INDIAN WARS OF SOUTHERN OREGON.
ADDRESS OF HON. WILLIAM M. COLVIG
DELIVERED AT THE REUNION
OF THE INDIAN WAR VETERANS, AT MEDFORD
ON SATURDAY, JULY 28, 1902.
I was first invited to deliver an address of welcome to the
Indian war veterans, who meet here to-day; but within the past few
days I was informed that an historical sketch of early days in
southern Oregon, including an account of the Indian wars, would be
my part in the programme of exercises.
My knowledge of the subject is not very extensive. I lived in
southern Oregon as early as 1852, but was only a boy, not old
enough to take part in any of the stirring incidents Which I
remember of those days. I see before me faces that recall events
long past, and which left pictures in the album of memory that time
will never efface, and you will pardon me if I refer to one of
those personal recollections.
In 1855 my father, Dr. Wm. L. Colvig, and family lived in a log
cabin on the South Umpqua River, near Canyonville. One bright,
clear day in October of that year, myself and brother, on returning
from a trip in the "cañon," saw standing, in an exhausted
condition, a white cayuse pony before the door of our home. The
horse was covered with blood. Everything seemed quiet about the
place. We rushed into the house and saw a man lying on his back,
full length, upon the puncheon floor. His clothing was partially
removed. His body was covered with blood. Father was kneeling over
him on one side and mother on the other. They were dressing his
wounds. He had nine separate bullet holes in his [begin page 228]
limbs and body. Doctor Colvig had his case of surgical instruments
at hand, which consisted of a butcher knife and a pair of scissors.
The knife was the one we had used to cut meat when crossing the
plains. Mother was preparing bandages by tearing up some of our old
"hickory" shirts. Well, they patched Uncle Bill Russell--called
"Long Bill" in those days--up in pretty good shape. I see him here
to-day, but I don't think that he is looking for a fight with
Indians. At the time of which I speak, he had been shot by the
Indians about five miles from my father's house but succeeded in
riding to our door. His companion, Weaver, had a close call, but
The Indian wars of southern Oregon were stubborn contests. It is
a natural law that the fittest survive, and wherever civilization
in its advance meets barbarian force, the latter must give way.
When they meet there is an "irrepressible conflict," the details of
which we can not always reconcile with the Golden Rule. The tribes
who took part in these several wars in southern Oregon were the
Rogue Rivers, Modocs, Klamaths, Shastas, and Umpquas. The only
honest acquisition of the Rogue River Indians was their name. On
account of the thieving and treacherous habits of the people of
that tribe, the river which flows through the valley was called by
the early French trappers "Riviere aux Coquin," the river of
rogues. The Oregon legislature in 1853 sought to change the name,
and did name it Gold River, but, as the boys say, "it didn't
It will be impossible for me to do more than mention a few of
the more prominent incidents, and I can not be very accurate in
regard to dates and other matters pertaining to that period, as my
information has been gathered from many sources, some of which are
not very authentic.
It may be of interest to know that on December 27, [begin page
229] 1850, Congress passed what is known as the donation land law,
which gave to every American citizen over the age of eighteen
years, if single, one half section of land; if married, one
section of land, one half of which was the absolute property of the
wife, the other half of the husband. There were no settlers in the
Rogue River Valley prior to New Year's day, 1851. In the spring of
1851 a man by the name of Evans constructed a ferry across Rogue
River, just below the town of Woodville. During the same spring a
man by the name of Perkins also established a ferry on that river.
The first donation land claim was located by Judge A. A. Skinner,
an Indian agent, in June, 1851. This claim is the Walker farm, near
Central Point. Upon it he built the first settler's house ever
built in the valley. Chesley Gray, his interpreter, also located a
donation land claim in June, 1851. It is what is known as the
"Constant Farm," near Central Point. The following named persons
filed donation land claims prior to February, 1852: Moses Hopwood,
on Christmas day, 1851 ; N. C. Dean, at Willow Springs, December,
1851; Stone and Poyntz, at Wagner Creek, December, 1851; L. J. C.
Duncan, Major Barron, Thomas Smith, Pat Dunn, E. K. Anderson, and
Samuel Culver had made their locations prior to February, 1852. I
do not pretend that these were all, but the entire number of claims
taken up to that time did not exceed twenty-eight.
