Priming the Powderkeg: Table Rock area in 1855

In 1853 there had occurred the Rogue River War. That war was likely caused by continued encroachment into tribal lands by settlers, and the failure of the federal government to ratify the first Oregon treaties. Joel Palmer arrives at work in 1853 and immediately begins in southern Oregon because of the active war happening there between the tribes and the Ranger militia volunteers.  In 1854 and 1855 the whole country is waiting for Congress to ratify the treaties so the tribes can be removed to the reservation. But the reservation, in the summer of 1855, proves to be not a very safe place as regiments of Californian and Oregon Volunteers continue to threaten the tribes on the reservation. Now, these peaceful tribes are sitting ducks to the Ranger volunteers, who in October 1855 descend on one village, and massacre 106 people, women, children and old people indiscriminately.  The lead up to this period is full of death with many tribal people dying at the hands of the whites, who rarely are held accountable. Then the tribes on the Table Rock reservation, disgruntled at their poor treatment, hateful at the racism from the whites, decrying the lack of justice in the white court system, commit numerous acts of theft, in partial retribution. This powderkeg will erupt in 1856 in the second Rogue River war.

The following are correspondence excepts from August 1854 to October 1855, the bulk in 1855. The letters are in the M2 microfilm series, Reel 5.

Galice Creek murder

An Indian has been killed on Galice Creek, it proves true. The Sherriff arrested the supposed murderer but unfortunately escaped afterwards. His name was Burns a “Gambler” after trying twice. I found the Indians, they will remain quiet.  (Culver Aug 10 1854)

The Loose Horse

Some difficulty with the Indians on Applegate but I trust not a serious character, upon hearing of it I immediately dispatched Metcalf to endeavour to adjust it if possible. The circumstances of the case are as I learn from Metcalf as follows, a person by the name of Northington passing along the road on his way to Allhouse driving a loose horse, was met by some Indians, who he supposed were going to kill him. One of the Indians being a little drunk accosted him in rather a saucy manner, and slipping in the road immediately before him in rather an impudent manner increased the fears of Northington who thought it best policy to leave as fast as possible, in doing of which he lost his loose animal, The Indians took it and delivered it up to the white men at the ferry without any designs to keep the horse whatever, It however engendered a very unfriendly feeling upon the part of several white persons living in the vicinity of Applegate. They seem to think that unless the Indians are removed there will be some serious difficulties, and that, quite early in the Spring. (Ambrose February 10 1855)

Waiting for Ratification

The Difficulty spoken of on Applegate Creek I hope may not disturb the harmony of the settlement- the determination of the settlers to cause the immediate removal of the Indians to the Reserve is much regretted, as with limited amount of their annuity, it would be utterly impossible to subsist them. …hope that the Indians would be permitted to remain at points where they can procure food, this is particularly desirable until we know the action of the Senate on the late treaty with them. (Palmer March 3, 1855)

Chinese camp attack

…two white men had induced the Indians to rob a camp of Chinese in hopes that that would Drive the Chinese away, in doing of which the Indians obtained some good revolvers which alarmed some of the miners, who supposed they were stolen to be used against them. They accordingly went in pursuit if the Indians. The matter was finally compromised by Chief George whipping the Indians who committed the theft and the white driving away the two white men who had been the cause of the difficulty. (Ambrose April 14 1855)

Tyee Bill shot

A similar case (to the Chinese camp attack) took place on Applegate Creek which resulted in Tyee Bill being shot in the shoulder though not serious. The matter was amicably settled and the Indians agreed to leave Applegate and remain for the present in Illinois Valley & on Deer Creek. (Ambrose April 14 1855)

Case of… Miller murders Jim

A white person by the name of J.H. Miller shot an Indian under very aggravated circumstances, It seems from the Indian account of the affray (affair?), that Miller came to their ranche in a very good humor as they supposed, and got in a scuffle with one of their number by the name of Jim. Jim proved to be the better man and threw him down, after which he got up returned to the camp of some packers, got a revolver, immediately returned and deliberately shot the Indian and fled. I succeeded in taking him prisoner after several days search, and delivered him up to the Sherriff, and as court is now in session I presume his trial will come off immediately; although no white man witnessed the transaction, if our laws do not punish such offenders, it will be impossible to prevent the Indians from committing some serious depredations. The difficulty occurred on Illinois River near sixty miles from Jacksonville…. It is absolutely necessary for the continuance of our peaceful relations that no pains should be spared of the apprehension of the offender, as those Illinois Indians are partially disaffected, and but await a pretext to commence hostilities against the whites.  (Ambrose May 4 1855)

The person on trial for killing an Indian has been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years imprisonment. In the penitentiary, this was not entirely satisfactory to the Indians, but they express a willingness to abide the decision and suppose it is right. (Ambrose May 12 1855)

