The Infamous Black BirdSouthern Oregon History, Revised

Volunteers vs. Regulars
A volunteer memoir critical of the army.

    The Indian War in Oregon.--We commence today the publication (on our first page) of a very interesting memoir on this subject. The portion we insert today embraces a succinct account of the details of the war in question. Tomorrow we shall publish the writer's criticism upon those events and the manner in which they have been managed by the authorities of the general government and the Territory. Our subscriptions list in Washington and Oregon Territories is large, and we have many warm friends among the Star's patrons there. We cheerfully do our best to repay our many obligations to them, by thus essaying to do our share in bringing their case--as involved in their current Indian war--to the thorough knowledge of Congress and the Atlantic-side public.

Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 4, 1857, page 2

Salem, O.T., Dec. 2, 1856.
    Editor of the Star: Justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside in different portions of the United States who entertain misconceived views in relation to the war in Southern Oregon, induces me to write to you for the purpose of giving you a plain, unvarnished statement of some of the facts connected with this war as they exist. But before I proceed I will say that it is not strange that there should be prejudices existing averse to our interests throughout the land, when we have those amongst us who willfully and maliciously make false representations concerning this war--men with hearts grown black in infamy, and consciences so seared by corruption as to be lost to any sense of humanity or sympathy for the weak and defenseless of our country. There are but few of this class, who have so richly merited the appellation of "traitors" to their country and her citizens--who have rendered themselves so totally unworthy [of] the name they bear as American citizens--yet, although the number is limited, they have wielded an influence with the authorities at Washington City, which, if not counteracted, must prove disastrous to the interests of this Territory, as hundreds of our citizens have contributed their all to assist in prosecuting this war, since that was the only alternative left for us.
    It has been stated, and is generally believed by a great many persons who are personally unacquainted with the true history of the war, that the whites have been the aggressing party, and "they considered the United States Treasury a legitimate object of plunder," but we are able to show that there has been a state of war existing on the part of the Indians since the treaty of 1853, and that the tomahawk of the savage has drunk the blood of over fifty of our citizens in Southern Oregon since that treaty, before we took up arms in defense of our lives and property in October last, that they had frequently cut off small parties, killing them and mutilating their bodies in the most horrible manner, and there never has been a period in the history of Oregon when such transactions were not of almost daily occurrence.
    In the month of July, 1855, a band of Rogue River Indians killed ten or twelve white men in the vicinity of Klamath River, and then retreated to the reserve on Rogue River, to which place they were followed by three companies of volunteers raised in the mines for the purpose of avenging the wrongs perpetrated upon their fellow miners by the ruthless savage. When the murderers were demanded of them, they refused to give them up in the most peremptory manner and said they were ready for war, and had it not been for the intercessions of the people of Rogue River Valley they would have wreaked a summary vengeance upon the foul murderers, which they most richly merited. I went myself, at the solicitation of the citizens and Dr. Ambrose, the Indian agent that that place, to the commandants of companies and begged them to desist. I told them that our grain in the field was ripe for the harvest, that we were not prepared for war, and that we would only resort to it in the last extremity. When those officers heard the frequent importunities of the citizens to withdraw with their forces and not strike a blow which would inevitably cause their homes in a few days to present nothing but a scene of desolation, they very gallantly did so, leaving the cold-blooded murderers to go unpunished and unharmed. But it was better thus, for if a war had been commenced then, not only all the improvements in this section of country would have been burned, but all the grain in Southern Oregon would have been swept off by the flames, thereby rendering the people of Rogue River Valley destitute of the means of subsistence.
    Thus things passed on until about the first of October, 1855, when the Indians murdered the men on the Siskiyou Mountain, whereupon Capt. Hays, with a company of volunteers, followed on the trail of the murderers to a point near their ranch, when they were attacked, the Indians opening the fire. [The whites attacked the village at dawn.] A battle ensued and Major Lupton fell. Our forces found that the Indians were fully prepared for them, and, also, that they fought desperately. [More than thirty Indians were killed; two whites died.] After routing the Indians they went into the ranch and found various articles which had been stolen from the whites and also the scalp of a white man, which had been taken off only a few days before. I should have stated, however, that before coming to the camp of the Indians they found where they had butchered several head of cattle which they had stolen and driven off from the whites.
