In the Shasta (California) Courier, of September 18, a copy of which paper has been sent to us by a friend, we find the following letter addressed to His Excellency John Bigler, Governor of California. The many friends of Lieut. McDermit will be pleased to learn that he is discharging his duties as sheriff of Siskiyou County in that state with remarkable ability and fidelity.
Yreka, Sept. 7th, 1852.
Dear Sir:--A few weeks since a party of men under command of Charles McDermit, the sheriff of this county, started out for the purpose of affording aid and succor to the emigration, and to protect them against the attacks of the Indians in the northeastern section of this county. On their way to the foot of the Sierra Nevada about 110 miles from this place they fell in with a pack train consisting of nine men, eight of whom were armed, and who they thought would come through with safety, as there was a large wagon train in charge of two of McDermit's party a day or two ahead of them. They continued their journey for the purpose of affording assistance to a number of families who were said to be in the rear. Not long after leaving these men they were attacked by the Indians, and eight of the nine were killed. The man who escaped succeeded in joining the wagon train ahead of him one night before they arrived at this place. McDermit left two or three men with each train he passed to serve as guides, and to afford such protection as lay within their power.
As soon as we were informed of the murder of the eight men alluded to, the citizens fitted out an expedition consisting of thirty-two men, including eight Shasta Indians, under the command of Captain Ben. Wright.
Yesterday McDermit returned and brought us intelligence of a sad and alarming character.--Thomas H. Coats Esq., late of the assembly of California, Mr. Long and Mr. Owensby, two of our citizens, who had been left by McDermit in charge of a train of wagons, and an immigrant belonging to the train named Felix Martin, were all murdered while about a mile in advance of the train. The first intimation the main body of emigrants had of their death was a shower of arrows from the Indians just as they arrived at the scene of murder. They immediately corralled their stock, placed themselves in a defensive attitude, and succeeded in beating off the Indians for a day and a half, during which time they were without water. At this juncture Capt. Wright and his party made their appearance, and, after reconnoitering, made a vigorous charge upon a body of 260 Indians and drove them into a lake, killing about thirty. They fought in water over waist deep. Whenever they fired into a canoe the Indians--men, women and children--jumped into the lake, and they think a number must have been drowned. In this engagement, Capt. Wright and his party, including his Indians, acted with distinguished courage and are entitled to the highest praise. He made a requisition upon us for provisions, ammunition and men, which was promptly responded to. A wagonload of provisions left here yesterday--fifteen or twenty men will leave here today.
Up to this time we have contributed $837 in money, besides furnishing provisions and mules, and not including the outfit of McDermit and his party.
Eleven men, whose names are unknown, have been buried by McDermit and Wright, and from the quantity of apparel belonging to females and children found in possession of the Indians, we are seriously apprehensive that many other persons have been killed.
The Indians living on the headwaters of the Sacramento River and those living between Goose Lake and the Dalles, on the Columbia River, seem to be concentrating about Goose Lake, in this county, on the emigrant trail, for the purpose of murder and plunder.
Can you do nothing for the innocent victims of Indian barbarity? Is our country a "terra incognita," entitled to no consideration--no protection whatever from either state or general government?
You will see that our citizens, in public meeting assembled, have resolved not to pay the state taxes, nor to permit the county treasurer to pay over what he now has in his possession, until they receive some protection. I depreciate any kind of opposition to the laws of our state, but I really cannot blame them for this determination. It is not the first instance in the history of government where the people have refused to be taxed because they did not receive some corresponding benefit, and they in this case not only say they will not pay the state taxes, but they possess the ability and courage to enforce what they say. Cannot a conflict between our people and our officers be avoided in some way?
I wrote to your excellency for arms and ammunition. I am informed that you requested Gen. Hitchcock to send them up. This is all that I have heard of either my letter or the arms.
We are informed here that not less than three hundred stand of superior Mississippi rifles, belonging to the state, are now in the possession of the volunteer companies of San Francisco and Sacramento, doubtless doing the state much service in instructing the young gentlemen of our cities in the mysteries of the manual exercise. Painted sticks would answer them as good a purpose, and by sending us the arms they would be devoted to a good practical use. If we can't get troops, give us arms and ammunition.
Do not think that the numbers, strength or bravery of these Indians are overrated. They are indeed very, very numerous.
Yours, with respectful consideration,
W. A. Robertson.
We are indebted to friend B. Brightwell for the following extract from the Shasta (Cal.) Courier, which was forwarded to him by Mr. Charles Wright of Philadelphia. The Capt. Benj. Wright spoken of below is a relative of Mr. Brightwell, and we believe a stepbrother to William Wright of this place.
Richmond Palladium, Richmond, Indiana, November 17, 1852, page 3 This introductory paragraph was followed by excerpts from the letter immediately above.
A letter from Yreka, dated November 21, gives the following account of an encounter with the Indians:
"For the past two or three days the town has been in quite a state of excitement. On Monday morning last, three persons arrived from Capt. Benjamin Wright's camp with information that a fight had taken place on Monday morning previous with the Indians, and that thirty-one Indians had been killed, and two of our citizens wounded, who wanted medical aid.
"One of the physicians of our town started immediately to meet them, accompanied by Messrs. O. D. Colton and Helm, and one of the messengers. After riding two days and nights to within fifteen miles of the scene of conflict, without meeting them, they returned to town and reported that they were fearful that Capt. Wright and his party had been surprised.
"A meeting was called, and a party of twenty was raised to go to the rescue. Messengers were dispatched to Scotts Valley to Major Fitzgerald, who ordered up a detachment of forty-two men, under the command of Lieut. Cassilly. Lieut. C., with his command, reached town last evening, just as the party started from here.
"Fortunately our fears were unfounded; the delay of Capt. Wright and his party was caused by the inability of the wounded to travel.
"The party proceeded as far as Sheep Rock, where they found Capt. Wright encamped, on his way in. This afternoon the party reached town and paraded through the streets, the wounded being borne in litters, each of the party, consisting of sixteen whites, two Indians and a negro, having a bow and quiver of arrows, and the muzzle of his gun decorated with a scalp taken from the enemy.
"As soon as the wounded were comfortably housed and rested, their wounds were attended to by Drs. Gatliff and Ironside. They are now comfortable, and with care they may be out among their fellow citizens in a few weeks."
"From California," Daily Delta, New Orleans, January 8, 1853, page 1
Sometime in the early part of August last, Mr. Wright and about twenty-eight others, whose names I regret cannot be obtained, left their homes and business on the first intimation of the difficulties from the Indians experienced by the immigrants near Shasta Butte, and proceeded to the spot to protect them. For three months and more did these gallant spirits, forgetful of self and personal interest, spend both time and money in this dreary region, and until all the wagons coming that way were safe through the dangers of the route. During this time supplies were freely afforded by the open-hearted citizens of Yreka City as often as the call was made, and until the snows of the winter set in, and then, and not until then, did Mr. Wright and his party return, having first contrived to meet the Indians, and destroying, as nearly as can be ascertained, a hundred of the tribe. For these services we trust to see them well recompensed. They have earned a public reward, and soon may they reap it.
I should be glad to see a small press established in Yreka City. There is an excellent opening for one there, and I believe a lucrative one. It would better enable us to blazon forth the histories of these men, among other things, so that their light should not be hid under a bushel.
"Felix," letter of December 9, 1852, Oregon Statesman, Oregon City, January 8, 1853, page 2
SAVAGES.--The Oregonian of the last dates mentions a fight at Tule Lake, between a party of Indians and a company of troops under the command of Capt. Benj. Wright, and that forty of the former were killed. The paper adds, without comment, that the scalps of the Indians were brought in by the soldiers. In this case it would be difficult to say which party were savages.--Cin. Atlas.
Not difficult at all. "A company of troops under the command of Capt. Benj. Wright" savages? Preposterous! Were they not brought up in a Christian land? and set out by a Christian government? They savages? The Indians, who defend their fires and hunting grounds, are savages. What right have they to scalps?--Columbus Columbian.
Kalida Venture, Kalida, Ohio, March 11, 1853, page 2
Port Orford O.T.Dear General
May 19th, 1855
Yesterday on my return from Rogue River I was assaulted in the public street by Benj. Wright, and my life threatened on our first next meeting. I never was more astonished in all my life. I approached Wright as to a friend, to shake hands with him as a friendly recognition after a few days separation. Instead of being received, as I have always heretofore been received, in friendship, I was loaded with all the charges of crime and deceit against him imaginable and my life, by threats, placed in jeopardy. Wright charges me with having said to you, voluntarily, that he, "Wright, was an habitual drunkard, unfit at all times to do his duty, and that if you had any regard for your own reputation you would remove him." Where Wright got this information I cannot imagine, nor will he tell me. I suspect Kautz and Tichenor, both of whom are my bitter enemies, and with whom I am not now on speaking terms. Either of them would cut my throat without scruple, could they do so unsuspected. My difficulty with Mr. Kautz is well known in this community, and I know the public feeling is in my favor. Now, General, I am thrown into serious difficulty from a question of yours, which, out of friendship to you, I answered. I cannot understand this. I do not suspect for one moment that you have occasioned this, or that you have repeated, certainly not magnified, what I said. As to Wright I have always been on the closest intimacy with him--had he been my brother I could not have done more for him. I have assisted him in his matters, of every name and kind, freely and without cost. What I said to you in answer to your question about the habits of Wright is God's truth, known to be true by every honest citizen in this entire community, and I do not take back one word. I did not say this, however, to injure Wright, on the contrary, I believe that at that time I endeavored to shield, indeed, I think I spoke of him in the highest terms as an Indian agent. I now sincerely regret ever having said one word, in fact almost wish I had lied for Ben out and out. This affair has given me an immensity of anxiety for my personal safety, for I assure you it is not pleasant to have a man of Wright's desperate passion howling after you in the public street, threatening at every step your life. If you have been made to doubt my word in answer to your question concerning Ben's habits, please write such men as our postmaster, R. H. Smith, Peter Ruffner, Isaiah Porter, Michael Mills, E. A. Gamble, Aaron Dyer, Seth H. Lount, J. W. Sutton, or any other citizen in the entire town of Port Orford, with the exception of Tichenor and Kautz. Now I do not seek this investigation for the purpose of doing the least injury to Wright, for I would not willingly put even a straw in his way. I hope, however, that the inquiry may be made that it may be determined whether I have maliciously sought to injure a fellow citizen. I am charged by Ben with wishing to supplant him in his office. This is not so. If I once had the hope of succeeding him upon his resignation only, I have abandoned wholly such thought or wish. Nothing in the wide world would now induce me to accept the office, should it be offered me. Of this, at any rate, I have no hope, as I have no doubt your mind has been cruelly poisoned against me. Again, it appears that Tichenor has been busy in his efforts to make Ben believe that I was in favor, and earnestly espoused your removal. This, General, is false. It is true I said on my return from Portland that efforts were being made to remove you. In this there certainly could be no harm. I merely repeated here what everybody knew in Oregon, namely that efforts are being made to remove you. There is not that man living who ever heard me speak one word against you as a citizen or public officer. On the contrary I have ever spoken of you in the very highest terms, prompted to do so from your uniform kindness toward me, and from my knowledge of you as a citizen, and as an officer of government. Someone, who I cannot imagine, unless my suspicions are correct concerning Kautz and Tichenor, has sought to inflict upon me a cruel injury. I fear not to have my character and general conduct fully inquired into, and shall take pains when you come among us to have some things fully exposed. As regards Wright I shall treat him as I ever have done, in kindness, and cheerfully do all in my power to aid him in the performance of the duties of his office. What will be the result of this matter between Wright and myself I cannot tell. At all events I shall do all in my power to avoid further difficulty. I wish, General, you would write to me, that I may, if possible disabuse Wright's present opinion--that he may know that I did not attempt to injure him maliciously . A word from you would be highly appreciated by me.
Respectfully your friendJoseph Lane Papers
F. M. Smith
Port Orford June 15th 1855Dear Sir
Agreeable to instructions it becomes my duty to make known to you the present condition of Indian affairs within this district since the 15th of May.
I have visited all the different bands of Indians within this district and find them doing well though the abundance of rain which has fallen since the fishing season has prevented them from getting their usual quantity of salmon upon which they rely entirely for subsistence at this season of the year. I received the seine and nets for fishing but find they are too small for salmon fishing and have thought it would be best to hire a larger one which is at Rogue River which is either to be bought or hired at a moderate price. The one I speak of is 600 yards long and 14 feet wide; such only is suitable for salmon fishing while the one I received from you is small and adapted only for fishing in small streams and for small fish. I intend trying the large seine and if it succeeds will hire it and assemble the different bands together at Rogue River which is the only stream which affords salmon at this season; all the rest of the streams' salmon do not run up until September, and I think by so doing that is by hiring the large seine and collecting the Indians at that river and superintending and being with the Indians myself that I can furnish the Indians all they may need and I am confident that by bringing them all or as many of them as I can on to Rogue River and being with them myself that I can control them much better than I can as they are scattered the whole length of the district.
When I visited Chetco the Indians informed me that there had been one of their number killed by a man called Lewis Carley who told the whites that he had killed a Chetco Indian.
And that he was ready to leave the country and went to Crescent City and there shipped for that purpose which was the last heard of him. The Indians complain but little of it and appear to be willing to submit to their fate let it [be] what it may without retaliating in any way whatever.
As long as they are so near the line between California and Oregon I am of the opinion that there will always be outrages of that character committed. While it is impossible to prevent it the miners about the mouth of Rogue River have many of them left that place which affords greater security to the Indians as they are always more peaceable in an Indian country when they are few in number.
And I think that I have it in my power whether they are few or many to control Indians in all cases--better than the whites can be controlled by any power.
Most respectfullyTo Gen Joel Palmer
Your obedient servant
Sub Indian Agent
Port Orford Dist
Joseph Lane Papers
Port Orford O.T.Dear Sir
June 19th 1855
By last trip of Columbia I wrote you making inquiries concerning a difficulty that had just occurred between Benj. Wright and myself, said by him to have been occasioned in consequence of charges that I had made to you against him. To that letter I have not yet received any reply. At the time I wrote you I was ignorant of the source through which Ben received his information. I could only surmise; Ben refused at that time to give me the name of the person from whom he had received the information. He would only say that I told you that he "Ben was an habitual drunkard, at all times unfit to do duty." Of the treatment I at that time received from Ben, I have made you acquainted.
I very well recollect the conversation I had with you as we descended the hill in front of the reserve, and I know just as positively that all I said to you was in answer to your question concerning Ben's habits. I replied to your question, as I or you would always expect a man of truth to answer a plain interrogatory. Had you not asked the question I certainly should not have given the answer. I think you will do me the justice to say that I made no effort to injure Wright, indeed I believe you will say that I spoke well of him as an agent.
Had I desired to injure Wright fatally, I could have done so by statements backed by living evidence. All of this difficulty has been occasioned by Kautz, my most bitter enemy--a man with whom I have not spoken for a long time. The occasion of my trouble with Kautz is well known to all of our citizens, and let me add that it is not much to the credit of Kautz. Of course this is nothing to you. This difficulty between Ben and myself, prompted by Kautz, together with the active efforts of Ben, caused my defeat in the election just passed, and it is my opinion that such was the object of Kautz. In this place, where I have lived near four years, I received 40 votes. My adversary, Tichenor, got but 18 votes. This is certainly an index of my standing here, and is, of itself, quite a commentary upon the efforts of my enemies. And, General, I do not desire to injure Mr. Wright--on the contrary would be glad to see him continue in the office he now holds. I will also add that since my trouble with Ben, he has not tasted a drop of ardent spirits, and has fully determined to wholly abstain from the use of all kinds of intoxicating drinks. No one more rejoices at this resolution than myself. Now then as to the past. The answer I made to your question concerning Ben's habits, I do not, nor have I ever denied. I cannot bear to be considered the base man and liar that you probably have been made to think me. I must therefore refer you to our postmaster R. H. Smith, our justice of the peace John W. Sutton, Isaiah Porter, Nelson Seaman, Samuel Lount, or to any other citizen of Port Orford. I make this reference, not to injure Ben, but to vindicate my character as a man of truth. I hope to see you when you come among us, that this cruel misunderstanding (if it cannot bear a worse name as far as Kautz is concerned) may be properly explained. I assure you General it is not pleasant to have one's life threatened, particularly by a man that you are not disposed to injure.
RespectfullyJoseph Lane Papers
Your obt servt
F. M. Smith
Port OrfordDear Genl.
Sept. 16th 1855
I have just had a conversation with Capt. Ben Wright, sub-Indian agent of this place, who is very anxious to see you in regard to certain claims for services in the Indian department some time ago, and other matters for which he has not been paid, and in which he has expended a considerable amount of his own private funds.
On hearing me say that I had written you, he requested me to say that any convenience you may require in coming to this point before you leave, he would join me in rendering. I hope you will make it convenient to come, so as to stop a few days at Port Orford. Your answer is anxiously looked for.
Truly yoursJoseph Lane Papers
R. W. Dunbar
December 7th 1855Genl Palmer
By this time you will have heard of the safe return of Lieut. Kautz and of the result of the battles he and party have had since they have been absent. No difficulty exists amongst the Indians on the coast so far. Ben [Wright] has been amongst them keeping reckless white men from committing violence upon them and so far has succeeded, not without much care and watchfulness on his part. As soon as he leaves a point, only for a few days, these restless lazy devils are at work stirring up a muss. At the forks of
These foolish and uncalled-for movements in certain quarters, and the eagerness of many to fan this firebrand, has brought me to reflect upon the cause, as these men do not seem anxious to fight the war bands near us, but are anxious to be quartered where there is no danger. I have examined their material and find them composed of the most trifling, lazy, no-account white men in the whole country. Squaw keepers, etc. who take this occasion to get up an excitement for the purpose of extracting from somebody subsistence to put them through the winter. I have advised Ben to discard all connection with them, and he will have nothing to do with them. Great care will have to be taken to prevent [omission] in all this excitement south or the department will be awfully swindled in the outcome.
Your instructions to agents giving a discretionary power in the matter of temporary reservations, provisions etc. Ben interpreted to allow him to keep his Indians at their homes, if he thought he could maintain peace. This he has done, notwithstanding the whole length of his district on the east was exposed to invasion by the hostile tribes, and his Indians to be tampered with by them.
The Indians at Coos Bay have been in corral by the sub-agent, and marshaled, enrolled and fed, at the expense of the U.S. While no chance of a connection between them and the hostile band could possibly take place, this in my view of the case is another means of tapping Uncle Sam's bank. Everybody here sees it; it is so plain as to be ridiculous. But then you will say, "This is out of your line of duties." I cannot be still notwithstanding the government have not used me as they should have done. Still while my friends are in a position to be imposed upon I must speak out. If I have done wrong have the kindness to tell me so, and I will cease to write.
It is intended by Ben and I to come up on the steamer about 25th ult. and hope to find you at home. As Ben has business of importance to lay before you and through you to Gov. Curry, let us find you at home if possible.
Your friendJoseph Lane Papers
R. W. Dunbar
An Indian Agent Killed.We learn, says the Philadelphia North American of Saturday, by a private letter from Port Orford, Oregon, that Capt. Ben Wright, sub-Indian agent of that district, was murdered by the Indians on the morning of the 23rd of [February]. He was, we believe, a Philadelphian. He died in the performance of his official duties. As the hostilities of the Indians had assumed an alarming character in Southern Oregon, and some of the warlike Indians are not far from the Port Orford settlements, it was feared that the peaceable Indians might be persuaded or intimidated into joining the savage army. Capt. Wright has always had great confidence in his power to control the Indians, and under the influence of this he went amongst the tribe of his charge, apprehending no danger, notwithstanding that a war party was known to be in the vicinity to which he went. On the 23rd of February, having been solicited by some of his own Indians to go among them on business, he went in company with Capt. John Poland, of the volunteers. They slept in a house on the south bank of the Rogue River. At about three o'clock on the morning of the 23rd of [February], the house was surrounded, and Capt. Wright and his companions were murdered by the hostile savages to which his own professedly peaceful Indians had betrayed them. Some of the Indians say that Capt. Wright was called to the door, grappled and killed by a blow from a hatchet, and then cut to pieces. There was a small force of volunteers a short distance off, but the work was done so noiselessly that they heard nothing of it, but were themselves immediately after surprised and cut to pieces.
After this bloody massacre, the treacherous friendly Indians joined the war party in open revolt. They at once made a descent upon the settlements, laying waste all before them between Port Orford and the California line, and murdering all the whites encountered on their way. At the mouth of Rogue River, everything was destroyed except the picket fort, in which the few survivors had assembled. There they were hemmed in by the savages, the communications all cut off, and at the date of the letter alluded to, March 5th, the whole country was in a state of war.
The writer, R. W. Dunbar, Collector of the Customs at Port Orford, says: "We are all forted up and hourly expecting an attack. We are too weak to go out to fight the Indians, so many of our people having been cut off. The unchecked success of the Indians has drawn to their support all the bands on this coast. Our only hope is in the United States government sending us aid." Port Orford, from whence the letter was sent, is a town on the southern coast of Oregon Territory, located at the head of Tichenor Bay, which is a small sheet of water setting in from the ocean, above Rogue River. The Indians north of Port Orford bear the designation of Quatomahs. Those immediately south of it are called Euchres, while on Rogue River there is another tribe called Tututnis. All these tribes are now hostile.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo, New York, April 30, 1856, page 2
(From the Philadelphia North American, 30th ult.)
An Indian Agent Killed.
We learn by a private letter from Port Orford, Oregon, that Captain Ben. Wright, sub-Indian agent of that district, was murdered by the Indians on the 23rd of March. He was, we believe, a Philadelphian. He died in the performance of official duties.
As the hostilities of the Indians had assumed an alarming character in Southern Oregon, and some of the warlike Indians are not far from the Port Orford settlements, it was feared that the peaceable Indians might be persuaded or intimidated into joining the savage army.
Captain Wright had always great confidence in his power to control the Indians, and under the influence of this he went among the tribe of his charge, apprehending no danger, notwithstanding that a war party was known to be in the vicinity to which he went. On the 23rd of February, having been solicited by some of his own Indians to go among them on business, he went in company with Captain John Poland, of the volunteers. They slept in a house on the south bank of the Rogue River. At about 3 o'clock in the morning of the 23rd of March the house was surrounded, and Captain Wright and his companions were murdered by the hostile savages to whom his own professedly peaceful Indians had betrayed them.
Some of the Indians say that Captain Wright was called to the door, grappled [with] and killed by a blow from a hatchet, and then cut to pieces. There was a small force of volunteers a short distance off, but the work was done so noiselessly that they heard nothing of it, but were themselves immediately afterward surprised and cut to pieces.
After this bloody massacre, the treacherous friendly Indians joined the war party in open revolt. They at once made a descent upon the settlements, laying waste all before them between Port Orford and the California line, and murdering all the whites encountered on their way. At the mouth of Rogue River everything was destroyed except the picket fort, in which the few survivors had assembled. There they were hemmed in by the savages, the communications all cut off, and at the date of the letter alluded to, March 5, the whole country was in a state of war.
Cincinnati Enquirer, May 2, 1856, page 2
Doubtless the news of the recent protracted fight at the Big Bend of Rogue River, between the U.S. Dragoons under Capt. Smith and the Shasta and Klamath Indians led on by old John, will have reached you before this is received. It is said that the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and the Indian agents joined in the conflict and fought side by side, with the regulars. Gen. Palmer used his pistol with good effect, till he obtained a musket as it fell from the hand of a dying soldier. Agent Nathan Olney rendered signal service, and William Wright with the memory of his brother's blood fresh on his mind entered upon the work in a manner becoming a man who seeks to avenge the murder of his kindred
"Port Orford Correspondence of the Statesman," letter of June 7, Oregon Statesman, Salem, June 17, 1856, page 2
The murderers of Ben Wright, Tututni Bill and Jack, had Wright's scalp, yelling over it a few days ago; when Robert Metcalfe learned the fact, he drew his pistol upon him and made him give it up.
E. B. Stone, Coast Reserve, letter of November 1, 1856, Oregon Statesman, Salem, December 23, 1856, page 2
A KNIGHT OF THE FRONTIER.Among the many adventurous spirits drawn by the discovery of gold in California to the Pacific Coast, where they became unconsciously and by the force of circumstances makers of history and founders of empire, was a young Pennsylvanian from the vicinity of Philadelphia, named Benjamin Wright. He was of a good family and Quaker antecedents, and had a sister who was afterward a belle in Washington society. Of the hopes or disappointments which led him to determine upon coming to California in that early day nothing is known, and probably he was only one of the many Argonauts who sought the Golden Fleece. Drifting northward, we hear of him first at Yreka, in 1851, where he seems to have become well-known for brave and energetic characteristics, and to have been willing to lead in encounters with the ever-treacherous and murderous Indians of Northern California and Southern Oregon; going with other citizens of Yreka to recover a band of horses stolen from the miners by the Modoc Indians.
In the summer of 1852 he is again heard of, heading a party to arrest two Rogue River Indians who had murdered a citizen of Scott's Valley, in which expedition he was successful, the Indians being taken while fleeing to the Modoc country. They were fairly tried; one was hung, and one acquitted. Wright was at this time about thirty-two years of age; tall, lithe, with long, curling black hair falling down to his shoulders; features rather fine and pleasing, a quick-moving dark eye, and a shrewd rather than an intellectual expression of countenance. Dressed in the fringed buckskin suit affected by frontiersmen, a Palo Alto hat slouched over his handsome face, astride of his heavy black mule, with bearskin mochilas, and a rifle slung across his back, he was the ideal of a knight of the frontier. Less daring and less honorable deeds than have been done by him and his class have made the knights and heroes of transatlantic history.
In 1852, there was a large emigration across the plains to California and Oregon. Those destined for the Rogue River or Shasta valleys, after parting company with the main emigration through the Humboldt Valley, took a route that led northwesterly to about the latitude of 42°, and thence westward through a succession of alkaline and marsh-skirted lakes, until it reached the range of mountains separating this uninviting region from the beautiful valleys on the other side of the Sierra. From the earliest explorations of this country it had proved a dangerous region to the unwary traveler--the more so as the Indians inhabiting it became aware of the value of the property of white men, and by occasional murders and robberies possessed themselves of firearms in addition to bows and arrows.
About the first of August of the year above mentioned, a train of sixty male emigrants arrived in Yreka by this route--the advance of a long succession of emigrant companies to arrive for two months later. These men represented that in passing through the country lying between Goose Lake on the east and Lower Klamath Lake on the west, ranged over by the Modoc tribe of Indians, they had found these savages prepared for hostilities, but afraid, apparently, to attack them, as they were well-armed and traveled compactly. That they would attack some weaker parties coming after them they had not a doubt.
On receiving this information, Charles McDermitt, a large-souled man, at that time Sheriff of Siskiyou County--the same who afterward, and during the Civil War, commanded Fort Churchill in Northern Nevada--determined to take steps to prevent the unsuspecting and wearied emigrants from being plundered and murdered by the Modocs. Those who had lived a few years on the frontier knew the danger; those who were coming did not. And being aware of this, Captain McDermitt soon had under his command a company of about thirty men--brave, resolute and unselfish border-knights, anxious to rescue from peril their brothers from the East, and wild with the thought that perhaps even then unresisting women and helpless babes were being butchered with all the horrors of savage warfare. Arming and equipping with haste--having the countenance and support of the citizens of Yreka, many of whom expected relations to arrive that year, and by that route--Captain McDermitt, in a few days' time, was upon the road, and his company succeeded in reaching Goose Lake while but two trains were known to have passed that point. Both, being well-armed bodies of men, were allowed to pass through the Modoc country with only a slight skirmish, in which two men were wounded.
The third train consisted of ten wagons, and about twenty poorly armed men, five of whom had families accompanying them. To these Captain McDermitt explained the danger from Indian attack, and sent with them two of his company as guides. Daily, in advance, could be seen an Indian spy; and as the company approached the since-famous Lost River country, signal fires were lighted, though no Indians appeared in sight. Satisfied that an ambush was being prepared, the guides determined, if possible, to avoid the snare. The old emigrant road passed for about a mile close upon the margin of Tule Lake, where it was overhung by high cliffs, the terminal rocks of a ridge running north, and forming the eastern boundary of the Lost River Valley. Turning to the north before coming to this ridge, the guides led the wagons over it, and into the valley, by a route hitherto unused. As the Modocs discovered the failure of their scheme of ambush, they came out of their hiding places in swarms, howling and yelling in demoniacal rage. Previously, a Dutchman belonging to the train, who could not be convinced of danger so long as he did not see Indians, had ventured alone toward the lake to shoot ducks. The Indians waited until he was within fifty yards of the lake, when they broke cover, and made a dash in his direction. He proved to be a swift runner, however, and reached the train in safety, though he left most of his clothing upon the tough sagebrush through which he was obliged to force his way. This double disappointment greatly excited and incensed the Indians, who gathered near the train, making frantic demonstrations, but hesitating to attack. The emigrants hurried forward their teams to take up a position in open ground; the Indians endeavoring to stampede the cattle, succeeding in which they would have had the whites at their mercy.
On arriving at a proper place for a halt, the train was brought to a standstill, the wagons drawn up in a circle, with the cattle in the enclosure, and preparation made for a fight; an event which, at the same time, the whites were anxious to avoid. One-third of the company, with one of the Yreka men who could speak the jargon in use among the Oregon and Californian tribes, then advanced toward the Indian ranks, calling out to their chief to come and fight if he wished it, as they were ready. This apparent desire for battle, together with the mysterious appearance of the wagons, which had their covers tied down close to conceal the women and children, inspired the Modocs with apprehensions, and the chief proposed to hold a conference, unarmed, with the speaker of the whites. Accordingly both advanced, until within seventy-five yards of each other, and entered upon a pretended friendly council.
While the conference was going on, one by one the Indians on an eminence not far off were seen to fasten their bows to their feet, secrete arrows at their backs, and, making a show of being unarmed, join the chief. Of this movement the speaker was warned by his friends in waiting; and the chief, being remonstrated with, sent away his men. After parleying for some time, the Modocs agreed to retire and allow the emigrants to proceed without further interruption. As they once more set the train in motion, a party of Modocs, mounted, made their appearance from behind the north end of the ridge, where they had evidently been stationed to intercept any fleeing members of the company when it should have been attacked at the south end. That evening the company encamped fifteen miles west of the point of attack, expecting to be followed; but a cold rainstorm setting in, which lasted nearly all night, seemed to have damped the aggressiveness of the Modocs. Starting on again early in the morning, they had not gone over a quarter of a mile, when, looking back, they could see their campground covered with the savages, a second time disappointed. Soon after they passed beyond the limits of the Modoc country, and were safe.
These incidents occurred on the 19th and 20th of August. On the 23rd, while encamped, about nine o'clock in the evening, there came into their midst a most pitiable object--a half-dressed, almost wholly starved and demented man, riding barebacked a jaded and famished horse, whose general condition seemed in sympathy with his rider's. The man, who was hardly able to articulate, was lifted to the ground, fed and tended until he could give some half-intelligible account of himself. He belonged, he said, to a party of nine men traveling on horseback, with pack animals. They had been duly warned by Captain McDermitt, and on approaching Tule Lake had avoided the narrow pass, taking the same cutoff used by the previous train. Seeing no Indians, they were riding carelessly down the west side of the ridge into the valley. Suddenly from the rocks behind them came a cloud of arrows, with a few bullets--the Modocs at this time being in possession of not more than six or eight guns in the whole tribe. At the first fire eight of the men were unhorsed. The horse ridden by the ninth man fell, and his rider, dropping his gun in the excitement, sprang upon a loose horse, which, taking fright, ran with him for miles up the valley, urged on by the yells of the Indians. Frantic himself at the suddenness and appalling nature of the calamity which had overtaken him, he used no discretion, nor attempted to control the animal until it dropped from exhaustion--as he believed, dead.
The fugitive was now near the Lost River, which he swam, taking a west course. On approaching Lower Klamath Lake, he discovered an Indian, which so alarmed him that he turned back and swam the river again; roaming about, not knowing what direction to take, until on the following day he came upon his horse, that, having recovered from its fatigue, was glad to welcome back its master. Mounting, he rode day and night, until he came to the camp, as above mentioned. He had about a tablespoonful of rose berries tied up in a corner of his handkerchief, which he said he was saving for food, as he expected to be out all winter, and should need them. Fright, want, and solitude had fairly turned his brain.
Taking this poor creature with them, the company moved on, arriving at Yreka on the 24th, where the story of the massacre of the eight men was quickly spread abroad. A public meeting was called the same night to organize a volunteer company to go out upon that portion of the road leading through the Modoc country, for the protection of the emigration. A courier was dispatched to Wright, who was mining on Cottonwood Creek, twenty miles distant. By daylight next morning he was seen in the streets of Yreka, and men were crowding around him, eager to volunteer under his leadership to punish the Modocs or to protect their friends. Those who could not volunteer generously contributed arms, horse equipments, provisions, blankets or ammunition--whatever they possessed--that would enable those who could to undertake the sterner duty of the camp and the field.
To understand with what interest the people already on the Pacific Coast watched for each year's immigration, it is necessary to know something of their relative conditions. Those already here were the fathers, husbands or brothers of those upon the road; and were relatives, or, at the farthest, neighbors of many to whom they were not so nearly related. Often they had thousands of dollars worth of property in stock coming overland from the States. Most of these men had made the journey across the continent, and knew by experience that after passing Fort Hall the hardest and most perilous part of it remained to be performed. By July, on this side of the Rocky Mountains, grass was dry, except in certain favored localities; water scarce, and the heat and dust excessive. The larger the emigration, the greater the suffering from these causes. Every week, as the season advanced, added to the evils to be endured. Often food became scarce in whole trains, and for other trains to relieve the want was to place themselves in the same situation. Yet the help was usually afforded, and it sometimes happened that almost a whole emigration arrived in a famishing condition. Knowing this, supplies were annually forwarded to meet the later trains. The long, toilsome, wearisome journey was dreaded for their friends by those on this side, and great anxiety felt concerning their condition during the last stages of their journey. The maddening thought that to all the trials attending emigration might be added that of savage warfare was not to be borne. Even those who had no friends on the road that year sympathized with those who had, and were eager to give assistance. It was this general impulse to shield from harm the coming emigration which so quickly set on foot the movement to raise a company of volunteers. The estimation in which Wright was held was shown by the fact of soliciting him to take the captaincy of the company. As Yreka, in 1852, was but a small town, and as preparations had to be made for weeks of service, it was three days before the horseshoeing, the saddlemaking or mending, the packing of stores, and gathering up of arms and ammunition, was completed; when at last Ben Wright, with thirty good and true men, and two friendly Indians, one of them a servant of Wright, set out upon his errand of mercy.
In the meantime the Modocs were carrying on their predatory warfare with success, unknown to Captain McDermitt, whose men, engaged in piloting trains, were scattered along the road for a hundred miles, and unable to do military duty. The fate of some of these travelers only their bones remained to tell. About the last of August a company of twenty-nine men, one woman and a child, arrived at Black Rock Springs, several days east of Tule Lake. They found there six of McDermitt's company; two of whom--Mr. Coats, representative of Siskiyou County, and a Mr. Ormsby, of Yreka--were sent to escort them through the Modoc country. Before proceeding far on this portion of the journey, they were joined by another company of thirty-two armed emigrants, who had for pilot a third man named Evans--an old mountaineer, well acquainted with the country.
On the 3rd of September, when within half a day's drive of Tule Lake, the latter company halted for repairs, while the former one kept on, Messrs. Coats and Ormsby riding in advance. It would seem from what happened now, that these gentlemen could not have been informed of that which had occurred a few days previously. It is certain that two of the Yreka men, named Smith and Toland, escorting a train through Tule Lake, were wounded and taken to Yreka in emigrant wagons, which probably accounts for the fact that the men coming after them were uninformed and unprepared for an attack. The guides were three-quarters of a mile ahead of the train, on the old road next the lake, and were just turning the point of the ridge which hid them from sight, when those behind saw a large number of Indians suddenly start to view among the rocks. Immediately one of the company, mounted on a swift horse, hastened in pursuit, to warn Coats and Ormsby of their danger; soon disappearing, like them, behind the point of the bluff. The train was poorly armed, there being but seven guns in the company. These were examined; the woman and child (the family of W. L. Donellen) hidden under some bedding, the wagon covers tied down, and the train proceeded, soon entering upon the narrow pass of a mile in length. As it moved along under the bluff, the arrows began to fall thick and fast. But the men kept, as much as possible, the wagons between them and the Indians, and by urging their teams, and using their guns judiciously, made the dangerous mile with but one man wounded--shot with an arrow through the back and lungs.
Hastening on to the open valley--still dogged by the Indians, who were kept at a distance by the guns--the train was halted and the cattle corralled between the wagons. They now perceived that some of the savages were mounted upon the horses and wore the clothing of Coats, Ormsby, and the third man who had preceded them, and understood what had been their fate. The Modocs, finding that the company were prepared to defend themselves, tried various devices to approach, or to force them from their position; making screens of tules, which they pushed slowly before them, so as almost to be unobserved while they crawled along the ground, and when they saw this artifice was discovered, setting fire to the dry tules to the windward. The latter danger the emigrants met with a "backfire," and retained their position.
Thus passed the remainder of that day and night, and the next day until about noon, when the company behind came up. By the advice of Evans they had taken the cutoff over the ridge, eluding an ambush set for them at the point of rocks, and causing great excitement among the Indians, who hurried about yelling, apparently distracted with rage. After being reinforced, the whole body of the emigrants moved to the border of the lake, the first train having been without water for more than twenty-four hours. The Indians, made desperate by the prospect of losing their prey, followed, and, skulking in the tules, shot their arrows after them. As they were very numerous, the situation of the emigrants was precarious; for, whether they moved or remained to fight, there was almost the certainty of being cut off at last by the savages, who possessed the advantage of numbers and familiarity with the country.
While watering their cattle at the lakeside, what appeared to them a party of Indians, mounted, came in sight from the west, riding down upon them, causing a hasty movement of armed men to the front. As the cavalcade came nearer, their leader, Captain Ben Wright, advanced alone, addressing them in English, and explaining his errand. Great was the relief and joy when it became known that a volunteer company from Yreka had come to their rescue, prepared to fight the Modocs. A fat bullock driven from Salt Lake was slaughtered, as an act of hospitality to the volunteers, who, while they feasted, learned the requirements of the situation in which the emigration was placed by the hostility of the Indians. Their grief and anger on learning the fate of Coats and Ormsby prepared them to mete out vengeance, and an immediate attack was determined upon, in which the armed portion of the emigrants offered to participate.
Leaving a guard with the wagons, the volunteers, with a reinforcement of a dozen men, made a reconnaissance of the lakeshore--the Indians running wildly about in much excitement, trying to intercept their course. But their inferior arms placed them at a great disadvantage, and in the skirmishing the Indians were driven into the lake, the volunteers following until up to their armpits in water. Concealed among the tules were the canoes of the Indians, in which they finally made their escape to the since-famous lava beds. One of these canoes was upset by their pursuers, drowning several of the fleeing Indians. What with the killed and drowned that afternoon, there were twenty-five Modocs less at nightfall.
In skirmishing around the lake, the bodies of the three men killed the day before were discovered, horribly mutilated. To their poor remains such decent burial was given as the circumstances permitted. The bodies of the eight emigrants massacred two weeks previous had been devoured by wolves, only their bones being found. These ghastly appeals for retributive justice furnished sad subjects for campfire conversation that night. The next day the emigrants continued their journey toward Yreka, escorted [for] a day's travel upon the road by Wright's company. They carried the story of these outrages to the settlements, and the liveliest feelings of horror and indignation prevailed among all classes of people, both in California and Oregon, and a company of volunteers was raised in Jacksonville, by Captain John E. Ross, and sent out to assist in protecting the emigration.
Wright had his headquarters at Clear Lake, a few miles east of Tule Lake, the circle upon the ground made by his horse corral being visible at the present day. For two months the volunteers traveled back and forth, in heat and dust, escorting emigrants over a stretch of a hundred miles of road. To support them in the field for this length of time required a good deal of self-denial on the part of the people, who contributed supplies, not only to them, but to some of the emigration who had exhausted their provisions before arriving at Wright's post. In raising these supplies, Captain McDermitt was most untiring and efficient, giving of his own money and time unsparingly; while to Captain Ben Wright was left the command of the fighting men. Wright's lieutenants were W. I. Kershaw and H. N. White. Among his company were Messrs. E. P. Jenner, J. C. Burgess, John S. Halleck, William Tenning, William Bram, Evans, Murray, Fielding, Sanbanch, Poland and Helm, with others whose names are unknown.
When the Modocs learned that they were watched by a force of armed whites, they were compelled to cease their outrages, and remained in their fastnesses on the south side of the lake, which could not be approached by the volunteers without boats. But from two prisoners, whom Wright succeeded in capturing, he learned enough to inform him that twenty-five known murders committed in the forepart of the season did not comprise the sum total of their atrocities. Indeed, one of the captured Indians was wrapped in a cradle quilt when caught--an article that suggested a whole chapter of horrors--and from these guilty wretches he obtained knowledge of two young women held in captivity by the Modocs, and a large amount of property in their possession belonging to murdered emigrants, fourteen of whom had been found at Lost River Fort by Ross' company.
To liberate the captives and recover the property stolen was now the aim of Wright. But no artifice or argument of his could overcome the caution and cunning of the enemy, who during six or eight weeks eluded all his attempts to draw them out of their caves. At one time he pretended to withdraw his men, and the whole company traveled easterly for a considerable distance. Meeting a train with ox teams, loose cattle and all the encumbrances of emigrants, Wright formed a plan to bring on an encounter with them, by hiding most of his men in the emigrant wagons, concealing every appearance of arms, dressing some of the volunteers in women's clothing, and permitting the train to drag its slow length carelessly along past the Bloody Point of Tule Lake, as if wholly unsuspicious of danger. But the Modocs were not to be caught. They were too well skilled in treacherous devices not to see guile in such apparent guilelessness, and remained unmoved in their rocky strongholds.
About the last of October the emigration was believed to be all in, and the volunteers returned to their homes. Very soon after, it was discovered that some families were still missing, and probably upon the road. Wright then determined to return to the Modoc country, and to take with him lumber to make boats in which to cross the lake, and force from the Modocs their guilty secrets. On arriving at Bloody Point with only eighteen men, he found that a small train, containing men, women and children, had been driven from the road into the tules, where all were murdered, their wagons broken up and secreted, and property carried off. This discovery made Wright and his men doubly determined upon getting at the Modocs. At length, by means of a couple of boats, and with the aid of his Indian servant and a Modoc squaw, Wright succeeded in invading their rocky retreat in the lava beds, and putting himself in communication with the chiefs.
Here he found abundant evidences of murder and plunder: women's dresses with arrow holes through them, and infants' socks and clothing, among them. Wright offered to make a treaty of amity and commerce with the Modocs, provided they would deliver up their two captives, and restore the cattle, horses, arms and other property taken from the whites that season, amounting to many thousands of dollars; but otherwise, he should make war upon them, and kill as many as possible. After a good deal of negotiating, much prevarication and deceit, the chiefs consented to a meeting for a conference, the place being fixed by Wright near his camp on Lost River. Four of the Modocs only presented themselves at the time agreed upon, bringing with them an old gun and a couple of poor horses.
With a good understanding of the Indian character, Wright regarded these four in the light of spies only, and determined upon making a demonstration of power, as the only means of inspiring respect. One of the four chiefs was required to go back to his people and bring in the two white women and the property as before demanded, while the other three were detained as hostages. The messenger returned next day, with forty-five warriors, but without the prisoners or the plundered property. Here was a critical turn in affairs, but without showing any fear Wright proceeded with the council as if he did not apprehend treachery. The Indians were generously feasted on the same beef eaten by the volunteers. Again Wright stated his terms of amnesty and friendship, which the Modoc chiefs treated with slightly veiled contempt.
"You held our men as hostages when you outnumbered us," they said; "now we think we should hold you."
Perceiving that the Modocs had no real intention of agreeing to the only terms on which a treaty could be made with them, Wright knew that the safety of himself and his company depended upon anticipating the intentions of the enemy. He therefore allowed the council to be prolonged until nightfall, when the Indians encamped on the opposite side of the river, near the Stone Ford or Bridge, as it was commonly called. The usual hour of attack among Indians is early morning. During the night, about half of Wright's men crossed the river, and concealed themselves as close as they safely could to the Indian camp. Wright, to be sure that he was not mistaken, waited to attack until he heard preparations for attacking him going on in the Modoc camp, and the person of the head chief could be distinctly discerned. Then he fired, and the chief fell. At the signal the remainder of the company dashed across the river, and the slaughter commenced. Unable to see their assailants, the Indians were mowed down by the rifles and revolvers of the volunteers. Out of forty-eight only two or three escaped. Of the eighteen volunteers, four were wounded.
Wright and his company returned immediately to Yreka, the wounded men being carried fifteen miles on litters made of their guns lashed together. Arrived at that place, the volunteers were welcomed with rejoicing, the sick tenderly cared for, and the freedom of the town extended to Captain Wright. No man ever had a greater degree of popularity among his peers than Wright enjoyed at this time. Those whose lives and property were saved by the exertions of the volunteers owed them a debt of gratitude not soon to be forgotten. Those whose wrongs they had attempted to redress or avenge held their services in high esteem. Nor was there ever a question raised as to the propriety of Wright's conduct at that time in extricating his company from a dangerous predicament, by surprising the Modoc camp and killing as many as he could of the murderers of innocent persons, since they refused to accept amnesty and a treaty of peace and commerce.
But two or three years afterward, owing to some personal jealousies--arising out of Wright's popularity, quite as much as anything, apparently--it began to be said that he had not deserved the encomiums lavished upon him in 1852, but that instead, he had acted very dishonorably in the closing scene of that campaign, and in fact that he had been inspired from the first with mere bloodthirstiness of disposition; and even that he had killed the Modocs by poison and not in battle. The flimsiness of these accusations is easily shown. In the first place, he did not seek the captaincy of the rescuing company--it sought him. He arrived in the Modoc country after a large number of persons had been murdered, variously estimated from thirty-six to seventy-five, and under circumstances to render the wrong peculiarly aggravating. One of his company, writing to a citizen of Yreka, said: "No man, seeing what we have seen, and having a drop of the milk of human kindness in his veins, could refuse to give his last dollar, if required, to prevent the repetition of such atrocities as have been committed at this place. For God's sake do not be slow in sending recruits and supplies!"--which does not sound like the utterance of a man bent only on killing Indians from wantonness. Several respectable citizens of Siskiyou County, members of Wright's company, have denied over their own signatures, given publicly, that there was any treachery connected with the killing of the Modocs--but that the volunteers simply defended themselves from an intended massacre by the Modocs, who greatly outnumbered them, and might be reinforced by much larger numbers. Had there been any other way left, Wright certainly would have taken it, rather than have left the captives and the property in the hands of the Modocs, neither of which were ever recovered, the girls dying in the hands of their captors, for after having been forced to extricate his company in the manner adopted, he could not remain a day longer in the Modoc country, even had he not had four wounded men requiring surgical assistance.
Wright probably returned to mining, as nothing is heard of him in public life until in 1855, when he appears again as a Sub-Indian Agent in Oregon, in charge of the Indians about the mouth of Rogue River--the Tututnis and Mikonotunnes--Indians as savage as the Modocs, but less intelligent and brave. A bloody Indian war was being carried on in the Rogue River Valley, extending to the Umpqua Valley, and threatening to involve all the Indians on the west of the Cascade Range. The Oregon Superintendent had done all that was in his power to prevent the infection spreading, by gathering up the coast tribes and placing them on temporary reservations, in charge of agents. In November, 1855, we find W. R. Dunbar, Collector at Port Orford, writing to the Superintendent:
"Ben is on the jump day and night. I never saw in my life a more energetic agent of the public. His plans are all good, there can be no doubt of it--that of maintaining peace, and that of quieting the fears of the Indian--so that he and the white man may return to their usual pursuits."
By another correspondent he is styled "Our much-esteemed and efficient Indian Agent."
The only published document signed with his name is the following letter, which explains itself.
"Port Orford, Nov. 5th, 1855."Sir:--In consequence of existing excitement on the part of the white citizens of this district, occasioned by the presence of warlike bands of Indians on our borders, I deem it expedient and necessary to request you to allow the present military force stationed at Port Orford to remain, as a means of enabling me to carry out my plans for the preservation of peace among the Indians of my district, and for the security of white citizens.
Benjamin Wright,Major Reynolds, U.S.A."
In another communication of Mr. Dunbar, he says:
"Ben goes at once to Rogue River, and if the whites will let his business alone, he can maintain peace in his widely extended district. * * * He will try to restore quiet, and at all hazards prevent the whites misusing the Indians."
He seemed at this time to have the entire confidence of the Indians, whom he counseled, fed and protected from the rage of white men who had lost friends in the Indian wars, or who, for baser reasons, wished the Indians out of their way. With the shrewdness which distinguished him, Wright had availed himself of the superstitions of the savages to strengthen his influence among them, and they believed that he could not be killed by a bullet or any missile. He had also allied himself to the Indians, after the fashion of the early fur traders, by taking to wife an intelligent Indian woman, who acted as his interpreter, and drew a salary from the Department in that capacity. So far as one knew, and to all appearances, Wright was the person of all others to control the wild creatures placed in his charge. But Indian character is hard to understand, and seldom thoroughly reliable.
A bitter struggle had been going on for months between the Rogue River settlers and the natives of the valley, who had conceived the notion that they could exterminate the whites, and were trying to do it. The Indian Department, which, like the Military Department, often feels it to be a duty to take sides against the white race as opposed to the Indian race, and to ignore the claims of labor and civilization in humoring the demands of indolent savages, who require land enough for each individual to support a thousand by agriculture, had decided to "protect" the tribes on the coast by removing them to a distant reservation, and they had consented to be thus protected. But emissaries from the Rogue River were among them, stirring them up to suspicion and hatred, increasing the natural dread which the Indian has of any change from the locality familiar to him. Worst among these mischief makers was one Enos, a half-breed, who had been once in Fremont's employ as a guide, and who added intelligence to evil propensities, and this man it was Wright's intention to arrest, as one means of preventing the spread of the war spirit among the Indians of his district.
In February, 1856, the first companies of volunteers called out to protect settlements having finished their term of service, the Governor of Oregon called for several new companies to be organized. One of these had a recruiting camp about four miles above the mouth of Rogue River, and on the night of the 2 nd a part of the men went down to Whaleshead, a small town at the mouth, where a dance was being held to celebrate Washington's birthday.
