and the Battle of Eight Dollar Mountain.
Fort Hay in the 1930s
FORT OF INDIAN WAR FAME
SURVIVES RAVAGES OF TIME
Structure, Now Used as Farmhouse, Recalls Romantic History
of Southern Oregon Mining Days.
GRANTS PASS, Or., Aug. 16.--Unpainted, but not unsung in the memories of those who recall the thrilling days when Indian fighting was making history, stands old Fort Hay.
Dimmed in the annals of the past, forgotten by residents of southern Oregon, save by those whose sires sacrificed their lives seeking gold in the fir-clad hills, the old place has accepted its place in the quiet countryside. Where once trod the Indian fighter, or lounged the rough miner now echo and re-echo of everyday farm life. The place is no longer known as Fort Hay to those who do not remember its past.
Old Fort Hay is now a farmhouse--not an ordinary kind, for even though its past is buried with the dead of Eight Dollar Mountain, it had carried its brand so clearly that even the most casual observer cannot keep from seeing within the walls of he dim, dingy place something that makes it a part of a distinctive past.
The hand-hewn walls of the old rooms bespeak of a time when highly polished furniture did not fit into the locale of a mining community. Every board in the building was chopped from trees grown within shooting distance of the present site. Not a steel nail can be found in the walls, for when old Fort Hay was built in 1850, there were no nails in southern Oregon. [No steel nails, but there were iron nails.] Anything that came from the "store houses" during those days of early pioneering had to be packed in from Crescent City, 130 miles away.
In the days when the old fort was popular the stages that used to run between Grants Pass and Crescent City used to pull up at the door, sometimes to change horses, more often to allow some weary traveler to get out, that he, too, might join the masses of those who sought gold and adventure in the mist-mazed hills of Josephine County.
Much of the detailed history associated with the building has been lost to the present generation because the old pioneers were too busy with other details to remember all of the stirring things, but there has sifted down the channels of time one tale that touches the imagination of even the cushion-calloused tourists who rush by the historic spot in search of western thrills.
Sissy Hay stood in the gathering gloom of an autumn night and watched the dim trail that was to lead her lover to her. From the dark shadows of the tree canopy stole a silent, gliding form. It was an Indian. There was a short struggle and the lover of Sissy was stretched out in the agonies of death. The shock of what she had seen shifted the life of the girl into a different channel and she was never the same again, so the story told today reveals.
It was the battle of Eight Dollar Mountain brought to the old fort perhaps its most interesting part in southern Oregon history. For it was at this battle that the whites and the Indians sniped from behind the giant pine trees until the redmen are reported to have slipped away without taking their dead with them.
At various times the Indians are reported to have tried to storm the old fort and burn it down, but always there was the steady, well-aimed crack of the pioneer rifle.
Today, like many other old landmarks of this section of the state with a brilliant past, the old fort has sunken to a point of subdued significance.
Thousands of tourists pass through Grants Pass yearly who do not know that the first bank in the West, the first post office, the home of the first American flag, the first bar in Oregon, the first driven well, lie hidden in the green-gray hills.
Sunday Oregonian, Portland, August 17, 1930, page 12
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Hay's Ranch, Green Valley,Dear Sir:--Six trains of mules left here this morning for Jacksonville with an escort of 20 regulars, under command of Sergeant Blase. After crossing Slate Creek, and traveling on about one mile without trouble, we met a party of ten men under command of Sergeant Moore, escorting Mr. and Mrs. Benedict, Mr. Melvin and three others. They had been attacked by the Indians about 300 yards from us. The Indians had fired several shots, no one hurt; one ball passed through Mrs. Benedict's veil, another through Melvin's horse's neck and still another grazed slightly one of [the] troop's horses. The trains then halted, the soldiers dismounted and marched to the place, where again several shots were fired without doing any damage. The Indians being in the brush, there was no other chance for getting at them than by charging through an open space of about one hundred yards. The force was not sufficient to undertake this and at the same time guard the trains. Thus we were obliged to retreat here for safety, and shall probably stay until more troops come. The Indians captured four mules and some baggage, part of which belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Benedict, who were on their way to Crescent City.
January 24th, 1856.
The volunteers are still out in search of the Indians and had passed this very place this morning at 3 o'clock.
Yours,"The Indian War in R.R. Valley," Crescent City Herald, January 30, 1856, page 2