…Difficulty with the Illinois Indians in which one was killed, by an individual by the name of Miller; of his trial, conviction, and sentence to the penitentiary for the term of two years; this it seems did not satisfy the relations of the murdered man. (Ambrose May 21 1855)


Sailors Diggins Murder

…Sailors Diggins, “Bob Williams” killed an Indian in that vicinity a few days since. I sent a Deputy Sherriff  after him but he had fled to California. I shall remain in that vicinity for two or three weeks, the Indians are very much dissatisfied. (Culver Aug 10 1854)

Klamath War

A few months previous it seems some of the same tribe (Illinois Indians) had gone on a visit to the Klamath Country, and happened to arrive about the beginning of an Indian War, and were amongst the killed. (Ambrose May 21 1855)

The difficulty in the upper part of this valley, was caused by a party of Chastas, who had taken refuge near Klamath Lake, at the time old “Scar Face” chief of that tribe was hung by the whites two years ago near Yreka, a remnant of  Old Tipsey’s people who are yet living and some Klamath Lake Indians. I was mistaken in my former communication, in stating the Indians commenced the attack. I stated upon the authority of a person who was there, but it seems to have been a mistake. The Indians had stolen some horses and were attacked by the whites for so doing. The Indians fled toward Klamath Lake and the troops have returned. (Ambrose September 8 1855)

Death of Chief Gulliver

About the same time or shortly after their chief “Gulliver”, went on a visit to the coast and arrived just in time to lose his life in the first out-break in that quarter, (Ambrose May 21 1855) [compare with the massacres of the Oregon and Northern California coast]

Seven Dead in Seven Months while under the Treaty of Peace

…which, with the one that Miller had killed, makes seven of their number who have lost their lives within the space of as many months and the Indians complain that all this was done, without their having violated the treaty of peace. Their appearance amongst those hostile bands may have been accidental. Of this I am not able to say; but being caught in bad company, they were treated accordingly. (Ambrose May 21 1855)

Indian Creek Murders

They appealed to Bill, Chief of the “Deer Creeks” to revolt and assist them in avenging their wrongs, as they considered they had been wronged. Bill refused, and they immediately left the country, and I have but little doubt of their being the principal perpetrators of the Indian Creek murders, the particulars of which I have not learned. From the best information I can get it seems that about one month ago there was a man by the name of Hills murdered in his house on Indian Creek a Tributary of the Klamath River, In California. The trail from the cabin of the murdered man led over towards the headwaters of the Illinois, which It seems satisfied the persons in pursuit of the Indians that it was the Illinois or Deer Creek Indians, and they made a descent in that valley with a determination to kill every Indian they could find. Unfortunately the first Indian they saw was a son of “old chief John” who was engaged in assisting some white men in packing; he was fired at by the party and wounded, but made his escape. Upon his arrival in the Indian Camp he reported the proceedings of the whitemen, which very much frightened the Indians, and they fled to the mountains for safety. They informed he they had not fired at any white person, nor did not intend to, only in self-defence. I found them quite willing to remove to the lands which had been assigned them as a reservation. They expressed some fears of not being able to procure a living on the reserve, until their crops would mature. They were out of provisions and already in a suffering condition, and as it was absolutely necessary to remove them in order to avert a war, I procured them such provisions as their actual wants required, while on their journey, and a sufficiency to last a few days in their new home. (Ambrose May 21 1855)

A few of the Illinois Indians, I fear were concerned in the murder of Hills; I have not been able to talk with them yet from the fact that I could not find them. Captain Smith of the U.S.A. has been in search of them for ten days past, and will continue the search until they are found, and brought to justice. Some three or four head of cattle have been killed by them in Illinois Valley; but Captain Smith’s exertions will prevent the commission of any more depredations by them. (Ambrose May 21 1855)

Attack on the Illinois River Indians

In Illinois Valley two volunteer companies of men were organized and had determined to exterminate the Indians before I heard of it. The Indians had fled to the mountains and were difficult to find, but when found, they invariably said they wanted peace; they had done nothing to merit such a chastisement; many of their people had been killed and they were driven to the necessity of fighting in self defense…. The People of the Illinois Valley declare the Indians shall never return to that country, and if they are to be kept on the Reserve, there must be some provision made for them, otherwise they will suffer for the necessities of life.  (Ambrose June 16, 1855)

Death of a Boy

For three days past I have been engaged in a talk with the Butte Creek Indians, the subject of which is the murder of a boy belonging to that tribe. The circumstances under which it occurred are as follows. It seems the boy was in the employ of two white men who had taken a claim on Rogue River a few miles above the Reserve. The name of these men were James Hogan and John Carrolton. One morning about six weeks since Hogan left home; Carrolton and the boy were at work hauling rails, since which time the boy has never been seen, until a few days ago the Indians discovered his body hid in a drift of a baiyou with evident marks of violence. They had suspected Carrolton for some time past and had watched him closely up to the time they discovered the body of the boy. They were clamorous for his prosecution, but as no evidence could be obtained, but Indian testimony and that was not admissible he (Carrolton) was acquitted. As there is no doubt on the mind of anybody as to the fact of the boy having been killed by some white person, I compromised the matter after their own fashion by paying them two horses for their loss. I don’t know that I should have done so, had not the event occurred at the time when there was so much disaffection, and the difficulty not yet concluded with the Illinois Indians. (Ambrose June 16, 1855)

