We Are Willing to Remove Anywhere, Where We Can Obtain Peace: Removal of the Rogue River Tribes To the Grand Ronde Reservation

Table Rock Reservation 1855

The second large removal of the Tribes to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation took place between February 23rd and March 25th in 1856. (The first large removal was the Tribes of the Umpqua Reservation, in the previous month.) Previous to the removal of the Rogue River tribes, there was quite a bit of angst from the citizens of the Willamette Valley about the removal of these “savages” from the Table Rock Reservation to near the Willamette Valley settlements. Many people thought the tribes would attack the settlements as they thought the tribes were simply warlike, hated white people, and would attack without provocation. Indeed, news from the sector from the last year was fairly grim, with constant media coverage and letters to the editor in local newspapers of battles between the Rogue River Confederacy and the U.S. military and Oregon Volunteer Ranger Militia suggested that the bloodthirsty savages were on a rampage, killing white American families throughout the south. These reports caused people to call for the “extermination” of the tribes to eliminate the threat to their settlements and the competition for natural resources, like gold.

But reports from Indian agents told another story. George H. Ambrose, Indian Agent at Table Rock,  suggested some significant causes of the Rogue River War to a concerned citizen.

It is not the design of General Palmer, to locate in your midst a band of hostile savages, armed and prepared to pillage and lay waste your country where ever they may choose to go: but the reverse, to take a band of unarmed friendly Indians under the charge of the military authorities of our country and that too near one hundred miles distant from white settlements, and separated from them by the coast range of mountains….

None can doubt the propriety of removing these Indians, from beyond the limits of a mining country, where always is to be found, a transient, reckless, irresponsible sett of man, whose only occupation would seem to be to create disturbances and difficulties with the Indians, who are constantly tampering with the squaws, furnishing powder and lead, as experience during the past two years has abundantly proved— mining districts seem to be peculiarly liable to be the resort of renegades from different parts of the world, and I suspect are more highly favored in this respect, than this country. Mexicans, Greasins (?), Chinese and some of our own color, although I am ashamed to confess it, are guilty of just such conduct.

(Ambrose to Col. Ford, Rickreal, O.T. January 7, 1856 (M2, Oregon Superintendency, reel 14)


Indian Agent Ambrose suggests, as have other agents and citizens of this time period, that much of the blame for the war and reputation of the tribes rests squarely in the lap of the Americans and other international ex-patriots who invaded this land in search of gold. That they fomented much of the violence and their trade in armaments created a volatile situation. This is the same opinion arrived at by General John Wool, Commander of the Pacific, and by Oregon Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer, in other statements.

Not discussed in any depth, was the other reasons for the conflicts, the heavy impacts on the Rogue regional natural resources by a huge influx of immigrants, which caused much starvation and conflict over land and resource rights. Impacts on root crops, on game, and on fishing areas by gold miners and settlers caused tribes to constantly be in contention for their rights to access these areas for food and for winter stores. The tribes considered the Americans and others, illegal immigrants, and were fighting for their very survival. All reports from the Table Rock reservation suggested that the tribes were willing to live in peace, but for the constant attacks by the Americans upon the tribes from outside of the reservation. This caused Chief John to create the confederacy of like-minded tribes, who did not see the reservation as a safe place to live and left to fight to take back their lands.

The order for removal arrived in January 1856 for all the tribes. The prospect of removal was being talked about for months previously. Ambrose discusses some fears by the tribes in December 1855.

Some designing bad men have represented that it was your (Palmer’s) design to have them all killed off, that if you sent for them it would only be to get them in a better place to kill them off… (Ambrose to Palmer, Dec. 14 1855).

On the part of the tribes, they seemed to know the power of rumor and “Chief Sam is exceedingly anxious to see you and talk the matter over.” Still Ambrose reported the tribes were willing to remove peacefully “wherever you desire he should go with his people he will do it,” and, “the Indians express themselves quite willing to remove anywhere, where they can obtain peace(Ambrose to Palmer, Dec. 14 1855).

One other impediment presented itself, the weather. Ambrose had to contend with extreme weather from December to January 1856, and expressed it this way, “The increasing severity of the weather was such that they were threatened being snowed up in the mountains, where they would be unable to extricate themselves for some time to come or receive supplies… the streams are swollen by the recent rains; the mountains covered with snow and no forage can be obtained for the animals along the road, in fact the ordinary travel is almost entirely suspended” (Ambrose to Palmer, Dec. 14 1855).

Then Ambrose was getting news of direct threats to the Indians during their removal.

