Imagining the scene at the Harris cabin, from Reminiscences of an Old Timer, 1889
At almost 8 or 9 o'clock of the morning of the 9th of October, 1855, as her husband was engaged in making shingles near the house and she was washing at the back of the house, he suddenly entered with the axe in his hand much alarmed, the house being surrounded by Indians, whose countenances and manner indicated that their intentions were not good. He seized his rifle, but in endeavoring to close the door was fired upon by them, the ball taking effect as before stated. Mechanically he discharged the gun twice at them, as she believes with no effect, and passing across the room fell upon the floor. The daughter in the excitement of the moment rushed out the front door, where she was shot through the right arm between the shoulder and elbow. The husband, reviving, encouraged his wife to bar the doors and load the guns of which there were a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols and revolver and holster pistol. She replied that she never loaded a gun in her life. He then proposed to give them presents to induce them to leave; she replied it would not answer, upon which he instructed her in the manner of loading the guns, and shortly after expired. She now was left entirely dependent upon her own efforts--her husband dead--her daughter severely wounded. Not discouraged, she commenced a vigorous discharge upon the savages, who were endeavoring to fire the house, having already burned the outbuildings. She then continued to defend herself and daughter, she watching at one end of the house and the child at the other, for eight hours, and until about sundown, when the savages, being attracted by a firing on the flats about a mile below the house, left to discover from whence it proceeded. She embraced the opportunity and fled to a small, isolated thicket or chaparral near the house, taking with them only the holster pistol. Having barely secreted themselves before the Indians again approached the house, but finding it abandoned, they commenced scouring the thicket, about 18 in number, all armed with rifles. Upon their close approach she discharged the pistol, which produced a general stampede. This was repeated several times and always with the same result until finally surrounding the thicket they remained till daylight. Her ammunition was now exhausted. She heard the approach of horsemen, at which the Indians became alarmed and concealed themselves in the rear of the thicket. She, discovering the horsemen to be whites, rushed out towards them, but they had advanced so far beyond that they did not discover her. They were the advance of the volunteers. Concealing herself again with the empty pistol in hand, the main body soon approached, when the savages precipitously fled.
Mrs. Harris having sent her little son, 10 years of age, to a neighboring house the evening previous, has not since heard from him, but he is supposed to be murdered. Also Frank Reed, the partner of Mr. Harris, is supposed to have been killed.
This party of Indians escaped to the mountains. The company proceeded as far as Grave Creek, where all was quiet, and it was deemed unnecessary to remain, and they accordingly returned this morning, both men and animals completely exhausted.
J. G. Woods, "Rogue River Correspondence of the Statesman," Oregon Statesman, Salem, October 20, 1855, page 4
On proceeding to the house of Mr. Harris, twenty-four hours after the attack, the owner was found dead, and a party of Indians surrounding a thicket of brushwood. The Indians immediately fled, when from the thicket, to the joyful surprise of all present, emerged Mrs. Harris bearing in her arms her wounded child. It seems that Mr. Harris was killed at the outset by an Umpqua Indian. Before dying, however, he showed his wife the manner in which to load the rifle, she being wholly unskilled in the use of firearms. With this and a revolver she kept possession of the house for twelve hours. Her little girl, though seriously wounded, kept a constant lookout through the apertures of the ceiling, and reported to her mother from time to time of the near approach of the enemy. Night coming on they retreated to the thicket, destitute of bullets, yet notwithstanding they kept up an incessant fire with powder alone, up to the moment of her rescue.
Thus did this heroic woman keep at bay twenty-five or thirty bloodthirsty Indians for the space of twenty-four hours, and that too without a morsel of food or even a drop of water.
Weekly Oregonian, Portland, October 27, 1855, page 3
Organized a scouting party of fourteen, and started south. . . . searched for Harris' little boy (in my last [letter] I stated that Haines' boy was seen running through a field towards the woods--it was Harris' boy); could not find anything that could give us any clue of him. Passed on to Harris'; the floor and casing of the door were bedaubed with blood; Mr. Harris' pants were hanging against the wall, completely covered with clotted blood. The Indians attacked Harris' house on Tuesday morning, Oct. 9; Mr. H. was shot directly at his back door; as he was falling, Mrs. H. caught him and pulled him into the house and barred the door. A girl of Mr. H., fourteen years of age, was shot in the arm by a pet Indian who had been living about Turner's, called Umpqua Jack. There is two bullet holes in the door where Harris was shot. Mrs. H. and the little girl defended the house all day, and at night hid themselves in the bushes; they were taken to Jacksonville by the soldiers. Mr. H.'s old house, in which was a quantity of grain, was burned down.
Edward Sheffield, Weekly Oregonian, Portland, October 27, 1855, page 3
Mr. and Mrs. Jones were killed; they lived this side of Wagoner's, also Mrs. Harris. After Mr. Harris was shot Mrs. Harris took the old gun and continued the defense by shooting between the house logs. She fired sixty-four times aided in getting means by her little daughter, until at last she ran to the yard, pursued by an Indian, who cursed her, knocked her down, and then shot her through the arm. She was left for dead. Immediately however she rose, ran to a ravine nearby and fell into it, where she remained. The Indians gave her up for dead, and turned their attention to the house. She was finally rescued by Major Fitzgerald. See for particulars Statesman of Oct. 20, 1855.
S. F. Chadwick letter to Joseph Lane, November 1, 1855, Joseph Lane Papers, Indiana University. Chadwick is confabulating the Harris and Jones stories.
After traveling until nearly sundown [on November 2 , 1855], we encamped at a building which had been preserved from the general ruin by the heroism of a woman named Harris. After her husband had been murdered and her daughter wounded, she had made a desperate and successful defense by shooting at the savages from between the crevices of the log house. The traces of her bullets upon the trees, which had shielded the Indians, and the marks of the tragedy within the dwelling, were plainly visible. Soon after dark a small party under the command of Lieut. Allston, 1st Cavalry, arrived with the wounded and encamped. Captain Smith, with a few men, passed us on his way to Fort Lane. The length of our day's march was about fourteen miles.
Lieutenant Henry L. Abbott, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Washington 1857, page 108
If we go back to November 3, 1855 (with Andrew Genzoli and through the files of the Humboldt Times) we'll encounter an Indian war, then told [with] this story: "We clip the following extract from a letter published in the Crescent City Herald, written from the seat of war, in Rogue River Valley. We are sorry that the correspondent did not give the full name and former residence of Mrs. Harris, as such deeds in a woman will live after 'sod grows green': When the Indians first appeared at the house of Mr. Harris, Mrs. Harris, with a little girl, was in the house, and judging from the savage looks of the visitors that their arrival boded no good, she addressed an Indian whom she knew by the name of Umpqua Jack with the words, 'Jack, you are not going to kill us, are you?' to which he gave an evasive answer. Mr. Harris coming in the back door, Jack shot him down, and another Indian shot the girl in the arm; whereupon Mrs. Harris shut and barricaded both doors. Mr. Harris lived long enough to instruct his wife how to manage the rifle, which she used with effect among the assailants, shooting through the cracks in the wall of the house from 9 o'clock in the morning till evening, when she became alarmed at the idea of the Indians setting fire to the house in the dark; watching an opportunity when the attention of the Indians was drawn for awhile off to other events at a short distance, Mrs. Harris, with her little girl, escaped into a neighboring thicket with a revolver in hand, and an apron full of powder and ball. The Indians returning afterwards discovered her flight, but she kept them at bay, discharging her revolver when she suspected anyone to approach her hiding place. About sunrise a party of volunteers came to the relief of this heroic woman."
Oakland Tribune, November 9, 1952, page 218
On the next morning, Oct. 9, the war began, and the first woman or child met by Indians was killed. Seven Shasta Indians left the reserve at Evans Creek, after killing a young man employed on the reserve by the agent, and going down Rogue River they fired on the people at Jewett's Ferry, without effect. They proceeded on down the river to Evans' Ferry, where they fired into a party of white men encamped nearby, and killed one man. They proceeded then along the Oregon road, and killed all the travelers and inhabitants along the road to "Jumpoff Joe" Creek; among them Mrs. Jones and child and Mrs. Wagoner and child. At Harris', the last house, they met with a desperate resistance from Mrs. Harris. Her husband was shot in the door. Dragging him into the house, she barricaded the doors and he lived long enough to instruct her in the use of the rifle, and all that afternoon she kept them at bay. They went off in the evening, and fearing their return to fire the house in the night, she seized her wounded child and made her escape into an adjoining thicket, with her store of ammunition in her apron, and by firing with a revolver whenever the Indians approached her hiding place in the night, she kept them off till daylight, when she was relieved by Major Fitzgerald's command, who had received information of the depredations committed on the road the morning before, and had pursued them thus far.
