Battle Creek, in Salem, is the location for perhaps the earliest conflict between the tribes in the Willamette Valley and the settlers, in early August 1846 (Oregon Spectator article August 6, 1846). The original inhabitants of the Salem Hills and Jefferson areas were the Santiam Kalapuyans. In this instance the fight was between the settlers and a visiting band of Klamaths. The Klamaths were regular visitors to the valley having much trade with the Kalapuyans and a close friendship with the nearby Northern and Santiam Molallas. A good system of trails, some called Klamath trails, connected the regional tribes from the Klamath Basin to the Columbia river and into the valleys to the west.
One story suggests that when settler men were gone from a farm Calapuya Indians would be blamed for taking advantage of the situation and steal food and take advantage of the women. The settler men planned a trap for them and hid the in bushes near the farm, and waited for the Indians to come out of their hiding place. When this happened, a small battle ensued were some of the Indians were shot. Its likely that this account is not correct and incorporates elements from the Crooked Finger stories of how he entered settler houses, and the part of the actual battle story.
Another account, occurs near John Minto and Virgil Pringle and the Jory family properties in the Red Hills (Salem Hills). The account is verified in several sources, (Minto, Bush, Looney) and states that some Klamath Indians came into the area and stole one of Jesse Looney’s prize mares. The Looney’s established their land claim near the southern base of the Red Hills (Salem Hills, the red earth is called Jory Soil) in 1843 and brought horses with them from the east.
A call went out to the local volunteer militia rangers, under the command of Captain Bennett. Bennett was not at the skirmish and it was E.A. Robinson who organized and marched the men 12 miles to (Battle) creek.
They charged in an undisciplined manner, and fired blindly into the brush at the Klamaths. One Indian man was wounded through the thighs while the rest escaped. Robinson called off the attack and the mare was found tied to a tree near there. After the battle a meeting was held between the participants, and in apology for injuring the Indian, the rangers paid him a horse and several blankets. He survived his wounds and was seen at The Dalles sometime later.
The Battle Creek site of the conflict was some 3 miles from the Looney DLC.
This Battle is perhaps the first of many conflicts in the Willamette Valley between the tribes and the settlers. Generally the settlers were illegally taking land and settling well before there was any treaty or understanding about payments for the land by the United States. The tribes retaliated many times, for the over-hunting of the area by settlers, by stealing property of the settlers. In many tribal societies when there was starvation, all of the community would share with those in need. The settlers did not generally follow this neighborly policy, and hoarded their property and resources for themselves and for their white neighbors. This caused much division and strife in the West between Americans and the tribes.
In addition, it was proper to offer a gift to the original inhabitants of the territory when you were a newcomer visitor. Such gifting was part of the Tribal diplomacy, where visitors would assure to the original Tribes and their Chiefs that they were not going to attack them and they would respect their authority. Many settlers did not follow such diplomacy and would ignore the tribes altogether. Many Americans and Europeans thought that the the tribes did not have any semblance of a civilization, nor governance, nor concepts of counting or land ownership. Therefore they treated the Tribes as if they were savages and never sought to understand them. Men like John Minto were the exception as he learned the Chinook Jargon and employed tribal people as scouts and laborers, and worked to understand the culture of the tribes better.
Update August 2018: I understand that the story of the battle is now being used as a backdrop of a ghost story from the Enchanted Forest Amusement Park. No one died in the battle of Battle Creek. Many native people died of diseases and starvation in the area, 1000’s of Kalapuyans, because of settlement by Americans.
Thanks to the Marion County Historical Society for aid in researching this story.
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John Minto’s account of the Battle Creek (transcribed)
Georgina Looney’s story of the Battle Creek
John Jory account of Battle Creek in Ladd and Bush Quarterly, April 1915
Bush House Photo Collection at the Oregon Historical Photograph Collections
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.