    This is the affair that was so disgracefully represented as being a cold-blooded butchery of peaceable and inoffensive Indians.
    After these Indians went to Fort Lane (which they did immediately followed by the volunteers) and called on Capt. Smith, of the United States army, he refused to receive them as friendly Indians, and drove them away. [This is not known to have happened.]
    This is the nature of the first demonstration on the part of the whites for redress, and we leave it with a candid people to say whether this was justifiable on our part, or whether we had the right to resist the foe when he was continually waging a war with our citizens, plundering their houses and driving off their stock. For evidence that this state of things did exist I will refer you to the letter of Dr. Ambrose, Indian agent, bearing date September 30, 1855.
    About the 10th of October, the enemy made an attack upon the citizens living on the road from the Willamette Valley to Rogue River, and for several miles burned all the houses, barns, grain &c., and killed all the inhabitants without respect to age or sex, except Mrs. Harris and daughter. The people of Southern Oregon then petitioned Governor Curry to call out volunteer troops to subdue the enemy. Accordingly, on the 15th of October the Governor issued his proclamation calling for nine companies of volunteers to aid in a war then existing against the Rogue River and other Indians. The people of Southern Oregon responded to the call nobly, and in a few days the required number of companies were in the field, and on the 31st of October a portion of them, and Capt. Smith's company of United States troops, met the foe in the Grave Creek Hills and fought the battle known here as the "Battle of Hungry Hill." In this battle the Indians fought most desperately, killing and wounding over forty of our men, and from the nature of their position it was impossible to dislodge them or gain any material advantage over them. After two days' hard fighting both parties left the field. The loss was about equal on both sides. We lost thirteen in killed, and thirty wounded.
    This is the battle that was published in numerous papers in different portions of the United States as being nothing but a farce, gotten up by us for the purpose of creating a sympathetic feeling in our behalf that we might be sure of being paid for our services, and that no such battle was ever fought. How shameful that there are men in this Territory, holding high and responsible stations, who are so lost to a sense of truth and veracity, and so ungenerous, as to represent matters in a light which has led men to such erroneous conclusions.
    After this, the war was prosecuted with as much effect as it was possible to do under the circumstances, as one of the most rigorous winters closed in upon us, and in order to follow the enemy to his strongholds we were obliged to march over the most rugged mountains, through almost "eternal snows," which rendered it impracticable to prosecute the war to as speedy a close as might have been done under other circumstances.
    During the winter the volunteers met the enemy frequently and drove him from his position, but it was impossible for them to follow up his retreat in such a manner as to render their services as effective as they might have done had it not been for the inclemency of the season and scarcity of ammunition which has attended us through the war. In the month of January last, Mr. Drew, Quartermaster General of the Territory, sent an agent to San Francisco to purchase ammunition. After he had reached that place and made the purchases, the merchants from whom they were made refused to let the articles go from representations made to them by General Wool that if there was any war whatever existing in Oregon it was an unjust one. That it was a war waged by the whites against the innocent and defenseless Indians, and that such debts would never be paid. Under the influence of these and like representations, the agent totally failed to accomplish the objects of his mission and returned home. The troops remaining in the field almost destitute of ammunition, and as a necessary consequence almost powerless, only being able a portion of the time to keep the foe out of the frontier settlements. Here I will remark that most of the ammunition used during the war in Southern Oregon was purchased with money advanced by individuals for that purpose.
    On the 24th of March there were three foraging parties of Indians discovered by the volunteers and driven back with considerable loss to the latter. One of the parties was discovered on Cow Creek and defeated by Major Meacham's command, another on the headwaters of the Coquille River by Captain Buoy's company, and the third party on the same day by Major Bruce's command in Illinois Valley.