"Our California Correspondence," New York Herald, January 31, 1856, page 3
Passed Mrs. Niday's, but little damage. Mr. Bowdin's house was in ashes; searched for Harris' little boy (in my last I stated that Haines' boy was seen running through a field toward the woods--it was Harris' boy); could not find anything that could give us any clue of him. Passed on to Harris'; the floor and casing of the door were bedaubed with blood; Mr. Harris' pants were hanging against the wall, completely covered with clotted blood. The Indians attacked Harris' house on Tuesday morning, Oct. 9; Mr. H. was shot directly at his back door; as he was falling Mrs. H. caught him, and pulled him into the house and barred the door. A girl of Mr. H., 14 years of age, was shot in the arm by a pet Indian, who had been living about Turner's called Umpqua Jack. There are two bullet holes in the door where Harris was shot. Mrs. H. and the little girl defended the house all day, and at night hid themselves in the bushes; they were taken to Jacksonville by the soldiers. Mr. Harris' old house, in which there was a quantity of grain, was burned down.
Letter of October 18, 1855 from Leland, Oregon, quoted in "The Very Latest," Albany Argus, Albany, New York, December 1, 1855, page 2
On the first inst. I sent two Indians in whom I had confidence to the camp of the hostile party to endeavor if possible to get a correct statement in regard to the massacres of the 9th of Oct. last, and more especially to learn if they held in bondage any white women & if so to try to redeem them.
They returned on the 11th inst. in company with two other Indians belonging to George's band with the following statement, that Old John & eight others [of] his own people did all the mischief that day until their arrival at Wagoner's ranch and at that place they killed Mrs. Wagoner & fired the house before they were observed by the other Indians. Chief George was camped within four hundred yards of the house, but was not at home himself; he had left the day previous to go to Cow Creek .Mrs. Wagoner's daughter, a little girl about eight years of age, was at George's camp and was saved by his woman concealing her. After John had killed these people, captured the teams & burned the houses, he was joined by some other Indians, among whom he divided the cargo that he had captured belonging to Peters & co.; about two thirds of George's people agreed to join him and all the Cow Creeks that were there did the same. The new force was then sent on the road to continue the work of pillage and death begun by Old John.
He and his men here left for Illinois Valley. The house of Mr. Harris was then attacked by this new party. Mrs. Harris, who was rescued by Major Fitzgerald, recognized some Cow Creek Indians & talked to them before they killed her husband, which in a measure corroborates the statement made by the Indians. They both agree as to who shot Mr. Harris. I am not aware that the Indians knew anything of Mrs. Harris' statement previous to making their own. They also remarked they could have killed her but did not wish to kill women. They strove to take her prisoner, hoping her powder would soon become exhausted, when they would be enabled to capture her, from which they were prevented by the timely arrival of Major Fitzgerald.
George H. Ambrose to Joel Palmer, February 18, 1856, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 14; Letters Received, 1856, No. 98.
A. F. Hedges
Enclosed I send you the claim of Mrs. Mary A. Harris. Be pleased to acknowledge the receipt and if any error or omission occurs please also to inform me and suggest the remedy and much oblige.
W. G. T'Vault atty. for
Mary A. Harris
Oct. 7th 1856
Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 14; Letters Received, 1856, No. 325.
Sept. 30th, 1857.Dear General,
In one of your eloquent vindications of our people during the last session of Congress, I remember a reference to Mrs. Mary A. Harris of our county, eulogistic of her noble self-devotion in defense of her dying husband and her wounded daughter, at the same time expressing an intention on your part to endeavor to obtain for her a pension from the general government.
In furtherance of this laudable design, I am induced to inquire if it might not be advisable to prepare a memorial to Congress, during the approaching session of the assembly, in behalf of the widows and orphans left destitute. There are many such among us, who deprived of the support and protection of a manly arm, are reduced to the humblest drudgery and toil for a subsistence, and though sharing largely in the sympathies and kindness of the communities by which they are surrounded, are, in many instances, quite destitute.
They who have lost more than the world can again return to them--the companions of life's early joys and sorrows, many of whom fell in the front of battle, where brave men, the pioneers of our nation, upheld our country's flag--have a right to expect the only recompense a grateful land can give--the pittance of a support.
Mrs. Harris, to whom you made reference, is at present a resident of our town and earns a meager support for herself and daughter by "taking boarders." Her daughter has never fully recovered the use of her wounded arm and is unable to perform any arduous manual service.
There are several other unfortunates suffering of this class in our vicinity, all of whom are in great need of a generous provision from our government.
Many of these brave women furnish rare instances of heroic sacrifice and self-devotion, and if the Trojan mothers were worthy of our administration and fit subjects of historic eulogy, the deeds of these noble matrons are not less so.
In the lofty devotion of Mrs. Harris are displayed the finer attributes of humanity--Attacked in her home by a numerous band of savages and armed with a rifle, for nearly twenty-four hours she held her assailants at bay. The fears of the woman were merged in the devotion of the wife and the mother, till even the savage foe shrank back before the pale, determined brow and flashing eye of that noble woman.
Through long and weary hours she stood the defender of her dying husband and her wounded child, and only in the hour of rescue came back to her heart the tide of anguish which nearly dethroned her reason.
But you will pardon my extended and verbose epistle. I had only intended to briefly consult you in regard to the expediency of a memorial, and to assure you that all efforts in furtherance of this laudable design will be gratefully acknowledged, not only by the recipients of any favors your efforts may bring, but by the unanimous sentiment of the entire community. Answer soon--
With a sincere appreciation of your many good qualities of head & heart permit me, sir, to subscribe myself,
Yours Very Truly
H. H. Brown
Hon. Jos. Lane
Joseph Lane Papers
One cabin [the Haines cabin] which we examined contained three dead people, the man lying on the threshold and two children behind the bed, murdered by savages, while the mother was doubtless taken for a worse fate. A widow, Mrs. Harris, emerged from the bushes near her own house, which she had defended with shotgun the day previous, bearing in her arms her little daughter, shot through the arm.
"Indian Troubles in Oregon, 1854-5" [sic], The Overland Monthly, April 1885, pages 420-422. The index credits the article to "J.G.T.", the text to "I.G.T." Attributed to Joel G. Trimble.
Those [Indians] who were foremost in the attack at Wagoner's, Jones', Haines', Harris' and so on, were well known to these families, had been in their service from time to time, and had often received favors and kindness when out of it. . . . At Harris' . . . they were suspected before they could get possession of the house, and, consequently, succeeded in killing only three out of the five they intended. Mr. Harris received a fatal blow at the first fire; but, falling partially into the house, his wife and daughter (the latter severely wounded) succeeded in drawing him inside, and barring the door so successfully as to keep the Indians out. While dying, Mr. Harris instructed his wife how to load and use the rifle, and bade her defend herself to the last, an order which she most heroically obeyed. For nearly twenty-four hours she defended herself against the besiegers, and was then rescued by some volunteers from Jacksonville. Master Harris and Mr. Reed were in a field close by when the attack was made, and both fell victims to the enemy.
Benjamin Franklin Dowell, The Heirs of George W. Harris and Mary A. Harris, Indian Depredation Claimants vs. the Rogue River Indians, Cow Creek Indians, and the United States, 1888, page 13
INDIAN DEPREDATION CLAIMS.--Among the Indian depredation claims examined by the Interior Department and recommended paid by the government are the following, made by persons of Jackson County.
Mary A. Harris, house, wheat, etc., October 9, 1885, $3862: $1888.50 allowed.--Tidings.
Excerpt, Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, March 8, 1888, page 2
THE LOST CHILD.
The following narrative was written several years ago by William M. Turner, for many years editor of the Jacksonville, Oregon Sentinel, and an old and highly esteemed resident of Jackson County. The tragic incident so pathetically related by Mr. Turner is yet fresh in the memories of the old pioneers of Southern Oregon:
It happened in early life. A heavy cloud had been gathering over the settlers in Southern Oregon. The fame of the lovely valley lying under the snow-capped Siskiyous, threaded by sparkling streams, covered with luxuriant grasses, the hiding place of antelope and deer, surrounded with hills that were yellow with gold, had attracted attention, and immigration had poured fast into the Rogue River country from California and Northern Oregon. It was the old frontier story--the white was crowding the red, and the latter was sullen and out of temper. Although the government had established a reservation in Rogue River Valley and made fair provision for the Indians, he was jealous of the encroachment of civilization, and his discontent was manifested by the occasional murder of a prospector or white traveler. At last the cloud burst, and it swept over the outlying settlements like a whirlwind of death.
Murder by prowling bands of Indians had become so frequent that the patience of the whites was exhausted. A company of volunteers had been quietly organized, and on the 8th day of October, 1855, they struck the first blow on a large band of Indians who professed the utmost friendship for the settlers. Those who survived the slaughter hastened to the reservation and persuaded the few who were remaining there to join, commenced their work of retaliation at that point, and then striking down the river continued it in their flight, and did it fearfully well. It is at this point our story commences.
