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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


The Siskiyou Massacre

The tunnel referred to below is the infamous Tunnel 13.


[Description of the massacre site in 1841.]
    As they ascended, they every moment expected to be attacked, particularly at a steep and narrow path, where a single horse has barely room to pass. The man Tibbetts was one of a party of fifteen which was defeated here by the Indians some three years before. One of their number was killed, and two died of their wounds on the Umpqua, whither they were obliged to retreat, although they had forced the Indians back with great loss. He showed great anxiety to take his revenge on them, but no opportunity offered, for the party had no other difficulty than scrambling up a steep path, and through thick shrubbery, to reach the top. Not an Indian was to be seen, although they had evidently made some preparations to attack the party; the ground had been but recently occupied, some large trees felled across the path by burning, and many other impediments placed to prevent the party from advancing. The whole mountainside was admirably adapted for an ambuscade.
Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1845, vol. 5, pages 236-237


[In 1845.]
   
About 12 we began to climb the Siskiyou Mountain, which is not difficult nor steep compared with some we have passed. Near the top of this mountain is a bad thicket to pass where nearly all the parties passing this trail have been attacked.
Charles L. Camp, ed., James Clyman, American Frontiersman, 1792-1881, California Historical Society 1928, entry of June 23, 1845, page 160


From our Extra, of Thursday, 27th last.
Horrible Massacre!
Three white men murdered by Indians, and two wounded.
The murderers gone free without pursuit.

    It becomes our painful duty to lay before the public the particulars of another dreadful slaughter by the Indians. Like the last, it was unprovoked and unlooked-for.
    On Tuesday last, four men started with seven yoke of oxen and two wagons to haul flour from Rogue River Valley to Yreka. When they arrived within a few hundred yards of the summit of the Siskiyou, they were compelled to double their teams upon one wagon in order to haul the load up a steep pitch. Three of the men went up with the wagon, and the four remained with the wagon below. When they arrived within a few yards of the summit they were fired upon by the Indians, who were lying in wait for them. One of the men named Fields fell, pierced with eight bullets. A boy, in the employ of Dick Evans, of Rogue River Valley, was wounded badly, and crawled from the road to the tree where he was found by the Indians afterwards, and shot through the head. The third man escaped with a slight wound. The oxen, being then in a steep place of the hill, backed with the wagon a considerable distance and finally turned, capsized the wagon and were thrown into a heap, where they were all, 14 in number, shot as they lay. The Indians then proceeded over the Siskiyou to Cottonwood Creek. They made their appearance at a place about four miles above the town of Cottonwood, called the Cottonwood Bar. Two miners who were engaged in washing out a sluice saw them, and as they endeavored to make their escape were fired upon. One of them got away with his life, although he was severely wounded. The other, however, shared the fate of those on the mountain. His name was Samuel Warner. He has been for some time past a resident of Cottonwood.
    Thus have three of our most worthy citizens been brought to an untimely grave by these merciless hellhounds--their property destroyed--and others wounded so severely as to make death desirable to them. How much longer will our citizens refrain from adopting the only measure which can secure us in our lives and property? Will the risk of the destruction of a few hundred dollars worth of property in Rogue River Valley any longer be considered a sufficient reason for not dealing out to these fiends even-handed justice? We trust not. The whole valley, with all the property therein, would not compensate for half the lives destroyed by these soulless villains. These Indians have gone down the Klamath by the way of Beaver Creek, and most likely will travel the same path heretofore taken by them on a late similar excursion, and when they have satiated their temporary thirst for the blood of our citizens will return again to the valley and claim that protection from our U.S. troops which experience has naturally led them to expect.
    The majority of the inhabitants of Rogue River Valley objected to a war of extermination two months ago, on the ground that the Indians might destroy a great deal of property. As a just recompense for this criminal forbearance, they have lost three of their citizens; had they acted with the miners and citizens of Siskiyou then, the lives of these men would have been saved. We hope by this time they will be awakened to a sense of their duty, and that another like occurrence may not be necessary to convince the people of this county of the necessity of a total extermination--the consummation of which must be forthwith--and in the speedy accomplishment of this desideratum, let that degree of determination, characteristic with our citizens, be manifested--let us do what we consider our duty, protestations of any captain or Indian agent to the contrary notwithstanding. We apprehend that still sadder news will reach us before the day closes.
    The band numbered about twelve warriors, thoroughly armed and equipped, of course, and fully prepared to deal death among the unsuspecting miners and travelers, wherever their fancy may lead them.
    Persons traveling between Yreka and Beaver Creek, and on Klamath, will do well to be on their guard.
The Union, Yreka, California, September 29, 1855, page 2


    Capt. Judah, with his usual promptness, is now with his men in pursuit of the perpetrators of the late murders. Major Fitzgerald, of Fort Lane, is also in pursuit.

