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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Skookum House

    The Indians concentrated at the Skookum House, which was the first objective point of the campaign that was expected to follow. Skookum House was built strong on its front, which faced the river, while back of it was such rough and precipitous mountains that the Indians did not dream of an attack from that quarter and had consequently not protected their rear. The regulars led by Captains Ord and Augur, by a circuitous march through the mountains to the northward, were to be concealed in the brush on the opposite bank of the fort, at day on the third morning; while the volunteers, commanded by Captain Relf Bledsoe and Lieut. E. H. Meservey, were to make a similar march to the southward, climb down those precipitous steps as best they could, and attack the fort at daylight on the morning agreed upon. Fortunately no part of the plans went amiss. At the first volley of the volunteers, the astonished Indians, who have no traditionary sentiment about "holding the fort," rushed out pell-mell for their boats, little dreaming of the deadly foe that lay in ambush on the other bank. Already decimated and routed by the volunteers, they were paralyzed by the shock of the regulars' attack and flung themselves into the river, where they became all the better targets, and where, perhaps, as many were drowned in the jam and struggle, as fell by bullets. Anticipating that many would escape down the river in their canoes, twelve volunteers, among them W. S. Winsor, now of Port Orford, were stationed on Lobster Creek Rock, against the south side of which the river runs in a chute, and where the fleeing Indians would have to pass within fifty feet of the volunteers. At their first volley many Indians were killed, boats were capsized in the excitement, while the occupants of others leaped overboard and swam ashore or were drowned. Never was a little fleet more speedily or more thoroughly destroyed. The battle of Skookum House was one of the most brilliant and successful as well as the most unique in the history of the Indian warfare. It not only broke but it annihilated the power of the lower tribes and determined the issue of the whole Rogue River war. Of the number of Indians destroyed, no estimate can be even approximately made. The volunteers lost one man; but whether he fell down those precipitous steps or into the river has never been ascertained.
    A few days before the battle of Skookum House occurred the fight at Big Bend, where Capt. Smith, afterwards so distinguished in the Civil War as both a plucky and lucky "fighting general," came so near losing his company by a military oversight, quite common with regular officers.
Orvil Dodge, Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties, 1898, pages 78-79


J. W. Wilkinson, Who Battled with Indian in Early Days.
    GOLD BEACH, Or., Feb. 3.--(Special.)--J. W. Wilkinson, who died recently at Port Orford, was born in Henry, Echo County, Va., March 1, 1822, and came to Curry County in the spring of 1854. He settled near the mouth of Rogue River. During the following year occurred the memorable war between the whites and the Rogue River Indians. Mr. Wilkinson took part in this war. When the attack was made on Ellensburg (now Gold Beach), he and the greater part of the other settlers found protection in a fort constructed for that purpose on the north side of the river. Their lives were saved, but all else was lost. Following this attack was one made on Skookum House, the fort of the Indians, situated about 15 miles up the river. This attack was one of the best planned and most successfully executed of all recorded in struggles between the two races, and the power of the red men was completely destroyed.
"Dead of the Northwest," Morning Oregonian, Portland, February 4, 1908, page 8



    It was during the Rogue River campaign
that an amusing incident occurred in the vicinity of Coquille. The whites had constructed a small fort of logs that greatly impressed the natives and which the latter called the "skookum house," or literally a strong house. Not to be outdone, the red warriors moved along the river to a steep bank alongside the stream and built a single log wall behind which they secured themselves before sending word to the white settlers that the Indians also had a "skookum house," daring the whites to come up and fight.
    The whites crept to the brow of the cliff behind the Indian fort where the defenders lay, taking an occasional peek through a crack between logs to see if the whites were approaching. When the surprise burst of gunfire broke from above and behind their fort, the natives made a quick exit. The casualties were small, nevertheless.
W. K. Peery, "Peeryodicals," News-Review, Roseburg, April 12, 1955, page 4  Much of the remainder of Peery's column is of marginal credibility.



Last revised October 17, 2016