In July of the same year George W. Harris, with his family, consisting of his wife and daughter about 11 years of age, and a bright, manly boy of nearly 9, had come from the Willamette and settled in a little valley through which passed the main line of travel, lying about forty miles north of Jacksonville. Mr. Harris was a worthy, industrious citizen, building a home for his family, who were happy and contented with the little spot where their weary feet had found rest. The house, a log building, was beautifully situated on a slight [illegible] in the Rogue Valley and on every side except the south the ground was clear and open. Mr. Harris had felled several trees in the vicinity of the house, and on the morning of Oct. 9th was busily engaged in making boards from one of them, not having the slightest apprehension of immediate danger. The October morning had dawned beautifully on the peaceful home. The throats of the songbirds were bursting with melody as the rising sun bathed the hills with mellow light and streaked the eastern horizon with gold and purple. Slowly the shadow of the tall pines crept down the western mountains as the morning wore on and the unconscious victims little dreamed that other shadows were falling in that mellow sunlight like cruel, hateful things on the brown sward of the little valley.
Under cover of a large copse of willow just out of range, a band of fifteen or twenty warriors, with the warm blood of the murdered Wagoner family, who lived two and a half miles to the southward, yet undried on their brown hands, stole silently, stealthily toward the doomed home. Some of the fiends were probably half crazed with liquor, obtained at the Wagoner ranch, and pressing too eagerly for a favorable position for the attack, which was made at nine a.m., were evidently discovered by Mr. Harris. Leaving his work he walked rapidly into the house, and setting his ax in a corner of the room he took up his shotgun without saying a word, stepped to the door and endeavored to close it. Little Sophia accompanied her father to the door, looking in his face in a wondering, half-frightened way, but asked no questions, and just as they reached the door the Indians poured a volley of at least a dozen shots into and through it. Mr. Harris was struck fair in the breast by a rifle ball but stood firmly until he had discharged both barrels of his heavily loaded gun; then staggering backward he fell, never again to speak to those who so sorely needed his protection. The daughter was shot through the left arm by the same volley that mortally wounded her father, but the brave little maiden uttered no cry nor showed the slightest sign of pain, but bleeding freely ran upstairs and threw herself on the bed. It was now that the courage of the woman, that splendid quality that turns the fibers of the most delicate hearts to cords of steel, that mocks the valor of the sterner sex, was sorely tried. Mrs. Harris had observed her husband's movements, understood them, and at once realized the situation. For a moment only was she appalled. Instantly recovering her self-possession the brave frontier woman took the weapon from the grasp of her dying husband, closed the inner door, and rushing upstairs seized an "Allen" revolver lying on the roof plate and discharged it rapidly in the direction of the assailants through a hole in the chimney. The act doubtless saved her life and that of her daughter, for the Indians, who had made a second rush, shrank back under cover of a large pine tree which stood about twenty paces from the door, not knowing that the house had but a single defender. Fortunately Mr. Harris had prepared a large number of cartridges for a possible emergency, and perfectly familiar with firearms, his wife commenced loading and firing toward the tree, which was afterward found to be scarred with bullets. Changing her position from up to downstairs, always keeping one barrel in reserve, and carefully guarding all approaches to the house, Mrs. Harris kept up a steady fire for hours, and the Indians must have been convinced that the house was full of armed men, for they never exposed their cowardly forms. They returned the fire, however, sending their bullets through the chinking of the house, filling the room with splinters, but without effect. Just at two o'clock the Indians drew off in a body, striking toward the Haines ranch about a mile to the westward, where they soon did some bloody work. Their retreat took a load from the mother's heart. Strung up to its utmost tension for five long hours that seemed ages, it now relaxed, and she who had fought like a tigress for her offspring was now herself but a sobbing child. Was it strange that the mother's heart should be bursting? Trickling through the floor above were drops of blood, and Mrs. Harris ran wildly upstairs. Little Sophia, with her lips pallid from the loss of blood, was lying on the bed in a fainting condition, and her mother learned for the first time that she had been wounded. Carefully bandaging the wound and applying restoratives, her next thought was for little David. Just before the attack the little fellow had accompanied Samuel Bowden, who lived about a quarter of a mile north, to his home, and as neither made their appearance the mother feared that they, too, had fallen victims. Anxiously she waited, patiently she listened, and evening fell and still the child came not; and as she watched and listened in vain, the mocking winds among the pines seemed to say to the poor throbbing heart: "No more forever."
Evening came and a new danger threatened. Should the Indians return they could steal to the house under the cover of darkness and fire it with perfect safety, and Mrs. Harris determined on flight. Taking Sophia in her arms, and with a sad parting look at the white face of him who had given his life for them, she silently stole from the house and hid in the chaparral.
Who can write the memory of that dreadful October night? Who can tell the anguish that wrung the heart of the heroic woman? As the night wore on the sky grew higher and the stars grew colder; still they looked coldly down on her as she kept sleepless watch--holding in her arms the faint and bleeding child--the only pleasure left her on earth. Now and then the stealthy footsteps of a coyote were heard quite close to the hiding place of the fugitives. Approaching within a few feet, one of them had smelled the blood with which little Sophia's garments were saturated, and it set up that peculiarly dismal howl that only a prairie wolf can make. From point to point it was answered by others. From hill to hill the howl gathered and rose and swelled in melancholy cadence on the cold night air till the bereaved and stricken woman feared they would gather and tear her and her darling to pieces. Hours and hours passed by, but the stars seemed motionless. How that woman prayed for daylight, unmindful of the dangers it might bring. Her thoughts were now wholly absorbed by the probable fate of the handsome, bright-eyed child who had been so suddenly separated from them, and her anxiety was maddening torture. Could she have known that he had been killed outright it would have relieved the pressure on her mind, already overburdened with horrors. He might have escaped to hide and perish from cold and hunger, or be torn to pieces by the wolves; he might have been captured to undergo tortures indescribable, and when at last daylight broke it is only wonder that agonizing doubt had not driven the mother raving mad. Again the morning dawned beautifully; again the shadows of the tall pines crept down the hills; again the songbirds filled the little valley with melody, and still the anxious mother watched. Peering out carefully she saw an Indian in the brush who himself seemed to be watching, and she shrank back again under cover. Commanding a view of the house, she soon observed three persons boldly approach and break down the door. Supposing the savages had returned in force, Mrs. Harris now gave herself up as lost, and to add to her terror, it was scarcely a moment till a band of mounted warriors poured down the valley. But a second glance disclosed the fact that they were in flight, and she knew that succor was at hand. Scarcely were the Indians out of sight when her quick ear discovered the sound of heavier hooves thundering down the road from [the] south, and in a few moments a detachment of dragoons and a few volunteers under command of Major Fitzgerald were sweeping gallantly across the valley. On came the brave boys filled with vengeance, fresh from a battle at the ruins of the "Wagoner place," where they surprised and killed five of the Indians. On they dashed, still nearer and nearer, and Mrs. Harris recognized their uniforms when she ran with Sophia in her arms to meet them.
Drawing rein suddenly the boys gathered round the fugitives. Covered with blood and blackened with powder, worn and haggard with exhaustion, they were hardly recognizable, and the Major exclaimed: "Good God! Are you a white woman?" Closer the gallant fellows gathered to hear her simple story, quickly told, and more than one bronzed cheek was wet with tears that never shamed their manhood.
The pursuit of the Indians was at once discontinued. After attending to the immediate needs of the survivors and burying the dead, Major Fitzgerald ordered a diligent search for the boy, but not a trace of him could be found. Subsequently the Major furnished Mr. Harkness with an escort of eight men for the same purpose. Every ravine, every hollow, every thicket for miles around the Harris place was carefully searched, but not even the child's wagon, which he had taken with him, could be found. Mr. Bowden, who fled toward Grave Creek on the first fire, stated that the little fellow started home before the attack, and the most careful examination revealed no trace of his remains in the Bowden house, which was burned. There was but one hypothesis: The child had been captured and carried away, but this was abandoned. During the war that ensued captive squaws and strolling bands of Indians were closely questioned, but they persistently denied any knowledge of the child.
A year went by, and the remains of a man named Reed was found on the Harris ranch, and search was renewed for Davey but without result, and still the pines whispered to the sad and sorrowing woman, "Never! and never more!'
Little Sophia, afterward the wife of John S. Love, one of the honored citizens of Jacksonville, was carried away by the fearful epidemic that scourged that town in 1869, joining her husband who had preceded her only a few months. The intrepid mother, who did a deed as brave as ever recorded in ancient song or story, became the wife of Aaron Chambers, and widowed a second time, lives among us honored and beloved. Mrs. Chambers often relates the story to her grandchildren, George and Mary Love, telling them how nobly their mother bore her share of the burden. Twenty-three years have passed, and often as the twilight deepens and the evening shadows gather, the mother sits sadly and silently with folded hands, looking down into the still-unburied past and wondering if in earth or sky she will find her second born.