The Union, Yreka, California, September 29, 1855, page 2


    On Tuesday last two men were killed by the Indians near the summit of the Siskiyou Mountains. The men were teaming, hauling flour to Yreka from Mr. Wait's mill, were unarmed at the time. There were four in company, two escaped, thirteen head of work cattle were shot dead in the yoke. The Indians took six sacks of flour; nothing else was disturbed. The next day on Cottonwood a party of three men, miners, were fired upon by Indians, one killed and one wounded, the third escaped unhurt. Capt. Smith started a detachment of dragoons immediately after them.
    I am satisfied these murders were not perpetrated by any Indians belonging to the reserve. I believe it to have been done by those same Indians with whom a party of white men had a difficulty within a few miles east of the Mountain House, an account of which I wrote you at the time. They were Shastas and "Tipsu Tyee's" people beyond a doubt.
Rogue Valley Indian Agent George H. Ambrose, monthly report to Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer, September 31, 1855,
Joseph Lane Papers, Indiana University


    Since my last letter to you in relation to Indian disturbances, murders etc., an affair has occurred with the whites and Indians in Rogue River Valley in which one white man was killed and two wounded and another a day or two since on the road to Yreka from Jacksonville in which the Indians murdered two whites and wounded another and shot 12 yoke of oxen wantonly and then went by Cottonwood and shot two more men, one of whom was killed.
James Pleasant Goodall, letter to Joseph Lane, October 4, 1855, Joseph Lane Papers, Indiana University


    From YREKA. To our friends Brastow & Horsley we are indebted for the Yreka Union Extra, from which we clip the following news items: "Will the General Government ever afford protection to its citizens! On Tuesday last four men started with eleven yoke of oxen and two wagons to haul flour from Rogue River Valley to Yreka. When they had arrived within a few hundred yards of the summit of the Siskiyou, they were compelled to double their teams upon one wagon, in order to haul flour from Rogue River Valley to Yreka. When they had arrived within a few hundred yards of the summit of the Siskiyou, they were compelled to double their teams upon one wagon, in order to haul the load up a steep pitch. Three of the men went up with the wagon, and the fourth remained with the wagon below. When they arrived within a few hundred yards of the summit, they were fired upon by Indians who were lying in wait for them. One of the men, named Fields, fell pierced with eight bullets. A boy, in the employ of Dick Evans, of Rogue River Valley, was wounded badly, and crawled from the road to a tree, where he was found by the Indians afterwards and shot through the head. The third man escaped with a slight wound. The oxen, being then in a steep place on the hill, backed with the wagon a considerable distance and finally turned, capsized the wagon, and were thrown into a heap, where they were all, fourteen in number, shot where they lay. The Indians then proceeded over the Siskiyou to Cottonwood Creek. They made their appearance at a place about four miles above the town of Cottonwood, called Cottonwood Bar. Two miners who were engaged in washing out a sluice saw them, and as they endeavored to make their escape were fired upon. One of them got away with his life, although he was severely wounded. The other, however, shared the fate of those on the mountain. He has been for some time past a resident of Cottonwood. His name was Samuel Warner. The band numbered about twelve warriors, thoroughly armed and equipped, of course, and fully prepared to deal death among the unsuspecting miners and travelers, wherever their fancy may lead them. Persons traveling between Beaver Creek and Klamath will do well to be on their guard."
Shasta Courier, October 6, 1855, quoted by May Hélène Bacon Boggs, My Playhouse Was a Concord Coach, 1942, page 233


    THREE WHITE MEN MURDERED BY INDIANS.--An extra from the office of the Yreka Union details the killing of three men and the wounding of two others by the Indians, near the summit of the Siskiyou Mountain on 24th Sept. One of the men was named Samuel Warner, and other Field, and the third unknown. The Indians numbered twelve and were all well armed.
Petaluma Weekly Journal and Sonoma County Advertiser, Petaluma, California, October 6, 1855, page 3