Confederation of Chastas and Scotons

These Chastas and Scotons will never behave themselves until about half of them are hung. They keep everything in commotion and destroyed their crop, potatoes, corn & wheat without it doing them much good. Finally they went over to the Klamath River and participated in those flagrant acts of aggression there; they went against my orders. They were “Bill”, “Big Sam”, Dick and one other of John’s sons whose name I do not recollect now who doubtlessly participated in that murder. They brought away the horses of the murdered men and old Chief “Sam” says, large quantities of powder and lead, and some money. The horses I got from them. … We have been endeavoring to find out everything we could before we would make an arrest. … the white people charge it all to old “Sam”, when any mischief is done. (Ambrose August 16 1855)

California Volunteers at Table Rock Reservation

Last week we had over three hundred volunteers from Yreka encamped in this neighborhood intent in fighting. .. it was all Captain Smith could do to prevent a war. If they return as they threatened there is no telling what may be the consequences. I have no doubt they will return if the accused are not delivered up to them. We have delayed the matter to try and prepare the Minds of the Indians for to do so. They will never consent to it I am satisfied now. I speak of the Shastas and Soctons. They are confederated together. .. I hope to be able in a short time to remove the Shastas & Scotons to Evans Creek and keep them separate from the other Indians. (Ambrose August 16 1855)

I approve your course in not consenting to surrender those Indians into the hands of the “Volunteers”. The laws of the country clearly indicate a different mode of disposing of such cases. Besides some of the suspected might not be guilty, and their delivery into the hands of a mob (and such I apprehend the “volunteers” were in the view of the law) would have been equivalent to shooting them down.  (Palmer September 19 1855)

Month of thefts

The month has been passing in one series of aggressions, although taking each item simply in itself it appears small; but in the aggregate, the sum total presents a formidable appearance. It would seem as though they had studied how far they can go with impunity, and seemingly have determined to go no farther think nearly or quite all of the mischief that had been done, was perpetrated by a few Chastas and Scotons. The settlers patience has become exhausted; they are quite irritable, and will not bear the least offence from an Indian any longer. (Ambrose September 30 1855)

Siskiyou attacks

On Tuesday night of 25th Inst. Two men were killed by the Indians near the summit of the Siskiyou Mountains. The men were teaming hauling flour to Yreka, and were unarmed at the time. There were four in company; two escaped unhurt. They were fired upon by some Indians in ambush. The two men and thirteen head of cattle were killed, and left dead in the road. Six sacks of flour were missing; nothing else was disturbed. The next day on Cotton wood, a party of three men, miners, were fired upon by some Indians- one was killed, one wounded- the third escaped unhurt. Captain Smith stated a detachment of dragoons immediately after them. I believe it to have been done by these same Indians with whom a party of white men had difficulty with, a few weeks ago, a few miles east of Mountain house, an account of which I wrote you at the time; they were Chasta and Typsey Tyee people beyond a doubt. (Ambrose September 30 1855)

Tribes begin to assemble

There is a small band of Indians in that country (Rogue River Valley) determined to rob and murder justifying the calling into the field a military force I have no doubt, but I am unwilling to believe any considerable number of Indians have combined for hostile purposes in that district. … the Indians are said to be assembled in the Simpko Valley to the number of two thousand eager for the fight. (Ambrose October 19 1955)

Palmer decries actions of the Volunteers

A messenger had reached that point from Rogue River with information that companies of miners and others had organized and commenced an indiscriminate slaughter of all Indians found on the Table Rock Reservation; that they had already killed one hundred and six men, women, and children. … a party of eighteen men commanded by Major Lupton proceeded to the Indian camp in the night remaining a short distance off till daylight, when they rushed upon them and killed over thirty old and young.

They are all represented as having been friendly Indians. If it become the fixed policy to permit wholesale butchery of defenseless women and children of our friendly bands of Indians who in accordance with treaty stipulations, locate upon temporary or permanent reservations and comply with all the requirements of such treaties, and the regulations and directions of the agents of the government placed among them, the officers of the Indian Department may as well be disbanded. Pledges of aid and protection by the government to such as enter into treaty stipulations are but empty bubbles made to be broken, we are made to be the Instruments to prepare them for their slaughter. Our pledges are broken, confidence destroyed, and unless supported in our efforts to maintain the faith of the government, we might as well close the office of the superintendency. (Palmer October 19 1855)




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