In December, 1851, James Clugage and J. R. Poole located the
first mining claim in southern Oregon, at a point near the old
brewery in Jacksonville. They had been informed by a couple of
young men who were passing through the country that they had found
gold near that place. Immediately after this discovery became known
in California and by the incoming immigrants to Oregon, there was a
rush made to the mines of Jacksonville. Old man Shiveley, the
discoverer of Shiveley [begin page 230] Gulch, above Jacksonville,
inside of eighteen months taken out over $50,000, and since that
time, from the best statistics obtainable, the mines of southern
Oregon have yielded about $35,000,000 in gold.
During the winter of 1852 flour was sold at $1 per pound,
tobacco at $1 an ounce, and salt was priceless. Jacksonville was
laid out as a town in the summer or 1852 by Henry Klippel and John
I will now speak of the Indian wars in which the people of
southern Oregon were engaged. The first recorded fight between the
Indians and whites in any portion of southern Oregon occurred in
1828, when Jedediah S. Smith and seven other trappers were attacked
by the Indians on the Umpqua River, and fifteen of the whites were
slain, only Smith and three of his companions escaping. The next
fight of which we have any account was in June, 1836, at a point
just below the Rock Point bridge, where the barn on the W. L.
Colvig estate stands. In this fight there were Dan Miller, Edward
Barnes, Doctor Bailey, George Gay, Saunders, Woodworth, Irish Tom,
and J. Turners and quaw. Two trappers were killed, and nearly all
were wounded. Within my recollection, Doctor Bailey visited the
scene of this fight, and pointed out to my father its location. In
September, 1837, at the mouth of Foots Creek, in Jackson County, a
party of men who had been sent to California by the Methodist
mission to procure cattle, while on their return were attacked by
the Rogue River Indians and had a short, severe fight, in which
several of the whites were badly wounded and some twelve or
fourteen of the Indians killed. In May, 1845, J. C. Fremont had a
fight with the Indians in the Klamath country; it may have been a
little over the line in California. Four of Fremont's men were
killed and quite a large number of the Indians. Kit Carson was a
prominent figure in this battle. [begin page 231]
As before stated, a few bold adventurers had located in Rogue
River Valley as early as December, 1851. During the spring, summer,
and fall of that year there was a considerable amount of travel
through the valley, by parties from northern Oregon going to and
returning from the great mining excitement of California. Fights
between these travelers and the Indians were of frequent
occurrence. On the fifteenth day of May, 1851, a pack train was
attacked at a point on Bear Creek, where the town of Phoenix is now
situated, and a man by the name of Dilley was killed. On June 3,
1851, a party of Oregonians, under the leadership of Dr. James
McBride, had a severe fight near Willow Springs with Chief
"Chucklehead" and his band. Chucklehead and six other Indians were
killed; several of the whites were severely wounded.
About this time Maj. Phil Kearny, afterwards General Kearny, who
was killed at the battle of Chantilly in the Civil war, happened to
be passing through the valley on his way from Vancouver to Benicia,
California, with a detachment of two companies of United States
regulars. He remained a short time and assisted in punishing the
Indians for the numerous depredations committed by them during the
year. He had several fights while in the valley, in which about
fifty Indians were killed. One of these fights was on Rogue River,
near the mouth of Butte Creek, where Captain Stuart, of the United
States army, received an arrow wound from an Indian, who was also
wounded. The arrow penetrated the captain's body, and he died the
next day at the camp on Bear Creek, near Phoenix. The camp
thenceforth took the name of Camp Stuart, and Bear Creek in all
government records is called Stuart's Creek. The captain's body was
buried at a spot where the wagon road crosses the mill race in the
town of Phoenix. Some years ago his remains were taken up and sent
to Washington, D. C., to be buried by [begin page 232] the side of
his mother. Captain Stuart's last words were, "Boys, it is awful to
have passed through all the battles of the Mexican war, and then be
killed by an Indian in this wild country."
