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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County News: 1835


    George Gay died near Wheatland, Oregon, on the 7th of October, 1882, aged 72 years. Mr. Gay's early life was full of adventure. He was born near Berkeley, in Gloucestershire, England, August 15, 1810. At the age of eleven years he went to sea as an apprentice, and served for four years. After following the sea for eleven years and making voyages to different parts of the world, in 1832 he shipped on board of the whaler Kitty, of London, for a cruise in the Pacific Ocean, and the next year left the ship at Monterey in California, and joined Ewing Young in a trapping expedition along the coast to the mouth of Rogue River. In 1835, he started overland from California with a small party under the leadership of John Turner--one of the three survivors of Jedediah Smith's party of (18) eighteen men who were murdered by the Indians near the mouth of the Umpqua in July, 1828. The other members of the party were Dr. Bailey, John Woodworth, Daniel Miller, ------- Saunders, "Big Tom" (an Irishman), and another man, whose name is forgotten, and a squaw belonging to Turner.
    The party had 47 head of good horses and a complete outfit for trapping. About the middle of June, 1835, the party encamped for the night near a place known as "The Point of Rocks," on the south bank of Rogue River. Early the next morning the Indians commenced dropping into camp, a few at a time. Gay was on guard, and not liking the appearance of the Indians, awoke Turner, who was the leader of the party, and the latter conversed with the savages through his squaw, who spoke Chinook. Turner concluded that there was no harm to be apprehended from their dusky visitors, and, forgetting the fearful massacre which he so narrowly escaped with Smith's party seven years before near the Umpqua, the party became careless. In the meantime, some four or five hundred Indians had assembled in and about the camp of the little party and at a signal furiously attacked the white men with clubs, bows and arrows and knives. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that the Indians obtained three of the eight guns with which Turner and his party were armed. The struggle of the trappers for life was desperate and against fearful odds. The eight men seized whatever they could lay their hands on for defense. Some of them discharged their rifles in the bosoms of their assailants and then clubbed their guns and laid about them with the barrels. Turner, who was a herculean Kentucky giant, not being able to reach his rifle, seized a big fir limb from the camp fire and laid about him lustily, knocking his assailants right and left. At one time the savages had Gay down and were pounding him, but they were crowded so thick as to impede the force of their blows. Old Turner, seeing Gay's peril, made a few vigorous blows with his limb which released him, and the latter, springing to his feet, dealt fearful cuts, thrusts, slashes and stabs with his long, sharp sheath knife upon the naked carcasses of the dusky crowd. The other men, following Turner's and Gay's example, fought with the energy of despair and drove the Indians from their camp. Dan Miller and another trapper were killed upon the spot, while the six survivors of the melee were all more or less seriously wounded. While the fight was going on, the squaws drove off the herd of horses and carried off all of the baggage and camp equipage, together with three rifles. Three of the remaining guns were rendered useless by having their stocks broken off in the clubbing process. The six badly wounded survivors took to the brush and kept the Indians at bay with their two remaining rifles. By traveling in the nighttime and hiding in the brush in the daytime they managed to elude the Indians but suffered terribly from their wounds and for want of provisions and clothing. Dr. Bailey had received a fearful wound from a tomahawk, which split his lower jaw from the point of the chin to the throat. From want of proper treatment, the parts never properly united, and many old pioneers will recollect the unsightly scar that disfigured his face for life. Saunders' wounds disabled him from traveling, and he was left on the South Umpqua, and "Big Tom" was left on the North Umpqua. The Indians subsequently reported to Dr. McLoughlin that both men had died of their wounds where they were left. Turner, Gay, Woodworth and Dr. Bailey, after reaching the head of the Willamette Valley, differed about the route. Turner mistook the Willamette for the Columbia. Gay, in his sea voyages, had seen a map or chart showing that the Columbia ran west, and determined to strike due north in search of the great river, upon the banks of which he expected to find Hudson's Bay trappers and traders. Turner, Bailey and Woodworth followed down the Willamette River until, in a famishing condition, they struck the Methodist mission below Salem. Gay kept along the foothills on the west side of the valley and crossed the Rickreall about where Dallas now stands, and crossed the Yamhill River at the falls near Lafayette, passing along on the west side of Wapato Lake, and crossing the Tualatin plains reached Wythe's trading post on Sauvie's Island sometime in August. Before separating from his companions, Gay had cut up his buckskin breeches to make moccasins for the party and made most of the journey in a naked condition, with the exception of the tattered remains of an old shirt. The mosquitoes nearly devoured him in the Columbia bottom. This perilous trip of nearly 500 miles was made nearly fifty years ago and was a terrible test of the endurance of a naked, wounded and starving man.
J. W. Nesmith, "Biographical Sketch of George Gay," Transactions of the Tenth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1882, pages 88-90



    After a long and tedious ride we reached the Willamette opposite to the Camp Maude du Sable122 or [Champoeg] where we took up our quarters in a house belonging to George Gay, who after this became my guide. George is full as much an Indian in habits as a white can be & bears them no love & is a terror to them, having not infrequently taken the law into his own and applied it after the Lynch fashion. George is of that easy kind of lounging figure so peculiar to an Indian or backwoodsman, has a nice & useful Indian woman who does his bidding and takes care of his children, horses & guards his household. Though his property does not consist of many valuables, superfluities with him are not to be found, and when you see George & his woman & child traveling you may be sure his all is with him. But George is a useful member in this small community, he gelds & marks cattle, breaks horses, and cows for milking, assists in finding them; in short he undertakes any and all irregular sort of business, and few things with him are deemed impossibilities, and in the words of one of the settlers George was not a man to be trifled or fooled with. He afterwards became my guide and I had much confidence in him.
Lt. Charles Wilkes, June 9, 1841, "Diary of Wilkes in the Northwest," Washington Historical Quarterly, January 1926, page 56




Last revised May 22, 2017