the mail rests overnight.
Sunday the mail is received from the office and the old California road is taken, which at that time crossed Robert's Hill east of the present route then [omission?] miles to Round Prairie, Mr. Burnett's farm residence, the post office. After the overhauling of the mail you follow the road up the South Umpqua River six miles to the village of Myrtle Creek; the office is in the home residence of Mr. Lazarus Wright, one of the slowest mortals living. Myrtle Creek is crossed at this place, and the road continues on up the river to Yocum's, where the river is crossed by means of a ferry in winter time, and by ford when the waters are down. Nine miles from Myrtle Creek you come to Canyonville. The post office is in a small grocery store, and here again the mail rests overnight.
Monday--the road from this place leads through the big canyon. It crosses the creek some thirty-six times, and at one place follows up in the bed of the creek for one and one-fourth miles; thence over the mountain eleven miles from Canyonville to Hardy Elliff's place, in the valley of Cow Creek; thence down the valley eight miles to Henry Smith's ranch residence, the Galesville post office. About one mile below Smith's place at John Redfield's, the road crosses Cow Creek, and over Cow Creek Mountain, which is the line between Douglas and Jackson counties, to Wolf Creek at a point near the "Six-Bit Place"; thence down the creek about a mile to its crossing, which is the present location of Wolf Creek station; the road leads up Coyote Creek a short distance and then crosses another spur of mountain to Grave Creek, the home of Twogood and Harkness, the Leland post office. Here the mail rests another night
Tuesday we cross Grave Creek in the morning and soon pass over another mountain and enter Jumpoff Joe Creek Valley at Widow Niday's place; thence on a couple of miles to the stream itself, which is crossed by ford. From thence the road crosses over some low hills, and through a narrow gap to the Geo. W. Harris place; thence a couple of miles through pine openings to Louse Creek and Wagoner's place just on the south side of the creek; thence after ascending a long open glade the road passed over a rather high divide and descended into the Rogue River Valley near Grants Pass; thence along the foothills to "Bloody Run," through "Dry Diggins" and over another spur to Evans Ferry on Rogue River--the road crossing, thence up the south side of the river past Savage's place on Savage Creek to the R. U. S. Jewett place, where another ferry was established. This is just below Evans Creek on the opposite side of Rogue River. From here the road passed on up the river crossing Birdseye Creek near David Birdseye's house, and thence by the Wm. Miller place to the home of F. Rosenstock, a station where the mail rested another night.
Wednesday--The road continues on up the river about three miles to the Dardanelles. Here the river bends to the north and passes between Table Rock and Gold Hill. The road bears southeasterly up a long draw and over a ridge to Willow Creek near Willow Springs, thence it continues along the foot of Oak Hills and over low ridges to Jacksonville, the most wealthy mining camp in Oregon. The richest lode ever discovered in the state was the Gold Hill just mentioned. More mail was received at and sent from the Jacksonville office than any other on the route. From Jacksonville the road continued south up the Bear Creek Valley to Phoenix; by the Farm Springs and Eagle Mills to Ashland, a town with one small house and a mill, continuing on up the creek for eight miles more to the Mountain House and another night's rest.
Thursday--From here it was called eight miles over the mountains and ten miles to Coles, near the state line, about five miles up the mountains (Siskiyous) and three miles down. The road is quite steep from both sides and quite hilly until it enters Cottonwood Creek bottom near Henley. The post office is on the west side of the creek, which is crossed by a ford. You reford the creek, which is only a short distance from its mouth, and the road runs up the river about a mile to the ferry, and then up over the hills to Surprise Valley and along its west margins to the crossing of Shasta River by a ford; thence over a low divide to Yreka.
In regard to items of interest happening along the road, I will enumerate the few following, beginning at the south boundary of the state. The state line is just beyond Cole [sic]. The Coles, two brothers, located claims at that place and built a very neat house which was a roadhouse or hotel, and when I was on the road it was one of the best-kept houses on the whole route. About three miles from the Coles' and near the foot of the mountain was another well-kept house owned and kept by a man named Rockafellow. From his place to the summit of the Siskiyou Mountains was a steep climb for about three miles, and then a steep descent down into a canyon and over some spurs and on down to the Mountain House eight miles from Rockafellow's place. From the summit down the canyon was a lonesome piece of road and along which many crimes had been committed.
Indians Slay TeamstersJust a short time before I went on the road, the Modoc Indians had attacked three teamsters [Harrison B. Oatman, Daniel P. Brittain and Calvin M. Fields], one of whom they killed; they also killed the nine yokes of oxen and burned the wagons after taking all they could get away with from them. The teamsters were loaded chiefly with flour, bacon and other eatables. The remnants were all over the grade in the creek, and [it] was not a pleasant place to pass.
Sometimes the road across the mountains was considered unsafe on account of Indians and road agents, and I sometimes crossed after night. I recollect crossing one night coming north, and the night was dark as Egypt. It was about ten o'clock when I got to the summit. I had two horses--a pack horse and a riding horse. The pack horse was loose in the road ahead, and at the summit I got off to lead my riding horse down the steep part of the hill. He refused to be led very fast, and I turned him loose with the other horse and got in behind with a stick to encourage him to go faster. When we got opposite the old debris, where the man and oxen were killed and the wagons burned, there was a terrible racket in the brush and a big snort. The horses also gave a snort and broke on down the road as fast as they could run. I felt the hair raise the hat on my head, but I never waited to investigate, but nearly kept up with the horses, which I overtook about a mile down the road and rode on to my station--the Mountain House.
I never knew what was the cause of the rumpus, but always thought it was a bear. Expect it was about as badly scared as I was. Another time I crossed in the early evening and saw two horsemen hide behind a clump of bushes. I could not go back, so had to ride upon them. I put my horses to their utmost speed and with my revolver in my hand rushed right past them. They immediately fell in behind and chased me for two miles up hill and down right up to the station, but before I could get off and around to face them they dashed by and were gone. I inquired all along the road next morning but got no information.
Battle with SnowI crossed this mountain one day with two other men in a big snow storm. The old snow on the mountain was from four to six feet deep, with a well-beaten trail, but the wind and new snow in many places covered up this old trail and whenever we got off of it we got in the snow so deep that it was impossible to travel. We had stopped overnight with Mr. Rockafellow, and it was eight miles over the mountain to the Mountain House. We had worked hard all day and were all about given out, as well as the horses.
One of the men's names was Thompson, a brother of David P. Thompson of Portland. The other man's name I did not know. Thompson was not in good health. The other fellow was a big, rugged-looking man weighing 200 or more pounds. About four o'clock p.m. we came out into an opening and lost the trail. The horses refused to go further. Thompson could not [either], and I had worked until I could hardly stand up. The big man sat down and cried and said it was no use to try more, as we would never get out. His action so disgusted me that I was stimulated with new vigor, and I took the lead off to the right; down a steep mountain into a canyon and got into lighter snow. We almost slid down the mountain for a quarter of a mile or more, which revived our courage, and got us to the hotel about eight or nine o'clock.
Another exciting time I had on the mountain was with a grizzly bear. He crossed the road a short distance ahead of me and I ran my horse up close to get a shot with my revolver. There was a deep canyon just close to the road which the bear had to cross, and it was just starting up the opposite bank when I rode up and delivered the shot. The horse saw or smelled the bear, and was about scared to death, while the bear, feeling the lead stinging his back, nearly tore the mountain down trying to get away and grunting like a wild hog badly scared.
At the Mountain House, kept by a fellow by the name of White, at the foot of the mountain on the north side, is where I first met Joaquin Miller, in the spring of 1858. He was walking the floor and trying to conjugate a Latin verb. Nobody knew what he was talking about.
