Molalla Chief Crooked Finger, the Battle of Abiqua and the 1851 Molalla Treaty

Crooked Finger (Loshuk), the Molalla  Chief, lived in an upland valley in the foothills of the Cascades, above present day Scott’s Mills. This area is called Crooked Finger’s Prairie even today. Loshuk received his American name Crooked Finger when as a boy he was playing with a rifle and it went off, disfiguring his hand. In his time he was renowned for speaking against the American settlement of his land and set about to harass Americans whenever he could as partial retribution for the losses his tribe was sustaining. Some reports suggest that he drank heavily of a rum from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) called Blue Ruin, a common import into the Oregon Territory by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Crooked Finger Prairie, Google Maps 2016, The name was likely shortened from the original Crooked Finger's Prairie
Location of Crooked Finger Prairie, Google Maps 2016, The name was likely shortened from the original Crooked Finger’s Prairie

Crooked Finger is not well known in the history of the time. He did not come to Grand Ronde, while two  other Molalla chiefs  did come in 1856. He appears to be the overall leader, the Principal chief of the tribes in the 1840’s and early 1850’s. It appears that Chiefs  Quai-eck-e-te and  Yalkus  were the leaders at Dickie Prairie, and Chief Coosta was the Chief over the Santiam Molalla in the Santiam basin, yet stayed with his kin at Dickie Prairie, at times.

Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis
Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis

South of Dickie Prairie and Molalla, is the town of Scott’s Mills. On the eastern side of this small town is Crooked Finger Road. Following the road to the east and south, it climbs up about a thousand feet to a upland valley, called Crooked Finger Prairie. the Prairie is of Jory soils, rich red earth, like that in the Salem Hills. The prairie today is in agriculture planted in hay and orchards.

Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis
Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis

There is a Crooked Finger Fire Station and a Crooked Finger school in this valley. The Queen of the Holy Rosary Church is built  near here, on the site of a Molalla village.  somewhat above the school, local people note that there was at one time a very large tree where the Molallas would gather and hold a camp meeting. The Tree is now gone and the school is a private residence. Under the tree was reportedly the burial of Crooked Finger.

Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis
Crooked Finger Prairie June 2016, Photo David Lewis

The prairie is named Crooked Finger because that is where his people lived most of the year.  A village site was near the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. They would spend the winters  in a winter village on the hill at Mount Angel. The prairie was not settled until the 1860’s. General Land Office maps do not show settlements in 1854, and the DLCs of Ager and McGowan appear in the 1862 GLO map. The C.W. McGowan farm  is first planted in grains, oats, and he maintains the claim until at least 1892, when he begins selling parcels. He also sells prune trees in such quantities that the people propose changing the area to Prune Ridge. (Oregon Statesman Mar 18 1892, p 11)

Settler histories discuss a large crack in the prairie. This deep crack was a place where Molalla chiefs would gather and discuss their business. When a farm took over the prairie the farmers began filling the crack with the bodies of dead cattle. Today the crack is no longer visible.

Molalla Reservation in Crooked Finger's Prairie, GLO 7s 2w 1969.
Temporary Abiqua Molalla Reservation in Crooked Finger’s Prairie, March 1855-March 1856, GLO 7s 2w 1969.

R.C. Geer wrote of Crooked Finger (Oregon Statesman March 17, 1877),

Crooked Finger, a desperate Molalla Indian, said to be a chief: at all events he controlled the Molallas and a band of Klamaths  that had been infesting this part of the valley for several years was continually traveling from the Molalla to the Santiam on the Klamath Trail, and insulting the settlers by ordering the women in the absence of the men to cook him a meal of vituals at any time of the day; and as all the settlers on that trail were new-comers he sometimes succeeded in scaring them into obeying him by his gestures and threats. He said all brave men had gone to fight the Cayuses, and he could do just as he pleased. He and his band of Klamaths drove one man from the (his) claim…

Ralph C. Geer

RC Geer Farmhouse Clip 1878 Marion Atlas

The Battle of Abiqua

Crooked Finger appears as a peripheral part of the Battle of the  Abiqua of 1848.