Who that has not suffered can tell the withering thoughts that cling to the bitter memory of that dreadful October day and night? And who among us all can say that when the great harvest of the Eternal is garnered in there will not be one little golden sheaf that will fill the sad and sorrowing heart with gladness for ever and ever more?
Gold Beach Gazette, October 19, 1888, page 3. From Hanley scrapbook, SOHS M41D9.
On reaching Wagoner's, they were joined by Chief George's band of Indians, who had been camped on the creek near his house for some months, always professing friendship for the whites. Early that morning, Mr. Wagoner left home to escort Miss Pellet, a traveling temperance lecturer, to Illinois Valley, leaving his wife and four-year-old daughter in perfect security, as he supposed, under the protection of Chief George, who had always been a favored guest at his house. Upon the arrival of the war party, Mrs. Wagoner and child were murdered, and the house burned over them. The barn and all the outbuildings were also burned.
From this point they went to the house of George W. Harris, a few miles beyond. Mr. Harris was making shingles near the house, and Mrs. Harris was engaged in washing behind the house. About nine o'clock, according to the statement of Mrs. Harris, her husband hastily entered the house with an axe in his hand, stating that the house was surrounded by Indians, whose manner indicated they were warlike. He seized his wife, but while endeavoring to shut the door, he was shot through the breast by a rifle ball. He twice after fired his rifle mechanically and fell upon the floor. His daughter, eleven years of age, seeing her father shot, went to the door, when she was shot through the right arm between the shoulder and elbow. The husband, reviving, advised his wife to bar the doors and load the guns, of which there was a rifle, a shotgun, a revolver and three pistols. Mrs. Harris secured the doors, but told her husband she had never loaded a gun in her life. Mr. Harris instructed her how to load the weapons and expired. This brave woman, left to her own resources, commenced a sharp firing upon the savages, who, having burnt the outbuildings, were endeavoring to fire the house. She thus continued to defend herself and daughter, she watching at one end of the house and the child the other, for eight hours, and until about sundown, when the savages, being attracted by a firing on the flats about a mile below the house, left to discover whence it proceeded. She embraced the opportunity and fled to a thicket of willows, which grew along a spring branch near the house, taking with her only a holster pistol. She and her daughter had barely secreted themselves when the Indians, eighteen in number, all armed with rifles, returned, and finding the house abandoned, commenced scouring the ticket. Upon their near approach to her hiding place she fired her pistol, which caused a general stampede. This was repeated several times, and always with the same result until finally, surrounding the thicket, they remained till daylight. Her ammunition was now exhausted; but she retained her position until the volunteers arrived, when the Indians fled precipitately, and she was saved. Mrs. Harris had on the evening previous sent her little son, aged nine years, to the house of a neighbor. He was killed, as well as Frank Reed, the partner of Mr. Harris. This list does not include all who were murdered on that bloody day, many of whom were never heard of afterwards.
Upon the receipt of the news at Jacksonville, at least twenty men sprang into the saddle at once. They did not wait to be enrolled, consequently a full list cannot be obtained; but among them were John Drum, Henry Klippel, James D. Burnett, Wm. Dalland, Alex. Mackey, John Hulse, Angus Brown, Jack Long, A. J. Knott, Levi Knott and John Ladd. Upon their arrival at Fort Lane, they were authorized by Major Fitzgerald to go in advance as a scouting party, stating that he would follow them with his company of fifty-five dragoons in a short time. The narrative of the expedition is copied from the diary of J. D. Burnett, one of the volunteers. He says:
"We left Evans' Ferry at two o'clock on the morning of the 10th of October. The first body found was the body of Jones, whose body had been nearly eaten up by the hogs; the next were Cartwright and his partner, the apple men. As they neared the creek on which Wagoner's house had been situated, they found the Indians were still there. The volunteers crossed the creek, which was thickly bordered by willows, when they met about twenty Indians on horseback, drawn up in line of battle, with a battle flag. The Indians challenged the volunteers to fight, which was quickly accepted; but as the volunteers charged, Major Fitzgerald broke through the willows, and with his dragoons joined in the movement. The Indians suddenly retreated, but too late. Seven were left dead on the ground, and the number of wounded could not be ascertained, as the Indians fled to the mountains where the troops could not follow them, as their horses were already nearly exhausted.
"Upon reaching the Wagoner house, Mr. Burnett and Alex. Mackey found the bones of Mrs. Wagoner and her little girl on the hearthstone. Taking some bricks from the chimney, they made a small vault, into which the deposited the remains with the intention of removing them upon their return and giving them decent burial. Upon their return, they found the Indians had taken the bones to a large pine stump near the house and crushed them to powder. Upon reaching Harris's ranch, they found Harris dead in the house, and soon discovered Mrs. Harris and her daughter coming toward them from a willow thicket nearby. The girl had been shot in the arm; and both were in a deplorable condition. After they had buried Mr. Harris, the company was ordered back to take the woman to a place of safety, and to gather up the dead. On the next day, they returned to take care of three wagons belonging to Mr. Knott, which were loaded with merchandise, but fund them all burned with their contents and the teams driven off. In searching the surrounding country they came to the house of Mr. Haines, where they found Haines and his young son killed; but Mrs. Haines could not be found. As she was never afterwards heard of, she undoubtedly met the fate of Mrs. Wagoner."
Elwood Evans, History of the Pacific Northwest, 1889, pages 435-437
The cause of that battle [Hungry Hill] lay with a bunch of outlaws. They were whites, but they had acted in a way that would have disgraced Indians. They had killed, massacred thirty-five squaws, poor, helpless things who were camped on Bear Creek. So the bucks started on the warpath, no blame to them, but they killed a lot of good men instead of the outlaws. They made for the first white man's house they came to; it belonged to a man named Harris. It was a double-storied hewed house, pretty good for thereabouts. Harris and his wife and the little 2-year-old girl were at home. The woman, with the judgment that women have, tried to get her husband to stay inside; but no. he was going out to fight those thirty-five Indians. As he opened the door they shot him down, of course. The same fire that killed him wounded the little girl. Mrs. Harris picked up the child in her left arm; a pistol was grasped in the right hand. For two days and nights that woman stood off the Indians from her home and her baby, and was still standing them off when we advanced and took up their attention. That's the kind of stuff that women of the West were made of in early days.
Walter S. Kitchen, "How I Came to Be in 165 Battles," San Francisco Call, October 13, 1901, magazine section page 1
We were riding along slowly, feeling about as tired as possible for men to get, when we discovered two horsemen coming toward us at full speed, each with a woman behind him. The horsemen proved to be Claus Westfeldt and Charles Williams; the women Mrs. Harris and her daughter Sophia, the latter wounded in [the] fleshy part of [her] arm, between the elbow and shoulder. The sight of these heroic women made us forget that we had been in the saddle 12 hours or fatigued or hungry.
Westfeldt and Williams [who had ridden] in advance of [the] main column, found Mrs. Harris and daughter hidden in the willows and took them up on their horses. Mrs. Harris, after 36 hours' vigil and self-reliance, finding rescue an accomplished fact and after telling our boys that the Indians were at the house, then asked to be taken to a place of safety. As soon as they came up to our lines and reported the situation all of the volunteers and part of the regulars rode on to the house and surrounded it. The writer rode up to near the front door, jumped off his mule and pushed the front door open with the muzzle of his gun, and instead of Indians, saw Mr. Harris lying dead on the floor. We investigated further but found no Indians. Some of our men, who were in pursuit of the Indians, had to or did pass the house, stopped for a moment to inspect the premises and then continued to widow Niday's place. Mrs. Harris undoubtedly mistook them for Indians.
"A Reminiscence," Henry Klippel, as dictated to Mabel Prim, photocopy of manuscript in Rogue River Indian War vertical file, Southern Oregon Historical Society. Written sometime between the 1899 death of Jane McCully and Klippel's in 1901. Published in the Medford Enquirer of February 2, 1901, page 4
A Well-Remembered Incident of the Indian War of 1855
Graphically Related by Pioneer Newspaper Man.
Fate of Little David Harris Yet Unlearned.
Through the kindness of Miss Alice Hanley we are enabled to republish a narrative of the tragic experiences of one family in the Indian war of 1855. This is but one of many similar episodes which darkened the early days for many pioneers and well illustrates the dangers and difficulties confronting them. The following story, unlike many "thrillers" of less interest, has the advantage of being absolutely true.