The captain of the volunteers, Ben Poland, was also at Whaleshead that night, and, in company with Wright, was at the house of a Mr. J. McGuire. Toward daylight on the 23rd, some of the Mikonotunnes came to McGuire's house and informed Wright that Enos was at their camp, and they wished the agent to come over the river and take him away, as he was making trouble for them. Calling on his friend Poland to accompany him, Wright, without a suspicion of treachery, did as he was desired, crossed the river to the Indian camp, in the discharge of his duty, and met his fate. No one ever knew the manner of his death, only as it was truly or falsely revealed by the savages themselves, and boasted of by Enos. That it was horrible, there is no doubt. It was said, on Indian authority, that he was cut to pieces with knives, his heart cut out and roasted, and a part of it eaten by his Indian wife, who had told the Mikonotunnes to kill him in that manner, since they believed he could not be shot. This part of the story may be only sensational. But it is certain that the Indians, to save whom from harm he exerted all his great energies, betrayed and foully murdered him.
As the story is usually told, the impression is given that the Modocs, or an Indian woman who was a friend of the Modocs, murdered him in revenge for the killing of over forty of their people by the Yreka volunteers in 1852. There is, however, no truth in that assertion. He was killed at a general uprising of the barbarous and murderous tribes which inhabited the coast from the Coquille River to the California line; the special treachery practiced upon him being attributable to the superstition above mentioned. It is not probable that the Indians who killed him knew anything about the Modoc affair, as they had no intercourse with that people; or, if they had any, it was only as enemies, for the Modocs were friends with no tribes east of the Cascades.
On the night or morning when Wright and Poland were killed, twenty-four other persons were murdered, others wounded, and two women carried into captivity. Every house but one in a distance of ten miles was burned--the Indians attacking at seven different points during that day. At the volunteer camp, out of fifteen men only two escaped. At Whaleshead and along the road, another thirteen were massacred. During the week following, five other persons, making thirty-one in all, suffered death at the hands of the savages. For a whole month all the inhabitants of that district, about one hundred and thirty, were crowded into a small, rude fort which had been erected at the breaking out of the Rogue River war, only venturing far enough away by day, and under guard, to dig potatoes left in the ground over winter, or to kill one of their own cattle escaped from the Indians, for food. One of the volunteers who escaped made his way to Port Orford, where Major Reynolds was stationed with ten men. But the troops could not go to the relief of the beleaguered people at Whaleshead because the Indians threatened Port Orford, and it became necessary to fortify in all haste for their own defense. Six generous-souled men got into an open boat, and coasted along down to the mouth of Rogue River, but were drowned in the surf in an attempt to land--thus only adding to the loss of life. Captain Tichenor took his schooner Nellie down, but could not effect a landing, and another vessel, the Gold Beach, with volunteers on board, made an effort to go to the relief of the people at Whaleshead, from Crescent City, but failed. No help could reach them from the interior, over mountain trails covered with snow, and almost impassable at any time. A messenger who was sent out from Port Orford, and reached the Umpqua Valley, conveyed the first news of the massacre, which was forwarded to San Francisco, and troops were sent from here to Port Orford with orders to march to the relief of these people, of whom nothing had been heard for a month.
They were found by Colonel Buchanan huddled in their miserable little fort, and
overjoyed to be released. There were no newspapers in this part of Oregon to chronicle the events of that trying period of its history. A few letters from private individuals found their way into the public prints, and all of these spoke in terms of respect and regard of the murdered Indian Agent, Ben Wright, whose death was generally regretted. When the United States troops and Oregon volunteers had fought and punished the Indians until they were quiescent, the Indian Superintendent removed them to the far-off reservation which they dreaded, and an Agent was put over them who made them fear him.
One day he found a party of the Mikonotunnes howling and yelling over a white man's scalp--the ebony locks of poor Wright, whose body never had Christian burial. He ordered them to give it to him. They refused. He marched two or three of the leaders before him to the guardhouse, and gave them fifteen minutes to deliver to him the scalp. They held out until the time was almost up; but, not liking the looks of the Agent's revolver, finally yielded, and the trophy passed into his hands. Ross Browne, who was sent to report upon the condition of Indian affairs in Oregon, in 1857, tells about this. About this time, Enos, the half-breed concerned in the murder of Wright, was arrested, and finally hung at Port Orford. These are all the facts publicly recorded of Wright. None of them are dishonorable to him. Why was it then, that as soon as he was dead, and could not call his slanderers to account, the story was set afloat of his poisoning the Modocs? In General Wool's report for 1856, he says:
"I will simply remark that the death of Sub-Indian Agent Wright, who was represented by General Lane, in debate in the House of Representatives, as being friendly to the Indians, was caused by an old grudge against him for attempting, before he was appointed Agent, to poison a whole band of Indians."
That this was not true is here shown. General Wool was prejudiced by some person or persons who gave him false information. The same stories were revived during the Modoc War of 1872-3, and the Canby massacre was made to be consequent upon Wright's alleged crime. But from the facts here given it is evident: first, that the Modocs required no provocation to commit massacres; second, that Wright gave them no such provocation; and third, that if he had, the fact of his death at the hands of another and distant tribe at the beginning of a great uprising could have nothing to do with it. It is only meet that justice should be done: and here upon this page let us record a verdict in favor of our Knight of the Frontier, who, so far as we know, always labored in the cause of humanity.
FRANCES FULLER VICTOR.The Californian, August 1881, pages 152-162
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Memoirs of One of Oregon's Most Noted Indian Fighters.
His Early Life and Adventures in Crossing the Plains--
Comes to Oregon in 1847--A Comrade's Recollections.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]It is a pleasing task to lift from under the accumulating layers of human progress the deserved fame of those early pioneers who gave up their lives in the successful struggle against the many and serious obstacles to the early settlement of the then wild and undeveloped territory of Oregon. Now, when all those obstacles have been overcome, when the desired development of the state has reached its present elevated stage, when the future is so bright for all who are frugal and industrious, the grim, heroic old warriors claim at our hands the long-delayed recognition of their services.
It is the aim of the writer of this, and succeeding papers, to show to the reader a few of the old heroes of Oregon, to picture a few of the many dangers to which they were exposed, to detail a few of their remarkable exploits, to tell of some of their desperate and bloody encounters with the wild Indians, and the no wilder beasts of the deep forests of early times.
Among the many early adventurers who came to Oregon for the sake of adventure was Benjamin Wright. A mere youth when he crossed the plains in 1847, his naturally romantic mind was filled with dim, yet to him real, outlines of his future life. Having landed at Oregon City but a few weeks prior to the Whitman massacre, he was among the first to respond to the hurried call for volunteers to chastise the murderers. He entered the company commanded by Captain Lee, which was sent to garrison The Dalles. While there he formed the acquaintance of several persons who were afterwards to act with him in many fierce encounters with the Indians and in discovering and establishing several mining and farming localities. Between one of them--Nathan Olney--and himself sprang up a deeply rooted friendship, which continued unbroken during the remainder of their lives, and as we pass along the narrative we shall see them scouting and fighting, side by side, during many long, weary days of pioneer warfare.
I met him for the first time in 1857, while encamped in the mines, near Yreka, Cal., and listened to a recital of his earlier career in the Cayuse War, his residence at The Dalles, his trip from thence to the mines in Shasta County, and from thence up to Yreka, with a feeling of mingled awe and veneration for one so young, yet so celebrated for all that could make a hero in the eyes of one of my own age, for I was yet in my teens.
We will soon reach the line of interesting narrative, but before we approach that point allow me to say that it will be necessary for the reader to follow me a little further in my preparations, so that a better understanding of that which is to follow may be obtained. From the time I first met him in 1851, till February, 1855, with a few slight interruptions, I was with him, and participated in the majority of his campaigns, and if, in perusing these pages you deem me guilty of irrigating them with the water of romance, believe it not, for his life was a romantic one, and I must tell it as he told it to me, as I witnessed it, and as I obtained it from other witnesses. We shall, for a greater portion of the time, camp, scour, hunt, fight, and perchance occasionally run, in the southern portion of Oregon, and more particularly in the Klamath Lake district, among the Modocs and Pit River Indians, in 1851-2. We will note well the country as we follow the trail, so that the country as it then was may be distinctly seen, for it is yet capable of great development.
We must, as varying circumstances render it necessary, dip down over the California line and bring up a portion of the history of that interesting locality, for the history of the southern portion of Oregon bordering on the line, and that part of California lying contiguous to it, will be seen to be almost identical. We will also take a peep at the rise and progress of primitive mining, and the miners, farms and farming, merchants and merchandising, "and," as Cervantes puts it, "many other things that will be explained."
Benjamin Wright was born about the year 1830. His father was a pastor of a small Presbyterian church in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The thoughts of "Ben," as he was familiarly called by all, were, in early youth, turned towards Oregon and its hidden treasures of adventure, by reading the many frontier stories then afloat in the East, and more particularly by one called Lena Leota, or, The Prairie Flower, which is, to this day, not forgotten nor unread. This book, more than any other, riveted his attention and made more strong his determination to cross the plains and enjoy the open camp, the chase of the buffalo, the long night rides, and the deadly battle with the wild Indians.
Not until his 17th year did he meet with an opportunity to begin his long-meditated journey. He was habitually reticent on one particular point, and that was the manner of bidding adieu to home and all its endearments, but it was, probably, an old-fashioned runaway. His route from Philadelphia to Fort Leavenworth was a crooked one, and his choice of conveyance was not at all times dependent on his own free will. His adventures were numerous, and not at all times wholly disagreeable. In many instances his impressible mind was so delighted with new scenes of enjoyment that he almost abandoned his original intention of floating off to Oregon on the tide of immigration, and quite made up his mind to delay for a time his journey to his fancied elysium. But after remaining a few days at Fort Leavenworth, he fell in with a family named Arnot, composed of husband, wife and an adopted daughter named Ruth. Ben soon capitulated to the charms of the young lady; she likewise surrendered to his. As the Arnots were en route to Oregon, Ben experienced no difficulty in adhering to his original purpose of going to the same place, and engaged himself to Mr. Arnot as teamster and general helper.
The journey progressed as favorably as did similar journeys in those days of always apprehended Indian attacks, sickness and many other minor yet annoying mishaps. While encamped on Sweetwater River, near Hell Gate, for a few days, to rest the weary, worn-out stock, and to give the equally tired women an opportunity for rest in washing piles of dirty clothes, and patching up the thousand rents visible on various parts of the men's garments, an incident occurred which changed the nature of the mild, good-natured Ben, to a calm, determined, bitter hater of the Indians, and gave to Oregon a strong, active arm to aid her in her endeavors to rid the soil of the useless, cruel savages. As was usual with emigrant trains, the wagons were formed into a circle, large enough to contain the campfires; besides, in case of an attack by Indians, the stock could be driven inside the enclosure and thus prevent a stampede, while the men could use the wagons as breastworks in repelling the attack. The grass was abundant, yet the stock seemed inclined to wander further away for newer pastures, and it was found necessary to keep a guard continually over them.
Another train was camped nearby and word had come from it that Indians had been seen lurking near by. Captain Kane, in charge of the train in which we are immediately interested, deemed it necessary to send out a picket of twenty-five men to watch for any Indians that might be lurking in the locality. Richard--or "Dick"--Pugh, a sturdy Welshman, was given charge of the picket, in which went Ben, who was eager to see for himself what an Indian fight really looked like, though he afterwards said he did not desire to become by personal experience convinced of the sensation caused by the passage of a flint-headed arrow through his ribs, nor, even, through any other part of his body. But the mere contingency of being compelled to undergo such an unwelcome experience did not deter him from making one of the party.
The camp was formed on the bank of the river, with low, broken, wooded hills on the opposite side of the stream, which rose as they extended back until they formed a rocky ridge a mile distant. The narrow bottom, one hundred yards wide, on which stood the camp, was bounded on the side parallel with the stream by a shelving wall of rock thirty feet high, admitting of ascent in but one place, which was narrow and difficult. The available force of the train was about fifty-four men, well armed--for those days--while the larger train nearby had a roster of over eighty, making a force, if possessed of average courage, equal to four times their number of savages--a force that it was not likely that they would be called upon to encounter at any point on their route.
The rocky wall would afford fine shelter for an attacking party, and a strong lookout was kept on it at all hours. The other train was in a more favorable location, but equal caution was used, and all felt comparatively safe.
Pugh, with his reconnoitering party, filed away over the rocky wall and out upon a more level piece of ground, yet difficult to walk upon, as the surface was thickly studded with sharp, angular rock. The men scattered out, each endeavoring to be the first to scent an Indian, as they slowly wended their way further and further away from camp.
The sun was low, no Indians in sight, and the men were on the point of turning back, when yells and scattering rifle shots broke suddenly out, floating in a wild medley over the broken country, creating a most hideous din. Back ran Pugh and his men as fast as the stony nature of the ground would permit. Both camps were in wild commotion, and the deadly racket rose higher and higher as the men neared their camp. The Indians lurking on the higher hills had noted the departure of Pugh and his men, and quickly gathering their forces, made a dash upon the stock, hoping to create a wild stampede. But they were met by the guards with a firm front, who were quickly reinforced by men from the camps. The stock was driven towards camp, while the numerous savages were held off by the constantly increasing numbers of men from the trains.
The Indians soon abandoned the struggle for the stock, and swooped down upon the lesser train, raining a storm of bullets and arrows among the women and children, while they dashed up almost to the wagons, which they would have captured but for the sudden arrival of Pugh and his men at the scene of action. Down the men poured from the rocky wall, Ben in front, wild with exultation, firing volley after volley into the swarms of mounted Indians, who, taken by surprise at the sudden onslaught, decamped in all directions, yet manifesting a desire to keep up the engagement.
Ben neared the camp just in time to see his cherished Ruth--the only one on earth he loved, save his mother--fall, shot dead by a rifle ball. Wild with grief and fury at the savage act, stopping only to see her lifted up and carried away, he dashed off after the savages alone, though soon followed by men from the train, and did not stop fighting till all hope of doing further damage to them was over. He knew she was dead, and slowly and alone he entered the camp, only to hear her mother weeping over his lost treasure. From that time forward he swore to devote his life to revenge, though, in later years, experience or satiety modified his passion, and his record remains unmarred by ungenerous warfare.
Nothing more, worthy of note, occurred during the remainder of the journey. The passage of the Cascade Mountains with the stock was the most serious part of the journey. Few of the recent comers to Oregon can form even a faint picture of the hard struggles encountered by the immigrants of early days as they tramped knee-deep and deeper in snow and slush ice over the ridges and marshes of the Cascade Mountains, with Mt. Hood--grand though he may be to look at on a summer day, from a safe distance--frowning, the cold-hearted old villain, on the tired, hungry, sick and worn immigrant, offering no aid, no comfort save a bed of snow to those who came in advance and paved the way for those of later years to come and admire his stately presence.
It might be well, in this place, to notice a peculiar annoyance to which the early emigrants were subjected, that is, the Indian letter carriers. Probably no age of the world, no place, was ever free from the ravages of silver-tongued sharpers, and the early emigrants, for such reasons, were not allowed to pursue their way unmolested by them. Even should they succeed in warding off the assaults of the hostiles, an apparently friendly Indian, or Canadian half-breed who could speak tolerable English, would spring up from out a cluster of willows near some camping ground, and after the emigrants' surprise had given place to a more pleasurable sensation, the well-tutored savage would pour forth into the willing ears of his credulous and soft-hearted listeners, in a week and half-starved tone, the oft-told tale of his wonderful escape, but that day, or the day before, from some hostile tribe who had sought to deprive him of his precious life, all because he was an oft-tried and firm friend of the whites, showing at the same time a bullet hole through blanket, legging or shirt, to attest the truth of his assertions, and oh! he would not be there to gratify his sympathetic friends in allowing them an opportunity to extend him their consolations, only that he was a very brave and active warrior, whose equal could nowhere be discovered, and if they would give him something to eat, even a very small piece of bread, and--in an undertone--a little whisky would be a very great addition.
The conditions were usually complied with, and then he would inform them that he was a regular-built letter carrier, by appointment of some well-known functionary of the plains, a United States officer of some post, or of some big Hudson Bay man, and that it would only cost a pilgrim twenty-five cents per letter, postage included, to have them taken to the nearest place, from whence they could be dispatched to their destination. In a short time he would collect his pouch full of both letters and money, bid them an affectionate farewell, and amble off into the brush and await the next train. By the end of the season he would have enough money and letters to last him till the next immigrant season.
As has before been mentioned, Wright returned to The Dalles with Coe's company of volunteers and there met his old acquaintance Dick Pugh and became acquainted with Nathan Olney. Upon the arrival of Col. Gilliam with the main body of Willamette volunteers at The Dalles, Wright, Olney and Pugh went on with him to the Deschutes River. When out with a detachment about twenty miles up the river the three friends went out on their own hook for a better view of the surroundings, when Wright had another "taste," as he termed it, of real Indian fighting.
They ascended to the top of a high ridge. Descending the opposite side, and when well out of sight of their comrades, they saw half a dozen mounted Indians, in war paint and feathers, bearing down upon them from their right front, in true Indian warrior style. Wright and Olney were in for a fight, but Pugh, older and more cautious by nature, counseled a retreat as the wiser if not the more valiant course to pursue, but was overcome by the heedless advance of the two daredevil youths. Dick followed more for company’s sake than for glory or any other consideration.
They were soon within firing distance, and began preparations for an encounter. The arms of our trio consisted of flintlock shotguns and Allen's pepperbox revolvers, while the arms of the approaching savages were equally effective, though consisting principally of bows and arrows and war clubs. The Indians, as was their usual custom, began moving around in a circle while gradually drawing nearer. The young men, after the manner of frontier narratives, dismounted for the purpose of taking better aim, and immediately began a furious discharge of bullets upon the yelling nomads. No effect was immediately apparent, other than to greatly alarm their own horses, which began a fearful rearing and plunging, rendered more frantic when the Indians sent showers of arrows in among the group of struggling horses and men. After much struggling the horses gained their liberty and away, heads and tails elevated. But before this had happened two of the Indians had involuntarily dismounted, one dead, the other wounded.
The young white braves had the pleasure, as soon as the two fallen Indians had been picked up by their friends, of seeing them decamp in haste over the hills. But, alas, their own horses were gone also. Our victorious though crestfallen heroes went at a double-quick towards their comrades, who were swarming up over the hill to their rescue, while, off a quarter of a mile, on the line of the retreating savages, appeared a numerous band of Indians, who whooped and yelled defiance, but did not advance.
The same day the detachment returned to the main body, which, on the succeeding day, returned to the place of the encounter, where quite a skirmish was had with the Indians, and Wright behaved with such cool, determined bravery that Colonel Gilliam publicly thanked him on the battlefield and presented him with another horse, also gave a horse to each of the other two.
A few miles east of John Day's River, on the immigrant road a few miles from Well Springs, occurred another battle a few days after, which was fiercer, of longer continuance and more destructive than any other former engagement. In this one Wright was severely wounded, but not before he had the satisfaction of believing that he had sent several Indians off to their happy homes.
Before he was wounded, and during the heat of the battle, he had noticed the prancing, saucy manner of a young brave, who was always in advance and who exerted a great influence in keeping the others up to their work. Wright, with blood up, every nerve stirring to its utmost tension, with excitement and youthful vigor, determined to capture the saucy, wild young warrior, or, at least, measure with him his muscular manhood. The company to which he was temporarily attached had been bearing the brunt of the battle, and several of its members had been disabled and had been placed under as good shelter as could be provided.
The Indians were charging and retreating successively, yet vigorously maintaining the fight. At last Wright called out loudly to his companions, "Come on, boys, we must whip the dirty thieves out of those sand ridges or they'll lick us before night. I'm going to have that young fellow with the red feathers on his head, anyway." And off he started, not waiting to see if anyone followed him. On a dead run, on his fortunately well-trained horse, he dashed after his coveted prize, who was in front of the other Indians brandishing a war club and yelling lustily. The whole company followed, and before Wright reached his objective point the Indians were in full retreat.
The volunteers continued to advance, Wright in the lead. Up and over the low sand ridges down into the shallow hollows, the pursuers and pursued went at headlong speed, firing at each other as occasion permitted.
Wright generally kept his coveted prize in view--for the intrepid young redskin was always at the post of danger--and bent all his energies to gain it. Suddenly the Indians halted and faced about--from the right--from the left--in the rear, appeared clouds of yelling Indians pouring down upon the volunteers. Mounted and painted and feathered, they closed in upon their supposed prey in dense masses. The fight became stationary and of a serious nature. The fight was for life. Flintlock and percussion guns, horse pistols and pepperbox revolvers, bows and arrows, spears and war clubs hissed and whizzed, blazed and cracked in furious uproar, while the mutual yells of the combatants rendered the noise deafening.
In a few minutes the whole column became engaged, and the little band of brave men were liberated, and the Indians driven from the field. Six or seven of the whites were wounded, among them Wright, who on this occasion won and ever after bore the title of captain. He was severely hurt, but had the supreme satisfaction of knowing that the object of his chase have been killed, for he saw him fall and was at one time, during the changes of the fight, standing over his dead body, but could spare no time to pluck the coveted feathers from his head as a trophy. At another skirmish on the Touchet he was again slightly wounded, but only partially recovered from his first wound.
At the conclusion of the war the troops returned to The Dalles, where they virtually disbanded. Many remained in the upper country, being much pleased with it, among them Capt. Wright, Olney and Pugh. Olney, having some means in company with Pugh, established a trading post three miles below The Dalles. Capt. Wright took charge of their boats and transported goods from Portland up to the post.
From early youth Capt. Wright was a careful reader of books, and, from a little later period, of human character. He had a fine gift of language and was quite an antiquarian, young as he was. In his random researches he picked up a tradition among the Wascopam Indians which bears a striking resemblance to one of the mishaps of Ulysses during his wanderings. When Ulysses arrived at the island of Aeolus, he was given good winds and the adverse ones tied up in a bag and stowed away on board. When he was asleep, his sailors, hungry and destitute, complained that they had nothing, while Ulysses had all, and to attest the truth of the matter, pointed to the bags of bad winds.
Reproached by want our fruitless labors mourn,The coyote, so the Indian legend goes, was a useless wanderer and always doing things that he had no business to do, and was always hungry. (Bill Nye found that out.) There was no darkness in the world; all was light and happiness, for the darkness was tied up in a bag, and put in charge of two old squaws. One day a coyote accosted them, and, being hungry, as usual, asked them to let him look into the bag, and if there was anything fit to eat in it, he would be much pleased to obtain it. Of course he was denied his request, whereupon he became enraged, flew at the bag, tore it open, and--horror! all was immediately enveloped in darkness.
And only rich in barren fame return.
Now Aeolus, ye see, augments his store,
But come, my friends, these mystic gifts explore,
They said, and--oh, cursed fate--the thongs unbound;
The gushing tempest sweeps the ocean round.
When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached The Dalles, in the summer of 1848, Olney, Wright and Pugh formed the project of going to the mines by following Fremont's trail, which he made in 1845. Hiring about sixty Indians as guides, packers, hunters and miners, they were ready for a start in a short time after getting the news of the discovery. When the cavalcade was ready it presented quite a formidable appearance. Over two hundred and fifty horses and mules, six white men and about seventy Indians. The parting dance and powwow had been held by the Indians the night before, and early in the morning of the 10th day of August, 1848, the cavalcade left The Dalles and set out upon its long, tedious and uncertain route, on the Fremont trail towards Klamath Lake and California.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, August 9, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Further Reminiscences of the Daring Pioneer and Indian Fighter.
A Journey from the Dalles to the Klamath Lake Region--
Adventures of the Party--In the Land of the Modocs.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]The readers of the first paper of these sketches will recollect that the cavalcade of Wright and his companions was ready to, and did, start on their uncertain march to the mines on the 10th of August, 1848. The outfit, though largely composed of Indians and Indian trappings, was controlled by white men of nerve, and quite enough experience to meet properly all contingencies which might arise during their journey, and it did not, as the doughty old chieftain Pyrrhus remarked when he obtained his first view of the Roman invaders, "look as barbarous as a barbarian army."
Their route was due south, over the rolling bunchgrass hills and across the small creeks intersecting their path, till they reached and camped on a creek called by the Indians "Nanclus," but now known by the white settlers as Fifteen Mile Creek, because it's that number of miles from the Dalles. At that time no settlements had been made at any part of the country surrounding the Dalles, the natives having full and undisputed sway over all that fair section which now comprises one of the most picturesque and prosperous settlements in Oregon.
At the foot of Mt. Hood, standing still and cold in his everlasting robe of glittering snow, trickle out from under the high banks of snow and ice the many tiny rivulets of clear, sparkling water that further down the deep, cold, silent gorge unite and form this Fifteen Mile Creek, where it is a wild, dashing torrent of glistening spray, hissing and foaming over and among the icy rocks, till at last a warmer zone is reached and, dance and frolic giving place to business, moves silently on amid the many blooming gardens and orchards and meadows and farms that cover the valleys and dot the hillsides, sending out its moisture to the left and to the right, making that once-wild, forbidding place blossom out in ripe luxuriance, gladdening the eyes and hearts of an industrious and prosperous people, and still on, in a grand semicircle of over forty miles, amid the grass-clothed hills and echoing farms, until it reaches the Columbia River five miles above the Dalles, where, after its arduous and fruitful struggle, it is robbed of ten miles of its name, and is simply called Five Mile Creek.
The route for about fifty miles was over a greatly diversified country. Deep river gorges heading in the Cascade Range--which had been worn down through layers of soil and rock for hundreds of feet below the upland surface by the seething torrents of water pouring unceasingly down from the snow-clad peaks stationed on the summit of the mountains on their right, like huge watchtowers, glittering in the bright rays of the sun, or draped with gloomy mantles of cloud--crossed their path, making ascent and descent equally dangerous and difficult. So difficult, indeed, were some of them that Fremont, when passing along the same route a few years previous, was compelled to unlimber his gun carriage and let the parts down with ropes from top to bottom of the deep descents, and in like manner drag them up the opposite side.
When across the high plateau which runs for a considerable distance at the base of and parallel with the Cascade Range, they descended by imperceptible degrees into a lower and more beautiful country, on the headwaters of the Deschutes River. Here they found grass and water, and game and fish, and flies and gnats in glorious profusion, so that to camp here and recruit their horses, and hunt and fish and explore the grand, wild locality was an unexpected pleasure, yet not unmixed with pain, for the great green-headed flies would thrust their long bayonet-like bills through coat and vest and shirt, down deep into the flesh, leaving at the bottom of the wound a pain that days of scratching would not obliterate. And the little three-cornered gnat, small though he was, mingled in the fray, and, like a kernel of buckwheat, had an acute angle for attack, no matter which end was forward.
The region of country surrounding the head of the Deschutes was at that time a mutual hunting ground for several tribes of Indians, the most powerful and numerous of which were the Cayuses, whose lodges were found at various places for many miles around. The Klamath Indians, of whom we shall see more further on, seldom came into this section, though when they did come it was more for gambling and plundering than for hunting. Their own country was more prolific in game, while that of the Cayuses was not. The Shoshones, or Snakes, also came here to hunt or gamble. They also--so the traditions of the Wascos averred--went in former times as far north at the lower Deschutes and the Dalles, where they robbed and ravished to such a degree that they were so dreaded by the lower Indians that the name of "Snake" was sufficient to quiet the most obstreperous papoose. During the winter months no Indians inhabited this tract, for the snow fell deep and the winter was cold, and it remained a frozen solitude till a warmer season. Now it is included within the Klamath Reservation, and herds of horses and cattle range upon it in the summer season, and [are] housed near the Indian houses, who now occupy the whole locality, during the winter months. Frost occurs at almost all seasons of the year, which renders the cultivation of vegetables and fruits positively uncertain.
At many places, from this to Klamath Marsh, they passed through pine forests having smooth, straight trunks, and upon the limbs of which hung long cones from 16 to 18 inches in length, of a reddish color. Arriving at Klamath Marsh they found it an extensive watery meadow, with here and there an open space of water, where stood long-billed cranes, in the midst of thousands of ducks and other waterfowl. The tracks of deer and elk were seen in many a well-beaten path from the higher land to the edge of and on out into the springy meadow. Numerous small creeks of sparkling cold water flowed from the nearby mountains into the marsh; the banks of some of them lined with long, slender pines--dead and decaying from the effects of fire--like groves of fishing rods. Fremont, in 1843, camped upon the marsh and mistook it for Klamath Lake--which is thirty miles south--and was so delighted with it that he says:
"It is a picturesque spot, and under the hand of cultivation might become a little paradise. Game is found in the forest; timbered and snowy mountains skirt it, and fertility characterizes it. Situated near the heads of three rivers and on the line of inland communication with California and near to Indians noted for treachery, it will naturally, in the progress of the settlement of Oregon, become a point of military occupation and settlement."
It is but a few miles north of the California line, being latitude 42 degrees, 56 minutes, 51 seconds. Out of this marsh runs a considerable stream, known as Williamson's River, which empties into Klamath Lake on its east side. Along this river are extensive meadows of grass, making a fine quality of hay, which the Indians of today cut and sell at Fort Klamath, a few miles away, which was established about 1864.
The camp had scarcely been pitched when slender columns of smoke were seen to rise in several directions--sure token that the presence of invaders was known to the natives--warning all to be on their guard. It was early in the afternoon, and as soon as the evening meal had been prepared and eaten the guides were sent out to find the main camp of the Indians, which they did not succeed in doing, nor did they return to their own camp till long after dark, and not until their friends had given up all hope of their being still alive. The white men, too, were not fully at rest, for they were not sure that the camp would not be attacked before morning, or that an attempt to stampede their horses would not be made. At a little before dusk the horses were driven up to camp and each picketed out by a long rope, riata or lariat, made either of rawhide or horse hair. One end was tied around the horse's neck, while to the other was fashioned a wooden or iron stake, about twenty inches long--called [a] picket pin--and driven into the ground so deep that the end was often under the surface. Guards were stationed around the camp, while in four opposite directions, about 200 yards away, were placed picket guards, the white men stationing themselves at convenient places so as to overlook the Indians, and prevent a panic among them should an attack occur.
It was early when the sun sank down behind the tops of the tall trees covering the crest of the mountains on the west, and the air became uncomfortably cool as the sunlight gave place to somber dusk. The fires were all put out, and as darkness encircled the camp all became silent save the monotonous swish, swish, swish as the horses cropped the abundant grass. The night grew darker and cooler and the suspense greater as the hours moved slowly on. A war whoop or a sudden attack would have been a relief to Wright and his companions. About 12 o'clock the horses became restless and nervously moved from place to place, sniffing the air and giving sudden and sharp snorts of alarm. The lost guides entered the camp and told exaggerated stories of the gathering of the Indians to attack the camp. In an hour or so after the animals became more quiet, but all the men were up and out around the horses.
Just as day began to break a sudden stir of alarm was manifested by the horses, which was increased to a higher pitch by a sudden burst of echoing yells, which burst from the gurgling throats of savages on the west of the camp next to the hills, which became louder and more animated as it approached closer. A few of the horses--large, powerful steeds, which had been brought across the plains by emigrants, and could not tolerate Indians, be they friend or foe--plunged so vigorously at their ropes that two of them broke loose and bid farewell to camp and friends. The assailants persisted and fired a few arrows into camp. But they failed to effect their object, and hurriedly decamped when a volley of bullets and arrows were sent into the brush where they were hidden.
As soon as it was light the camp fires were built, breakfast prepared and eaten. The stampeded horses must be recovered, and the route of travel must be examined. Capt. Wright, with two white men and a dozen of the most redoubtable of the Wasco braves, mounted and set off in the direction taken by the runaway horses. Their tracks were easily followed in the crisp frost, which covers the ground almost every morning of the year. About three miles down the river before mentioned as flowing from the marsh to Klamath Lake, they came upon the main camp of the Indians, who did not seem to be alarmed or in any manner hostile, but on the contrary manifested much good will towards the visitors. Their story was that they were very friendly to the white men and to their distant neighbors, the Wascos, and that they themselves had been much alarmed the day before because a large body of Shoshones had been reported to be on their way to attack them, and it was undoubtedly these same Shoshones who had attempted the stampede the night before. The Wascos well understood their treacherous character, and told Capt. Wright that it was all fudge about the Shoshones, and that he had better send back for more men, and then, if he made a demand upon the Indians for the horses, there were many chances in favor of recovering them. The advice was followed, and the result was that runners were sent out in several directions, and in the afternoon the horses were brought in and given up, but not before several blankets and much red paint had been given to the affable marauders. The next day their route was south, down Williamson's River about thirty miles to Klamath Lake, which is a large body of clear, cold water. The mountains on the west in many places come down abruptly to the edge of the lake. At other places the shore is guarded by low hills, while at other points the hills stand back, and bottoms extend from their base to the lake. Several ice-cold springs were found, bursting abruptly from the banks in broad currents, which passed on through the marshy ground in deep, clean-cut channels and emptied into the lake. While examining the beauties of the majestic mountain sea, the advantages for future employment and gain became more than casually manifest. The long, broad stretch of deep blue water extending far into the hills of the north, and widening as the eye scanned the rippling expanse far away to the south, where it gracefully curved to the southeast and was hid from view by a tall, wooded promontory, gave promise of much future local traffic when the dominion of the Indian shall have been extinguished and the white man's ax and saw shall fall the long, tapering pines for lumber and the vast meadows of succulent grass shall yield to the husbandman their treasures of nutritious hay.
Further down the lake a camp was made for the purpose of having a grand hunt to lay up a store of jerked meat to sustain them while traveling the arid waste which was supposed to lie between them and the California mines. Tracks of deer and elk were plentiful, and the spirits of all rose high when a shout went up that fresh tracks of a bear had been found.
"These tracks are nearly as large as elephant tracks," said one.
"So they are, and now look out for fun, for if we find him we'll have a fight on our hands that'll beat any Indian fight we'll have between here and the mines," replied Capt. Wright, as they began preparations for the search for the game. Along the grassy bottom the tracks were traced and then up a small stream for a quarter of a mile, when out on a low ridge a huge old grizzly was found. Word was sent back for a dozen more men, so as to be able to make short work of the huge monster. One glance at the squatty, flat-backed pepper-and-salt-colored monster did not encourage the hunters in only one thing--to let him alone. But that would not do; he must be taken into camp, so that each of the young men could write the story of "How I killed a grizzly," to the folks "back east."
Wright, Olney and Blair were to lead the forlorn hope, accompanied by a squad of Indians, while Foster and more Indians were to remain on the lookout and gobble up the game should he get away from his first assailants, who entered the brush and crept cautiously in the direction of the crackling of dry sticks as the old grizzly made his way slowly up the ridge. The silence is oppressive for those who are waiting in the rear. The sound of a snapping stick was eagerly caught up and remarked upon, and merry jests passed around the waiting reserve. Crack! a clear shot rings out and echoes through the hills; a few seconds, and rattling rifle shots attest the beginning of the fray. The reserve breathe quicker and make a slight advance. The firing has ceased, and other and not to be mistaken sounds come ominously to the quickened ears of the waiting crowd. A furious rush; the limbs and dry brush sway and crack as the rattling, shuffling noise comes nearer. Down from the ridge--out into the creek bottom--scamper and tumble the once-intrepid hunters.
Climb the trees, did you say? They longed for that mode of relief, but none such was at hand. Not a limb on those unaccommodating trees lower than fifty feet from the ground, and the discomfited braves in panting haste fled on down the creek bottom--somewhere--anywhere--to avoid that awful grizzly. Close up their heels came the fun-loving animal, not swiftly down the hill, for he could not do that, but when he reached the level ground the jolly old beast plunged swiftly through the tall grass, on the trail of some of his would-be murderers--for they were very much scattered--with puffing snorts that knocked all the bravery out of every one of that once-valiant crowd. They did not get him, for he went away off into the tules to lick and bathe his wounds, and they to camp to nurse their shattered courage.
A few days of hunting, and they were ready for the march. The trail they were to follow left the lake and ascended a gradually sloping ridge, on the summit of which they obtained a view of a rapidly flowing river, coming down from the east and running on down into the lake. Away down the grassy slope the trail wound its devious course, till it reached the wide, grassy bottom of the river. Upon this bottom was another and larger camp of Indians, who seemed to be apprised of their approach, for a large body of them, more than a hundred strong, were gathered on the open space between the hill and their camp, across the trail, all painted for battle and fully armed with native weapons and a few guns. There was no other course but to fight, if that should be necessary, and Capt. Wright and Olney were not the men to decline an opportunity to inflict a blow upon the savages whenever an opportunity offered. The Wasco Indians were no less willing, for they knew that their only safety--now that they were so far from home--depended on their strict obedience to the orders of their superiors, and to their own pluck and endurance. When the cavalcade debouched from a small ravine, down which their trail led, their dull-sounding drums sounded steadily and strong the offer to combat as they advanced slowly, in a circle, around their pack horses.
Capt. Wright and his companions were stationed at different parts of the circle, to keep the Indians steady should that be necessary. A shot was fired from the enemy, who had formed a semicircle, and the Wascos and their leaders spurred forward and opened upon their assailants, but some mutual sign of friendship was made, and a change from battle to a parley succeeded, which resulted in a peaceable arrangement whereby a few hours were spent at their camp. Mutual presents were made and two guides engaged to pilot them further on their way. At night a camp was made at a fine spring of water, near a large grove of the aromatic juniper trees. The ground was very stony and difficult for the horses to graze upon. They were now not apprehensive of trouble with the Indians, for, as their guides told them, they would not reach the country of the bad Indians--the Modocs--till the next night. The camp was made under the juniper trees and the horses turned loose to graze as best they could, while the people, exhausted by loss of sleep and incessant exertion, were glad to pick out soft spots among the stones and recruit their energies by immediate sleep.
The night came on. The horses were scattered, and but few of the party had eaten their evening meal. It was almost dusk when the horses were gathered in. Their guides could not be found, but the adjacent low, stony hills were alive with whooping savages, who came madly down over the stony camp ground straight towards the camp. It was their intention to take it by storm, but the defenders met the onslaught with a vigorous and deadly fire, and many of the assailants were seen to tumble down amid the rocks. Yet the attack was continued by charges and retreats, and until far into the night they were held back by the brave defense of that small band.
When the savages made their second charge it was with a full determination to finish the job, and they penetrated into it at one place, where the defense was the weakest, held by Olney and Foster supported by only three Wascos, and only two of the five unwounded. The assailants had matters all their own way for a few minutes at this point, for they outnumbered the defenders many to one. It was getting so dark that firing was uncertain. The scuffling and snorting of the horses, cracking of guns and pistols, the awful whist, whist, whist of the dreadful flint- and glass-headed arrows, supplemented by the infernal yells of the assailants, was at its height, when Wright discovered Olney and his supporters fighting against such fearful odds. Calling to some of his men, they made a dash upon the assailants, who had gained the camp, and the hardest part of the fight began to get them out again. Stones were hurled with great rapidity and precision by the assailants, one striking Olney in the temple, felling him to the ground, but his blood being up to such a high pitch--careless of his other wounds--he was instantly on his feet and at it again.
The pepperbox revolvers were useful vehicles of defense now, for they scattered bullets in [such] a promiscuous manner that the bows of the assailants, with their rapidly fleeting arrows, were no match for them. The assailants suffered so severely, and the defense was so vigorous, that they were compelled to withdraw, but again returned with guns and bows, and storms and yells, and the fight opened once more with unearthly din. But the night was darker now, and a final withdrawal was made, to the great relief of the camp. When the savages had given up the fight and retired over the hills, Capt. Wright, although himself severely wounded, employed his first leisure moments to look after others who were disabled and to count up the casualties. Three of the Wascos had been killed, and eleven wounded, while all of the white men had been more or less injured. One man was shot through the upper lip by an arrow making a most disagreeable wound. A few of the horses were lost and never recovered. Of the assailants many were known to be killed and wounded, but the bodies of all but four had been removed, but the four bodies that remained had been killed within the camp, and it was impossible for their friends to get the bodies away without leaving more in their stead.
As soon as it was light the four dead assailants were dragged to the outer edge of the camp, when a little later in the morning a scene was enacted, though contrary to the wishes and even threats of Capt. Wright and Olney, that was no more atrocious than that exhibited before Troy, when Hector dragged the dead body of Patroclus behind his chariot before the Grecian army, or Achilles, who afterwards killed Hector and dragged his body, heels foremost, behind his chariot around the walls of Troy, calling upon the weeping Priam to witness the spectacle. But then they were Greeks and Trojans, and the thing was of such heroic magnitude that the youth of today are taught in academy and college to translate the disgusting legend from the Greek to the English language. But the Indians, well, they too, tied not thongs, as did the before-named doughty chieftains, but ropes around the heels of their dead enemies, and jerked and hauled them around over the stony ground in true classic style. The horses and packs were almost hopelessly mixed up, but by 8 o'clock everything was righted as well as circumstances permitted, and a start made for better ground and a more pacific neighborhood. The Indians who had attacked them were the same they had met the day before, on such apparently friendly terms. But they were Modocs, and that was the cause of their change of manner.
From their battle camp for about ten miles their route was along high, grassy ridges and across sandy pine bottoms, till at last, riding obliquely a high hill, they were gladdened by an unexpected and beautiful landscape view. To Capt. Wright, who was gifted with ideality and sublimity, the spectacle was one of sublime elevation, and his description so impressed my mind that to this day I have not forgotten it. From their left--two miles away--a valley debouched from the low grass-covered hills, widening as it approached, pushing back the hills at their feet, till it swept by almost under the spot where they stood, still bearing off to the west for many miles, where it encircled a sparkling lake, fringed with green, waving tules. High hills, covered with tall pine trees, guarded the flashing lake on the north and closed the view on the west, while the valley--to the south and southwest--extended for many miles in an uninterrupted expanse of waving grass. A tule-lined river from the little lake bore down on the western rim of the valley and was lost in the distant, hazy hills far away to the south. A similar stream, though divested of all ornament save thick masses of the well-known aromatic sagebrush, skirted the valley at the foot of the hills on the east, and at last darted out of sight behind a tall-timbered promontory.
In several places herds of antelope were seen grazing quietly on the luxuriant herbage, while now and then a single one would dart out from the silent band and flit gracefully on over the waving meadow to a neighboring herd, like the sparkling links that bind poor mortals to a better world. But grander than all, far away to the south, amid the bold undulating hills--clothed in eternal snow--stood Mt. Shasta, elevated more than 14,400 feet above the sea, isolated, yet not alone, for the dark, forest-clad knobs stand dependently by, shadowing the tiny rivulet and rill as they trickle out from under the massive icy rocks and glide on down, down, to open land, in the tumbling, hissing cascades that form the picturesque McCloud River.
Slowly--for the wounded were suffering much--the cavalcade descended the abrupt hill and entered the valley of Lost River. Camp was made at the junction of a creek with the river, where a delay of two days was made to dress and bathe the wounds of the unfortunate ones. Signal smokes by day and fires by night could be seen on the near and distant hills.
On the morning of the third day the march was resumed down the river for about fifteen miles, when they struck off into a low gap in the hills to the south. When reaching the highest elevation, another and beautiful scene presented itself. Another lake, wide and long, fringed with tules, or closed by low rocky walls, or mantled by high juniper bluffs or long stretches of low grassy banks, and smoothly pebbled margin--greeted their expectant gaze, flashing in the clear rays of the sun, or rippled by the gentle breath from the wooded gorge below. This was known to one of their Indians as Little Klamath Lake, out of which the noted Klamath River immediately flows, in large volume, due west to the ocean. The first view of it, as it wound its tortuous course far away down into the distant forest below, called to mind the words of Whittier:
Out and in the river is windingOf this river and lake, as well as of the larger lake of the same name, we shall see much hereafter, as we pass along through subsequent scenes in the eventful career of Capt. Wright. There it was that--three years later--he gave to the Modoc tribe the first blow dealt by the whites, which, more than twenty years after, terminated in the total extinction of their tribal character.
The links of its long blue chain,
Through patches of dusty pine-land,
And miles of gusty plain.
From this lake their course was almost southeast for near sixty miles, when they turned south, and after several days' travel came upon another lake of pure crystal water. Here game was plentiful and easily obtained, as the foot of the all-destroying white man had not yet been placed upon its pebbly shore. Indians were scattered over the low bottoms bordering the lake, engaged in gathering the various kinds of root fruit, which they store up for winter use. They were also gathering a peculiar kind of grass seed, resembling the seed of the alfalfa, which they soak in water before eating. But the most nauseous, as well as the most nutritious, article of food which they were gathering was the large, dark-brown crickets, which they dried and relished as none but a hungry savage could.
Two days' march brought them to the head of a branch of Pit River, down which they followed to near its junction with the Sacramento, where they camped early one evening. They had had no difficulty with the natives since their fight between Klamath Lake and Lost River, and had begun to entertain the pleasing reflection that their battles were ended for a long time at least, but they were sadly disappointed.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, August 16, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Goes to Northern California to Hunt the Glittering Gold.
An Adventure with Joaquin Murrieta, the Noted Mexican Bandit--
Capt. Wright's Party Lured into the Outlaw's Camp.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]The camp was made early in the evening, as has before been stated, on the bank of Pit River, near the junction with the Sacramento. The vivid imaginations of the young men conjured up pictures of shining gold and massive fortunes in every stream and gulch that came down from the not distant hills on the north, for they were then in California, the new and much-noted land of gold. Before the camp was fairly at rest the men were out with pick and shovel and pan. Within an hour they were scattered out over the extended open space, in gulch and creek, industriously turning up the virgin soil in jubilant but earnest mood, and many a panful of dirt was carried to some near pool or stream of water, where it was rocked and sifted till it had all melted away and escaped in the turbid water. Hour after hour went on and the earnest operations continued, yet no glittering dust had shown up, but n'importe, they were in the land of gold, and for a certainty the much-desired metal must be there. Another day would test the matter. A portion of the men returned to camp, but not to rest, for a number of the horses were gone. The other men were called in, and the remaining horses driven up to camp, and Wright, Olney and Pugh, with twenty Wascos, all well armed, were soon in their saddles and off after the missing animals.
Turn back, reader, a few months, and take a view of the state of affairs in California at that time, and then we can better understand that which is to follow. After the conclusion of the Mexican War, early in 1848, the year in which our friends were camped on Pit River, a large portion of Mexico was retained by the United States as indemnity for war expenses, which included all of upper California. Shortly before the taking of the City of Mexico, and before the treaty of peace, the Mexicans had formed themselves into numerous independent bands of marauders to prey upon the Americans and American army, having very properly formed the opinion that they were not able to make any showing in a fair stand-up fight, and to avoid the unwelcome necessity of absolute submission, they would thus bushwhack them out of the country. When Gen. Scott withdrew from Mexico, no Americans remained as objects upon which the Mexicans could wreak vengeance for the unexpected flogging the American army had given them, so that when all the hated gringos--an epithet applied to the Americans in return for that of "greaser," with which the Yankees had dubbed the Mexicans--had sailed away, these bands turned their wicked eyes towards the north, or California, where the Americans had held sway since 1846, and of which they still retained possession after this conclusion of the war.
The Mexican citizens of California were equally as bitter in their hatred of the Americans as were those who lived further south, and who had suffered more during the war, and when those bands of marauders made their appearance north they received all the comfort and protection from their friends which lay in their power to give. The few Americans then in California were mostly engaged in trade, and as they were very often compelled to make long journeys on horseback, and not seldom alone, through wild or sparsely settled districts, they fell an easy prey to these murderous greasers, who hunted and murdered them as much for the pleasure it gave them to spill the blood of their hated conquerors as for the spoils that fell to them after their bloody work was over. The government of Mexico, like that of all other countries, after having engaged in war at home, was poor and weak, and could not, even had the rulers been so disposed, have prevented these banditti from preying [line of type obscured] of these wretches as soldiers was gone, and to remain at home and engage in honest industry did not suit their wild, turbulent dispositions. Ranging at will, with no hindrance and much aid from the Mexican portion of the population, some of them passed during that year up to the extreme northern part of the state, engaging in robbery, horse-stealing and murder.
Among these numerous land pirates was one who rose in his profession to considerable prominence by his phenomenal bravery and remarkable good luck in personal encounters, and in eluding for many years the persistent and determined chase by the state government and by private individuals who wished to obtain the large reward offered by Governor Burnett in 1850-51 for his capture, dead or alive. This man, Joaquin Murrieta, was quite young at the time and seems to have had, in his own construction of his grievances, ample cause for all his subsequent actions. Coming from Mexico up into California with a band of freebooters, he made, for a time, his main rendezvous on the Rio de los Americanos, or American River, high up in the mountain gorge, where pursuit was impracticable, and where they could herd their stolen stock and engage, at each periodical return, in gambling and wild, drunken revelry in almost certain security. At a small hamlet in a not distant valley below he found a beautiful senorita, to whom he became greatly attached. Her father possessed some wealth in horses and cattle, and many a time did he draw the pursuing Americans away from the trail of the murderers, or secrete them when too hotly pursued, and not seldom took a hand himself, when the game was near and the spell large. He was, so acute was he in deception, held in fair esteem by the Americans, but was loved by his Mexican friends. Joaquin married the young girl and abandoned, practically, the life of a freebooter and began business for himself as a rancher on the banks of the American River at the head of the valley. The depredations of the band to which he had formerly been attached, and to which he still gave much assistance, became so cruel and alarming that a hunt to the death was organized by the Americans to kill or drive out of the country the bloody-handed horde.
But a few months had elapsed since Joaquin had married and settled down on his ranch when rumors of the projected hunt by the American miners reached his ears through the medium of his friends living further down the valley. Not many days had passed after he had first learned of the proposed hunt before the noted gringos were on the trail of the band, which was fresh, as several brutal murders had been committed in rapid succession not far away. Joaquin's name was associated with the murders, though subsequent events showed that he had nothing to do with them, but he was suspected, and that was sufficient evidence for the maddened miners, and he was to be the first victim, as the trail of the fleeing Mexicans passed not far from his house. One evening, just as the sun was sinking down over the western rim of the valley, troops of armed and mounted men dashed up to and around his isolated ranch. He had seen them approaching, and probably the knowledge of his former guilty life awakened the suspicion that the impending visit boded no good to himself. Too proud and brave to run, he barred the door of his adobe house, and with grim determination to stand his ground and engage singlehanded the whole band of noted gringos, he calmly watched their approach.