Near this place is where the old emigrant road entered the valley. I came down by the soda spring along a small stream called Emigrant Creek. Eight miles below was Ashland Mills, the first post office in Oregon from the south. It was located on Ashland Creek, the present site of the city of Ashland.
Mystery TragedyAt that time there was but one small house at the place, other than the mill. The man and wife who owned the house [David and Celeste Sisson] kept a small wayside stopping place. Travelers generally in those days carried their own beds, and all they usually received were meals. About the time I left the road the husband was shot and killed from ambush. I never heard that the woman was in any way implicated or suspicioned, but the author was never known.
The office in the mill was the post office, and A. D. Helman was postmaster. The mill was owned by him and a group of other farmers who lived near about. He operated the mill.
Just about a mile below Ashland was the Eagle Mill and distillery. They were located on Bear Creek. There are also a number of hot springs which flow from the mountains on the west. These mountains are steep, rocky, and covered with dense undergrowth. Here was a favorite battlefield of the Indians, and many whites were killed near this place before the valley was settled. Here is where Lieut. Stuart was wounded and afterward died near Phoenix, which was first called Camp Stuart. [Captain James Stuart was wounded near Shady Cove.] The next post office was at Phoenix, then familiarly known as "Gasburg." The office here was in a small saddlery shop, and the postmaster's name forgotten.
The next office was Jacksonville. The postmaster was Hoffman. He was the father-in-law of C. C. Beekman. Mr. Beekman at that time carried express from Jacksonville to Yreka. The distance was sixty miles, and he rode his horse that distance in one day. I frequently saw the miners and other citizens lined up for a block waiting for their turn to ask for mail. Mining was carried on right through the streets of the town.
Jacksonville Wild SpotJacksonville was a wide-open town. Everything that was wicked was permitted anywhere in the town where space could be secured. Nearly every man carried a revolver and knife, and it was considered a greater crime to steal a horse than to kill a man.
The next office on the road was Dardanelles, but before leaving Jacksonville I should say that early in 1858 a daily stage line was established between Jacksonville and Yreka.
Dardanelles was at the home of [William G.] T'Vault. He was editor and proprietor of the Jacksonville Sentinel, a Democratic newspaper. He and family had moved into town. My night station was a few miles farther down the river at Rosentock's. This house, like all others between Dardanelles and North Canyonville, was surrounded by a stockade, which was constructed by digging a trench four or five feet deep around the house, generally in a square, and then setting timbers twenty or thirty feet long upright so as to make a bulletproof wall and then tramp them solid with earth, and cutting loopholes through for the purpose of firing on an approaching foe. Generally there was a small bastion at each corner with loopholes so that the sides could be protected. A majority of all the houses in southern Oregon were so protected.
Pioneer LandmarksJust south of the Dardanelles post office was or is the location of the famous Gold Hill--the richest quartz lead every discovered in the state, located in 1858. Across the Rogue River is Lower Table Rock, and at the mouth of Bear Creek was old Fort Lane. At the date of which I am speaking the lands between the Rogue River and Evans Creek was an Indian reservation. The spurs of the mountains on each side of the river put down abruptly to the stream and made many local places for Indian ambuscades so that many whites lost their lives along this part of the road, and in this vicinity most of the pitched battles between the whites and Indians were fought. The post office at Evans ferry, Gold River, was in a stockade on the north side of the river and had withstood several sieges.
Indians Shed BloodOn the night of October 8, 1855, two men were killed and one wounded by the Indians near the mouth of Evans Creek, about eight miles above the Evans ferry. Early next morning the Gold River post office was attacked, and Isaac Shelton was mortally wounded. Then continuing north along the road to "Bloody Run," the Indians continued their destruction by killing J. K. Jones and wife and burning his house. Near where Grants Pass now is, several more men were killed, and on the summit of the hill south of Louse Creek they killed young James W. Cartwright and a companion who were traveling with a wagon loaded with apples. Mr. J. Wagoner, who lived on Louse Creek, had gone that morning with a Miss Pellet, a temperance lecturer, to the Sailor's Diggings in Josephine County, leaving his wife and four-year-old baby at home. The Indians burned the house, but the fate of the wife and child were never known.
Horrible FateOne story said that hearing the Indians coming she shut and barred the doors of the house, and the Indians not knowing who was inside fired the building, expecting to see those from the inside come running out. But the mother took her little girl in her arms, quieted the child until the flames burned them up. Another story was that the mother and child were both made prisoners. The child's cries irritated her captors and she was killed with a club. The mother was kept a prisoner, maltreated, and tortured for some time, but finally killed, that the horrors of her experience as a prisoner might never be known. It was said that an Indian killed had in his possession two scalps that were identified as those of the mother and child, but this story I think was never verified. [A letter written by J. S. Wagoner on January 26, 1856 reports that upon searching for his family in the remains of the cabin "nothing remained of them (but) smoldering ashes."]
About two miles north of the Wagoner place and near the home of G. W. Harris, William Hickenbottom, the mail carrier, and a traveling companion met fifteen or twenty Indians. The Indians appeared to be very friendly and wanted to shake hands with the boys and in doing so tried to pull them from their horses. But as they were so near the Harris home, the Indians did not shoot, fearful of alarming the people at the home. Also knowing there were a large number behind them at the Wagoner place thought they had them safe anyway. Near the Wagoner place the Indians had captured a pack wagon train loaded with dry goods and groceries for the mines. The packers and drivers had escaped in the woods on horse and mule back and as the Indians were afoot they did not follow, but began eating and drinking and having a good time. Before Hickenbottom and his companion got within range the half-drunken Indians began shooting and raised their war whoops. This scared the boys aplenty, and they turned and retraced their steps to the north.
When they got in sight of the Harris place they heard shooting, and, seeing the house surrounded, endeavored to steal by through the woods. This they had nearly accomplished, when the Indians discovered them and opened fire on them, while a part of the band tried to cut them off by swift running. The boys had a close call, but by lying low and using whip and spurs they soon got beyond the range of the Indians' guns, and spread the alarm from there on northward.
Story of HeroismThe Indians had cautiously approached the Harris home, and called Mr. Harris to the door. When he showed himself several fired and he fell mortally wounded. His wife pulled him back into the house and closed the door. Harris only lived long enough to warn his wife to keep cool, repeat to her the formula of loading the gun, and advise her to shoot at every Indian coming in sight, but to be careful of her ammunition, and then died. Her little girl, Sophia, was with her. This noble and brave woman kept the Indians away from the house all day. The little girl saw among the invaders a young Indian who had worked for her father, and whom they thought to be a good friend.
Sophia presented herself at an opening and called him by name, said: "You won't shoot me, will you?" At that he brought up his gun and fired, but his aim was not good and he only gave her a bad flesh wound in the arm. The mother, finding that her bullets were getting short, instructed the child, and she got the molds, melted the lead and ran up a good supply. The Harrises also had a little boy about ten years old who had been sent to a neighbor's that morning on an errand. To this day his end is not known.
There was a thick willow swamp near the house--dry at that season of the year--in which Mrs. Harris secreted herself and child after dark, and where they were found next day by a company of citizens and soldiers seeking to relieve such as they. F. A. Reed, a school teacher, was also killed in his ranch near Harrises'.
Jumpoff Joe, the stream some three or four miles north of Harris' place, was a rather swift and dangerous creek to ford, as I found it several times during the winters I was on the road. On one trip I caught two bears out of the creek and killed one with my revolver. The other got away.
Finds SkeletonJust at the foot of the Grave Creek hill on the south in the early spring of 1858, I left the road and crossed a small creek to the west, thinking I might find a few wild ripe strawberries. In crossing another small rivulet just below a large maple tree the water had poured over the roots and washed out quite a deep hole below. Looking in this hole I found a human skeleton. The flesh was all gone. The hair, which was sandy and very curly, indicated that it was a man's skeleton.