B. F. Blodgett.
Sunday March 23. Whilst preparing to start an escort with pack train to Fort Vannoy, an express came in camp, reporting 2 men killed by Indians on Slate Creek and a large band of Indians making their way to Mr. Hay's house. Lieut. Armstrong, with his command numbering about 50 men, immediately started and on arriving within 300 yards of the house, a heavy fire was opened on all sides by the Indians, who had completely surrounded Mr. Hay's house and numbered near 200 warriors. Orders were immediately given to go through and reach Mr. Hay's house, which was promptly obeyed. On arriving at the house, and finding the family secure, the men immediately returned to the place of their first attack. Discovered 2 men killed (John Davis & Alexander Caldwell), and one man (a packer) severely wounded. The dead men were carried off by six men during a heavy fire from the enemy. Had they done any good shooting, many a life must have been sacrificed. The fight then became general, which lasted until dark, when the Indians, after making a great number of fires, & as we supposed, burning their dead, which must have been five killed, several wounded, drew off. An express was immediately dispatched to Major Bruce, and likewise to the inhabitants of Illinois Valley. Major Bruce, with all the available forces under his command, arrived on the following morning. On Tuesday, while preparing the whole command to march in pursuit of the enemy, an express arrived reporting a pack train robbed by Indians on Deer Creek. 25 men, well armed & mounted, started direct for the place. Major Bruce with the remainder flanking out in different directions, on arriving at a low divide, a heavy crossfire was opened by the enemy, who were lying in ambush. Another engagement commenced. On the first fire 2 of Capt. George's company were killed, and two of Capt. O'Neil's company slightly wounded. The men took their stations, killing 3 Indians, sure. Major James Bruce on the point of outflanking them, they scattered over the whole country, and not having sufficient force to make a successful fight, Major Bruce, with a portion of each company, returned to Illinois Valley to get the families together for their own safety. The remainder of the force returned to Camp Hay. Major Bruce, with men from each company, started today with three pack trains to Fort Vannoy, and to get sufficient provisions, as well as men to make a more successful attack, as the Indians are in great force and will require a strong number to strike anything like a decisive blow.
During the two engagements the following losses occurred--on the engagement of March 23rd:
Charles Abrahams--lost 1 mule killed in action; equipments
Orville Olney--1 horse killed in action; equipments 1 rifle, 1 revolver
John Davis--killed in action, lost 1 rifle
Alexander Caldwell--killed in action, horse severely wounded
Samuel Mooney--horse severely wounded
James Dugdale--1 horse lost in action, equipments: 1 revolver
Samuel Cowell--1 horse killed in action
Capt. Hugh O'Neil--1 mule killed in action
March 25th 1856:
Henry W. Stanton--1 horse killed in action; lost equipments 1 rifle
Ray Geddes--1 horse killed in action
Eli McCoin--1 mule killed in action; equipments
John Driscoll--1 horse killed in action; equipments
William Clements--rifle injured
The men lost considerable in blankets &c.
Henry W. StantonCayuse, Yakima and Rogue River Wars Papers, University of Oregon Special Collections Bx47, Box 1, Folder 63.
Orderly Sergeant Company E
For Capt. Hugh O'Neil
On the morning of March 24th recd. an express from Capt. O'Neil stating that they were surrounded by Indians. Started from Vannoy's about sunrise for Hay's, a distance of 18 miles. We arrived at Hay's about 12 o'clock & found O'Neil's co. there, but the Indians had fled. On arriving at Hay's 12 men were detailed to assist the packers in looking up their animals. 12 men were also detailed out of the different cos. to go to Reeves' to see if the Indians were in that section. On the morning of the 25th recd. news that Evans' train was attacked on the dividing ridge between Deer Creek & Illinois Valley. We immediately started for the place in company with a band of Capts. O'Neil, Abel George, Alcorn, Williams & Wilkinson's cos. & found the Indians on the high mountain to the right of the road & attacked them. March 26th nothing transpired of note. Camped at Reeves' Ranch about 6 miles from Hay's. March 27th. Removed camp 12 miles & a half to Mulkey's Ranch. March 28th marched from Mulkey's to Vannoy's, a distance of 25 miles.
Return of Capt. Miller, Company D, 2nd Regiment O.M.V. March 31, 1856. Silas J. Day Papers, Lilly Library, Indiana University.
War News of the Week--Southern Battalion.
On Sunday the 23rd inst., the Indians attacked five or six men of Capt. O'Neil's company, killing two and wounding two more. The two wounded men, with the other men, succeeded in reaching Hay's, where in a short time one of the wounded men died. The Indians immediately commenced an attack on Hay's house, and great fears were entertained that they would succeed in taking the place, as there were but a few men there. An express was started to Maj. Bruce, at Vannoy's. Dashing through the Indians' fire, the express reached the Major on Sunday night. Immediately Capt. Miller and his company were in their saddles en route for the scene of action. The Indians continuing their attack during the night, just before morning it was thought advisable to send another express, as it was probable the first had been killed. The last express met Capt. Miller within about three miles of Hay's, but when the Captain reached there the Indians had left. No doubt they were warned of his near approach by their vigilant spies. The last express sent out continued on to Maj. Bruce, who early on Monday morning, with Capts. George and Williams and their companies, and a part of Capts. Wilkinson's, Alcorn's and O'Neil's companies, started for the scene of action.
On Tuesday, between Reeves' and Hay's, about two miles from Hay's, the Indians attacked D. Evans' pack train, killing one Spaniard and wounding Evans slightly in two places, and capturing twenty-eight mules with their cargo, in which was 25 lbs. of powder. Mr. Evans' riding mule was shot through the neck, yet he made his escape and reached Hay's, where Maj. Bruce's command was. A charge was immediately ordered, Capt. George taking the road and Maj. Bruce with the remainder taking to the left for the purpose of attacking the Indians, as was supposed, in the rear.