The narrative was written shortly after the outbreak by William M. Turner, for many years editor of the Jacksonville, Oregon Sentinel, and an old and highly esteemed resident of Jackson County. The tragic incident so pathetically related by Mr. Turner is yet fresh in the memories of the old pioneers of Southern Oregon.
It happened in early life. A heavy cloud had been gathering over the settlers of Southern Oregon. The fame of the lovely valley lying under the snow-capped "Siskiyous, threaded by sparkling streams, covered with luxuriant grasses, the hiding place of antelope and deer, surrounded with hills that were yellow with gold" had attracted attention, and immigration had poured fast into the Rogue River country from California and northern Oregon. It was the old frontier story--the white was crowding the red, and the latter was sullen and out of temper. Although the government had established a reservation in Rogue River Valley and had made fair provisions for the Indians, he was jealous of the encroachment of the civilization, and his discontent was manifested by the occasional murder of a white traveler or prospector. At last the cloud burst, and it swept over the outlying settlements like a whirlwind of death.
Murder by prowling hands of Indians had become so frequent that the patience of the whites was exhausted. A company of volunteers had been quietly organized, and on the 8th day of October, 1855, they struck the first blow on a large band of Indians who professed the utmost friendship for the settlers. Those who survived the slaughter [the Lupton massacre] hastened to the reservation and persuaded the few who were remaining there to join, commenced their work of retaliation at this point, and then striking down the river continued it in their flight, and did it fearfully well. It is at this point our story commences.
In July of the same year, George W. Harris, with his family, consisting of his wife and daughter about 11 years of age, and a bright, manly boy of nearly nine, had come from the Willamette and settled in a little valley through which passed the main line of travel, lying about forty miles north of Jacksonville. Mr. Harris was a worthy, industrious citizen, building a home for his family who were happy and contented with the fertile spot where their weary feet had found rest. The house, a log building, was beautifully situated and on every side except the south the ground was clean and open. Mr. Harris had felled several trees in the vicinity of the house, and on the morning of October 9th was engaged in making boards of them, not having the slightest apprehension of immediate danger.
Under cover of a large copse of willow just out of range, a band of fifteen or twenty warriors, with the warm blood of the murdered Wagoner family, who lived two and a half miles to the southward, yet undried upon their brown hands, stole stealthily toward the doomed home. Some of the fiends were probably half-crazed with liquor obtained at the Wagoner ranch, and pressing too eagerly for a favorable position for the attack, which was made at nine a.m., were evidently discovered by Mr. Harris. Leaving his work, he walked rapidly into the house, and setting his ax in the corner of the room he picked up his shotgun without saying a word, stepped to the door and endeavored to close it. Little Sophia accompanied her father to the door, looking in his face in a wondering, half-frightened way, but asked no questions, and just as they reached the door the Indians poured a volley of at least a dozen shots into and through it. Mr. Harris was struck fair in the breast by a rifle ball but stood firmly until he had discharged both barrels of his heavily loaded gun; then staggering backward he fell, never again to speak to those who sorely needed his protection. The daughter was shot through the left arm by the same volley that wounded her father, but the brave little maiden uttered no cry nor showed the slightest sign of pain, but bleeding freely ran upstairs and threw herself on the bed. It was now that the courage of the woman, that splendid quality that turns the fibers of the most delicate hearts to cords of steel, that mocks the valor of the sterner sex, was sorely tried. Mrs. Harris had observed her husband's movements, understood them and at once realized the situation. For a moment only was she appalled. Instantly recovering her self-possession, the brave frontier woman took the weapon from the grasp of her dying husband, closed the inner door, and rushing upstairs seized an "Allen" revolver lying on the roof plate and discharged it rapidly in the direction of the assailants through a hole in the chimney.
The act doubtless saved her life and that of her daughter, for the Indians, who had made a second rush, shrank back under cover of a large pine tree which stood twenty paces from the door, not knowing that the house had but a single defender. Fortunately Mr. Harris had prepared a large number of cartridges for a possible emergency, and perfectly familiar with the arms, his wife commenced loading and firing toward the tree, which was afterward found to be scarred with bullets. Changing her position from up- to downstairs, always keeping one barrel in reserve and carefully guarding all approaches to the house, Mrs. Harris kept up a steady fire for hours, and the Indians must have been convinced that the house was full of armed men, for they never exposed their cowardly forms. They returned the fire, however, sending their bullets through the chinking of the house, filling the room with splinters, but without effect. Just at two o'clock the Indians drew off in a body, striking for the Haines ranch about a mile to the westward, where they soon did some bloody work. Their retreat took a load from the mother's heart. Strung up to its utmost tension for five long hours that seemed ages, it now relaxed, and she who had fought like a tigress for her offspring was now herself but a sobbing child. Was it strange that the mother heart should be bursting? Trickling through the floor above were drops of blood, and Mrs. Harris ran wildly upstairs. Little Sophia, her lips pallid from the loss of blood, was lying on the bed in a fainting condition, and her mother learned for the first time she had been wounded. Carefully bandaging the wound and applying restoratives, her next thought was for little David. Just before the attack the little fellow had accompanied Samuel Bowden, who lived about a quarter of a mile north, to his home, and as neither made their appearance the mother feared that they, too, had fallen victims. Anxiously she waited, patiently she listened, till evening fell, and still the boy came not.
Evening came and a new danger threatened. Should the savages desire, they could steal to the house under cover of darkness and fire it with perfect safety, so Mrs. Harris determined upon flight. Taking Sophia in her arms and giving a sad parting look at the white face of him who had given his life for them, she stole from the house to a bunch of chaparral.
Chaparral somewhere in the Medford area, 1913
Now and then the stealthy footsteps of a coyote were heard quite close to the hiding place of the fugitives. Approaching within a few feet, one of them smelt the blood with which little Sophia's clothes were saturated, and it set up a howl that was answered from hill to hill by others, and the howl rose and swelled in melancholy cadence on the night air till the stricken woman feared they would gather and tear them to pieces. How she prayed for morning, unmindful of the dangers it might bring. Her mind was also absorbed by the fate of her little bright-eyed boy. He might have escaped to hide and perish from cold and hunger, or be torn to pieces by the wolves, or he might have been captured to undergo tortures indescribable. Could she have known that he had been killed outright it would have relieved her mind.
Again the morning dawned and, commanding a view of the house, she soon observed three persons boldly approach and break down the door. Supposing the savages had returned in force, Mrs. Harris now gave herself as lost, and to add to her terror it was scarcely a moment till a band of mounted warriors poured down the valley. But a second glance disclosed the fact that they were in flight, and she knew that succor was at hand. Scarcely were the Indians out of sight when her quick ear caught the sound of heavier hoofs thundering down the road from the south, and in a few minutes a detachment of dragoons and a few volunteers under command of Major Fitzgerald came sweeping across the valley. When Mrs. Harris recognized their uniforms she ran with Sophia in her arms to meet them.
Drawing rein suddenly, the boys gathered around the fugitives, who, covered with blood and blackened with powder, they were hardly recognizable, and the Major exclaimed, "Good God! Are you a white woman?"
The pursuit of the Indians was at once discontinued. After attending to the immediate needs of the survivors and burying the dead, Major Fitzgerald ordered a diligent search for the boy, but not a trace could be found. Mr. Bowden, who fled toward Grave Creek on the first fire, stated that the little fellow had started home before the attack, and the most careful examination revealed no trace of his remains in the Bowden house, which was burned. There was but one hypothesis: the child had been captured and carried away, but this was abandoned. During the war that ensued captive squaws and strolling bands of Indians were closely questioned, but they denied any knowledge of the child.
A year went by, and the remains of a man named Reed were found on the Harris ranch, and search was renewed for Davey but without result, and the pines whispered to the sad and sorrowing women, "Never! and never more!"
Little Sophia, afterward the wife of John S. Love, one of the honored citizens of Jacksonville, was carried away by the fearful epidemic that scourged the town in 1869, joining her husband, who had preceded her by only a few months. The intrepid mother, who did a deed as brave as any ever recorded in ancient song or story, became the wife of Aaron Chambers and, widowed a second time, continued to live in Jacksonville until her death.
Who that has not suffered can tell the withering thoughts that cling to the bitter memory of that dreadful October day and night? And who among us all can say that when the great harvest of the Eternal is garnered in there will not be one little golden sheaf that will fill the sad and sorrowing heart with gladness for ever and ever more?
Jacksonville Post, August 7, 1920, page 1
Mary Ann Young of Tennessee
By Miles Cannon
This story of the life of Mary Ann Young, well-known pioneer, was written by Miles Cannon and read at the last meeting of Crater Lake chapter, D.A.R., by Mrs. J. H. Cochran.