He was abundantly armed with American guns and revolvers which he had obtained from murdered victims, and long training had made him expert in their use, and his quick eye, cool mind and obedient, iron nerves rendered him a powerful enemy to deal with, though singlehanded and alone. Circling around the lonely house, their leader rode confidently up near the door and demanded that Joaquin Murrieta, should he be inside of the house, to come out and surrender. An answer came quickly in a rifle shot, and the leader fell from his horse, shot through the forehead. Instantly every man dismounted and opened fire upon the house. The door, which was made of pine lumber, was perforated in a hundred places by the incessant shower of bullets fired at it in the hope that some of them would hit and kill the intrepid defender. The two windows of glass were shattered, and the wooden bars and frames were splintered into fragments. The adobe house was battered and seamed from gable to base, and still the desperado poured forth his shots in rapid succession and with such unerring aim that six of the assailants lay dead in the dust, and a large number were wounded. Darkness fell deeply over the scene, and the firing ceased, yet the lone defender remained master of the field. But he was seriously wounded, and the wonder is that he was not killed, for the hardy old miners would thrust their guns through the open windows and fire almost into his face. But, aided by the darkness, and his superior dexterity and good luck, he escaped death at that time and lived many years to pay back in red coin all that he imagined he had suffered at the hands of the Americans.
The killed had been placed at a distance from the house, while the wounded had been taken to the river for better treatment. The main body of the miners remained about the house for an hour or two, and then, after placing a guard around it to prevent the escape of the game, repaired to the river, 250 yards away, built fires and prepared some food, for they had fasted all day. It was their intention to return soon and take the house by storm, demolish it, and bag the game at all hazards. To return with six dead men and a number of wounded, without bringing the author of the calamity along, would not tally well with the well-known history of American manhood, and the thing could not be thought of as a proper mode of procedure. An hour passed [and] the fires blazed brightly on the riverbank, while the guards around the house watched in the deep gloom for an opportunity to shoot the lone inmate and listened intently for any sound that would indicate the nature of his movements. Slowly the guards paced around the house, and the sounds of their dull, measured tread was all that broke the stillness of the scene for a few dark, bitter hours. Inside the house, lying on a pallet of blankets hastily placed upon the floor, lay the wounded Joaquin, while his young wife, carefully as she could in the intense darkness of the house, bound up his wounds with her underclothing, which she tore into strips for that purpose. The operation was slow and painful, and many a bitter curse did they call down upon the heads of the hated Americans. When all was done, Joaquin, stiff and bloody, arose and went to a window, and saw by the light of the blazing fires on the riverbank his enemies sitting in groups around eating of their long-delayed meal, while the dull tread of the guards as they walked their regular beats called up a feeling of scorn in his breast, and he curled his lip contemptuously at their lack of prompt decision.
Leading a favorite rifle and buckling his belt around him with four revolvers attached, and with his favorite machete stuck into his boot leg, with the handle reaching above his knee, he bade goodbye to his young and faithful wife, who clung to him in, as she earnestly supposed, a last embrace.
"The cowardly gringos cannot kill me as long as I can use my arms. I will go away into the mountains until my wounds are healed, and then I will come back for you, my buena senorita, and we will spend the remainder of our lives in wreaking vengeance on our enemies. The Yankees will not harm you, for they are such cowards that at the sight of this (handing her a revolver) they will run away. But then they usually treat women kindly. You must go to your father's house and wait for me, for as sure as the sun is to rise tomorrow, I will live and come for you before another month. And now, as I stand here, open the door and let me out." She did so, and as the door swung open--with a last, firm "Adios" upon his lips--he darted out into the darkness, followed by a cry of "There he goes!" while the flashing of twenty rifles lifted up the pall of darkness for a moment, of which he took advantage and sent a farewell shot back into the crowd of guards, but without effect, and he sped off over the spreading plain.
Up from the fires came the miners, who knocked open the door and rushed in, while the open windows admitted many more. When a light was procured they saw upon the bloody couch a moaning female, for the moment crushed and helpless. The pitiable sight softened the hearts of the rough miners, for they were husbands, brothers, sons, who had left behind them wives, sisters and mothers, and woe be to him who had dared to molest or offer a vile word or taunt to that broken, helpless female. Rough, hard-handed miners they were, but honor and charity filled their big hearts, and tenderly they roused her from her grief-pressed couch, and bore her away the next day to her father's house, who, ever after that, was a firm friend of the Americans, and aided them to rid the country of the obnoxious freebooters. And the daughter, the wife, although bound to follow the fortunes of her husband, more than once saved the life of an American when on the point of being murdered by her vindictive husband.
A few weeks more, and the country became greatly alarmed at the many robberies and murders committed further north, and rumor after rumor floated wildly over the country that an avalanche of murder and rapine was sweeping to the northward, and the name of Joaquin Murrieta was on the lips of everyone. Expeditions were fitted out, and chase after chase was abandoned in despair of ever being able to capture the dreaded outlaw. Large rewards were offered by private individuals and companies, and many an individual [illegible] the vain endeavor to gain the prize. But the country breathed freer for a brief space during the late summer, as the murderous band had passed on out of sight, and reports went round that Oregon would soon be heard from--scourged by that dreaded storm of death.
Often chased and at one time losing a large number of his men and being himself severely wounded, he determined to turn up the Sacramento River, and at some secure place, high up in some hidden valley, recruit his stock and men and wait till the chase was over, [and] then, with the renewed strength sweep back again through the heart of the mines to his old home below. It was while he was camped on the Sacramento, above and not far from the Pit River, that Wright and his men pitched their camp on the river below him.
It will now be necessary to turn back to our friends, whom we left a short time ago, mounted and in pursuit of their stolen horses. Among the Wascos were two young braves, who subsequently became notorious for gallantry while opposed to the whites in the Yakima War of 1855-56. One of them, Stock Whitley, was one of the main leaders of the Indians in that war, and was respected by his white opponents for his phenomenal bravery and lack of those savage and cruel qualities inherent in Indian nature. He was at all times a friend of the whites until that war, and at its conclusion returned to his former allegiance and was killed in 1861 while fighting for the whites against the Snake Indians, out somewhere in the Crooked River country. He was in command of a band of Warm Springs Indians, who were enlisted in the service of the United States. Parnassus, the other,was equally brave and sagacious, but lost his life early in the war, or he might have risen equally with his cousin, Stock Whitley. But we shall, further on in these sketches, find him fighting gallantly by the side of Capt. Wright against the Indians near the mines, and the banditti, of which I have before spoken, in the years 1849-50, and in Wright's Modoc campaigns of 1851-2 he rendered such good service, and fought so bravely, that he was respected and honored by all who knew him.
In these two youngsters, neither of whom had reached the age of twenty-one, Wright and Olney had unbounded confidence, and placed them in command of the other Indians, who likewise held them in high esteem. I have mentioned these young Indians so that subsequent events may be better understood by the reader.
They soon struck the trail of the missing horses, leading up over the low, bald hills which skirted the Sacramento River on the north side, for about five miles up it, where the hills rose higher and were covered with pine trees and patches of tangled underbrush. The trail led up the river, over and among the open hills, and then entered the pine woods. As they neared the timber a small creek tumbled down from the hills over a rocky bed, which the trail crossed. Here appeared to be an old camp ground, and the indications of but recent occupation were numerous. The decaying bodies of four miners were found on the lower edge of the camp, partially denuded of clothing, and all shot and slashed up as if done more for savage satisfaction than to merely rid them of life.
Not having necessary tools with which to inter the ghastly remains, they deferred it until a more convenient time should arrive, when they had recovered their horses. Watering their horses at the creek, Olney and four Indians rode forward about 100 yards, and were followed by the others. Thus they passed into the somber woods, and for near two miles rode in silence. The trail from the little creek was an old and well-beaten one, indicating some much-frequented point ahead. Many fine springs were passed, and the grass and undergrowth showed that much stock had been grazing on it not long previous to that time. The farther they advanced, the deeper became the forest, and the indications of recent occupation more numerous. The sun had sunk out of sight over the mountains on the west, and the gloom of departing day had penetrated the timbered heights. They had halted for consultation and had determined to push on to some open spot, should there be such in advance, and there be guided by circumstances. While mounting they saw three men leisurely riding towards them from their front. Waiting until they came up, they were found to be Mexicans and dressed in the usual style of American miners. They spoke very fair English, and were sprightly and communicative. They were heavily armed, each carrying a rifle lying in a horizontal position in front. Two Colt's revolvers hung on his belt, and a long buckhorn-handled machete stuck into his boot leg, with the handle reaching above the knee, completed the outfit of arms.
"Good evening, gentlemen," smilingly said the foremost one, as he rode up to the group of waiting horse hunters, and not waiting for a recognition of his salutation, continued: "Are you looking for horses? We've lost some of ours, and part of our boys are out looking for them, and we thought they'd come back this way, so we rode out to meet them; did you see anything of them?"
"No," answered Wright, "but someone has stolen a part of our horses, and we've traced them so far, and their tracks are plain enough here in the trail. Where is your camp?"
"About two miles from here, down in the valley on the river. When were your horses stolen?"
"Ours were taken early this morning. We got a good view of the thieves; they were Indians" (casting a quick glance at the Wascos who were sitting silently on their horses) "but they belong in this country," he added, "and if our boys find them they'll give them--Sheol--you bet. You'd better go with us to our camp and stay all night, and in the morning we'll all go out together and hunt them up. If our boys don't find ours we'll have a grand hunt altogether, and we'll clean out all the Indians on the river. This is the second time we've lost some of our horses, but the first time we got them back the same day, and killed twenty of the cricket-eating devils."
"What are you doing up here in the mountains?" said Olney.
"Oh, we're prospecting. Some of the boys are up the river now looking after gold--went up a week ago, and we haven't heard from them yet. I think they've struck it rich, or they'd have been back before this time. We've found gold at our camp since they left, but they took all the tools with them, and we can't do anything until they come back."
"We are prospecting, too," said Wright, "but we are just now prospecting for our horses, and if we don't get them we'll have a few scalps to take back with us anyway."
The eyes of the Mexicans glittered in their dark depths at Wright's bombastic speech.
"That's the way to do it; we'll learn them to let our horses alone," continued the Mexican. "But come, let's go to our camp, for it is getting late," and he turned his horse partly round as if to start.
"Hold on a little," broke in Pugh, who had not yet spoken; "when were you up this way last?"
"About three or four days ago."
"Why didn't you bury those dead bodies up at that old camp ground?'
The Mexican was taken by surprise, and almost attempted to deny all knowledge of this, but the eyes of the men were intently on him, for his hesitancy aroused an undefined suspicion.
"Well," hesitatingly, "we'll do it as soon as the boys get back with the shovels and picks; they ought to have been buried long ago"--casting a glance at his companions--"but we couldn't do it without tools."
"Poor fellows! I wonder what killed them?" said another of the Mexicans, as he looked innocently and inquiringly at Wright and his companions.
"If we could find the murderers we would lay them by the side of their victims," said Pugh, who was slow to anger, but was a subject of much interest when his Welsh blood was roused.
The situation was a new and unexpected one. It would soon be too dark to go back to their own camp, as they were not sufficiently acquainted with the country to retrace their steps in the dark, and they could not afford to lose their horses, which they surely would do if they retraced their steps.
"I don't understand why you did not see our horses, as their tracks are leading straight to your camp," said Wright to the spokesman of the Mexicans, who winced under the strong insinuation, but quickly replied:
"Why, sir, they might have passed near our camp and we wouldn't have seen them; there were only five of us in camp today"--a sudden thought seemed to have struck him and he added--"but I expect some of the boys have come back by this time. We spent all the time playing monte, so as to kill time till our boys got back. We'll get the horses tomorrow, so come on, let's go to camp, it's getting late."
Capt. Wright concluded it was best to go as requested and await the result to be developed by the morrow, yet he, as well as Olney and Pugh, experienced a well-defined apprehension that these affable Mexicans were themselves the horse thieves, and the murderers of the four men whose bodies were lying at the old camp. Signifying his willingness to go to their camp, the Mexicans turned their horses and led the way, followed by Wright and his men.
It was too dark to see the tracks on the ground, and they could not satisfy their curiosity as to whether their horses had left the trail or followed it to the Mexican camp. The party rode on in silence, only as the dull tread of the horses broke the stillness, or an observant night owl called in mellifluent notes a warning to our friends to be on their guard.
Olney rode [illegible] in the center of the line, while Wright brought up the rear. Wright's mind was not at ease respecting the situation, so he had the word passed along the line for Olney to ride out and halt until he came up, so that they might canvass the situation together and form some plan for the future. When Wright came up to the place where Olney was waiting, their anxious reasoning had reached the same conclusion--that they were riding into a trap.
"I am positive of it," continued Wright, "and we'll get out of it, too, with honor, if our men fight as well as they did at the 'Battle of the Rocks'"--as they termed the engagement with the Modocs mentioned in a former paper. "We'll pass the word along the line for every man to be ready to fight at any minute, and not let these fellows and their friends go ahead of us," remarked Olney, to whom the adventure promised another opportunity for him to exhaust a little more of his abundant daredevil bravery. The caution was given to the rear Indian, who passed it along the line, and the obedient Wascos silently prepared their arms for battle.
"Wouldn't it be best, Olney, to send word back to camp and let them know how we are situated, so that they may be on their guard and keep a sharp lookout for camps and the balance of the horses?"
"Yes, that's just the thing. In fact, it would be wrong not to do it. But who will be the best one to send?"
"Parnassus and Swill. There ought to be two, so that if one should be killed on the road, the other may get through."
Word was sent forward for the two Wascos to halt, as they were wanted. When Olney and Wright came up, they hurriedly dictated a message to Foster, who was in charge of the camp, and promised each of the Indians a horse as a greater incentive for them to make more expedition. But they also told them that their ride was a dangerous one, and that if they met anyone on the trail that they must secrete themselves if they could, and in no case stop and parley with anyone, but that in every case they must use due caution, and their pistols, if necessary, but to get back to camp, if possible, that night.
"Tell Foster," continued Olney, "that if we are not at camp tomorrow at noon to send Blair and fifteen men out to our aid. They must come on as fast as they can, for we may need help, and tell him to hold the camp if he should be attacked as long as he has a man left."
The two Wascos set off on the back track to camp, and Wright and Olney pursued their way after their friends, who were now considerably in advance. By the time they had overtaken the advance they had descended the wooden heights and entered a low, sloping stretch of open country, declining to the right towards the river, across which they rode diagonally until they reached the river bottom, when, as they turned a low rock wall on their left, they saw the light of two camp fires and a number of tents on the bank of a small stream, which entered the river nearby. A small group of Mexicans were reclining on the ground at one of the fires, engaged in playing cards, while at the other a Mexican woman and an Indian girl were cooking beef on spits and baking bread, or a peculiar kind of pancake of flour and water made into a dough which they took and flattened out to about five inches in diameter, then taking it in one hand, they threw it quickly against the open palm of the other, and then back again, keeping up the eccentric rotary motion until the dough had reached a diameter of from eight to ten inches, and a thickness of an eighth of an inch. They then spread it on a piece of sheet iron lying on two large stones to keep it at a proper heat, to cook the cake without burning it. As soon as the dough became stiffened, it was sufficiently cooked. This cake is called a tortilla, and was at that time and probably is yet in the lower circles the general method of cooking flour.
The Mexican guides rode up to the fire where the others were playing at cards, and one of them spoke a few words to them in Spanish, and another of the guides said in English, "Hurry now and show our friends a good place to camp." Two of the men rose up, one saying to Wright, who sat on his horse near the fire, while the line of his men extended far back into the darkness: "Come this way, Captain, and I'll show you a good camp ground. Just unsaddle your horses and turn them out. You must take supper with us; you see, our cooks are getting it ready."
""We'll camp somewhere out here," answered Wright, "but as for supper, each of us has enough for two or three meals, but many thanks for your kind offer." The Mexican did not reply, but went on for about two hundred yards and stopped at a very good place for a camp, as well as could be judged in the darkness.
"Here, Captain, is a fine place to camp; plenty of water right there in the river. You won't want any wood tonight, for you must take supper with us tonight or our cooks will feel slighted. It's not often you'll get another such a chance." And he laughed at his own facetious generosity, "Don't be afraid of losing your horses. Ours are out on the hills, and a strong guard with them. They'll take care of yours."
"Thank you, but we'll take care of our own horses, and as for taking supper with you we cannot, as our time will be occupied in other matters."
"I am sorry you can't come and eat with us tonight, but you must favor us at breakfast; we'll have a fine roast for you. Good night, Captain"--and he retreated into the darkness.
"I think they'd like to take care of our horses," said Wright in Chinook jargon, for it was not good policy to speak in English, and so the jargon was their vehicle of communication that night, "for I believe they have got some of them already, and now they are trying for our scalps too."
"Dismount, all of your, and eat a little, for this may be our only chance tonight," said Olney, "but hold your horses so as to be ready to mount at any moment, for I believe we'll have trouble before long, for the indications are that we've got in with a band of Mexican robbers. Come, Pugh, let's ride around a little, and see what kind of a den we are in."
They rode toward the river, which was only a few yards away. Then turning up the stream, they rode a short distance and came to a high ledge or wall of rock, which approached to within ten feet of the riverbank, thus leaving a narrow passage between it and the river. They then turned to their left and rode on around this rocky ledge and found that it was a semicircle enclosing about one acre of low bottom, into which the wily Mexican had brought them to camp.
"A fine slaughter pen, is it not?" said Pugh. "If they had men enough to corral us in here, they'd have a jolly time paying back old scores on the Americans."
"I believe they are now making preparations to begin operations on us as soon as their men get back. But I doubt if any men are gone, as they said they had. They are outside waiting until those in camp got us down to supper, and then let in on us, when, as they have calculated, they would 'make short work of it.'"
"As they have failed in getting us to eat with them tonight, they will pitch into us in the morning, if we camp here in this pen. They'll have the rocky wall for a defense, and if they are numerous they'll be apt to give us the worst of it and leave our bodies here as they did the four which we found at their old camp back on the hill."
They rode back to Wright, who had made up his mind to move out of the place to some open spot and then await developments.
"Now, boys, let us get out of this and find some clear place and dismount and hold our horses, and let them eat while we rest ourselves. We must have our horses, or we will take every Mexican scalp in that camp of treachery down yonder. I wish that we had sent word to Foster to start by daylight."
"It's not too late yet to send word," said Olney. "Send Stock Whitley; he'll go through if the thing is possible."
They passed out of the enclosure and rode up the river a short distance, then turned to the left and rode up to higher land a half mile from the Mexican camp, halted and let their horses graze, holding them by the bridle. Stock Whitley and another Indian divested themselves of all superfluous clothing, tightened their cinches, and with gun, pistol and knife in readiness set off to the camp below.
"If all our calculations go right, we'll have our horses and enough of theirs, if they have any, to pay for all our trouble," said Wright, and all agreed to the proposition.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, August 23, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
A Life and Death Struggle with Murrieta's Band of Mexicans.
The Latter Defeated at Last--On to the Gold Diggings--
$1000 in Three Hours--Capt. Wright Starts After the Outlaw.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]To sit on the ground holding your horse by the bridle with the left hand while he crops the grass around you, while with the right you grasp a gun or pistol; the air cool and growing cooler as the night advances, the cold, dreamy stars glittering overhead; your eyes, obedient to the imperative demands of exhausted nature, close for a moment's sleep, yet your will, and the ever-present knowledge of impending danger, do not allow the gratification of the pressing desire to slumber, but wakefulness, all-imperative wakefulness, must be maintained, is at best a most trying and wretched situation. Thus Capt. Wright and his men sat, or reclined, on the ground that night, waiting in anxious uncertainty to see what the morning would develop. It was certain that the Mexicans, finding that Wright had left the proposed camp ground, would believe themselves suspected of being the thieves, and probably something worse. On the contrary, were they innocent of the theft of the horses and murder of the four men, they might very naturally suspect Wright of being himself a marauder, and make preparations for defense, or to checkmate him in any unlawful designs which he might entertain in regard to them. At any rate, as the matter then stood, there was, if not open war, at least a suspicion of each other that might on the slightest provocation lead to open hostilities.
About midnight, while the Wascos were quietly reclining on the grass, snatching as they could a few seconds of waking sleep--dozing until their horses, to get a mouthful of grass farther away, would give a sudden jerk at the bridle, waking the sleepers to the realities of the situation--Wright and Olney, after notifying Pugh, left their horses in the care of two of the men, and went out and down toward the Mexican camp to see what was being done there and to better locate the camp in their minds, pending the forthcoming issue. Walking slowly and with extreme caution, they approached, aided by the darkness, to within a few rods of the camp. A small pile of embers before one of the tents gave out, at intervals, a flickering blaze sufficient to give them a glimpse of a long line of horses, saddled and in readiness to mount, tied to a long rope elevated about four feet above the ground by stakes, which were driven into the ground about ten feet apart, to the top of which the long rope was fastened, and to this rope the hackamores or halters of the horses were attached. Two guards leisurely walked around them to prevent them from becoming entangled together.
"What is your opinion of the situation, Olney?"
"I am satisfied from appearances that they are apprehensive of something, but what that something is is not altogether beyond our ken. I believe that they intend to make a break upon us even if they wait until we are returning through the timber, when they will ambush us."
"I'm almost of the opinion that our own safety depends on making the first attack, for al those horses indicate a numerous band, and you noticed that those we saw had revolvers buckled on them that beat ours all to pieces."
"Better wait and let circumstances guide us in our future actions, but there is no doubt but that we must fight before we get back to our camp."
They returned to their men and cast themselves upon the ground to await the coming of daylight. A few hours passed and the faint forerunner of daylight made its appearance in the east, while the distant neigh of a horse higher up in the hills floated down to their ears; another and another, while the prolonged bray of a mule made music in the air and drew to his feet every one of the waiting men.
"They may be our horses; every man of you mount and we'll go and see. Tighten up your saddles and look to your arms, for our day's work will commence when we leave this spot. We must have our horses this day or not at all." Daylight rapidly approached, and before the men had got up to the higher land where the horses were it was light enough to see far ahead. The sounds of tramping and rushing horses was plainly heard before they could be seen. Down out of the woods--out into the open country--rushed a band of horses and mules, coming directly toward them. As they came closer, each individual horse became distinctly outlined and--"There are our horses! See! Every one of them! Now is the time, boys! Spread out there and stop them!" shouted Wright; "form a line and corral them!" The men darted out from the front and rear, and a line was quickly stretched across the path of the descending band of horses. Four Mexicans were driving them, but when they saw the unexpected turn of affairs they reined up and yelled "Diablo! Los Indios! Los gringos!" then putting their large spurs into the flanks of their horses, swooped down with many a "Caramba" to the left toward the Mexican camp, followed by several shots from Wright's men, which brought one of them from his saddle, but he held to the bridle, and reining up his horse with much difficulty mounted again and followed his fleeing companions.
"Close up around the horses, boys; let all go that do not belong to us. We must make haste and catch them, for if that band of rascally greasers get after us we can do nothing else but fight, for they outnumber us more than two to one."
"How many of our horses did we lose?"
"Eight; they are all here."
"Do you think we ought to emulate Uncle Sam and take enough of the Mexican horses to indemnify us?"
"I think we ought to; for they have stolen them, or taken them from murdered Americans; we may possibly be able to find the owners."
"Everything being fair in war, we'll take all we can catch."
By this time the eight horses belonging to them had been caught, and lassos were whirling and flying through the air to catch more, when up from below came a confused mass of Mexicans--a few with lances, the others with guns and pistols, mounted on fleet horses and on a full run.
"Stop lassoing, and get ready for the greasy murderers," was Wright's order. The horses already secured, three besides their own, making eleven in all, were held by two of the Wascos, while the remainder, fourteen, and the three white men boldly faced the advancing Mexicans, who numbered near fifty, well mounted and armed, and actuated by but one savage motive--to kill the Americans. On they came, and when within 150 yards an order from their chief sent the confused mass into something like a line of battle, which began to curve at each end around the little band of waiting foes. In line at first, with the recovered horses held by two Indians in the rear, Wright's men had stood, but when the enemy maneuvered to surround him, he threw back his right and left wings, which shortened his front, but kept his men facing the advancing foe. The Mexicans came but little closer while circling round, but as soon as they had passed half way round they advanced and opened fire, but doing no execution. While the enemy were advancing, Wright addressed the Wascos:
"You see that they want to fight; we will all die right here before we will run or be whipped by them. You must fight as long as we do," indicating himself, Olney and Pugh. "If I see any of you show cowardice I will shoot you. Shall we pitch in and lick them?" "Yes, yes," and the cracking of guns and pistols, and the deadly whiz of the flying arrows told of a fierce battle on hand, to be fought out to the death on that lonely hillside. The Wascos were yet in their saddles, but at a word they dismounted, and the fight was stationary for a few minutes. Several were wounded on both sides, yet neither party seemed to have the advantage. The Mexicans began to mount, and Wright ordered his men to do the same, as it was evident that the Mexicans intended to make a charge on the stubborn little band and crush them out with one heavy blow. During the forepart of the fight the Wascos had advanced to within fifty yards of the enemy so as to make their arrows more effective, and now when the enemy charged in a long curved line upon them the arrows did good and effective service. Many saddles were soon empty, and the riderless horses flying down the hill. The charge was briskly made, and for a few minutes it was hand to hand. The defense of the little band was so desperate and determined that the long line of Mexicans failed to crush the little squad of foaming, bleeding warriors, and they retreated to a safe distance, disheartened at their defeat, but kept up a duel at long range. There was no other object on the part of the Mexicans than the satisfaction of killing their enemies, and in the attempt to gratify their hatred they had left a number of their men on the ground, dead and wounded. Wright had only two seriously injured, but several more were slightly wounded. The Mexicans had drawn off and seemed to be in consultation. The firing had ceased, and Wright's band were extremely desirous that their enemies should leave the field. They were willing to call it a drawn battle.
It was now broad daylight, and Wright ordered a start for their camp. They had gained their object when they recovered their horses, but some of the men were wounded, and it was with no good grace that they were about to part with the authors of their troubles. But another chance at their enemies awaited them, which they were forced to accept, though they would not, of their own free will, have had another brush, that day at least.
Away down towards the Mexican camp, a lone horseman came at full speed up the hill, swinging a revolver in his hand as he emitted curse after curse through his clenched teeth. With his horse in a foam he dashed up to the crestfallen Mexicans, and amid his harangue, as he addressed them, the epithet "gringo" was conspicuous, accompanied by copious Mexican oaths. New courage, or determination, was manifestly instilled into them, for they once more began to form a line and advance, with their new commander in the lead.
On they came in a headlong gallop, right up to the little squad of Wascos, in whose front sat their three white leaders, on their horses, with pistol in hand, bowie knife well in front, calmly awaiting the onslaught. When they had dashed up to within twenty yards the little band belched forth a volley of rifle and pistol shots, and the whistling arrows filled the air as they were rapidly discharged into the very faces of the advancing foe. At the first fire their pace was slackened suddenly to a walk, and a few feeble shots fired at the dauntless little band. But their leader, without a halt, and calling to his men to follow, dashed right up to his foes and discharged his pistol rapidly at Olney, whose tall form swayed in his saddle as he rode forward to meet his daring antagonist in a hand-to-hand encounter.
Their pistols fell to the ground as the deadly bowie knife and machete flashed in the morning light. They passed and repassed, whirled around each other as they made fierce cuts and thrusts with their glittering knives, but the weapons were too short for mounted combat, and no advantage was gained by either, but their hands and arms were streaming with blood from the many cuts received. Around them clustered their friends, and a fierce struggle, three to one, began. The Wascos, with their heavy and deftly handled war clubs, made tremendous havoc among their enemy; for a few minutes the wild combatants were mixed in a confused mass, and it was truly a case of "every man for himself." Wright, with a beardless, girlish face, his black eyes emitting flashes of fire, plunged at this one, then at that with his long knife, leaving a dangerous mark at every stab. Pugh, the Nestor of the company, made himself conspicuous by his headlong bravery and wild determination to conquer or die.
Not one of the Wascos flinched, for fight or die were the two alternatives from which to choose. The enemy were not absolute cowards, and fought well, but their cause was not a just one, and their activity decreased accordingly. The horses which Wright's men had recovered broke loose again and plunged through the combatants, the men who held them being compelled to take a hand in the struggle. The melee had reached its highest pitch of ferocity, and the little band would have been, to all outward appearances, soon overpowered. Out of the woods above came the dull sounds of a drum that sent renewed courage through the tough souls of the Wascos; twenty of their friends, headed by Foster, plunged swiftly down over the grassy hillside to join in the fray. They approached, but could not fire on the Mexicans, for their friends and enemies were mingled together in a confused mass.
With shouts they dashed into the combat, and each plied whatever weapon he possessed with determined vigor, and five minutes later the attacking Mexicans fled down the hill, utterly routed. "Don't let them get away," shouted Wright; "kill the last one of them; come on," and after the fleeing enemy dashed the white men and Indians, whooping and yelling, leaving the dead and wounded together on the field of battle. The two Wascos, Stock Whitley and Parnassus, on fleet horses, outstripped their friends and were the first to reach the fleeing enemy. With their long-handled clubs they knocked three of them from their saddles, and hustled others up to a more lively gait.
Reaching their camp the Mexicans made a stand, but were instantly attacked by the pursuers. There the fight was brisk for a few minutes. Pugh was seen by Parnassus to fall from his horse, and two Mexicans dismounted to dispatch him, but before their feet was fairly on the ground he was upon them; shooting one through the head with a small pocket pistol, he felled the other to the ground with his whirling war club. Pugh was wounded and numb, but from long training he held to his bridle, and was soon on his horse again. Foster, with one eye closed by a blow from a pistol, the blood streaming down his breast and side, fought and shouted like a madman.
Olney was down, pierced through the shoulder by a lance, and stunned by a bullet. Wright, wounded in three places, yet remained mounted, and by word and example animated his men. Over the fires, over the tents, rushed and wallowed the contending forces. Four Mexican women had, at the beginning of the fight, fled to the riverbank out of reach of danger, but stood in full view and witnessed the battle. Olney had lain for a moment senseless, but staggered to his feet again and plunged his knife to the hilt into the body of one of two Mexicans who had rushed upon him when he began to get up, but being weak from loss of blood, he would have fallen a prey to the other, who was the doughty Joaquin Murrieta himself, had not Stock Whitley, wounded and bleeding, rushed up and attacked the stalwart Mexican--who was himself wounded--and a fierce struggle began. They clinched and tried to throw each other down, but being equally matched in strength and nerve, they hugged and writhed and swayed, but neither had gained an advantage when the struggle was brought to a close by the sudden retreat of the Mexicans, and as Stock Whitley loosened his hold on his antagonist, he fled with his men.
The fight was over for that time, and the white men, as well as the Wascos, said in later years that it was the happiest moment of their lives when the enemy fled, leaving them masters of the field. There was scarcely a man on either side that escaped unhurt.
"Gather up all the guns and pistols you can find, and anything else you want, but let the women alone." The tents were quickly ransacked, but nothing of importance was found except a large bundle of manuscript, which was wrapped thickly with stout paper.
"Pugh, take some men and hurry up on the hill and look after our men. If those rascally greasers get there first they will kill all of our wounded."
"Be spry, everybody; we must get out of this and go back to our camp. Who knows but they may have trouble, too?"
Pugh took about a dozen men and went up to the battleground on the hill. Some of the Mexicans were moving in the same direction, but when they saw him they returned down the hill out of sight. He found two of the Wascos dead, one so severely wounded that he could not rise, and two more, who could hobble around a little, were on their feet, and had, to all appearances, performed a little job on their own hook, for six dead Mexicans lay around loose, and the Indians seemed to be well pleased about something, but Pugh had no time to make inquiries. The horses were quietly grazing 200 yards away, and were easily secured, as they had been tied together before the fight began. Wright and his men came slowly up the hill, leaving the discomfited Mexicans to return and repair their camp at leisure.
The killed were packed on horses, the wounded placed in their saddles and rode without any assistance, except one, who was carried up to the woods, where a litter was made in which he was conveyed to camp, but died the following night. They arrived at their camp late the following evening, and once more the company were together, to the great relief of all. Those who had remained in camp bound up the wounds of their unfortunate friends, and then an account was taken of the results of the unfortunate encounter. Two horses had been so severely wounded that it was necessary to kill them, but their loss was made good by the capture of the Mexican horses. So the result of the whole matter stood: Losses--three men killed, twenty-six more or less severely wounded, two horses killed; gains--three horses captured from the enemy, their own lost horses recovered, found six guns, eight revolvers, two lances, their machetes, killed eight of the enemy, and wounded a great many more; the exact number could not be ascertained, but better than all else, they had whipped the Mexicans, who greatly outnumbered them.
The dead braves were buried after the manner of their people; men were sent up to the old camp and buried the bodies of the four miners, and on the morning of the fifth day another start was made for the mines. Traveling was difficult and slow. Many stops were made to bathe the wounded, as the weather during the day was extremely warm, causing much inflammation of the wounds. Upon their arrival at McCloud River a stop of two days was made for the purpose of rest, and to prospect for gold.
No gold in paying quantities was found, but the rest greatly improved the wounded, which allowed them to make better time thereafter.
The surrounding country was not strictly a mining country, yet gold in small quantities abounded, but the advantages for agriculture were manifest even to the inexperienced eyes of the young adventurers. The great water power of the Sacramento and McCloud rivers and their tributary streams brought up visions of large factories, of villages, farms, orchards, vineyards, and busy throngs of industrious, happy people passing to and fro over fine, naturally macadamized roads, and massive bridges spanning the deep and turbulent streams. While over the low and the high hills flocks of sheep and goats, and herds of horses and cattle, fattening on the abundant and nutritious grass and clover, for the use of and to feed the busy throngs below.
They followed closely the bank of the Sacramento through long, wide bottoms of grass and clover. Here and there were beautiful cool, shady groves of oak trees, while on the margin of the clear, deep, rapid river large cottonwood trees grew in profusion, reaching their long arms out over the cool river, lowering their tiny branches to bathe and bobble on the bright surface of the rapid current. Wild grape, plum and chokecherry were found in large quantities and of luxuriant growth. Small creeks tumbled down from the hills, their courses lined with trees and mottled, creeping vines.
They did not stop to prospect for gold after leaving McCloud River, but kept on down, lured to an advance day by day by the magnificent ever-changing scenes. "Here I would like to cast my lot if it were not for these miserable Indians," one would say, "but no one could live near them in peace."
Village after village was passed. The natives were shy and not seldom ran off into the bush and rocks, leaving their huts unprotected. The Wascos would have been much pleased to have examined the treasures contained in these huts, but their white leaders would not permit them to do so. It was not their intention to provoke hostilities, but had the natives made any hostile movements they would have attacked them without mercy. The Indians from the Modocs to the Sacramento seemed to be of about the same tribal nature, but those lower down the river valley differed materially from their neighbors above, both in stature and mode of constructing their dwellings. But one custom seemed to be the rule of all of them, and even extended down to the Apaches far below; that is the fashion the squaws had of cutting the hair square off in front, just a little above the eyes, which made them look wild and untamable, and seemed to bring out all the latent, as well as the active, traits of their natures.
When they had reached a point about east of the spot where the present town of Shasta now stands, they camped on a small creek near the river early in the afternoon. It was now evident that they were in the gold belt and that they should begin to prospect in earnest. So the camp was made accordingly, and the tents were pitched and preparations made for a long stay. When the evening meal had been prepared and eaten the fires were allowed to die out, as was the usual custom when traveling in an Indian country. The men were reclining on the ground at convenient spots enjoying a quiet smoke, when--down the river not far away the loud voice of a mule rang out on the clear, calm evening air. Joy and apprehension filled the hearts of the worn-out travelers. The wounded men were sore and stiff from continual travel and lack of proper care, and the probability of another engagement with a band of Mexicans was not an agreeable topic to contemplate. As for friends, who could they be? "Come, let us go down and find out who they are." Buckling on their pistols and shouldering their guns, Wright and Blair went out to prospect for their neighbors, while those in camp prepared their surroundings for another possible attack. The two men did not go more than 200 yards from their camp when they met four genuine Americans. Both parties were equally surprised and gratified. The four men returned with Wright to his camp, and a mutual exchange of notes occupied the remainder of the evening.
Their new acquaintances proved to be party of Oregonians, the first of the many bands of that peculiar people who subsequently flocked into the mines, and who for many years after were not on the most amicable terms with the rough, strong-handed Californians. But they supplied the greater portion of the beef and bacon used in the mines for many years, besides much flour and vegetables, and who, while packing their supplies to the hungry miners, discovered and developed many mining and agricultural localities, among the most prominent of which are Rogue River Valley in Oregon and Shasta and Scotts valleys in California.
This party were old settlers, with a sprinkling of young adventurers, who, when the first news of the discovery of gold reached the Willamette Valley, left their yet-undeveloped farms, and taking a few cattle and such other supplies as they could command, packing the latter on mules and horses, started out to the southward and rushed on to the mines regardless of the many and serious obstacles lying their path--wild, hostile Indians, deep, rapid rivers, dark, somber canyons, and the many and active grizzlies that infested their path on every hand and preyed upon their cattle, sheep and hogs on their march as well as while in camp.
As they passed on, mile after mile, new natural beauties on every side opened out to their astonished gaze. It was at the time of the year when the landscape exhibited its greatest natural attractions. Their camps were always made amid luxuriant wild grass, and the lowing of their little band of cattle, accompanied by music from horses and mules, started the denizens of the dark forests from their quiet solitude of a million years, and the Indians of the beautiful valleys through which they passed watched them from their hidden coverts by the wayside and saw, instinctively, in the not far distant future, their scepter of dominion over these delightful valleys sinking from view amid columns of rising smoke and streams of reddening gore.
Wright and his company spent a week in prospecting, but their knowledge of gold mining was so limited that they made little favorable progress. Though some gold was collected, they deemed it advisable to look for better diggings lower down. They had, in the meantime, learned more of the great excitement below; had heard of fabulous amounts of gold dust which had been collected by a few days' labor by the miners farther south, and made up their minds to proceed until they reached that wealthy land. But when the news of sickness amongst the miners lower down reached their ears, and that a great army of gold seekers was pouring northward, discovering and developing new mines, they concluded to wait until time opened out some positive course to pursue.
The party of Oregonians went on with their cattle and goods to meet the advancing tide of miners, which was but a short distance below, and before a month had elapsed the valleys and hills were thronged by eager miners, in search of gold and a climate more salubrious than that of the lower Sacramento. Wright and his party left the river valley and went south a day's travel, and then turned into the low oak hills on the right, camping on a small creek having every indication of gold. Olney went out first, and alone, to prospect. In less than half an hour he returned with half a pint of bright gold nuggets, which he had picked from the crevices of the bedrock, under the water, in the bed of the little stream.
"Hurrah! We've struck it now!"
"We must name the creek, for it's all ours. Won't we get rich now?"
"Call it Olney's Creek; he discovered it."
And to this day, the little creek, all mangled and torn, robbed of the glittering treasures of gold, denuded of its magnificent lining of shady oaks and trailing vines, bears its original name. When the pan of nuggets had passed from hand to hand for more minute inspection, all hands left other employments and began mining. Bread pans, frying pans, cups, spoons and anything that could be successfully used was brought into requisition, and the scraping and rattling and splashing of water did not cease until darkness shut down and compelled the miners to cease from their pleasant toil. Over one thousand dollars in dust was collected in less than three hours from the bed of that modest little creek. Their journeying was over for a time, and the happy, successful miners enjoyed that exquisite pleasure, now known to but few, of getting large quantities of money, hard cash money, without great physical exertion and anxiety.
For two months the mining went on. Capt. Wright's share was large, but his adventurous nature became restless under the monotony of mining, and he began to cast about for some other occupation which would bring with it more of romance than did simple gold mining.
As has been before mentioned, many murders had been and were almost daily being committed by renegade Mexicans, and more particularly by the band of Joaquin Murrieta, in the middle and northern mines. In October, 1848, the military governor, Col. Mason, offered a reward of $10,000 for the apprehension, dead or alive, of Joaquin Murrieta. This proclamation found its way to the camp of Wright, and after but little debate he resolved to make an effort for the prize. He was not so anxious to gain the reward as he was for the romance of and the pleasure of the chase after the noted outlaw.
His party had been reinforced by the addition of four young adventurers from the company of Oregonians before mentioned, who were only too anxious to go with him and take a part in his future campaigns after Indians and outlaws, which he outlined to them in his usually persuasive style. Within a week after he had first conceived the idea of engaging in the hunt after the desperate bandit, he had enlisted under his orders twenty-eight robust young men who, like himself, delighted more in exciting adventure than in the very tame occupation of digging for gold. They moved down to and made a camp on the Sacramento, where they were fully organized and equipped themselves for their hazardous undertaking.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, August 30, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
The Discoverers of Gold in California and How They Lived.
Rude Methods of Securing the Yellow Treasure--Dangers of a Miner's Life--
Wright Starts on Another Expedition.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]Believing that some of the adult readers of these articles have no more than a general knowledge of the discovery of gold mines in Oregon and California and the progressive steps by which they were developed and made to revolutionize the world, socially, physically and mentally, and that but few of the youthful ones have ever read, or even been told, of the magnitude of these discoveries, the rapidity with which the mining and agricultural districts were settled by people from all parts of our globe, of the suffering endured, the dangers met and overcome, the mode of life of the miners, farmers, traders in the mines and their assistants, the packers, nor of the crudity of the land and the still more crude manner of their application to the varying emergencies of revolving chaos prevailing in the mines from their discovery early in 1848 until the territory of California was admitted into the Union in 1850, it would not be out of place to take a first glimpse of the subject in this article, which would make the subjects treated later on appear in a clearer light.
By the 1st of October, 1848, thousands of emigrants, whose original destination was the territory of Oregon, turned their course, when the news of gold discoveries in California met them on their road, towards the latter country to swell the already large population. Hundreds of volunteers had been disbanded in California and had, almost to a man, remained and turned miners. The regular troops deserted from every post in the territory, while the naval vessels lost nearly all their petty officers and seamen. Merchant vessels and whalers entering San Francisco, or any other harbor on the California coast, lost their crews, who often deserted en masse and went to the mines, in many cases leaving behind them back pay and allowances, and if whalers all their share of the oil, amounting in many cases to several hundred dollars. Vessels from New South Wales brought cargoes of British convicts and turned them loose to mingle with, and affect for the worse, the young American population. These convicts were dubbed "Sydney Ducks," a title too mild for many of them.
Officers of the army and navy made excursions to the mines, ostensibly on government business, but really on their own account, to spy out the rich placers and to gather a share of the tempting dust. The following extract from a letter by an army officer to the New Orleans Crescent gives a fair view of the situation:
"I expect to have a strange time of it here. Forts without soldiers, ordnance without men enough to guard them, towns without men, a country without government, laws or legislators, and what's more, no one seems disposed to stop and make them." The flood of miners to the original mines on the American River swept on past that place, spreading as it advanced, penetrating all parts of the country and opening up new fields of gold and agriculture as it moved northward.
Hon. Thomas O. Larkin, in dispatches to Secretary of State Buchanan, says: "The whole country is now moving to the mines. San Francisco, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and San Jose are emptied of their male population. Every bowl, tray, warming pan and piggin has gone to the mines; everything, in short, that has a scoop in it that will hold water and sand. * * * We have plenty of gold, little to eat, and much less to wear. Our supplies must come from Oregon, Chile and the United States."
The Californian of San Francisco says [on July 15, 1848]: "Carpenters and other mechanics have been offered $15 per day, but it has been flatly refused. * * * The rates of transportation for merchandise now charged by wagons are $5 per 100 pounds to the lower mines, a distance of twenty miles, and $10 per 100 pounds to the upper mines, a distance of forty miles." He undoubtedly considered that an extraordinary high rate of transportation, but the writer, and doubtless many who may read this article, know that as high as $75 per 100 pounds has been charged and paid for transportation later than the foregoing date.
The Journal of Commerce says: "At present the people are running over the country picking gold out of the ground here and there, just as a thousand hogs let loose in a forest would root up ground nuts. Some get eight or ten ounces per day while none get less than one or two."
Again, Mr. Larkin writes: "Some forgo the use of cradle or pan as too tame an occupation, and mounted on horses half wild, dash up the mountain gorges and over the steep hills, picking the gold from the clefts of the rocks with their bowie knives."
An ounce of gold usually sold at $16, but at first it sometimes sold as low as $8 or $10, but there was plenty of it, and under such circumstances everybody was happy, careless and often rude, but the rudeness was usually so good-natured that each overlooks it in the other, and fraternity, the best of human ties, bound the miners together in all the varying moods of coquettish fortune. Nicknames were of very common occurrence in the early California and Oregon society, among the high as well as among the low, so careless were the early settlers of their own or anybody else's reserved rights to be called by no other than their lawful names.
Any peculiarity of form or feature, or characteristic trait, was sure to bring down upon the doomed subject, male or female, some ridiculous appellation. Yet little or no offense was taken at each other's good-natured failings, for they had all entered the mines for one purpose, and that was to get rich, and held all silly conventionalities in abeyance until that end should have been accomplished. A naval officer, in a letter to a friend at Baltimore, says: "I was invited to dine with a selected party of civilians who were just from the mines, bringing with them long purses filled with nuggets, and an abundance of good nature. Among them was a judge, a seven-footer, who, being called upon for a speech, said: 'Gentlemen, I'm going to give a sentiment, can't make a speech, never could, but even Dr. Leatherbelly here,' slapping another seven-footer on the shoulder, who swallowed a big mouthful and the nickname with something of a wry face 'even Dr. Leatherbelly here, with all his preaching, must acknowledge the truth of my sentiment--that we all came here to make money.' A general roar acknowledged the tall chap a good judge of other men's intentions."
The only machine used for a year or so for gathering the gold was a cradle about three feet long and eighteen inches wide. The bottom was usually flat. The back rocker was from two to three inches higher than the forward one, so that the dirt and water would run out at the forward or lower end. The sides were twelve inches high for half their length, when they were sloped suddenly down to a width, at the front end, of three inches. The ends corresponded in height to the sides. On the top, where the sides were of full height, was placed a sieve, made of four boards, one inch thick and four inches wide, nailed together, making an open box or frame 18x16 inches. On the bottom of this frame was stretched a piece of rawhide--sheet iron was subsequently used--which was perforated with holes about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and usually about two inches apart. On the side of this sieve was fastened a perpendicular handle about one foot long, to be used in rocking the cradle. This sieve was held in place by nailing cleats on the outside top of the cradle, which kept it from slipping off while in use. Under this screen was placed a cloth apron sloping toward the back end of the cradle to within an inch of the bottom. When the machine was in use a man sat down on anything which would answer the purpose, with the cradle in front of him, with the front or lower end to his left. Taking hold of the upright handle with his left hand, he rocked it back and forth, while with some sort of a dipper in the right hand he poured a continuous stream of water upon the dirt or gravel which had been placed in the sieve from some pool or stream of water, on his right hand; the dirt and water in the sieve, moved back and forth by the continuous rocking, until nothing but stones, too large to pass through the holes, remained in the sieve. The water, fine dirt and gold passed through the holes in the sieve, fell upon the apron under it, passed on down the apron towards the right hand or back end of the rocker, under which it passed, turning at the same time at an acute angle to the left, passing on down the bottom of the rocker till intercepted by a cleat at the lower end, which retained a bed of sand into which the gold, as it came on down the bottom, was held--settled under the sand by the steady rocking of the cradle. If the diggings were rich, a half-hour's washing necessitated a cleanup, when the gold and sand were scooped out with a piece of sheet iron, tin plate, spoon or any other suitable instrument and placed in a pan, which was taken to a pool of water and the sand washed out by the miner, who, squatting down at the edge of the water, pan held firmly in his hands before him, sinks the pan and dirt under the water, then raising it to just the surface, at the same time shaking it from side to side, round and round, up and down, giving it all the eccentricities known and unknown to science. Closely watching the gold to prevent its escape, he works and sifts and splashes until nothing remains but the gold, and a plentiful supply of black sand.
At night, or when the day's work was over, the pan of black sand and gold was taken to the camp fire and held over it until the sand became perfectly dry. Then he takes a "blower"--a piece of tin five inches wide and eight inches long, with two sides, and one end turn up about one inch high--into which he puts a quantity of gold and sand, then blows, and shakes and puffs until nothing but pure gold remains. The rocker, as the cradle was subsequently called, was good enough at first, but as time brings experience and necessities, it also brought the curious, prying Yankee from the East, who soon improved on the rocker by ciphering out the "long tom," which was used with success for a few years, when it was displaced by the "sluice."
A pine tree about twenty-four inches in diameter was cut down, a log ten or fifteen feet long cut off, and one side flattened to a width of sixteen inches; this flat surface was then dug out to a depth of twelve inches from end to end of the log. It was then turned over and the other three sides worked off until a square trough was made, with the sides and bottom about two inches thick. About thirty inches from one end a slanting cut was made, so that the trough had the appearance of two sled runners, held together by the bottom. A screen of rawhide, perforated like that forming the rocker sieve, was nailed tightly over this slanting end, from the extreme points of the runner-shaped sides, back to the remaining bottom of the tom. Thus when the tom was set for use this rawhide screen rose gradually from the bottom of the tom, along under the runners until it reached the top. Under this screen was placed a "riffle box," made of one-inch boards, about four feet long and six inches wider than the tom, the sides and back end of which were six inches high, the sides sloping gradually toward the forward end to a width at the end of two inches.
When it was used the whole thing was placed on some logs to keep it above the ground, with the back end six or eight inches higher than the front end. A stream of water would be introduced into the upper end of the tom, and passing on down, would carry dirt and rock down to the screen, where a man stood with a square-pointed shovel, and rubbed and scraped the mass of dirt and stones until all had dropped through the screen into the riffle box below, except the large stones; these he threw out with his shovel. Three men were a full complement at a tom: two to shovel in dirt, one to rub and throw out the dirt. Often a large nugget would be thrown into the tom with a shovel full of dirt, which would soon wash away, leaving the big bright apple of gold to be seized upon by someone and held up in view of the others.
"I tell you wha-at, that beats 'em all."
"Won't we sleigh ride with the gals when we get back home?"
"I'm going to give my gal a gold ring as big as an ox bow, I am."
"The Digger Injuns'll git your scalp 'fore you get gold enough to make that ring."
"They killed all of that crowd that went up towards the round mountain last week to prospect."
"All of them?"
"All but old Knock-knees, and he was so durned ugly they wouldn't kill him."
"It's possible they wouldn't kill you, either, for the same reason."
"We won't quarrel on that score, but I know that you'll be safe if you can get only half a chance."
"What kind of a chance does he want?"
"A chance to run."
All chuckled and worked on. The gals, and the rings, and "Injuns" were for the moment forgotten; the picks sounded heavy and dull as they sank into the yielding ground; the shovels scraped, scraped and the water made music as it rippled down the tom--all are happy; gold in the riffle-box, gold in the tom, gold in the bedrock, gold in the big long purses, hid away somewhere.