At the massacre of emigrants at Bloody Point, Klamath County, in
1852, thirty-six men, women, and children, were murdered. Capt. Ben
Wright and twenty-seven men from Yreka and Col. J. E. Ross and some
Oregonians went out to punish these Modocs. Old Schonchin, who was
afterwards hung at Fort Klamath in 1873, at the close of the Modoc
war, was the leader. Wright gave them no quarter. He and his men,
infuriated at the sight of the mangled bodies of the. emigrants,
killed men, women, and children without any discrimination--about
forty in all ; and it is said that they asked for a "peace talk,"
whereupon a roast ox was prepared. Wright poisoned it, gave it to
the Indians, and then rode away. [This story is now generally
I can not give you the names of all who were killed in Rogue
River Valley during the years 1851, 1852, mid 1853. I will mention
some that were killed in 1853. In August of that year Edward
Edwards was killed near Medford; Thomas Wills and Rhodes Nolan, in
the edge of the town of Jacksonville; Pat Dunn and Carter, both
wounded in a fight on Neil Creek above Ashland. In a fight with the
Indians on Bear Creek, in August, 1853, Hugh Smith was killed, and
Howell, Morris, Hodgins, Whitmore, and Gibbs wounded, the last
named three dying from their wounds soon after.
These murders, and many more that could be mentioned, brought on
the Indian war of 1853. Southern Oregon raised six companies of
volunteers, who served under the following named captains, viz, R.
L. Williams, J. K. Lamerick, John F. Miller, Elias A. Owens, and W.
W. Fowler. Capt. B. F. Alden, of the Fourth U. S. [begin page 233]
Infantry, with twenty regulars, came over from Fort Jones,
California, and with him a large number of volunteers under Capt.
James P. Goodall and Capt. Jacob Rhoades, two Indian fighters of
experience. Captain Alden was given the command of all the forces.
The first battle of the war was fought on the twelfth day of
August, 1853, and was an exciting little fight between about twenty
volunteers under Lieut. Burrell Griffin, of Miller's company, and a
band of Indians under Chief John. The volunteers were ambushed at a
point near the mouth of Williams creek, on the Applegate. The
whites were defeated with a loss of two killed and Lieutenant
Griffin severely wounded. There were five Indians killed and
wounded in the battle. On August 10, 1853, John R. Harding and Wm.
R. Rose, of Captain Lamerick's company, were killed near Willow
Springs. On the sixteenth of August, 1853, Gen. Joseph Lane,
afterwards United States senator from Oregon, and a candidate for
vice president in 1860, came out from his home in Douglas County
and brought fifty men with him, to take part in the war. General
Lane was a man of large experience in Indian warfare and in all
military matters. He had commanded an Indiana regiment in the
Mexican war and enjoyed a well earned reputation for bravery. On
the day that General Lane arrived what is known as the battle of
Little Meadows was fought. Lieutenant Ely and twenty-two men met
the Indians near Evans Creek, in the timber, and a short, but
deadly conflict took place. Seven whites were killed inside of an
hour; Lieutenant Ely and three men wounded. They left the
battlefield in charge of the Indians--at least, in the popular
phraseology of that day, "they got up and got out." On August 24,
1853, the battle of Evans Creek was fought. In this fight the
Indians did not fare so well, twelve of them being [begin page 234]
killed and wounded. One volunteer named Pleasant Armstrong was
killed and Captain Alden and Gen. Joe Lane were each wounded.
During the summer of 1853 several men were shot by Indians in
Josephine County. In the fall General Lane patched up a temporary
peace, which lasted till 1855.
The war of 1855-56 was preceded by a great many murders and
depredations by the Indians in different parts of southern Oregon.
I will mention a few: --. Dyar and --. McKew, killed while on the
road from Jacksonville to Josephine County on June 1, 1855. About
the same time a man by name of --. Philpot was killed on Deer
Creek, Josephine County, and James Mills was wounded at the same
time and place. Granville Keene was killed at a point on Bear
Creek, above Ashland, and J. Q. Faber was wounded. Two men, --.
Fielding and --. Cunningham, were killed in September, 1855, on the
road over the Siskiyou mountains.
On account of these various depredations Maj. J. A. Lupton
raised a temporary force of volunteers, composed of miners and
others, from the vicinity of Jacksonville, about thirty-five in
number, and proceeded to a point on the north side of Rogue River,
opposite the mouth of Little Butte Creek. There he attacked a camp
of Indians at a time when they were not expecting trouble. It is
said that about thirty men, women, and children were killed by
Lupton's men. The major himself received a mortal wound in the
fight. This fight has been much,criticised by the people of
southern Oregon, a great many of them believing that it was
unjustifiable and cowardly. Two days after this affair a series of
massacres took place in the sparsely settled country in and about
where Grants Pass is now situated. On the ninth day of October,
1856, the Indians, having divided up into small parties,
simultaneously attacked the homes of the defenseless families
[begin page 235] located in that vicinity. I will name a few of
those tragic events. On the farm now owned by James Tuffs, Mr.