Mary Ann Young of Tennessee
Overlooking the Rogue River Valley from an eminence on the eastern slope of the Siskiyou Range, the Jacksonville Cemetery--Oregon's repository of unwritten history--seems to have been designed by nature as a haven of rest for the dead and a shrine of beauty for the living. When the dawn breaks to herald the morning of the day of resurrection, the pioneers who sleep there should be able to catch the first glittering rays as they sparkle and play on the faraway summit of the Cascade Range.
To the left of the entrance to the cemetery, at a distance of 50 yards or so, there is a double headstone that seems to rise out of a bed of matted English ivy and with becoming modesty invites attention to the tenants of the tomb below. Chiseled on the weather-stained marble are these words:
"George W. Harris, killed by the Indians October 9, 1855. Age 35 years, 9 months and three days."
To the left:
"Mary A. Chambers, died February 17, 1882. Age 61 years, 11 months and 23 days."
Though it occurred 74 years ago, these inscriptions contain the elements of a tragedy that entitles the actors to a place of prominence in the annals of our country.
The Bible record, which goes back to 1789, was written in Tennessee, and from that we learn that Mary Ann Young was born on Christmas Day, 1821. Also, that George W. Harris was born on January 6, 1820. They were united in marriage February 18, 1843, and to that union there was born, on February 18, 1844, Sofia Ann Harris, and on February 23, 1846, David W. Harris.
The family crossed the plains in 1853 and the following year settled on a donation claim eight miles north of Rogue River on what was then known as the Oregon-California Trail. The Pacific Highway of today crosses Harris Creek one mile west of the Harris home site.
Mr. Harris selected this place on account of some open or prairie land there which he proposed to use in the production of grain and vegetables. The heavy traffic up and down the trail afforded a ready market for all kinds of produce, and there the Harris family set their stakes and went to work to carve a fortune from the wilds of old Oregon.
Recently the writer, accompanied by Charles Sexton, guide, Mr. Hudson, present owner of the land, Alice Hanley, pioneer, and Claire Hanley, granddaughter of Sofia Ann Harris, visited the place where the tragedy occurred. The old Oregon-California Trail, the deep worn tracks of which are plainly outlined in the soil, ran north and south, and the Harris cabin had stood about 40 yards to the west and seemingly faced the east. From the outline of the ruins it was estimated that the cabin was probably 16x20 feet, with a fireplace on the north side of the one-room building. About 10 yards to the north was found the outlines of another building, and 10 yards to the northwest the remains of a well. In the center of the larger outlines is an excavation of some three feet and scattered about are charred bits of wood and rock. Fifty yards to the south there is a small stream now called Harris Creek, and to the south of this and west of the old trail is a willow thicket. These features as they appear at the present time will be woven into the narrative as they were originally.
Probably not more than one in a thousand of the interminable throng that beats up and down the modern highway at a death-defying speed ever heard of Harris Creek or the historic tragedy enacted there.
The Lupton Massacre
J. A. Lupton resided, during the summer of 1855, on a donation claim called "The Mound." The landmark may be seen a short distance southeast of the point where the Crater Lake Highway touches the Owen-Oregon logging road, which is six miles north of the present town of Medford. He had recently been elected to the territorial legislature, and is said to have had political aspirations of a high order. He is characterized by those who knew him as willful, boastful and rash. He seemed to enjoy a reputation of being an inexorable enemy of the Rogue River Indians.
Three miles due north of the Lupton homestead, on the north side of the river and within the boundaries of what was then the Indian reservation, was an Indian village of some 20 lodges which belonged to Sam's band, who were known as "treaty" Indians. They were at peace with the whites, and at the time of the massacre were receiving annuities from the government.
Lupton had seen service in the Mexican War but had had no experience in fighting Indians. Evidently he had decided to adopt the methods of the savage rather than the tactics of the whites. Enlisting a company of probably 40 men who armed and equipped themselves, and himself in command, they left Jacksonville late in the evening of October 7, proceeded to the Bybee Ferry, crossed over and encamped upstream at the identical place where Candidate Hoover fished in 1928.
Leaving their camp equipment behind, these men crawled through the underbrush to a place near the Indian rancheria and, when light enough for their purpose, fired into the silent wickiups of the sleeping savages. When the Indians ran out to see what the commotion was about the whites fell upon them, and neither age nor sex was spared in the carnage that followed. Whether it was known to the attacking party that the village contained only old men, squaws and children is a mooted question, but that proved to be a fact. From all authentic accounts we conclude that for depraved and misguided ferocity, the Lupton affair has few if any parallels in history.
Holding in his hand an empty bow, a 12-year-old boy lay dead by the side of a squaw. From near this place Lupton is said to have been carried away with an arrow penetrating his body, from which he bled to death.
By noon of that day the survivors had commenced to arrive at Fort Lane, and Captain Smith immediately dispatched a platoon of soldiers to survey the battleground. They found there 80 [sic] dead Indians--crushed and mangled. Savage vengeance was now to fall, not upon the guilty but, as too often was the case, upon the innocent.
While Chief Sam steadfastly adhered to the terms of the Table Rock treaty, Joe in the meantime having died, still the officers at the fort exercised every precaution, especially during the night of the 8th, to avoid any retaliatory measures the enraged Indians might undertake. Beyond the dismal wailing of the squaws for the dead, nothing unusual was seen or heard. Sentry posts were doubled, however, and pickets paced the surrounding hills in order to catch the faintest sound or action. As the night wore on there came no warning.
At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 9th an employee of the government, who occupied a cabin about one mile down the river from the fort, was shot and killed as he and a companion stood before their fire. This was approximately 20 hours after the Lupton affair. The next report came from the Jewett Ferry (two miles above the present Savage Dam), where an attack was made, and the third alarm came from Evans Ferry (300 feet below Savage Dam), which was the principal crossing of the river. When the Indians had finished their bloody work there, a courier was sent to Jacksonville. From Evans Ferry the trail meandered towards the foothills and near the present town of Grants Pass, where the Jones family was killed. Next the owners of a pack train encamped three miles to the north were killed and their property taken by the enraged savages, whose thirst for blood was still far from being satiated.
The Wagoner family had taken a donation claim on Louse Creek and established their home near the place where the Oregon-California Trail crossed that stream. Mr. Wagoner was away from home at the time, and his wife and daughter were killed [and] scalped and the buildings, after being looted, were burned.
At the Wagoner place the Indians divided, and probably about one dozed proceeded down Louse Creek to the home of the Haines family. The Haines cabin stood near a cold spring flowing about 100 yards from the railroad crossing in the present town of Merlin.
Mr. Haines was in bed sick when the Indians arrived at his house and unable to make an effective resistance. After killing the father the Indians took the little boy by the feet and swung his head against the corner of the cabin until life was extinct. Mrs. Haines and her little girl were taken into captivity and sent to an Indian encampment on Rogue River. It was learned from the Indians after the war that both were killed within a week and their bodies thrown into Rogue River. After looting and setting fire to the Haines house the Indians returned to the Wagoner place. Mr. Haines and his boy were later buried between two large pine trees across the road from where the house stood. The stumps of these trees may still be seen.
The courier sent from Evans Ferry reached Jacksonville about noon of the 9th, by which time there had been 15 white people killed. The citizens of Jacksonville hardly realized the full import of what was going on north of the river; nevertheless they equipped a company of 20 to go to the relief of any who might be in need of assistance. First they went to Fort Lane and reported to the commanding officer there. The soldiers were held in loath, it would seem, while the officers were sifting the many wild rumors afloat. As a matter of fact the Indians had concealed their movements so successfully that dependable information was hard to get. It was not until late in the afternoon, therefore, when the dragoons, together with the volunteers from Jacksonville, left in pursuit of the bloodthirsty savages.
Before returning to the affairs of the Harris home it may be noted that, in after years, Mrs. Harris was induced by her close friend and neighbor, Miss Alice Hanley, to relate to her the manifold details of the siege and the untimely death of Mr. Harris. The writer is indebted to Miss Hanley for the following authentic account of the tragedy.
In complete ignorance of the series of crimes already committed by the Indians and without the slightest intimation of their impending danger, the family had arisen early that bright and promising morning and set about the duties of the day. They had noticed and remarked about a column of smoke that rose just over the east divide in the direction of the Wagoner home, but that seemed to cause no particular apprehension. Yet Mr. Harris had mentioned the absence of Mr. Wagoner who, two days before, had started to the Sailor Diggings (Waldo) with a Boston temperance lecturer, and he was somewhat perplexed at the sight of so much black smoke ascending into the air at that early hour.
The sun seemed to be a long time in scaling the timbered mountain that morning, thought Mrs. Harris, but when its rays finally fell upon that cabin home all seemed serene and peaceful. Early she had planted her tubs on the puncheon stoop at the front door where she was busily engaged with the family washing. The pack train that passed southward the evening before, she told her husband, must have camped on Louse Creek, and perhaps the men had started a brush fire. Mr. Harris considered that good reasoning and it seemed to dispel an ominous feeling that lingered unbidden in his mind. Now in her 34th year, Mrs. Harris often expressed herself as content to meet the trials and tribulations of a pioneer life, and at no time had she felt more hopeful than on that autumn morning.