    These parties were sent out for the purpose of robbing and burning the houses of the settlers, killing them and driving off their stock, a practice which has been common ever since there were settlers in that portion of the country.
    The Indians then fell back to the Meadows on Rogue River, one of their strongest positions, and prepared to make a strong stand, having collected their entire forces at that point. We immediately made arrangements to march against them, and on the 24th of April we reached a point near to where their combined forces were encamped, but they were on the opposite of the river, and we found that they had selected a very strong position for defense, but by discreet management of the officers in command, and moving in the night, we succeeded in gaining a point from where we opened a deadly fire upon them early on the morning of the 27th of April, and after two days' hard fighting we succeeded in routing them and taking from them the position which had served as their headquarters during the war.
    On the 24th day of May, a military post was established at the Meadows, and a portion of the command went out for supplies. The remaining portion stopped to guard the post until their return, as it was on the main thoroughfare of the Indians from the Lower Rogue River out to the settlements in the valley. On the 26th of May (having succeeded in procuring supplies, which was very difficult and tedious), we marched down the river towards the Big Bend, the Indians having fled in that direction. Early on the morning of the 28th we made an attack upon a large party of the enemy and gained a signal victory over them, killing and taking prisoners a great many of them. On the 29th we met Old John's band and were attacked by them. A fight ensued in which we were completely victorious; we killed several of his men in this engagement. When we met him he had just drawn off his forces from the Big Bend of Rogue River (which was only eight miles below), where he had surrounded Capt. Smith, of the United States army, and killed and wounded thirty-one of his men the day before. Our command then proceeded to the Big Bend, where we found Lt. Col. Buchanan with a command of United States troops.
    Upon our arrival here we found that two or three of the most prominent bands of hostile Indians had made a precipitous retreat (when we made the attack on them on the 28th of May) to the camp of Col. Buchanan and called upon Gen. Palmer, who was there, for terms of peace, and that they had given up their arms and surrendered unconditionally. We then proceeded down the river to the coast, and during the march we took a number of prisoners on the river and drove the remainder into the camp of the regulars to an unconditional surrender. We ranged along the coast for several days below the mouth of Rogue River, and succeeded in defeating the Indians in several engagements and bringing them all to our terms. By the 25th day of June, 1856, all of the hostile Indians in Southern Oregon, except Old John and 35 of his band, had surrendered. Gen. Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, turned them over to the regular troops, and they were taken in their charge to the reserve. The volunteers left the field at this time, our service having expired, but before we left the field, John had agreed that he would come in on the same terms that the other Indians had. After our forces had withdrawn, however, Old John concluded he would not come in under that agreement, and Col. Buchanan then agreed with him that if he would come in and deliver up his arms, that he nor none of his men should be put upon trial for any outrages or murders committed by them, and that they should retain all the stock and plunder they had taken from the whites previous to this time. Mr. Nathan Olney, one of the Indian agents, and a man of unquestioned truth and veracity, is my authority for this statement. However much the course of our executive officer, or the volunteers, may be censured, we can say that there never has been during this war an agreement made by them with the enemy so disgraceful to the American people as this.
    This agreement was made by Col. Buchanan with John when he was well aware of the fact that this band was composed of desperadoes from other tribes to a great extent, and they were deeper dyed in crime than any band which had participated in this war.
    As to the charges that were made by Gen. Wool and Gen. Palmer, that this war was a speculative scheme gotten up by the people of Oregon, thinking "the treasury of the United States was a legitimate object of plunder," &c., I will only say that it bears no semblance of truth or reason on the face of it. It is not reasonable to suppose that men who were making from $4 to $16 per day at their accustomed labors would have created a disturbance with the Indians for the purpose of going into the ranks and enduring more than the ordinary hardships and privations incident "to a life on the tented field," furnishing their own horses, equipments and arms for $4 per day in the perspective. [Mining had ceased seasonally in October 1855, due to a lack of the water necessary for placer mining.]