And so the miners mined, and tramped from creek to creek, from gulch to gulch, prospecting on the flat below, on the hill above, until the hardy wanderers had roamed and prospected on every creek and flat and river from the first discovery to the Oregon line.
When new diggings were struck, the news would fly to the nearest camp, recruit, fly on, recruit again fivefold--but the work was done. From every camp within a hundred miles or more pour out a caravan of miners. A few pounds of flour, ditto of bacon, a little coffee or tea, some suit, a few spare shirts, tobacco, pipe and matches, all rolled up in a pair of old blankets or a tattered bed quilt. On the outside of this pack were tied a pick and shovel, frying pan and camp kettle, coffee pot and gold pan, and often, when he possessed such a luxury, an extra pair of old boots or shoes, making a pack often weighing seventy-five pounds. With such a load slung over his shoulder, with gun in hand, the miner climbed the rugged mountains, or crossed the valleys between, as he marched on to the better diggings just a little ahead, sleeping by his little camp fire under the tall pine trees, supping his black coffee from an old oyster can and bathing his soggy beard in bacon grease before taking the delectable morsel between his teeth, disturbed at night by the creeping worm or whisking lizard, a grizzly bear or jaguar, wildcat or panther, or the pelting rain from a lowering sky.
Perhaps, too, as he folded his blankets around him at night to recruit his weary limbs in sleep, or at early dawn, as he opened his drowsy eyes, his ears were saluted by an Indian yell, or the whistling of a flight of arrows, embedding themselves in the ground around him, in his blankets, or darting through the quivering flesh of limbs or body.
And so fared individual miners in thousands of cases as they tramped from camp to camp, or prospected alone in the wilderness for new diggings for their own.
Who was left to tell the fate of that little party of prospectors? See them as they lie wrapped around with scant and soiled bedding, on the low bank of that little creek--feet to feet, and still booted, heads in opposite directions, with their old battered hats drawn over their faces, belts with knives and pistols still attached girt around their bodies, guns lying by their sides ready for use--sleeping calmly
"While the sentinel stars keep their watch in the sky,"and the tall pine trees, as though to warn the tired sleepers, drop their dry, discarded slender leaves upon their prostrate forms. Happy dreams, sent from above, of love, hover around those lowly couches, and materialize in their slumbers, as
"--fond recollection presents them to view"their homes beyond the snow-capped mountains. They see their gray-haired parents, the tenderly loved sisters and the sturdy brothers, and feel the hearty clasp of their hands as they are welcomed home again--their wives, too, as their weary footsteps near the open door, rush out to meet them with cries of delight, and they feel the pressure of their faithful arms around their necks; they feel the warmth of their welcome kisses upon their bearded lips. They see their happy children clustered round them, and the little ones, who now can lisp their father's name, climb upon their knees, and with clapping hands, in childish glee, cry out: "Papa's home."
Hours pass on. In the east the first gray dawn of approaching day plays amid the thick foliage of the forest trees. The guard into whose hands was given the lives of those tired men is sleeping too. Sleep beguiled him from his duty and wrapped his drowsy senses in deep oblivion. Their battered hats have fallen to the ground, and their uncovered brows are cooled by the fresh morning air.
Hark! low creeping sounds are heard around those unconscious men. From behind every tree and shrub and rock, dark, stooping objects stealthily approach--with cat-like cunning they near their prey; no sounds of approaching danger warn those happy dreams to depart; fondly they linger over the joyous scenes their own agency has wrought in those sweetly somnolent minds.
See there! a circle of dark objects rising around that little group of silent sleepers--rising erect, the left arm extends, gripping with the hand the deadly bow, and with the right draws back the fatal string--hear the sharp twangs! A cloud of arrows glint through the morning light, embedding their flinty heads and poisoned shafts in the warm, soft flesh of those unfortunate men. Good God! Those awful moans of pain--those words of agony--a rush of dark forms upon these prostrate bodies--dull, sickening blows and struggles and gurgling sounds--all is over of that short carnival of death. The dusky forms dance wildly over their writhing prey, denude and mangle their quivering bodies and leave them a prey, a feast for the hungry denizens of the forest.
And thus it was that the first miners worked the mines with crude machines. Thus it was that the miners tramped and prospected and opened to the waiting world a field of wealth, of happiness of misery [sic]. And thus it was, too, that company after company of prospectors were murdered by the Indians, that pack trains, loaded with supplies for the waiting miners, were ambushed, the packers shot from the wayside bush, and the goods carried away to the strongholds of the savages, far away in dark gorges of the surrounding hills. At last, harassed to the verge of desperation, no peaceful remedy possible, forbearance ceased to be a duty, much less a virtue, and whenever a wild Indian was discovered he was shot down at sight. And so it was that the American miners, noble-hearted and compassionate by nature, became inveterate, and in a degree, heartless Indian killers.
When, further on, I shall depict some desperate and bloody encounters between them and the Indians, do not imagine that I am bloodthirsty, but credit me with wishing to spread out before the reader a view of early days as they really were. Possibly, before we separate, we may be inclined to stoop in sympathy over a fallen, gasping foe, but when the divine law of human progress asserts its legitimate sway over our minds, and the equally binding instinct of self-preservation shall have been recognized, then that fallen foe must remain unwept, and the hand that dealt the fatal stab uncolored by innocent blood. Nordhoff, in his sketches of Oregon and California, tells how he often met those old Indian fighters, and says: "But one of those old Indian fighters sat down after dinner, over a pipe, and related to me with horrifying coolness the details of the death which his rifle and sure eye dealt to an Indian. * * * How he lay on the grass and took aim at a tall savage, who was in the moonlight trying to steal a boat from a party of gold miners, and how, at the crack of his rifle, the Indian fell forward his full length in the boat and never stirred again. I confess I was dumb with amazement. The tragedy had not even the dignity of an event in this man's life. He shot Indians as he ate his dinner--plainly, as a matter of course. Nor was he a brute, but a kindly, honest, good fellow, nor in the least bloodthirsty, and was the father of a family of happy, intellectual and kindly children."
We have now taken a peep into the state of affairs in the mines in 1848. Nor did they grow better, only by very slow degrees, for the incentives for dispute were strong on both sides--the one to dig up the soil in search of gold, to fence the swelling plains for agricultural uses, to fell the forests for lumber and fuel and to cover the rivers and lakes with vessels of steam and sail; on the other, to drive away the unwelcome strangers and to fatten upon the spoil from their desolated camps. The survival of the fittest has been amply verified in the last four decades.
It was the intention of Capt. Wright, when he formed his company, to set out on a hunt for the bandits, but the depredations of the Indians became more numerous and bolder as the months passed by and the country became more populous. Thousands of miners had passed on north, discovering the mines, afterwards so famous as the Shasta mines, together with many creeks and flats. The Trinity Mountains had been reached and the rich diggings of Weaverville had been opened, and the footprints of the daring miners were blotting out those of the natives on the devious trails down the Trinity River. Log cabins were being erected in the most promising mines as bulwarks against the inclemency of approaching winter and the threads of the surrounding savages.
The Indians inhabiting the country a little below and west of Capt. Wright's camp, known as Cottonwood Creek, were very numerous, warlike and possessed with inordinate thieving propensities. They not only stole the men's horses and mules, but often, under cover of bushes, rocks and trees, crept near to the miners while working their claims, and killed and wounded a great many. But still the Indians remained unpunished, so intent were the miners on the one pursuit of gathering gold. But at last, as Capt. Wright had perfected his arrangements to start after the Mexicans, a deputation of miners, sent by a mass meeting held at Olney's trading post for the purpose of devising means of defense against the savages, waited on him and solicited his aid in ridding them of the raids of the Cottonwood and other not distant Indians, who were, or should be, guilty of raids upon the miners and farmers, for a few of the latter class had located agricultural lands and were preparing for a crop the following year.
The bandits were, according to latest reports, on the east side of the Sacramento, a little below the ferry at the red bluffs, where they had committed several robberies, but seemed to be in no great hurry to decamp, for they had defeated two attempts to capture or drive them out of the country. Capt. Wright and his men did not relish the change of programme from bandit to Indian, because they could easily wipe the latter out of the country, besides, there was no money in it, and the thing was too tame. The Mexicans were better armed and better fighters, and to whip them would be more creditable and remunerative.
"Now, gentlemen," said the Captain, in reply to their proposition, "my men are determined to go down after the Mexicans first, and then, if we get back alive, we will turn our attention to the Indians. But you must know that if we come back and fight for you, it is but just that you bear the expenses of our food and such other necessaries as we may require."
"Can you set any time for your return?"
"Not with any degree of certainty. We do not know where they are, how many they number, what difficulties we may encounter in our search for them, nor what the result of a fight may be if we do succeed in fighting them."
"You will, then, when you return, give us your assistance?"
"Yes, if you will furnish us supplies."
"That we will do. We shall expect you back within one month."
"You may look for us sooner than that, unless our game concludes to take to the mountains before we sight them. In that case the hunt may be a longer one. But we will find them if it is possible to do so, and that very soon, too."
"Some of your men have only a rifle and knife. They ought to have each a revolver or pistol of some kind, for the greasers are all well armed, or ought to be so, as they have robbed and killed so many men that they should have more arms than they need by this time."
"I am well aware of that unpleasant fact, but where are we to get the pistols? There are none for sale unless the seller robs himself."
"We are anxious for you to succeed in your present expedition, so that you may be better able to assist us, and we want you to bring back as many men as you can, and if you will delay your start for two days we will get sufficient arms for every man in your company."
"Exactly. Two days after today will see us all well armed and ready for a start?"
"Good. We will wait, then. Is there any liquor left?"
"I'll see," and a tall, grizzled-faced Missourian got up and went to his horse and took from his saddle four large canteens, which he had brought along in the shape of a pack on his saddle and which the committee, all good pious men, had brought with them as a sort of sop for the men, possibly making them more willing to turn back after the Indians. Placing the canteens on the ground in the center of the circle of men reclining on the grass under the trees, he said: "There, Captain; help yourself. Come on, boys, and take something; this'll be your last chance for a month."
"Some of us don't drink much stuff."
"You ought to keep full of it every day, as I do, then you'll be in no danger from these pesky fevers and agues."
"How will you manage without a doctor? What would you do with a lot of wounded men?"
"We ought to be supplied with a good, cool-headed surgeon, for some of us may need his attentions. We need a doctor as much for physic as for surgery, for the climate lower in the valley is warmer and more enervating than it is here. We must, if one can be found, have a surgeon with us. But who can we get?"
"I think Doc Elliot will go; if he will, he's the best man for the occasion. He was a surgeon in Gen. Lane's regiment of Indianians at Buena Vista. He claims that he led the regiment when they ran by a full length."
"That's a good recommendation; so if we can get him and the revolvers we'll be invincible. Where is he to be found?"
"He is stopping now at Olney's store, and it was only yesterday that I heard him say that he would like to see you before you started, for he believed that it was the same band that robbed the pack train and carried off his medicines and surgical instruments, and wants you to look out for them and if possible recapture them."
The committee returned to the mines and secured the services of Dr. Elliot, and succeeded in raising a sufficient number of revolvers to fully equip Wright's men. On the morning of the appointed day the company set out on their difficult and uncertain venture.
The company numbered thirty-five men, including the packers, four in number, but who were also armed, and were well able to take care of themselves and to send in a shot in aid of their friends when it should become necessary. They reached the ferry on the Sacramento, twenty miles below early in the afternoon, and found the ferryman in a high stage of impotent rage because that very day, while he was alone and defenseless, the whole Mexican band had come to the ferry and compelled him to set them across the river, and did not pay him a single real. They did more. They took all his little stock of provisions, a few ounces of gold dust, his two horses, and one tall savage fellow playfully drew the edge of his long knife across the ferryman's throat, which caused the blood to ooze out in several spurts near his valuable windpipe. And more than that they kept up a tirade of abuse during the time occupied in crossing the river. They also told him the pleasant fact that they would not kill him then but at some future time they would make up in severity for their clemency then. Each of them had from two to four revolvers, besides a gun, and often more than one large knife.
They also informed him that they had whipped every party of cowardly gringos that had come after them, and that they could do it every time. They numbered, including women, of whom there were eight, about forty-five, and the worst set of humans he had ever seen, and for the balance of his life he was bent on killing greasers at sight, treaty or no treaty.
"They are not more than ten miles from here now, for the last one did not get across till after 2 o'clock and they rode off at a slow gait. It is only ten miles to that sharp mountain (pointing to the northeast, where the hills declined towards the river). They'll be sure to camp there tonight. If you can trail them and find their camp tonight you can clean the whole nest out at daylight tomorrow morning; ------ me, but I'd like to go along and take a hand. Who'll stay here in my place? He can keep all he makes, and if I'm killed he may have the ferry. I just want one chance at that long-legged giraffe that cut my throat. I'll be ------ if I don't go anyhow and--"
His volubility was interrupted by Capt. Wright, who said that if anyone felt inclined to take up with the ferryman's liberal offer he might do so, but no one felt inclined to accept, because, "Are we not sure to capture old Joaquin and the $10,000?"
"It is useless for us to attempt to follow them tonight; it will be so dark that we cannot see their track," said First Lieutenant Sandbauch--of whom we shall see much when we come to the Modoc campaign.
"I believe that we can track them in the grass and wild-oat straw which is thickly matted on the ground, and having so many animals I think that they will leave a well-beaten track."
"Let us go on tonight, Captain," was the general desire.
"Make some coffee, then, and fill yourselves, for if we once get on their trail we must hunt them up before morning. We will have no more chances to eat or sleep until we have learned more of them than we know now. Be active, boys, we must be well out on their trail before dark."
Capt. Wright concluded to leave the pack animals behind, as they would greatly retard the hunt and be difficult to control in the event of a serious fight, for he felt considerable assurance of being able to overtake them by morning. Two miners had by this time come up, and were very easily prevailed upon to remain until the final issue was determined. Each man took two days' rations, at two meals per day, which he rolled up in a single blanket and tied on his horse behind the saddle.
When the sun was a quarter of an hour above the mountain summit on the west, Wright gave the order to move. Two trips of the boat landed them safely on the opposite side, and they set off over the undulating plain in military order, by twos, with the ferryman and Parnassus, the Wasco--who would not leave Capt. Wright--in the advance. The country was gently undulating for six miles, when it became more broken. The trail was easily followed through the matted-out stubble, which was dry and easily broken by the horses, so that a good, plain trail was left behind.
When the broken country was reached it was found to be more difficult to follow the trail, because of the scant covering of oat stubble on the ground and the rapidly increasing darkness. The general course of the bandits was toward a low gap in the hills, indicating a creek, upon which, as a matter of course, they would camp for the night. There was no water on the plain, none that could be found between the ferry and the mountain. Each man had a two-quart canteen full of water slung to his saddle bow.
Just before dark the Captain ordered his men to dismount, and thus addressed them:
"Boys, I want to give you a point or two, which I wish you would notice well. The greatest danger of our being first discovered by the greasers lies in our horses, and to prevent their giving token of our approach, we must pinch their noses."
A general laugh went round at the Captain's expense, but he was in earnest, and continued: "I learned how to do it when I was up in Oregon in '47, during the Cayuse War. Old Craig learned me to do it, and said that more than once the simple act had saved his life. Once, when he was making his way through the Blackfoot country, with only one companion, they pinched their horses' noses while hid in a thicket of brush, and a large party of Blackfeet passing by them. Their horses would try to neigh and they would seize their noses and press their nostrils tightly together between the thumb and finger and squeeze and twist until there was no neigh in them. Now, boys, do the same. We might as well give them a good pinching now before we mount; it will last them for a while." Amid much merriment the nose of each horse received a severe pinching, which made them snort, but they showed no inclination to make a louder noise.
It became necessary to dismount four men, who were sent ahead to search out the trail in the deep darkness of the night. They succeeded with much difficulty in keeping the trail, but sometimes they would get completely off, and the company would come to a halt, wait until the trail was found, and pinch their horses' noses.
They were in the foothills; their horses were thirsty and should have water. The grass was parched and did not quench their thirst.
A low "halt" stopped their advance.
"Dismount, boys; unbit and let your horses eat. We may stay here until daylight, for we do not know where to go."
Robin Hood, an English sailor, who obtained his nickname because he was brave and happy, and would sing his favorite song, beginning,
"Robin Hood was a forester good"at all seasonable times, was the second lieutenant. Wright took him and Parnassus and went out to prospect the surroundings, and ordered First Lieutenant Sandbauch to remain at that spot until he came back, or if he heard firing in any direction to come on at a gallop, as the firing would not be all for fun.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, September 6, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Our Hero Has Another Exciting Struggle with Murrieta.
The Wily Mexican Again Succeeds in Eluding the American's Grasp--
Some Incidents of the Fight and Escape.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]When Wright and his companions left the company and set out to examine the surroundings they went a hundred yards away and then halted to establish a course to pursue. In front of them the open land appeared to rise gradually to a considerable height, but how far away or high the ridge was above them could not be ascertained, because of the extreme darkness. The Captain concluded to ascend to the summit, and from that it was possible he might discover the Mexican camp. In Indian file the three men directed their course towards the top of the ridge. Slowly and cautiously they continued to climb the hill in an oblique direction till they came to a thick, tangled wall of chaparral, which seemed to be on the summit. Turning to their left they walked a few yards only when they came to a pathway which had been cut through the bushes, and that, too, that very day. Fortune seemed to favor them, and there now was no doubt of their being able, if not that night, then in the morning, to find their game. They cautiously passed through the narrow pathway which led them out upon a level stretch of open country, and continued to advance straight ahead until Wright, who was in the lead, suddenly stopped and said, in a low voice, "There is the edge of a high plateau, and I believe that I saw a little flash of light ahead of and below us. There it is again."
"I saw it. It is like the uncertain flickering of dying embers, or half-burned sticks."
"There is a larger blaze. [illegible] you see it?"
"Yes, and there seems to be several fires, because the light flashes up at different points." They were now satisfied that they had found the camp, and that it was about a quarter of a mile away, and a hundred feet or more below them.
"It is about the time of night when horses and mules are sleeping, and it is likely that there are no camp guards, so we will go down and study the lay of the country and camp." In file, as before, they began the abrupt descent. The steepness gradually gave place to a gentler decline. They took a course which would take them to the right of the camp, and, as it afterward proved, above it. The way was smooth, and in a little while they came to a deep creek, about thirty feet wide, and the opposite side lined with a tangled mass of brush and vines. The camp was on the same side with themselves, but their horses were on the opposite side, beyond the narrow line of brush, as indicated by an occasional suppressed snort of a horse or mule.
"There must be a ford somewhere; let us go down and find it."
"It may be above, Captain."
"No, I think not, for it is usual to camp above a ford, if it is practicable, so let us go down."
They were within 200 yards of the camp, which was silent. The only indication of the location was the occasional flicker of some charred sticks at the fires. They retraced their steps a short distance, then turned down back of the camp, and passed by it. When a safe distance below, they went to the creek. Going up a few rods they found the ford, which was narrow and steep, while the current of the creek was heavy and rapid, which indicated a tedious and difficult, if not a dangerous, crossing.
"We cannot find out what kind of a camp they have got, nor how it is situated without going up to it, and our boots will make too much noise when we step on the little beds of gravel that are scattered all over the ground."
"Let's pull our boots off, Captain."
"Our socks would not protect our feet, and if we should be discovered, I am of the opinion that the situation would be too unhealthy for us to stop long enough to put our boots on again."
"What shall we do then?"
"I'll send Parnassus up; his moccasins will make no more noise than would a cat's foot; we will go up a little nearer and wait for him. If he gets into trouble we will be on hand to get him out again."
Wright gave the Indian some instructions. Tightening his belt around his body, and examining his arms, the Indian started towards the camp. Aided by the darkness and an occasional bunch of tall grass, he made his way up to the lower tent. Crouching close to the back end of the tent, he listened for a few minutes. Nothing was heard but the regular breathing of a number of persons inside. Moving along slowly and with extreme care, he passed up back of the tents, six in number, pitched in a row, parallel with and about four rods from the creek. By the time he had reached the upper tent he had gained more confidence and started to go down again between the tents and the creek. When about halfway down he was suddenly halted by a row of beds filled with sleeping robbers directly in his path. At intervals a little flash of light darted out from the smoldering embers at the fires which would have revealed his presence to anyone looking in his direction at the moment. Two horses, saddled and bridled ready to mount, were tied on the bank of the creek, at the foot of a bed on which two men were sleeping.
The horses probably scented the Indian, for they moved quickly and uneasily, and gently sniffing the air. One of the robbers got up and went to them, but presently returned to his bed again. Lighting a cigarette, he lay on his back and gently blew the smoke above his head in curling wreaths, which floated away and regaled the delighted olfactories of the watching Indian, who longed to enjoy one himself, but his business was of too pressing a nature to allow him to indulge. He retraced his steps back of the tents and rejoined his companions. Wright listened attentively while Parnassus made his report.
"I am not much surprised that they have no camp guard; they do not for a moment imagine that an enemy is on their track, and I am glad of it, for it gives us more chances of success. We will hurry back and get the company under motion as speedily as possible."
"How do you intend to manage it, Captain?"
"I have not yet made up my mind exactly how the thing had best be done, but of one thing I am sure now, we will charge the camp tonight. When we get ready for that, I will state my plan to all hands, so that each man will know what to do and how to do it."
They returned to the company and found them very anxious, as they had been away nearly two hours.
"Bit your horses, boys; mount and form a circle around me, and I will tell you what kind of a job we have got on hand. We must be active, as daylight will soon be here."
In two minutes the men were in their saddles and circled around their captain, whom they all considered a man of more than ordinary ability, nerve and experience, and were willing to and did implicitly obey all his orders.
"We have found the robber camp. It is on a creek beyond that hill yonder, and is in a fine spot for us to charge it. It is on this side of the creek, over which there is but one difficult ford, a hundred yards or so below. We will go over the hill as best we can, and very quietly, and when we have approached the camp as near as we can without being discovered, we will then make a sudden dash and ride the miserable nest down. When we get on the other side of the hill, we will so arrange ourselves that when we charge we will surround it at the same time, and kill the last one of the men if we can. There are some women with them, and I do not know what we can do to prevent their being injured. They are sleeping in the tents, and when we ride them down there will be great danger of doing them much harm. but the thing is unavoidable; we must do all we can to crush the band, even if their women must suffer. But no brave man will, knowingly, injure a female. Now, boys, some of us may never see another sunrise. It will be a regular knock-down fight, and it will be rare good fortune if some of us do not press the ground before another hour. But we come to fight. Shall we run now?"
"No, never. Let's go into it right off. Not a man will flinch."
"Form by twos, then, and come on," and riding out of the circle, the Captain rode obliquely up the hill, followed by his men. They crossed the hill and rode down to within about 200 yards of the camp, still dark and silent. But from across the creek came a prolonged bray from a restless mule, which awakened the echoes of the surrounding hills. But that was all, and Wright made his dispositions. "Sandbauch, take six men and ride forty yards to the right, halt and face towards the creek. Robin, take as many, ride the same distance to the left, and face the creek. I will charge the center of the camp, and each of you close in on the ends, and we will have them in a vise.
"I will send Parnassus to guide four men to the ford, who must hold it, and keep the Mexicans from crossing. When they have had time to get there, we will advance cautiously. I will give the word to charge, then make a wild dash over the camp. But recollect, all of you, that there will be no time for reflection after we get into it; it will be all impulse and activity. Let no one look for help; he must nerve himself up to go it alone. Sling guns and draw your pistols." The three squads advanced slowly, fearing that the camp would become alarmed. When within one hundred yards of the tents--they had now become dimly outlined in the darkness, which was a little clearer by approaching day--Capt. Wright called out in a suppressed tone, "Charge," and away they flew, thundering over the sounding ground, right onto and over the frightened camp. As the horses plunged over the yielding tents, some of the Mexicans had gained their feet, but not their proper senses. But a burst of pistol shots and yells, and plunging horses soon convinced them beyond a doubt that the gringos were upon them.
Within a space of two minutes not a tent was standing. Out from under them men and women, almost nude, crawled, only to be knocked down and trampled upon by the whirling mass of horsemen. The women, as best they could, got clear of the tents and horses and clustered together on the bank of the creek, above the camp, while the men ran to and fro, shooting and shot at by their rushing, shouting enemies. A number of them gained the ford, but were shot down or driven off by the men stationed there. Others collected above the camp and with such arms as they had secured opened fire upon their enemies, but Robin Hood, with a squad of men, charged them and drove them into the creek and out of the way. Another little knot of them gathered back of the camp and advanced boldly and opened a brisk fire, which they bravely maintained for a few minutes against superior numbers. Murrieta was with them, and they stood their ground, even after Wright and his men had charged over them. But at last numbers prevailed, and the few that remained on their feet fled up and over the creek, and the camp was won.
The robbers were scattered, and the firing had ceased. The men circled around the camp as guards until it became light enough to examine the field. Wright lost one man, killed outright, and but six were wounded, none seriously. Seven of the robbers were killed, but only three were found wounded. Their wounds were found too severe for them to get away. Many others were wounded, but had fled and hid themselves in the bushes along the creek. Very fortunately none of the women were seriously injured, but several of them had been trampled and bruised. One of them had received a slight wound in the arm by a pistol bullet. Dr. Elliott soon bound up the wounds of his own men, and then turned his attention to the wounded robbers. He extended to them all the aid in his power during his short stay with them. When it became light enough the men began to examine the camp. All that belonged to the women was carefully put to one side and their attention called to it. The guns, pistols and knives, and a large quantity of ammunition, was packed up ready to be conveyed away. No money was found, and it was a surprise that the band, having committed so many robberies, and yet have no money in sight. But the probability that the women had it secreted on their persons accounted for the lack of it in the camp. The reward for the robber chief had not been earned. Neither was there a healthy robber in sight. Some of the men went across the creek, but the robbers' horses were out of sight too.
"What shall we do now, Captain?" queried the doctor.
"That is difficult to answer, unless I say that I don't know."
"Would it be of service to us in getting another dash at them if we take their women prisoners?"
"If we should take them along it is possible that Joaquin would endeavor to retake them, and then we would have another chance to get him without hunting for him."
"If we take them along," said Sandbauch, "and they do not try to retake them, what then? We would not receive much credit for bagging a lot of women."
"True. We will leave them, and if the band gets together again we will hunt them up and give them another licking. But the job will not be so easy next time, for they will in the future be at all hours on the lookout for us."
"Doctor, did you find your surgical instruments?" asked someone.
"No, I had forgotten all about them. Come, boys, and help me look through these old duds again."
All hands went to work overhauling the tents, aparejos, boxes and everything likely and unlikely to contain the lost instruments, but to no purpose.
"I would know the case if I should see it. I'm going to look among these female traps," and the doctor went up to the women, who had carried their goods out from among the tents to the bank of the creek, and were standing by them. He had, as he thought, picked up a little Spanish during his brief sojourn in the lower diggings, and now tried to put it to some use. After an ineffectual struggle with the treacherous words, which stubbornly refused to convey any meaning to the women, the doctor advanced to a pack which appeared to be either clothing and personal ornaments and gave it a sudden jerk, when the thing went to pieces and several cases of jewelry and a number of watches were exposed to view.
"A good beginning, Doctor; let's look farther and we may find old Joaquin himself, wrapped up in these bundles."
It appeared for a little while as though the Captain's authority would be set aside, when someone said:
"Let's take all their traps; we've earned them. They are only dirty Mexican thieves, anyway. They're no better than the men."
"There's poor Charley lying there, dead, and are we to get nothing for all our labor?"
"It seems so. We ought to take everything that we can find."
"Would you turn robbers yourselves?" And the boyish-looking Captain did not appear in a very amicable mood. No answer was made, neither was the matter pressed farther.
The doctor, who had continued to delve into the bundles, suddenly held up a package to view. He had found his long-mourned instruments. "Now, boys, I can cut your legs or heads off with more ease and less pain to you than I can with an old butcher knife. I'm happy now. It would take a whole year to get another from the United States."
"Boys, you had better build some fires and cook some breakfast. We will make one meal out of their provisions, and we"--crack, crack. A volley of a dozen or more shots was fired from the brush on the opposite side of the creek, and two men fell wounded.
"After them, boys! Mount your horses and come on. Stay, some of you, and cook breakfast," and Wright dashed off down to the ford, followed by all except the doctor and two others. They plunged down the bank into the stream, which was so deep that the water came up to their knees as they urged their horses through the boiling current. Out of the water and up the steep, slippery bank struggled the horses, while the men sank their spurs deep into their flanks to urge them to a faster gait. Out into the tall grass and up along the brushy lining of the creek galloped the men in hot haste.
"Ride up yonder to that tree, some of you; leave two men with the horses and get into the brush after them. We will go in here and at the center."
In less than half a minute the brush was full of men plunging forward after the robbers. Presently a storm of pistol shots broke out at the upper end of the line, accompanied by a chorus of greaser and gringo shouts and oaths. Through the brush, and up along the outside of it, and from across the creek, rushed the men to engage in the serious affray above. The noise increased, and through the [illegible] and the blue smoke of battle [illegible] dry brush, the incessant [illegible] and the angry yells of the [illegible] loud and discordant through [illegible] hills.
The bandit chief animated his men by word and extraordinary daring. At one time he and Wright met, but only to exchange a mere salutation, for, just as they had drawn their knives for a closer combat, two of Wright's men rushed through the brush and, seeing the chief, became convinced at the first glance that he was the man they wanted, and one of them called out, "Take him alive," but with a deep curse the bandit quickly raised his pistol, which was in his left hand, and shot the speaker dead. At the same instant Wright plunged his knife through the chief's right arm and into his side. With a sudden spring to one side he freed his arm from the knife, and both raised their pistols and fired, but without effect.
By this time both parties poured in around their leaders, who became separated, and turned their weapons against lesser foes. But the greasers began to weaken in their efforts, and suddenly made a break for the open country where the horses were held by a few men. When the robbers rushed out and tried to seize the horses the guards took their first part in the fight and improved the opportunity. The Mexicans, being thus between two fires, were completely routed and fled up and down the creek into the brush, pursued by Wright's men for a short distance, but they soon gave up the chase and returned to the field of battle. A search was made for those who were missing. Two were found dead, and eight wounded, but luckily none so severely that they could not ride, although it was quite painful for three of them to do so. The two dead bodies were put upon horses and taken up the creek to the camp. The Captain would not bury them there, fearing that when he went away the greasers would exhume the bodies and leave them a prey for the wolves. They were subsequently taken to the ferry and there buried.
While the doctor was busy with the wounded a squad of men searched for the killed and wounded robbers. Three were found killed, and one mortally wounded, who died later in the morning. Many others were known to have been wounded, but made their escape. When the excitement had somewhat abated, a quiet determination was manifested by the men to make another search, and all valuables not strictly female properly should be appropriated as legitimate prey. No one objected, and everything in sight was carefully examined, resulting, besides the jewelry and watches, in four large sacks of gold dust and considerable coin, mostly Mexican dollars, besides a number of $50 "slugs." Nothing would have been taken from the robbers if they had not made the attack and killed and wounded more of Wright's company, but now all was taken of any value to reimburse the wounded men, and to properly inter those who had been killed. During the time occupied by these transactions a bountiful breakfast had been prepared, which was eaten with a hearty relish by all.
"Mr. Ferryman, did you meet your tall friend who cut your throat at the ferry?"
"To tell you the exact truth would be to say that at the time we charged their camp last night, I forgot everything but how to do as much damage to them as I could, with the least damage to myself. I did not think of old scores until I had the supreme satisfaction of believing that I saw the identical tall savage lying on his back, as dead as it is possible for anyone to be."
"You are consoled, then, by knowing that he'll never cut another throat?"
"A very great consolation, I assure you."
"Captain," said the doctor, "if we leave all this camp equipage, saddles, aparejos, etc., the rascals can fix up again as well as ever, and all the benefit we have conferred on the country can be summed up in these few words: 'We have killed a few robbers,' while if we destroy their goods, as well as their lives, the benefits at large will be greater."
"But these women; will it not be too great an inconvenience for them?"
"They are accessories to all the men have done, and are slightly, and as they believe, greatly benefited by the unlawful acts of the men, and given them all the aid in their power while committing crime, enlightened law would punish them for the part they play."
"Quite true; we must cripple the band as much as we can. Boys, gather up everything in sight and make a bonfire of it, except the tents, which we will take with us. The articles belonging to the women, some blankets and a little food must be given to them. All else we will destroy."
While the bonfire was sending up columns of smoke and haze, a few mounted bandits were observed on an eminence about a half mile distant. Many a curse they hurled at the hated gringos, who sent them back tenfold in good round English.
"Doctor," said the Captain, "do you think we can overhaul those fellows if we give chase?"
"I believe we can scare them a little, even if we cannot catch them," he replied, "and if you will let a dozen men who have the best horses go with me I'll make a dash at them."
"We do not want them to kill you, Doctor, so you had better stay; these wounded men need your services. I"ll go myself."
Picking out a dozen of the best horses--the men were all good--he led the way over the creek, over the intervening level ground, and up the low hill towards the bandits. But they were completely demoralized, and before Wright had got within pistol shot they scampered off over the hill, out of sight. While scanning the undulating expanse, a cluster of dark objects was seen about a mile distant, which soon assumed quite a formidable appearance, and seemed to be moving obliquely across their front. This unexpected apparition was earnestly discussed, and many theories were advanced and dismissed. Presently the objects were hid from view by the intervening rolling landscape. The curiosity of all hands was aroused, and a desire to investigate was expressed.
"I fear if we go too far away from our wounded men the Mexicans will rally and attack the guards, and being more numerous and maddened at their double defeat, they may overpower our men."
"None of us had rather return than go ahead, but you are right in your remark and some of us ought to return and inform the boys what is ahead of us, if for nothing else."
"Well, then, Robin, take five of the boys and go back. Look for us when you see us returning. Now come on; we are eight strong, and if we can't take proper care of our scalps we ought to lose them." And away they went at a headlong gallop to investigate the objects ahead while Robin Hood and his men returned to camp.
Half a mile over the grassy knolls, and they sighted their game. The order "faster" sent the little squad of horsemen rapidly over the undulating ground, out onto a level stretch of wild oat plain. When within half a mile of the objects they saw distinctly that it was a pack train, and convoyed by a party of horsemen about equal in number of themselves. This convoy had seen Wright and formed in line of battle and advanced to meet him, while the packers corralled the train, pending the issue of the expected battle. When the Captain saw these maneuvers he called out to his men, without halting, "Draw your pistols, boys, and we'll see what kind of a job we have on hand now." And so the two parties of warlike strangers charged boldly toward each other for a hot little duel all alone on that level field.
When but two hundred yards intervened between them, each party began to speculate of the other.
"They are Mexicans," said Wright and his men; "don't you see how black they are?"
"They are Mexicans," said the other party; "don't you see how black they are? It is Joaquin and his band, don't you see how mean they look?"
But on they rushed. Both parties were in the right, and both were brave. But discretion is a part of valor, and when within pistol shot they halted, and Wright demanded, "Who are you?"
"American miners. Who are you?"
"American miners, like yourselves."
And loud and prolonged were the cheers of the men as they mingled together, and the horses and mules took up the friendly strain, and music for once and the first time swelled in gloriously discordant notes over that wild and lonely plain.
Explanations followed. The train was loaded with supplies for the new diggings, which had been lately struck about twenty-five miles distant, on a creek which came from the buttes far away to the northeast. The men who guarded the train were the owners, while the packers were mostly Mexicans or native Californians, but they needed watching. When they were told of the dispersion of Joaquin's band, even a casual observer could have detected in the expression of their glances both mortification and anger.
The train would return in a few days on its way down the valley to the settlements below, and Wright made arrangements with the owners to take charge of the women and the wounded Mexicans and carry them to the nearest place of law and order and turn them over to legal authority, to be dealt with as justice should dictate. Wright was to have the captives at the place of meeting punctually on the third day, to be delivered as per agreement. The train went on, and Wright set out to return to his men, and to water, for it was high noon and both men and horses were extremely thirsty.
When about halfway to the camp a courier met them with the news that Joaquin had made another attack, and the fighting was going on harder and fiercer than ever. The company put spurs to their jaded horses, and, at a dead run, flew over the plain to the aid of their friends.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, September 13, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
A Third Fight with Murrieta Results in Defeat of his Band.
Wright's Men Return to the Mines and Disband--Some Information
Concerning Early Mining Camps--A Daring Deed.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]After Wright had defeated the bandits the second time, they gathered again about a half mile above. The chief counseled another trial of strength with Wright. He mounted a few of his men and sent them out to watch the movements of the enemy, and when Wright saw them and gave chase, as mentioned in the preceding article, they returned to the main body with the satisfactory intelligence that the enemy were divided, part of them having gone out of sight over the hills. This news animated afresh the demoralized bandits, and the chief at once ordered an advance upon those remaining at the camp. They skulked down the creek, in the thicket, until opposite Wright's men; then half of them went down to the ford to be ready to cross and attack the enemy in the flank soon after their friends had made the attack in front from the brush on the creek opposite the enemy. When those in front opened the fight, the bandits below made the crossing and the flank attack. Those in front withdrew and crossed below, and the united force then moved upon the Americans, and the third fight for that day was fully opened in a savage, determined manner on both sides. Joaquin did not charge, but kept up a hot fire at short range from three sides, as they had formed a circle around the Americans from the creek below to the creek above, determined, as it appeared, to hold them within the coil and decimate their ranks until reduced sufficiently to warrant a charge.
When the firing commenced, the bandit women gathered up such articles as they prized most and went up the creek, out of sight around a bend in the stream. The move was probably in obedience to the commands of Joaquin, who seemed to talk to them for some minutes after the fight began. The boys did not interfere with their movements, as they were unquestionably well pleased to get them off their hands so easily. Those of Wright's men who were wounded did some good service in the fight, for, being stationary and on foot, their wounds did not wholly prevent them from putting in an occasional shot, which generally proved detrimental to the bandits.
For a few minutes the wounded bandits lay quietly on the ground while the fight was raging furiously around them. But their sympathies for their friends were too strong for them to lie idle when they could, for a few minutes, render a little aid to their friends and promote the chances of the defeat of the authors of their wounds. The guns and pistols which had been captured lay in a promiscuous pile upon the ground, and as the words indicated, the bandit chief called to the wounded men to arm themselves and take a hand in the fight. Those who could walk made their way with great heroism to the pile of arms, and, as all were ready loaded, began a fitful fire upon their enemies from the rear. Their attack was of short duration, for hostile bullets searched out their locality and put an end to their warlike movements.
When Robin Hood, with his little squad of men, had approached at a rapid gait to within a mile of the place where the fight was in progress, he heard an occasional shot. A little further on and the smoke of the battle was plainly seen above the stretch of brush along the creek. Faster they urged their horses forward, and turning the end of a low ridge they came within hearing of the combat. "Faster, boys, as fast as our horses can run!" and the little squad flew at headlong speed over the level plain.
"The boys are having another brush with the greasers. We ought to send word back to the [illegible]."
"We can't spare anyone to go back."
"But we must. Tom, you have got the fastest horse; go back and tell the Captain to come on, for the boys are engaged in another fight with the robbers."
The men returned to Wright, as mentioned in the previous article, while the lieutenant and his men dashed to the creek, when, as they neared the bank, he called out loudly: "Draw your pistols and cheer, boys, cheer, and let them know that we are coming." And loud were the sharp yells the boys gave as they plunged down the bank into the creek. Their horses seemed to partake of the men's enthusiasm, for they let out their highest speed, needing no whip nor spur to keep it up. The water splashed and foamed as they rushed through the deep, rapid current. Up the bank and out into plain view, and they heard the welcoming cheers of their friends in answer to their own.
The men had been fighting on foot because they could take better aim, their horses being tied to stakes along the bank of the creek. More than half of the bandits were mounted, but on the bare backs of their horses, as Wright's men had made a bonfire of their saddles a few hours before. When the lieutenant with his little reinforcement opened fire upon the greasers the other men mounted their horses and made a charge, but for some minutes the bandits stood their ground very well, and only gradually gave way before the impetuosity of their assailants and moved further back from the creek. In a short time the combatants were much scattered, and the fighting was at long range for pistols, which had been principally used at the beginning of the fight. Both parties dismounted and began regular target practice on each other with their rifles. Though the bandits had not as many guns as their enemies had, yet they used those they did possess with gallant self-possession. Occasionally a single horseman would ride out from the bandit ranks and career around, rolling from side to side of his horse as he gradually drew nearer to his enemies, until checked by a bullet or discretion. If the latter he would fire his pistols at his enemies, then roll over to the opposite side of his horse, and not always make his escape unharmed.
The sun had passed the meridian, and still the desultory warfare was kept up. Sometimes short intervals would elapse and no shots would be fired; then the firing would begin again, with more noise than fatality, or even the infliction of a wound. Over the creek out on the plain distant shouts were plainly heard by both parties. It did not require shrewd guessing to determine who were to be the losers by the arrival of the approaching party. "Faster, boys," said the Captain, "we may be too late to save our wounded men, but they are yet able to make a bitter fight. The other boys will die before they will yield." And the clusters of bushes and tall grass passed rapidly to the rear as Wright and his few companions hurried forward to the aid of their friends. Horses foaming at their mouths, rocking from perspiration, breathing hard and painfully, they plunged into the creek and up the opposite bank, and saw their own men only. The bandits had decamped. Hurried questions were asked and answered while they rubbed and caressed their exhausted horses. Two more men were added to their list of wounded, while "Rosy," the pet and life of the company, had been carried and placed gently by the side of the other dead bodies.
Several of their horses had been wounded, but only one so seriously that it was necessary to kill him. All the women were gone, and the bandits were out of sight, except the dead ones, and from them it was firmly believed no danger was to be apprehended. Water was brought from the creek and the wounds of the unfortunate ones bathed until they were relieved of much pain and fever. No prisoners were now on hand, and it was considered poor policy to make a search for the women. "Better let 'em go" was the general decision, and they went no one cared where. It is usually, if not always, the case where a company of volunteers fail to attain their object or to perform any acts worthy of note, to certify that, if it had not been for this or that interruption, or some unforeseen contingency, they would have accomplished really more than the most sanguine had hoped for. Each member of the company would have performed prodigies by his own individual prowess, only that something intervened "just in the nick of time" to save the life or liberty of the enemy and prevent him from gaining that praise which he should have, because he was "just agoing to do it." But when much suffering has been endured and much accomplished in the expedition little is said generally, and nothing whatever in self-laudation. The simple fact that each man knows that he has done all that could be reasonably expected that he would do enables him to respect himself, and when he does not he is sure, in most cases, to be suspected by others, and it is not then necessary to tell what he would have done only that something prevented it. And in the case of Wright and his company of brave, hardy men, each knew that the others respected him for his bravery and endurance, consequently there was no need of explanations why more was not accomplished.
"Now, boys, we must refresh ourselves and horses and then return to the mines. As to catching that bandit chief the thing seems to be more difficult to accomplish than it is to talk about it. We must run every one of them down before we can be sure that we have the right man. We have done some present good but have not totally wiped out the band, and at the rate of our casualties we would require many more men before we could entirely squelch them and capture their chief. We will return to the ferry, bury our dead friends, and then be guided by circumstances."
"We've done very well as it is, Captain. We have killed a large number of them and wounded many more; besides we have whipped them badly, if they did outnumber us. We've got a good supply of arms and ammunition, and burned up all their saddles, aparejos and camp equipage."
"The fact that they outnumbered us does not tell much in their favor," said someone, "for they did not number more than one and a half to our one, while Gen. Taylor whipped 24,000 of them with only about 4500 at Buena Vista--over five to one."
"Come, boys, we must eat as well as talk. Make some fires and cook another meal of these provisions, and then burn all that is left. While the cooks are at work we will make up these tents and arms into packs, so as to be ready for a start as soon as we have finished our last meal at this hostile camp."
"We cannot reach the ferry before night."
"Then we will travel after night. But we must push on as fast as our wounded men can ride, for the greasers may take it into their heads to get there ahead of us."
"But they can't cross the river; the boat is on the other side."
"One or two of them can swim their horses over after dark and get the boat, and cross the band over."
"And then there will be a little fight at the ferry."
"Our boys will hold the camp?"
"For awhile. We left only six men at the ferry, and the robbers outnumber them more than four to one."
"But they are demoralized, and are not just now inclined to risk another fight."
"But they must be very hungry at this time, and to get the food at the ferry is their only chance for a meal at present."
"Then we will go out and take that chance away."
The cooks had been active; the dishes to be prepared were few, and it was not a great while till the welcome call of "grub" was heard, and the men flocked around the tables, which were only blankets spread upon the ground, and heartily partook of the impromptu meal of bread, well smeared with ashes and sand, black coffee and dried or jerked beef.
As soon as the meal was over the horses were brought up, and within twenty minutes the company set out on their return to the ferry. Their wounded men endured the ride with great fortitude, and about three hours after dark they were on the bank of the river opposite the ferry camp. A call brought the boat over, and in a short time the company was encamped on the friendly side of the river, much to the delight of the four packers who had been left behind.
The packers reported that a little before dusk four men had ridden up to the river opposite them and called for the boat, but they hesitated because the men had no pack horses nor packs of any kind behind them, but all had what appeared to be guns. Having found an old field glass among the ferryman's goods, they scanned the strangers with it and became satisfied that they were Mexicans, and refused to go over after them, fearing, of course, that they were of Joaquin's band and intent on mischief. Their suspicions were confirmed a little later when a company of prospectors came in sight, on their way to the ferry. At sight of them the four horsemen fired two shots at the ferrymen and then galloped off over the plain into the dusky distance, out of sight. The next day they buried the bodies of their dead friends with military honors and marked their graves as well as they could with the materials at hand.
They remained two days at the ferry, and then set out for their starting point at the mines above. They were welcomed back by the miners at that camp, and from the camps for a dozen miles around they received congratulations. It was now late in the season, and rain would soon fall so that the dry diggings could be worked to advantage, and as a majority of the men had had fighting enough to last them until spring it was decided to disband and engage in other and more peaceful pursuits. Another expedition was then out after the Cottonwood Indians, and it was agreed to that if it was found necessary at any future time for Wright and his men [illegible] they would be ready at all times to respond to a call. The wounded men were properly cared for, or as well as the limited means at hand allowed. The money taken from the bandits was divided between them, according to the degree of their disability. The tents and arms were kept by the others of the company.
At the very beginning of gold mining in California, gamblers from the United States and from other parts of the world flocked to the mines to reap a rich harvest of gold dust from the thousands of greenhorns who had sufficient brains to guide them to the mines and gather enough gold to do their part in filling the purses of these sharpers. Whisky sellers, too, allied by education and instincts to the gamblers, were among the first to reach a new camp, with a stock of villainous compounds answering to the names of all the common and uncommon intoxicants. So certain, indeed, were the whisky dealers and gamblers to pitch their tents in a new camp a few days after its discovery, that the mining public would be greatly amazed if there was not at least one such villainous den in the camp within two days after the discovery was made public.
As time rolled on, and the discoveries became more frequent and the mines richer--yielding more profits by the application of improved methods of mining--every trading post became a den of iniquitous whisky guzzling and gambling. No trading post--I probably should say store--was fully equipped for business until several rows of shelves were rigged up to hold the bottles, and a counter placed in front of them upon which to set the drinking vessel--not always glass tumblers--and for the drinkers to place their left hands to steady their bodies while pouring down their throats the scalding, headache-breeding liquids. No matter by what name the stuff was called, cognac, peach, apple or cherry brandy, whisky or gin, the taste and effects were just the same, although a slight deviation could sometimes be detected, in the taste only, of the compound called gin.
Reader, if your patience will permit, let me tell you how these stores in the early Oregon mines, or any other early mines, were made, and how they looked in the interior at night, or on Sunday; not to a man up a tree, but to one standing in the door, where the interior opened out in full view. The houses were of canvas, of rough logs, roofed with shakes, or made of shakes entirely. The floors were generally of solid earth. That part of the store devoted to the sale of these delightful drinks, mentioned above, was sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left-hand side of the door. The side selected probably corresponded with the mental obliquity of the owner. The counter generally extended from the wall next to the door, back two-thirds the length of the house, then turned at a right angle and ran across the house to the opposite wall. Back of this counter was piled the heavy articles of miners' supplies, while shelves on the wall contained the dry goods.
Outside of the counters, or the public part of the building, were arranged small tables, with blanket covers. A sufficient number of rough benches to accommodate all those who chose to sit at these tables completed the outfit. In these stores, at night and on Sundays, would congregate the neighboring miners, some standing at the bar drinking, others lounging around, while others, the most interesting parties, were seated at these tables playing seven up, euchre or bean poker, for money or for "the drinks." If the game was for the latter, the one "stuck" for the drinks usually rose first saying, "Come, let's take 'em," marching up to the counter followed by the other gamesters. "What'll you take, boys; call it out." All drink, and the next act of the drama entitled "I want satisfaction. Come on, let's have another," is brought forward, and from dark till daylight or from morning till night the games go on, and the storekeeper reaps a rich harvest of dust, and the players go home, often minus a week or a month's wages, with nothing for their fun but headache, and more hard work to raise another stake.
Freezeout was another game much indulged in. The name was appropriate, for few could resist the fascination of the game until all dust and credit were lost and freezing necessity compelled the unlucky player to work another week for a Saturday night stake. "I'll get even on that game yet!" and if he was a chronic unfortunate he would only succeed in getting even-full of whisky and often running over. Clerks in such mercantile establishments were selected for their fascinating qualities. There was none of the indefinite article called woman in the early mines, and dapper little dudes were at a discount unless they could strike straight from the shoulder and were able and at all times willing to do it, for when a mining "warhorse" full of liquid poison became obstreperous and spoiling for a fight it was sometimes necessary to whip him, to let him know "who's boss in this store."
At every place where any articles whatever were offered for sale, whisky and its kindred liquids were also kept on sale, with only two exceptions--butcher and barber shops. Drinking intoxicants became a rule. Probably not more than one man in ten thousand was a total abstainer, to form the exception. There were many, indeed, who would not drink it from glasses in public, but they did not refrain from sucking it through straws in private.
But the gambling saloons--large, commodious rooms, with extensive bars well supplied with liquors of all grades, from bad to awful, tables for gambling arranged in order along the sides, seats of any description very few in number, and very far between. At the back end of the room was a raised platform upon which to seat two fiddlers--always a first and second fiddle in such shops--who, for the paltry sum of two ounces, or $32 each, would scrape incessantly from 6 in the evening till 3 o'clock the following morning. About dark the miners begin to collect in the saloons, and the drinking glasses clink cheerily as the "here's to us," or any of its many equivalents, are heard at the bars. The monte dealers jingle the huge piles of Mexican dollars on their tables and lay out the cards to catch the eyes of the long-pursed miners, to induce them to buck at their honest games.