I reported the find, but I think no legal notice was ever taken in the matter. There had been a man whose hair description tallied with that of the skeleton [who] had left Yreka, California with considerable money to go to the Willamette Valley to buy cattle, and who was last heard of near this locality.
Suicides by FreezingNear the top of this hill a German during the winter of 1856, during a snow storm at night, got discouraged, knocked the lock from his gun, supposed to be for fear the Indians might get it, and lay down by a log and froze to death.
The post office of Leland, on Grave Creek, had the largest and best stockade on the road. James Twogood was the postmaster. The Indians killed his partner Harkness. The Indians called Twogood Jimmy Mox (Two) Close (Good), and it was said that a young squaw gave Jimmy a warning of the Indian outbreak at the risk of her own life. I think I told you before how Grave Creek got its name.
Leland was one of the chief rendezvous and harbors of safety for the whites during the war. The road crossed Wolf Creek near the mouth of Coyote Creek. On my first trip over the road there was the body of a dead Indian lying under a fir tree near the crossing. "The Six-Bit House" was about a mile up the road and creek. This place belonged to a party named Turner. An Indian was caught with a stolen horse, and a bunch of whites were proceeding to hang him for the offense. It developed that the Indian owed this man Turner six bits--75 cents--and when the rope was around the Indian's neck and over an oak limb, the Indian being on his pony, this man Turner asked the Indian for the money. The Indian agreed to pay if Turner would stop the hanging. The pony was led from under the Indian, and the station got its name.
Battle RecalledIt was a few miles west of here where the famous battle of Hungry Hill was fought--where the Indians in a two-day battle completely defeated the pioneers and regulars. There were about five hundred whites, but the number of the Indians was unknown.
There were quite a number killed in this battle, and it was a miracle that there were not more. The next point of note was the foot of the north side of the Cow Creek hill, some four miles north of the Six-Bit House. Here, October 23, 1856, Holland Bailey, with a drove of hogs, four ox wagons loaded with goods and men sufficient to drive the same, were ambushed by a band of hostile Indians. Mr. Bailey was killed, his hogs scattered through the woods, the oxen shot down in the yokes, and the wagons and contents taken or burned. The drivers and herders saved themselves by flight. Just about this time Jimmie Twogood came along with his small pack train and two helpers.
Jimmie was a favorite of the Indians, and they did not wish to kill him. So the Indians hid behind a big sugar pine log and let them pass. All except Barney Simons, who had stopped back to fix a mule's aparejo [pack saddle]. When the others started to run and the Indians began to yell, Barney's riding horse got scared and left him and the mule got terribly excited. Barney immediately guessed the situation, so he jumped on the mule's back and let it go. And he always said that mule ran faster than any animal he ever rode, and brayed every jump while the bullets whistled about his head. They ran through the creek and on up the road about a mile farther to the home of Henry Smith, whose house was surrounded by a stockade. It was also the Galesville post office, Smith being postmaster.
At the crossing of Cow Creek was Redfield's residence with a young wife and one child. He happened to have his team hitched to the wagon, so they got in as speedily as possible and he also ran his horses to the Smith home. The Indians were in close pursuit and shooting as they ran. One bullet took lodgement in Mrs. Redfield's knee, making her a cripple for life.
Rescuer Is KilledThe settlers and travelers on the road assembled at the Smith place, the Dan Levens place, and the Hardy Elliff place, all three being protected by stockades. The Indians burned all the other houses in the valley. They attacked the Smith place and the battle lasted for several hours, but no one was killed. No Indians appearing at the Levens place, a young man by the name of Johnson and another named Mynott volunteered to go to the top of a high hill nearby and reconnoiter. Before reaching the summit the Indians opened fire on them and shot Mynott through the lungs. He ran partially down the hill and fell. Johnson helped him up and tried to assist him on his way, the Indians shooting all the time.
Another young man named John Fortune, seeing the trouble from the house, jumped on a horse and hurried to their assistance. He got there and Johnson picked up Mynott and placed him on the horse before Fortune, who speedily put his horse to a full fun and carried Mynott to safety. But Johnson had no more than placed Mynott on the horse than a bullet struck him, and he fell dead. The Indians, there in sight of all the garrison, scalped and desecrated Johnson's body, with much screeching and tantalizing epithets. They did not come within gunshot distance of the fort. The Indians only went in sight of the Elliff stockade and then they all retired down the creek where Glendale now is--where they made camp, and boasted and feasted for several days before doing other bloody work.
Roseburg News-Review May 30, 1932, page 3. Byars rode the mail route on the Siskiyou Trail in 1856-1858. A 1968 Ralph Friedman article, below, identifies the original manuscript of this account as then being in the hands of Ray L. Stout.
The following account was written forty years earlier, and from a different point of view:
A SAD REMINISCENCE.Few persons who reside in the peaceful valleys of Oregon can realize that only a short time since within the memory of many an old settler these hills and vales were populated with a race who waged perpetual warfare with those seeking new homes in this beautiful land. One little incident may revive the memory of many an old settler and recount old scenes that might otherwise be forever lost. In August of 1855 a youth not over sixteen years old [apparently William Hickenbottom] was employed by Mr. Richard Forrest as mail carrier on the route between Oakland, Oregon, and Yreka, California. This mail was carried every other week or twenty-six trips per year. One bright Tuesday morning this youth left his night station at Leland, or Grave Creek, and started for his next station which was near Rock Point--there was but one post office in that distance, that of Gold River at the crossing of Rogue River. He had crossed the divide from Grave Creek and entered the valley of "Jump-off-Joe," crossed that stream and wound around among the hills toward Louse Creek, where the circumstance occurred that I want to relate.
The Unrecorded Story of an Oregon Heroism.
All the early pioneer settlers along the road depended upon this messenger to deliver their mail, take their letters to the office and do other errands, therefore they always watched for his arrival and had many good words and other favors to give him, and he in turn looked upon them as his special friends. He had just passed one house, after pleasant greetings, when he was surrounded by a large number of Indians who professed great friendship and warmly shook him by the hand and at the same time tried to drag him from his horse. He pulled loose and went on until he came to Wagoner's house on Louse Creek, where he detected another band of the redskins in the act of firing the building. They discovered him at about the same time and immediately opened fire upon him.
He fled back to Harris' place but was unable to reach the house as it was surrounded by the first party he had met, and they showered the bullets all about him, but he finally escaped and warned the citizens back along the road who nearly all escaped to their fortification. In the house--Wagoner's--was Mrs. Wagoner. Her husband had left home that morning to transact some business and left his wife alone with a "pet" Indian. This Indian saw the others coming and told her what they were doing. She immediately fastened the doors and windows and prepared for a siege. They wanted her as a prisoner and finally set the house on fire thinking that would bring her out, but this poor forsaken unprotected young woman, knowing her fate if captured, preferred the torture of the flames to that of the red devils howling on the outside. This pet Indian told afterward that the heroic woman, after the house was fired, washed her face, combed her hair before the mirror and then sat down in her rocking chair and sang until the smoke and flames suffocated her. Her heroism and fortitude surprised these savages, and they tried to save her when too late. She was more fortunate that some of her sister neighbors captured that day--whose final time has not yet revealed.