It was her custom to dress her wealth of auburn hair and secure it with a tortoiseshell comb that she had treasured for many years, and thus she was adorned upon that particular morning. To add to her matronly beauty, according to Miss Hanley, her hair fell over a shapely head in natural waves, and it requires no stretch of imagination to appreciate the fact that she was to her family a queen in a cabin home. Neither is it difficult to appreciate how an Indian in quest of scalps would look upon that scene.
Sofia, then in her eleventh year, was engaged inside the one-room dwelling which contained the family furniture and utensils. On the north side was the fireplace, where in the absence of a stove all the cooking was done. There the mother had heated the wash water by the use of a crane, but when she poured the water into the tub she found it necessary to use all the cold water in the house to cool it before she could rub her clothing. She could get another bucket of cold water, she thought, from the well when more convenient.
David, then in his ninth year, had been given a pail and sent to the garden, an eighth of a mile away, for potatoes. Mr. Harris had rigged a block for splitting puncheon to fence his crops out in the open north of the storage house, and for an hour or more Mrs. Harris had heard the sound of his mallet as it drove a broad ax into the yielding blocks of yellow fir. It could not have been later than 9 o'clock--probably not more than 8:30.
Suddenly the sound of the mallet ceased, and an instant later Harris reached the stoop and told his wife that there were some Indians down the trail, pointing to the place where the road entered the timber about 75 or 100 yards toward the Wagoner home, and that there was going to be trouble as they had their war paint on. Taken by surprise, Mary Harris was rather slow to appreciate the gravity of the situation, so her husband reinforced his command to get inside by gently pushing her through the open door and shielding her with his body as he followed her in. He had just crossed the threshold when a shot rang out from the direction of the Indians and a bullet pierced his left lung. He closed the door, and as he placed the hardwood bar in a position to secure it he said to his wife that he believed he was mortally wounded. Mrs. Harris then supported him to a bed in a corner opposite the fireplace where a brief but tragic consultation was held.
Harris told his wife that he would be unable to defend her against the Indians whom he was confident were determined upon their destruction; that she must defend herself and children to the best of her ability. When he told her to get the rifle and use it, she protested that she had never fired a gun in her life, much less loaded one, that she knew nothing about a gun, that she simply could not, no, she could not fire a gun.
With an appealing look the wounded man told her that she must defend her home and children. Those two words--home and children--seemed to rouse her from a sort of lethargy that had possessed temporarily her very soul when she realized that her peaceful home had been transformed into a place of carnage. Hardly a minute had passed since they had entered the house and bolted the door before the spirit of Mrs. Harris rose to the situation, and she faltered not again. Taking the trusty rifle down from its hanger she held it while her husband explained hurriedly the mechanism. Sofia brought the powder horn, cap box, bullets and paper wads. These being explained, she loaded the gun, ramming the charge home like a veteran.
Sprawled upon the bed and bleeding profusely, Mr. Harris cautioned her to keep the hammer down until ready to fire, and to use the sights. With that she climbed the ladder to the attic above, where openings in the chinking enabled her to survey the field in all directions. She saw the Indians peering from behind trees in an effort to determine the force that might be in the house and then, with a deadly aim, she opened fire. The smell of powder had its effect, and now she knew of no such thing as fear. Thus the brave woman, who had been reared in the sunshine of culture and refinement, fought her enemies with the courage of a gladiator for a period of 19 consecutive hours.
At first there were only a few Indians present--a scouting party that had ridden over from the Wagoner place to reconnoiter the premises--and these remained well under cover. They appeared to be apprehensive that there was a force in the house, for shots would come from all sides. At intervals a warrior would expose himself in order to draw fire, and dancing about, challenge the besieged to shoot him. They were always accommodated, first from one porthole and then another.
Mrs. Harris was prone, in later years, to bemoan her poor marksmanship, yet with the occasional use of a small revolver she succeeded in impressing upon the savages that there was more than one defender of the fortress. Upon several occasions they endeavored to taunt the inmates to the point where they would come out and give battle, by running into the open air and waving bloody scalps. One of these Mrs. Harris recognized as Mrs. Wagoner's, and another as that of her 4-year-old daughter. The Indians would wave these hideous symbols up and down and from side to side in a fashion designed to create a furious state of mind in the whites, who they supposed had taken refuge in the cabin. After the close of the war the Indians were greatly chagrined to learn that they fought a lone white woman.
Subsequent arrivals from the Wagoner and Haines places brought the total number of Indians about the premises--that is the number that Mrs. Harris was able to count at any one time--up to 21, though she said that it was possible that a greater number were present. She noticed a squaw with the warriors at times, and after a while Mrs. Harris recognized her as a Rogue River Indian whom she had frequently employed to do housework. Having had in her wardrobe an ill-fitting dress, she had given it to the squaw, who now wore it with a savage grace as she aided her kindred in their efforts to murder her benefactress.
During the forenoon a ball entered the lower room through a muslin window and, striking Sofia's arm between the elbow and wrist, broke one of the bones. While she was not wholly deprived of the use of the member, it was exceedingly painful as well as a dangerous wound. Nevertheless the child continued to melt lead bars and mould bullets for her mother, who never left her vigil in the attic until the Indians retired from exhaustion.
As night approached, a bright moon rose over the scene and lighted the open space about the house. This enabled Mrs. Harris to observe every attempt to approach the building with firebrands.
An internal hemorrhage set in after he was shot through the lung, and Mr. Harris fully realized that his hours were numbered. Thirst is one of the direful results of a hemorrhage, but in the case of Mr. Harris his suffering could not be relieved. The open space about the buildings would expose one to a merciless fusillade from all directions, even if Mrs. Harris dared to leave her post.
Shortly after the noon hour the dying man called for his wife to come to him; to bring him water and to relieve his suffering. Soon his calls became ravings, and Mrs. Harris always believed that his suffering was relieved by a delirious condition that developed during the last hours of his life.
Mr. Harris was mortally wounded, and he had so informed his wife when he instructed her to defend her home and children. While the piteous calls for water tore the woman's heartstrings, she fully realized that to leave her post, even for a moment, would only invite irretrievable disaster. Dire extremities indeed, between which she must choose.
From the time she climbed the ladder to the attic during the morning hours Mrs. Harris never saw her husband alive again. When at last she descended from her bullet-torn battlement she made her way in the darkness to the bed and found him cold in death. It was her belief that he died during the last hours of daylight.
With her arm only loosely bandaged, and suffering the most excruciating pain, Sofia continued through the day and night to feed the fire and mould bullets. The supply of wood was soon exhausted, and then she burned everything and anything she could lay hold of. When at last hostilities slackened she gave way to her suffering and cried aloud in anguish. David had not returned, though there was still hope that he might be safe, but the concern which that mother felt for her boy under those circumstances can never be fully realized.
Dame Rumor has had much to say about the number of Indians killed, the fate of David and the captivity of the Wagoners and the Haines, but as to her veracity at least, Rumor is a treacherous character. No one knows what became of the boy. He was never heard of from the time he left the house, nor was there ever found a stitch of clothing or a bone that would suggest a clue. The Indians knew nothing of him, and his fate is still and probably will always remain an unsolved mystery. His mother believed that when he saw the Indians at the house and heard the guns he ran away into the forest and became bewildered and finally was killed by mountain lions.
In response to the question as to whether she killed any of the Indians, Mrs. Harris said that she was not certain that she had, though upon two occasions she had taken deliberate aim and that the two braves at whom she fired did not appear upon the scene again. In early days Indians took delight in being fired at, provided they were not hit, and as it would appear that they did not become furious enough to assault the house en masse the casualties may not have been very great. However, Indians removed their dead and wounded if possible, and any estimate of their loss usually was only a wild guess. It would be interesting to know the result of Mrs. Harris' rifle practice upon that occasion, but beyond the fact that she held the enemy at bay until she was rescued by the troops, the truth will never be known.
The Indians retired between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning of the 10th and moved down the small creek a short distance where they started fires, probably for cooking food. The mother, now for the first time since morning, ventured to the well for water and then washed and dressed the little girl's wounded arm, covered the body of her dead husband with a blanket and made ready to abandon the house. She surmised the Indians would renew the attack as soon as it was light, and she felt that she could not hold out another day. Any fate was preferable to being taken into captivity, so she decided to take a chance for life in the wilderness. Gathering up her suffering child, who between sobs promised to try not to cry, the poor woman abandoned her home and stole away into the shadows of the night.
After a futile tramp through the nearby timber softly calling for David, she concealed herself in a willow thicket south of the house and near the trail. By this time the torture of the little girl from her wound was being intensified by a raging fever, and it was only with the greatest effort that she could avoid crying out in her distress.
