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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


The Unknown


THE UNKNOWN
By the Late W. J. Plymale
    A true and graphic story of the plains in '52, embracing the cruel and heartless murder of a beautiful young woman who was taken captive at the massacre of a train of immigrants by Indians at Bloody Point, Tule Lake, in the fall of that year.
    Early in the spring of 1852 a party of emigrants arrived at Weston, Missouri, bound for the golden West. They were people from the middle states who had sold valuable farms and were all well provided with means. They bought outfits here consisting of horses, wagons, oxen, cows, provisions, medicines, guns, ammunition, and everything necessary for the long and arduous trip across the plains, of which they had been fully advised. As far as can be learned, this was the second train of this great emigration of that year. At Weston two young men made application to perform such duties as might be required of them, and in all things to be faithful and devoted to the best interests and most speedy progress of the train. Their manner and address were such as to inspire confidence to the emigrants, and they allowed them to accompany them.
    When everything was in readiness, the train pulled out, and crossing the Missouri River, encamped about five miles out in the Indian territory. It must be remembered that at that time, Kansas and Nebraska were not settled, and that when the Missouri River was crossed the Indian country at once encountered. Here the company organized by electing a Mr. Isaac captain whose reasonable commands all were pledged to obey. He was a man of splendid self-poise, conservative good judgment, and fine executive ability and had the confidence and esteem of every member of the train.
    Notwithstanding the anxiety of many in the company to reach the gold fields of the Pacific at the earliest moment, the captain decided that no traveling should be done on Sundays. Though not a member of any church, he had practical ideas and believed the journey would be made as quickly and with less wear and tear and fatigue by resting one day in the week. The train was well supplied with books, periodicals and musical instruments, and when Sunday came it was soon found to be a great relief and source of satisfaction to rest and read and collect in groups and listen to vocal and instrumental music. After members of the train had become weary and travel worn, Sundays were looked forward to as so many happy oases in the desert of a toilsome journey which seemed more disheartening and oppressive with each succeeding day.
    It is not the intent of this paper to relate the many graphic and interesting incidents that transpired along the way, since these are common to all trains, and would only be a repetition of what in some measure all have experienced in crossing the plains. The narrative will therefore be confined mainly to "The Unknown" and the two young men.
    In pursuing its way westward the train occasionally came to a trading post where some adventurous spirits had reached an understanding with the Indians and were trading them goods and cheap variety notions for furs, pelts and other articles of commerce. These posts generally carried in stock sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc., and were supplied mainly by fast mule trains which placed them in direct and reasonably speedy communication with their sources of supply in the East. It was natural for trains to stop at these ports to inquire the news and make such small purchases as they chanced to need. As each successive post was reached the members of the train were informed that there was another train about two weeks ahead. It was represented that there were many women and children in this train, and special mention was made of a handsome young woman with dark and flowing auburn hair, large, expressive hazel eyes, exquisite and graceful form, delicate and roseate complexion and possessing a native witchery, intelligence and modesty truly fascinating to all who came in contact with her. It was said of her that she had a happy greeting and pleasant smile for all, and that her reassuring and cheerful disposition was a constant inspiration to the weary and disheartened. Her words of cheer and encouragement were as a grateful balm to the worn and spiritless, and all such turned instinctively to her for that confidence and renewal of hope which she alone seemed to be able to impart. At every station as the train advanced, the charming young woman was the chief subject of conversation. Inquiry failed to elicit anything concerning her history, antecedents, name, where she came from, or whether or not her parents were with the train. The post traders seemed to have been too much absorbed in her engaging manners, her beauty, intelligence and admirable qualities to have had time to make any inquiries concerning her. From all reports she appears to have been of charming personality, sweet and amiable disposition, tender and sympathetic, helpful and magnetic, refined and cultivated, and fitted alike to be the common companion of common people, or to adorn with all the graces of queenly and superior womanhood the most advanced society. She was at once the pride and pet of the whole company.
    After the train had reached within something like a hundred miles of Goose Lake, the young men became restless and complained that the train was going too slow, that the company ahead was gaining on it, and they were anxious to catch up with it before it reached the settlements. The captain tried to reason with them concerning the condition of the teams, and the impossibility of urging them beyond their usual speed. The young men were not satisfied. They had been inflamed by the stories told of the beautiful young woman and had resolved to go on afoot and catch the train with which she was traveling. The young men had been well raised, were genteel, educated, industrious and manly, and had performed every duty faithfully and shown themselves to be worthy of all confidence. The train was now entering the most dangerous country yet traversed. Danger signals were posted up here and there along the road warning immigrants to look out for Indians, to guard well their stock, and to keep a close watch out after night. Since the young men had proven themselves to be so faithful, their assistance and protection were especially desirable through this dangerous section. The entreaties of the captain were however unavailing, and early one morning he was notified by the young men that they had decided to leave the train and go ahead. In vain did the captain plead with them to abandon so dangerous an undertaking. They had read the notices along the line of road, and had been advised by returning Californians, of whom there were many on the road with fast mule teams, that the [Klamath, Tule and Goose] lake country was infested with hostile and treacherous Indians and that the utmost care should be observed in passing through to avoid the killing or theft of stock, or a possible fatal surprise of the train. Unmoved by the entreaties and remonstrances of the members of the train, and turning a deaf ear to the recital of dangers to be encountered, the young men had resolved to go forward, and nothing apparently but death could thwart them in their resolution. The next morning, after notifying the captain of their intention, they were generously fitted out with such provisions as they were able to carry, and shaking hands with the company and bidding a kindly adieu to all with many good wishes for their safe arrival to the settlements, the young men left the train. Many wrung their hands and went into their tents and wept. Sorrow and fear were upon every countenance. Their departure was as if a fatal blight had fallen upon the train. With heavy hearts and grave forebodings the despondent company pursued its usual course.