Evening Capital Journal, Salem, November 12, 1888, page 4
Hon. William H. ByarsThe experience of mankind has stamped with the signet of truth the popular saying that "success denotes merit," and when a young man attains a position of honor and prominence in a community, whether it be in the political or mercantile world, that fact should be taken as proof of merit of no ordinary kind, in the makeup of the one winning such honor and distinction. Such an elevation as that of Hon. W. H. Byars to the responsible position of State Printer argues that his past life has
been spent to good purpose, and that he has availed himself of his leisure time to store his mind with that fund of literary and political lore which stands him so well before the people of Oregon today. He was born in Des Moines County, Iowa, July 7, 1839, his father, Fleming Byars being a Virginian by birth and his mother, whose maiden name was Anna Deardorff, a native of Ohio. The father died in 1847, leaving the mother with one son and three daughters. In 1851 she was married to John H. Mires and in 1853 they crossed the plains and settled in Umpqua (now Douglas) County, where they still reside. The subject of our sketch carried the United States mails from Oakland, Oregon, to Yreka, California, in 1856-7 and 1858, and, notwithstanding the fearful condition of the roads, the almost utter absence of bridges during that time, showing conclusively that he was possessed of indomitable pluck and energy and a hearty, robust constitution. During the winters of 1858-9 and 1859-60 young Byars attended the Columbia College at Eugene City, and taught school at Fair Oaks, in his own county, during the summer of 1859. In 1860 he ran for the office of County Surveyor but was defeated. He attended Umpqua Academy during the winter of 1860-1. He spent the summer of 1860 prospecting for gold on the headwaters of the Umpqua river. The summer of 1861 was spent in teaching school at Fair Oaks, and in the winter of 1861-2 attended school at the Willamette University, and during the years 1862-3-4 he was in the Eastern Oregon and Idaho Territory gold mines. On March 15, 1865, he enlisted in Company A of the First Oregon Cavalry, and was elected Orderly Sergeant, in which capacity he served until mustered out July 26, 1868, acting meanwhile as an escort and guard for the surveying party that located the Central Oregon Military wagon road, running from Eugene City to the eastern boundary of the State. Entering school once more he graduated from the Umpqua Academy in 1867, and in the winter of that year taught school at Calapooia school house. The year following he was elected School Superintendent of Douglas County. He was married to Mrs. Emma A. Reed (nee Slocum) on December 23, 1868, and their family now consists of three boys and two girls. In 1869 and 1870 he was one of the principals of the Umpqua Academy, and in 1870 was the nominee of the Republican party of Douglas County for the office of Sheriff but was defeated at the polls. He moved into Roseburg in 1872 and in 1873 purchased the Plaindealer, then a Democratic newspaper published by W. A. McPherson, and at once converted it into a Republican organ, since which time he has continued its publication and has in a great measure assisted in making Douglas County one of the strongest Republican counties of the State. Mr. Byars is a practical surveyor and has acted as Deputy U.S. Surveyor for a number of years, and had several important contracts. Mr. Byars is a strong Republican and has been such ever since he cast his maiden vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. At the Republican State Convention held in Portland in April, 1882, Mr. Byars received the nomination of State Printer, and at the general election held in June following, he was elected by 2,438 majority over W. F. Cornell, the strongest man the Democracy could have nominated for that position. Mr. Byars is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman, who rarely attracts attention. He is a good business man, however, attentive and prompt in the discharge of his official duties, and as honest a man as we ever met. He is a genial, whole-souled gentleman, and, socially speaking, stands high in the community. He is of low stature, heavy built, with a clear, penetrating eye, prominent features, heavy beard and hair and a strong constitution.
Frank E. Hodgkins & J. J. Galvin, Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon, 1882
W. H. BYARS, who is numbered among the Oregon pioneers of 1853, is a native of Des Moines, Iowa, born July 7, 1839. His paternal ancestors were among the colonial settlers of Virginia, and his father, Fleming Byars, was born in that state and there passed his boyhood; the mother was a member of the Deardorff family of Ohio. Mr. Fleming Byars married Anna Deardorff in Union County, Indiana, in 1838, and went to Des Moines County, Iowa, and there followed agricultural pursuits until his death, in 1847; he left a wife and four children. Mrs. Byars afterward married John Myers, of Iowa, and in 1853 they joined the tide of western emigration and crossed the plains to Oregon; after a tedious journey of five months they reached the Pacific coast, locating on a donation claim in Douglas County. W. H. Byars was reared to the life of a farmer, and his educational advantages were therefore quite limited. He made the most of his opportunities, and by perseverance finally fitted himself to teach; he continued his studies at intervals, attending Columbia College, at Eugene, the Willamette University, at Salem, and afterward graduated with the first class at Wilbur Academy, Douglas County, in 1868.
In 1862 began a period of interruption to his intellectual pursuits; he visited the mines of Idaho and for two years was engaged in the chief industry of that section, in hauling and packing supplies or digging for gold. Returning to Oregon at the end of two years he enlisted in Company A, First Oregon Cavalry, and for eighteen months was in the Indian campaigns in the eastern part of the state. He was honorably discharged at Vancouver, in August 1865, and returned to Douglas County, where he continued his studies until his graduation. After this event he taught in the academy and was elected County Superintendent of Schools for Douglas County. In 1870 he was elected County Surveyor, and two years later was appointed United States Deputy Surveyor under W. H. Odell, Surveyor-General, a position he filled until 1884.
Mr. Byars removed to Roseburg in 1875 and bought the Plain Dealer, a Democratic weekly newspaper; he changed the politics of this sheet and continued its editor and publisher until 1884, when he sold out, after being elected State Printer, the duties of which office required his presence at Salem. He then purchased a half interest in the Statesman, W. H. Odell being the the other partner, and assumed its management and editorial work for eighteen months, after which he sold to the present proprietors. In 1888 he was elected City Surveyor of Salem and held that office until 1890, when, under the administration of President Benjamin Harrison, he was appointed United States Surveyor-General for the state of Oregon.
Mr. Byars was married in Douglas County, Oregon, December 23, 1868, to Mrs. Emma A. (Slocum) Reed, a native of Kentucky. Six children have been born of this union: Ana A., wife of S. R. Thompson; William F., Alfred H., Mera B., now dead; John Rex and Vera M.
Our subject is a member of Sedgwick Post, No. 10, G.A.R., of Salem, of the Masonic fraternity, the A.O.U.W. and the Salem Grange. He has always been a loyal supporter of the interests of the state and has done his share in the development of her resources.
Rev. H. K. Hines, An Illustrated History of the State of Oregon, 1893, pages 610-611
A portrayal of life in the Pacific Northwest during the 1850s is given in the following story, which was found by W. F. Byars among the papers of his father, W. H. Byars.
The post office at Oakland, Oregon, in 1856, was located on a high prairie surrounded by oak-covered hills about three miles from the present town of Oakland. The postmaster was Rev. Tower, and the office was in his private residence which consisted of two rooms--the kitchen, dining room, parlor, living room and a bed room. The office was in the first room. Oakland was the terminus of four mail routes. One went to Scottsburg and the coast; one north by Yoncalla to Corvallis, one northerly over the Coast Fork to Eugene, and the other southerly via Winchester, Roseburg, etc. to Yreka, California. These lines were all weekly routes and all carried on horseback with an additional packhorse when necessary. The mail day was Friday of each week and the hour was from 10 to 2 o'clock. All the mail matter was emptied out of the various pouches in a pile in the middle of the room and each corner was designated as a different mail route. Then the postmaster and several of the family, together with the various carriers, and perhaps a neighbor or two, surrounded the pile and, similar to an old-fashioned husking bee, proceeded to select and distribute the packages and letters until they were all gone. Then each carrier would refill his pouches with the mail assigned him, pack his horse and be off on his journey, while the postmaster distributed what was left for his office to the parties addressed.