In February 1848, six months after the Whitman Massacre, the settlers in the Willamette valley were very tense, concerned that the tribes would attack.  Many of the men had volunteered and were in the East in the Cayuse War, so citizen militia were established in the valley. R.C. Geer was the captain of one company, while Don Waldo was the Captain of another. The situation became much tenser when 80 Klamath Indians, friends of the Molallas, came into the Molalla area and began harassing people and raising a ruckus. The settlers did not like the Klamaths who were not from the Willamette Valley but traveled around  on the trails, sometimes with Crooked Finger, and caused mischief.

When they were asked to leave, Chief Coosta (Coastno)  defended the rights of the Klamaths to be in the valley stating that they were his kin. In this year the land had not yet been purchased of the tribes and any suggestion by the settlers that the tribes had no right to be there was incorrect.  This situation went on for several days, with many of the settlers gathering at Dicky Miller’s homestead to drive the Klamaths out.  Men came from Marion and Clackamas counties to help stem the “attack” by the Klamaths, which is what they thought it was.

The settler militia set out to drive the Klamaths back and upon meeting them in a small prairie they began shooting. Several Indian men were killed in the first volley. A pause occurred when Red Blanket, another Molalla Chief was, was allowed to leave peacefully, with the thought that he was peaceful. However when walking away, he turned back and began shooting arrows very swiftly at the company of volunteers, and he was shot down. The Klamaths were driven from Dickie Prairie.

The next day the volunteers again advanced further into the forest and began driving the Klamaths further back, with some back and forth firing of arrows and shot. The next prairie, near Scott’s Mills, saw several Indians killed as they were back up against a cliff. Men and women among the tribe were killed by the volunteers. The Klamaths were driven further south and that evening the crossed the Santiam on their way south.  In all over 10 men and women were killed by the militia, and several women taken hostage. The local Molalla tribes did not join the battle, remained peaceful never thereafter caused any problems. When the militia was questioned about why they were so harsh on the Klamaths, as they had only been a bit rude and mischievous at first, the militia leaders stated that the Klamaths did not belong in the Willamette Valley, and the Molalla did.

Crooked Finger was not with the Klamaths at this time. On the first day of the battle, he attempted to enter R.C. Geer’s house to get his wife to cook for him but was repulsed by a neighbor.

At the end of the battle Crooked Finger was ordered to never again enter another settler’s house without a  man being present.  If he should do this, in violation of the orders, then he would be shot.

1851 Molalla Treaty

Molalla Chief Crooked Finger signed the 1851 Molalla treaty with two other Molalla chiefs, principal Chief  Quai-eck-e-te and subordinate Chief Henry Yalkus (Yelkas).  Negotiations with the Treaty commission (Gains, Allen & Skinner) began at 2 pm  Saturday afternoon on May 3, 1851 at Champoeg and ended the following Tuesday, May 6, 1851. The treaty commission was one of the first for the Oregon territory, and the United States was setting about to buy all of the land from the tribes and send them into eastern Oregon. Crooked Finger had some powerful things to say during this treaty negotiation. He does not speak until Monday the 5th, and begins by saying he is not going to talk much (which means he will now talk a lot).


Crooked Finger said that within the bounds of this (proposed) reservation, there were some several white settlers, and that he understood how much land they claimed and how much they were allowed. He was willing for them to remain there, and retain their land claims.

Judge Skinner  proposed that they remove to the east of the Cascade Range, that this would be best for them. After a break Skinner discuss how much money as annuities would be given, and the goods to be purchased for the tribes as payment for their ceding their lands.

Crooked Finger said they did not want goods etc. as the Callapooyas had agreed to take, nor did he want to payments made in the way proposed. He said we wanted the payments made at once, and all of it money.

Judge Skinner said that it was better to take the money as annuities to pay their “Red Children” in that way.

Crooked Finger said that the whites when they first came here, and up to within a short time since, had always told them that the Great Father would pay them for their lands, and that they had believed them. He said the time had now come, that the Great Father had sent out three chiefs to trade with them, and they had met in council. We are now ready, he said, to trade with the chiefs and we want our payments made as we wish. That they were dieing [sic] off very fast, and would not live long enough to receive their payments, in the way proposed. 

Crooked Finger said he wanted the whole amount paid in money, then, they could buy what they wished. 

Crooked Finger said he wished the Great Father and the commissioners to be pleased, and that they wished to be pleased themselves, and they wanted to be paid in money. 