The number of Indians was not known, but supposed to be from two to three hundred, who occupied the rocks and brush on each side of the road on the hillside for some distance, their line crossing the road near the summit of the divide between Illinois and Deer Creek. Their position was circular, or near the shape of a horseshoe. Capt. George's company advanced, keeping the road until near the summit, when a deadly fire was poured in from the hillsides, killing two of Capt. George's and one of Capt. Williams' company. The position of the enemy was so protected that it was out of the question to get our rifles to bear upon them. The horses, which were left a short distance in the rear without a horse guard, were surrounded by the Indians and forty of them captured, together with saddles, bridles &c. It was not known how many Indians were killed. Six are reported to have been killed at Hay's.
Table Rock Sentinel, Jacksonville, March 29, 1856, page 2
Gen. John K. Lamerick writes to Gov. Curry from Fort Leland, on March 31, as follows:
On the 22nd March I gave orders to Major Bruce to move with his command to Illinois Valley to scour that part of the country, and, if possible, to find Old John's band of Indians. Bruce immediately repaired to the headquarters of the Southern Battalion, and gave the necessary orders for a march. His men moved on the 23rd inst. As they were about starting, news came into camp of John's band being on the trail to Crescent City, and had that day killed three men, and that they were then attacking the house of a Mr. Hay. Capt. O'Neil's company hastened to the assistance of Mr. Hay, and, in getting there, had to run through the whole of the enemy's line, some 200 strong. As soon as Bruce came up the Indians retreated to the mountains. Major Bruce, with his command, assisted the families in that section in putting themselves in a condition to protect themselves. In the meantime the enemy were endeavoring to kill all the mules and horses they could find, on their retreat. Major Bruce pursued the Indians some five miles, fighting all the way. Three of his men were killed, and some ten or twelve Indians were killed. Night coming on, the men drew off, the enemy still retreating toward the Meadows.
"The War in Southern Oregon," New York Daily Tribune, May 17, 1856, page 6
In the attack on Sunday, near Hay's, three white men were killed and a number of animals taken, which the evening being far advanced, had already been unloaded by the packers and turned out. The number of Indians, as near as could be ascertained by the assailed parties in Hay's house, was at least 150. It is supposed that six Indians were killed.
"Late from the Interior," Crescent City Herald, April 2, 1856, page 2
Col. Kelsey arrived at Grave Creek about midnight of the 24th from Vannoy's, and was ordered on to the assistance of Major Latshaw on Cow Creek. It was thought by Kelsey that O'Neil's company had lost all their horses by going on to the assistance of Mr. Hay, when his house was attacked by Tyee John. He moved his men on foot and did not leave enough to keep off the Indians from his camp.
"The Indian War South," Weekly Oregonian, April 5, 1856, page 2
Camp ApplegateLt. Keeler
April 13th 1856
You will be in charge of the fort at Camp Hay and Fort Briggs and all the forces in that district of country. You will receive the roll of minute men if raised and when actually necessary for service you will call upon the officers in command of said company by command of the forces there, I mean the military of course. I want you to so arrange the families & people [so] as to require the least possible number of volunteers. You will be expected to report weekly of the state of things in Illinois Valley. We expect to be off tomorrow. You will procure some minute men to escort Mr. Taylor with some mules for government and have him escorted out.
YoursOregon State Archives, Yakima and Rogue River War, Document File B, Reel 2, Document 640.
W. W. Chapman
Lt. Col. 2nd Regt. O.M.V.
Jacksonville O.T.E. M. Barnum
June 26th 1856
Enclosed you will find the muster roll of the Illinois Valley or Josephine County minute comp. and likewise the order which caused the raising of the comp. at the time of the troops going down the river left this part of the country very much exposed, not only the families but a great amount of pack trains assembled in the valley from Crescent City loaded with provision and ammunition and which could not be safe in traveling or lying at a post as there was but few troops in the valley. Ten at Fort Hay and five at Fort Briggs constituted the forces in Illinois Valley, therefore it became necessary to protect the families and property of those trains and keep them from falling into the hands of Old John and his band of desperadoes. The minute comp. was energetic and industrious all the time of their service, and they performed good service in escorting trains and hunting the Indians.
Therefore I hope this comp. will meet your approval and you allow them the same the others draw that perform the same service. If there is any further explanation necessary in regard to the aforesaid comp. you will please call on Col. Kelsey who had the comp. under his immediate command and can give all the particulars pertaining to the comp. &c.
I remain your most ob. servantOregon State Archives, Yakima and Rogue River War, Document File B, Reel 2, Document 641.
G. W. Keeler
2nd Lt. Comp. 8 2nd
Fort Hay O.T.E. M. Barnum
June 15th 1856
Adjt. Gen. O.T.
Dear sir we the undersigned would respectfully call your attention to the defenseless condition of Illinois Valley and the many destitute families which are now living in dread and fear as there are no longer any doubts of hostile Indians prowling around in the vicinity of which no doubt you have been informed of before this can reach you of their acts which has already been committed. We therefore hope you will order the raising of a comp. in this vicinity for the protection of the valley which is now left entirely destitute of forces of either volunteers or regulars and we further hope you will take the condition of affairs into immediate consideration and give the necessary protection at the earliest period possible. We all remain your most obedient friends. and servants.
G. W. Keeler Lieut. of
2nd Regt. O.M.B.Oregon State Archives, Yakima and Rogue River War, Document File B, Reel 2, Document 638.
and Commanding Illinois V.