    The territorial troops have conducted themselves gallantly during this war, and whatever credit is due for so successful a termination it is due to the volunteers. They have gained every victory over the enemy which has been gained--they have endured every hardship and suffered every inconvenience attendant on a winter campaign in one of the roughest countries in the world.
Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 4, 1857, page 1

    I cannot close this communication without reverting to a few statements made in Generals Wool and Palmer's official dispatches, and also Agent Ambrose.
    Gen. Wool and Gen. Palmer say that the Indians attacked by a party under Maj. Lupton were friendly and on their way to the reserve. Such is not the fact. They were on their way to the reserve, I have no doubt, but were they peaceable? They had been trailed from the murders on the Siskiyou Mountain, committed about a week previous, and the scalp of a white man was found in their ranchos. Look at the conflicting statements of Wool and Palmer, and also of Agent Ambrose, who was on the ground. Wool and Palmer were from three hundred to three thousand miles distant. Palmer says "thirty persons--men, women and children." Wool says "twenty-five in all, nineteen being women and children." Agent Ambrose says "thirty-two in all, eight of them men," and further says, "the attack was made so early in the morning that the women were indistinguishable from the men." It seems very singular that such discrepancy should occur in official documents.
    Gen. Wool has set himself up as a commander, a legislator and a judge, and has endeavored to influence Congress about the payment of the war debt. The General has committed a great military blunder himself, and, because the Governor of our Territory acted promptly and with knowledge of the circumstances which reflected some on the General's tardiness, he (the General) would like to
"Compound for crimes he is inclined to
By damning those he has a mind to."
    Gen. Wool knew that war existed in Southern Oregon from the 8th of October, 1855, and in the early part of November he sent the only company, under Major Fitzgerald, that at that time could be of any service, to the Dalles--Capt. Smith's company being hardly sufficient to retain and keep peace with those Indians on the reserve at Fort Lane--thus leaving the country destitute of protection against those hostile savages who, at that time, were murdering, burning and plundering all over the country, and not until the middle of March--some six months after the war broke out--was there any United States troops sent to the assistance of the people in Southern Oregon.
    Had it not been for the volunteers during this time, what would have become of the country? Those who reside there can best answer. Had a body of one hundred and fifty troops been stationed at the Big Bend of Rogue River within a month or six weeks after the war broke out, to stop communication amongst the Upper and Lower Rogue River Indians, all the murders and destruction of property at the mouth of Rogue River could have been prevented. Here were the lives of some forty of our citizens, and $250,000 worth of property, sacrificed to either the incapacity of willful mismanagement, or bad information, of an officer whom we pay $292 per month for superintending the very military movements which he has so wantonly neglected. And when the troops came to that part of Southern Oregon they were under the command of Lt. Col. Buchanan, who forthwith sent orders to Capt. Smith's command to join him at the mouth of Rogue River, leaving Rogue River Valley to be protected by either volunteers or the citizens themselves. This part of the southern country, too, being exposed to the Indians of John, George and Limpy, who were the most warlike Indians on the Pacific Coast.
    How can General Wool account to the country for neglecting to send troops to Southern Oregon and Northern California? Will it be said that nearly six months is too short a time to get troops from San Francisco to Crescent City or Port Orford, when they could have been landed from the steamer the third day from San Francisco? How will he acquit his conscience, having the means, not to use it for the protection of those citizens who were so inhumanly murdered on the night of the 22nd of February, 1856, at the mouth of the Rogue River, and within three days' sail of General Wool's headquarters? But as soon as Col. Buchanan came up, instead of punishing those murderers, he, from his acts, apparently had instructions to coax them into a treaty. But even then, none of them would come to terms but showed fight at the mouth of the river, and when the Colonel was urged to give them battle by Capt. Bledsoe, of the volunteers, he very graciously said "it was not his day for fighting." At that time the Indians were all around his camp, firing into it. While stopping at the mouth of Rogue River with his command, the Colonel killed several beef cattle belonging to some of the citizens, who managed, with the assistance of some volunteers, to save, when the balance of their property was destroyed by the Indians, and when the owners told the Colonel that they would like to have pay for their cattle, or, they would rather he would not kill them, the Colonel told them "he had captured them from the Indians, and they therefore belonged to the United States." Thus what the Indians left, the Colonel took good care not to leave.