Jones was killed, and his wife, after receiving a mortal wound,
made her escape. She was found by the volunteers on the next day
and died a few days afterwards. Their house was burned down. Mrs.
Wagner was murdered by the Indians on the same day. Her husband was
away from home at the time, but returned on the following day to
find his wife murdered and his home a pile of ashes. The Harris
family consisted of Harris and wife and their two children, Mary
Harris, aged twelve, and David Harris, aged ten, and T. A. Reed, a
young man who lived with the family. Mr. Harris was shot down while
standing near his door, and at a moment when he little suspected
treachery from the Indians with whom he was talking. His wife and
daughter pulled his body within the door, and seizing a
double-barreled shotgun and an old-fashioned Kentucky rifle,
commenced firing through the cracks of the log cabin. They kept
this up till late in the night, and by heroic bravery kept the
Indians from either gaining an entrance into the house or
succeeding in their attempts to fire it. Just back of the cabin was
a dense thicket of brush, and during a lull in the attack the two
brave women escaped through the back door and fled through the
woods. They were found the next day by volunteers from
Jacksonville, our late friend, Henry Klippel, being one of the
number. Mrs. Harris lived to a good old age in this county. Mary,
who was wounded in the fight, afterwards became the wife of Mr. G.
M. Love, and was the mother of George Love of Jacksonville and Mrs.
John A. Hanley of Medford. David Harris, the boy, was not in the
house when the attack was made, but was at work on the place. His
fate has never been ascertained, as his body was never found. The
Indians stated, after peace was made, that [begin page 236] they
killed him at the time they attacked the Harris house. Reed, the
young man spoken of, was killed out near the house.
On October 31, 1855, the battle of Hungry Hill was fought near
the present railway-station of Leland. Capt. A. J. Smith of the
United States army was at that battle, and a large number of
citizens soldiery. The result of the battle was very undecisive.
There were thirty-one whites killed and wounded, nine of them being
killed out-right. It is not known how many of the Indians were
killed, but after the treaty was made they confessed to fifteen.
The Indians were in heavy timber and were scarcely seen during the
two days' battle.
In April, 1856, after peace had been concluded between the
whites and Indians, the Ledford massacre took place in Rancherie
Prairie, near Mount Pitt, in this county, in which five white men
were killed. This event was the last of the "irrepressible
conflict." Soon afterward the Indians were removed to the Siletz
reservation, where their descendants now live and enjoy the favors
of the government which their fathers so strongly resisted.
The war in Rogue River Valley had now virtually ended.
Old Sam's" band, with an escort of one hundred United States
troops, was taken to the coast reservation at Siletz. Chiefs "John"
and "Limpy," with a large number of the most active warriors, who
had followed their fortunes during all these struggles, still held
out and continued their depredations in the lower Rogue River
country and in connection with the Indians of Curry County.
Gen. John E. Wool, commander of the department of the Pacific,
in November, 1855, had stopped at Crescent City while on his way to
the Yakima country. He received full information while here of the
military operations in southern Oregon. Skipping many details, it
is sufficient to state that he ordered Capt. A. J. Smith to [begin
page 237] move down the river from Fort Lane and form a junction
with the United States troops under Captains Jones and E. O. C. Ord
(afterward a major-general in United States army), who were
prosecuting an active campaign in the region about Chetco, Pistol
River, and the Illinois River Valley. Captain Smith left Fort Lane
with eighty men--fifty dragoons and thirty infantry. I can only
take the time to mention a few of the fights in that region during
the spring of 1856. On March 8th Captain Abbott had a skirmish with
the Chetco Indians at Pistol River. He lost several men. The
Indians had his small force completely surrounded when Captain Ord
and Captain Jones with one hundred and twelve regular troops came
to his relief. They charged and drove the Indians away with heavy
loss. On March 20, 1855, Lieutenant-Colonel Buchanan, assisted by
Captains Jones and Ord, attacked an Indian village ten miles above
the mouth of Rogue River. The Indians were driven away, leaving
several dead and only one white man wounded in the fight. A few
days later Captain Angne's [Augur?] company (United States troops)
fought John and "Limpy's" band at the mouth of the Illinois River.