Ander W. Wylona
G. L. Hay
Stephen H. Ball
T. J. Richardson
A. P. Turner
C. R. Haverford
Francis. S. Sebastian
W. J. Hay
John F. Qualey
Wm. B. Hay
In the midst of these troublous times Forts Briggs and Hayes [sic] were built, the latter being situated between Deer and Slate creeks, the former on Sucker Creek. These were fortified farm houses, in which the surrounding settlers took refuge, and garrisons were maintained in each of them during the later Indian war. Fort Hay is on the Thornton place, nine miles north of Kerbyville. The Indians besieged it for a short time, but ineffectually. At the time of the battle of Eight-Dollar Mountain the troops rendezvoused there. The Hayes family who resided at the station gave name to it.
Eight-Dollar Mountain, the scene of an important but indecisive battle with the Indians in the early months of 1856, stands at the south side of Deer Creek and in the angle formed by that stream and the Illinois. It is perhaps 3,000 feet in elevation above tidewater. A road passes over it which has been in use since the earliest years by travelers between the Illinois and Rogue river valleys. The mountain derives its name, it is said, from the price of a pair of boots which someone wore out in a single day's tramp over its rough surface. Who the wearer was is differently stated, but is of no consequence. The eminence is in the pine region, and good timber of that sort is abundant.
A. G. Walling, History of Southern Oregon, 1884, page 452
. . . the Illinois Indians, previously at the Indian encampment at the Meadows on Rogue River, had become tired of the monotony of life sufficiently to induce them to make trips to their old hunting grounds in search of plunder and excitement. On the twelfth of February they killed John Guess in his field on Deer Creek, leaving him dead in the furrow. On the morning of March 24, news came to Vannoy's that the enemy had ambushed and killed two travelers, Wright, Vannoy's partner, and Private Olney, of O'Neil's company, who were encamped at the foot of Eight-Dollar Mountain, and that the attacking party had at a later hour met another party consisting of five men, and mortally wounded John Davis. Orders were at once went by Major Bruce to the various companies of his battalion to repair instantly to Fort Vannoy. Captain Hugh O'Neil, who with his company was nearest to the scene of action, had immediately set out for Hay's ranch, or Fort Hay, as it was called. Hoping to reach there before the Indians could do so, as that post had but few defenders. A sharp skirmish ensued when within a few hundred yards of the post, and Private Caldwell was mortally wounded and some pack mules loaded with provisions etc. were taken by the Indians, who besieged the fort after the volunteers had taken refuge within it. The enemy abandoned the ground during the night, and returning along the road southward met and attacked Evans' pack train which was coming from Crescent City. They killed a Mexican packer and wounded "Big Dave." Evans escaped to Reeves' farm, but the mules and packs were all captured by the marauders, who gained a large amount of ammunition by the capture. On receiving the news of this late attack, Lieutenant Colonel W. W. Chapman (recently elected to that office) ordered Major Bruce to attack the enemy with all his available force. There were perhaps 125 men who proceeded under the major's orders to the scene of Evans' misfortune. The foremost of these engaged the enemy while yet the remainder were dismounting. All horses were left at the foot of the hill, which it was necessary to ascend to find the enemy; and a long line of battle, reaching several hundred yards along the side of the mountain, was formed and the troops advanced up the rise. Private Collins led the way up but was shot dead when near the top, falling in the road. John McCarty was also shot, dying soon after, and Private Phillips was mortally wounded. Abel George's men dismounted and, tying their horses to a fence, started uphill on the side next Deer Creek, intending to outflank the Indians, while Captain M. M. Williams engaged them in front, assisted by members of Alcorn, Rice's (Miller's) and other companies. Major Bruce with about fifty men kept along the road to the place where Collins fell. The battle was now a lively one; the rattle of rifles and revolvers was almost continuous, and frequent attempts were made by each party to charge the other. All sought cover, and there was little chance for life for the man who neglected thus to protect himself. At this interesting juncture a shout was raised that the Indians were making off with the horses, left at the foot of the hill. A number of the savages, spying the condition of affairs, ran hastily to the spot and mounting some and leading others, escaped with some fifteen of the animals belonging to Abel George's Yreka company.
The most of the fighting for a time was done by M. M. Williams and about a score of his bravest men, who stood their ground valiantly and only retreated when the Indians had nearly or quite surrounded them. Alcorn's men and others fought well also, but the general applause was marred by the conduct of a great many who either ran away during the fight, or else could not be brought into it at all. Over 200 men were within sound of the firing, but not one-half that number took any part in the fight, and probably not over fifty engaged in it with energy and resolution. A hundred or more of the readiest fighters ever known among the Indians of this continent held with determination the hill and the thick woods and successfully barred the way. Against this force the volunteers effected nothing. Shortly they began to retire, and gaining the base of the hill, they mounted and returned to Fort Hay, hardly yet sensible of a defeat. The Indians withdrew in their characteristic manner, and hostilities for the time were over.
Lieutenant Colonel Chapman now established a permanent camp at Fort Hay, making it the headquarters of the companies of Alcorn, George, O'Neil, Wilkinson and Williams, and of himself, Major Bruce and Regimental Surgeon Douthitt.