The first office on my route was Winchester, which was at the crossing of the North Umpqua River and at that time was rather a lively little town, rivaling Roseburg as a business center and for the county seat. I might here insert that Calapooya Creek was then the dividing line between Douglas and Umpqua counties, which gave Roseburg a decided advantage, and the additional liberality of Mr. Aaron Rose, the proprietor of the town, gave the latter an easy victory. Judge James Walton, now a citizen of Salem, was postmaster. He was a justice of the peace and proprietor of the Winchester Hotel. The office was in the bar room of the hotel--a very neat little office.
Wilbur, a small educational village at which is located Umpqua Academy, is about 3 miles north of Winchester, but as it was within the five-mile limit, the town was not permitted to have a post office.
It is five miles from Winchester to Roseburg; Capt. William Martin's donation claim and home is the first place on the road. His residence has the distinction of being the first Masonic Lodge room in the valley. The family went visiting on the evening of the lodge meetings. Next on the right is the old home of Gen. Joseph Lane, whose history as a Mexican and Indian war veteran, Territorial Governor, delegate to Congress, Oregon's first United States Senator, and candidate for Vice President of the United States, is well known. His remains lie in the midst of those of his family in the Masonic cemetery near Roseburg.
Roseburg then, as now, was the chief town of the Umpqua Valley. It is located on the South Umpqua River at the mouth of Deer Creek, in a beautiful valley, surrounded by high hills. Mr. Richard H. Dearborn was postmaster and Samuel Gordon was his deputy. Mr. Dearborn had a general merchandise store and the office was partitioned off on Main Street. The building was a one-story box house and extended from Main to Jackson Street on the ground now occupied by the "Wilson" block. Mr. Rose, the proprietor of the town, owned and ran the only hotel in the place. Governor Gibbs and Chadwick resided here and Judge Deady had a law office in the town. Rufus Mallory taught school and found his wife here. W. R. Willis was elected justice of the peace and read law while in office. Smith Kearney was a familiar personage on the streets. John Kelly lived just south of the town. Dr. Hamilton had a little six-by-nine drug store. Deer Creek was spanned on the main street with a bridge that was carried away in a "freshet" in 1857. The creek was forded or swum until the bridge was constructed on Jackson Street the next summer. The Government Land Office was first located at Winchester, but afterward the building, as well as a number of others, was moved bodily to Roseburg.
Round Prairie was the next office south of Roseburg, James Burnett the postmaster. The road at that time crossed the Roberts Hill about one mile east of the present road. This later road was located and constructed by General (at that time Capt.) Joe Hooker in 1858, from an appropriation of money made by Congress for the improvement of the Scottsburg and Camp Stewart Military Road, Hooker being detailed to superintend the work. Mr. Burnett kept the office in his private residence and his wife chiefly attended to the duties of the office.
Six miles south of Round Prairie is Myrtle Creek. There was no town here at that time. Mr. Lazarus Wright owned the donation land claim, was postmaster and kept a wayside hotel. He was an ideal backwoodsman. The office was kept in the hotel and all the neighbors were welcome to assist in overhauling and assorting the mails. He was more at home with his gun and dogs than with the penmanship of the average postmaster of that day. A very good story got into circulation about the time in which Mr. Wright and another prominent pioneer, Mr. Sol Abraham [Southern Oregon's first millionaire and founder of Glendale, Oregon] were the chief actors. Mr. Abraham's version of the story was about like this: Late in the evening at the time of making his first trip to southern Oregon as an itinerant merchant, he was near the Wright home on Myrtle Creek. Near the road he spied a bright-looking striped little animal, the like of which he had never seen before, and therefore was unacquainted with it peculiar habits. As it appeared rather tame, and thinking it would be a nice pet, he concluded to attempt its capture. Rushing up to it he gave it a smart blow with his stick which knocked it over and, stooping to pick it up, he suddenly changed his mind, and let go unmolested further. Approaching the house, he asked for a night's entertainment which was readily granted, and he joined the family circle about the fire. Three or four hounds were in the room or loitering about the door. Mrs. Wright chased them away with the broom and remarked that "Them dogs have been killing another skunk." The absence of the dogs failed to remedy the matter. Mr. Abraham related his experience with the little striped animal. Mr. Wright then told him that in order to remove the offensive odor, it would be necessary to bury his impregnated clothing for several hours in the ground, and in order to make it practicable he would loan him a suit of clothes for the night. This proposition was accepted and the clothing was soon covered in a small grave not far from the house, and Mr. A. presented the appearance of a small boy in his big father's clothes, occasioning much merriment for the rest of the evening. Sometime during the night while the household were all asleep the cattle came down from the hills, and finding a mound of new-turned earth apparently determined to destroy it. At least when Mr. Abraham arose next morning and went out to secure his clothing he found the grave all horned and torn to pieces and his clothing scattered in fragments, no piece large enough to indicate from whence it came. The nearest point south where he could secure others was Jacksonville, eighty-five miles away. He was therefore compelled to negotiate with Mr. Wright. In this rig he went on his way rejoicing and was the funniest-looking Jew that ever traveled that road.
Myrtle Creek was spanned by a plain wooden bridge which was carried away in 1861 by the high water and in replacing it a very exemplary young man, Mr. Roadman, was killed by the accidental falling of some of the timbers.
To reach Canyonville, the next office nine miles south of Myrtle Creek, it was necessary to cross the South Umpqua three times. A trail, however, crossed over a spur of the mountains and two crossings were saved when the stream was high. Mr. Yokum kept the ferry at the upper crossing. His daughter, Miss Ruby, was quite a popular belle, for whom Smith Kearney, then a successful cattle drover, had a great admiration. Father Yokum objected to Kearney's attention to his daughter, and Kearney frequently rewarded me liberally for delivering letters and packages into the young lady's hands.
The proper name of the post office at that time was North Canyonville. It was the terminus of the Oakland mail route, which was weekly. James G. Clark was postmaster and his office was kept in a small room of general merchandise including liquors, etc. His home was also a wayside inn, and his wife, "Aunt Rachel" as she was usually called, was well known as the kindest, motherly woman and the best cook on the whole road. Clark's place was abut one-half mile north of the present town, which then consisted of only three or four houses. It was then a universal camping ground, as immediately south of here the road entered the "Big" Umpqua Canyon. Mail day was usually a holiday for the settlers for miles around the office, and as the mail was due at Canyonville on Sunday evening a big crowd always awaited its arrival.