    Contrary to the opinion of the young men concerning the train ahead, the train behind was gradually gaining upon it, and was only a couple of days behind when the young men left. On the evening of the third day after the departure of the young men, the captain as usual went ahead to look out a camping place. The tracks of the train ahead were fresh and had apparently been made only the day before. The tracks turned to the left around the point next to [Tule] lake. The captain discovered a trail leading up to a flat on the spur that extended down to the lake, and taking this, he soon came to a spring where there was a good camping ground and plenty of grass. Here the train camped. When night came on a strong guard was put out, as there were fresh Indian signs about the spring and upon every hand. The night passed away without any unusual occurrence. Early next morning, the train was aroused by a rifle shot fired from the direction of the lake, then another and another, in quick succession, and soon the firing became rapid and general, indicating that a deadly battle was being fought at the point of rocks below. The firing lasted half an hour or more when it ceased and all again gathered up the wagons formed into a circle, arms and ammunition placed ready at hand, and every precaution taken to guard against surprise, and protect life and property should an attack be made upon the train. While all hands were keeping a careful watch from inside the circle, three horsemen were seen approaching from the distance. They came within six or seven hundred yards of the train when one of them, dismounting, cut a willow branch on which he tied a white handkerchief, and remounting, the three rode toward the train, the carrier waving the handkerchief. All was breathless silence until the horsemen came within two or three hundred yards of the wagons, when they were recognized as white men. Upon this happy discovery, the captain stepped out from the enclosure and, greeting them as they rode up, invited them to dismount and rest and take breakfast with the train. They consented and were soon surrounded by anxious members of the company who hailed them as timely and thrice-welcome deliverers. Soon breakfast was served, and during the conversation which ensued it was learned they were volunteers under Captain Ben Wright who had been sent out to protect the immigrants. They informed the captain with many regrets that their arrival was too late to save the first train which had been murdered the day before at the point of rocks only a short distance below. Upon inquiry as to the firing down at the point, the volunteers stated that they attacked the Indians early this morning while they were robbing the wagons and stripping the dead and succeeded in killing a number of them, but that most of them escaped in the rocks and tules. The captain was informed that it was the intention of the company to bury the dead today, and he and two other men decided to go with the volunteers and assist in the work and search for the body of the young woman of whom they had heard so much during their journey. The volunteers assured the company there was no fear of Indians as long as they were in the vicinity, and that all could rest in perfect confidence and safety. When ready to leave for the scene of the massacre, the party took the back track down the spur and soon reached the main road that wound around the point near the lake. They had gone but a short distance when two bodies were discovered near the road. Upon approaching them, the captain and his two companions were horrified to find the bodies of the two young men who had left the train but a few days before.
    But a short distance from these around the point lay the victims of the massacre. The sight was simply appalling. The ground was spattered with blood and brains, and the dead lying in all shapes. Some of the bodies were entirely nude, some partially clad as though the Indians had been interrupted in their work, and a number hacked and mutilated in the most barbarous and frightful manner.
    While collecting the bodies for burial, the volunteers were informed of the circumstances of the beautiful young woman and requested to make special search for her remains. When  the bodies had all been collected, it was found that none of them answered to the description of the distinguished young woman. Upon the burial of the remains of those found, search was instituted for two days among the rocks and tules, but without avail. The body of the young woman could not be found.
    Captain Wright gave the train a suitable escort, and in a few days all reached the settlements in safety, and with lasting gratitude to the gallant captain and his brave volunteers who came in the niche [sic] of time to save the second train from the fate of the first.