Rogue River Correspondence of the Statesman.
Jacksonville, Sept. 28, 1855.
    Dear Bush--We have further Indian outrages to record. Last Tuesday evening, Sept. 25th, about 4 o'clock, Messrs. H. B. Oatman, Daniels, Brittain, Fields and a boy by the name of Cunningham, whose first name I do not  know, were on the way to Yreka with ox teams loaded with flour, and when near the summit of the Siskiyou, just above the Mountain House, they were fired upon by Indians, and Mr. Fields and young Cunningham killed. Mr. Oatman was ahead, and although within sixty feet of the guns, escaped unhurt towards Yreka. Mr. Brittain was immediately in the rear, at the foot of a steep pitch, and hearing the shooting ran up to the summit where the affray was occurring in time to witness a part of it, and fled back to the Mountain House, from whence a company went up and brought down Mr. Fields, still living. He died in a few hours after. It appears that the boy, after being wounded, obtained the shelter of a large tree, and was afterwards discovered and shot through the head. His body was found the next day. Before leaving the ground the murderers shot thirteen of the oxen dead, the remainder escaping, some and perhaps of all of them wounded. The attack was entirely without provocation, and undoubtedly without any other motive than that of injury to the whites. They had no knowledge of the neighborhood of Indians until the guns were fired, while the character of the men and their pursuit, as well as the circumstances attending the outrage, preclude the idea that personal revenge could have had anything to do with it.
    Col. [Nathaniel] Ford, with his surveying party, were so near as to hear the guns, and why they were not attacked is yet inexplicable. The next day, while not yet apprised of the murders, one of the men had a narrow escape. He had wounded a deer, and followed it to the summit of a ridge, and looking to see where it went, saw Indians concealed and evidently waiting for him to get within reach of their pieces. He retreated probably undiscovered. The next morning they broke up their camp and left the neighborhood, and the Col. is now here on his way home.
    How many Indians were engaged we have no reliable means of knowing. By a log were found several disguises constructed of boughs, to shelter them from observation, and from the extent of this kind of preparation, discovered nearby, it is evident that there were from twelve to twenty of them. Col. Ford's men heard somewhere about twenty guns, while the men who went up to the scene the next day calculated that within a very few minutes at least fifty shots were made, and that they were all with U.S. pieces--yager rifles. Either they loaded and fired with more than Indian expertness or the number above is an underestimate. They are undoubtedly the same band who committed the murders on the Humbug.
    The next day, a little beyond, towards Yreka, on the Cottonwood, the Indians, probably the same band, surprised and shot a white man and a Humboldt Indian who was working with him in a shaft, and carried away a squaw with whom the white man was living. What was the particular pretext, or whether there were any, is not known.
    Rumors come in of the murder of two men on the upper Applegate, not many miles from Cottonwood, by Indians, but I apprehend they originated in the affray on the Siskiyous--though we have our fears.
    The Indians are supposed to have taken refuge in the famous cave, of which you have heard, in the mountains near Cottonwood.
    Steps are being taken towards sending out a volunteer force in pursuit. It is to be hoped that the measure may succeed.
[unsigned]
Oregon Statesman, Corvallis, October 13, 1855, page 3


    November 6[, 1855].--This morning we crossed the Siskiyou Mountains. At first the ascent was gradual, and the road soon began to wind up a steep slope, portions of which were rendered very slippery by clay and rain, until, at length, the summit, elevated 2,385 feet above camp, was attained. Here the mountain was densely timbered, but near the base there were comparatively few trees. The descent, for a short distance, was very abrupt, and it soon became gentle and broken by a few hills. A pile of stones by the roadside marked the boundary between Oregon and California.
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 109



House of Representatives
    19th January 1867.
Hon. Lewis V. Bogy
    Commissioner
        Dear Sir:    I wish you to furnish me with a copy of all the reports in your office about the killing of cattle on the Siskiyou Mountain in Southern Oregon on the 27 day of Sept. 1855. I learn the property of Richard Evans was destroyed and one or two men were killed by the Rogue River Indians or Shasta Indians.
J. H. D. Henderson
    M.C. Oregon
NARA Series M234 Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs 1824-81, Reel 615 Oregon Superintendency, 1866-1869, frames 399-400.


HARRISON B. OATMAN.
    This gentleman came to Oregon in the pioneer days, made his home here, invested every cent of money which he possessed in our land, and ever since has had his interests identified with that of the state. Such being the case, he ever stood ready to contribute his share by word and act toward its prosperity, and the result has been that today Mr. Oatman is one of our large land owners, and possesses multifarious interests throughout our city and state. He was born in Courtland, New York, in 1826. When a child his parents moved to Bellevue, Ohio, where he attended school, and when he was at the age of twelve they again removed, this time to Rockford, Illinois, in which place they farmed for four years. At the age of twenty-one, Mr. Oatman was married to Miss Lucena K. Ross, and in the year 1852 he, with his wife and family, crossed the plains to Oregon and located in Rogue River Valley, where he engaged in farming and afterwards mined and trafficked in merchandise. He remained there fourteen years and then came to Portland, where he has since resided. On arriving here, he went into the grocery business, and, becoming the owner of considerable real estate, he finally gave up the grocery trade and devoted himself solely to speculating in lands. Last October, when the Metropolitan Savings Bank was organized, Mr. Oatman was one of the first subscribers to its stock, and he is now one of its heaviest stockholders. On April 4, 1865, Mr. Oatman joined the First Oregon Infantry, and after serving two years, was mustered out July 14, 1867. It was said that this company was the last one composed of white men in the volunteer service. In this company Mr. Oatman was made lieutenant and was frequently commended for gallant conduct on the field.
Frank E. Hodgkin and J. J. Galvin, Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon, 1882, pages 118-119