During the absence of Capt. Wright one of these extensive saloons had been erected in the little town of Olney's Creek and was in full blast when he returned. At this saloon congregated at night a large majority of the miners of the neighborhood for the purpose of gambling and drinking, or to observe others who chose to indulge in bucking at the alluring monte or "taking a hand" at the still more fascinating game of poker. It was the rule to carry arms at all times. A belt girt round the body, with revolver and knife attached, attested the fact that the individual so "heeled" was not a subject to be safely fooled with.
The arrival of Capt. Wright's company was an additional attraction in the little town, and the one long street and the numerous drinking dens were filled with inquisitive miners. The second night after, when everybody had learned all the particulars that could be obtained, the large saloon was overflowing with jolly miners, who drank and gambled and talked much of the affair with the bandits. Quite a large number of them, full of whisky and self-appreciation, possessed with more pistol and knife than real courage, persisted in their assertions that they could take the greaser chief, if they only had time to go after him, at the same time indulging largely in heaping degrading epithets upon that really much dreaded personage.
At one of the monte tables sat a dark-complexioned man, of medium size, dressed in the garb of a professional gambler, with a wide sombrero drooping round his head and face. Occasionally making a small bet, he seemed to be careless whether he won or lost. His quick ears were open, and his dark eyes occasionally glittered in the deep shade of his drooping hat. As the night wore on and the effects of fighting whisky became apparent on several of the miners, one of them, large of stature, fully armed, and fuller still of vile mixtures, approached the silent, dark-visaged man, and giving him a familiar yet heavy slap on the shoulder, said, as he straightened himself up to his full height, "What do you say, my covey, about old Joaquin; don't you think it's easy enough to take him?"
"I don't know; I never tried it."
"But wouldn't you like to try it?"
"I don't care to. It is said that he is brave and a good shot."
"Good shot? There ain't a greaser living that can beat me with a revolver, or knife, either."
"Then why don't you go after 'old Joaquin,' as you call him? I've been told, though, that he is young and active."
"I don't care if he is young and active. I'll bring him into camp if ever I get sight of him."
At this stage of colloquy, a large crowd had gathered round to listen to the unusual conversation. To the last remark the quiet man made no reply, but gave the speaker a glance that started afresh his flow of boastful speech.
"Every ------ greaser ought to be driven out of the mines; we've licked them, and the country is ours."
"Why don't you drive them out, then, and not blow so much about it," said the dark man, as he carelessly put an ounce on a trey against a queen.
"That's none of your business, and from the way you made that bet I think you are nothing but a miserable greaser yourself."
"I am a Spaniard."
"I believe you are one of old Joaquin's men, and I've a notion to give you a licking on general principles."
Suddenly the dark man rose to his feet, drawing his pistol as he stepped upon the bench, saying as he did so: "I'm Joaquin himself; take that, you miserable gringo," and the sharp report of his pistol drowned the music of the violins and [illegible] of the busy gamblers. The man fell to the floor, shot through the head.
"Clear the way there, you cowardly Yankees. Take Joaquin if you can."
Shot after shot rang out from his smoking revolver as the crowd parted and he made his way rapidly to the door.
The eruption was so sudden and unexpected that the mass of people in the saloon was seized with that great surprise that often unnerves the strongest arm, and before they had recovered sufficiently to prevent his escape, he leaped out into the dark street and sent back a number of shots into the surging crowd at the door of the lighted room. When the crowd reached the street, the flashes from a hundred pistols lighted up the darkness for rods around, but the daring chief was out of reach, and the firing was of no avail. The startled men returned to the saloon and confusion intensified, reigned for hours. Two dead men were picked up and carried away. Five others were wounded and were assisted to their homes by their friends. It was useless to attempt to capture the wily chief until at some future time a clue could be obtained of his band.
Capt. Wright engaged in trade until early in the autumn of the following year, when he formed a company of enterprising young hunters, and discovered and explored several large valleys and opened the way through the savage tribes for the influx of rushing, pushing civilization on wheels and on mules into the portions of Southern Oregon and Northern California lying contiguous to each other.
The mines in Northern California were being rapidly developed, and by the spring of 1850 all the opened sections were in full operation in the primitive modes then in general use. When a new camp was found, and a sufficient number of miners, say forty or fifty, had located claims, a mass meeting was called and a code of laws established to govern the miners of that particular camp, but only in relation to their claims. The camp usually received some nondescript name. Sometimes a name would be applied to a camp that, as time moved on and brought to the country a more fastidious population, delicacy required the substitution of a more euphonious appellation. The boundaries of the camp would be defined as clearly as their knowledge of the surroundings would allow.
The civil law then in force, administered by alcaldes, who were expected to be, but seldom were, elected by the people, was insufficient to cover all contingencies, so the custom of making mining laws for each camp came into use and was subsequently ratified by legislative enactment.
The size of claims, manner of location, of working them, only as regarded the rights of others, the length of time a claim could be abandoned and the title remain valid, of settling disputes about claims by arbitration, and the manner of conducting them, and any other regulations which experience had shown to be necessary to properly govern mining camps, were written out in full and placed in the hands of a recorder, who was elected at the first meeting and at stated periods thereafter.
It was the duty of the recorder to record in a book kept for that purpose the names of miners holding claims, their location, boundaries, time of location and other things necessary to a clear understanding, in case of possible litigation. For this service he was to receive a specified fee from the party owning the claim to be recorded. Until a claim owner had made application to the recorder to record his claim, and had paid the stated fee, the title to his claim in a litigation was not always considered valid.
Laws, as before stated, for the government of the people in their intercourse with each other, outside of those in regard to mining claims, were few and weak for over two years after the first discovery of gold, except such as were administered by Judge Lynch. But be it understood that this much-censured legal light was at all times careful, good-natured, merciful, yet prompt in his administration of the laws. No one was condemned to be punished, or punished, without a fair and careful trial by as impartial a jury as could be selected. Crime was less frequent than it is today; the prosecutions cost nothing, and complaints of injustice were never heard. Injustice was seldom if ever done in those primitive courts, for honor, justice, humanity were not clouded by politics or party strife, nor obscured by religious bigotry, but bloomed and flourished wherever the American miners pitched their tents, in the spreading valleys or amid the undulating hills, on the mountainside or along the rocky banks of foaming streams.
The man who was known to be unjust in his intercourse with others, or even with one person, was shunned and made to feel the contempt of those around him. No truckling was there, no kissing the feet of those on the ladder above while kicking those below. Every man was a man in his own right, and was so respected, if, indeed, he could lay a just claim to a fair share of intelligence, industry and honor. The application of the mining laws may have been very crude, but, still, that which was sanctioned by custom was obeyed by all with alacrity.
The claims of Bradwardine and Balmawhapple were adjoining. The line between them had at no time been definitely settled. As their work progressed each was desirous to trace the exact line. They could not agree, however, as to the starting point.
"I am certain that right here, at this stone, is the spot that old Jinglepocket showed me when I bought him out, and said that your claim run from this down the bar," persisted Balmawhapple.
"That may be an indisputable fact, but are you certain that he showed you the right line? That he did not sell you a part of my claim?"
"I know that he took me to this spot, and said it was the line between his claim and yours. You never disputed it before, and because you know that the ground is rich, you want to take a slice off of my claim."
"I do not want any of your land. You did not ask my opinion in relation to the line when you bought, as you should have done. You are in the wrong."
"I am right."
"We will leave it to an arbitration."
"When shall we have it?
"At your convenience."
"Next Thursday, then, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon."
"I am satisfied."
"Of course we won't quarrel over it."
"No; if you are right, I have no more to say. But I know you are wrong."
"We will examine the matter Thursday."
"Both of us."
"Come on, then."
"Where'll we go?"
"Down to Old Black Bailey's; he's got the best whisky in these diggings."
The two men adjourned to Black Bailey's and took something, then they took something again, then they parted and each went off to notify his friends that he was in a dispute about a line, and wanted them to be on the ground (arbitrations were always held on the disputed ground) at 1 o'clock Thursday afternoon, then and there to aid him in maintaining his rights. From the time the "friends" were notified until the day and hour of meeting, they strove with everyone they met to instruct him how to vote at the coming arbitration.
On the appointed day the principals were on the ground, accompanied by their friends. Phil Wilkins, a disinterested person, was selected to state the case to the assembled miners, and see that no one not a resident of the camp voted on either side. At precisely 1 o'clock Mr. Wilkins said:
"Gentlemen, are you ready to proceed?"
Affirmative answers were given by both parties. Mr. Wilkins then stated the object of the meeting. Each of the contestants then stuck a stake in the ground where he thought the true line was. They then stated their reasons for their action, and the case was ready for the vote. "Gentlemen," said Wilkins, speaking to the two contestants, "take your places." The two men stepped out from the crowd. "All in favor of Mr. Bradwardine, go over on this side, and all in favor [of] Mr. Balmawhapple, go over on his side." Nothing was heard for a few minutes but the unsteady scuffling of the heavy-booted miners as they separated to take their places on the opposite sides. When all were in place, two lines of men stood facing each other. Everyone was silent for a minute, each man counting the long row of his opponents. At last the voice of Wilkins proclaimed the result. "Mr. Bradwardine has a majority of two, and I declare that the line in dispute is at the stake which he set in the ground." And the arbitration was over.
One peculiar custom in the mines was tenaciously adhered to, because there was money in it, and did not close until the country was settled by farmers, roads built over the mountains and flouring mills erected in the rich valleys. That was that the state of the atmosphere was used to gauge the price of provisions, remarkably so of flour. Today flour is cheap, only $60 per 100 pounds. But the clouds have gathered on the mountaintops, slight dashes of rain or a few flakes of snow have fallen during the night, and the next morning the miner is told that "today flour is worth $80 per 100 pounds."
The clouds and the rain passed on, and the snow did not fall; the sun is bright, and the winter is afar off, and flour comes down again. And so it was, all over the coast, that the clouds set the prices of bread.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, September 20, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Our Hero Leaves the Land of Gold for Oregon's Lovely Valleys,
And Meets with Two Unfortunates, Who Have Some
Thrilling Adventures of Their Own to Relate.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]In the year 1849 the greatest flood of adventurers known to modern times poured into the Pacific Coast territories. But California, the land of gold, received the greater portion of them, probably eight-tenths of the whole. Men of all degrees of wealth, of social standing, of honor, of ability, from all open or hidden sections of the globe, of all shades of color, of hopes, of fears, of ambition, rushed to the land of hidden wealth. Entering from the sea, at San Francisco, from the plains, at Hangtown, pouring down from Oregon, through mountain passes of the north, the plains and the mountains, the hills and the valleys, the creeks and the rivers resounded with the bustle and clamor of rushing, striving humanity. The high currents of air, too, were disturbed by unwonted sounds of rifle and cannon, and the booming blasts, as hills were displaced by huge explosions, laying bare the bedrock--succeeded by the music of pick and shovel and pan as the golden harvest was gathered in.
The great tidal wave of miners moving from the south was met by the irrepressible webfoot on the confines of the golden land. The shock of the meeting of the human waves was felt on the east and the west; the hills and the streams began to yield up their golden treasures, and the valleys to the north and south their wealth of food, of wheat and corn, of vegetables, fruit and hay. The new condition of things was viewed by the native inhabitants with alarm. Their villages on the streams were burned, while the earth upon which they stood was removed to gather the gold beneath. The little brooks from which they daily slaked their thirst were turned from their course, and the once-sparkling waters to turbid streams of flowing filth.
The clear mountain rivers, where once they netted the speckled trout, or trapped the incoming salmon, were deranged by wing dams and colored by the debris from surrounding hills. Fleeing to the valleys for one last glimpse of unsullied nature, their gaze fell upon the house and the field, the plow and the wagon--their doom was sealed, and in the deep recesses of the mountains they plotted the death of the invaders. From their many fastnesses, like wolves on a fold, they swooped down upon the farmers, upon emigrant camps, upon miners at work, and captured the trains of pack animals loaded with supplies for the scattered camps.
And so it was that in the spring of 1850 Capt. Wright was called in from his explorations to engage once more in the defense of the frontiers against the increasing inroads of the savages. He had at no time since his move to California renounced his allegiance to his adopted territory of Oregon. About the 3rd day of June of the above year he engaged the company of thirteen men who had tired of mining and wished to settle in the much-talked-of Oregon. They set out in light order, that is, each man was mounted, while five pack animals carried all their food and equipage. It was then, and still is, a difficult matter for an old miner to pass through a new country where gold is supposed to be without prospecting, or wishing to prospect, and so Wright and his companions started out well prepared with tools to investigate the new land through which their trail led.
They marked their trail as they progressed from the south side of Trinity Mountains, and over the Scott Mountains to the large valley of the same name in the present county of Siskiyou in California. This trail was followed by packers and miners for years after, and until roads were built over the mountains and wagons took the place of pack trains. Arriving at the head of the valley they camped on a wide flat on a little creek. The grass was rank and green--fine pasture for their stock. The air was calm and pleasant, the creek full of sparkling trout--the charms were irresistible, and all agreed to stop over a day or two. A day was spent in examining the surroundings and catching the willing trout. The second day was well advanced, and the men were all in camp preparing their evening meal. Scarcely a breath of air was stirring; the quiet valley reposed calmly at the foot of the timbered hills. The sun was sinking over the mountains, and the tall pine trees cast long, tapering shadows far out on the level land.
"What a beautiful spot. Can it always remain so? Will not the uneasy Americans push themselves into this eden and make it forever after a turmoil, a place of loss and gain, of contention?"
"We are the first white men to set foot on this spot, and it is our agreement that we will not be the first to instigate a conflict with the natives. But our trail will be followed by others, and before many weeks this pleasant valley may resound with the noise of rifle, revolver and the savage war whoop."
"Like the country below that we have just left behind us, this is sure to be settled up, and the grizzly bears and the wolves and the skulking natives will listen in astonishment to th--what's that?"
"It's the report of a gun."
"Listen! There's another. Who can it be?"
"If it was from the way we came we might suppose that it was someone following us."
"It may be a party of Oregonians."
"They do not come this way; their route is further east, along the base of Mt. Shasta."
"Some of us ought to go out and see who it is. It may be Indians, though."
"Half of us will go. It won't do to leave our camp alone, for hostiles may be close around us."
Wright and six of the men took their rifles and went out in the direction of the shots, while those who remained brought up the horses to the camp and continued the preparation of their evening repast.
On the west were low mountains that extended as far as the eye could see; on the east were low timbered hills; between the mountains and the hills lay the valley, extending for many miles till the view was obstructed by clusters of pine trees. Down the valley, in a zigzag course, ran a stream bordered with thick patches of willow. The camp was on the east side of the stream, and on the west side, and far below, came the rifle shots. The men took off their boots and waded the creek, which was wide but shallow, and with a rocky bottom. They went down the stream outside the lining of willows. The grass was tall and tangled, often higher than their heads, near the stream where the ground was low, which compelled them to make detours out toward the low hills which came down, in some places, to within a hundred yards of the creek. The sun was low, and they had not found the object of their search.
"I think we are low enough down to find the person who fired the shots."
"I think that I'll fire my rifle, and we may hear an answer, if they are white men," said Wright.
"Hold on, Captain. I see someone out yonder standing by a tree; his back is toward us."
"He don't see us, so I'll fire and attract his attention." He did so, and the man looked round and gazed intently at them.
"Come on, boys; let's go to him."
They went towards him, and he still stood watching them. When they got within 150 yards of him he stooped down and seemed to raise another person up, who also looked intently at them. When they had got to within seventy-five yards of the two men, Wright called out, "Who are you?" When they heard his voice, the one who was standing answered in a feeble voice: "Two unfortunate men. I know you are friends. We are weak and hungry," and then sank down upon the ground. When they got to him he was weaker and more exhausted than his companion, who could not stand by reason of a wounded foot.
There was no time for questions, and Wright began to cast about for some means to get the men to camp. Giving his gun to one of his companions, he said: "Two of us to a man, and shift often; we can get them to camp easier than to make litters." A man on each side of the one to be carried placed their arms, one under the legs at the knees, the other under and below the shoulders, hooking their hands together by each turning up their fingers and hooking them under or over those of the man opposite, thus making an easy litter upon which to carry them. Thus the two unfortunate men were carried to camp. After partaking of a cup of coffee and a little solid food, the wounded man fell asleep and slept soundly while Wright and another man removed the decaying rags which covered the swollen foot and ankles. A large and putrifying wound was found under one of his ankles.
The wound was carefully cleansed with soapsuds, new bandages wrapped around it, and a steady stream of water poured upon it till the inflammation had subsided. He slept soundly on a bed of willow boughs covered with blankets until late the next morning. While the wounded man was being attended to the other lay in a lethargic state until forcibly aroused and a little coffee poured down his throat. When he had revived sufficiently he took some solid food, but it was with pain and difficulty that he swallowed it. He afterwards said that he had been eating the old buds of the wild rose, which accounted for the soreness of his throat.
Capt. Wright was compelled to remain in camp a few days longer than he had expected to, as it was necessary for the two men to have immediate rest. The company were of course extremely anxious to learn who the men were and how they came into such a deplorable state and in that wild country. Their names were S. K. Johnson and G. W. Adams. (The former is now a resident of Del Norte County, California. I first met him at Yreka in 1851 and heard him tell the story. I met him again at Crescent City, California, in 1878, when he repeated the narrative.) When sufficiently recruited the company gathered around them and listened to the narrative from Mr. Johnson as follows:
There were ten of us, all young men, experienced in the wilderness only so far as that which we had gained while crossing the plains. We organized at Oregon City and set out on the 1st of May, 1850, for the gold mines of California. Our route lay up the Willamette Valley, sometimes on traveled trails, sometimes on trails of our own making. Nothing of importance, or even of much interest, occurred, except such as romantic youth experience in passing through so beautiful and diversified a country as the Willamette Valley, until we came to a canyon through which we had to pass from the Umpqua to the valley of the Rogue River. The distance through was about twelve miles. The trail led up the winding creek, which it crossed dozens of times. Often it followed the tortuous rocky bed of the creek for hundreds of yards at a time. We entered the canyon about 8 o'clock in the morning, and so difficult was the passage that we did not get through until 5 in the afternoon. Our horses, of which we had fifteen--a riding animal for each one of us, and five more to pack our equipage--were very much fatigued. We were exhausted, for we walked nearly the whole distance, and often were compelled to lift our pack horses, almost bodily, up the many steep ascents which we met in the trail. When we came out of the canyon we saw a creek (Cow Creek) ahead of us, and to our left as we passed out at the base of the low hills on our right. As soon as we could descend we made our way to the creek and made camp in a beautiful grove of white and black oak trees which grew on the flat near the creek, which was wide, yet shallow, at the numerous riffles.
The hills on our left, across the creek, were high and covered with a thick growth of fir, oak and pine. On our right the hills were further away, but long, low stretches of oak points and bottoms came down to the creek. The location was an excellent one for hunting. Tracks of deer, panther and bear were numerous, but those of the grizzly bear were more plentiful than the tracks of other animals. One of our number, Dono Moreau, a Frenchman from St. Genevieve, Mo., and who was all life, frolic and general "git up," was determined to have a grizzly.
"I'm going for a grizzly, boys. What's the use of traveling through the country without having a little fun, eh?"
"Wait till morning, Dono, we are too tired now."
"We must have some grizzly for breakfast; can't wait. Who'll go with me? We'll find a big one and drive him up to camp; then you fellers will have some fun, too."
Before he had finished speaking a big grizzly walked out on an oak point, not a hundred yards away, and stood still and surveyed our camp. Dono looked at the huge, flat-backed animal, but did not speak.
"There's your game, Dono; why don't you go for him?"
"Great Caesar! but I'm afraid to; I think he'd bite a feller!" he replied, but did not go. Our horses were grazing nearby, and one big snort from the bear sent them off on a wild stampede. There was no time to hunt bear now, and all hands turned out to catch our horses. Away they went up the creek on a wild run, with all of us after them on foot except one man, who mounted a horse which we had picketed out near camp to be available in case of need, and passed swiftly by us and on after the fleeing horses, which he succeeded in turning back after a chase of near a mile. The camp was left alone during the chase. Our food, blankets and saddles lay in piles on the ground. When we came back to our camp after having secured the horses a sorry sight awaited us. Every sack of flour was split open, and much flour scattered on the ground. Blankets and saddles were torn to pieces, while camp kettles, coffeepots, frying pans and guns were scattered for fifty feet around. Our little knickknacks, coffee, tea, sugar and salt were scattered over the ground among the grass roots and leaves. Half of a deer which we had hung upon a tree was gone.
"Now, Dono, are you in for a grizzly hunt?"
"I'm in for nothing else. Let's go after him."
"Get your guns, boys, and if we don't have bear meat for breakfast we'll certainly be out of luck."
The guns were examined, and a hunt by all hands soon started the game out of the brush on the creek, where he had made a small meal on our venison. Every man opened fire on the grizzly as he ran down the bottom, and strange as it may seem to old bear hunters, he did not turn on us, although severely wounded. He kept on down the creek for near a mile, while we were pouring bullets into him from behind. After a long run, he turned towards us, but at the same instant fell to the ground dead. He was so full of bullets that his hide was like a sieve, and the flesh was so bloodshot that we did not take any of it to camp, but left him a prey to the wolves.
Two men had remained in camp this time, and when we returned informed us that during our absence two Indians had appeared on a point 200 yards away and made a lengthy survey of our camp, then slid off into the brush, out of sight. It was too late to prospect for them, and we concluded to wait and see if they would turn up again, and if so, where. The men left in camp had gathered up all of our stock of food worth saving, but so much was lost that our supply was quite small.
We picketed our horses on one side of and close to our camp. Before dusk our fires were put out. Just before dark guards were stationed around the camp and horses, and the remainder--half of us were on guard to watch until midnight--lay down to rest. The little excitement of the bear fight was forgotten in sleep. Midnight came, the guard was relieved, and yet no disturbance. But as daylight began to open the darkness in the east, the horses became restless and continued so until dawn, when they began to snort and plunge at their ropes. Those of the men who were asleep were called up and began to shorten the picket ropes, so that the horses would occupy less ground, which would make them easier to guard and care for in case of an attack, which we all expected at any moment.
We had not long to wait, for before all the horses were properly arranged a few sharp rifle reports broke the stillness, and a hundred or more arrows whistled into and over our camp. The attack was, as is always the case, accompanied by the guttural beastly yells of the savages. Every man seized his gun and stood ready for a rush of savages upon us. We were no sooner ready than they poured in close to us, and would have reached the center of our camp but for the rapid and destructive fire which we poured into their ranks. They surged to and fro around us, but could not stand our hot fire, and in less than five minutes they retreated out of gunshot, leaving three of their number dead lying at the edge of our camp, and one who was too severely wounded to get away lay a little further away, but a bullet quickly sent him to another campground.
They hovered around our camp and kept up a racket with their few guns, but did no damage except occasionally sending a bullet a little too close to us for comfort. No one [of] us was seriously hurt during their rush upon us, but five of our number were slightly punctured by their arrows. When they found that the job of capturing our camp was too hard for them they gradually withdrew out of sight, and we had the satisfaction of cooking and eating our breakfast in peace. Our saddles required some mending before we could start, and it was 10 o'clock before we left camp. Our route along the creek was without incident, although we expected every moment to be attacked. When we came to the crossing, the water was rapid and seemed to be deep. Three men, on the tallest horses, went in first to examine the depth. When halfway across a flight of arrows darted out from the brush on the opposite bank of the creek, and Dono, the Frenchman, was struck in the side. The ford was passable, and the men rushed in to support the three first and crowded over the creek, while the steady rattle of their revolvers as they fired into the bush out of which came the arrows drowned the rush and roar of the seething water. The pack horses came immediately behind, two men driving them. They, too, were attacked, but from the rear. The men in front were compelled to fire at the Indians in the rear of the pack horses to keep them back, as well as those in the front and flanks, to clear a passage through the brush to the open country beyond.
Dono was quite seriously wounded, but his great amount of pluck and fear of being considered "babyish," as he afterwards told us, kept him quietly in his saddle. We succeeded in clearing our way and continued our journey for half a mile, when the Indians left us. We stopped in an open spot and sent our patrols to watch for Indians while Dono's wound was being dressed. The arrowhead was embedded in the flesh just above the left hip, and by the time we could examine it the swelling had considerably enlarged his side. We did not start on our trip without a few surgical instruments, the property of one of our company, Robert Fenning, who had broken off his medical studies for the purpose of going to the mines, making a raise, then begin his studies again with means enough to prosecute them without interruption. With his few instruments and the surgical knowledge he possessed, he proved a great acquisition to our company.
Dono stood the operation well, and after much cutting and blood letting the glass head was drawn from the wound by the "doctor," for by that name he was afterwards known until--well, poor fellow, the story of his death will come in its turn.
We continued our course until late in the afternoon, expecting to be attacked at every favorable place. We passed the night unmolested. The next morning when we started we found the trail full of tracks, going forward, backward and across the trail, a common device among the savages who wish to mislead their enemies. From this camp on until we came to Rogue River Indian signs were numerous. Smokes rose on each side of our route, and several times we heard long, guttural yells out in the woods on our flanks. We always selected open bottoms when we could for our camp. Our whole route to the river was through a hilly timbered country, and many a time did we enter obscure places with our rifles cocked ready for a fight.
We were certain that a large band of savages were always in our near vicinity, and they did not seem to care if we knew it. After two days of careful and slow traveling we came to the river, which was wide, deep and rapid. At many places large rocks rose above the water in the channel, over and around which the swift current rose and foamed in deep, dark, whirling masses. We camped upon the bank, using extra caution against surprise. The night passed and no Indians appeared. In the morning an old squaw came to our camp, and by signs begged for some food. We had little for ourselves and none to give away, especially to an old hag like her, and her request was denied. Shortly after a small boy and girl came, and the old wench again begged her importunities. One of the men gave her a rabbit which he had killed that morning. She took it, but with an ill grace, and went off muttering something which was no doubt not complimentary to us.
The rocks in the channel rendered it unsafe for us to attempt to cross on a raft, that being the only convenience that we could count on for the purpose; besides, to swim our horses over we must find a place easier for them to get out on the opposite side. We went down a few miles and a suitable place was found for our purpose. We made our camp in a wide bottom of the river, but there were many clusters and long stretches of brush in which an enemy could hide. When our camp was made we turned our horses out, under the care of two men, and immediately set to work to build a raft.
We neither saw nor heard any Indians; the woods resounded with the unwonted sounds of our axes as we cut the timber for our raft. Our horses grazed quietly on the abundant grass around our camp. The guard did not pay that particular care to them that they should have done, and before our raft was completed four of the horses were out of sight. The guards went out around a long thicket of brush, and the men at the raft were startled with the cry: "There go the horses up the bottom and some Indians after them! Come on, everybody! Hurry up, they are on the keen run!"
"Saddle five horses, quick! Five of us will [go] out after them!"
The horses were mounted, and the five men set out at full speed, while the two guards came back to camp. On went the mounted men as fast as their horses could run, and on went the four horses, and five or six Indians after them but far behind, yet close enough to keep the horses at a fast gait by their infernal yells.
The horsemen were within seventy-five yards of the Indians and opened fire upon them with their revolvers, wounding one, when all of them scud into the brush and eluded their pursuers. The loose horses rattled on over the brush, over the logs, down into gullies, over the points, darting through the open pine woods like frightened deer, with the mounted men slowly gaining on them. "Hear that, boys?" said Doc Fenning, reining up his horse; "there's a big row down at the camp. Back, then, boys, let the horses go." And the five men dug their heels into their horses' flanks and back they flew towards the camp with their pistols in their hands. Louder grew the uproar as they neared the camp, and when within two hundred yards of it, as they were turning round a large cluster of bushes, a crowd of Indians crossed their path and tried to head them off. Firing their pistols rapidly, and with effect, at the Indians, they plunged their horses through the line of savages, scattering them to the right and left like sheep.
On they came, with panting horses and flashing pistols. The Indians began to close in on their flanks, but the boys rode them down and with a loud cheer dashed into camp. They arrived just in time to save us and our camp. We had been fighting at heavy odds. The Indians were all around us and had just advanced close to us, and were still advancing, pouring in showers of arrows upon us, when our five comrades came to our relief. When we were all together we gave them such a hot reception that they did not stand five minutes but broke off into the timber, but still hovered around us, about two hundred yards away.
They left six killed upon the ground, but managed to take their wounded away. They would have carried off their killed, but we kept them away by our close shooting. None of us were hurt much, but nearly all of us could show a few scratches. The clothes of all were filled with holes by arrow or bullet. We lost the four horses, but had the satisfaction of killing and wounding enough of the devils to make up for the loss. Cross the river we must, and the place we had selected was as good as any. But the Indians were numerous on our side of the river, and we felt certain that a great many were on the opposite side. They were in such force that to divide our party, as we must, to make the crossing, would be extremely dangerous. To stay until they went away was nonsense, as they had more staying qualities than we had, for they were in their own country. Besides, it was apparent that they had followed us a long distance, expecting to take us in while crossing the river. They knew that if they got us at all it must be while crossing.
The ground on the opposite side of the river was more open, yet the patches of brush and large rocks were quite numerous, affording hiding places for the Indians. We determined to make the attempt to cross. We were all by this time somewhat accustomed to Indian fighting, and it did not have many terrors for us. Our raft was loaded with our equipage, the horses brought up and made ready. Two men manned the raft while the rest of us stood on the bank with our guns ready to repel an attack from the opposite side. The two men pushed the raft off, and it floated nicely out in the stream. They got across all right, landing about 100 yards below. While they were unloading the Indians fired on them from the brush, but the distance was too great, and they did no damage. But we fired a few shots into the brush where they were, and sent them a little further away.
The two men pulled their raft up the river and when high enough started over to our side. When they were well out in the stream the Indians sent a few of their number to skulk among the brush and rocks up to our goods and try to carry them away. But we saw them before they reached our packs and killed one and drove the others off, but not before they had seized the dead one and dragged him away. Five men then went over to guard the goods and to secure the horses as they came out of the river. We then turned the horses in and they struck out for the opposite bank. When well out in the stream the last of us got upon the raft to follow our horses. When we were out a little way into the stream behind the horses hundreds of Indians rushed out from the brush patches around the camp, pouring down to the bank of the river and sending showers of arrows amongst us as we were huddled together upon the raft, and wounding three of our number. Crowds of them rushed from behind the tall rocks, out of deep gullies, from the depths of the thickets of brush, crowding down upon those of our men on the opposite side, attacking them with demoniac ferocity. Some of the horses swam to the opposite side; others turned down the stream terribly frightened at the horrible uproar of rifle shots and Indian yells. We pushed our raft over to the opposite bank, right in the midst of the yelling devils, who swarmed upon us from above, below and in front. Those on the side of the river that we had just left rushed to the bank and fired and yelled with all the vigor in them. Down the river came a dozen canoes and ferried them over to our side, landing them above and below us.
As the horses left the water they ran in all directions, while those that swam downstream came out far below and ran down the river. We succeeded in catching four of the horses, but the others were soon out of sight. In ten minutes after we all got together we were surrounded on three sides, with the river on the fourth. It seemed for awhile that they would run us down by sheer weight of numbers. Every man of us, and even Dono, who was so seriously wounded, forgot all else but to fight for life. I believe that every one of our shots did its work well. For a few minutes they were within ten paces of us, but we kept up such a steady stream of bullets upon them as they crowded on that they were forced to halt. They could not advance further upon that little semicircle of flashing rifles and revolvers, and much to our relief they gave way and scattered at a lively gait, and only halted when they had got beyond the range of our guns.
Every one of us was now wounded, but fortunately none were killed. As the savages began to fall back, two men put the saddles on the four horses and packed them with our camp equipage. As fortune seldom deserts the brave, none of us were so seriously hurt that we could not walk. There were fewer Indians below us, and we agreed to make our way down the river. Tying the halter of one horse to the pack of another we fixed them in pairs, so that two men could lead them. That left us eight for fighting, but I assure you there was not a man of us but felt more like lying down than traveling. With five men in advance, two leading the horses and three bringing up the rear, we started down the river. Taking one last look at a dozen or more dead Indians lying on the ground, we turned our backs forever upon that hotly contested field and slowly took up our march into an unknown region of hostile country.
We kept up a steady fire upon the Indians in advance for a little while, but they kept clear of our path and so far away that we found it useless to keep up the firing. Occasionally a good mark would present itself, and someone would improve the opportunity. The larger portion of them were behind us, and as they did not pursue we clung to the hope that all of them would eventually abandon the chase. We went slowly on, for some of us could walk only with much difficulty. In a few hours we entered upon a large bottom of the river, and as a small portion of good fortune still clung to us, we saw ahead of us, a few hundred yards away, some Indians trying to catch some horses--ours, of course--but they could not accomplish it. We hurried on as fast as we could, and when they saw us approaching close to them, they began their trick of yelling, thinking to frighten the horses away. We sent a few bullets close to them, so close to one of them that he fell, but rose again and made off into shelter. When the horses heard the firing they looked in our direction, when one of the pack horses neighed and was answered by several of the loose ones, and all of them, five in number, came up to us at a gallop, so well pleased did they seem to be to meet us.
We now had nine horses, but saddles for only four. With blankets for saddles and ropes for bridles, we mounted five of our company who were the least able to walk. Night came on, but not before we had reached a wide and open bottom, so that we had an extended view all around us, which lessened the chances of being surprised. Our wounds were painful, and as soon as we could find time we dressed them temporarily with the limited means at command. We were unmolested that night. The next morning we made another start with the intention of going down in a large stream, which, from reports of early explorers in the large valley above, we expected to find where it emptied into this larger stream that we were on. Then we would go up that smaller stream to the valley above, and there find the trail.
About 3 o'clock in the afternoon we came to a large stream coming down from the east [sic], which was undoubtedly the one we were expecting to find. (This was Applegate River, the headwaters of which are in Jackson County, and at the junction with Rogue River, in Josephine). We camped upon this stream about one mile from its mouth. Our food supply was low; meat we had none. All old mountaineers know that a meal in camp without meat is very unsatisfactory. At the time were making our camp a number of deer were observed on the opposite side of the stream, on a large open bottom, on the east side of which ran a small stream from the south, emptying into the river half a mile above our camp. George Adams, Doc Fenning and myself were the best able to hunt, as our wounds were the least serious. We armed ourselves, waded across the stream, and then struck out in the direction of the place where the deer had been seen. They had gone out of sight, and we took a course to their left, thinking to go around and get ahead of them, as they were moving slowly and were not far away. We walked rapidly, but kept a careful lookout for Indians, as we were not certain that they had entirely given up all hopes of capturing us. We had only gone about a quarter of a mile from camp and were in a wide thicket of scrubby pine and manzanita bushes, skulking carefully along, expecting at every moment to start the game, or to be started ourselves by the Indians. Suddenly every rifle in camp broke forth in a sharp volley, then followed the rattle of revolvers and an uproar of savage yells and defiant answers from our comrades.
The deer were forgotten, and I called to Doc and Adams, "Come, boys, we must go back to camp as fast as we can; the Indians have made another attack." And we started for the camp on a keen jump.
"I can see a lot of Indians on this side of the creek," said Doc, who was a little in advance. "We must go ahead and get through them and into camp if we can. It is our only hope for our lives. They need us in camp, too, for every man there is a cripple."
"This way," called Adams, who was to our right, and had a better view; "come this way, for there are a hundred devils down there to our left and coming this way."
By this time we were out into the open bottom, and sure enough, along our side of the stream a large lot of Indians were running to and fro and out towards us. All around the camp the Indians were firing and yelling wildly. As soon as those between us and the camp saw us they began to close up and come towards us in a line, as if to surround us. "They are too many for us, boys," said Doc; "what shall we do?"
"We must go through them and get to the camp, for we are the soundest ones in the company. They'll kill every one of the boys if we don't go and help them," and Adams pushed ahead, Doc and I by his side. But they were too many for us. "It's no use, Adams, they'll get us sure if we run into that crowd; we haven't shots enough to clear a way through them."
"You are right; a chance for life is preferable to sure death. Let's run up to the right and get around them if we can."
"We cannot run as fast as they can, for we are sore with our old wounds. But we'll die game, won't we? We'll stick together, and all go at once, if it comes to that."
"I'll kill that son of a gun anyway," and Doc halted and shot at a long-legged savage who was a little in advance of the others. It was a sure shot, for the fellow fell forward on his face, and the others came on, over his body, towards us.
The halt had lessened the distance between us, and they were now close enough to use their arrows, which they did with vigor, but for a time without effort. On we ran at full speed, and could distantly hear the uproar at camp, in spite of the incessant yelling of our pursuers. In defiance of all our efforts to get to camp, they crowded us farther and farther away. At last we reached the brush on the little creek, and when well into it we turned down towards the large stream, which we intended to cross and regain the camp. It was no use; the brush below us was full of Indians, who had a shorter distance to run to get in ahead of us. Even had we succeeded in getting near the camp, we would have had to run the gantlet through those Indians that were around it.
"Adams received an arrow in this foot--this is the wound which you have just cleansed--which I pulled out, but part of the glass head remained in the wound. He now could not run as fast as Doc and I, and"--slapping Adams on the shoulder as he continued--"he said to us, 'I think they'll get me now, boys, but you can get away. Don't lose your lives on my account, for if you live you may be able to help the other boys.'"
He was mistaken in his men, though; we were not made from that kind of material, and Doc answered: "Yes, we can get away, and so can you. We'll all get away or die together. We'll never desert you, my boy. Would you leave us, if we, not you, were wounded?"
"No--hold on till I shoot that dirty cuss," and his rifle sent a sure death to a yelling devil who had halted and fired at us. He was elated at the success of his shot and said: "I feel better now, though I can't make much headway, for my foot don't work well."
"Do the best you can, my lad; we'll never desert you. Bear that in mind, and don't be discouraged. It will be dark before long, and then we'll get clear of them."
We were getting over the ground as fast as we could, Adams in the lead, Doc and I between him and the Indians, who seemed to be as much afraid of us as we were of them, as they did not decrease the distance between us very perceptibly. We had no time to load, only as we ran, which was difficult and much impeded our progress. We were running up the creek and directly away from camp.
"Those poor wounded boys in camp," groaned Adams, who seemed to forget his own troubles in his solicitude for his friends at the camp.
"He cannot help them any," said Doc, "and if you and I"--speaking to me--"are not killed or badly wounded we'll get Adams out of this scrape."
Just then an arrow passed halfway through the side of his neck, just under the skin. Without a word of pain or even halting, he put up his hand and pulled it out, and more to encourage Adams than braggadocio remarked, as he threw it away: "I ought to keep that stick as a memento of this little affair."
We were beginning to feel the effects of our rapid flight and needed rest, as well as time to load our revolvers, which were empty, as we had kept the Indians back by an occasional shot from our revolvers when our guns were empty. The Indians certainly could have overtaken us, but they were afraid to crowd us too closely, as nearly every shot we sent back did more or less execution. They sometimes rushed close up, but we made them take to the trees so often for shelter that it was now apparent that it was their policy to wear us out. We were more than a mile from our camp, and the intervening timber and rolling land prevented our hearing the firing at the camp, even should the fight be still in progress.
Two miles further on, and still the woods behind us were full of Indians, who seemed to be in great earnest, but they did not close in upon us. "Let's hunt some shelter," I suggested to Doc, "for Adams can't stand this much longer. They are only driving us along up the creek and intend to either wear us out or trust to some lucky shots to bring us down one at a time."
"I believe that, and we might as well die here as to run further and fare no better."
We were at a bend in the creek, where the bottom was covered with a thick mass of chaparral brush. Into this brushy bottom projected a high, rocky ledge, at the base of which ran the creek, under a huge pile of driftwood. Into this driftwood and brush we ran, and, luckily for us we found something like a cave, worn out by the water, at and under the ledge of rocks. We had to wade the creek to get into it, as the water extended a little up into the cave, which was exceedingly fortunate for us. When the savages saw us take to shelter they yelled louder than ever and scattered out around our hiding place.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, September 27, 1885, page 3 Bear in mind that the anecdote is in the voice of S. K. Johnson, not Olney.
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
Continuation of the Story of the Two Unfortunates.
A Long and Dangerous Journey Through Peril and Privation--
How Their Little Band Became Reduced to Two.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]When we entered the brush and driftwood in search of shelter, as mentioned in the preceding article, we had quite given up all hope of ever being able to extricate ourselves from the tightening grasp of the savages. Our flight had been so rapid, and Adams being wounded it was absolutely necessary for us to stop, even should it be but for a short time. Darkness would soon surround us, as the sun was below the mountaintops on the west. We would bind up Adams' foot [and] rest a little, if the savages did not keep us too busy defending ourselves, then trust to circumstances for our future action. Doc and I assisted Adams through the brush and piles of logs, up to and under the ledge of rocks, while the Indians sent many a whistling arrow after us through the brush. His foot pained him very much, and as soon as possible he cast himself upon the ground.
We pulled off his boot, which was filled with blood, and moved him a little to one side, where the water came up in the cave, and placed his foot in it. For a few minutes he experienced great pain, the water being cold to his foot, and very excruciating when it entered the hole made by the arrow. When we got him in as good order as possible, our attention was occupied with the Indians who were all around us. We could hear the crackling of brush upon the creek, and in front of us, while upon [the] top of the ledge they created much noise and commotion by rolling down large rocks, thinking to crush us beneath them. But we were under the ledge and they passed harmlessly over our heads, crashing into the pile of driftwood ten feet away. As they had shown themselves afraid of our guns while we were running from them, we did not entertain any fears of their attacking us while stowed away under the ledge. Water, we had plenty; food, we had none, but fortunately each of us had some matches, and if we should in the future be able to kill some game we could make a fire to cook it. Our ammunition was low, and we recognized the fact that in case of an attack on us we must shoot them or they would rush upon us en masse, leaving no hope of escape, and to avoid starvation we must shoot some game. Doc and I watched and listened, but the Indians did not approach our covert. We were afraid that they would set fire to the dry brush and thus drive us out or roast our tired bodies to a turn, fit for a feast for the gentle Polyphemus. Quiet at last succeeded the racket, and we turned our attention to our wounded companion, who lay quietly on the rocks with his foot in the water.
"Doc, I wish you would take your pocket knives and prod around in my foot and probably you can get the point of the arrowhead out. I can feel it cut the flesh every time I move my foot. I could have run faster if that durned thing hadn't been in there."
Doc took out his knife, whetted the point on a stone, then on his boot, and took Adams' foot upon his lap.
"Don't be afraid of hurting me; I'd rather have the toothache than to have that piece of glass in my foot. So cut away and get it out, or cut my foot off."
Doc opened the little wound with his knife, but the hole was deep, and there seemed to be no way of getting to the bottom of it without much cutting, and [he] wanted to give up the job, but Adams would not listen to that.
"If we have more running to do after a while, the glass must come out, or I'll be a dead man, and both of you will fare no better. Go ahead and cut a hole in it, and you may be able to pry the glass out, as you did the one out of Dono's side."
"Don't you squeal then, and if it is possible I'll get it out."
"Go ahead, Doc; I'll not squeal; I can stand it if you can."
"Johnson, find a piece of hard wood and make two little flat pieces that I can use as tweezers, and possibly we can pull the piece out, if I can find it."
"Hold still now, my boy," and with two savage cuts he went down to the bit of glass, and when he had shaped the two pieces of wood he took them and after several ineffectual efforts he at last succeeded in lifting the glass out. The pain was so severe that Adams turned pale, and his whole body quivered as though he had the ague. For a few minutes he lost nearly all his strength, and I had to hold him up, or he would have fallen over. I assure you that Doc and I were almost unmanned at the sight. But when he gave us once more a hearty, old-fashioned look, we forgot the Indians and felt like throwing up our hats and giving one loud whoop for joy.
"I'm all right now, boys; I can beat either one of you in a foot race."
"We'll concede that with pleasure," replied Doc, "for I think that we have considerable hard traveling ahead of us, even if we do not have to run away. All the fear I have of the wound now is that the glass may have poisoned the flesh, or that there may have been poison on the shaft."
"The shaft was not poisoned, or I'd felt it before this time."
"Good! There is not much danger then."
During all this time, which did not occupy more than twenty minutes, there was only an occasional sound indicative of the presence of the Indians. It was getting dusky and the air was cool. The violent and prolonged exercise of the morning had thrown us all into a profuse perspiration, and when the reaction set in we became chilly, which increased in violence as the night advanced. Sleep, even should it have been safe to give way to it, seemed to be out of the question.
"Do you think that the Indians have left us?" asked Adams.
"They may have, though there are many chances against that one, that they have not."
For my part I was apprehensive that they might crawl up near us, under cover of the darkness, and after getting into position wait until daylight, and then, at a signal, pour into us such a shower of arrows that it would be impossible for us to escape them. Doc and Adams were brave enough to face any emergency, but as neither had spoken of such a possibility, I chose to keep my forebodings to myself, and not compel them to bear a load of, possibly, unnecessary uneasiness.
"Adams, you had better crawl up near the rocks as far as you can and try to get some sleep; Johnson and I will keep watch and warn you if it should become necessary. You are not so strong as we are, by reason of your wounded foot."
"No, I'll do my part of the watching. You are both wounded, too."
"Not seriously. It is absolutely necessary that you have some rest and sleep, for you cannot endure as much tramping as we can. Who knows what will be the end of this adventure?"
"I'll do so, but it's awfully cold," he said, as he crawled away, farther up under the rocks. "I don't think I'll sleep much, though."
It was dark now. No noise reached our ears except such as was made by small animals inhabiting the surrounding woods and brush, and the night birds of the forest. Owls "too-hooed" out in the tall dark pines, and small uneasy animals rustled quickly through the brush. Adams was quiet, up in his snug, hard, uneven quarters under the rocks. The night wind moaned through the trees and gently moved the slender limbs of the surrounding brush. Doc and I sat a few feet apart, watchful and silent. Our guns lay across our laps, ready for a shot should that be necessary. Hours passed by. All animate nature had become silent, and the monotonous whisperings in the tall treetops lulled our drowsy senses into forgetfulness. But only for a moment did we forget our duty, and quickly roused our burdened minds to the desperate situation in which we were placed.
Doc moved up nearer to me so that we could converse in whispers, for the silence was so deep that we feared to break it, not from any real fear, but from an undefined, superstitious presentiment, such as clings to all who are unfortunately placed in a dangerous situation where they are comparatively helpless and darkness veils the surroundings from their view. "I have been in a hard study as to what we ought to do in our situation. I am satisfied that if our boys succeeded in repelling the Indians, they are morally sure that we are dead, and have [moved] or will move on up the river towards Rogue River Valley. It will be impossible for us to overtake and join them because of the great numbers of Indians between us. It will be better for us, I feel sure, to stay back and try and make our way to the California trail, which is on the east side of a high range of mountains which we have yet to cross, and runs through a large valley lying on the base, and extends about thirty miles west, of Mt. Shasta, which serves as a landmark for travelers to California."
"I do not know but that you are right in regard to your friends," I replied, "for if they are all killed, our doom would be sealed if we braved all these savages in hunting for them. If they are still alive, they are, I believe, too wise to spend time in searching for us when they must, from all the evidence in their possession, believe that we have been killed. We had better, then, take our course further south, and if possible reach, as you have suggested, the trail on the other side of the mountains."
"Since the project of a more southerly route has been mentioned, I recollect that there is a large river, the Klamath, I believe, coming from a lake of the same name, and [it] runs almost due west to the ocean, and we must necessarily come to it on our route, and when we do we can follow up it until we come to the crossing of the California and Oregon trail. If we succeed in reaching this crossing, there are some chances in favor of finding some party going to or from the mines."
"We will adopt that course, then, but it is a long distance from this place to that, and our ammunition is low."
"If Adams' foot improves, or does not get worse, we can make it in ten days, unless we have to fight our way."
"We cannot do much fighting with our scant stock of ammunition. We must use some of it to procure food."
"A few squirrels, if we can do no better, will keep us going."
"Hark! that sounds like the steady crawling of a human being."
"Coming this way, too, I believe."
We sat still and listened. The sounds continued, but very low, and a connection was kept up between by the regular lapse of time so that something was really advancing. We were so cold, discouraged and withal a little weakened physically that the low, continuous sounds originated all manner of conjecture in regard to our probable visitor.
Doc sat quietly listening, then moving closer to me said: "If these sounds are made by crawling Indians, and they come close enough for us to tackle them, I will swear to you, if you will do the same to me, that if desperate, deadly fighting will do it, we will kill the last one of them and redden these rocks and logs with their cursed blood."
I assured him that I would stand by his side, no matter what might come, and he continued: "I feel an overpowering strength stealing over me, and a convincing presentiment of our immunity from present death, and that we can defeat any attempt while we are here to destroy us. Let them come. We are a match for them. I do not fear death nor defeat now."
I did, but I would not destroy his supernatural strength, determination and confidence by telling him so. On the contrary, I gave him an equal assurance, but as I said I did not feel it. But it was best that one of us should be confident.
Adams, poor fellow, had at last fallen asleep. His regular breathing was audible, but fortunately he did not snore, and we felt no uneasiness on his account. The noise, though usually slight, though sometimes louder, with an occasional snapping of a dry twig, came on directly toward us. We were sitting so close together that our whispering could not be heard three feet distant, and I ventured the suggestion that if the sounds were made by the enemy there could not possibly be more than one, as the sounds certainly did not indicate more. It was now not more than two rods away. Doc listened eagerly and clutched his rifle with nervous grip. Suddenly he passed me his rifle, saying in a whisper, "Take that, and let me fight this thing out alone. Don't move." He took up a stout club which was lying by his side. I was puzzled. My hair began to rise. I watched his movements closely. It was dark, but our eyes, accustomed by long watching to the darkness, could distinguish objects a rod or more distant. Over a clear space on the rocks glided a dark object, right up to Doc. With one heavy blow of his club he set it to bouncing around our feet at a lively rate. It was only a coon, and I would not have mentioned the incident were it not for the fact that it was such a godsend in food, without the waste of ammunition.
Doc was elated, but Adams, who was dreaming of Indians, war whoops, tomahawks and arrows, came floundering out of his rocky couch, gun in hand, ready to, and almost on the point of firing at something, saying in too loud a tone as he joined us, "How many of them? Where are they? Are you hurt any? What noise was that?"
"Go back, Adams, and lie down again. We've got a coon for breakfast. Thought it was an Indian, though."