    Having only one company of volunteers on Rogue River, near its mouth--and that consisted only of about fifty men--it was not enough to attack a large body of the enemy, and Captain Bledsoe, who was commanding, urged the necessity upon Col. B. to allow a company of regulars to cooperate with him up the river, but the Colonel refused to do this, and spurned the idea. Capt. Bledsoe's men were well acquainted with the country and rendered important service, and could have done more, could he have induced the regulars to move in concert with him. But that was beneath the valued Colonel's dignity, and not until old John, through the instrumentality of Chief George, out-generaled Col. B., and got him to divide his command and send Capt. Smith up to the Big Bend to receive some of them as prisoners, when the command had thirty-one men killed and wounded, with but little or no loss on the part of the Indians.
    Some three or four days after this affair, Capt. Bledsoe again urged him to send a company with him to a large camp of the enemy, who were congregated some eight miles below the mouth of Illinois River, on Rogue River. Col. B. this time reluctantly consented, and sent Capt. Augur, who took the north side of the river, and Capt. Bledsoe with his company of volunteers on the south side, and on the 5th of June they attacked them, and completely routed them, killing fourteen on the ground and some twenty-five in the river; eight were killed on the side of the volunteers, and six on the side of the regulars.
    I only revert to these things to show that even Gen. Wool's saying there was no war did not prevent his regulars from getting badly whipped sometimes, and it is now a question of doubt whether if the volunteers had not fallen upon the enemy's rear, Col. Buchanan or any of his men would have got out of the mountains before chiefs John, George and Limpy would have had their scalps. A great ado is made by some of those pseudo-philanthropists, especially Generals Wool and Palmer, when an Indian woman or child is accidentally killed, or when an Indian is scalped, or his ears cut off, and there is none more opposed to that than the citizens of Oregon--but is the whole community to be censured for the indiscretion of one or two wild young men? And in every letter Gens. Wool or Palmer write, something must be said of the killing of an Indian squaw or two accidentally, but when the innocent, smiling infant is plucked from its mother's breast, its brains dashed out, perhaps against the corner of the house in which it was born, and then thrown into the well, head first, and this too in the presence of its mother and father--the mother then taken in the presence of her husband, who has to witness indecencies upon the companion of his bosom too horrible to mention, her bowels then cut open and she thrown into the well on top of her child, the father and husband all the time being overpowered could only look on--but now it comes his turn--he is knocked in the head with an axe, his thighs are split open, his breast is next cut open and his heart taken from thence, his scalp cut from his head, and if he has whiskers most of the skin cut from his face, and the greatest indignity of all, the parts which designate the man are cut from his body and stuck into his mouth. All this has been done, not to one family only, but to several. Yet those philanthropists never say a word about this, nor even move out of the even tenor of their way to prevent such things from occurring. And even now in Southern Oregon and Northern California murders of white citizens are of daily or weekly occurrence, and the United States troops even in the very neighborhood are falling back in "masterly inactivity." This course seems to be forced upon them to sustain the position of Gen. Wool, who, it appears, wishes to coax the Indians into a treaty instead of conquering a peace.
    Since I came in from the war south, I have been on the Grand Ronde Reservation and have talked with many of the chiefs, Old Sam in particular, who says Gen. Palmer has told him lies, that he promised to let him and his people go back to Rogue River Valley as soon as the war ended, and now he will not do it--and most all of the petty chiefs of the Rogue River Indians talk in the same way. I am of the opinion that it will require a sleepless vigilance by those having charge of the Indians on the reservation to prevent a greater outbreak amongst these people than has ever cursed the country. Having made this communication longer than I expected, I am most anxious that truth and justice may dispel the clouds that now darken our horizon, and that praise and censure may be placed to the credit of those to whom they justly belong.