    The next event of the sort is a still more serious one, which occurred on the twenty-fifth of September, and involved the death of two persons. On the previous day Harrison B. Oatman and Daniel P. Brittain, of Phoenix, and Calvin M. Fields, started from Phoenix, each driving an ox-team loaded with flour destined for Yreka. Camping the first night near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, the train started up the ascent the next morning, doubling their teams frequently, as was made necessary by the steepness of the road. When within three hundred yards of the summit, Oatman and Fields advancing with two teams and one wagon, while Brittain remained with two wagons and one team, the latter heard five shots fired in the vicinity of the men in advance. Hurrying up the rise he quickly came in sight of the teams, which were standing still, while an Indian was apparently engaged in stripping a fallen man. Turning back, Brittain ran down the mountain, followed by a bullet from the Indian's rifle, but made his way unhurt to the Mountain House, three miles from the scene of the attack. Six men hastily mounted and returned to the summit. Oatman meanwhile had escaped, and got to Hughes' house (now Byron Cole's) on the California side, and obtained help. He reported that at the time the attack began, a youth named Cunningham, who was returning from Yreka with a team, was passing Oatman and Fields when the attack was made, and that he was wounded at the instant Fields fell dead. The latter's body was lying in the road, stripped, but Cunningham was only found the next day, lying dead by a tree behind which he had taken refuge. The exact spot where the catastrophe occurred--says Mr. Brittain, who still resides at Phoenix--is where the railroad tunnel enters from the Oregon side. It is the gentleman's opinion that about fifteen Indians were concerned in the attack. The date mentioned, September twenty-fifth, is taken from Mr. Robinson's diary, although Mr. Brittain is of the opinion that it took place three days later. Newspaper accounts give the twenty-fourth as the proper date.
Albert G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, 1884, page 240


    In [1855] while engaged with several others in hauling flour across the Siskiyou Mountains the party were attacked by Indians while drinking at a spring, just where the entrance of the Siskiyou tunnel now is. Several of the party were killed at the first discharge, and the cattle were all shot down. The faithful beasts which had drawn Mr. Oatman and all his belongings so many hundred miles across the plains and labored for him afterward were killed before his eyes.
    Mr. Oatman and two companions started for the top of the mountain, 500 yards distant. One of them was shot in the temple and fell, and after going a short distance the other was also shot down, and Mr. Oatman, running all the way under fire, gained the top of the mountain untouched, the only man of the party who escaped alive.
    Running down the other side of the mountain, toward California, he met a man on horseback and asked to be taken up behind, telling him about the Indians. The man wheeled his horse and made off at full speed, leaving Mr. Oatman to escape as best he could.
    This was the outbreak of the Rogue River War, which aroused the settlers and resulted in the killing of many Indians and their complete subjugation.
    A singular incident of the affair was that one of the men shot at the spring closely resembled Mr. Oatman, and the body was brought back to the Mountain House and Mr. Oatman's brother sent for, who took charge of the remains. Mr. Oatman, after reaching the mountain house on the other side [i.e., the mountain house on the south slope at Cole's], sent back a letter by the first party crossing, announcing that he was safe. This was handed to his brother, who could not believe his own eyes. He looked at the letter and the dead man, whom he was sure was Mr. Oatman, and the faces being disfigured by the shot, it was some time before he could make up his mind that the body was that of another man.
    Fourteen years later Mr. Oatman and his son visited the scene of the massacre, and there he found the bones of his faithful oxen, which he recognized readily by the horns, which he knew well.