David D. Fagan, History of Benton County, Oregon, 1885, page 264
On March 24th  Captain O'Neil, with a company, was besieged in Fort Hay. In the morning the Indians retired southward, pursued by Major Bruce. The enemy established themselves on a hill; the troops dismounted to dislodge them, and while they were so engaged a party of Indians stampeded a number of the horses. Some of the troops fought well, but many ran away, and more failed to enter the engagement at all. Finally they all retreated to Fort Hay, leaving the enemy masters of the field.
Julian Hawthorne, The Story of Oregon: A History, with Portraits and Biographies, vol. 2, 1892, page 176
Another Pioneer Gone.A Boise City (Idaho) dispatch of the 14th days: "All old-time miners will remember George H. Ish, who died here today, aged 78 years. He came to California from Virginia in 1849, and along in the fifties removed to Jacksonville, Or., near where in 1860 he discovered what was known as the great Ish lead. He found a big deposit of gold-bearing quartz and after taking out thousands of dollars worth of precious metal formed a stock company for the purpose of working the mine. The company put up a fine quartz mill, Ish spending all he had. The company never realized enough to pay for the mill, for the lead was not a mine at all, but merely a pocket. Ish was disappointed, and he left Oregon for Idaho. He went into the butchering business, then started a dairy and died quite wealthy."
There is one discrepancy in the above statement, where it refers to the quartz discovery on Gold Hill. Jimmy Hay [James Willis Hay], and not Mr. Ish, found that immensely rich pocket, although Mr. Ish was one of the number who afterward became owners of it.
Democratic Times, January 22, 1892, page 3
Southern Oregon Mining Notes.
A few days ago J. Willis Hay of Gold Hill sold to Robert Spencer and associates of Boston his holdings at the head of Sams Creek. The claims run a very good assay of cinnabar, and were traced very definitely by Mr. Hay.
The discovery of tungsten mines about one and one-half miles east of Sterling mines by Mr. and Mrs. Steven Kromitz has been announced. They also located a 12-foot ledge of galena ore that holds gold, silver, nickel, zinc and lead. Mrs. Kromitz was formerly Mrs. Crews-Carlson of Texas. The couple expect to open up their mines on the Missouri Gulch just as soon as they find a company with money enough to handle their tungsten prospect.
Gold Hill News. Last week Joe Beeman reported the sale of a bunch of quicksilver claims known as the "73" group, located near the head of Sams Creek. The discovery was made by "Bill" Hay, one of the oldest miners in this section. R. H. Spencer and associates are the new owners and have taken charge and are working the property. The claims run a very good assay of cinnabar and will no doubt add quite a little to the mineral wealth of this section.
Ashland Tidings, August 28, 1916, page 6
The ANDERSON STAGE STATION, 18.6 m. [from the intersection with Hwy. 99 on Hwy. 199], on the banks of Clear Creek, was known also as Fort Hay for the Hay family that lived here. It stands on what is now the Smith Ranch and was built in 1852 as a tavern and stage station. During the Rogue River Indian Wars of 1855-56 it was a refuge. One of the bloodiest battles of the wars was fought there on March 24, 1856. A group of volunteer soldiers and miners besieged by Indians succeeded in repelling them after an all-night battle. There were several casualties, but the number is not of record.
Federal Writers Project, Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940, page 359
A MIX OF SHREWDNESS AND NERVE
By the time Bill Hay was eighteen, he'd taken a crack at all the frontier had to offer; then, encouraged by living through it, Bill did it all over again!
By LEE DUFUR
When James Willis (Bill) Hay died in 1926, at the age of eighty-four, Ben Hur Lampman, poet laureate of Oregon, wrote his obituary. He titled the eulogy "Bill Hay Takes a Big Share of Oregon Past to Grave." In prose that reads like poetry Mr. Lampman paralleled the life of Bill Hay and Oregon Territory--for the man and the land had been young and wild together, and each had an effect on the other.
Bill Hay came to Oregon as an emigrant. He was acquainted with and later fought the ferocious Rogue Indians when he was fourteen years of age. He worked on the first wagon road over the almost impassable mountains from Crescent City, California to the inland valleys of Southern Oregon. Later he was blacksmith for the stagecoach lines, and rode with the stages from stop to stop to shoe the horses.
With a friend Bill discovered the Gold Hill Pocket, one of the richest gold mines in Southern Oregon. He later managed a warehouse for the Southern Pacific railroad when stagecoaches were no longer used. He farmed and mined intermittently, and in his last years he fished the Rogue River with a pole he had made from old stage whips.
Bill Hay showed a different personality to almost everyone. He was called taciturn by some, loquacious by others. One man has said that he was so crooked his "feet wouldn't track." Others have said Bill was so honest that he was careful to the point of boredom in trying to recall an incident exactly as it happened. At any rate, when Bill sat with his cronies in the saloon retelling the old stories and after he was too old to match friends drink for drink, he pretended to drink, letting his whiskey run into his beard and wringing it out into the spittoon.
Ben Hur Lampman knew Bill well and described him in those last years as "a silent man, for the most part, whose silences had the dual quality of friendship and raillery, and who made speech with a piercing glance of his singularly keen eyes. By way of comment, such a glance from Old Bill Hay was customarily final and left nothing to be said, whether the matter concerned local politics or an extraordinary rough contest with a big trout, or the windy reminiscence of some fellow ancient."