She had but a short time to wait until it was light enough to observe the situation. Scanning the morning mist in the direction of her home, she was horrified to see four savages sitting on the bank of the stream near the house, their bare feet in the water. Apparently they were guarding the place while the remaining members of the band were asleep a short distance away. The slightest sound would attract attention, and it was there that the heroic efforts of Sofia were worthy of commendation.
Suddenly she noticed these Indians duck down under the bank into the shallow water and speedily depart. Furiously they made their way to their sleeping comrades, and within a very short time there was not an Indian to be seen in the vicinity; all had vanished like a shadow. Another mystery now confronted the wretched woman. She heard a sound coming from the south. An ominous sound, no doubt, for she knew of no other kind in that accursed locality. It grew nearer and louder, and then it dawned upon her that it was the sound of galloping horses. Then, making out the sound of rattling sabers, she cried aloud, "It's the soldiers! Please God we are rescued!"
Mrs. Harris had lost her tortoiseshell comb, and her golden tresses refused to stay in place. While bending over the couch of her husband her hair became immersed in the blood that saturated the bed clothing, and in the darkened room this had escaped her attention. In her place of refuge in the thicket, her disheveled hair hung in clotted ringlets without sign of order. Her appearance was the more deceptive by reason of her face being blackened with powder smoke. Sofia's appearance was little if any better. When the mother realized that the troops had arrived, she gathered up her child and ran forward with all her strength. A soldier mistook her for a squaw and, enraged at what he had seen at the Wagoner home, lowered his gun. Just as he was pressing the trigger another discovered that she was white and struck the gun barrel in time to save the woman's life, the ball striking the ground in front of her.
Neither the mother nor child had tasted food since the morning of the 9th, and the soldiers now urged them to return to the house and prepare themselves a meal. Remaining only long enough to acquaint themselves with what had taken place and leaving a detail of four volunteers with the rescued, the soldiers hurried on in pursuit of the Indians.
A part of the puncheon floor was then removed and a grave dug in the center of the room. The body of Mr. Harris was then prepared for burial, and the distracted mother and fatherless child were called for a last look at the features of their fallen protector. The blanketed form was then lowered into the grave and the earth returned to its place. It was apparent that the conflict between the whites and reds would develop into a war; therefore it was deemed advisable to leave nothing about the premises that might prove of value to the enemy. The soldiers carried away the gun with which the defense was made and what ammunition was left. Mrs. Harris retained the family Bible before referred to and a small testament that belonged to David. Written on a flyleaf are these words: "Reward of merit. Presented to David W. Harris by his teacher, F. A. Reed, February 24, 1854."
The crucial test of motherhood came after a fruitless search for David, and Mrs. Harris realized that she must abandon her boy to his fate. Words can convey no conception of her anguish as the curtain fell on the pioneer tragedy.
During the day a number of pack outfits had arrived on the river, and two of these men had ridden out to the Harris home to ascertain the extent of the trouble. One, James D. Burnett, an uncle of Alice Hanley, and who was riding a large mule, invited Mrs. Harris to ride behind him to the river. The other man, George McKay, volunteered to take Sofia in front of him on his horse. The torch was then applied, and as the party rode away under the protection of four volunteers the smoke and flames were leaping high over the erstwhile happy home of the Harris family. At the river crossing the rescued were placed in a wagon and taken to Jacksonville.
From that time to the present day the landscape of that tragic field has changed but little. The furrows of the old Oregon-California Trail are overgrown with grass, and lead horse bells are heard no more, nor is there any sound save the bleating of the sheep that frequent the place. Years later the body of Mr. Harris was exhumed and placed in the family plot in the Jacksonville Cemetery. During the remaining years of her life Mrs. Harris visited the place only once, in 1874.
Sofia was married to John S. Love on the 26th of February, 1860, and to this union there were born four children, the second oldest of whom, Mary Harris Love, married John A. Hanley. Among the children born to this union is Miss Claire Hanley, who retains many of the characteristics of the Harris family.
A victim of an attack of malignant smallpox, Sofia yielded her life January 16, 1869, and was buried by the side of her husband, who had preceded her to the grave by 15 months.
Mrs. Harris married Aaron Chambers February 15, 1863, and from that time until her death she resided at the Chambers home four miles northwest of Medford. Mr. Chambers had been married before, and when he died September 15, 1869 he was buried by the side of his first wife. After his death Mrs. Harris-Chambers assumed the management of the farm, which was heavily mortgaged and run down. She succeeded in improving the estate and clearing it of all indebtedness.
February 17, 1882 she died, and after a separation of 28 years was again assigned a place by her husband's side beneath the tangled ivy in the Jacksonville Cemetery.
"And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things have passed away."
Medford Mail Tribune, November 23, 1930, page B1 Alice Hanley's account, the basis for this article, is below:
Briefly, the events which took place were as follows:
George W. Harris and his family had crossed the plains from Tennessee to Oregon in 1853 and had settled the following year on a donation land claim eight miles north of Rogue River, on what was then known as the Oregon-California Trail. His family consisted of his wife, Mary Ann, his eleven-year-old daughter Ann Sophia and his nine-year-old son, David W.
On the morning of October 9, 1855, Mr. Harris was engaged in splitting logs for fencing, and his wife was preparing to do the family washing. Sophia was busy inside, and David had been sent to the garden for a pail of potatoes. Mr. Harris became aware of a band of fifteen to twenty Indians in war paint, and hurriedly left his work and walked rapidly to the house. Although he was ignorant of the fact, the Indians had become infuriated at the wanton massacre of some eighty [sic] Indian women and children at a rancherie on Rogue River two days [sic] before, and had embarked on a bloody trail of reprisal. Mr. Harris reached the cabin and pushed his wife inside, telling her there was going to be trouble, and was instantly struck by a rifle ball in the chest. He bolted the door, told her he was mortally wounded, while she helped him to a bed in the corner of the room. He then told her he could not defend her, and she must do that herself to the best of her ability, and proceeded to instruct her in the loading and firing of the Kentucky rifle, for which he had previously prepared large quantities of ammunition. Sophia brought powder horn, cap box, bullets and paper wads. These being explained, she loaded the gun, climbed the ladder to the attic where holes in the chinking gave her a view in all directions, and opened fire. An Allen revolver, lying on the roof plate, added to her arsenal. At first there were only a few Indians, but soon she was able to count twenty-one, although it is possible she did not see all of them. Among the warriors she saw a squaw whom she had befriended, wearing a dress she had given her.
Sometime during the forenoon a ball entered the window in the lower room and struck the girl Sophia in the arm, breaking a bone. She continued to melt lead bars and mold bullets for her mother, in spite of the pain. Mrs. Harris kept up her steady fire for nineteen consecutive hours.
Between two and three o'clock in the morning of the 10th, the Indians retired and moved down a small creek, where they started fires, presumably for food. It gave the courageous mother a chance to go to the well for water, and bathe her injured daughter's arm. She covered the body of her dead husband and prepared to abandon her home, feeling sure the Indians would return to the attack as soon as it was light. After a short, futile search for her son David, she concealed herself in a willow thicket south of the house and near the trail. When it became light she could discern four savages sitting on the bank of the stream, near the cabin, their bare feet in the water. Suddenly she noticed them ducking under the bank into the shallow stream and disappearing. She could hear the galloping of horses, but did not know if their riders were friends or foes until she heard the rattling of sabers. It was a detachment of U.S. Dragoons from Fort Lane, under the command of Major E. N. Fitzgerald, and twenty volunteers from Jacksonville. She ran out of her hiding place. With her loosened hair, her blood-saturated clothing and her powder-burned face, she did not resemble a white woman, and was almost killed by one of her soldiers. Another soldier struck up [sic] his gun, and the bullet struck the ground in front of her.
The soldiers now urged her to return to the cabin and prepare some food, neither she nor Sophia having eaten since the morning of the 9th. A detail of four volunteers was left with her, and the main body of soldiers moved on in pursuit of the fleeing Indians.
A part of the puncheon floor was removed, and a grave dug in the center of the room. The blanketed form of the father was lowered into it, and the earth put back in place. . . . Then the torch was applied, and everything else belonging to the once-happy family went up in roaring flames. Mrs. Harris realized that she must abandon David to his fate. No trace of the boy was ever found. Frank A. Reed, a single man employed by Mr. Harris, was killed while attempting to escape the massacre, and his skeleton was found the following year.
Alice Hanley, date unknown. Transcribed from a typescript attached to a February 6, 1963 letter from State Highway Engineer Forrest Cooper to A. W. Parsons, Division Engineer of the Bureau of Public Roads, and attributed to Mary Hanley, Oregon Department of Transportation archives.
Last revised March 16, 2017