"A Model Fruit Farm," Oregonian, August 29, 1888, page 8


    OATMAN, HARRISON B., of Portland, was born in Courtland County, New York, February 25, 1826. His father, Harvey B. Oatman, died one year after the birth of our subject. One year later he accompanied his mother to Bellevue, Huron County, Ohio, where the family remained ten years and then settled in West Liberty, Ohio. Here they remained four years, after which they removed to Elgin, Illinois, and a few years later to Ogle County, in the same state. The latter place was at this time a new country, and here Mr. Oatman commenced life on his own account as a farmer on land obtained from the government. On December, 25, 1847, he was married to Miss Lucena K. Ross, a most estimable lady, who from that day to the present time has not only shared his fortunes, but has been a most excellent wife and mother and in its highest sense a worthy helpmate and companion.
    He remained at Ogle until the fall of 1852, when he removed to Des Moines, Iowa, and the following summer (1853) with his brother, Harvey B. Oatman, and their families, started on the long journey across the plains to Oregon. After several weary months of traveling they arrived in the Rogue River Valley, in the fall of 1853, and here the two brothers and their wives took up a claim of 640 acres to which they were entitled under the donation act, near Phoenix. The old wagon which had survived the journey of more than 3,000 miles was placed on the line dividing the respective claims and served as a place of habitation until a log cabin could be erected, and in this primitive way they commenced life in Oregon.
    For fourteen years following Mr. Oatman remained in the Rogue River Valley engaged in farming, mining and merchandising. He was a part owner of the mine of the "49" Mining Company in Southern Oregon, retaining his interest until after he had located in Portland. He also established the first store in Phoenix, which he successfully conducted for some time. Numerous incidents occurred during the period Mr. Oatman resided in Rogue River Valley illustrating the dangers of pioneer life in Oregon at that day. Perhaps the most thrilling incident in his experience occurred on September 25, 1855. On the preceding day Mr. Oatman, with Daniel P. Brittain and Calvin M. Field, started from Phoenix, each with ox teams and a load of flour destined for Yreka, California. Camping the first night near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, the train started up the ascent in the morning, Mr. Oatman in the lead. When within 300 feet of the summit the party was fired upon by Indians. Field and a young man by the name of Cunningham, who was passing at the time, were killed, Mr. Oatman alone escaping of those attacked, as Mr. Brittain, who was in the rear of the party had not reached the scene, but having heard the shots fired in the vicinity of the men in advance, fled down the mountain to the Mountain House, three miles from the place of attack. Mr. Oatman, although within sixty feet of the guns, miraculously escaped unhurt and fled to the Mountain House for assistance. Before leaving, the Indians killed thirteen of the oxen, the remainder of them escaping. The attack was without provocation and the first in a series of Indian outrages which led to the greatest Indian war known on the Pacific Coast, which raged along the Columbia, around Puget Sound and in the region of Rogue River, from the fall of 1855 to the summer of 1856. No less than 4,000 warriors were at times in arms against the whites, and only a lack of hearty and intelligent cooperation on the part of the hostiles saved the outlaying settlements from total annihilation, and the more populous communities of the Willamette Valley from all the horrors of barbaric warfare.
    The first years of the war of the rebellion passed without faraway Oregon experiencing much of the hardships of the great struggle. But as it grew in magnitude and hundreds of thousands of men were needed by the North to carry on the gigantic strife, the regular troops were withdrawn from the remote frontiers and sent to the front. Oregon, in common with the other states and territories of the Pacific Coast, was left exposed to the hostility of the Indians, who immediately after the departure of the troops who had kept them in peaceful subjection, began to assume a warlike attitude and on several occasions were guilty of acts of violence. In this emergency the loyal men of Oregon were called upon to defend the life and property of the people. Mr. Oatman was among those who promptly volunteered for this service and on April 4, 1865, enlisted in the United States Army, to serve during the war, being mustered in at Camp Baker, Rogue River Valley, as first lieutenant of Company I, Captain F. B. Sprague, First Regiment of Oregon Infantry. The services of this regiment were confined to the protection of the frontier and in operations against the Indians, being actively employed until mustered out July 19, 1867, and supposed to be the last volunteer regiment discharged from service by the government.
    Mr. Oatman made a highly commendable record as a soldier, on several occasions being entrusted with important duties, which he discharged in such manner as to receive high praise from his superior officers. On October 14, 1866, he was ordered by Capt. Sprague, with twenty-two men from his command, and four Klamath Indians as scouts, to proceed from Fort Klamath and to scout the country from that point east to Camp Bidwell, California. On the day following the order he started on his mission, and in seven days arrived at Camp Bidwell, 153 miles distant. On the return Lieut. Oatman's command was joined by a small detachment of regular troops, under Lieut. Small, U.S. Cavalry, and on October 25th an engagement was had with a band of Snake Indians, in the vicinity of Lake Abert. In this engagement, which lasted for three hours, the Indians numbering seventy strong were completely routed, fourteen were killed, more than twenty wounded and fifteen lodges, together with winter supplies for a hundred men were destroyed. For his service in this battle Lieut. Oatman's conduct was highly commended in general orders by Major General George F. Steele in command of the Department of the Columbia, while Lieut. Small in his report of the battle stated: "Lieut. Oatman commanded the line on the left with commendable skill and energy, and the troops acquitted themselves throughout the engagement in the most soldierly manner."
    In October, following his discharge from the army, Mr. Oatman with his family located in Portland, where he has ever since resided. He first embarked in the grocery business, in which he continued for some two years alone, after which Hon. Van B. DeLashmutt became a partner. The latter was succeeded as a partner by Frank Hackney, with whom Mr. Oatman remained in partnership about two years. At this time he had become the owner of considerable real estate, and he gave up the grocery business that he might devote his attention to land speculation. In 1872, with Mr. DeLashmutt, he embarked in a real estate and brokerage business. They are still associated in numerous purchases of real estate in and near the vicinity of Portland, owning many acres of very valuable land. Mr. Oatman has been very successful in his real estate speculations, which have been conducted on a large scale, and which already have realized him a large fortune. He was one of the first subscribers to the stock of the Metropolitan Savings Bank, and is also largely interested in the Coeur d'Alene mines.
    As a business man Mr. Oatman has achieved a high degree of success. He started in life with very limited educational advantages, and without the aid or assistance of money or influential friends. All that he has he has acquired by his own exertion, and is a fine type of the so-called self-made man, of whom the Pacific Slope furnishes so many illustrious examples. He is a man of cheerful, jovial nature, who looks on the bright side of life and believes in extracting all the good out of existence possible and consistent with right living.
    Mr. and Mrs. Oatman have had four children, all of whom are living. The eldest, James Harvey, is a very prosperous merchant at Bonanza, in Southern Oregon, while the other children, Charles, John and Lucena, are living at home with their parents.