"I can't sleep any more. Both of you turn into my bed--it's warm yet--and take a snooze. I'll stand guard, and possibly I'll be able to get something to season the coon with. Wouldn't a skunk do?
"Adams is all right now," I said to Doc.
"Shall we turn in and keep his bed warm?"
"Yes, but only for an hour, for we must try to get out of this before daylight."
"If we make the attempt while it is dark we may fall into the embrace of the Indians."
"Then we will give them a stout hug and try to get out again."
"But if we cannot get out?"
"Then we will stay in. But we will be poison to them, unless I mistake our personal compositions."
"It ain't far from daylight now," said Adams, "and if you fellows don't turn in pretty soon you'll have to get up before you lie down."
"He's all right now. True grit and a little sense thrown in," and Doc and I crawled up to Adams' bed, which was, if we found it, a big stone, with a lot of little ones around it. We lay down on the stones, but felt at first that we could not sleep, and after a little desultory conversation Doc went off into a learned dissertation on the utility of nonsense in keeping up heart and courage--driving away the terrors of danger, when in such a situation as ours, and ameliorating suffering by mixing up a little wit and nonsense with it, and quoting the witty and frivolous sayings of great and brave men in danger and perplexity to prove his theory. I listened to him until I lost all consciousness, but he kept on I do not know how long. But at last he aroused me to a renewed sense of our distressing situation by nudging me, as he said, "but it did not save his life, though, he died the next minute. What do you think of that?"
"What! Is he dead?"
"Dead? Of course, that's what I said. Died as soon as the lance was pulled out of him."
"The Indians didn't have any lances yesterday, nothing but--"
"I believe you have lost the control of your senses. Are you loony?"
"Slightly. But you said Adams was dead."
"Didn't say anything of the kind. Can't you see him humped up there on that big stone?"
"Well, I must have been asleep; I thought you said that he was dead."
"He may be; let's go out and see; it is time to make a start anyway."
"How long have we been lying here?"
"And did you talk all of that time?"
"I thought you heard me."
"I'm glad I didn't."
"And so am I, for you would not have comprehended what I said."
"I agree with you."
"Come on; let's go out and see if Adams is still alive."
We crawled out, stiff and sore.
"How'd you make it, boys?" said Adams, as we dragged ourselves out to his side.
"Splendid. I had a good, long sleep, while Doc wore himself out trying to learn me how to tide over danger by the use of wit and nonsense. He thinks that
"A little nonsense now and then"I'd relish some of this coon now, more than all the nonsense out," said Adams, as he pressed the fat ribs and hams of the plump animal.
Is relished by the bravest men."
Doc took up the coon, and after much labor and a few ejaculations succeeded at length in getting it ready for easy conveyance.
"Now, Johnson, you and I will take each a half of this coon and carry it the best we can, and if all hands agree we will make the attempt to get out of this place."
Daylight was just visible in the east, and whatever we meant to do must be begun at once. "I will go ahead," I suggested, "Adams following, while you bring up the rear."
"All right," replied Doc; "one end is as dangerous as the other, but as you are a little crosseyed and can look in all directions at once, you will be of more service before than behind."
Adams' foot was too sore and swollen to wear his boot, so we cut off one side of the leg and made him a sandal, while he carried the remainder of his boot along by tying it to his belt behind. We tightened up our belts and made everything snug around us, expecting of course to be in for "a fight or a footrace" as soon as we started out. When all was ready I started out very carefully, so as not to step upon and break any of the many small, dry sticks which were scattered thickly over the ground. Adams and Doc followed, also with due care. The escape from the deep mass of logs and brush was tedious and slow, expecting, as we did, to hear the Indians at every step, and to feel their arrows between our ribs, but we were not disturbed, neither did we hear any sounds indicative of their presence.
After awhile we make our way out onto a large open bottom, spotted here and there with patches of the ever-present chaparral brush. Daylight was fast opening out in the east. We feared at every step that the enemy would pounce upon us. We could not travel very fast, for Adams' foot was very sore and stiff. At length we came to a well-beaten trail passing through the bottoms and over the points, which was the usual and only thoroughfare of the Indians in passing from section to section of the country. Just before it became light enough to see plainly a hundred yards away, we left the trail (though we had at no time traveled in it, but walked on the outside, so that our tracks could not be seen) and went off to the right, into the pine woods, near a quarter of a mile away, and down in a deep gully we built a little fire and broiled or scorched some of the coon and ate it for our breakfast. While the breakfast was cooking I sat on a log up on the high ground and kept a lookout for Indians.
As soon as the meat was scorched so that we could eat it, the fire was put out so as not to betray us to the savages, should there be any in our vicinity. By the time our meal of scorched coon was finished it was light all through the woods and we could not then secrete ourselves if we wished to, but now must either run or fight.
"We now know that there is a trail which the Indians follow while going over the hills to some other valley or river, further south. We can travel on the outside of the trail, keeping close watch of the lay of the country, and probably tonight we may be able to find where it strikes one or the other" was Doc's theory. And we shaped our course accordingly.
Before we left our little camp we fixed up Adams' foot by putting the other half of the boot leg under it, so that the old pine burs, burnt knots and stones would not hurt it so badly as they had done during our morning walk. We followed along the trail, a quarter of a mile away, keeping watch of the hills ahead of us, and where we saw a general depression in them we calculated, and correctly, too, that the trail pointed that way. We had to climb the side of quite a high mountain, and when we reached the summit we saw, a long way off to our left and ahead of us, a range of high ragged mountains, but in our immediate front the country was flat and appeared to be heavily timbered with pine and some oak as far as we could see. (This was the Illinois Valley, and the mountains the Siskiyou Range.) We kept upon the ridge, and as we advanced the country ahead assumed a more open appearance.
Only once we found water on the mountain, and that was a clear, cold spring, bubbling out from under a large rock. We stayed an hour at this spring, and cooked each a piece of coon and bathed Adams' foot. We continued our course almost due south, till we came where the ridge broke abruptly down to what seemed to be a creek bottom, lying directly across our front. Off to our right front we saw another range of high mountains (Coast Mountains), between which and our place of observation was a wide, timbered depression, with occasional prairie openings diversifying the otherwise monotonous landscape. We descended the mountain and pointed our course a little east of south, so as to approach closer the rugged mountains on our left, over which we felt sure that we must pass to find the California trail and the Klamath River. We were sure this was necessary, for the mountains bent around our right, left and front like a horseshoe; therefore we must climb them somewhere.
We reached the bottom a little before dark and found it extensive and timbered with pine and oak trees. There were also beautiful open spots of prairie, covered with rank native grass and clover. A creek crossed our front (probably Deer Creek), deep and lined with wide patches of willows. We entered a large patch, covering several acres of ground, and when well into its black seclusion we had no fear of discovery, unless the savages had been on our track all day, but on that score we had no fears. I had been in the lead all day, and when we entered the thicket I was still in advance. I stopped, as near as I could judge, in the center of the thicket, and proposed that we stay all night on the spot.
"I'm agreed," said Adams, "for my foot is awfully sore, and I'm so tired I can't go much further without rest."
"All right," chimed in Doc, "he must have everything this own way, as he is the pet now. But what shall we do about water?"
"You make a little fire," I replied, "and I'll go after some."
Taking Adams' hat I started through the dark thicket after water. It was a most disagreeable hunt, but I got to the creek at last. The water was low down under the tangled roots and limbs, and the darkness was so thick that my sight could not penetrate an inch into it. I was compelled to be guided by the sense of feeling. But I got to the water after a long struggle, and succeeded in filling Adams' hat and my own with water, and started back. But now my troubles began. Brush and logs and poles, matted and intertwined willow boughs and vines were hard to overcome with two hats of water in my hand, and it was awfully dark too. But I put forth all my energies and patience. After what appeared to be an hour's labor, I came out of the thicket on the bottom. I found that I was lost, and that finding brought up another problem: I must enter the brush again.
I sat down and listened; nothing but owls and crickets seemed to be astir. The bloodcurdling hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo of the owls chilled my very marrow bones. But the feeling lasted only for a moment; I had been engaged in too many desperate encounters in the last few days with the Indians to be scared, at least by an owl. I gathered up my hats of water, and going up the bottom about six rods, entered the dark thicket again. My progress was slow, and the greatest care was required to keep from spilling the water. I listened often, and strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of light from the fire. It came at last; I was too far below. When I reached the boys I was compelled from sheer weakness to lie down. But I had got them some water, and I felt satisfied with my labor. They had waited with great anxiety, fearing that I was lost. They did not dare to fire a pistol to guide me to the camp, lest it should attract the attention of the Indians, for it was very probable that there were some in the neighborhood. They had some coon meat well cooked--when I say well cooked I mean that when I had scraped all the dirt and ashes off of it that I could it tasted very well; so good was it that I could have eaten more, dirt and ashes included. But we were on rations, and I was forced to be content.
We were all very tired and needed sleep, for we had had but little during the past week. We sat for an hour or two, talking of our situation,and speculating in regard to our friends behind. At last Doc yawned and said: "Boys, I'm in for all of us lying down and taking one good sleep, for this may be our last chance to indulge in anything like safety till we get out of our present difficulty."
"If you think that there is any need of watching I"ll stand guard while you and Johnson sleep. I had some sleep last night, and Johnson had a little, too, so he and I will take turns while you have an all-night's rest."
"Thank you, old boy! but it shall never be, when I am sound, that I'll let a wounded man stand guard while I sleep."
"Let us all turn in then; we will sleep and all take equal chances."
"Done. We are just as much in danger of being struck by lightning as we are to be attacked by Indians tonight."
That ended the discussion, and with mother earth beneath and the heavens above, we laid ourselves down upon the ground and quickly fell asleep. The night was cool, but we slept soundly until about 7 o'clock in the morning. We were very well rested, but somewhat stiff and store. Our breakfast consisted of a small piece of broiled coon. We then crawled out from our hiding place and went up the creek, searching for a place to cross. A mile up the creek and we came to a place that was clear of brush. When we approached the bank we found the trail, and many fresh Indian tracks going south. We were about twenty miles from where we left our companions, and we felt that the Indians had given up the search for us. They may not have followed us, and those ahead may not be hostile. We waded the creek and kept off to the right of the trail, which skirted the base of an isolated mountain (Eight Dollar Mountain, in Illinois Valley, where on the 24th of March, 1856, the volunteers under Maj. Bruce attacked the Indians) for half a mile, when it passed over a ridge and gradually descended into a lower and more open country, through which we traveled, keeping in the timber on the outskirts whenever we could.
On our right, a half mile away, was a small river (Illinois River) coming from the mountains ahead of us. We went to this river, and thought to follow up it, but we found that there were too many Indian villages on its course to be safe, so we turned to the southeast and made for a low gap in the high range to our left. Night came on while we were out in the level timbered country, but fortunately we were on a creek and did not suffer for water. We had seen many smokes from Indian lodges, and twice had caught a glimpse of some Indians moving on the trail. We found a spot under a high bank on the creek, where our fire could not be seen, and cooked us some more of the coon, leaving but a small piece for our breakfast.
The next day and the next we wandered through the woods, keeping our course towards, and gradually nearing, the mountains on the east. We had been compelled by hunger to fire our guns, but each shot had netted us a squirrel or rabbit. But we were much troubled lest the Indians would get upon our track and hunt us down. We reached the foot of the mountains and camped on quite a large creek coming down from the lower gap that had been our guide for the past few days. That evening Adams made a fish hook from a wire he had for the purpose of cleaning the tube of his gun, and with that Doc succeeded in catching some fish, which we relished very much. Anything was palatable in the line of food, and Doc advocated the killing of a skunk for food, which had come near our camp and made himself very disagreeable.
In the morning we started up the creek, intending to follow it up to its head and then cross the mountain and down the other side hoping to find the Klamath River, which from the conformation of the country could not be far distant from the other side, the base of the mountain being destitute of timber, save here and there a single tree or cluster of trees, so the course of the creek was plainly visible. When a few miles up the stream we saw ahead of us a trail winding in and out of the uneven landscape, but gradually ascending the mountain. We agreed to go to this trail, and as the mountainside was too rough for Adams we would follow it at all hazards. His foot was now growing a little worse, and even the trail would be bad enough ground for him to travel on.
When we reached the trail and had gone up to where it crossed the creek, we found an old Indian and two old squaws. It is needless to say that they were very much frightened, and that we were apprehensive that there were many more Indians nearby, which would make it dangerous for us. We pacified the old devils by conciliatory signs. They saw from our worn-out appearance that we stood in need of food. Each old squaw carried a large basket, and diving down into them they fished out a little jerked venison and some dried roots, which they gave us. We ate the filthy-looking stuff with a relish. We had nothing to give in return, except some money, of which each of us had a little, but at last we thought of matches and gave them a few, which they did not know the use of until we explained it to them by setting fire in some dry sticks.
We tried to talk to them by signs, but made no headway. We struck the key to our wished-for knowledge when the old Indian pointed over the mountain and said "Klamut, Klamut." The Klamath was over the mountain, and very likely not far away, and no doubt they were going there. So we would make friends with them and journey on together. During the day we shot two squirrels and a rabbit, which we had for supper and breakfast. At night we camped upon the summit, Doc and I standing guard alternately. We kept on good terms with the old Indian and the squaws, but they begged for everything we had. Our journey down the mountain was tedious. We camped the next night on a wide creek bottom, where Doc succeeded in killing a deer. We had a big feast, after our fashion. The Indians were happy. The next day we struck the river at a large village. The Indians did not seem to be hostile, but they were not friendly. One old squaw was inclined to doctor Adams' foot, to which he submitted, which very much pleased the Indians, and they showed more friendship. They talked a great deal and watched us closely, which made us a little apprehensive of danger.
We stayed all night, standing guard as usual. In the morning we went on up the river, hoping at every mile to strike the trail. Mile after mile we traveled on the Indians' trail, often meeting them and passing through their villages. They did not molest us, but I believe that at several places they would have attacked us only for the fear they entertained of our guns. Every night we camped where they could not crawl up onto us, and thus, I believe, saved our lives. Our ammunition was nearly gone, and we feared an attack more than we did starvation, when it should be all out. The Indians often gave us a little food, and sometimes seemed to sympathize in Adams' misfortune. Four days of slow, difficult traveling brought us up to the mouth of a river coming down from the east and entering the Klamath through a wide bottom on the opposite side from us. Away off towards the head of this stream (this was Scotts River) the country seemed to be depressed, and we made up our minds to cross the Klamath and follow up this stream and over the mountains at its head, and possibly be able to find the valley lying west of Shasta Butte. It we should be correct in this we would then be sure of finding the Oregon and California trail.
At the last village where we stayed all night we found a young Indian who seemed to be a stray, or nobody's man. He hung around us and wanted to be very sociable, but we did not feel inclined to trust him with our guns, which he seemed to be very desirous to handle. He had troubled with us all day, and we became suspicious that he meditated mischief should an opportunity occur. When we had made up our minds to cross the Klamath we intimated to this young Arab that this was our desire. When he understood us he seemed very much pleased and motioned us to sit down while he went up the river. After an absence of half an hour he returned in a canoe, accompanied by two other Indians. They motioned for us to get into the canoe.
They were naked, except breechcloths, and seemed to be very jolly and attentive. Two of them were in the bow of the canoe and one in the stern, to do the paddling. We had no idea of treachery, although when we were pushing out from the bank large crowds of Indians showed themselves on the bank that we had left. When about halfway across the Indians gave the canoe several sudden lurches from side to side, tipping it over and throwing us all out into the water. We lost our guns from our hands, as we were forced to swim for our lives. The Indians struck out for the shore from which we started, and the Indians on the bank filled the river with arrows as they tried to shoot us. Poor Doc was a little below me, swimming desperately in the rapid water, but the arrows seemed to concentrate on him, and he sank out of sight in the bubbling water. We could not help him, for it was with the greatest exertion that Adams and I got to the shore. Without hesitating an instant, we drew our pistols from the scabbards and began to fire at the Indians on the opposite bank. Adam's pistol fired clear, but three loads of mine were too wet.
I believe we killed one of the Indians, for he fell and was picked up and hurried away into the brush. I know that we wounded a number of them, from their maneuvers. I had kept my eyes on the water, hoping to see Doc rise to the surface and come ashore, but it was hoping against hope, for he was filled with arrows before he sank out of sight. Adams and myself had been hit, but only slightly wounded. As soon as we had discharged our pistols we examined our powder horns and caps. My powder flask was filled with water, but the horn of Adams was tight, and his powder was dry. Our caps, too, were all right. There was so little powder in Adams' horn that when we had reloaded our pistols there was but four more charges left, and we would have been at the mercy of the savages if they had dared to follow and attack us. We could see down the river for a quarter of a mile, and poor Doc did not rise, as we at first supposed that he might have ducked under the water to avoid the arrows, but he was so full of them that it is likely that he was killed before he sank from view.
Adams and I were dumb with grief. Doc was more than a friend to us; we had loved him for himself, for from the beginning of our acquaintance he had shown no traits except those of disinterested attention and kindness to all of us. We moved away from the river towards the hills, almost paralyzed with unavailing grief. But we must overcome our apathy, and strike out for safety. We hurried along up the river, expecting to be overtaken or waylaid by the savages at every step. Adams' foot was in a raging inflammation, and I was sick and weak. We were hungry, but dared not waste our few remaining shots in killing some squirrels. Grief and anxiety reduced our nervous vitality, and we were becoming, in a measure, helpless. All that evening, all the following night, we followed closely the bank of the river.
Over high bluffs, when we came to where the river hugged the rocky bank, falling over large rocks or into deep holes in the darkness, or, when fearing pursuit, as we heard noises in any direction, we would lie still for hours at a time in the dark depths of some noisome hole under driftwood or in a willow thicket. For three days we skulked and hid by turns, until hunger compelled us to kill some food. The fourth day, as we were skulking along the bank of the river, under cover of the brush, we came upon a trail ascending the high hills. We believed that if we followed this trail that we would very likely come to a valley on the other side, but to follow the trail in the daytime would be too dangerous, as it was filled with fresh tracks going both ways. Adams was now weak from his wound, which was in a fearful condition. All day we lay hid about one hundred and fifty yards from the trail, and saw fully two hundred Indians pass, all armed and painted.
At night we traveled till we thought that we were on the summit. We went off a quarter of a mile and hid ourselves. Adams slept, but in a fevered way, often waking and staring vacantly round until I spoke to him, when he would lie down again to moan and talk in his delirium. The next night Indians passed along the trail, and we stayed another day in our hiding place, famishing for food. I went off a little way from our hiding place, where I obtained an extensive view. I saw a large valley ahead of us, and Mount Shasta towering high above the whole landscape. I came back and told Adams of my success, which revived him greatly. The rest is easily told. We made our way at nighttime to the place where you found us in our famished condition.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 4, 1885, page 2 Bear in mind that the anecdote is in the voice of S. K. Johnson, not Olney.
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
The Death of Doc Fenning Terribly Avenged by Wright's Party.
Meeting with Gen. Joseph Lane--The Latter Meets an Enemy that Backs Him Down--
Persuades Wright to Return to the Mines.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]Before Capt. Wright left his camp at the head of Scotts Valley, a hundred or more prospectors who had followed his trail, thinking that he had discovered new diggings, came up to him. When they discovered their mistake, they camped near him for a few days, and hearing the story of Johnson's and Adams' travels up the Klamath and over to Scotts Valley, many of them were anxious to go over to the river and prospect it for gold. When Adams was able to ride, Wright, accompanied by about fifty of the prospectors, started over to it. Wright was intent on punishing the Indians for killing Doc Fenning, while the prospectors were more anxious to find gold. While going down the valley to the point where the trail from the Klamath came into it, they saw many signal smokes and occasionally an Indian sentinel on some elevated spot where he could watch the invaders without, as he probably supposed, danger to himself, but the rifle of someone of the company often undeceived him. When they passed over the intervening hills and down to the stream--since found to be the river running through Scotts Valley, and now called Scotts River--they began to speculate on its gold-bearing qualities, but Wright urged them on to assist him in chastising the offending savages. Some of them consented to go with him, but the major portion were too intent on mining to leave it for the empty honor of Indian fighting. The first camp was about five miles above its junction with the Klamath, on the lower end of a large bar, and no sooner were their horses turned out than a portion of the men with picks, shovels and pans went out to prospect. Within an hour they had demonstrated the fact that their camp was on a very rich tract of ground. Before dark every man in the whole outfit had staked out his claim. Capt. Wright was suddenly aware that he alone composed Capt. Wright's company.
Being an adept in the art of persuasion, he succeeded, after a delay of one day, in getting back his old companions, who sold out their claims and put themselves once more under the orders of their old commander. Not only that success crowned his efforts, but he prevailed upon six more of the men to accompany him down to the Klamath and assist him to clean out the village which was responsible for the death of Fenning. They were only six miles above the offending village, and Wright determined to cross Scotts River and follow down a ridge that led directly to the Klamath .After some delay, and much difficulty, a crossing was effected just above the camp, and about noon the company of Indian hunters vanished from the sight of their friends in the thick bushes on the hillside.
The miners had rendered all the assistance in their power in getting them off, and when the last one of the company had disappeared behind the thick clusters of manzanita they turned to their mining operations, and the racket of picks and shovels was music to their ears, and nugget after nugget turning up, as if by magic, sent thrills of joy through their anxious hearts, for their visions of home, of wealth, of wives and little ones were now to be realized, and that night--their tired bodies coiled among the rocks that hid their prospective fortunes from their view, covered by soiled and tattered blankets, and watched over by the brilliant stars of a summer night--they dreamed of their homes far away to the east, beyond the rugged mountains and the hot, dry, dusty plains, where ease and plenty was to be their future lot.
Late in the evening, Wright had gained the vicinity of the village, but was high upon on the mountainside above it. In the morning, before daylight, he left his bivouac with sixteen men and started for the village below, while the remainder of his men were to start at daylight and come on with the horses. We came down upon the bottom on which stood the village just as it was light enough to discern a man plainly fifty yards distant. The village was compact and on open ground. Wright had his men drawn up in a line, and when the attack began they were to close in around the houses and act according to their own judgment. They were 100 yards distant, and had begun a slow advance, when that proverbial "little dog" set up a racket, so animated that it was necessary to go in on a run, so as to be better able to take them by surprise, and Wright called out, "Forward, boys, on a run, and give them hell!" Away they dashed through the uncertain light, and the rifles pealed forth in rattling strains--sad music to their murderous ears.
Now yells, loud calls and screams broke out around and in that fated village--rising high and higher, floating away into the surrounding hills, eddying in the tall pines, while the clear rifle shots and rattling pistols made the bloody din more perfect. Squaws and children, and naked Indians, with their long hair streaming back, hurried in wild confusion from their huts, seeking safety in rapid flight. Such as could had seized their bows and discharged arrows at their enemies as they ran. But the deadly rifle gained the day, and in twenty minutes not a live Indian was in sight, but the ground was covered with the dead.
When all was over, Wright called to the men to fall in for inspection. All were there; three were wounded--but Fenning had been avenged, and the wounds would soon heal. "I'm going to burn the village," said Johnson, "so that they can't live here and murder more unfortunate travelers." And in a few moments the entire village was a mass of leaping flames. The lesson was a severe but salutary one, for the natives now knew that the murder of a white man would bring down upon them sure and deadly ruin. From that time until 1855 they were peaceable and kindly disposed.
Up the river from the village ran an old, well-beaten trail, and up this the company went, with the exception of the volunteer prospectors, who went back to the mining camp on Scotts River. When Adams heard the news of the destruction of the village he was, like any other humanly organized individual, well pleased that Doc had been so thoroughly avenged. Wright and his old companions were once more on their route to Oregon. Several small villages were found up the river, but were deserted; two of them were burned, but Wright counseled forbearance, and the others were unmolested. They were on the south side of the river; at night they camped on a large sloping flat, which three years later came into prominence as "Buckeye Bar"--rich in gold--and again in August, 1856, as the place where the Klamath Indians threw off their mask and avowed their sympathy with the Rogue River Indians--murdering five miners and wounding many more, and then fleeing over the mountains to Applegate.
The camp was made early enough to give the cooks time to get the evening meal over, so that the fires could be put out before dark. At dusk the horses were brought up and tied around the camp, guards stationed at proper places, and "the boys," who were not otherwise engaged, were gathered under a large white oak tree, the wide-spreading branches of which protected them from the slight evening dew, for the summer days were on the wane in those Klamath hills, and the following evenings calm and pleasant. They were enjoying the evening, smoking the never-absent clay pipe, blowing out long wreaths of curling smoke and listening to stories of mining, Indian fighting and grizzly hunting. Ten o'clock had passed, and still they lay around in all imaginable positions, listening to a very exciting story of an extraordinary battle with a grizzly and a lot of rattlesnakes at the same time, when the voice of one of the guards was heard nearby, calling in a low tone: "Captain, Captain, come here; there's somebody coming down the hill across the river." The Captain rose up, saying as he did so, "We may have some callers before morning, boys; you had better look to your guns. If we have a brush, day or night, we must try and get the best of it."
The story was cut short, and as the Captain went out to the guard he was followed by the men.
"I say, Captain, there are some horses on the other side. Can't you hear them coming down the hill?"
"It does sound like horses coming down the mountain, but if there are any horses over there we will know it pretty soon, for ours will soon find it out."
"I hear some human voices, too."
"They certainly are not white men. If they are I can't think where they have come from, or where they are going."
"I'll bet they're a lot of Webfeet; they haven't got sense enough to travel a straight road, let alone a mountain trail."
"You'd better look out, the Captain's a Webfoot."
Just then the expected neigh of one of Wright's horses was heard, and quickly answered from across the river. For a few minutes the notes of recognition and friendship between the horses were loud and continuous, and finally wound up with a loud, long blast by a stalwart mule, which reverberated among the hills for miles away.
"I believe they are white men, Captain; hadn't we better try them?"
"Try them, then."
"Hello, over there!"
"Who are you?"
"Where did you come from?"
"Oregon. Who are you?"
"Americans, with Spanish and Indian proclivities."
"You must be a hard set then, but have you got anything to eat over there?"
"Yes. Anyone hungry?"
"Hungry is a very mild term to apply to our condition."
"Come over, then, and we'll feed you."
"Can we ford the river?"
"Don't know, but I think not. Can't you wait till morning?"
At this point Johnson thought that he recognized the voice of an old friend, W. A. Moore, and inquired, "Is Bill Moore over there?"
"Yes. Is that S. K. Johnson?"
"The same. Are you all alive and well?"
"All alive, but very sore, tired and hungry. Where are Adams and Doc?"
"Adams is down at the diggings, twenty miles below, but poor Doc is dead."
For half an hour questions and answers passed between the friends. At last, bidding each other good night, they lay down to sleep.
To better connect this to the two preceding articles it will be necessary to notice briefly the adventures of this party since Johnson and his two companions separated from it at the attack upon the camp at Applegate. The attack was fierce and determined at first, but the defense was so brisk and stubborn that the savages gave way before they had entered the camp. But they remained around the camp and kept up a storm of arrows upon it for half an hour, when they withdrew further away, but remained around the camp till late the next morning. They made one attempt during the night to get the horses, but were driven away, with the loss of several of their number. Four of the men received fresh wounds, but still were able to travel. Many of the savages were killed and wounded, and the little company hoped that the last failure of the Indians would so discourage them that they would desist altogether.
When the Indians had disappeared they packed up, crossed Applegate, and searched all that day for the three missing men. They went up the little creek (since called Slate Creek) for a few miles, where they found a band of Indians who dispersed when they saw the little band of invincibles approaching them. They fired guns as signals for the lost men, but received no response. Night was near at hand, and they returned to their old camp and passed another night, hoping that the lost friends would join them. The next morning they proceeded up Applegate, thinking to follow it, then, in some manner, make their way into the large valley above.
At night their camp was surrounded by Indians, but they kept at a safe distance. Fires were seen on the mountainsides in many places, while loud, long, lingering yells sounded through the pine-clad hills. The wounds of some of them were so serious that they ought to have rest, but those of Dono required an absolute stop. A wide, clear bottom was selected and a camp made for an indefinite time. They all improved rapidly, except Dono, whose side resisted all the care bestowed upon it, and fears were entertained that they must soon bury the jolly Frenchman on that wild lonely river bottom. For ten days they nursed him, minute by minute, day and night, until at last youth and pluck gained the victory, and Dono was himself once more.
Their ammunition was low, yet those who hunted for game succeeded in getting plenty of it without any useless expenditure, as deer and bear were plenty and often came close to them, as if courting the frying pan and camp kettle. They continued on up the stream until they came to a large creek coming down from the south out of a low gap in the mountains. They had seen many Indians going up Applegate, as though congregating somewhere in advance. Possibly, meditating another attack and fearing that such was the case, they concluded to turn south up this creek and try to cross over the mountains at its head in the low gap, and possibly they would come out into the valley west of Mt. Shasta. In this way they would gain many miles on their route and avoid the Indians gathering in their advance, possibly in the valley of Rogue River.
Without much trouble they ascended to the summit of the mountains--the Siskiyou Range--where they camped one night upon a level but [illegible] flat. On their left was a [illegible] elevation, and in the morning two of the men ascended to the summit, hoping to obtain a view of the country to the southeast, which was their general course of travel. When they had gained the top a vision of rare loveliness opened to their view. Far away to the southeast Mt. Shasta stood in glittering white; around and beyond the level country was dotted with timbered hills and stretches of forest and lovely valleys. A long, winding river from the west of the snowy butte meandered through the diversified landscape, till lost in the maze of forest hills far down to their left.
In their immediate front, directly across their path, and not far away, the course of a large river was plainly marked. Down to and across this river their route to the Shasta Valley and California trail would be easy and short. As has been seen, they came down to the river after night, and were recognized by their old comrade, Johnson, at the camp of Capt. Wright.
In the morning Wright's men built a raft, and by 10 o'clock the hungry men on the other side of the river were treated to a breakfast of bread, coffee and venison. The two former articles they had not tasted for two weeks. Wright concluded to follow the trail of these men back over the mountain to Applegate and try his hand on the offending Indians. Two of the men agreed to turn back and pilot him over. The others of the company, who were much disabled, followed on down the Klamath and up Scotts River to the mines on Scotts Bar. All of them did well. One of them rose to prominence during the subsequent Modoc wars, and another represented Siskiyou County in two sessions of the California Legislature.
On the second day Wright began the ascent of the mountains, and on the third, about noon, came down to the valley of Applegate. Finding no Indians and but few fresh indications of their recent presence, he pushed on up the valley, expecting to fall in with them. But all signs showed that they had gone to the country above, possibly concentrating for the attack upon some party of travelers. His second camp was at the foot of the hills lying between Applegate and Rogue River Valley. At the camp ground a large, freshly traveled trail ascended the bottom of a small creek in the direction of Rogue River Valley. But not being familiar with the geography of the country, he was undecided as to his proper course. The trails up Applegate showed but little travel, while the larger one, pointing towards the valley beyond, indicated that hundreds had passed over it only a few days or even a few hours before.
That evening some of the men were out hunting, about half a mile from camp, when they discovered a large number of Indians on the hillside, heading for the valley. It was too late to go after them that evening, but by daylight he started on the trail, hoping to overtake them that day. He followed on up the trail, and soon came to the point where the savages had entered it and passed on over the hills that night. He kept on, and before night came out on the brow of the hills, where he had a partial view through the intervening timbered elevations of the valley beyond. Carefully picking their way down over the rough trail, they shortly came to the foot of the hills, close to a large creek. From this point the valley spread out in a wild, grand view.
Down the creek for half a mile, and they camped upon its banks in a beautiful meadow of wild red-top grass. No hiding places for the Indians were near, except in the tall grass, so the horses were turned out to graze, while the men wallowed over the tall grass in wanton boyhood style. But, as usual, when night approached the horses were tied at the camp and guards stationed at proper places. Down below them, a mile away, in the very heart of the valley, and near, and along the creek, was an isolated cluster of pine and oak trees. Darkness came on, and all but the guard had turned in for a good night's rest. About 10 o'clock one of the guards came to Wright and informed him that he had seen the light of several fires through the trees, in the cluster of timber down below them.
The Captain got up and went out a short distance, and after a careful survey became convinced that someone was camped below, beyond the timber, or that the light was from some old camp fire. He would like to ascertain the truth; the suspense till morning was less endurable than a trip down there in the darkness to solve the question. Going back to where the men were lying--they were then all awake--he called for two volunteers to accompany him in his exploration. Every man was ready to go, but he wanted only two, so the two who were on their feet first went with him.
It was a difficult, and as far as they knew, a dangerous expedition. Moving along carefully, little by little, one behind the other, they reached the edge of the timber. The fires were in the opposite edge of the woods; they plainly heard the heavy rustling of horses as they moved from place to place and nipped the tall grass. The fires were only a few sticks that gave out unsteady flashes of light. No one was stirring. From tree to tree they carefully approached closer. Oregonians or Indians they surely were, but to which class they belonged was doubtful. A little closer, and Wright stepped upon a dry stick, which broke with a loud crack, when suddenly they heard the well-known challenge, "Who goes there?" And the regulation answer of "Friends" was given.
"Capt. Ben Wright and two companions. Whose camp is this?"
"Gen. Lane's." [This meeting of Wright and Lane is otherwise unrecorded.]
"Capt. Ben Wright, Capt. Ben Wright. I've heard that name before. Start up a fire there. Come this way, Captain," and the doughty old general sprang from his couch on the grass and advanced to meet Wright, who had stepped forward into the dim light of the fires. Giving his hand to Wright he continued: "I'm Gen. Joe Lane; I know you well by reputation, Captain; you've got a good reputation, sir; you are a brave man; I'm proud to meet you, Captain. Capt. Olney, of the Dalles, told me all about you, how you whipped the Mexican bandits down in California. I've had some experience in that line myself. I commanded a brigade in Gen. Scott's army."
"I've read much of you, General, and I feel proud to make your acquaintance."
"Where are you camped, Captain?"
"About a mile above, on the creek."
"It is late now, Captain, so you had better stay with me tonight; we've got plenty of blankets. I'm really glad to find you, Captain; we need just such men as you are in this unsettled country."
"Thank you, General, for your kind invitation. I will be down in the morning and breakfast with you, but I must get back to camp tonight, and soon, too, or the boys will swarm out over the valley in search of me."
"I would like to have you stay, but come down early in the morning, and bring all your men down, too, Captain; we have plenty of eat."
"Thank you, General. I will return now."
"Good night, Captain."
"Good night, General."
When they had got out of hearing of Lane's camp, one of Wright's companions said: "So that is Gen. Joe Lane that I've read about?"
"He's very friendly and talkative. I always thought that a real general would yank a fellow's head off if he dared to speak to him."
"Some of them will."
When they got back to camp the men were pleased to learn that the redoubtable "Marion of the Mexican War" was their neighbor. Indians were forgotten, and sleep stepped in and closed their drowsy eyes.
In the morning Wright was up early, and leaving word for his men to follow after breakfast went down to breakfast with the General. The General, as all who knew him will remember, was usually demonstrative, and not niggardly in a proper overflow of flattery, and he gave Capt. Wright an enthusiastic welcome to "my humble board," as he characterized his breakfast table, which was a piece of canvas spread upon the ground, and laid with tin plates and cups, knives and forks. As for the food, bacon, beans, bread and coffee, they composed a meal that no one, in those days, dared to grin at, and no man failed to do his duty to those delectable viands whenever he had an opportunity.
He informed Capt. Wright that he had been for a short time Governor of Oregon Territory, but had been recently displaced by President Taylor and Maj. Gaines appointed in his stead, that in his late capacity of governor he had met the Rogue River Indians and made a treaty with them. "I think in the future they may be more peaceable and less thievish, but I do not believe that they will stick to any treaty long, unless it is one made after they have been so badly whipped that they have not strength enough left to break it."
When he had been told of the attack by the Indians a few weeks before on the party of adventurers while crossing Rogue River, which has been the theme of the last two articles, he was extremely annoyed because he did not know it before. "The miserable scoundrels," said he, "they told me that they had never shed the blood of a white man, that all stories to the contrary were false. But it is too late now to remedy the mistake I made in letting them off so easy by my lack of this important knowledge, but it will not be long before they will need a whipping, and we will give it to them, Captain; we will make them fairly howl for peace."
That afternoon some bucks and squaws came to the camp, having three horses, one of which Johnson recognized as being the property of one of his old comrades, which was lost when the Indians attacked them at the crossing of Rogue River a few weeks before. The General made the Indians surrender the horse, which they were reluctant to do, but he made them understand that he now knew of their recent conduct, and that he ought to kill some of them instead of merely taking away the horse.
The General made particular inquiries regarding the mines, as he was then on his way to them. He was anxious to see for himself, but he could not stay long; he must get back to Oregon soon, as that was to be his future home. When he was told of the rich diggings on Scotts River, and that hundreds of miners were then on their way north and in all probability would find new diggings this side, he was still more anxious to proceed. He persuaded Capt. Wright to turn back. Besides the Captain, several more of the men were willing to return. And now, for the first time in his life, Capt. Wright found himself under the orders of a general.
A friendship was thus formed between them that lasted during their lives, and when Capt. Wright was killed, six years later, Gen. Lane published a highly flattering obituary notice of him. They kept up their course up the valley on the usually traveled route till they came to the Siskiyou Mountains, where they camped on a creek now known as Ashland Creek, a little below where now stands the beautiful city of that name. They were at the base of the Siskiyou Mountains, which was noted as the paradise of grizzly bears. Their tracks were plentiful and fresh, and the General was anxious to try his hand in a grizzly fight. Their horses were out on the sidehill above the camp, and the General and the Captain took their guns and went up around them, intending to drive them down to the camp and also take a look for a bear.
They went up the creek above the horses, under a steep granite hill, and as they desired found the bear coming down the steep hill towards them. He was so large and heavy that he dislodged large masses of loose stone and sent them rolling down the steep hill towards the waiting hunters. "Say, Captain, had we better wait till he comes down, or fall back a little to level ground, where we can have a better chance?"
"If it's a chance to run, General, I think we'd better fall back."
The grizzly came on slowly, but sure.
"I believe, Captain, that if we can get down on that little flat we'll have a better show. I tell you he's a monster, though."
They were retreating--the bear was advancing--and now he brightened up a little and his speed increased. The officers were brave; they thought so, at least, but that big animal had terrors even for them, and they marked steps rapidly down the hill. "Shoot him, General, shoot him, or he'll think we are afraid of him."
"Not now, Captain, not now; we must use discretion, and not bring on an engagement too soon; he may mass his forces and charge while our men are scattered."
They had reached the bottom of the hill, and the bear was not far off. Several big snorts, and the horses made for camp.
"Now is the time, Captain," and both men let off their guns at once at the animal's big head. It staggered him a little, but he came on.
The men in camp had watched the affair, and now some stopped the horses, while others came out to the rescue. For a few minutes the rapid reports of their rifles equaled a respectable little battle, and not till the bear was honeycombed did he give in. At one stage of the fight the bear was within a few feet of the General, who had fallen over a stone, and would soon have made short work with him but for the timely shots of half a dozen of the men.
"Boys," said the General, "I had many hard fights in Mexico with the greasers and never once felt weak in the knees, but this time I'd as soon been out of the fight as in it."
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 11, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
A Horse-Stealing Band of Modocs Punished by Our Hero.
A Modern Achilles Meets a Cruel Fate--Camp-Kettle Helmets Not Bullet-Proof--
The Gold Diggings of Scotts Bar.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]In the month of June, 1850, the rush of Oregonians to the California mines was met, in the Shasta and Scotts valleys, by a similar stampede from the south, in search of new and rich diggings, and spreading out into the hills, and along the creeks on the western sides, rich mines were discovered and rapidly populated, while the valleys were utilized as grazing grounds for the rapidly increasing numbers of horses and mules. Mexican and American pack trains from Shasta City, the base of supplies for the northern mines, wound their devious course over the Trinity and Scotts mountains, down into the valleys, out into the surrounding hills, and along the tortuous creeks, laden with necessary supplies for active miners.
From Oregon came long trains of mules laden with flour and bacon, accompanied by immense droves of cattle, to feed the thousands of seekers for wealth in the golden hills. All was life, bustle, noise; and representatives from every corner of the globe came to that carnival of money-getting activity. News of the rich discovery of gold on Scotts River sped swiftly southward, and did not halt on its mission to the north, encouraging those in the immediate vicinity to investigate adjoining hills and streams and to push out further into the extensive and inviting field. As the autumn months came round, every mining locality of value had been discovered, though but slightly developed, as the nomadic element was in the ascendant, and too much wilderness yet remained unexplored.
Into this sounding whirlpool of excitement the latter part of June of the above-named year came the two notables, Gen. Lane and Capt. Wright. In the last article we left them on Ashland Creek, from which place they crossed over the Siskiyou Mountains and came down to the Klamath River, at or very near to the spot which has been selected for the junction of the Oregon & California and California & Oregon railroads. [They actually met within the current city limits of Ashland, Oregon, in 1887.] Their camp at this place was disturbed in the early morning by a flight of arrows which whizzed through the air into the center of their circle of packs and their still-occupied couches, from a distant thicket of chaparral.
"Up and at them, boys!" and the doughty old hero of many hard-fought battles rolled from his bundle of warm blankets, half clad, with no covering on his feet but his stockings. Seizing his rifle, he was the first to begin the chase, but was called back by Capt. Wright.
"Put on your boots, General; your feet won't last five minutes without them."
"You are right, Captain," and the General limped back to his deserted couch and seized his boots. "They are worn out now, but I wanted to catch the murderous thieves. Are any of the boys hurt?"
"No, but many of our blankets are." Arrows were sticking in the packs, in the blankets, in the ground, and many had passed on over and marked the ground on the outside. The boys were booted and ready, and in open order advanced in the direction of the Indians, but when they searched the thicket the enemy had decamped, but had left numerous tracks in the soft, dusty ground, as further notice of their recent presence.
Four enterprising men, with greater desire for money than fear of Indians, had established a ferry across the Klamath, and lived there in blissful carelessness whether the savages shot at them from the surrounding woods or came to their camp to beg for food.
Leaving the Klamath and going south, the country was slightly broken for a few miles. They soon came out into the Shasta Valley, which was really grand and picturesque. The snow-clad Shasta Butte, rising from a pedestal of green forest and towering near 14,500 feet above the sea level like a mighty memorial column, the clear, cold Shasta River, meekly meandering through the green valley of waving grass and summer flowers, while droves of horses and cattle dotted the undulating landscape far and near. It was noon when they arrived at the Shasta River, and, after resting an hour, they pressed on toward the mines. A short distance and they met a party of prospectors, who informed them of the new and rich diggings struck on the Shasta River a few miles below them, where the river entered a canyon, through which it passed until it entered the Klamath not many miles below. They took in these new diggings, but the discovery was small, though the pay was good. After staying one night they went up a small creek which led in the direction they wished to go, since known as Yreka Creek, on which is located the present town of Yreka. From thence the route was clear to Scotts Bar on Scotts River, where they arrived the next day. For years after the spot was shown where Joe Lane mined, but he did not stay long, returning in a few months to Oregon to engage in politics, much better suited to his genius than delving amid the sand and boulders.
Capt. Wright remained in Scotts Valley until October of the following year, when he went over to the mines which had been discovered the previous summer at Yreka, but then called Shasta Butte City, a name it retained until the meeting of the second session of the legislature of California, when the name was changed to Yreka and made the county seat of the newly created county of Siskiyou, which, until that time, had been a part of Shasta County.
The Indians of Scotts and Shasta valleys were not openly hostile, yet they needed watching and often pilfered from the miners and packers whenever opportunities offered. The Modocs, living eighty miles to the northeast, on the upper Klamath, often came into this country for the purpose of gambling and exchange of commodities with their neighbors the Shastas. Not seldom did their meetings break up in a fight in which the Modocs were usually the victors, carrying off the Shasta women into slavery.
As the whites increased in number and stores multiplied in the little mining town, the Modocs came to exchange their little commodities for goods and to gamble with the Shasta tribe. They were treated kindly, generally, seldom having cause to complain. Being thus treated kindly, the awe of the white man soon wore off and a feeling of contempt took its place; contempt, because being treated so kindly, they imagined that the whites were afraid of them, and a coward with them, as with all other people, was held in contempt. To this feeling was added another, still more potent, that of hatred, due to some disreputable person's gross and inexcusable conduct towards them. For this they held all as equally guilty. Possessed of inordinate thieving propensities, they could not resist, were there no other incentives, the many temptations to depredate upon the isolated ranchers in the valley of Shasta River. At that time a lucrative business was maintained by persons styling themselves ranchers, who, for a stipulated sum per month, would take charge of stock of any description and drive it out to their ranches and there herd it until called for by the owner, but in no case were they responsible to the owners for the safe delivery of the stock, in case it should be stolen, unless the owner should be possessed of more cheek, pistol and knife than the rancher. In such cases the owner would fix a responsibility upon the rancher which would be acquiesced in, even should it not be with a good grace or a firm conviction of its justice.
The Indians were not slow to get informed in relation to this ranching business, as several tame Shastas were already engaged as vaqueros, and [in relation to] the chances for them to profit by it. In the latter part of November, as some of them were en route to their own country after a visit to the Shastas, they entered several cabins in the absence of their owners and carried away all the goods found in them. And from one ranch near Shasta Butte they drove away about thirty head of horses and mules towards their homes on Tule Lake.
The rancher came in haste to the town and reported his loss, by whom stolen, and the direction taken by the thieves. Hunting up Capt. Wright, he laid his complaint before him, with a request for his aid in recovering the stolen stock. The next day the Captain collected those who had lost horses in this raid, besides others who wished to go out for the sake of the novelty of the expedition. The citizens furnished all needed supplies, because it was necessary to put a stop to such robberies at the beginning. Mustering a band of eighteen white men, two Shasta guides, besides three Wasco Indians who had accompanied him on his expedition from The Dalles to California in 1848, and were with him at the time of his expeditions against the Mexican bandits, he had a total of twenty-three men with which to enter upon his first Modoc campaign.
Among the men who went for no other purpose than the mere novelty of the expedition was one named William Chance. Brave, of a lively, joyous disposition, he was held in esteem by all, and will be hereafter known as "Bill" Chance, a constant companion and adviser of Capt. Wright from that time until the death of the latter a few years later, at the mouth of Rogue River, and he now holds an office of trust and profit in Clatsop County, Oregon. It was near the first of December and the nights were cool. From his camp on Shasta River the Captain moved rapidly after the Indians, who had two days the start. But they seem to have had much difficulty in driving the horses at anything like a rapid gait, and Wright was not far behind when they reached the vicinity of Little Klamath Lake.
The pursuers and pursued rode hard and late. Wright kept his Indians in advance, to track the fleeing Modocs, but often they were all going at a gallop, pell-mell over the undulating country. Coming on the second day, just before dark, to the Little Klamath, they camped for the night in a grove of juniper trees on the shore. Above them the shore was thickly studded with large, irregular rocks, often as high as a man's head, among which grew the ever-present juniper. Back of them and below the country was an open plain. On all the shore of the lake, and far into the shallow water, grew tall, waving tules.
The night was cold, the sky overcast, with leaden haze, portending snow. No fire was admissible, as their presence in the locality, they believed, was unknown to the Indians, although they may have expected to be pursued. Capt. Wright sent his Indian scouts up the lake shore in search of "sign," while the company lay down (their horses picketed close at hand), cold and supperless, save that each had a small piece of cold bread, saved from their morning meal, which they munched as they lay upon the ground, and the darkening sky threatening to cover them with a mantle of snow.
In the tules, near the shore, the indefatigable "mud hen" worked and worried, spluttered and squawked, while farther out in the lake, in the clear water, the more dignified aquatics reveled in undisturbed possession of their ancient domain, making the night air musical with their discordant notes of work and pleasure, as they searched for food and swam the German.
Little or no sleep for those waiting men that night. About midnight the scouts returned and reported the Indians encamped on the lake about five miles above, among the rocks at an old Indian encampment, and that they were not apprehensive of pursuit, as fires were burning in the midst of the sleeping thieves. The three scouts had gone out on foot, but returned mounted on one old horse, which they had abstracted from the band of stolen horses which the Indians had tied near their camp.
No more sleep that night, and the men crawled silently out from their not absolutely frozen beds to prepare for the meditated advance upon the Modocs before the opening of daylight. Long stakes were driven into the ground, forming two squares, each about eight feet in diameter, around which blankets were stretched from the ground up, to the width of two blankets. Within these enclosures fires were built and the morning meal prepared. Without these screens, the light of the fires could have been seen, thus revealing the presence of the pursuers. The company had been informally organized, and as there was a probability of a fight with the Indians, a better understanding regarding the officers was necessary. The company then elected William Kershaw first lieutenant and William Chance second lieutenant. When the organization had been perfected Capt. Wright said: "It does not always follow that in recovering stolen property it is necessary to kill the thieves. In this case, if we can get the horses without killing any of the Indians I would much prefer to do it, but if, in our legitimate acts, necessarily performed in recovering the stolen property, we are resisted and attacked, we will then defend ourselves, but go no further. If our little acts should ever form the theme for some future sketcher of pioneer events, I would much rather that we be mentioned as conforming to as just a code of ethics as is possible, surrounded as we are by a wild, cruel, unprincipled foe, whose acts in almost every case are sufficient to bring down upon them the severest punishment. They kill lone travelers, denude them of their clothing, leaving the mutilated bodies a prey to wild beasts. They swoop down upon isolated camps, rob and murder the inmates, if any there are, into a slavery worse than death, thus creating a state of war. From as far back as civilized writers have brought up the history of war, we find that the law of retaliation has been, is yet, and probably, as long as men continue to butcher each other, will be recognized as a necessary cruelty. And if we, in this new country, where we are at all times surrounded by hidden and open dangers from these cruel savages, refrain from retaliating in kind, but tamely submit to be butchered at will by these bloodthirsty Arabs, this rich country cannot, neither will it ever, be populated by our enlightened race--reclaimed from a wilderness to make homes for the thousands of enlightened beings yet to follow in our footsteps. If we are forced to do it, cruel though it may be, we will follow this law of retaliation, which, from long and continued usage by all civilized people, has become a recognized necessity, preventing, as it has been found to do, the perpetration of wholesale atrocities by those who could not be held in check without it. But if our system of ethics shall be subject to criticism by those who may hereafter pass upon our acts, we will harbor the reflection that those who have gone before us, and have given us examples, must bear a just proportion of censure."
