A State of Open Warfare: the Chetko Massacre revisited

Drawing of the practice of committing massacres

Rape, threats of violence, and Murder were the tools used by the Whitemen who came to the region encompassing northern California and southern Oregon in search of opportunity and gold. The coastal towns of the tribes, in the vicinity of the much more recent white settlements were particularly susceptible to violence owing to the concentration of a variety of white settlers and the continual push for greater opportunity for any who visited the region. The tribes were in the way of White settlements and many of the Whites sought to hunt them out and to exterminate them like wolves.

Indian agents had a tough job, having to defend the tribes and their rights while not upsetting the settlers too much despite all of their lawless actions. Ironically. when unlawfully attacked by White militia, the tribes were seen as the people who needed to change, who needed to adapt to the lawful ways of the White American civilization. The following narratives from Parrish shows just how much he cared for the tribes by trying to hold the lawless accountable for their actions. Yet even so he is unable to escape is personal bias. Josiah Parrish was a minister in the Methodist church and while he served many years as an Indian Agent in Oregon, he continually leaned in favor of “saving the men” through cultural assimilation including the elimination of the savagery of their culture. Palmer notes this terrible massacre in his own rendition after a visit to the region.

Josiah Parrish (Indian Agent, Port Orford District) reports to Joel Palmer (Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs) July 10, and July 20,1854 (RG 75 M2 Reel 7)

The Che-ah-tin or Chet-ko band whose villages are situated on each side of the mouth, and about six miles up a small river bearing their name, but their villages were burnt last February by the whites, they consisted of forty two houses which were all destroyed a loss of which the scarcity of timber in their country makes serious. The lands of these people extend from Whales head to the California line, and back from the coast indefinitely. The forty two houses destroyed by fire the lowest estimate were worth one hundred dollars each for which I have recommended that they receive a full indemnity.(Parrish 1854 7 10)

In a report ten days later, Parrish reports more details of the Chetko Massacre,

On my arrival at Chetko on the fifth of June last I was collectively informed that the massacre of six Indians, three of which were shot, and three burned to death in their houses and the burning of forty two Indian houses (which composed three villages). That one Augustus F. Miller was the chief instigator on the bloody tragedy. I also learned that the Indians fled to the woods immediately after the destruction of their villages, and that they had not dared to appear out, from that time until my arrival neither dare they gather shell fish from the coast, only in the night.

Their complaints against Miller were many and severe, and they stated, contrary to their wishes, he had built his house in their village, that he had kept a public house for miners and travelers, and that many of them were bad men, that stopped at his house, and that they gave them no rest, but every night there bad men would come to their houses, drag out by force their women, and girls, and debauch them in the most brutal manner, and if the husbands of the women or parents of the girls attempted to interfere they would knock them down and nearly take their lives. The Indians stated that they had often expostulated with Miller and the only reply they got from him, was, if they did not keep quiet, he would drive them off, and that Miller in consequence of their dissatisfaction and fault finding, sent to Crescent City, and raised a party of desperate Indian Killers. That they came and in the first place prepared to purchase their guns- which guns they sold to the party for they apprehended no hostility on the part of the whites, neither did they threaten hostilities against Miller, for they did not want to harm him, or they would not have sold their guns. The Indians also state that their party staid some two weeks at Millers and abused their women, as other bad whitemen have done, and then one morning bout daylight when they were all quiet asleep in their houses they were attacked by this party, who shot three of their men killing them dead on the spot. Then set their houses on fire over their heads and burned three of them alive, and wounded others, all of which statements are corroborated by a number of the white settlers in their immediate neighborhood.

I therefore according to your instructions arrested said A.F. Miller, put him in the hands of Capt. Ben Wright (my guide) and required him to deliver said Miller into the hands of the Military at Port Orford and in order that he might be conducted to that place, I hired three white men, with the double purpose of assisting Capt. Wright, and also to assist Capt. Wright in conducting these Indians which I expected arrest also at Chetko- I could not find but two of said Indians here, the other having gone up the Rogue River, said Indian I succeeded in arresting a few days afterwards, and succeeded in delivering said Miller and the three Indians into the hands of the military at Port Orford.

Since which time Miller had his examination before a justice of the peace and was discharged. He obtained witnesses from California, some of the very men that were connected with him in the desperate outrage, and here allow me to impress an opinion that Miller nor no other man can be convicted of any crime against the Indians however murderous and criminal.

On the examination of Miller it was proven by his witnesses that an open state of warfare existed between the whites and Indians. Sometime before and after the attack upon the Chetko Indians, and in consequence of this the three Indians were discharged that killed Nash. Miller’s council made some threats against the Indian department for the arrest of Miller and his confinement. What this will result in, I am not able to say, but as time is the discloser of events, we shall see.

The three Indians that were released some of the murderous whites say they shall yet be killed, and here allow me to remark that it was to save the lives of these Indians, and I deduced a fact that they had killed Nash in the time of Open hostilities between them and the Whites, they having killed him after the attack upon them and the burning of the Chetko villages, and I have no doubt their arrest has produced a good effect both upon the Whites and Indians.

In making distributions to the Chetkos I gave them a greater amount of goods than the others in proportion to their number. In view of their loss as you instructed me, but I have already stated in my former report that they should be fully indemnified for this loss at as early a day as possible, or they must suffer.

I left them in a state of quiet and peace they will remain so unless disturbed by the Whites. (Parrish 1854 7 20)

In Parrish’s report of July 10, he admits that there is a general state of massacre and genocide against the Tribal nations on the southern Oregon Coast. The coast is the first approach of men of the whitemen when approaching the region to search for gold. Towns like Crescent City and Port Orford offered playgrounds for whitemen who were willing to do anything to make their fortune. This report  matches other reports from northern California (at Smith River especially) and the interior valleys of southern Oregon and northern California where Tribal villages were under constant attack from murderous Whites.

In the last six months (February to July 1854)  four of their (southwestern coastal) villages have been burned by the whites, The particulars of which and its connection with the arrest of persons, I will send you in another report at an early day. Many of them have been killed merely on suspicion  that they would arise and avenge their wrongs for petty threats that have been made against lawless white men for debauching their women, and I believe in no single instance have the Indians been the first aggressors. (Parrish 1854 7 10)

Ironically, Parrish concludes his report of July 10th  suggesting that because of the way that the tribes on the coast  have been treated they should become wards of the government. That every attempt needs to be made to teach them to act and live like white men, and that they should have full services for their needs, and “above all make them amenable to the laws of the land so as to appreciate their rights and the rights of their fellows, and entirely do away with their rights and form of government and as soon as consistent adopt them as citizens of the United States….” (Parrish 1854 7 10) Parrish does not recommend any policing of the whites in the area who he fully blames for the conflicts.

Finally, Parrish’s notation (bolded) that the tribe were never the first aggressors, fits well with the published comments of General John E. Wool, Commander of the Pacific, who publicly made this same statement in the newspapers.


Josiah Parrish correspondence to Joel Palmer, July 10, 20 1854, RG75, M2, Reel 7


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