On emerging from the canyon at the south end you enter the upper Cow Creek Valley about ten miles east of Glendale. Here at the time I write [of] was Camp Elliff--Hardy Elliff's home, a log house in a nice opening surrounded by a palisade. These fortifications were generally constructed on the same plan and were as follows: A ditch two or three feet deep was dug on the line of fortifications. Into this ditch were placed logs 10 to 12 inches in diameter on end and as close together as they could be placed, two smaller timbers were then set one on each side, to break the joint, and the ground was well rammed back in place to hold the timbers solid. Port holes were then cut at proper heights and sufficiently close together to accommodate the besieged. These were usually stopped up unless in use. A bastion was constructed at each angle in order to protect the sides. This property was first located by A. J. Knott, who afterward located near Oakland and still later became the proprietor of the Stark Street Ferry at Portland. [I'm not positive, but it appears to me that Mr. Byars' memory is flawed here. A. J. Knott was first in Canyonville, not upper Cow Creek. I do believe that distinction goes to Hardy Elliff.] All the places between here and Jacksonville not so protected were burned during the previous year by the Indians, and many people killed. After passing several blackened home places, the next is the home of Dan Levens. This place was attacked several times. Mr. Mynatt, a settler nearby, and some other parties went to the top of a hill close by to reconnoiter and were fired upon by the Indians. Mynatt was shot through the lungs and fell. Charley Johnson tried to bring him back but was about to be surrounded when John Fortune, jumping on a horse, ran to the rescue. Johnson helped Mynatt on the horse with Fortune and they escaped, but poor Charley fell and the Indians scalped him and mangled his body in plain view of the house, Rev. J. W. Miller being one of the witnesses. Fortune was afterward drowned in the South Umpqua River. He raised the famous race mare known as "The Fortune Filly" of Mandy. The next place standing was the residence of Henry Smith, near by a large stockade called "Camp Smith." Smith's house is full of bullet holes made by Indians' guns, the house having been attacked several different times. Smith was postmaster, and the name of the office was Galesville. Afterward Ben Sargent was appointed and the office was moved about ½ mile further west on the bank of Cow Creek. Ben ran a miscellaneous store. He afterward killed the justice of the peace of the precinct, as he said, in self defense, and as there were no witnesses, the explanation went. Just below this place is the crossing of Cow Creek, and the home of the Redfields. [One of their sons went on to fame and fortune as the inventor of the Redfield bomb sight and supplied the military during WWI and WWII. He then then went on to produce the Redfield rifle scope so popular in the late 1900s.] Mr. Redfield has but one hand, but is most excellent shot and a brave man. His young wife had equal grit and they stuck to their place until Bailey was killed and their house was attacked. In their escape to Camp Smith, Mrs. Redfield received a bullet wound in the knee that has made her a cripple ever since. They still won and live in the old homestead. [While at Camp Smith, their house and outbuildings were burned to the ground.] There were no bridges on Cow Creek, therefore those crossing frequently swam the stream. I did several times, carrying the mail over on a footlog.
The divide south of Cow Creek about two miles is the dividing line between the waters of Rogue River and the Umpqua. At the foot of the mountain on the north side is where Mr. Holland Bailey, of Lane County, was killed, Oct. 23, the year before. He had a drove of hogs and several ox teams loaded with goods. The Indians were ambushed behind a sugar pine log near the road 50 strong. All the others escaped excepting Bailey. Their escape after the first fire was, perhaps, largely due to the fact that a pack train was just coming down the mountain and the Indians reloaded and remained quiet to entrap them. When they came along it proved to be Mr. James Twogood and his train. The chief and Twogood, or "Jimmy Moxclose" as he was called by the Indians [omission?]. The same day they burned all the houses in the valley excepting the three heretofore named. It is six miles over the mountains to Camp Bailey--"Six Bit House" as it is known. It was located in the big loop of the R.R. [The railroad didn't get here until the 1880s. It started south from Roseburg in 1882.] on Wolf Creek near where a big white oak tree now stands. It got its name from the following circumstance. Indian Charley was tried by "Judge Lynch" and was condemned to be hung for depredations he was accused of. The rope was about his neck and over a limb of this tree when the proprietor of the place demanded of Charley that he pay the "six bits" due for his dinner. Charley replied "Nika halo chickamin, wake memaloose nika potlach." (I have not the money, you don't kill, I'll pay you.) The pony was led from under and Charley was a good Indian.
Many white men were as barbarous at the Indians. Near this place an Indian boy, belonging to a tribe in Lower California, with a pack train a bell boy (the boy to ride the bell horse) was shot off the horse of a passing train for no other reason than that of being an Indian. Near this place was fought the famous battle of "Hungry Hill." The whites were represented by Co.s A, B, C, D, Bailey's and Gordon's co's of volunteers and 105 regulars under command of Capt. Smith of the First Dragoons. The Indians had the selection of the ground. They sent out a small force who kept up a running fire with the advancing troops. Capts. Rinearson and Welton with their companies were assigned to lead, but their forces being soon augmented by stragglers from all other companies, they became uncontrollable, all rushing to the front with the eagerness to fire the first shot. There was a long, open hillside sloping to the west and terminating abruptly at a heavily timbered uphill slope, also covered with dense undergrowth. The Indians were well covered by this timber and brush, and they allowed the wild rush to reach almost the foot of the hill before they opened their fire. Their first fire was so fatal and so many men fell that it stopped the mad flight. Safety was sought behind the nearest trees to the rear, and the panic for retreat among many was as contagious as had been the enthusiasm for the charge. Soon an inglorious retreat was made by a large majority of the troops. The rear was held and the wounded cared for and brought [omission] many by the heroic few, augmented by the ignorance of the enemy as to their numbers. The loss was twelve killed and twenty-seven wounded. That of the enemy must have been much less.
At the crossing of Wolf Creek, near where the hotel now stands, when I passed the road first lay the remains of an Indian who had been killed a short time before. He was a renegade and was waylaid and put to sleep at that place.
The next office on the road was Leland at Grave Creek. James Twogood was postmaster. He and McDonald Harkness owned the place. Harkness had been killed a short time before by the Indians. His brother Samuel and family were now living on the place with Twogood. It was well protected by a stockade, and being the only house within thirty miles was a popular stopping place for travelers. This creek and the post office both derived their names form the same source--the death of a young lady which had occurred on the creek in the first train of emigrants that passed through the valley in 1846. It was something like this: The young lady's name was Martha Leland Crowley. Her friends were anxious that her burial place should be hidden from the knowledge of the Indians, who were crazy to obtain any wearing apparel belonging to the whites. After interment, every precaution was taken to hide her grave. Savage cupidity was great and his cunning soon discovered the hiding place. The body was exhumed, all raiments removed and the corpse left for a feast for wild beasts, which soon left only a few bones, to be afterwards collected by the passing stranger and reburied in their former resting place. The grave gave the creek its name, and Leland became that of the office. This creek was not bridged, but a single log spanned it a short distance above the ford and when the creek was "swimming" deep we coaxed our horses and mules to walk the log. I knew one contrary fellow which turned around once on the log, but in turning back, lost his balance and went to the bottom. He was loaded with 400 pounds of nails. Here I became acquainted with the first Chinamen I ever knew--two rollicking boys who were anxious to learn English and were ready to make a speech or sing a China song or do an errand for a white man. I thought I had a fine joke on the boys but I doubt whether they ever saw it or not. One of the men at the station killed a deer, a short distance from the creek, and told the boys if they would bring him in the hindquarters they might have the rest. The boys took a toting pole and a couple of bags and went for the deer. After a time they returned, one with the hindquarters balanced with a stone and the other with the forequarters balanced with another stone.
That road passes over another range of mountains south of Grave Creek. Just after passing the top of the ridge the road formerly crossed a little creek that came down from the mountain to the left, and then followed down the left bank of the same for quite a distance. Just below the crossing is a log that holds a secret that never will be told. A young man was found by its side frozen to death in the winter of 1855-6. He had apparently given out and lain down and died. Before doing so he had knocked the cock off his gun and thrown it away, so the gun would be of no use to the Indians if it should be found by them. Who he was, where he came from and whither going, that log might tell. A little further down the creek is a rivulet that is dry in summer but quite a little steam in winter. Where it passes a maple tree it cut quite a hole just below it which made quite a pool of water during the winter months. In the hole, in 1858, were discovered the remains of a white man. From the appearance of his teeth he was supposed to be about thirty years old. His hair was rather long, of reddish hue and very curly. The same mystery surrounds this man as the one by the log. I was told by a party that a young man of that description, riding a black horse and coming from northern California, and on his way to Oregon to buy cattle, had never been heard from after he crossed Rogue River on his way north. The matter was never investigated. The widow Sexton's place was just on the west side of Jump Off Joe Valley. The road crossed that stream at a ford above the present bridge. It was seldom "swimming" but often deep fording. I killed 2 beaver on the flat just below the ford in the winter of '56. They were on an inspecting tour and I caught them too far from the creek to escape.