BILL HAY became a part of Oregon Territory in 1854, when he was twelve years old and almost five years before Oregon became a state. "He saw those interminable, dusty, splendid miles with the eyes of boyhood," Lampman said. What he didn't say was that Bill--then known as Willie--walked almost the whole of those "dusty splendid miles" all the way from Kentucky, a distance of nearly 2,000 miles, in five months. And a good part of that way he walked behind 5,000 sheep. The owner of the sheep also had 400 head of cattle which he was driving to California.
Bill's family had started west in a train of twenty wagons drawn by oxen. The sheep owner made arrangements with the train members to help him with his animals, for which aid he promised that he would lead them through good grazing land, and see that they had no trouble with Indians. The grownups in the wagon train voted to accept the deal. They had several youngsters who would make good herders.
Bill, being eleven, was old enough for herding but not for voting. So herd he did. When he was a bent old man, Bill Hay had no trouble recalling those panting, bleating, smelly sheep. In an interview in his seventies, he told about that journey west. "We didn't go by the regular emigrant road, though we often crossed it. For the most part we were five or ten miles to one side of the road, and while it was rougher traveling, there was good pasture and lots of wood and water." Bill did not remember this crossing as a trial or hardship, but one of excitement and high adventure--except for the sheep.
When the Hay family settled on their donation land claim in Southern Oregon, that area of the Territory was isolated from the rest of the world. In any direction to get in or out, one had to cross mountains of such ruggedness that proper road building was beyond the means of people living there. Staples had to be hauled from Oregon City that first year, a distance of near 300 miles over a road that a wagon could barely traverse. Other supplies were packed in by mule from Scottsburg, over 100 miles away.
Bill liked to tell of the resourcefulness of his father. In 1855 Bill accompanied him to Scottsburg to get provisions. When the ship came in from San Francisco, there was a general rush for the precious staples aboard. Bill's father was lucky and bought 100 pounds of potatoes at eight cents per pound. He then cut all the eyes from the potatoes, carefully stored the eyes on the mule's back, and went into the hotel and sold the potatoes--minus eyes--for what he had paid for them. Bill said they planted the eyes the next spring and had a fine crop of potatoes.
Bill's father was provident in many ways. Within ten days from the time he took his donation land claim, a snug log cabin with a stick-and-mud chimney was ready for occupancy. The family arrived in late autumn, and it was necessary to house the father and mother, one daughter of sixteen, twin sons eighteen, and young Bill, who had had his twelfth birthday on the trail. Oregon's winter rains were soon upon them, but a good sturdy roof was over their heads.
During the remainder of 1854 and most of 1855, Bill was kept busy with chopping down trees to enlarge the house and getting fences built for the cattle. He also heard spine-jarring stories of the atrocities of the Rogue River Indians of the area, and he became acquainted with some of the Indians who were willing to try to live in peace with the new settlers and miners.
Bill spent as much time as possible listening to Mike Bushey, a scout for the volunteer soldiers in the area. Considering his age, it does not seem possible that Bill did much fighting, but he did say in an interview in the 1920s, "I served as a scout in the Rogue River War in 1855-56. I served under Mike Bushey. He was one of the best scouts that ever followed an Indian trail. He was tall and strong and had long black hair. When he wanted to get information, he would let his hair down . . . put a blanket over his shoulders, put on his moccasins and walk through the camp. . . .
"After an attack Indians would scatter to the top of some butte. For miles around the Indians that had scattered like a covey of quail would begin signaling to one another. The way they did it was for an Indian to set fire to a handful of pine needles to make a smudge, and then stamp it out with his moccasin. We would see the puffs of smoke gather closer and closer till pretty soon the Indians had reassembled. I learned scouting from Bushey, and I was considered a good scout."
THE INDIANS became more and more troublesome during the fall of 1855, and there were many reprehensible acts on both sides. It was agreed among most of the settlers that the Rogues would have to be eradicated or put on reservations. By January 1856 almost all the homes in the area were either forted up or the occupants had moved into the homes of their neighbors who were forted up. Fear ran abroad in the valleys of Southern Oregon, and Bill Hay's family home became a fort. It was named Fort Hay. His father and one of his brothers are listed on the muster rolls of the volunteers of 1855 and 1856.
One incident is recorded in which Bill Hay did engage in a battle--or rout. One day in March 1856, Bill was coming home on the narrow trail from Long's Crossing. There were five men with him. One was the owner of the ferry at the crossing and some were volunteer soldiers. They were all riding to Fort Hay. Suddenly Bill announced that he "smelled Indians." Even as he spoke, Indians began to appear from behind every tree, shooting as they came. The survivors later reported that there were about 200 of them. Whatever the number, there were too many to fight, and the small party of white men made a sudden lunge forward--toward the fort and protection. Before they could get away, a volunteer's horse was shot from under him. Bill and Elias Wright turned back to help him. The report given by a man who was present states dramatically, "Willie Hay, only fourteen years of age, turned back with Wright and they both rode toward him, right into the blaze and smoke of the hostile guns."
Wright was shot to death, and his body [later] badly mutilated. Olney, the volunteer soldier, got away by running, kicking off his spurs as he ran, and by finally getting into a creek and lying under water, for many hours, with only his nose out to the air. Bill and three other men escaped, and with yelling Rogue Indians in full pursuit, they went for Fort Hay as fast as their horses could take them.