H. V. Scott, History of Portland, Oregon, 1890, pages 617-619


THE SISKIYOU MASSACRE OF 1855.
BY D. P. BRITTAIN.
    On September 24th, 1855, Harrison Oatman, Cal. Fields and I started from Phoenix with ox teams, loaded with flour, for Yreka, Cal. We camped the first night on Neil Creek. The road over [the] Siskiyou Mountains was very rough. Fields had been over the road before, but Oatman and I had not; so Fields went in the lead with his team of four yoke of oxen. We had to "double teams" up bad hills, as that was before the toll road was made.
    When we got near the summit of the mountain Fields said, "This is the last place we have to double; we will get to the top this time."
    Oatman and Fields started up while I remained with my team. When they got near the top, the Indians that were waiting in brush fired on them, killing Fields the first fire. Oatman ran up the mountain. Just at this time a Mr. Cunningham met them, jumped out of his wagon and ran with Oatman, the Indians whooping the war-whoop and shooting at the men as they ran. Cunningham was shot in the hip and fell. Oatman past him and ran on to the top of the hill where he met a man on horseback and told him what had happened. The horseman rode back to Mountain House, three miles, for assistance. Four men, well armed, came as quick as possible. When I heard the firing I ran up to see what had happened. I was sure our men were both killed. When I got within twenty steps of the wagons I saw an Indian. He got behind a tree and pointed his gun towards me. Just then I saw another Indian on the other side of a wagon emptying flour out of the sacks. When I saw what was done I started back to my team.
    As I started, the Indian behind the tree fired at me; then I got scared and ran on to where the toll-house now stands, two miles. There I caught up with a pack train with twenty mules, in charge of a white man and a Spaniard, and, informing them what had happened, asked for an animal to ride. They at once hurried their animals, declaring the Indians would kill every one of us before we could get out. I jumped on the bell horse, the men telling me to run him as fast as possible and not let any grass grow under his feet. I had no bridle, nothing but the bell strap to guide the horse with. I whipped with a short rope and my hat and I think I made the best time that any man and horse ever made for four miles down that mountain to where Major Barron's place now is. James Russell, now living in Ashland, was there then. Six men, armed and mounted, started to the place of the massacre. I came three miles farther on, got a horse and gun and started back to join the men. They had met the men that came from the other way, at the wagons, where Fields' body was found, stripped of its clothing. By this time it was getting dark and they could not find Cunningham. Thirteen oxen were killed in the road. The men brought Fields' body down to my wagon, saying it was Oatman's, and that Fields was at the house on the other side of the mountain.
    The men urged me to lie down, as I was about tired out. Men were sent to Phoenix, but no one wanted to tell Mrs. Oatman her husband was killed. Before daylight the mistake was discovered and word was at once sent to Mrs. Oatman about the trouble. At daybreak parties set out to hunt for the lost boy, Cunningham, and found him about fifty yards from the wagons, killed and his body stripped of clothing. He was brought down and buried in the Hill graveyard.
    Fields was buried east of the present town of Talent, near Bear Creek. Harrison Oatman now lives in Portland.