The road at that time turned to the left and went entirely different than the present road to a point near Grants Pass. Abel George located at the Pass toward Louse Creek. The pioneer owner of the place was in the woods making rails on the day of the "outbreak" and, hearing the shooting at the Harris place, ran through the woods all the way to Grave Creek and thus saved his life. Just through the gap was the home of George W. Harris, who settled there only a short time before, coming from Damascus in Clackamas County. He was at home on the eventful 9th day of October, 1855. The Indians called him to the door and before he could retreat shot him through the breast. He lived only long enough to warn his wife about loading the gun, and that heroic mother and wife defended her home, dead husband and little girl until night. Then she silently stole away, taking her child with her, hid in a dense thicket of willows nearby and waited until relief came next day. The little girl looking through a crack saw an Indian with whom the family were well acquainted and who had always expressed great friendship. Exposing herself and calling the Indian by name, she said "you wouldn't shoot, me, would you?" Before she could dodge, he sent a bullet through her arm. [This sounds like a confabulation with the Jones story.] The little brother, sent on an errand to a neighbors, was never heard of afterward. A neighbor and friend of the family who had accompanied them from the valley, Frank A. Reed, a school teacher, was also killed at his home nearby. The mail carrier and another young man escaped in the following manner: They had just passed, in fact that place was in sight, when they met the Indians. They appeared very glad to see the boys and tried to pull them from their horses. After some consultation among themselves, they allowed the mail man and companion to proceed. They hurried forward by [and] when they approached the Wagoner place, at the crossing of Louse Creek, they saw the house was in flames and a large number of Indians were just starting north along the road. The Indians, seeing the boys, called out for them to come on; the boys, fearful for the worst, hesitated. That hesitation was their salvation. Someone of the band began shooting and soon the bullets were flying too close for comfort. The boys retraced their steps more hurriedly than they had come, and in approaching the Harris house they bore to the right and passed near the foot of the hill, when again they heard the bullets sing. The Indians had discovered their flight and were attempting to cut them off or stop them with leaden messengers. They soon gained the summit of the spur and passed out of range on the other side, this making good their escape, and fortunately were able to warn many settlers and travelers, who huddled together at Grave Creek, prepared to make the best defense possible.
Wagoner was away from home that day. He had gone to escort a lady temperance lecturer to some of the mining camps over in Josephine County. His wife and baby girl and an Indian trusty were there alone. The Indian trusty proved treacherous or was compelled to be so. The Indians were very anxious to secure her as a prisoner and may have done so. A hopeful legend runs: That after securing the house and intimidating any from trying to enter, she arranged herself in her best apparel, and seating herself in the middle of the room with her child in her arms, she sang until her voice was drowned by the crackling flames--her home being her funeral pyre. Another more horrible story is that she and child were prisoners for many months, the child later killed on account of its annoyance and the mother refusing to eat, dying from excessive grief and starvation. [The captivity story is uncorroborated; it may be a confabulation with the Geisel story.]
Just south from Louse Creek was a long, grassy glade through which the road ran toward the summit between Louse Creek and the small stream running through Grants Pass. The Knott and Ladd brothers were on their way to Jacksonville with a stock of goods, conveyed by a pack train and four or five wagons. They were in this glade when attacked and the Indians, having secured the road in front and rear, imagined they had the boys corralled. With due judgment, they cut the packs from the animals and the horses from the wagons, and leaving the oxen to care for themselves, mounted and rode away, but not in the direction the Indians had anticipated. The boys were well acquainted with the country and escaped by way of an old trail not used in recent years. They made their way to Evans Ferry and there joined a small company who had defended the house and themselves from an attack earlier in the day. In the wagons and packs were found, among other things, some liquors with which many of the Indians soon became too demoralized to continue their work and, through this circumstance, in all probability, many settlers escaped. Quite a number were found here early next day by a company of troops from Fort Lane and volunteer citizens and several were killed before they could escape to the nearby brush and mountains. On top of the divide is where young James W. Cartwright and Given were killed. They had a two-horse wagon loaded with apples from the Willamette Valley and were on the road to Jacksonville. Some eight or ten people were killed along the road at "Bloody Run," "Dry Diggings," and the Jones' place, between this summit and Evans Ferry. This was the next post office on the route. Mr. Evans was postmaster. The name of the office was Gold River. I usually crossed Rogue at this ferry. Jewett's ferry was three miles above near the mouth of Evans Creek and the west boundary of the Indian reservation. At this place two packers were killed on the morning of the ninth--the first of that memorable massacre--at the same time that Jewett's house was fired upon from across the river, but no one injured.
Evans' ferry was the old crossing and a favorite camping ground for the Indians who were always on the alert to steal, rob or kill the careless or non-vigilant traveler. These rocks and rivers and hills might reveal the sequel of travelers who never returned. There was no settlement north of the river above Evans' ferry. Birdseye, Dr. Miller and Rosenstock were the chief settlers along the south side up to the W. G. T'Vault place but as he had moved to Jacksonville to publish the Table Rock Sentinel the office was discontinued about the time I went on the road. (Its name was Dardanelles.) J. B. White was making his home at Rosenstock's. He had a mining claim across the river, afterward located a homestead, started a small trading post, and later laid out the town of Rock Point. This is after the reservation was thrown open to settlement and the stage road was changed to that side of the river. The road leaves the river at Dardanelles and runs up a small stream for two or three miles, crosses a low ridge to Willow Springs and then runs along the south slope of a range of oak hills to Jacksonville. A prosperous mining town is located on Jackson Creek in a cove of mountains where the creek leave the hills and enters the valley proper.
All the hillsides and gulches were dotted with miner's cabins and they were securing the precious metal with the "pan," the "cradle," the "Tom" and the "sluice box." Some were even carrying their dirt for some distance before it could be washed. Mr. Cyphers was postmaster, but afterward Mr. Hoffman was appointed to the place. The crowds about the office on mail day were immense and the postmaster, after assorting his mail, usually got upon a goods box and read off the names. If the party was in the crowd, his hand went up and the letter was passed to him. To get to the delivery window each person was compelled to take his turn and a string of men for half a block away was not an uncommon sight. C. C. Beekman had a news stand and carried express to Yreka, 60 miles over the mountains, a business fraught with many dangers. The next office south of here was Phoenix, familiarly called Gassburg, also Camp Stuart. A few years afterward Camp Baker was located a mile south of here on Stuart Creek.
The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, Washington, February 6, 1948. Written sometime after 1882. Transcription and comments by Dale Greenley.
BYARS, HON. W. H., of Salem, was born July 7, 1839, at Des Moines, Iowa, and came to Oregon in 1853. He attended Columbia College, Willamette University and Wilbur Academy, graduating from the latter in 1868. From 1862 to 1865 he was in the Idaho mines, and eighteen months in service in the First Oregon Cavalry. He was elected Superintendent of Schools of Douglas County, and in 1870 County Surveyor. In 1872 he was appointed Deputy United States Surveyor, holding the position twelve years. From 1875 to 1884 he was editor and publisher of the Roseburg Plaindealer. In 1884 he was elected State Printer, and for eighteen months was part owner and editor of the Salem Statesman. In 1888 he was elected City Surveyor of Salem, and in 1890 was appointed United States Surveyor General. He has been continuously a member of conventions.