When Bill talked about the incident later it was in a matter-of-fact manner. "I just got out of there when I saw I couldn't help. When Olney's horse was shot, its blood squirted all over my horse and I thought I was shot. When I thought Olney was safe on Wright's horse I took off across country. I didn't need to whip my horse. He went over a log that was six feet high. He just climbed it and I hung on."
A guard of the volunteers was stationed at the fort. As soon as the fleeing men turned in at the gate of the little stockade, couriers were sent out for help to an encampment of soldiers on Eight Dollar Mountain. Five men were sent out to recover Wright's body--and as they then thought, that of Olney. One of the volunteers was killed. It was a very bad night along the trail to Fort Hay that night. Mule trains were waylaid, and at least one driver was killed. The Indians promptly dumped all the flour on the ground and drank the whiskey.
The long night finally ended and the Indians stole away, but it was remembered by the men of the vicinity that Bill Hay was never called "Willie" after that night. Afterwards Mike Bushey, who was then a captain int he volunteers, went up and down the creeks and rivers of Southern Oregon and all the way down the Rogue River to the coast, scouting for the white settlers. Perhaps Bill Hay was with him.
WHEN the Indian wars were over that spring, Bill's father again enlarged his home and opened a store to supply the miners. He had rooms for the convenience of mule trains coming through. Bill worked in his father's blacksmith shop and store and helped with the cattle on the ranch. In 1857 his twin brothers went to British Columbia , as there were reports of rich gold strikes on the Fraser River. Bill had to stay home to help his father farm.
There was still no adequate road system. Crescent City, California was just over the mountains, on the coast, but the grades were so steep that wagons could not get through. Surveys, authorized to try to find a suitable place for a wagon road, had all been unsuccessful; either the surveyors had become lost or they had been attacked by Indians. One group even scouted the wrong river.
There was a mule train route from the coast to Jacksonville, then the main town in Southern Oregon. Bill watched the pack trains carry all kinds of supplies--even pool tables and pianos were brought along, slung between mules. There were also mule passenger trains.
Crescent City citizens helped in trying to promote a wagon road to the interior. Such a road would increase the town's chances of becoming a major seaport.
Materials brought over the passes by mule train were very expensive at the end of the line. Butter which sold for 50¢ per pound in Crescent City cost $1.50 inland. Salt could be purchased in San Francisco, shipped to Crescent City and sold there for 15¢ per pound, but by the time it was packed into the valley where Bill Hay lived it cost from $2.00 to $3.00. Onions increased in price from 25¢ to $2.00 per pound over the fifty-five-mile trip, and tobacco went from 50¢ on the coast to $5.00 inland. Also, when the weather was bad and teamsters couldn't get enough mules through to bring all the supplies, whiskey and salt had priority and other staples were omitted.
Eventually, however, the wagon road was surveyed and during its construction Bill Hay was one of the workers. Sixty years later he talked about his part in this effort. "In 1858 they built a wagon road from Waldo to Crescent City. One hundred miles of grade and some deep cuts cost $100,000, which was an average of $1,000 a mile. . . . On one section of the road where I was working they struck a swamp in the redwood timber. The man in charge of the road building decided they would have to cut a road through the heavy redwood trees. If you have ever been in redwood timber you know that lots of these trees are six to twelve feet through.
"I said, 'If I were building this road I'd go right across the swamp instead of making a detour around it and having to cut those heavy redwood trees.' I was only sixteen years old, and the road supervisor laughed and said, 'You are pretty young for a road engineer, aren't you? How would you build this road?' I told him that on our place I had built a road across a swamp by putting heavy bark across it in the form of corduroy, and that you could drive a four-horse team over it.
"He had the men gather heavy redwood bark and pave the swamp with the bark. They laid it two layers deep, and for years it was the best piece of road between Waldo and Crescent City."
MINING was one of the main occupations of Southern Oregon from the time of its initial settlement. Thousands came into the country, moving from creek bed to creek bed looking for gold. Dozens of rough mining towns were located in the Rogue River Valley and along the Applegate and Illinois rivers. But from the time Bill Hay was a youngster he had more interest in animals, blacksmithing, business and farming than in mining. For a time he made his living by furnishing miners with supplies, services and advice; and he was well aware of their problems, their mining methods, and he even prospected some.
Bill Hay participated, if unwillingly, in the discovery of the Gold Hill Pocket. The story of the discovery is unusual. In the early part of January 1860, when Bill Hay was seventeen years old, he was working on a farm for a man named Thomas Chavner. This farm was in the area where the town of Gold Hill now stands. Bill had a friend whose name was purposely lost because at the time he was wanted by the law. They were riding along on Chavner's farm when the friend got off his horse to examine a piece of quartz. While he was so occupied, his horse ran away. He put the piece of quartz in his pocket.
The boys recovered the horse, and Bill went back to his plowing. When his friend reached Jacksonville that night he was arrested and thrown in jail. He gave the piece of quartz to George Ish to have it assayed. He also explained where had found it. As soon as Ish examined it he knew that here was a bonanza. Ish showed the quartz to Jack Long and John Miller, saloon owners at nearby Willow Springs. Subsequently, Long and Miller took turns keeping the saloon open and, with Ish, searching for the ledge of gold. Long and Miller knew an English emigrant, who also seems to not have a name. For $3 he agreed to help.