Talent News, September 15, 1892, page 1


HARRISON B. OATMAN, one of Oregon's respected pioneers, came to the state in 1853. He was born in Cortland, New York, February 26, 1826. His parents, Harry B. and Matilda (Knapp) Oatman, removed to Ohio, where the subject of this sketch was raised until his twelfth year. He then went to Rockford and was married there to Lucinda K. Ross in 1847. She was a native of Orleans County, New York, and the daughter of Nathan K. and Lucy (Braman) Ross. When Mr. and Mrs. Oatman came to Oregon they settled first in Jackson County, on a donation claim. Their house was contrived out of the wagon cover with which they had crossed the plains, and it was in these wilds that they lived. Their nearest neighbor was over a mile off. When the Rogue River Indian war broke out, Mr. Oatman enlisted in Company I, First Oregon Infantry, and was stationed at Fort Klamath. He was made first lieutenant at the close of the war and was mustered out. After he had spent several years at the mines he located a mile south of Phoenix, in Jackson County. He took out considerable gold from what was called the Forty-Niner Claim. In the fall of 1867 he sold it and came to Portland and engaged in the retail grocery trade, on the corner of First and Main streets. After five successful years of business he sold out and embarked in the real estate business on his own account. The constant increase in the value of land in Portland and vicinity crowned his efforts with success and resulted in his amassing a large amount of property. He purchased a farm three and one-half miles southeast of the center of the city of Portland and built a house upon it in 1877. He cleared up the land, and one of the railroads runs through the property. He has enlarged and rebuilt the residence, and now has a beautiful home and the land is valued at $1,500 an acre. Seventeen years ago it cost $20 an acre. Mr. Oatman has a large amount of city property.
    They have four children: James Harvey, married to Priscilla Dollarhide of Iowa, and have six children. The other children are Charles, John R. and Lucena, now the wife of C. W. Kern.
    Mr. Oatman is a member of the G.A.R. and of the Masonic fraternity. In politics he is a Republican. At the time of writing this article Mr. Oatman was in poor health, and most of the material for the article was given by his son James Harvey. Mr. Oatman is a good man, a worthy pioneer, and his many friends wish him a speedy recovery.

Rev. H. K. Hines, An Illustrated History of the State of Oregon, 1893, pages 315-316



    In the fall of 1855 the hardy young pioneer [Harrison B. Oatman] was engaged in supplying the miners of northern California with flour and other provisions. The transportation facilities were limited to ox teams, and the trip over the Siskiyou Mountains from the Rogue River Valley was a rough one. While upon one of these trips Mr. Oatman's party was attacked by Indians on September 25, 1855, and two of the members, Calvin M. Field and a young man named Cunningham, were killed. Among members of the party, Daniel F. Brittain made his escape on the Oregon side of the mountains, while Mr. Oatman made his way to the Mountain House, on the California side, a distance of six miles from the spot where the attack was made, closely pursued for the greater part of the distance by the redskins. This was the first skirmish of the famous Rogue River Indian war, which lasted far into the next year. The long tunnel of the Oregon & California railroad penetrates the mountains directly under the spot upon the old mountain road where Mr. Oatman's party was attacked, and Oregon pioneers, while passing through the tunnel, never fail to recall Mr. Oatman's famous run for life.
"Death of a Southern Oregon Pioneer," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, June 2, 1893, page 3


    About this time the Modoc Indians took a turn at the hatchet and murdered everybody who crossed Siskiyou Mountains, and I [Sam Hughes] joined a party organized to punish them. In 1855 I bought the Mountain House at Yreka, but later the same year, because of failing health, I sold it to William Rockfellow, who, by the way was an uncle of Olive Oatman, whose tragic death [sic] is familiar to all early Arizonans, and went to San Francisco.
"Biographical: A Brief Sketch of Hon. Sam Hughes as Related to a Citizen Reporter," Arizona Weekly Citizen, Tucson, February 29, 1896, page 4



    About three miles from the Coles' and near the foot of the mountain was another well-kept house owned and kept by a man named Rockafellow. From his place to the summit of the Siskiyou Mountains was a steep climb for about three miles, and then a steep descent down into a canyon and over some spurs and on down to the Mountain House eight miles from Rockafellow's place. From the summit down the canyon was a lonesome piece of road and along which many crimes had been committed.
    Just a short time before I went on the road, the Modoc Indians had attacked three teamsters [Harrison B. Oatman, Daniel P. Brittain and Calvin M. Fields], one of whom they killed; they also killed the nine yokes of oxen and burned the wagons after taking all they could get away with from them. The teamsters were loaded chiefly with flour, bacon and other eatables. The remnants were all over the grade in the creek, and [it] was not a pleasant place to pass.
    Sometimes the road across the mountains was considered unsafe on account of Indians and road agents, and I sometimes crossed after night. I recollect crossing one night coming north, and the night was dark as Egypt. It was about ten o'clock when I got to the summit. I had two horses--a pack horse and a riding horse. The pack horse was loose in the road ahead, and at the summit I got off to lead my riding horse down the steep part of the hill. He refused to be led very fast, and I turned him loose with the other horse and got in behind with a stick to encourage him to go faster. When we got opposite the old debris, where the man and oxen were killed and the wagons burned, there was a terrible racket in the brush and a big snort. The horses also gave a snort and broke on down the road as fast as they could run. I felt the hair raise the hat on my head, but I never waited to investigate, but nearly kept up with the horses, which I overtook about a mile down the road and rode on to my station--the Mountain House.
    I never knew what was the cause of the rumpus, but always thought it was a bear.
"Pioneer Day Pony Express Rider Led an Eventful Life,"
undated Roseburg News-Review clipping, DAR scrapbooks vol. 18, RVGS.   Byars rode the mail route on the Siskiyou Trail in 1856-1858.