    After twenty years had passed away and the Indians had been gathered on reservations set apart for them, Captain Jack and his braves left the Klamath reservation and took up their homes in the lava beds. They were insolent and annoying to settlers, and many complaints were made against them. The Indian agent had repeatedly ordered them to return to the agency, but they refused to do so, alleging that this was their land and country, and that they had never legally or otherwise ceded it to the whites, and that they intended to remain there. Complaint being made to the government, an order came from the War Department to compel Captain Jack and his men to return to the reservation. This brought on the Modoc War. During the war a small scouting party came across the bones of a person at the foot of a rocky precipice in one of the deep defiles of the lava beds. The guide, who for many years had been intimate with the Indians, assured the party that the skeleton was not that of an Indian. After consultation it was decided to take the bones to camp. The company's surgeon was notified and after careful examination of the skeleton pronounced it to be that of a young white person, presumably a woman. After the close of the war and Captain Jack and three of his confederates had been hanged at Fort Klamath for the murder of the peace commissioners, an old Indian who remained on the reservation, upon hearing of the skeleton and where it was found, told the following story:
    The Modoc Indians were opposed to the whites passing through or coming into their country. They had inherited the land from their ancestors, and it had descended from generation to another for ages before the great Crater Mountain, whose bleak and snowy summit once pierced the clouds, shook the earth and went up in lurid flame and smoke and left a deep and dangerous lake inhabited by a monster serpent; and before the angry gods fought over the possession of the earth, and tore up vast masses of bedrock from where the lakes are now formed and hurled them at each other forming the lava beds; yea, before the Great Spirit unveiled his face and waxed and waned as the months came and went; age, long before the white man was, the Modocs possessed this goodly land, and it was theirs by every right of conquest, inheritance and prior occupancy. When the Indians learned that a company of white people was approaching their country with the intent to pass through it, preparations were made to surprise and kill the invaders that others might be warned against trespassing upon their territory, consuming their grasses and destroying their game. They selected what is now known as Bloody Point for the attack, and secreting themselves in the rocks and tules, when the train approached shot and disabled the teams and killed or wounded those in sight with bows and arrows, and rushing upon the balance with knives and clubs, they were thrown into confusion and murdered before they had time to collect themselves and make any defense. But one escaped. After completing the work of death, a sub-chief who had discovered some loose horses in the edge of the tules a short distance away went to drive them in as individual spoil. In passing around them he came across a beautiful young woman who had escaped the massacre and secreted herself in the tules. He left the horses and returning with the young woman, claimed her as his captive. Captor and captive were quickly surrounded by the desperate and excited pillagers, whose hands were yet wet with the blood of the slain. A scene of the wildest confusion ensued. Angry threats and protests were hurled at the sub-chief, defiant imprecations and yells of "kill her" rang in his ears and echoed through the rocks, and the life of the young woman seemed for a time to waver in the balance, and hang suspended on the tenderest thread. When the fury had somewhat abated, a consultation was called, and while in progress the captor fled with the young woman into the tules and was soon in the lava beds, within the sacred precincts of his own wickiup where none dared molest him. The sub-chief already had two wives, who looked upon the paleface as a vile intruder and regarded her with suspicion and abhorrence. They were not willing to share their brave with the dough-faced alien, and their jealousy, inflamed by the marked attentions of the chief to the new wife, was soon intensified into a flame of frenzy. The sullen gloom and desperation into which the two wives had been plunged by the hated rival made the chief's life a burden, yet he refused to hear the entreaties and appeals to drive her from the camp, trusting that time would smooth or modify the bitter antipathy and his wives become reconciled. The young woman had been there but a short time when it became necessary for the chief to leave the wickiup and go in search of food. This afforded an opportunity for the indignant and outraged wives to wreak revenge upon the young woman, and when the chief was well out of sight, they fell upon her with rocks and clubs and beat her in the most cruel and shocking manner, and but for her screams which brought to her relief a passing Indian, they would have killed her. The Indian remained for her protection until the chief came back. Upon his return he understood at a glance what had happened. The face and head of the beautiful young woman had been beaten and bruised into a shapeless mass, and were so swollen and disfigured as to be unrecognizable. With a look of supreme disgust at the repulsive and horrible transformation, he rolled himself in his blankets, and with characteristic savage indifference to grief or suffering was soon asleep. He awoke early next morning and arousing the young woman, who had spent a night of pain and terror without sleep, took his gun and beckoned her to follow him. Bruised and mangled and wretched from the beating and agony of the night, she was hardly able to drag herself along after him as he took his way to a high point of rocks overlooking a deep and precipitous defile. Arriving at the edge of the precipice, he had her kneel down facing the gorge below, and stepping back a couple of paces, sent a bullet through her heart. Her body pitched forward and bounding from crag to crag crashed on the rocks below, a mangled and shapeless mass. Disdaining to look upon the work of his cruel hands, the chief shouldered his gun and with a deep guttural and barbarous grunt characteristic of the savage strode back to his wickiup with the sullen air of an injured conqueror. For more than twenty years the bones of the unfortunate young woman had lain and bleached in the sun, and but for the Modoc War the absence of her body at the scene of the massacre would have remained a mystery. An effort was made to learn something of her history and parentage, but without avail. She must therefore ever be characterized as "the unknown."
Medford Sun, May 7, 1911, page 14  


Plymale's party led by a Mr. "Isaac" in 1852 is likely the train captained in 1852 by Isaac Constant, which also rested on Sundays. The recollections of Constant's daughter Lavinia Jane Constant Robinson--the only account of the train I've been able to find--do not mention the two young men or the unknown beauty, which should not be surprising since the sheltered eighteen-year-old was not even allowed to visit other emigrants' tents. Lavinia does recall "an officer" informing her father of the previous train's ambush in the lake country: "
The train ahead of your train was ambushed by the Indians while camped for the night in a little prairie, many of the emigrants were killed-- but few escaping."



Last revised November 24, 2009