They went into the search area day after day, while a young man nearby continued to plow a field. No doubt he had the look of raillery in his eye that Mr. Lampman described so many years later. At last the disappointed seekers approached Bill at his plowing and asked if he had seen two men chasing a horse. He admitted that he was one of those men, but he couldn't leave his plowing. Another $3 got him to change hs mind, and he showed them the place where his friend had found the piece of quartz.
When Mr. Chavner had been notified and the claim staked out, Bill Hay claimed a share for himself and a share for his friend in jail. After it was finally settled there seemed to be seven partners. But Bill, not being interested in mining, or perhaps not having the capital to help develop the mine, sold his part to the other partners for $5,000.
The prospect of a new gold strike brought people from far and near. An interesting little letter was sent to the Daily Alta California newspaper and printed February 26, 1860. The writer dated his letter February 14 and mailed it from Jacksonville, signing it "On the Wing."
The letter contained this paragraph: "But the most simultaneous get-up-and-bundle-out-to-diggin's we ever saw was the rush to Gold Hill the other day. At midnight every stable in town was empty; everything that had wheels had a full freight. Saturday morning, January 14, Gold Hill looked like an overgrown camp meeting; horses were hitched to trees all around the glittering garden of gold. Like turkeys picking up corn did they pick up rocks loaded with gold. . . . Next Sunday, the census of the county could have been taken without much trouble, as everybody was at Gold Hill."
IT IS a safe bet that at least by the time this letter was in print, Bill Hay was over on the Applegate River with his $5,000 in his pocket, looking for a farm to buy.
He later sold that farm and moved to Rock Point. A stage line had begun running between Portland and Sacramento. It was highly advertised and was the first "almost sure" way to get through safely, and it stopped at Rock Point. In line with his following what was happening in Oregon, Bill built a blacksmith shop there and was soon offered the job of shoeing horses for the stage line. He leased his blacksmith shop and started out.
Lampman reported the interlude in this way: "At Rock Point the stages halted with a grinding of brakes and flourish of ribbons for such repairs as might be needed, for a nail in a shoe, a new fitting, and for the stretching of legs. There it was that Bill Hay became a blacksmith for the stage company, and the crony of the lean young valiants who drove. And there it was that he remained in a shower of sparks until the railroad went through and new chapter opened."
Bill told the same story in his less dramatic way. "I practically had to shoe the horses on the go--not while the horses were going, but I had to travel from Roseburg to the other side of the Siskiyous, making every stage station and shoeing the horses. . . . I worked for the stage company until , when the Southern Pacific railroad came through and put us out of business."
Again as Oregon moved into a new era of growth, so did Bill Hay. After the railroad replaced the stage, Bill moved to Central Point and ran a warehouse for the Southern Pacific as a sideline to his blacksmith shop. For ten years he shod horses and made tools for the rapidly increasing farms. He also sold agricultural implements, ran a livery stable, and a dance hall above it. Most of these endeavors were going on simultaneously.
Oregon was diversifying faster than Bill could, though. He said of this time, "I tried to get four hours sleep a day, but I didn't always make it!"
At last he sold all his interest except the franchise for selling agricultural implements. It is said that he went bankrupt, but he never mentioned this in later interviews. In the early 1900s he moved to Gold Hill, the town named for that famous Gold Hill Pocket. Here he started another blacksmith shop and worked for another ten years or more, leaving relatives to operate a ranch he owned nearby.
Then Bill retired to enjoy his fishing and meeting companions in the "Smoke House," a saloon belonging to his son. Bill Hay learned, long before the tourists did, that Oregon was a supreme place for retirement and that the Rogue River was particularly good for salmon and steelhead. A good description of his hobby is described in the final tribute Lampman paid him.
"Old Bill had a fly rod in which there was magic and he made the rod himself, for craftsmanship dwelt in those aged hands. This rod was contrived of sections of historic stage whips, once flourished by celebrated drivers. It was of hickory and very heavy. . . . It was ponderously pliable, if such a phrase may fit, and in the hands of Old Bill it could and did wing a gray hackle far and away over the Rogue, to such haunts as steelheads prefer.
"I do not recall that anybody ever saw him at his fishing or knew for a certainty which riffle was his. Yet presently Old Bill Hay would be coming up from the Rogue and at his shoulder would shine the silver flank of a fat fish or two, and in his eyes for all whom he met would be that light of raillery. He had opened the season. . . ..
"I have but to reflect for a moment, a mere matter of memory, to see Bill Hay coming from across the tracks, where he had a cottage near the river--a powerful, rather dark-visaged old fellow, with a blacksmith's stoop to his heavy shoulders, and a very human twinkle in his eye. He was bearded like a bard, or rather he was bearded as were those characters of the old mining camps, the old trails, who have residence now only in the pages of Bret Harte and in towns such as Gold Hill."
When Bill died he was buried in Hay's Cemetery where he had already buried some of his family, a cemetery which is a part of the last ranch he owned. This ranch has long since been split by a freeway and divided into many home sites along the river. The cemetery itself is on a hill overlooking the town of Gold Hill and in plain sight of the abandoned Gold Hill Pocket.
True West magazine, July-August 1975, pages 32-52
Last revised April 14, 2017