    J. R. L. [John R. Ladd?]
Evening Star, Washington, D.C., February 5, 1857, page 1

    The Indian War in Oregon.--Some time ago we published an interesting letter from Oregon, criticizing the conduct of the Regulars in the conduct of their share of this war with no little severity. Below will be found a reply to that criticism upon it from the pen of a gentleman of the army who, as will be perceived, contends that our Oregon correspondent has done the service, and Col. Buchanan especially, much injustice.
Washington City, March 11, 1857.
    Editor of Star: My attention has recently been attracted to a communication published in the Weekly Star of February 7th, dated Salem, Oregon Territory, December 2nd, 1856, headed "War in Oregon," and signed with the initials J.R.L.
    The author commences by stating that his object in writing the said letter is "to do justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside in different portions of the United States who entertain misconceived views in relation to the war in Southern Oregon, and for the purpose of giving a plain, unvarnished statement of some of the facts connected with the war as they exist."
    In his desire "to do justice to the people of Oregon, and to those who reside elsewhere," he has done such manifest injustice to others directly engaged in the war alluded to, that I feel constrained to contradict certain statements made by him, and especially the one prejudicial to the character and conduct of a distinguished officer of the army, Bvt. Lieut. Col. R. C. Buchanan, 4th Infantry, who commanded the U.S. troops serving in Northern California and Southern Oregon from March, 1856, till the final close of the war in July, 1856.
    I do not propose to enter into any discussion concerning the merits or origin of the late Indian war in Southern Oregon. I desire simply to state certain facts, concerning which I have a full and personal knowledge, in contradiction to the statements of J.R.L., and to the authority which he has introduced to sustain his assertions.
    After detailing the services and exploits of the volunteers, he says: "Before we (the volunteers) left the field, Old John and his band had promised to come in and surrender themselves on the same terms as the other hostile Indians, but as soon as our forces had withdrawn, they refused to accede to the terms; that Col. Buchanan then made another agreement with Old John and his band, assuring them that if they would come in and deliver up their arms, they should be allowed to retain the plunder which had been taken from the whites, and that they should not be put on trial or punished for any of the murders or outrages committed by them." This statement is unqualified untrue, notwithstanding the authority of Mr. Nathan Olney, at that time Indian agent at Port Orford, O.T., but who shortly afterwards resigned his position. No such agreement was ever made by Col. Buchanan with Old John and his band. They delivered themselves up on precisely the same terms that all the other hostile Indians did, viz: as prisoners of war; which arrangement they were positively made to understand by the Colonel before they did surrender themselves. As for plunder, they had none, being in a destitute condition, but they did give up all they possessed of worth and value to them, viz: their rifles, revolvers, bows and arrows and knives; beyond their weapons they had nothing.
    The other statements concerning Col. Buchanan's course of action and expressions are equally untrue and unfounded.
    I will not discuss the question of doubt raised by the author of this letter as to whether or not if the volunteers had not fallen on the enemy's "rear," "Col. Buchanan or any of this men would have escaped from the mountains before the Indians would have had their scalps?" but will state that on no occasion during the entire war did United States troops feel the necessity or emergency of having the volunteers placed in the "formidable position" alluded to, nor in any other, for the purpose of saving their scalps or their reputation.
    One significant fact is sufficient. The war in Southern Oregon was finally closed in July, 1856, by the removal of upwards of 1,300 hostile Indians to the new reservation provided for them by the government, which removal was carried into effect by the United States troops serving under the command of Col. Buchanan. Peace was then restored, which now continues in that section of country.
    One word of advice to persons late of the Southern Oregon volunteers. In your future publications attempt, if possible, less self-glorification of yourselves and depreciation of others, but under all circumstances "tell the truth."
Yours, very respectfully,
    C. H. C. [most likely Assistant Surgeon Charles H. Crane]
Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 16, 1857, page 2

Last revised April 23, 2017