The Indians fought desperately, leaving five dead on the
battlefield. On March 27, 1855, the regulars again met the Indians
on Lower Rogue River. After a brisk fight at close quarters the
Indians fled, leaving ten dead and two of the soldiers were
severely wounded. On April 1, 1855, Captain Creighton, with a
company of citizens, attacked an Indian village near the mouth of
the Coquille River, killing nine men, wounding eleven and taking
forty squaws and children prisoners. About this time some
volunteers attacked a party of Indians who were moving in canoes at
the mouth of Rogue River. They killed eleven men and one squaw.
Only one man and two squaws of the party escaped. On April 29,
1855, a party [begin page 238] of sixty regulars escorting a pack
train were attacked near Chetco. In this fight three soldiers were
killed and wounded. The Indians lost six killed and several
The volunteer forces of the coast war were three companies known
by the names of "Gold Beach Guards," the "Coquille Guards," and the
"Port Orford Minute Men." I have not the time to enter into the
details of the battle that was fought on the twenty-seventh of May,
1855, near Big Meadows, on Rogue River. Captain Smith was in
command of his eighty regulars. Old "John" lead the Indians. The
operations covered a period of two days, Jobn using all the tactics
of military science in handling his four hundred braves during the
battle. Just as every thing was ready, according to "John's" plans
for an attack upon the regulars, Captain Angne's [Augur?] company
was seen approaching. The Indians were then soon dispersed. Captain
Smith lost twenty-nine men killed and wounded in this battle, and
had it not been for the timely arrival of Angne's [Augur?] company,
his men would all have been killed.
While these operations were being carried on by the United
States troops, the volunteer forces were not idle. They were kept
busy with "Limpy" and "George's" warriors, at points in Josephine
County. On January 28, 1856, Major Latshaw moved down the river
with two hundred and thirteen men. He had several skirmishes and
lost four or five men in killed and wounded. On May 29th "Limpy"
and "George" surrendered at Big Meadows to Lieutenant-Colonel
Buchanan. On May 31st Governor Curry ordered the volunteer forces
to disband--nearly all the Indians had surrendered. About one
thousand three hundred of the various tribes that had carried on
the war were gathered in camp at Port Orford. [begin page 239]
About July 1, 1856, "John" and thirty-five tough looking
warriors, the last to surrender, "threw down the hatchet." I have
now gone over, in chronological order, the principal events
connected with the Indian wars of southern Oregon. I am fully aware
that the narrative is very defective, and that many events of
importance have not even been mentioned. You who took part in these
early struggles can easily fill in the gaps, and correct the errors
that I may have unconsciously made.
There were some men who took part in the Indian wars of southern
Oregon who afterward became prominent in the history of the Nation.
I will name a few, viz, Gen. U. S. Grant, Gen. J. B. Hood (late of
Confederate army), Gen. Phil Kearny, Gen. Wool, Gen. A. J. Smith,
Gen. Geo. Crooks, Gen. A. V. Kautz, Gen. Phil Sheridan, Gen. J. C.
Fremont, Gen. Joe Lane (candidate for vice president of the United
States in 1860), Gen. Joe Hooker (who built the military road in
the Canyon Mountains in 1852), and Kit Carson.
We all rejoice that the general government has at last
acknowledged the value of your services to civilization; and has
made some provision of recompense for the privations which you
I see before me old gray headed mothers who will also share with
you this recognition of the Nation's gratitude. It is well, and to
my comrades of the Civil war, who are here, and who have been the
promotors of this reunion of veterans, let me say that no women of
any war, in which the American people have ever been engaged, are
more deserving of the Nation's bounty than these old, feeble,
pioneer mothers of southern Oregon. When their fathers, brothers,
and husbands went out to meet their savage foes, these women were
not left in well protected cities, villages, and homes, but often
in rude cabins, situated in [begin page 240] close proximity to the
conflict; and unlike the chances of civilized warfare, no mercy
could be expected from the enemy--surrender meant not only death,
but torture and heartless cruelty. In every hour of those dark days
these women proved themselves to be fit helpmates to a race of
daring men--and worthy all honors that are accorded the brave.