Governor Gains said explained that the board is now acting by instructions from the Great Father, and could not do otherwise than as was proposed. [even though later they accept the proposal of a permanent reservation for the tribes in the own territory, which is against the instructions]

Crooked Finger said that the board could write to the Great Father and tell him the Moolalla’s [sic] wanted it different. tell him we want it in money, and not like the Callapooyas. 

Governor Gains said the Great Father had made up his mind and would not change it, and all of the other “Red Children” were being paid similarly.

Crooked Finger said his heart was to let the matter rest until they could hear from the Great Father.

Tuesday Morning 9 am council met

Governor Gaines asked if they had thought about the proposal?

Crooked Finger said they had, and that they did not think as the Board did, in regard to the proposition. 

Colonel Allen proposed that houses would be built for the Chiefs in payment for their removal from a white land claim. he said that this was the last proposal and there would be no other, and if they did not accept the talk would be of war. They would not consent to only payments in money, because they [the tribe] would squander it.  The proposal was for $22,000 for ceding their lands, to be paid in twenty annual installments of $1,100, $300 in cash and the rest in goods. Also they would get 15 rifles, 5 Indian houses, and the principal chief would receive a Log House, to be 30 feet long and 14 feet wide and 8 feet high, and finished with a brick chimney, Plank floor and shingled roof, the house to be divided into two rooms with fireplaces, windows and doors suitable.

After much consideration and consultation among themselves and the people they accepted the proposal


The final treaty included all of the Molalla’s stipulations for payment as well as a permanent reservation within their own lands. They were not to be removed east of the Cascades. This 1851 treaty, along with the 18 other Oregon treaties under Oregon Superintendent Anson Dart were not ratified by Congress. American Settlers, when they heard the tribes would continue to live near them in the Willamette Valley, complained to Congress and got the treaties tabled.

Crooked Finger Prairie with small forested area, June 2016, Photo David Lewis
Crooked Finger Prairie with small forested area, June 2016, Photo David Lewis

Crooked Finger was noted for being rude and harassing to the local settlers, especially the women. He did not like what was happening, the colonization by the Americans, and understood early that the settlers were taking his land away. During the 1851 treaty discussions, Crooked Finger takes charge of the discussion and demands his payment for his land upfront. He also suggests that the Treaty commission can write to the president for additional instructions. The Chief displays a keen understanding of what was possible and he felt that he could not trust the Americans and their promises of twenty payments maybe just a way of stalling. He knew he would not see all of the money in his lifetime. His methods of showing displeasure finally caused his death.

In December 1853 Crooked Finger is shot and killed at Fred McCormick’s house in Clackamas County for entering without permission, and presumably ordering his wife around. Multiple references suggest he was buried under the old oak tree by the historic Crooked Prairie School. The one room schoolhouse was closed in 1970 and the building is now a private residence and the tree has been removed.

Oregonian, 12/17/1853
Oregonian, 12/17/1853

Note: a reference to the death of Crooked Finger appears in the book Oregon Geographic Names, by McArthur. The reference to Crooked Finger possibly dying at Grand Ronde is incorrect. The Oregon Statesman April 5, 1871, has a short article about a Molalla man “Crooked Leg” who passes at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. Numerous other sources discuss the death of Crooked Finger in Clackamas County and his burial in Crooked Finger Prairie.  There are no other indications that Crooked Finger was at GRIR as he does not appear in any lists, censuses or transcripts for the early period.

Geer, R.C. The Battle of the Abiqua,  Oregon Statesman, March 17, 1877.

Horace Downs, The Battle of the Abiqua, in A History of Silverton Country, 1928.

Special Thanks to Scott’s Mills Historical Society, including Lois Ray and Jim Hays.

25 thoughts on “Molalla Chief Crooked Finger, the Battle of Abiqua and the 1851 Molalla Treaty

      1. Hi David,
        Thank you for your quick reply. I would love to meet with you and love the history of the area and the farm…I want to preserve it as best I can and honor it’s original people.
        Will email you.

  1. This interesting arterial because I was raised on Crooked Finger never heard called a prairie, it was always just Crooke Finger all so the Scoots Mill never knew it was Crooked Finger Rd as it pass thru olther communites, including Noble, where my grand parents lived. My maiden was Shepherd, very old family in Ore, we lived up the end the county rd., only one place above us which was the Dorgans , then all Forest service or logging rds. Haven’t been there for years. Think some of story was true but fact might not be, by the way I went to school in that little one school, I remember several large trees so any one could been the tree mentioned. As heard no one knew where Crooked Finger was buried.