The breakfast was spread out upon canvas pack covers, and the men gathered round to partake of the long-deferred meal of bread and beef and coffee. No one cared for a better meal, for to procure that much at all reasonable times was not the lot of those even who could justly be called wealthy. The men ate their meal in the uncertain light of the unsatisfactory juniper fires, the aromatic smoke from which caused many a bitter tear to fall from the unwilling eyes of the men as they stood around in the small enclosures and ate their bread and beef. Long before the break of day the men were mounted and ready for the march.
The three Wascos were dressed like the miners and were well known to them, but a white cloth was sewn into the headgear of the Shastas so as to more easily recognize them in the event of a possible engagement. Before they were ready to advance the snow began to fall, light at first, but soon increased, for the air had become perceptibly warmer. Their progress was slow, by reason of the horses' feet gathering balls of snow. Before they reached the Indians' camp daylight had begun to open out in the east. Urging their horses to the utmost, the Shasta guides in advance, they presently rounded a point, which brought them in view of the fires of the encampment, just as it was light enough to distinguish a man a hundred yards ahead.
The majority of the horses were gone, but a half-dozen were tied a few rods outside of the fires, around which sat a score or more Indians enjoying a meal of bread and sugar, stolen from the ranchers in Shasta Valley. Captain Wright took in the situation at a glance, and a loud, distinct "Surround them, boys, and secure the horses. Don't fire until you are fired at," sent the company at a wild gallop around the encampment. They were so far away that the Indians had time to seize their guns and begin the fight before they were fired at.
"Run them down, boys! Get every one you can!" and the men drew their revolvers and a brisk fight began. Some of the Indians seized the horses and tried to mount, but the horses were frightened at the unusual noise and could not be controlled. The Wascos saw their chance and rushed upon the Indians at the horses like tigers, shooting them down with their revolvers. The Shastas, too, anxious to settle old scores, fought bravely with their bows and arrows.
The fight was brisk, for the Modocs stood their ground and would not yield for several minutes; they had been driven from the horses and from the fires; some jumped into the canoes which were tied to the shore; others took to the tules in the edge of the water. Those who entered the canoes were followed by some of the men and the two guides, and a brisk little naval combat was inaugurated on the waters of the Little Klamath. The Indians were masters of canoe practice, while the white men were not. And for a time the affair was about even, as the men rocked the canoes so much that they could not aim their guns with anything like certainty.
The fight was over on the shore, and all the guns were turned upon the savages in the canoes. Amid the rattling shots and demoniac yells, the loud voice of the captain was heard, "Lieut. Chance, take two men and search for the trail of the missing horses. We'll soon finish this job, and then we must follow the other thieves." The lieutenant did as ordered, but he was loath to leave the fight, for just then the Indians who had taken to the tules came out in strong force above and sent a cloud of arrows into the mass of rushing men. "Charge them with your pistols!" and Wright, with a dozen men, went after them on a run, but the Indians broke for cover in the tules, and left the field to the victors, for those in the canoes had made their escape.
"I've found the trail, Captain. They've made off to the northwest, over the hills on a run," called Chance, as he came on a whooping run up to the men who were gathered in the camp securing what was left of the stolen goods.
"Come on ashore, boys; be quick about it; we must be spry, or we will lose the horses."
Two of the men were slightly punctured by arrows, but not serious enough to cause a stop. Several Modocs lay on the ground, and two were dead in the water. Away rode the pursuers, over the hills, down into the low depressions, out and over the hills again, their horses smoking with perspiration.
On the summit at last, and the objects of their pursuit were sighted a mile ahead, on a full run for the lava beds--though not then, nor until later years were they known to the whites--where they hoped to elude their pursuers. When they saw themselves so closely pursued, they labored to increase their speed, but their riding horses were tired, the loose ones often fractious, and they did not succeed. Slowly but surely the Captain and his men were overhauling them. But they kept on over the uneven country, whipping and yelling, determined to secure their booty. At last, when the pursuers were but 100 yards behind, they abandoned their horses and fled for their lives. When the savages abandoned the loose horses they turned a little to their right and disappeared over the brow of a hill.
"Two men secure the horses; we must follow the Indians and secure the ones they are riding." And over the hill, down into a narrow valley, across the intervening space and they are up to the abandoned riding horses, but the savages have vanished within a cave, the entrance to which was hid from view by a small cluster of wild plum bushes.
Gathering the loose horses together, the men dismounted to inspect the hiding place of the thieves. The bushes before the cave were somewhat open, and Lieutenant Chance, wishing to gain a better view of the interior, approached the entrance, and pulling away some of the obstructing brush, stooped down to take a peep within. As soon as he lowered his head for the purpose three arrows quickly darted out from the dark recess within. One of them passed through his hat, close to his scalp, carrying the hat several feet away and dropping it into the snow, the arrow still sticking in it. He jumped back from the dangerous spot without his hat. Another of the men ran to pick it up, but before he reached it more arrows followed the first, and he was forced to retire without it.
The entrance to the cave was something like a notch cut in the side of a low bench, so that above the entrance the ground was nearly level. Several of the men went up on top to better examine the location, when one of them, careless of his footing, slipped in the snow and rolled down in front of the cave. As he struck he ground several arrows zipped from out the cave, but passed over him, as he had fallen on his back. But in turning over, so that he could crawl away from the unhealthy locality, another arrow passed under the skin of the lower part of his back, inflicting a wound that rendered it more than uncomfortable for him to occupy his saddle on his return to the mines.
This cave is about three miles southeast on Tule, or Rhett, Lake, and is out in an open country. To camp there and try to starve the Indians out would be sheer nonsense. The Captain called a council of war to disclose the situation. As they were standing near the entrance they were somewhat amused, as well as surprised, at the sudden appearance of an Indian from out the cave, wearing over his head an old iron camp kettle, out of the side of which a piece was cut so that he could review the surroundings. He began a rapid discharge of arrows at his enemies, having two quiversful slung over his shoulder. Possibly his mother was a Thetis and he an Achilles, and by wearing an ironclad head would be impervious to the white man's bullet.
The amusement did not last long for either party, for the Indian's arrows had too pointed a meaning to be laughed at for more than three seconds, and twenty rifles suddenly broke the silence of that cold, snow-mantled plain, and seven bullets penetrated that ironclad head, while the remainder riddled his body.
It was useless to spend more time at the cave, for the Modocs were not to be abstracted from their hiding place, and the company set out to Tule Lake to hunt a camping ground, for the night was close at hand. Three miles' travel brought them to the lake, but it was with much difficulty that sufficient wood was found for their fires. The camp was made after dark, the wind blew cold, and the light fall of snow was a frozen crust. The men passed a hard night, little sleep, no comfort, and a sorry appearance they made in the morning as they stood around the smoky juniper fires, a cup of coffee in one hand, a chunk of dirty bread in the other, eating their morning meal. Having nothing more of a hostile nature on hand, the company returned to the mines, with twenty-one head of the stolen horses and mules.
It may not be out of place at this time to speak briefly of the discovery of the mines at Shasta Butte City, as they are so near the state line, and played an important part at that time, and later, with Oregon and the Oregonians. The first gold was found in the grass roots, under a lone pine tree standing about half a mile west of a little creek upon which the Oregon drovers and packers camped while going to and from the mines on Scotts River. While some drovers were camped on the creek two of them went out to herd the cattle, which were grazing in the gulches near the lone pine. Sitting down under the tree, smoking and talking of the mines and their future prospects, one of them drew his sheath knife, saying, "I believe there are good diggings right here."
"Nonsense!" rejoined his companion, "All good diggings are found along creeks or rivers."
"This dirt looks just like the dirt down at Shasta Bar, only three miles from here, and I don't see why there is no gold here."
He was gouging the ground vigorously all the time, and suddenly turned up a large nugget of bright gold.
"Didn't I tell you so? We are rich men. Don't tell anybody." But they did tell it, and within a week hundreds of miners came to the new discovery.
Pack trains on their way to other places turned to the new mines, and stores and miners' tents went up as if by magic. The woods on the nearby hills resounded with the noise of axes and the reports of rifles, while the monotonous "whish, whish" of the whipsaw was heard on the hillside, as the pine trees were sawed into lumber at the moderate price of $300 per 1000 feet. From Oregon came potatoes and onions and bacon at 75¢ per pound, while flour was cheaper, only from $55 yo $60 per 100 pounds. A common long-handled shovel or a pick at $8, and a new chopping ax at $10, a whipsaw at $32, was called cheap. Wages, at first twelve, then eight, six and at last settled down to four dollars per day. Many men of subsequent note were there--J. K. Luttrell, toiling over his boiling kettles and steaming washtubs, cleansing old dirty flannel shirts at $1.25 and then as low as $1 each. From that to county treasurer; then farmer, Indian agent, till at last he reached the lower house of Congress, where he fired the first shot at the Central and Union Pacific railroads, which ultimately led to an investigation of their noncompliance with their charter relations to the United States. The brilliant J. K. Lamerick--from ------ to a brigadier general, commanding two regiments of Oregon volunteers in the Rogue River war of 1855. Judge G. W. Tyler--from a saddle shop to the bar, and the noted champion of Sarah Althea Hill Sharon. D. D. Colton--from a miner to a man of leisure, undersheriff, sheriff, major general, and at last rose in majestic proportions as a railroad and steamship magnate. His widow but a few days ago lost her heavy suit against C. P. Huntington, et al., in which she claimed that she had been defrauded of more than $1,000,000 of her late husband's property.
When the California & Oregon Railroad shall have been completed to the Oregon line, this same town of Yreka will control a large share of the trade of Klamath and Lake counties, for the wagon road from that place to these is shorter and better than from any other railroad point.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 18, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
The First Gold Discoveries in Southern Oregon.
Another Brush with the Modocs--Helping Out a Stock Drover--
Dave Colton Shows Too Much Bravery.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]The opening of the year 1852 was pregnant with signs of great prosperity and rapid development of the valleys lying contiguous to and divided by the Siskiyou Range of mountains. Gold mines had been discovered south of that range, and were in a state of rapid development. Agriculture, then bearing less than a secondary relation to other branches of industry, had just gained a foothold in Scotts and Shasta valleys, with bright prospects for heavy pecuniary returns in the near future. Along the winding trails through these sister valleys a few farm houses had been erected, and many more were in course of construction. The first furrows of the plow had been traced in the virgin soil, and primitive fences marked the boundaries of the settlers' fields; the welcome tinkle of cow bells was heard on the broad expanse of meadow and in the dense willow shades along the winding streams.
Household comforts were few, luxuries there were none. The farmers' wives had not yet passed the portals of their homes, nor the cheery voices of their children driven dull care from their minds and filled their lonely hearts with joy. The care of the house was a part of the farmer's daily task; the preparation of his food was not a joy forever, for in it there was no pronounced mode, nor trace of the science of the beautiful. But the mines were rich, the valleys extensive, the soil was fertile, and the star of success shone bright in the zenith of the future. Better times, less care of household work, would come, bringing the much wished-for wives and children and a supply of marriageable girls.
North of the Siskiyou Range, in the valleys of the Rogue River, Illinois River and Applegate, the aborigines yet held to their ancient dominion, and the white man had not yet planted his foot where he was to remain and reclaim the fertile valleys from the wild, unproductive waste characterizing them in the past. At three points, distant from each other and unconnected by direct route, gold in paying quantities had been discovered. In the valleys south of the Siskiyous the farmers stuck to their plows and fields, but from the rivers and creeks and placers the miners surged to the northward, spreading to the right, to the left, to all points of the compass, and in the late summer of 1852 every point of note for a hundred miles or more north, east and west of the mountains had been explored, and the wild beasts and their allies, the Indians, had heard their knell of extinction and listened to the swelling notes of the future dominion of the invaders.
In the summer of that year the maximum of cattle driving to the mines of California had been reached, and many large droves were stopped before crossing the Oregon line, to feed the growing population and to stock the little farms that sparsely dotted the extensive Rogue River Valley. The center of attraction at that time was the point where now stands Jacksonville, the present county seat of Jackson County. A man named Clugage had discovered the first diggings of note on the Oregon side of the mountains, in a small shallow gulch opening out and gradually merging into the large valley near a creek afterwards known (the name is now seldom used) as Jackass Creek, upon which rich diggings were soon developed.
The reported richness of the Clugage gulch (latterly called Rich Gulch) spread far and wide. Stores went up, saloons were not behind, pack trains and droves of fat Oregon cattle crossed high mountains, wound along amid low timbered hills, crossed deep, foaming rocky rivers and from the wide outlying valley closed up around the teeming camp to reap their share of shining gold by fair exchange of needed goods. New diggings were discovered in the vicinity, and in all the outlying country except to the east. Up Rogue River and down it on Applegate [illegible] and gulches of the latter, and in the adjoining hills. By the following winter the whole of Southern Oregon was literally swarming with the pushing white man, even to the most hidden nooks of that auriferous and fertile land.
From a few tents, an occasional log house or split board shanty, the town rose rapidly to respectable dimensions, increasing in the varied styles of mountain architecture and primitive beauty till Jacksonville became a haven of rest for the weary miner and traveler, a place of wealth and merited noted--not yet deserted by its former prestige.
This well-merited fame of this locality and that of Yreka, Scotts and Shasta valleys met the emigrants on their way to middle California at the Truckee, and several trains changed their course to these new fields of enterprise and prospective wealth. Of the misfortunes of some of these trains we shall shortly take notice. Their battles with the Modocs from near Goose Lake to and along the headwaters of the Klamath, their privations, sufferings and heroism during many days of travel and continuous battle, until met and rescued by Capt. Wright and his little band of noble-hearted, stalwart Indian fighters.
But in the meantime pay a short visit to a miner's cabin on the outskirts of Yreka. As you approach it in the darkness of the night of the 7th of February, 1853, the lively strains of a violin float clear and strong to your ears on the still air of that clear, cold night. In the house were assembled a number of men--of varied occupations, some of whom subsequently became noted, in a greater or lesser degree--for the laudable purpose of celebrating the 20th birthday of one of their number, and to partake of the good things supplied by that individual, for he had lately cleaned up a snug little fortune out of a lucky mining exploit. D. D. Colton, whom all must recollect who were in Siskiyou County in early times, though his name and business talents became, in later years, widely known, a man of phenomenal force of character, and those who were ever the recipient of a handshake from him maintained for an extended time the recollection of the lingering aches of his own crushed hand. So that the "Colton grip" was proverbial. Familiarly known as "Dave," he was a favorite with a majority of those who knew him. Sam Fair, the popular sheriff a few years later of this county, and who departed therefrom very mysteriously, leaving his accounts in good order. Con. Hillman, the genial, versatile Con.--saloonist, lawyer, physician, Indian fighter, government contractor, furnishing supplies to the regular and volunteer forces at the lower Rogue River in 1856. W. D. Slade--the originator and proprietor of the Mountain Herald, the first newspaper published at Yreka. Capt. Wright, Bill Chance and many other subsequently notable characters, all young men under 25 years of age, were there, and Joe Rambo was doing his level best on his old violin to enchant that convivial assemblage. A loud knock on the door sounds above the dim inside.
"Who is there?"
"Lou (Alonzo) Price. Don't you know me?"
"Yes, come in, Lou."
"Is Capt. Wright here?"
"Yes, here he is."
"What's the matter, Lou; any bad news?"
"No, not very bad for anyone, except for an Oregonian who was camped out on the Klamath with his cattle, when the Indians stole about fifteen head of his best steers and ran them off up the river."
"Well, what else?"
"He came into town to hunt you up."
"What does he want of me?"
"He wants you to go out after the Indians and get his cattle back."
"And he will pay for it?"
"I suppose so; beef is selling at 40 cents per pound, you know."
"But I'm no cattle driver."
"He wants you to drive the Indians, and he'll drive the cattle."
"If we can find the Indians I wouldn't mind giving them a chase."
"We're in for it, Captain. Let's make up a company, and go out after the thieves, and if the wild sisters get after us, we'll bring them in on the halves."
"I'm agreed, but we might as well go prepared to prospect, for I believe there are good diggings on that Cottonwood Creek that comes into the Klamath from the north side."
"Is it that creek where we were camped when the Indians fired into us, and Gen. Lane started after them before he put his boots on?"
"Yes, how many will go?"
A count was made, and fourteen consented to go.
"That's enough, boys; if we are disappointed by not finding diggings there will be but few of us to mourn."
"But how about the Indians?"
"Nine good men ought to clean out all the Indians that can be found running around in this act of weather."
So the preliminaries were arranged, and they were to start on a winter hunt after Indians the day after the following one.
"Give us another tune, Joe, before we disperse."
"Do you want any particular tune?"
"Anything; select one yourself."
"I'll play 'Bonaparte's Retreat from Moscow'; that will be the most fitting, because it will best illustrate your advance and return."
And Joe sawed away at that peculiar tune amid the laughter of this jovial assembly.
The next day preparations were made for the trip; riding and pack horses were brought in from the ranches, packs arranged, bullets molded, powder horns filled, and all other things done necessary for a first-class outfit. Shortly after noon they filed out of the town, accompanied by the Oregon drover and two of his hired men, who longed for a little experience in the science, pleasure or necessity of Indian fighting. There was snow on the hillsides at certain sheltered spots, the ground was yet somewhat muddy and their progress was slow. Camp was made at the Willow Springs, or Tryon's Ranch, that night, for it was a standing rule with quite the whole of that early population to camp, if at the proper time of day, at some place where refreshments, both solid and liquid, were dispensed.
The next day at noon they halted at the ferry on the Klamath, where the Oregon trail came down to the river. Search was made up the river for a mile, then out into the open country, circling back to the ferry, for the trail of the Indians and the lost cattle, but it could not be found. Captain Wright then ordered a move up the river for several miles, where a camp was made for the night. Being provided with tents and all things necessary for camping they passed a comfortable night, though the weather was cold. In the morning they struck out directly south, away from the river, carefully scanning every foot of the ground for tracks, or a trail which would put them on the right scent, which they at last found, about one mile away from the river. They had left a well-defined trail which led up the river, and gradually leading toward it.
They followed the trail all that day, and at night camped on the river thirty-five miles above the ferry. At an early hour the next morning eleven head of the cattle were discovered a mile above the camp, but no Indians were found, although plenty of signs were discovered of their recent presence.The country for several miles around was carefully searched, but without succeeding in discovering the thieves or positive clue to the direction they had taken. The captain returned down the river, and when they had arrived at a point fifteen miles above the ferry they halted at a spring and made camp for the night. Three of the men went out to hunt for deer, as their tracks were plentiful all along their route. It was early in the afternoon, and the men slowly sauntered away from the river to the southward, into the rolling and sometimes sharply broken country. When about fifteen miles distant from the camp they approached the face of an elevated rocky plateau. The point which they were directly approaching was in the form of a bay amid the rocks. Into this secluded, rocky nook they passed, and sat down under an overhanging rock
"Don't you think, boys, that we are danger of being attacked by Indians?" asked one of them, who was noted for his intrepidity and great caution.
"We may find some of them, but we are good hunters and stand as good a show to attack them as they do to attack us. We don't intend to run from less than fifty of them."
"It won't do to let them get 'the drap' on us, anyway. We must keep a good lookout and not let them get the first shot."
"If we meet any of them I'm in for giving them a little fight, just to let them know that we are not afraid of them."
"I think that your courage will be put to the test then, before night, for I believe that they have been watching us ever since we left the ferry yesterday."
"Are you afraid?"
"No; I'll do as much in a fight as you, or Charley, but I believe that it is foolhardy for only three of us to be out here so far from camp when we must believe that, from the signs we have seen, that there are a hundred or more in the neighborhood."
"There is truth in that, so let's go to camp, then. It's too late to get a deer today. Besides, if we should shoot at a deer we would wake up the whole nest of savages and have them down upon us in a short time."
"I believe that they are here already," said Charley Geiger, the third man, who had not yet spoken, but had been gazing intently out in the direction from whence they had come. "I can see an Indian's head, or something like it, just above that little thicket yonder."
"I can see it, too. It is a head without a doubt."
"There's another, just now come up, a head to the right of the first one."
"Look yonder! There are two of them out in plain view."
"They are Indians. There they go, kicking up their heels to attract our attention."
"Now do you believe that I was right when I said that they had been watching us?"
"I am satisfied that they know that we are here, and are setting some kind of a trap for us."
"That's it; they are out there to attract our attention, while another party is crawling up onto us to lay us out."
"I believe that. Keep a good lookout, both of you, while I shoot that fellow. I can hit him from here."
"Save your bullets; you will want them for surer work before long."
Just then their attention was attracted to the rocks above, and a little to the left, by a slight rattling of loose stones. At the instant they turned their eyes in the direction of the sounds they were saluted with a few rifle shots, and a dense flight of arrows whistled through the air and sputtered amongst the loose rocks and stunted brush.
They quickly returned the fire, but could get but a passing glimpse of the enemy, for they dropped behind the rocks as soon as they had discharged their weapons. Neither of the men were injured, but their clothes had been pierced by bullet or arrow.
"We must get out of this; in a hurry, too. It will not do to stop here and keep up a fight. They will hide behind the rocks and take us off, one at a time, should we not be so unfortunate as to be all taken at once."
The firing by the enemy had opened again, and the bullets rattled among the stones and the arrows glanced from the standing rocks.
"Come on, boys; let's make for the open country."
"All right; that's our only chance."
"Come on, then; let's all start at once. Don't run straight ahead, but make short zigzags, so that they cannot take a steady aim at you."
"We might run against a bullet, then."
"We have many chances to take before we get out of this little affair."
They were on the keen jump for the comparatively open country, and the Indians were sending bullets after them at an uncomfortable rate. The Indians in front of them tried to stop them, but their bullets and arrows did not reach their mark, and the three men kept ahead.
"You miserable, bloodthirsty thieves, when we get away from these rocks we'll give it to you!" And with gun in the left hand, revolver in the right, they rushed in an eccentric, zigzag course upon the yielding natives, who sensibly kept out of their reach. They had run about a mile, and were clear of rocky hiding places for the Indians. They were much exhausted, and panted heavily. A little grove of oak trees was near at hand, and they entered it to utilize the shelter it afforded while they rested from their rapid flight. When they had halted and examined their pursuers, they saw, as near as they could count them, about twenty, yelling and circling out around them.
"The yelling coyotes! They haven't got us yet. I wish the old devil had them all."
"I'll stop the yelling of that tall fellow with the long feathers on his head."
"Take good aim and let--" the rifle cracked, and the tall savage leaped high in the air and fell upon the grass.
"He won't howl anymore. Ough! I've got it now," and the blood ran down upon his hand. The Indians were coming closer.
"Is your arm broken, Charley?"
"No. Never mind me; give it to those three fellows coming yonder," and his own rifle cracked in another direction, while the man to whom he had spoken felled one of the three, and stopped the advance of the other two.
The Indians lay down behind grassy hummocks, behind old pine logs, or any other available hiding place, and kept up a dangerous fire upon the three men, who whirled around the trees for shelter and to unsettle the aim of the Indians, but still they kept their own arms in active use.
"My arm bleeds so that I can't load my gun anymore; the blood wets my powder."
"We can't stand still long enough to bind it up. Lay down your gun and tear off a piece of your shirt, and wrap it around tightly above the wound, and over it."
He stood his gun against a tree, and keeping on the move, he succeeded at length in binding a piece of his shirt so tightly around his arm that the flow of blood was sufficiently staunched for him to use his gun again. During this time the music had been lively, and the men kept good time to it, nor did they allow their enemies rest.
"It is nearly night, boys; we must make a break for liberty."
"If we can keep them off until it becomes dark, we will stand a better chance to get away."
"I differ with you. If there were only three or four of them we could make it easy enough, or we would be the attacking party then, and would wipe them out in five minutes. But there are so many of them that they will keep us surrounded, and while we are keeping of those in our rear, the rascals in front will take advantage of the flashing of our guns and put their shots in to our disadvantage."
"What do you think of the matter, Charley? You have not said much, but have kept up your part in good shape."
"I think that if we can put in a few more good shots, and if theirs don't get one or all of us down, we can hold our own until we get help from the other boys, who will look for us before long, for they know that there are Indians in the neighborhood. There is a chance for them to hear the firing. We are less than two miles from camp, and I'm satisfied that something will turn up in our favor before long."
No more was said for a short time. The firing, yelling and moving had been going on all the time. It seemed to be a useless expenditure of ammunition, as no one, as far as could be seen, was being injured.
"Boys, we must make a break to get out of this, right off, too, if we expect to get out at all," said the speaker. "I'm going to make a break pretty soon. We are less than two miles from camp, and we can outrun them."
"But those in our front?"
"We drove them once, and can do it again, or kill the last one of them. I'm going; come on," and he made a sudden start.
"Hold on! Come back! Somebody is coming out yonder. If they are our men, we must stay here; if they are Indians, this is the best place for us."
"From which direction are they coming?"
"From the direction of our camp."
"I see them now. Don't they make their horses fly, though?"
"They are white men."
"Capt. Wright and Bill Chance."
"Yes, five of us can lay all these thieving coyotes out. They've stopped their howling."
The Indians had seen them, too, and fired a few shots at them, for they were only two hundred yards away. The two men drew their pistols and came on. The savages parted and ran a safe distance away, while the two horsemen, at a full run, their horses foaming at mouths and flanks, dashed up into the little grove and dismounted. The Indians ran hastily off to the rear, out of rifle shot, and the coast was clear. As soon as the captain dismounted he remarked, "I see that you have had a tight time of it, boys. You have done well to be on as good footing as you are, with such great odds against you."
"We've had a little excitement, Captain; that's all."
"But Charley has had something more than a little excitement. Are you hurt much, Charley?"
"No, it's only a flesh wound, but it feels awfully hot. I'm fearfully thirsty and my arm feels as though it were roasting."
"We will get to camp soon and then we will fix it up better than it is now. How long have you been engaged in this affair?"
"About three hours."
"Did you kill any of them?"
"A few, I think; at any rate we've done them much more harm than they have done to us."
"It will be dark in half an hour, so that we cannot attend to these savages tonight, but tomorrow we will get after them, and pay them a little more for the damages that they have already done."
The Indians had disappeared, but were still in the neighborhood, and did not show any desire to prolong the fight. The lateness of the hour gave both parties an opportunity to retire in good order.
"How did you happen to find us out, Captain?"
"We were riding out to look at the country, out of mere curiosity, and luckily came in this direction. We heard several shots, but thought that you were firing at some sort of game, and continued on to meet you. The reports were indistinct, for we were more than a mile away, but after awhile we heard several shots in too rapid succession for peaceable rifle practice,and concluded that you had struck the Indians and were playing your hands alone. So we put spurs to our horses, and--you see that we are here."
"We are right glad that you came as you did, for we were about to start to camp and try our luck at a foot race, and it might not have ended well."
"Come, we are delaying long; we must start for camp. Here, Charley, mount my horse. You are weak from loss of blood."
Charley rose from his seat on a large rock, where he had been sitting silently, carefully nursing his arm, and mounted the Captain's horse as requested, when they started for camp, which they soon reached, and Charley's wounded arm was quickly bandaged and placed under a steady stream of cold water.
The next morning preparations were made to scout for the Indians, and as they could spend no more time with the drover and his cattle, he was started down the river to the ferry, and as there was a possibility of his being attacked before he reached that place, the Captain sent three men with him, who, with himself and two drovers ought to be able to hold their own and get to the ferry that day. With the remainder the Captain started out to develop [sic] and punish the Indians. Repairing to the rocks where the Indians attacked the three men the day before, they found no Indians nor recent trace of them.
Dismounting, and leaving a guard with the horses, they ascended to the summit of the rocks, which was quite level, and from which an extensive view of the surrounding country was obtained. All was still; no moving objects in view except something like a deer which entered a patch of brush a quarter of a mile away.
"There seems to be no Indians in this vicinity. If they have not left the country they are secreted in some of the many places around here, which seem well adapted for that purpose," said the Captain, who for a few minutes had been morosely nursing one side of his face, for he was afflicted with a severe attack of galloping toothache. "I feel just now as though I could, singlehanded, clear out the whole tribe of those thieving coyotes."
"That's good, Captain, you can have the job, but in the meantime," said Chance, "you and I will go and bring in that deer that we saw go into that brush over yonder; a little excitement will make you forget your toothache."
"All right, Bill. Stay here, boys, till we get back; we won't be gone long."
The two then descended to the bottom of the low elevation and struck out in the direction of the deer. After they had got about two hundred yards away, and were hid from view by the many clusters of bushes, tall, isolated rocks and large pine trees, Dave Colton, who was noted for his talents for getting up all sorts of larks, proposed that they have some fun, as the expedition so far had been very uninteresting.
"Sam, let's you and I go down belong the logs and play 'Injun' on them. It will cure the Captain's toothache to give them a little start."
"Agreed. Now don't some more of you start out to fool us. We must not get scattered, so that if there should be Indians around they'll have a chance to kill a lot of us and make the balance take to tall timber."
Colton and Sam slid down to the level land and began a stooping, skulking advance to the left of the place where Wright and Chance had passed from view.
"It's a foolish place of business to play 'Injun' when there are so many chances in favor of being called on to play 'white man' at any moment."
"If the Captain and Bill should see them first, I wouldn't wager a copper against a fifty-dollar slug that they'll have whole hides ten minutes after."
"If none of the boys should get hurt, I'd be glad if the Indians would get after them."
"If they should, wouldn't Dave make his long legs do duty, though."
Ten minutes had elapsed since the funmakers had gone out of sight. "Billy" Kershaw was still acting first lieutenant, and was getting more nervous as the minutes passed by.
"This is a foolish piece of byplay. Come on, boys, we will go and mount our horses and come around here, and ride out towards them if they are not in sight when we get back. Hurry up, boys," and they departed over the rocks, down to their horses.
"There is no deer out here, but I believe that I caught a slight glimpse of something moving down there, about two hundred yards away," said Wright.
"It is that deer, then; he would be that far away by this time," and the two men moved slowly in that direction.
"Look here, Dave," said Sam; "you had better keep a lookout ahead, instead of behind, for we are not more than two hundred yards distant from the boys now."
"I believe that this is going to be a bigger joke than we at first anticipated," said Dave, and his usually jovial countenance showed a shade of anxiety, "for I think that there are a dozen bipeds of some sort down in that bushy gulch behind us."
"It may be some of our boys."
"They are not as big fools as we are. By Jupiter! that's an arrow. Let's get out of this, Sam."
Away they went on the run towards Wright and Bill, while more arrows followed the first and a volley of rifle shots sounded clear and ominous from out the brush and fallen trees in their rear.
"The Indians have attacked us, Captain, but at long range," said Bill.
"There are two of them running right towards us; they're after a singlehanded tussle. We'll give it to them quick enough. I don't think that they can see us now."
"Back a little till I shoot--Hold, Captain; I don't believe they are Indians."
The rattling of the rifles still continued, and was approaching nearer.
"Why, Bill, that's Dave and Sam."
"It must be. Indians don't often have yellow hair."
"I can outrun you, Sam," said Dave. "So gallop while I shoot at the devils," and he fired back and then followed after Sam, who was not a good runner.
"Not another inch will I run, Dave; we'll fight them awhile anyway."
"That's what I thought till I saw about twenty of them."
"Did you, though? That's another thing; come on, then."
"That's Dave and Sam, sure enough, and the Indians are firing at them, not at us."
"We'll go and meet them, then," and they started on the run for that purpose.
"Faster, boys, faster," yelled Billy Kershaw, as he and the mounted man dashed at steeplechase speed through the maze of tall rocks, brush and big pine trees around the rocky point. "The boys are at it hot enough. Give them a whoop to let them know we're coming," and among the trees, over the rocks burst a loud, irregular yell from the strained necks of the wildly dashing horsemen.
"The boys are coming, Bill; and so are the Indians. What are you fellows doing out here, Dave?"
"Come out to take care of you and Bill. Lucky for you, wasn't it?"
The Indians came on, firing and yelling lustily.
"Take to cover, boys, and hold them back; the other boys will soon be here," and each one sought shelter, for plenty of such useful things were at hand.
"This way, boys," called Kershaw; "the Indians are down there in the brush. The Captain and the other boys are off to our right."
They changed their course to the left and went thundering down into the brush and timber below.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 25, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
The Modocs Call Forth Another Chastisement from the Whites.
Early Settlement of Cottonwood Junction Mines--A Picturesque Spot--
The Rogue River Indians Begin Depredations.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]When Capt. Wright saw Lieutenant Kershaw coming at a charge through the timber and turning a little to the left to attack the Indians in the gulch, he called loudly to him to "Dismount and leave three men with the horses, and charge with revolvers. We will do the same from here. Come on, boys; we must go in to stay." Lieutenant Kershaw did as ordered, and Wright and his men drew their revolvers and started on a run through the brush towards the Indians. The enemy did not seem inclined to give but little, and that was to fall back a few rods into the thick brush on the opposite side of the gulch. When Wright and Kershaw charged there was but little firing, but when the Indians had secured their position they renewed the action in very good style. So brisk was the firing by the savages that the white men were brought to a standstill, and somewhat on the defensive.
The two little detachments closed up in as extended a line as was proper, and fired their shots from behind such shelter as they could secure. These men had been left in charge of the horses, thus reducing Wright's force to nine men, and with this small force he did not deem it advisable to attempt to drive the Indians from their strong position. Every man stood well up to the work and yelled lustily as well as to put in every shot in the best advantage. The firing slackened perceptibly after the first spurt was over, and soon went off into desultory, but more careful, firing. For twenty minutes this was kept up, yet only one of Wright's men had been touched, and that was but a slight wound in his left hand, but it was known that several of the enemy had been killed and wounded.
As it was not discreet to charge the savages in their strong position, when it was known that they numbered so many, with such a small force, and to lose more time in such a useless duel was not a good plan to pursue, Wright concluded to draw them from their position if possible. Both parties were well hidden from each other, and a move by either would not be attended by much danger, as the captain said, "We will draw back to our horses, mount, then gallop around the head of the gulch and come in on the other side of them. While we are going up, they will think, probably, that we are running away, and will come out to follow us, and then we can get a better chance at them."'
The move was cautiously made, but the Indians did not advance, neither did they fire; all was still on their side of the gulch. The company went up the gulch at a gallop, around the head of it, down again toward the hiding place of the Indians. But they had decamped, and when the captain arrived opposite to it a yelling shout, as of derision, came from the summit of a low ridge a hundred yards distant. At the time Wright started up the gulch to draw the Indians out they had left their coverts and run back to the higher ground and up to the summit.
"There are at least thirty of them, but as they are out in the open country we will now charge with our revolvers and possibly get enough of them to pay us for our trouble. Form a line, draw revolvers and charge."
Over the intervening level they charged, up to the foot of the rising ground, when three or four straggling shots were fired at them by the Indians, whose heads just showed above the summit, but on they went up to the summit, and off another hundred yards in front a dozen Indians were seen down in a narrow defile on a keen jump for some other place. Down the declivity charged the men after the running savages, but before they reached the bottom a volley of rifle shots and a flight of arrows was poured into them from the rear, wounding two of the horses and three of the men slightly.
"Halt! Let those Indians go! Come back; we've got some of them, at least."
"Where are they, Captain?"
"Back here, somewhere; come on"; and with drawn revolvers they rode back and up to the summit again, while the smoke from the Indians' guns was curling in a thick cloud over and behind a large rock a little below them and in their rear.
"I believe we have found another cave, boys; we've lost our game again."
"The mouth of it is behind that big rock, and it is not very large either."
"It's an underground fort. They've made quite a breastwork around the entrance with stones. They have used this place a great deal, too, for the ground is tramped as hard as a stone."
"Four of you stay here and keep a good lookout, so as not to be surprised, or let the Indians come out and get away. Two of you are a match for all that can crowd into that small hole at one time."
Four men remained while the others went off after the Indians who had been seen running away. A ride of half a mile around the locality failed to discover any Indians or any place where they might be concealed. They came back to the cave, but the men on guard could report no attempt by those in the cave to come out.
"What now, Captain? We are at the end of our picket rope."
"I don't know of anything better to do than to go back to the ferry. We cannot get these Indians out of their hole.""
"Can't we smoke them out?" suggested one of the men.
"That would be too much like groundhog hunting."
"That's about what they are; they are no better."
"Roll a stone down and block up the entrance and starve them till they'll be willing to make such a treaty as we shall dictate."
"I do not doubt but that they have plenty of food in there to last them several months. It is an old place of refuge, and it is quite certain that they are prepared for any emergency."
"Do you think that the runaway Indians have a cave, too?"
"Very likely, or possibly there is another entrance to this one."
"We might as well leave them, boys," said the Captain; "the sun is almost down, and we must ride hard to get to the ferry in season. If we do not soon hear of these or some other Indians doing more damage nearby we will prospect a few days on the creek."
The next day they crossed to the north side of the Klamath and went down a short distance to the creek and began sinking holes to the bedrock, after the fashion of that time, in search of gold.
For a few days no satisfactory results followed their labor, but by repeated trials for a week, very fair diggings were discovered and mining began in real earnest. Capt. Wright, Dave Colton, Sam Fair and some others returned to Yreka and privately informed their friends of the discovery, many of whom repaired at once to the new camp. In a few days enough men had arrived at the new camp to define the limits of the district and to make laws for the government of the mines, which they did, and the new camp was enrolled on an equal footing with others of its degree.
The land on the Klamath above and near Cottonwood Creek is quite level and sparsely covered with pine trees, some of which are of large growth. It is understood that the point of junction of the Oregon & California and California & Oregon railroads has been established on the level land on the north bank of the Klamath River, near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, and but a short distance from the base of the Siskiyou Mountains. When these roads shall have been completed and the necessary buildings erected the quiet, picturesque surroundings cannot fail of particular notice by observant travelers.
The traveler going south, after emerging from the long tunnel through the Siskiyous, will find himself on the southern line of that magnificent range of mountains, high above the Klamath River, which dashes swiftly along at the base. An extended and magnificent view will be opened as the train descends by imperceptible degrees to the level land below. The large, open valley of Shasta River, over forty miles in diameter, is spread out to the view, with the beautiful little stream meandering in and out through the diversified expanse which is thickly set with broad fields enclosing happy, prosperous homes; while beyond and above all the mighty, sparkling snow-mantled dome of Mt. Shasta towers high amid the fleecy clouds, far away to the south.
This little history of this Cottonwood junction comes fairly within the scope of these articles, and its relation at this time will not be inopportune. Within two months from the discovery of gold on this creek, hundreds of miners came in and prospected this and surrounding gulches, from its junction with the Klamath to its source in the Siskiyous. Stores and saloons came into the new camp at once, and it assumed all the leading characteristics of similar places before its fame had traveled a hundred miles. The available farming lands along both banks of the river in the vicinity of the creek were, in a few months, squatted upon for legitimate farming or for speculation, and the selection of ranches for pasturage kept pace with the needs of the miners and packers. So that before the expiration of the summer months of 1852, that which was once a wild, silent waste was teeming with life, and the unwonted sounds of the white man's industries were heard on every hand.
With the multiplying of miners' and farmer's cabins, and the isolated tents of ranchers, and droves of horses and cattle, came the neighboring Indians from up the Klamath, and many Shastas and Modocs, to drive away the stock and burglarize the cabins. For a few months the outrages were not numerous nor destructive, and the miners and others were too earnestly engaged in their varied vocations to follow and punish the thieves. The success attending these raids emboldened the Indians, and they soon added murder to their other crimes. Capt. Wright, who was engaged in mining, at once raised a company to punish the thieves and murderers once more.
That the Indians had a rendezvous and place of shelter in a cave, fifteen miles up the river, had not been forgotten by the captain. He was fully convinced that to successfully punish the Indians he must get between them and the cave, and thus prevent them from gaining shelter within it. He must ambush them. Along the south bank of the river and far out on the trail to Yreka, little farmhouses had begun to exhibit healthy signs of domestic comfort. The yards and other fixtures impressed the traveler with thoughts of home far away to the east. These little homelike points were not secure from raids from the Indians, and one evening the lone occupant of one of these cabins was found dead in his yard, his body filled with arrows. His house had been rifled of its contents, and some damage done to his other property. The commission of this last outrage was the immediate cause of Capt. Wright organizing a company to chastise the Indians.
Among the miners on Cottonwood was one who had in his employ an Indian belonging to the Pit River tribe, and who was much attached to the whites and entertained a special hatred of the surrounding Indians. This Indian's wife had formerly been the slave of the Shastas, and spoke their language. After consulting with the miners and farmers, Wright engaged this Indian and his squaw to go to the cave and inform the Indians that on a certain day the white men were all going to Yreka, and the settlement would be unguarded, and that it would be a good time to reap a rich harvest of spoil, and to be on hand in the morning of that day. The only reason for giving them this information was that it was the plain duty of all Indians to unite in the robbery and destruction of the white men. This scheme, whether just, or the contrary, worked well, and the cave Indians promised to profit by the information. Before the arrival of the appointed day the Indians from the cave came down and robbed the tent of a rancher and wounded him in the arm with an arrow, so bold had they become.
I was agreed by the whites to refrain from outdoor work that day, so as to give a coloring of truth to the information given to the ludicrous. Wright and his company left the creek early in the morning of the appointed day and took the trail to Yreka for a few miles, then turning to the east into the hill and awaited news from the creek, which was to be brought to him by parties who were to occupy a certain point of observation. The hours passed by, and about 9 o'clock in the forenoon of the appointed day the Indians came pouring down from the rough country along the Klamath. Some began to gather up the few head of old horses left in view, while others entered the cabins to pack up the few articles of little value left in them.
When the Indians made their appearance the lookouts clapped spurs to their horses, and down from their post of observation they went at a headlong gait, out into the trail, and along it until arriving at the designated place of departure they turned to the left, and for two miles they strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of the company as they flew madly over the undulating ground. At last they came upon them in a little hollow in the hills.
"The Indians are there, Captain! The Indians are there!" one of them shouted, as they dashed up to the cluster of waiting men.
"They're there, and just going after everything they can find; you bet."
"Are there many of them?"
"Couldn't say, but about all of them must be there. We didn't stop to count them, but we saw a lot of them, twenty anyway, coming down the river on a run for the old horses and the cabins."
"Kershaw, take six men and go to the cave as quick as you can, and keep them out if they should come. We will be close behind."
"All right, Captain. Come on, boys," and with his men set out for the cave.
"Chance, take six men and go down the trail and start the Indians back to the cave. Fire at them occasionally to keep them moving, but don't attack them until you hear an attack in their front or flank. Look for us to attack them at any moment, and when we do, go into them with your revolvers, if you are close enough at the time, but keep well back and drive them along."
Kershaw hurried off to the cave, secreted his horses, stationed his men, and awaited developments. Chance went down on a run to find the game and start it to the cave, which he did in good style.
Keeping close to them as they hurried off with their booty, and firing an occasional shot to keep up appearances, he watched anxiously for the attack by Capt. Wright, who was somewhere on the line of retreat with eight men. The Indians made good time, and would have been able, without accident, to reach the cave with their booty by nightfall. But to their right, at a point where he could come down upon them suddenly, the Captain awaited their coming. On came the Indians at a hurried gait; on came the white men in their rear. Across the level land, over the low rolling hills, through the narrow defiles, past the sharp brush-crowned promontories, down on the river trail, up a winding gulch, and they neared a large thicket of chaparral, bordering on a steep rock bluff, between which and the thicket the trail passed. An excellent place for an ambush.
"Now, boys," said Chance, "if the Captain don't attack them up at that thicket, he surely has lost his reckoning, for he had only to cross over a few miles to get to it. Close up, and be ready."
"Let us give them a few shots to hurry them up."
"All right; it will confuse them a little, and give the boys a better chance at them."
Three shots were fired, and the Indians fell into something like a line, so they began to defile under the bluff. When they were well into the narrow way a sudden crash of rifles was heard and a cloud of blue smoke curled up from the edge of the thicket. "Forward, boys! Close up and hem them in!" and Chance and his men rushed up behind the Indians, who were almost hidden by the smoke and brush, and poured into them a sharp volley with their rifles. The steady cracking of rifles and pistols, mingled with loud, disjointed yells by both whites and Indians, formed a peculiar, though not pleasing, medley of sounds and echoes through the timbered hills and not distant mountains.
The savages, although surprised, did not seem to be demoralized, but stood their ground and fired rapidly for a minute or two, but they were at a disadvantage, and soon broke and fled--some straight ahead, some to the rear, while some more endeavored to find shelter among the rocks nearby. The abandoned booty littered the ground, while the horses, freed of their riders by bullet or panic, plunged through the brush or along the trail, over the fleeing Indians. Of those who kept ahead, a few got away; of those who turned back, more escaped and scaled the rocky heights. Within five minutes comparative silence took the place of the late infernal uproar.
"Mount your horses and after them. We will meet at the little spring a mile ahead." They separated in search of the fleeing murderers. Two only were overhauled. At the spring the company assembled and pushed on towards the cave, three miles distant.
When Kershaw arrived at the cave he found, by actual demonstration, that it was occupied, and that the defense was sufficiently strong to successfully repulse any attempt to enter it, so he patiently waited for the coming of the Indians, or Capt. Wright. After waiting several hours a mounted Indian came up to the cave, seeking shelter, but was not allowed to enter. A few minutes later Wright and his men were seen, a mile away, coming at a lively gait, and were soon dismounted and sitting around the entrance to the impregnable fortress. "We have done all that we can do at this time," said the Captain. "The Indians are now dispersed, and a number of them killed, and I believe that hereafter they will be more quiet. By the time we get back to the river it will be dark, so we might as well give up the hunt."
The company retraced their steps to the river and camped for the night. The next day they gathered up the spoil which had been abandoned by the Indians, secured five of the eight stolen horses, and returned to Cottonwood. From that time until the conclusion of the Rogue River War of 1853 no more trouble with the cave Indians worthy of note was experienced. After the conclusion of that short war a number of the Indians refused to abide by the terms of the treaty, and some of them, under the lead of Tipsu Tyee, an Indian of note, crossed over the mountains at the head of Bear Creek in Rogue River Valley and came down to the Klamath and formed an alliance with the Shastas, who inhabited the country above Cottonwood.
They were destitute, and soon began to depredate upon the farmers and miners. Their depredations soon became so annoying, and the volunteer forces being inadequate for the protection of the settlements, that the aid of the military was called for and rendered, but in a very dilatory manner and with results but slightly beneficial to the growing settlements. At that period of the history of the United States military forces on the Pacific Coast, it was the policy of some of the commanding officers, when informed of depredations by the Indians, to be as slow in their movements as it was possible to be and exhibit any movement at all, and often absolutely refused to move until they had made an investigation of its necessity, which would have been very well had they begun at the right end of the matter to make their investigation. These inquiries were usually made of the hostiles, through the medium of abandoned Indians living around military quarters--regarding their reasons for committing robberies and killing the settlers, and not seldom resulting in a nice little treaty whereby the Indians received a premium for depredations already committed, and an inducement to commit more.
It was after the conclusion of the war of 1853 that Fort Lane was established in Rogue River Valley, but Fort Jones, in Scotts Valley, dated its existence one year earlier. It so happened, early in the fall of 1853, after the renegade Rogue River Indians had established their homes with the Shastas above Cottonwood, that a party of the combined forces came down to the settlement and began their old-style robberies, coupled with several attempts to murder. The leader of these renegades, as before stated, had played an important part in the late war, and seemed determined not to make peace. Still later in the fall several cabins were robbed on Cottonwood, in daylight, and some horses driven away from the south side of the Klamath. This last said so exasperated the settlers that they determined to retaliate, or, in other words, they made up their minds to kill or drive away the marauders.
As there were two military stations not far away, and garrisoned with ample force to protect the settlers, it was deemed advisable to first apply to them for assistance. The application was accordingly made to the officer in command of Fort Lane--Capt. Smith--and a statement made to him that some Rogue River Indians were implicated. But as a treaty had been made with that tribe but a few months before, the people were politely, but pointedly, told that he could do nothing in the premises, and it would be for the public good if they refrained from protecting themselves, in the extent of following and attacking the Indians. Like success attended their application at Fort Jones, and the citizens then determined to redress their own grievances.
Captain Ben Wright was then absent at Port Orford, where he had been sent by Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer, engaged in collecting and restraining the disaffected Indians in that quarter, and there was no one on Cottonwood quite capable of filling his place as chief of an expedition. The company was, however, organized and equipped and held in readiness to act so soon as another raid should be made by the Indians. It was not long before another descent by the robbers was reported.
Early one morning a courier arrived at the creek and informed Capt. ------ that Indians were on the south side of the river and had shot and seriously wounded a traveler, robbed a cabin, and were then trying to drive away some stock. The men of the company were at once collected, and in a few hours were on their way after the Indians, in hot haste. The Indians had departed up the river with nearly two hours the start, and when last seen were making fast time. Up along their trail on a fast gallop, and when within three miles of the cave they sighted the Indians, two miles in advance. On rode the company at a faster gait, and when within three hundred yards of the cave they were within pistol shot of the Indians and opened fire. The Indians sought such cover as they could and showed fight. It was found necessary to dismount and fight on foot, for the Indians were exhibiting unusual pluck.
Being so near the cave, it was thought that they would attempt to gain it, but they did not, but on the contrary stood their ground and made it really lively for the men, who were all unused to Indian warfare.
"Shall we charge them with our revolvers?" shouted the captain.
"Yes. Go after them, all at once," came from several of the men. Then the captain gave the order, "Come on, boys," and at them the men plunged with vigor and determination. But the Indians broke cover, and some ran for the cave and others for the not distant timbered hills. Half a dozen Indians were left on the ground, and Charley Geiger, whom we have seen before engaged in this vicinity with the Indians, was shot dead.
"Mount and after them," and before the Indians were into cover the men were again on their track. The pursuit was useless, for in some way the Indians all quickly disappeared. The company returned to Cottonwood, and the settlements were but little molested for near another year, as the savages turned their attention to the settlers in Shasta Valley, and raided them several times during that many months.
On the 25th of September, , some teamsters were fired upon and two of them killed, on the summit of the Siskiyou Mountains, five miles from Cottonwood. The next day another man was killed between Hughes' ranch and the Klamath, and some horses were driven a few miles up the river and abandoned. The Indians were followed by a few citizens, but as they were steering straight to the cave it was thought unwise to follow up to it. Application was made to Capt. Smith of Fort Lane by the citizens of the upper end of Bear Creek Valley, and by those of Cottonwood, for assistance to rid the country of the thieving pests.
After much delay he slowly moved from his quarters, and on the third day made his appearance on Cottonwood with a mounted force of forty men. He did not come to fight the Indians, he said, but to make a peace with them which would put a stop to future depredations. He was accompanied to the cave by a company of miners, while a few men came from Yreka to aid in the work of cleaning out the piratical nest. The command moved leisurely to the cave and made camp. Capt. Smith had in his employ a Wasco Indian who had a Shasta squaw for a wife. This Indian spoke English quite fluently, and the Shasta language as well. He and his squaw were sent into the cave to demand the murderers of the men killed but a few days before.