    The narrowest escape that [express rider Cornelius C. Beekman] had from the Indians was on September 25, 1855. At the summit of the Siskiyous he met 14 or 15 Indians, who allowed him to pass unmolested in order to surprise the drivers of three wagons loaded with flour from Waits Mill at Phoenix, which were within sound of a crack of a whip behind him. One of the three drivers, Calvin M. Fields, and an 18-year-old youth named Cunningham, who was passing with an empty wagon, were killed by the Indians. The youth, however, was only slaughtered by the Indians after a chase, his body being found next day in a hollow tree where he had vainly tried to hide. John Walker, who led a company of men after the Indians, found in Klamath County the body of a buck clothed with the hickory shirt which young Cunningham had worn at the time of his death. The redskin had been killed by his fellow tribesmen as the result of a quarrel. Ever since this particular region has been known as the Dead Indian Country.
    The drivers of two of the wagons, Oatman and Brittain, escaped.
    The men killed that day have been nearly forgotten and the survivors of the ambuscade, except Mr. Beekman, have since died, but the 9000 pounds of flour and the 24 oxen destroyed that day have not been forgotten, as is evidenced by the fact that the widow of their owner, S. M. Wait, is now preparing to demand that Uncle Sam pay for what his wards destroyed. Mrs. Wait, during the past month, went to Ashland from her home in Washington, where she has lived for 52 years, in pursuit of information upon which to base her claim.
"Banker, Pony Express Rider in Early Days," Oregonian, Portland, February 4, 1911, page 16


    Although $5,000 to $10,000 worth of gold was often carried [on the express route over the Siskiyous], young Beekman was never "held up" by either whites or reds. His narrowest escape occurred one day in September, '55, when he passed close by a band of war-painted savages who were hiding behind a fallen tree, waiting for an approaching freight-train. The crack of the teamsters' whips could be plainly heard on the still mountain air. One of the drivers, a young man named Cunningham, was killed by the Indians, who captured the twenty-four oxen and the 9,000 pounds of flour which they were hauling from the mill at Phoenix, Ore., to the mining camps of northern California. One of the teamsters who escaped never stopped running until he reached Cole's place, several miles distant, arriving so hot and thirsty that he foundered himself by drinking a bucket of water. Colestin, the popular watering place in the Siskiyous, was named after this roadhouse.
"Oregon's Account with Banker Beekman," Sunset magazine, March 1914, page 632


    On the 25th of September Harrison B. Oatman, Dan Brittain, and Calvin Fields, each driving an ox team with wagons loaded with flour, which had been ground at Wait's Mill near Father Williams' place down by Medford, were on their way over the Siskiyous going to Yreka. The road was very steep, and they would put all the oxen on one wagon and take it to the top, then another one until they would get all the loads up. When near the summit, Oatman and Fields were with one wagon, and Brittain stayed behind with the other wagons. He heard a shot fired, so he ran up the mountain until he could see the wagons, and the Indians were scalping a man. He turned and ran down the mountain, with the bullets whizzing past him, to the Mountain House where he got help, and they went back with him. They found Fields' body by the roadside; the twelve oxen had been killed, the flour sacks cut open and the flour emptied on the ground. Oatman had escaped and ran to Cole's, now Colestein, on the other side of the mountain. The long run almost killed him; in fact, he never did recover from it. Oatman had suffered much from the Indians. A company coming west were all massacred except two nieces of his, and one of them died later. The other one was found some twelve years later down in Arizona. She had been tattooed by them and had been their captive all those years.
   On the 25th of September a young man named Cunningham was returning from Yreka with his team. His body was found behind a tree where he had tried to hide. Samuel Warner and several others were killed at the same place, and we supposed by the same Indians. They had been all cut to pieces. Their bodies were brought to Father's, and he and Mother tried to fix them up for burial.

Mary M. Dunn, "Undaunted Pioneers," Ashland Daily Tidings, September 24, 1929, page 3




Last revised June 13, 2017