  2. How did they allow to sell the old schoolhouse to any buyer? Not persevered Also what is interesting is the McGowan family selling lots, after that they moved to Chinook WA and also have an old church which is the McGowan St Marys Catholic Church. Good timing on their part before all the mini wars with the natives.

    1. Thank you so very much Dr. Lewis for the most comprehensive and well researched info I have ever come close to finding. Your generous permission last year to reference your research at the Scotts Mills celebration of historical settlement was greatly appreciated. Presently, I am working with others to replace the interpretive historical marker that was damaged by a falling tree last year in the Marion County Park in Scotts Mills. We want to add the history from the area from the Native American perspective. The Native American story is so significant yet greatly unappreciated, but I sense that is changing. We have enough interest that plans for a Native American history center is even being dreamed of, but only if done through the voice of Native Americans themselves. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of interpretations of history by other voices when the people of a nation are doing everything they can to still be recognized and heard. If anyone is interested in this project, please contact me at, or Sandy Grulkey, Marion County Parks Commission. Thank you.

      1. Thanks Sandy. I have indeed found more information that I probably need to add to the blog and reference somewhere. So yes the story continues to change and grow in depth as more is found describing the native peoples of the past and present. I would be glad to help in any way. You may use my work in your history panels and reference my blog site. I can also help write and edit other histories as needed. Perhaps a meeting of the principals in the overall project would be appropriate. As well I suggest contacting Julie Brown at the Grand Ronde Tribe and see if Grand Ronde can help with the project. I am sure they would appreciate having the appropriate history on display for the Scotts Mills community.

  3. Hello Dave, very nice bit on Chief Crooked Finger, I’ve been waiting for years to read more about Chief Crooked Finger.

    Grew up with stories about Crooked Finger and the Molallas.

    One story that impressed was a great uncle born in the area now called Liberal spoke Molalla before English. Thinking on this over the years the thought came if a settlers son learned the indians language before his own they must have been friends, so what happened.

    Not one can say but it is a great shame the language was lost.

      1. The Molallas were great friends to the people around the town of Molalla. They worked for them for many years, as farmhands and doing odd jobs. sometimes they were hosted by farmers, allowed to stay on the farms in a cabin, which may have been their original village site. I say allowed, intentionally, because it was illegal for the tribal people to be off-reservations unless they had a white farmer who hired them and hosted them. The tribal people were not US citizens until 1924 and so did not have the rights of Americans. Most did not get paid fairly for their share of their original homelands.

      2. “not US citizens until 1924”, That is incredible! I find myself haunted by the mere thought of such disregard. Unfortunately, it seems to be abnormal when people do NOT do that. Let us celebrate people’s unique differences and learn from them. Let’s hope this next year brings a renewed sense of honor to tolerance, and inclusion, instead of alienation.

  4. I was born in Silverton Oregon and raised in Howell Prairie Central Howell there was always talk about chief crooked finger. One of my most cherished childhood moments or when my father would speed up the garden I will hunt arrowheads and pray to God that I would find them when I found them I would pray to God thank you but then I felt like I found something I made thank you for the history and please let me know what else history you find out Ken Rickard

  5. I don’t mean to step on toes, but,

    They say the love of money is the root of all evil, and I’ve been thinking, things may have changed for the Molalla Indians for the worst after the California gold rush ; were wicked men shot ‘diggers’ on sight. This exposure to man at his most vile, along with coming home broke, perhaps, hardened hearts.

    Also, along the same line of thought, Tabitha Brown got her start boarding children left behind by the gold rush. After Tabitha’s success the United States sent a army colonel to start a Indian boarding school in Forest Grove which was to parallel Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

    Eventually the school was closed. Officially because they said it was inadequate, and too expensive to upgrade, more likely though, the townspeople didn’t like seeing Brown children on their streets.

    It’s such a shame.

  6. Hi there, my son and I have really enjoying your writing. We are exploring the Molalla tribes (specifically Dixie prairie) for the first time and wish to do more research for my sons school papers on the native Indians where we live. We are living above Scotts Mills. We would love to connect with you. Can you point us in the right direction for specific information on food, shelter, religion, art, clothing, weapons etc?

    Thanking you in advance,

    Melanie and Ailin Heise

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