This demand to surrender the murderers resulted in a failure, and Capt. Smith seemed to be powerless over the situation. Lieut. Sweitzer, of Smith's command, was possessed of an active and combative nature, and counseled various modes of procedure to accomplish something towards the end for which they came to the cave. But he was overruled, however, and the expedition returned to Cottonwood, thence to Fort Lane.
The citizens now were convinced that they must rely on their own resources for protection, and that the leader of these raids must be killed or driven out of the vicinity. Something like a treaty had been patched up with the Shasta Indians, and for pay they had agreed to remain quiet, and were unanimous in foisting all the blame for the late depredations upon the shoulders of the renegade Rogue River Indian Tipsu Tyee, and for a further consideration they would persuade him in a summary manner to forever remain on a peace footing. To close such a contract was not considered proper, even at that early period of pioneer history, but from some cause not yet made public, the belligerent chieftain ceased from predatory expeditions against the whites, and uncertain peace followed until during the war of 1856, when some of the few remaining Shastas, disheartened, forlorn and hungry, took up their abode in the caves and levied small tribute on the prosperous settlers.
When the wild Siskiyous shall have been tunneled and the screaming locomotive, with its long train of rumbling cars, shall descend to the Klamath, over it, and on through the once romantic valley of the Shasta River, and with long, loud notes of defiant power dart swiftly past the lowering butte and be lost to view amid the pine-clad hills of the Sacramento, then will some old pioneer, bent and weak and gray from age and battle in the early wars, gaze after the hissing, thundering iron horse, and longing for one more cheering glimpse of the green, grass-clothed valleys of early days, when the fleeting antelope and the crouching fawn sought their homes by the gentle river and gamboled at will on the yielding green, slowly turn his wavering thoughts to heaven, and with that magic word "Progress" on his blanching lips, lie down to rest in a lowly grave, in the land he helped to conquer from the savage tribes.
O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, November 1, 1885, page 3
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
A Bloody Attack Upon an Emigrant Train Near Tule Lake.
Fighting for Several Days Against a Horde of Yelling Savages--
Story of Their Rescue--Famishing for Want of Water.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]Early in August, 1852, two men came into Yreka, California, and reported an emigrant train on Tule Lake surrounded by Indians, that they had been fighting several days, and that they were so reduced that if they did not receive assistance soon the Indians would probably capture or kill every one of them. As soon as the news was received a messenger was dispatched to Capt. Wright, who was at Cottonwood, to request him to come at once to Yreka and take command of a company to be raised for the relief of the emigrants. The captain received the news late in the evening and within an hour after was on his way to town. As soon as he arrived he was conducted to the men who had brought the news, and obtained the following narrative of his own and companion's ride from the Truckee River until they joined the train, about thirty miles southeast of Tule Lake. Also the battles and hardships of the people of the train after he joined them, until he left and came up to Yreka for assistance. But while Capt. Wright was gathering this information, the leading citizens of Yreka were busy enrolling a company of men to be placed under his order for the relief of the emigrants. Supplies of food were also gathered for the emigrants, and maintenance of the company. The man said:
"Eight of us started from the Truckee on the 20th of last month for the mines in Rogue River Valley, in Oregon. We were mounted, and had four pack animals. We progressed on our journey very well until one of our number was taken sick, which caused us to lay over two days. He died, and in a few days another one of the company died. Both were buried by the roadside.
"Being reduced in numbers, we now entertained grave doubts of our being able to make our way through the hostile Modocs, whose country we were compelled to pass through. When we had arrived within thirty-five or forty miles of Klamath Lake we were attacked one evening at dusk by the Indians. We kept them off until morning, and did not sleep that night. They were quite numerous, and often crowded upon us as we stood, pistol in hand, holding our horses, sending their arrows so thick and fast that at times it seemed that we could not long withstand them. But we stood to the work, and must have done them much damage, for the distance we fired was short. Each time they rushed upon us we were compelled to advance a little to avoid shooting our horses, for they plunged a great deal. About midnight one of our men was killed by an arrow which penetrated his eye. We were all wounded, but not seriously. Towards morning they withdrew a little distance, and we determined to go on.
"We secured what food we could carry on our riding horses, and abandoned everything else to the Indians. We were compelled to leave our companion where he fell, for we could not bury him. When we started the Indians followed us a short distance, but soon returned and gathered up our abandoned goods. The
INDIANS KEPT IN SIGHTall day, but did not come near us until dusk, just as we came to a small spring. Our horses, as well as ourselves, were very thirsty, and the Indians thought to keep us away from the water. When we had got to within one hundred yards of the spring we dismounted and advanced on foot, so as to be better able to take steady aim and kill an Indian at every shot. We rapidly advanced, but the Indians did not wish to retire, so we stopped and opened upon them with our rifles, which seemed to demoralize them to some extent, and then we rushed forward with our pistols. Our leader, Westfall, fell just as we got to the spring, but we gave him some water before he died, a few minutes later.
"The Indians hovered around, but did not seem inclined to face our revolvers again. We lay on the grass near the spring that night and held our horses by the bridles while they grazed around us. Two kept awake until midnight, while the other two slept, then changed, so that each of us had a half night's sleep. As soon as we left the spring a crowd of fully fifty circled around us and tried once more to stop our advance, but we went ahead in spite of them, although another of our men received a fresh wound. They were the most tenacious fighters I ever saw. They knew that we would kill or wound some of them every time they attacked us, but still they were determined to secure their prey, and to be candid about it, I began to think so, too. In the last brush with them we had the satisfaction of knowing that we had lessened their number by three, and had wounded twice as many more. They kept on our right, and left, and rear, but at a respectful distance.
"When the fight was over we struck out to the west, hoping to find the lake, which we supposed to be eighteen or twenty miles ahead. The day would be an intensely hot one, but we had nothing in which to carry water with us--we had lost our canteens. Half a mile over the hot sagebrush plain brought us to the foot of a high ridge over which we must pass. We led our horses to the summit, and when there sat down to rest. Far away to the west we saw what we thought to be sure indications of the lake. We could get to it that day if not delayed by the Indians. After a short rest we prepared to descend, and, if possible, make our way directly toward a low gap in the distant rolling hills, where probably we would find the lower part of the lake. We hoped to reach it before night, so that our horses would have sufficient time to graze before being tied up in camp, to be safe from the Indians. Just before starting we observed
A LONG LINE OF MOVING DUSTrising over the rolling land, a mile and a half to the north, and a little in advance of us. At first we thought the dust was raised by the Indians traveling in the road, as we knew it was to the north of us. After watching the line of dust for a few minutes, we felt sure that we saw two or three wagons when the dust lifted a little at one place. We were not aware that any train was near, or even many miles from us, though we had heard that several would come this way en route to the Rogue River Valley. We were so confident that it was an emigrant train that we did not debate long before we abandoned our original course and set off to overhaul it.
"We descended the ridge, and when on the lower land the train was hid from view by the rolling hills. We had not traveled more than half a mile towards the train before our pace was quickened by hearing the low rattle of rifle shots and the faint rising and falling of irregular, discordant yells. Our horses were much encumbered, as each of us had an extra rifle, besides a quantity of flour and bacon rolled up in our blankets and tied behind our saddles. We urged our horses forward over the soft, dusty ground at as fast a gait as we possibly could. But about 200 yards more, and we turned the point of a low, sharp hill, and came upon the outer line of Indians not more than sixty yards from the train, and opened fire upon them with our revolvers. They were completely surprised and broke away to the right and left. As soon as we saw them give way we gave some rousing hurrahs and plunged up to the struggling train."
Now, for the reader to get a proper idea of what the people of this train had endured for a day previous to the arrival of the four men, as stated above, let us take a look at them on that day, which was hot and dry and dusty. Not a breath of moving air; the scorching rays of the August sun poured down upon the whole expanse of low, rocky, but grass-crowned hills and narrow sagebrush openings with torrid intensity. The scattered juniper trees, standing amid burning rocks on the gentle declivities, or crowning the summits of barren hills, were changing from perennial green to chestnut brown in the shimmering heat of the midday sun. The hum of insect life was still; the wild beasts, natives of these sterile plains, were panting in the shade of the heated rock, the crumbling sage, or from within the cooler air of the withered tree. The train of ox wagons and a few head of loose stock had left the Truckee and were
BOUND TO SOUTHERN OREGON.Following the narrow road, in clouds of choking dust, steadily the weary train moved on and forward up the rising grade. On the hills to the right and left, Indians kept pace with the march of the crippled train, and like a rabid, gaunt coyote band, howled the death knell of these fleeing people. Clouds of whistling arrows descended upon the mass and penetrated the faded covers of the wagons, quivering, perchance, in the tender flesh of a nursing babe, or striking down the robust men while guarding their families and property. Anon the savage fiends rushed upon their hoped-for victims, with twanging bows and uplifted knives. From the edges of that moving bank of dust sharp rifle shots rang out loud and clear above the steady, harrowing sounds of Indian yells, and the savage brutes fell back. The train crawls on--again the rush, the yells, the rifle shots, the twanging bows, the whistling arrows and screams and groans and prayers for help. The prostrate form of some father, brother, husband or son lies in the dust, his life-blood ebbs away as his blanched and quivering lips utter a last prayer for help to save his suffering ones. Again the rifles speak in sharp, loud tones again and again, and lucky shots have lessened the number of the savage band. They have but few weapons of defense, but they are in the hands of the most able men, who walk beside the train on either side and repel the savage horde. Fathers, husbands, sons have left the docile teams to the care of the tender daughters, wives or mothers, who weakly stagger through the dust and obstructing sage and urge the panting teams along the burning road. From out [of] the slowly moving wagons feeble wails from those of infant age, and calls for water come to the ears of the tired mothers during the intervals of the moving fight. But hark! From the left, four rushing
HORSEMEN WITH BELCHING PISTOLScharge upon the savage horde, and with shouts of succor they cheered the weakening defenders of the train.
Now the narrator may resume: "The emigrants were as much surprised as were the Indians, but when they saw that we were white men, and that the Indians were getting farther away, they fairly yelled themselves hoarse. They seemed to have forgotten all their other sufferings but that for water.
"'Have you any water?' asked several at once. The women called from along the train for water. We could hear the children calling feebly, and even the oxen, with tongues lolled out, seemed to look pleadingly at us for water. Not one of us had ever been looked to for aid as we were then, and our utter inability to relieve distress was never so hopelessly manifest. An old dog, even, staggered up to us and slowly wagged his tail as he looked and licked our hands. He seemed to know their condition, and, like them, looked to us for help.
"'Corral your wagons, bring out all your canteens, and we will go back two miles, where we camped last night, and get you some water,' I said to the captain of the train, who stood near but could not speak, by reason of a serious wound in his mouth from an arrow. When they heard that there was a chance to get some water soon, they seemed to revive. The Indians still covered the hills to the right. The wagons slowly came into a close circle, so as to be easier to defend. My companions and I divested ourselves of all superfluous articles and started back. We arrived at the spring without molestation, filled our canteens, and set off on our return to the train. The ridge lying across our path, and from the top of which we had first seen the train, extended far to our right and left as we approached it. Before we came up to it on our return the Indians in force were on the summit to dispute our passage. We had no alternative but to go over or die in the attempt. In file, about ten feet apart, we started up obliquely to the summit. As we neared the top they massed on our front and began to
RAIN ARROWS DOWN UPON US."Being on our right, they were in a good position to use our revolvers upon them, which we did quite effectively, for we had an opportunity to mark the effects of our shots. They gave way, and it was soon manifest that they only wanted to delay our advance. Two of our horses were wounded, and one of the men was shot in the breast so seriously that it was with difficulty that he remained on his horse from the deathly sickness which he experienced shortly after receiving the wound. There were a dozen or more of them, and they ran hither and thither in our front, yelling by spurts, dodging behind the thick sagebrush or any convenient shelter and shooting each two or three arrows at us in rapid succession, then running ahead and repeating the same thing over. When we were halfway back we discovered their object--they were fighting again at the train, and we must be kept back or killed. We pushed on, driving them ahead of us, but we were only three to keep up the fight, for our wounded companion, though requiring no help from us, could be of no service in the coming fight. When we came in sight of the train we saw and heard a veritable hell. All around the train, behind every sagebrush, the savages swarmed. The wagon covers were literally riddled with arrows, and many [illegible]. Loud yells, mingled with rifle shots, did not drown the piercing screams that not seldom rose above the din. Our wounded companion, Tom Welch, rose with the occasion, and drawing his pistol, called out, 'Come on, boys!' and with hectic spots on his pallid face forced his horse into a faster gait and led the way into the fight. We were about 200 yards from the train at this time, and the savages began to gather thickly in our front. For my part, I felt that it was the tightest place that we had yet been in. It was too cowardly to run, too dangerous to go ahead. Tom was a few feet in the lead, looking straight ahead, with his pistol in his hand, but I thought he was too weak to use it. Our horses--mine, at least--seem to partake of our desire to gain the train, and, without a flinch or a swerve, plunged madly ahead over the stubborn sagebrush. In a second our pistols almost simultaneously cracked sharply and wickedly only thirty yards from the clustering foe, and three were seen to fall. We were in an evenly formed line, going at breakneck speed into that which seemed to be certain death. Our pistols were deftly handled and did their duty well. Scores of arrows whistled by us, sputtered in the tall sage, pierced our clothes, and two found a lodgment in my horse's breast. All this was in an instant of time.
WE WERE UPON THEMand into the whirling crowd. The men at the train saw it all but dared not fire, lest their bullets should kill their friends. 'Charge them, men!' came hoarsely from the train, and then there was a rush, a struggle on the other side, and the Indians broke away like sheep, and the day was ours, but Ed. Wilson, my companion and partner, lay dead in the dust, his manly face up and his feet to the enemy. When we were rid of the Indians the water was given to the famishing people. By carefully serving it out, enough was left to soothe the wounded, of which there were five, until more could be obtained.
"Three had been killed at the train besides our companion Wilson. It was yet early in the day, and as there was not water enough at the little spring for the stock, and great difficulty in getting to it, the people of the train determined to push ahead to the lake, which could not be more than eighteen miles ahead. We buried the dead bodies as best we could and set out again on our disastrous journey. The Indians had disappeared; we hoped forever. The men now took the whips and drove the teams, while the women sought rest in the wagons. The raging heat of the sun had abated, and the air, though still quite warm, was less stifling to the wounded people in the wagons, two of whom were children. The trains, though fearfully thirsty, were yet better able by reason of their short rest to drag the not heavy wagons through the deep dust in the road.
"We could not see far around us and definitely ascertain if we were near any water. Sometimes small springs were to be found in that locality, as we had been told before we entered upon the journey, and we momentarily expected to find one at every turn of the road along the uneven route. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon we found Indians again keeping us company. On the hills to the right they showed themselves, and greeted our ears with their infernal yells. Around a rock-crested promontory and we saw, a quarter of a mile ahead, indications of a large spring at the foot of a low hill.
"It was evident that the Indians were determined to keep us away from this water if it was in their power to do so, and had gathered in greater force than at any previous attack, exhibiting less dread of our rifles than formerly, as they pressed more closely upon us. They fired their arrows at the oxen hitched to the wagons, intending to stop the train before we reached the springs. Our force was small, and we were obliged to guard all sides of the train at once, so that we were only able to present a small force at all points of attack. We beat them off and kept the train moving, but when within 150 yards of the springs the oxen scented the water and made
A SUDDEN AND PROMISCUOUS RUSHfor it, in a measure demoralizing the train. The drivers could not restrain the rushing, bellowing stock, and were forced to let them go their own way. When the Indians perceived our dilemma, they came down upon us with all their force, and as they came rushing from all sides with clouds of arrows and fiendish yells, it seemed that they would get us at last. Every one of our men who was armed used his weapons with dexterity and a determined will. So rapid and destructive was our fire that when the savages had got to within five rods of our line of defense, they were forced to halt. But they were not idle; from behind the thick sagebrush they sent hurtling arrows amongst us, and showered them thickly upon the rushing struggling teams.
"At the rear of the train, for a time, the defense was the weakest, and the Indians gained the rear of two of the wagons and began to cut away the covers to get at the contents, but the inmates, women and children, struck at them with axes and such other weapons as they could get, and kept the brutes away. But when they found they could not get into the wagons they withdrew a little and discharged their arrows through the covers and wounded two children. At this time they were discovered, and six men charged on them and drove them away, after a severe fight in which two white men were killed and the other four wounded. The Indians were so severely wounded that they made a precipitate retreat, leaving four of their men killed and three wounded. At other parts of the train the fight was going on, with no certainty which party would prove victorious. The teams were badly mixed up and locked together; some mired in the marshy ground; some got to the water. Many of the oxen were down upon the ground and others crowding over them. Arrows fell thickly into the surging mass, and the few guns and pistols which the Indians had did much more damage than did their arrows.
"We fired as rapidly as we could and generally with good effect, for we saw plainly, and often, dead and wounded picked up and carried off out into the sagebrush and rocks out of reach of our bullets. They were all around us. The teams were abandoned to their own guidance. The women and children were loudly cautioned to lie down low in the wagons, while we kept up the defense. For twenty minutes--it seemed an hour--the fight continued stationary, when some one of their leaders gave a succession of loud jerking yells, with many distinct words sandwiched between them, and the savages began to recede, slowly at first, but when we advanced upon them they broke into a run and were soon 300 yards away, while we yelled derisively at them as though we were still anxious to continue the fight, thinking it would have the effect to keep them away, for the Indian respects bravery as much as he does riches.
"As soon as they were out of reach we left a guard to watch them, and the rest of us went in among the oxen and detached them from the tangle and got them to water.
MANY WERE WOUNDED,some so badly that they were of no more use, so they were killed. Others were able to travel and were driven along next day. Our losses were one woman and two men killed, one man so badly wounded that he died that night, and eight others wounded, but none very severely. We had so severely punished the Indians that we really believed that they would not attack us again, and felt sure that we would thereafter pursue our journey unmolested. We carried our killed to one side and carefully wrapped their dust-covered and bloody bodies in blankets and left them to be buried next morning. For half an hour we rested and cooled our bodies after our hot, thirsty march and vigorous fight.
"The day had been intensely hot, and those who had been wounded before, and in the previous fight, had suffered extremely during the hot drive from dust and inflammation of their wounds. Five men and two women were given charge of all the wounded, while the remainder of the men and women did the necessary camp duty .When the oxen had drunk and rested a little, we hitched them to the wagons and drove them out into a corral, or circle, in which to make our camp fires, and at night to enclose our stock to keep them from rambling and for easier defense. We then turned our stock out to graze and prepared our evening meals, of which we stood much in need after our long and arduous day's work. During all this time the savages were on the hills to our right and front, and when at night we had driven our stock in the corral and stationed guards they were still in view, and often set up a chorus of coyote-like yells to let us know they were with us and intended to keep us company. The night passed without an attack, but at about midnight an alarm gun fired, and all hands were quickly up, but after waiting an hour, and no attack, the guards were relieved and the rest turned in again.
"If the Indians meditated another attack we thought that it would be at, or a little before, daybreak, so we made everything ready for that emergency. Every man turned in with his boots on, his pistol and knife belted around his body, and rifle by his side. As we anticipated, about half an hour before daylight, a force of about twenty Indians made a sudden rush upon the guards at one side of the corral and began a hot fire of arrows and a few rifle shots into the camp. Before the men could turn out the guards were driven in, and the savages had full play on the outside of the wagons. They improved their opportunities, and with their knives slit the corners of some of the wagons and attempted to pull out articles from them. The cover of one of the wagons was slit from end to end by one savage, while another seized a little girl and attempted to pull her out, but [illegible] sister, who had slept with a large hatchet by her side, took it and struck him across the wrist, just over the edge of the wagon box, and severed it from his arm; the hand dropped inside, while the blood from the severed artery spurted across the wagon. With a beast-like howl the wounded Indian jumped back and retired, as did his companions, for our men were soon up and fired briskly under and between the wagons and forced them to retreat.
"At this juncture the main force of the savages came up on the opposite side of the corral and sent hundreds of arrows through the wagon covers, between the wagons and under them. The stock plunged and bellowed in the corral, rifles cracked, arrows whistled in the air; an occasional scream, and our men and Indians yelled in chorus; while darkness, except where rent by rifle flash, veiled the raging pandemonium. Wagon covers were slit and attempts made to set them on fire while the Indians held possession of that side of the train. They wrenched up the dry sagebrush and thrust it under the wagons and set it on fire, but luckily it would not burn steadily, only a sudden flash and then go out. Many trials were not made before we came upon them from each side of the corral, taking them in both flanks, while a few men from the inside of the corral attacked them in front. In a few minutes they retreated back into the sagebrush, but still did not let us rest, for they fired pistols and rifles into the wagons and among the stock; besides, their arrows whistled through the air with but short intermission, keeping us in dread of being transfixed at any moment. No one was killed in this short attack, but two men and one woman were wounded. Three oxen and my favorite horse were so severely wounded by arrows that we killed them.
DAYLIGHT AT LAST CAME,but no Indians were in sight. We turned our stock out to graze for two hours and ate our breakfast in quietness. When we were yoking up the oxen a solitary shot was fired at the camp from a cluster of junipers about 100 yards distant, but [it] did no damage. We started out again on the road while the sun poured down in blistering heat, which made the condition of the wounded more painful. Those who were not wounded were scarcely able to endure the continuous tramp and fight in the heat and dust, and many a one vowed that if he got out of that scrape with life he would ever after seek a life of quiet peace. The women, bronzed by the intense rays of the sun, covered with alkali dust, almost barefooted, and as nearly nude, bore up well under the continued strain, and in but one instance made unreasonable complaint, or ever any complaint whatever. It had been my belief that women were always in the way in cases of such deadly battle and exposure, and that they never had been, as a general thing, and never could be, of any service whatever when called upon to lend a hand where deadly missiles were flying thick and fast and death lurking behind every rock and sagebrush, but I am proud to say that I no longer hold to such a theory. I have seen women, old, middle-aged and young girls, walk in the blistering sun, in clouds of choking dust, by the sides of their wagons, driving the oxen along while bullets and arrows flew thickly around them, and when wounded, if not too severely to travel, keep on and urge their teams along and cheer the men who used the guns in their defense. One little girl, not over ten years of age, when the fighting was at the highest pitch of ferocity, saw a man fall dead by the side of the road, and jumping from the wagon ran to him and picked up his gun, which had fallen from his hand, receiving at the same time a wound by an arrow in her thigh, but she held to the gun, ran up to her young brother who was driving the team, gave him the gun, took the whip from him and drove the team along, urging him to go back and get the bullet pouch from the dead man, 'For,' said she, 'I forgot it, or I would have pulled it off of him myself.'
"'If I go back the Indians will kill me,' urged the boy.
"'They did not kill me,' she replied, 'besides, the last wagon has not passed by where he lies. Go back and get it, I tell you,' and go back he did, but fortunately for him the man was seen by one of the women who was driving, and recovered."
[To Be Concluded Next Week.]O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, November 15, 1885, page 2
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WRIGHT.
The Terrible Blow Dealt the Modocs on Tule Lake.
Last Days of Wright--Appointed Indian Agent in
Southern Oregon--The Brutal Manner of His Death.
[Written for the Sunday Oregonian.]
At a point of rocks eighteen miles southeast of Tule Lake, the Indians attacked the train once more, killing nine persons, wounding more, and capturing several wagons and oxen. When the train arrived at the lake two men were sent to Yreka to ask for aid. A company was quickly equipped, and Capt. Wright took command, and Wm. Kershaw first, and Wm. White second lieutenants. The captain pushed forward with the utmost dispatch, and when arrived at the natural bridge across Lost River succeeded, through the cunning of his two Shasta guides and three Wasco Indians, in capturing one Indian and two squaws. From these captives he learned that the Modocs had killed a large number of packers and emigrants, and were then engaged at their camp on the peninsula, many miles down the lake, in gambling for the clothes and other articles taken from them. The Indians had not yet captured the train, which was camped but a short distance above the Indian village. To curry favor with the captain, they also informed him that he could best approach the Indians unobserved by riding in the tules along the margin of the lake. He followed their suggestions that day and the next with good results, as the sequel will show. About the middle of the afternoon he was brought to a halt by the guides, who had been skulking on the highland, who informed him that they had obtained a view of the train about a mile below, surrounded by Indians. It appears that the people of the train were so anxious to reach the end of their journey, and believing themselves able, after their three days' rest, to successfully cope with the Indians, had made a start on their journey that morning. The Indians had kept them company since their start, and when the train had stopped to water their stock
HAD SURROUNDED THEMand prevented their further advance. Capt. Wright continued on in the tules, and unobserved by the Indians or the people on the train rode up to within 300 yards of them, when it became necessary, by reason of the deepening of the water, to leave the tules. Emerging suddenly into view, he charged the Indians on a run. Before getting up to fair pistol distance the savages broke away and ran for the rocky hills nearby. Wright could not pursue them, for the hills were too rocky for the passage of his horses. A few of the savages were brought down at long range with rifles, and the remainder quickly disappeared from view.
The emigrants were most agreeably surprised at the sudden appearance of such a formidable body of men. The captain stopped but half an hour, then continued on down the lake to attack the Indian camp on the peninsula. The train went into camp, where it was to remain until the result of the meditated attack on the Indians should be ascertained. Capt. Wright supposed that the Indians after leaving the train would retreat to their camp on the peninsula. The sequel proved this to be true. The guides, accompanied by three Wascos, were sent in advance to ascertain if possible the exact location of the village and the most feasible mode of approach. The company was to follow closely along the shore of the lake, in the tules. One of these Wascos, Parnassus, had been with Capt. Wright in many serious affairs prior to this time, and enjoyed his fullest confidence, and to him was assigned the duty of investigating the surroundings. When but half a mile intervened between the company and the village the guides were found and reported sufficient knowledge of the surroundings to allow the captain
TO ADVANCE UNOBSERVEDclose to the camp, and place his men in such [one line illegible due to a fold in the newspaper] retreat of the Indians. The sun was not high, and expedition must be used, so some of the men hurried into position on each side of the peninsula, while the captain with a few followers were in the water behind a screen of tules until opposite the camp, which contained about 300 warriors. When he had reached the proper spot he suddenly charged through the tules and opened on the Indians, who were earnestly engaged in their favorite pastime of gambling. When the noise of the captain's attack was heard by the two squads of men secreted in the tules a little way down the peninsula, under the lieutenants, Kershaw and White, they came out into full view and advanced upon the Indians, who were standing their ground against Wright and his little band. But when they saw the others advance they became panic-stricken and began to scatter. They were in a vise and could not escape. The closer the men advanced the more deadly was their fire, and the more frantic became the Indians. Surging this way, surging that, their numbers rapidly diminishing, they at last leaped over the bank into the water and struck out for safety towards the middle of the lake. Some there were who sought to hide in the tules by ducking their heads under the water. Some succeeded, others did not; and when the affair was over a count showed sixty-six dead Indians on the land and floating in the water. A Shasta Indian, who was a slave of the Modocs, seeing the two guides and recognizing them, came out from his hiding place and made himself known to them. He informed Wright of another village on an island four miles further down the lake, which could be reached on horseback, as the water was shallow. Anxious to put in
A GOOD DAY'S WORK,he ordered an advance upon the island. Rapidly striding down the lake at first, cautiously towards the last, they came to the village, which was deserted. A fire started in the dry straw wickiups consumed them before the company was far away. They returned to the camp of the emigrants, reaching it long after nightfall. The emigrants breathed freer when informed of the result of the attack on the Indians, and were no doubt highly pleased. Who could blame them?
The next morning Capt. Wright left the emigrant camp and took up his line of march back along the emigrant road towards the spot where they had had the last fight with the Indians. Just before reaching the rock point where the last fight had occurred (this is now known as Bloody Point), he came upon the dead bodies of two emigrants, which he buried. From those first bodies, for a half mile to and a little beyond the point, he found twenty-eight bodies. Besides these bodies others were discovered further along the road--killed in the running fights several days before, which were mentioned in a previous article. From all reliable sources of information it has been computed that not less than sixty people had been murdered by the Modocs at various points along the road during the early part of the year and up to the last of August 1852.
Wright continued on out towards Goose Lake, skirmishing at intervals with the Modocs at long range, but having no affair worth of note. Returning to Clear Lake, he established a permanent camp, where had his headquarters until after
HIS CELEBRATED ENCOUNTERwith the Modocs in which he dealt them the blow which completely broke them up as a dangerous fighting tribe, and saved many lives and much property of subsequent emigrations. The writer will give in this article a minute relation of every pertinent particular of that celebrated affair, and show (other evidence than this mere recital is before me) that the stigma cast upon the good name of Captain Wright had no foundation in fact, that whatever he did then was sanctioned by the rules of civilized warfare and the universally recognized law of self-preservation.
Capt. Wright patrolled the road from Goose to Tule Lake, to protect emigrants, should any come that way. Often going south, he occasionally met and scattered small bands of Indians. September and nearly all of the month of October had passed when Lalakes, chief of the Klamath Indians, came to Wright's camp on Clear Lake and proposed to mediate between him and the Modocs. The Modocs, he claimed, were tired of war, and were anxious for peace. Wright showed a willingness to treat, and authorized Lalakes to give the headmen of the Modocs Wright's assurance of friendly treatment if they would come to his camp for a talk. These men readily accepted the proposition, but agreed amongst themselves that it would be best if the head chief came unaccompanied by other Modocs. In a few days Lalakes returned accompanied by the chief. He was kindly treated, and after remaining in camp two days returned to his people, leaving a promise behind that he would bring his people too, when a final talk would be had and a permanent treaty made. It was noticed that during his stay in camp that he seemed to be deeply absorbed
IN TAKING ITEMS,so as to be better able to engineer his meditated treachery when the time should arrive for unmasking. He left early in the morning promising to return the next day with his people. The night after his departure two squaws came to the camp with no apparent purpose but to ask if the white men would shoot the Indians if they should come to the camp. They were informed that the Indians would be treated kindly and would not be shot unless they, themselves, began a fight. The next day the chief came to camp with sixty-one full-fledged warriors, armed and painted in their most approved style. When the two squaws saw them coming, and before they reached the camp, they went out into the sagebrush and did not return until after the terms of peace had been agreed upon. When they came in, the chief seemed a little surprised; questioning them closely, and with a severe expression of countenance. Wright made no unreasonable proposition to them, and they readily agreed to all that he required. They agreed to refrain from depredating on the whites, were to make no more hostile incursions into the domain of the Shastas, and were to deliver up all the property which they had taken from the whites. In return for this, Wright was to endeavor to prevent the Shastas from making any warlike demonstrations against the Modocs, and to allow them at all times to pass through their country on their way to and from Yreka, where they wished to go to trade. The Indians were to stay in camp that night, and next morning were to start out, gather up and bring in all the property belonging to the murdered emigrants. After the return of the property, Wright was to kill one of the several cattle which he had gathered up, and give the Indians a big feast, and then the whites and Indians would separate as friends. After the council was over, the old chief stopped off to one side and
HARANGUED HIS MENand stated to them his plan for killing the whites, and instead of delivering any property, they would take more. During the chief's harangue his followers manifested much pleasure and eagerness for something. About the close of his quite lengthy speech he rounded off several of his sentences with the words "Hetuck! Hetuck!" spoken in a loud, jerking tone of voice. We shall soon learn the import of his speech and the part those two words were to play in the promotion of his adroitly formed scheme. But to obtain a better understanding of all that is to follow, we must take a retrospective view of Wright's mode of caring for his horses and the disposition of his men each morning. It was a standing rule to tie up the horses at night near the camp, and at daylight the next morning one of the camp guards was to call out, "Daylight. Turn out the horses!" when it was the duty of half of the men, who were regularly detailed, to get up and take the horses out to a certain place a quarter of a mile from camp, and herd them until the other half of the men had eaten their breakfast and came out and relieved them. These would herd the horses till noon, and these be relieved by the other half of the men, who would stay with the horses till night and then bring them to camp. The wily old chief had noted this part of the daily routine and formed his plans accordingly. The two squaws, before mentioned, had formed alliances with the Shasta guides--who were absent when the chief harangued his men--and informed them that the chief had arranged with his men that when half of the white men got up in the morning to take the horses out to grass, and while the other half were yet rolled up in their blankets he would call out,
HETUCK! HETUCK!which means "all ready," and they were to fall upon the sleeping men, kill them, seize their guns and pistols, follow the other men and surprise them if they could; but if not, they could, being four to one, soon overpower them, thus gaining much booty in horses, guns, pistols and blankets. Besides all this gain they would so paralyze the white men that they would never dare to enter their country again. The guides, true to their employer, informed Capt. Wright of the intended treachery and murder. The captain walked quietly around among the men and informed them of the matter, cautioning them to manifest no animosity towards their treacherous guests, that in the morning there would be no call to turn the horses out; on the contrary, the guards would awaken all hands and two men would take the horses out a short distance and tie them to the brush, out of reach of bullets and arrows, should there be a fight, [one line illegible due to a fold in the newspaper] warrantable measures against the Indians; on the contrary; he would await any further developments before he matured his plans. All Indians he believed to be treacherous, yet he did not think that the Shastas had given him false information, for he had thought that the words "Hetuck, hetuck," often repeated and in such peculiar style and tone, really meant something of a treacherous nature. The rain poured down in torrents that night and wet the Indians' bows, for they slept on the ground with no shelter except such as they could make with blankets. About 3 o'clock in the morning the rain ceased and the Indians crawled out from their indifferent shelter and built a number of large fires and dried their bodies and their bows. With much laughter and some attempts to imitate the
SCREAMS OF WOUNDED VICTIMSthey worked at their bows and arrows, and danced around their crackling fires. Swill, one of the three Wascos, could speak the Shasta language quite well, and knew a few words of Modoc. Being near one of the fires, he heard sufficient low speech to convince him of the truth of the story told by the squaws. There was now no other alternative but to try and catch the treacherous Modocs in their own trap. But still he was loath to assume a hostile attitude and waited for something more convincing. At the break of day the company turned out from their beds and built their campfires. While standing around them to keep warm, the Indians smilingly approached and stood by their sides in such a manner that they were paired--an Indian and a white man, the other twenty-nine Indians looking on at this pairing operation with many chuckles, such as only an Indian can make. After this maneuver, which was twice repeated, the Indians--having put their bows in good order--worked on their arrows, drying them by the fire, then straightening them after their fashion. When an arrow was properly straightened, they would take it at the feathered end with the thumb and index finger of the right hand, the head of the arrow resting between two fingers of the left, then suddenly thrusting the arrow along between the fingers till the right hand came up into the palm of the left, at the same time emitting a number of rotary, jerking yelps from away down in their chests, leering at the same time in a pleasant manner at the white men. All this was another proof that they intended to have a little sport at the expense of the white men. But when the Wascos and Shastas told the captain that that was the manner of all Indians when they meditated
A COUP DE MAIN,no mere evidence was needed to convince him that they intended all that had been reported to him. When it was fully light two men led the horses out a proper distance and tied them, while the other men armed themselves and stood around the fires. When the chief saw that the horses were not turned out as usual by half of the men but were tied near the camp and that the men were armed and ready for a fight, he stepped off to one side and again harangued his men, but in a language that was unintelligible to the Shastas. This speech sounded more like the giving of a set of orders than one of ordinary import. The old fellow was apparently uneasy at the unexpected turn of affairs, but still was determined to proceed with his original intention of killing the whites. The camp was in an angle made by a large creek coming into the lake. This creek was impassable except at one ford near the camp. Over this ford the Indians came to camp, and over it they must pass to get away. There was no mode of exit by way of the lake. Wright gave the Indians food, which they cooked at his fire, and when the meal was finished he sent six men across the ford to prevent the passage of the Indians. After this precaution he called them up for a further talk, asking them if they intended to go out and bring in the property, as per agreement. The savage chief demurred and advanced new claims, but agreed to go [the] next day if Wright would let them remain in camp another day and night, but he dissented and told them that he did not believe that they were acting in good faith. During this last conference the chief repeatedly broke out into short speeches to his men. Wright had told his men to be ready for a fight. The two squaws had left the camp. White men and Indians were standing and sitting down, watching
EACH OTHER'S MOVEMENTS.A moment of silence, and Wright, who was noticed to be a little nervous for the first time in his life, said to one of the men: "If the old devil don't get up and out of this in twenty minutes we must kill them, or they will kill us." He sent a men out to the six men at the ford to tell them that if the Indians came quietly, to let them pass. Few words were spoken, but the Indians had risen to their feet. The chief spoke a few more words to his men. Wright said to [a] man named Sandbauch: "In three minutes you give the word and will finish up this unpleasant job." The time passed, and Sandbauch drawled out, "Boys, I guess it's time to pitch in." Simultaneously every rifle cracked, and Indians tumbled in all directions, but the remainder stood and fought manfully. The battle was savage and brisk, but the revolvers soon finished the work, and fifty-four Indians were killed, the old chief among them. Three of Wright's men were wounded: Poland, seriously, in the abdomen; Sandbauch and Brown, severely. Capt. Wright repeatedly said at the camp that he regretted the necessity of beginning a fight with them while in camp, but as they had determined to assault the whites, he was convinced that the best way out of the difficulty was to begin first. As this affair achieved national notoriety, and Capt. Wright was, a few years subsequently--after his death--accused of treachery toward the Indians, and of wanton butchery, I have been careful to give a minute description of it, and the causes which impelled him to take the initiative. But one side of the case has heretofore been written up, for the reason that participants in the affair were not addicted to writing, and Wright was dead. His enemies therefore forced their version of the affair upon the public mind until the name of Capt. Ben Wright was unjustly
LINKED WITH TREACHERY,and the still more heinous crime of wanton butchery.
Poland was so severely wounded that it was found necessary to remain in camp many days for him to recover sufficiently to endure the fatigue of transportation. When he had recovered sufficiently to travel, the captain set out on his return to Yreka. No news had been received from Wright from the time he left the emigrants at Tule Lake the last of August, and the people of Yreka became anxious as to his condition. There was no disguising the fact that the Modocs would fight, and it was with some amount of reason apprehended that the captain and his company had been defeated, if not annihilated by them. A request was sent by the officers of Siskiyou County to the commanding officer at Fort Jones that a troop of cavalry be sent out to ascertain his fate. While they were preparing to move, D. D. Colton, undersheriff of the county, raised a company and set out to solve the query. One day's march from Yreka they met Wright, at Sheep Rock, forty miles east of Yreka, moving slowly along with his wounded men. Returning next day, they met Lieut. Bonnycastle with a small detachment of cavalry a few miles out of Yreka, on their road to the relief of Wright. Capt. Wright remained at Yreka until the spring of 1853, when he was sent by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Oregon to Port Orford, as special sub-agent, to pacify and watch over the Indian tribes at that place and all others as far south as the state line. His duties were onerous during that year, as the influence of the dissatisfied tribes in Rogue River Valley extended to the tribes on the coast, at Port Orford, above that place and down to the tribes as far south as the state line. His headquarters being at Port Orford, near the upper end of his field of operations, he was often obliged to make many
ARDUOUS AND OFTEN EXCITINGjourneys to look after his southern wards, who were noted as being of a more belligerent disposition than those farther north. His management of the affairs of his district during that year met with the hearty approval of the Superintendent, and he was continued on that station. During the year 1854 comparative quiet was maintained along the coast, rendering his duties less arduous and allowing him a short season of recreation, during which he traveled south among the coast Indians as far as Crescent City, in the then county of Klamath in California, studying the needs and characteristics of the coast tribes; he returned to his post by the way of Yreka and the Rogue River and Umpqua valleys. Early the next year the war cloud of 1855-6 was visible along the coast, and he was almost constantly in the saddle, moving from end to end of his extended position, warding off with complete success the beginning of open war in his district during that year. But during the latter part of the year, and while the war was raging along the middle Rogue River and in the valley above, he almost despaired of successfully controlling the coast tribes and preventing an open outbreak in his district. The powers vested in him were discretionary, and being so constantly engaged, with no regularly constituted assistants, he took the responsibility of appointing an aide to himself, standing responsible to the Superintendent for the acts of that appointee. Because the appointment was recognized by Superintendent Palmer and all acts done under it accepted as valid, the appointee being now a federal [one line illegible due to a fold in the newspaper] of the warrant on file in the office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, the insertion of the document here may not be out of place, as it fully describes a section of Wright's charge and names some of the tribes included in it.
"KNOW ALL MENby these presents that I have this day made, constituted and appointed Wm. Chance as special sub-Indian agent, to act in my stead for the various bands of Indians living on the Coquille River and in the valleys adjacent thereto, with full and ample powers as such in all lawful matters necessary for the preservation of, and to secure peace and tranquility between them and the whites, and between them and any other bands or tribes of Indians within the country aforesaid. And to do any and all things requisite to carry the foregoing powers into effect.
"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 5th day of November, 1855.
"BEN WRIGHT,"Witness: Robt. W. Dunbar, J. R. Kelley."
"Special Sub-Indian Agent
During the winter months of 1855-6, when the hostile tribes of upper Rogue River and Illinois Valley were secreted down Rogue River, they had uninterrupted intercourse with the coast Indians, and so inflamed them that they showed more than usual hostility. This feeling of unrest and bitterness extended down to the tribes at and below Chetco River in the present county of Curry in Oregon, rendering it necessary to have some competent person to be ever present in their midst, and Capt. Wright appointed a man named Thomas Sharp to that position. In January 1856 Wright took up his residence at the mouth of Rogue River, where now stands the town of Ellensburg [Gold Beach], so that he might be nearer to the hotbed of intrigue and discontent. Constructing some log cabins for dwellings and to contain his small stock of supplies, he busied himself day and night in the unsuccessful endeavor to
DISCOVER THE SCHEMESof the Indians in that vicinity. As the days wore along without any overt acts of hostility on the part of the natives, and receiving at short intermissions reports from Chance above and Sharp below that the Indians in their sections, though still uneasy, had yet showed no open hostility, he harbored in a measure the opinion that the flames of the upper war would not kindle into open hostility the pent-up fires of the discontented bands below. Capt. Wright was not possessed of a naturally suspicious mind, but he had learned to distrust all Indians and thought that he never could be deceived by them. But we shall presently see that, with all his penetration and distrust, an Indian circumvented him, causing his murder in an unexpected and cruel manner, and inaugurating open hostilities at his own headquarters, where peace had been thought to be wholly assured. Wright had in his employ a Canadian Indian, answering to the name of Enos, for several months. He could speak the English language quite well, and seemed to be of a very tractable disposition, kindly disposed towards the whites, and manifested a greater affection for the captain than for anyone else. This Indian had a wife belonging to a neighboring tribe, who persistently asserted that she had disowned her people and had been in turn disowned by them, and would stand ready at al times to aid in the execution of any plan that promised material damage to her unfriendly kin. Doubtful at first, but slowly convinced by the apparently unswerving fidelity of Enos and oft-repeated assertions that the squaw as well as himself would if necessary die in defense of the whites, Wright gave way to the supposed necessity and took the plotting pair of savages into his confidence and his councils. Enos and his wife would (no, it was arranged) go out among the Indians and pretend to be their friends, learn all they could of their intentions and intrigues, if any, with the upper Indians, who were then in open war, and returning lay it all out before the captain, for which service they were to receive a generous consideration. This mode of procedure continued for a time, but the only reports that Wright obtained were that the Indians were very kindly disposed towards the whites, and were unalterably determined to remain so, although often and strongly urged by the upper Indians to begin
A WAR TO THE DEATHagainst the hated white men. It is probable that Wright informed his two emissaries of his plans regarding the Indians, and that upon the conclusion of the war above, all the river and coast tribes could be transported to some distant spot and there detained. All information obtained from Wright was communicated to the Indians in the vicinity, who spread it among the more distant tribes, and hastened, no doubt, the sudden outbreak in which Wright was the first victim to fall, at an early hour of that awful night. Enos and his wife had learned that on the 22nd day of February a major portion of the white men intended to go up the river to Big Flat, five miles distant, to pass the night in dancing. Enos remained with Wright while his wife went out and spread the news; and in a few days many new Indian lodges sprang up in the vicinity of the little settlement. These lodges seemed to be principally occupied by squaws and children, and but few warriors were to be seen at any one time. Enos reported that they were all down the coast on a hunt.
The eventful night came round, and a majority of the settlers repaired to the ball at Big Flat, ignorant of the doom of those who remained behind. Night had settled down and darkness brooded over the swelling sea; the landscape was hidden in gloom, while the freshening breezes wearily moaned through the tall firs and nestled in the low shrubs on the bay. [Mary Geisel Blake remembers the night being bright as day; there had been a full moon two nights before.] The captain sat alone in his office, reflecting on his official duties, or thinking, perhaps of his distant home. A knock was heard at the door, and he bade the person who knocked come in. The door was partly opened by Enos, who told the captain to come out, as there was a person outside who wished to speak to him. Wright stepped to the door and to the ground outside. Quickly a blow was struck by someone with an ax, and he fell to the ground, his head split in two. His murderers left him where he fell and went out into the darkness to complete their work of death at the many dwellings not far away. He was buried next day with the other victims who met their deaths on that horrid night. [The victims of the massacre were buried about a month later. By most accounts, Wright's remains weren't found.] But today the lonely spot where repose the remains of Capt. Benj. Wright, one of the most noted and successful Indian fighters ever known on the north Pacific coast, could not be pointed out if one should chance to cask to be shown his grave.
O. W. OLNEY.O. W. Olney, Sunday Oregonian, Portland, November 22, 1885, page 2 It seems that Olney has recast Chetco Jennie as Enos' wife instead of Wright's mistress.
Arriving in California [in 1849] Mr. Anderson went directly to the mines at Redding Springs. About Christmas he and three companions cut timber and paid $75 for a saw with which to whipsaw lumber. They then built a little skiff, with which they proceeded down the Sacramento River to the mouth of the Cottonwood, and there met Ben Wright and Nathan Olney, with some Oregon Indians. The men in question were notorious Indian fighters and were on the trail of other Indians encamped on the east side of the river. With the assistance of the new arrivals the capture was effected with little difficulty, every Indian with the exception of a squaw being killed by the steady aim of the white men.
"Eli K. Anderson," Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon, Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904, pages 707-709
"BILL" CHANCE, VETERAN INDIAN FIGHTER
KILLED TREACHEROUS OREGON REDSKINS EARLY IN THE '50S
AND HATES THEM LIKE RATTLESNAKES
One of the most picturesque characters in the Northwest is Bill Chance, who is spending the evening of his days in Seaside, content to let the strenuous life he has lived be only a pleasant memory.
Bill Chance is a man of striking appearance, six feet two inches tall, and, although 77 years old, straight as an arrow. He is probably more familiar with the Indians and the Indian wars of this coast than any man living, having been an active participant in almost every war with them since he crossed the plains in 1852. He speaks several Indian dialects and is as familiar with the Chinook jargon as he is with English.
During the Rogue River Indian War he served as a volunteer, and participated in the Battle of Hungry Hill, one of the most sanguinary fights of all that cruel campaign. His description of the atrocities he witnessed is so vivid that listening to them almost makes the auditor feel he was present. "I have seen," said he, "children wearing swaddling clothes, which the murderous brutes had taken by the legs and beaten their brains out against a rock. And yet many people in the East, actuated by a feeling of sentiment and ignorance, have lifted up their hands in horror at the thought of white men thirsting for the blood of those fiends. As a matter of fact the men who know the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the red man have no more hesitancy in killing an Indian than they would a rattler. Of the two, the rattlers are the less dangerous and most honorable; they always warn before they strike; an Indian, never.
"Another thing you must observe. An Indian is always an Indian. No difference how much of the veneering of civilization he may have acquired, no difference if taken when a papoose, raised to manhood by a white family, without ever seeing one of his kind, latent lie the Indian traits, ready to burst forth in deeds of cruelty and hate, without a moment's warning. I may make an exception to this in favor of a squaw, but never with the bucks.
"I belonged," said Bill, "to the Ben Wright expedition, and was one of the 30 white men engaged in the so-called Ben Wright massacre. Wright was severely censured for this by the United States officials and stigmatized as a murderer. A howl was raised throughout the eastern press, many insisting that he be court-martialed and shot.
"The whole secret of the killing of those 30 Indians lay in the Indians' treachery. We had these Moloquas (since known as Modocs) penned on a peninsula that ran into a lake, near Lost River, about two miles this side of the California line. Escape was impossible, so they sent a messenger, under a flag of truce, asking for a peace conference, to be held at 12 o'clock the following day, which Wright immediately granted. The significance of the hour did not occur to him. At the noon hour the men would be engaged in eating dinner or attending to their horses, thus being entirely off their guard.
"During the night a squaw came into camp and informed Wright that the Indians would all attend the council, that they would wear their blankets, under which their firearms would be concealed, and at a given signal from the chief all the whites were to be murdered in cold blood. This, you observe, after promising to come unarmed.
"The next day everything in camp went on as usual. The most wary Indian eye could detect nothing in the white man's camp to indicate any knowledge of the premeditated treachery.
"At the appointed hour, while the whites were apparently engaged about their camp duties, the Indians marched solemnly into camp, and fell into such positions as enabled them to observe every man in camp, with the chief facing Captain Wright.
"When the crucial moment arrived, Wright raised his hand to his hat, when instantly 30 rifles, in the hands of as deadly marksmen as ever pulled a trigger, poured a storm of lead into that surprised body of Indians, who had come to kill, and instead were killed. Not one of them escaped, and so sudden and unexpected was the attack and so fatal in its results that not one of them had time to remove his blanket or raise his gun, and they all had their guns concealed under their blankets.
"This," continued Mr. Chance, "is the true story of the so-called 'Ben Wright massacre.' It was simply a question of killing or being killed, and Wright took the only sensible course and killed. Who, I ask, under the circumstances would have done otherwise? And Echo questions 'Who?'
"The most daring act of bravery I ever saw," continued Mr. Chance, "occurred at the Battle of Hungry Hill. A man by the name of Miller had his leg broken by a bullet, and when the troops retreated under the galling fire of the Indians, Miller was left lying on the field. David Inman went back to Miller, picked him up, and amid a raging storm of bullets carried him to a place of safety. Marvelous as it may appear, neither of them was touched by a bullet."
Bill Chance is serenely passing over the last part of the road leading to the "Great Unknown." He has helped to make the history of the West, and although nearing the last milestone, his wit is rapier-like in its keenness, and his soul is as full of music as mockingbirds at mating time. He will leave the world better for having lived in it.
Oregonian, Portland, July 14, 1907, page 54
Last revised May 29, 2017