Republican League Register, Reporter Publishing Co., Portland, 1896, page 187
William H. Byars, who is also a newspaper man, was born in Iowa in 1839, the descendant of a Virginia family. He crossed the Plains to Oregon in the fifties with his mother and stepfather, John Mires, and settled in Douglas County. As a young man he became United States mail carrier on the Oregon-California route and during the Modoc War [sic] had some very narrow escapes from death. He was on the early government surveys through Oregon and Washington and still follows that line of work. His first newspaper was the Roseburg Plaindealer, which he purchased in 1873 and changed to a Republican journal. He was elected state printer in 1882 and while in Salem bought the Daily Statesman, which he conducted for several years. He was one of the founders of the daily and weekly Journal. Besides holding the position of city engineer of Salem, he was for a number of years surveyor general of Oregon with headquarters at Portland. He was afterward appointed commandant of the Soldiers' Home in Roseburg and served in that capacity four years. In the early seventies he was at the head of the Umpqua Academy and also served as superintendent of schools of Douglas County. At present Mr. Byars makes his home in Salem, where he follows his engineering profession. His wife is a native of Kentucky ; her father was born in Massachusetts and mother in Ohio. The family crossed the Plains to Oregon in the early fifties, settling in Douglas County.
"William Fleming Byars," An Illustrated History of Klickitat, Yakima and Kittitas Counties, 1904, page 400
William H. Byars, in the field at age 70
Date Believed Wrong.
SALEM, Or., March 16.--(To the Editor.)--I am convinced that your correspondent at Medford is in error regarding the date of the construction of the Dollarhide Toll Road over the Siskiyou Mountains. The date should be 1858, instead of 1852.
I base this statement on the fact that I was in the mail service from August 1856 to July 1, 1858, and crossed the mountain once a week during all that time. There was no toll road then, but during the month of June 1858 there was a large force of men working on this new road, but it was not open to travel until some time afterward.
General, then Lieutenant, Joe Hooker located the present road through the big canyon in Douglas County the same year. The old road followed the bed of the creek for over a mile through a deep gorge.
W. H. BYARS.
Oregonian, Portland, March 17, 1915, page 8
Pony Express Days High Point of Long Service Life
By RALPH FRIEDMAN
Journal Special Writer
The early days of the pony express [unrelated to the transcontinental Pony Express] in Oregon are recalled in an unpublished manuscript, "Riding the Mail in 1856," which is in the hands of Ray L. Stout, a retired Portland utilities engineer.
Stout, now 83, himself the son of Oregon pioneers, compiled the "memoirs" of his uncle, William H. Byars, from original letters, work notes and travel journeys.
Billy Byars was only 17 when he started carrying the mail--but in the wilderness he was every inch a man. His many experiences on the Oregon Trail in 1853 undoubtedly had taught him priceless self-reliance.
Byars operated out of his "home station," on Calapooya Creek, four miles south of the post office at Oakland, Ore. It was located on a high prairie surrounded by oak-covered hills about three miles north of present Oakland.
The Oakland post office, which occupied one of the two rooms in the house of postmaster Hull Tower, must have been quite an important one. It was the terminus of four mail routes. One went west to Scottsburg and the coast; one north via Yoncalla to Corvallis; one "northerly over the coast fork road to Eugene; and one southerly via Winchester" and Roseburg to Yreka, Calif.
All lines were weekly routes. The postmen traveled on horseback with an additional pack horse when necessary. The mail day was Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. All the mail that came into Oakland was dumped in the middle of the room and then sorted into four main piles, each representing a mail route. Local mail was tossed into a fifth pile.
Each carrier then loaded his take into one or more mailbags, packed the bags on his horse or horses, and took off. The post office was quiet for another week.
Byars had the southerly route, from Oakland to Yreka. It took him six days to cover the 150 miles. Each night he laid over at a post office or settler's house.
There were then 14 post offices on Byars' route: Winchester, Roseburg, Round Prairie, Myrtle Creek, North Canyonville, Galesville, Leland, Gold River, Dardanelles, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Ashland, Henley and Yreka.
More than a quarter of a century would pass before any of the still-existent villages was incorporated. Some have disappeared so completely that not a trace of their physical presence remains. Few of the hamlets were more than rude spots on the trail. Ashland, for example, then called Ashland Mills, consisted of a single mill and a single house. The mill also served as the post office; the house was also a "small wayside stopping place."
In those days, Byars noted in one of his letters, travelers generally carried their own beds; probably he meant sleeping rolls, and all they generally received were meals.
Jacksonville was the largest town--the only community of any significant size. The postmaster, [William] Hoffman, was the father-in-law of the legendary banker C. C. Beekman, who at that time carried express via pack horse from Jacksonville to Yreka.
Byars vividly described the Jacksonville scene of 1856:
"I frequently saw the miners and others citizens lined up for a block waiting for their turn to ask for the mail. Mining was carried on right through the streets of the town."
Jacksonville was wide open. "Everything that was wicked was permitted anywhere in the town where space could be secured. Nearly every man carried a revolver and knife, and it was considered a greater crime to steal a horse than kill a man."
In 1858 a daily stage line was established between Jacksonville and Yreka, and this shortened the mail route.
Byars' route took him across deep and rocky streams and rivers, up and down harsh and slippery hills and mountains, through thickets untouched by blade, across glades stained by blood of both red and white men. Rain was sometimes a constant companion; he ran into snowdrifts and blizzards, and there were nights on the trail as "dark as Egypt."
On the trail he came across angry bears, runaway teams, overturned wagons, corpses fresh and not so fresh, settlers and team masters scalped by outraged Indians.
The times were rife with Indian uprisings in Southern Oregon. Villages were raided, homes sacked, barns burned, stock driven away, homesteaders shot down or impaled by arrows, wagon trains ambushed, and large-scale battles fought. A few miles west of Wolf Creek "the famous battle of Hungry Hill was fought--where the Indians in a two-day battle completely defeated the volunteers and regulars. There were about five hundred whites, but the number of Indians was unknown." [The rediscovered site of the Hungry Hill battle is west of Glendale.]
The houses between North Canyonville and Dardanelles, near present-day Gold Hill, were built as fortresses.
"The house," wrote Byars, giving a specific example, "was surrounded by a stockade, which was constructed by digging a trench four or five feet deep around the house, generally in a square, and then setting timbers 20 or 30 feet long upright so as to make a bulletproof wall and then tamp them solidly with earth, and cutting loopholes through for the purpose of firing on an approaching foe. Generally there were small bastions at each corner with loopholes so that the sides could be protected." The house was within the enclosure.
"In fact," added Byars, "a majority of all the houses in Southern Oregon were so protected."
In 1858 the mail contract was sold to the Oregon & California Stage Company, "who put on a daily stage line and had the mail service increased to a daily line. The Oregon and California Railroad as fast as it was built relieved the stage line and took over the mail route. This was not fully completed until about 1885." [The railroad was completed to Ashland in 1884, and to California in 1887.]
William H. Byers gave up the job of pony express rider in the latter part of 1858 and settled in Roseburg, where for about a year he served as superintendent of schools. Later, he took a post as surveyor general for the government and helped map vast areas of the Pacific Northwest.
For ten summers his nephew, Ray Stout, starting when he was 15, helped Byars on surveys.
After he lay down his survey tools, Byars became commandant of the Soldiers Home at Roseburg, serving in that capacity for about four years.
The 20th century was coming to the close of its second decade when Billy Byars passed away, a distinguished-looking man with a flourishing beard.
In his life span he had seen messages carried by ox team, horse, stagecoach, telegraph, railroad, telephone, motor carrier and airplane. He had mapped more townships and counties in Oregon than anyone else; he had seen cities rise from the seeds of tents and log cabins; he had witnessed trails widen to roads; and he had watched the change from the tallow candle in a lonely hut to tall hotels lighted by electricity.
A rich, varied life--but what he remembered with greatest relish, in his days of summing up with eight decades spread before him, were those two years as a pony express rider, when the country was raw, death made every step a slippery one, and the only important thing in life was getting the mail through.
Oregon Journal, Portland, September 27, 1968
Last revised March 13, 2017