I have also received several communications from citizens residing in that part of the country (Willamette Valley) to some effect. Some declaring that every Indian will be killed as soon as they cross the Calapooia Mountains. (Ambrose to Palmer, January 7, 1856)

Ambrose then expressed to Palmer the need for a military escort, I am fully impressed with the idea that an escort of twenty men will not be sufficient to afford the requisite protection, would it not be well to state the facts to General Wool and ask for a larger escort, it would be an act of injustice to say nothing of the bad faith, to disarm these Indians under the Promise of Protection and then permit them to be killed off, and that too after they had sought protection, placed themselves in our power, and had complied with every demand made of them. (Ambrose to Palmer, January 7, 1856)

There is some indication that a military escort accompanied the removal from the beginning at Table Rock. The account mentions a few troops but there is no indication of the size of the detachment. A letter from Col. Morris stated he went to meet the removal when they were at Dallas. The details about Lieut. Hazen is significant, because it is Hazen who drew the first map of the reservation and notes the location of the tribal camps. This suggests that Hazen was personally involved in the first detachment of troops at Grand Ronde and he was in charge of keeping order, requests additional troops for the reservations, and perhaps made all the notes on his own map, including the eventual census counts noted in red on the map legend.

Office Supt. Ind. Affairs
Dayton, O.T. March 25th 1856

The Rogue River Indians under charge of Indian Agent Ambrose will, it is expected, reach the Grand Ronde Reservation today. I started out on Sunday morning to meet them and found them at Dallas, moving forward very slowly. There are but twenty troops with them under Lieut. Hazen which I think wholly insufficient to preserve order and maintain discipline upon the reservation. A force of forty or fifty is in my opinion requisite to ensure the necessary maintenance of order and preventing disturbance on whatsoever form or quarter arising. I have therefore to request you will furnish to the Grand Ronde the twenty additional troops mentioned in the instructions of Col. Wright conveyed by me.

I am sir
Very respectfully
Your obt. servant
[Joel Palmer]

Col. T. Morris
4th Infantry U.S.

Regardless of the problems, Ambrose is able to get the removal going on February 22nd.


Journal of the removal of the Rogue River Tribe of Indians, Commencing on the  22nd day of February

Friday quite a present morning had previously made the arrangements after collecting the wagons & teams together we found our means of conveyance too limited to make ordinary progress. After driving (3) three miles we encamped on the bank of Rogue River.

23rd Saturday, The weather still continues pleasant, It was found necessary to have more teams than at first contemplated. I accordingly proceeded to Jacksonville for that purpose, and also to provide sound articles, such as clothing and blankets to add to the comfort of the Indians, although the weather is left down as pleasant & it certainly would be regarded as such especially at this season of the year, however the nights are quite frosty and the mornings cool, sufficiently so, to render it necessary that they should  be provided with shirts, blankets, shoes & such necessaries as would lend to provide their comfort while on their journey, which being procured the day was spent in distributing the articles among them, also: two additional teams were secured to convey the sick, aged and infirm, our teams now number eight which I fear will not be sufficient. Thirty four Indians are disabled from traveling by reason of sickness aside from the aged & infirm, who will as a matter of course have to be hauled.

24th Sunday, remained in camp a fine and beautiful day too, our first idle day spent in camp.

25th Monday, a heavy frost last night, in consequence of some Indian horses straying off during the night we were unable to get an early start, about eleven o’clock we all got under way, our route lay immediately down the river on the south bank of said stream, a level & good road, we traveled today a distance of eight miles, encamped on a small stream near an outlet un Rogue River.

26th Saturday [sic] (Tuesday), frosty and cool, all things being arranged we took up our line of march which still lay immediately down Rogue River in about four miles we arrived at Jewell Ferry which occupied several hours in crossing which being done we encamped for the night, it being the only camp we could reach before night fall.

27th Wednesday, The weather continues cool & frosty our route still lay down Rogue River, over rough & rocky ground we marched today a distance of ten miles and camped at Patterson’s old Ranch, good water but not much grass.

 28th Thursday, frosty & cool again this morning, while about preparing to leave camp in search of his horse which had strayed off during the night, which caused some considerable excitement among the Indians as It went to prove the statement previously made by some evil-disposed persons, to wit: that they would be killed by the way, we learned this morning that a party of evil disposed persons have gone in advance of us as is supposed to annoy us, or kill some friendly Indian. A messenger was immediately dispatched to Capt. Smith of Fort Lane for additional force to escort us to out the canyon if it should be found necessary. We also learned that an individual by the name of Timeleon Love [this name is confirmed] was the person who killed the Indian this morning and that the camp one of the party that had just passed, we drove today a distance of eleven miles and encamped on the west bank of Jump off Jo Creek, where we will most probably remain till the arrival of Capt. Smith.

29th Friday, we remained in camp all day, quite a pleasant day. Capt. Smith arrived about two o’clock today we had an Indian die the first by disease on the road, although many are very sick, however there are no new cases of sickness reoccurring.

March 1st Saturday, quite a pleasant spring-like morning, everything being in readiness by times we took up our line of march over a rough hilly mountainous country, and the roads were truly in a horrible condition. I omitted to mention that on Thursday last we took a Northern direction and left Rogue River to the south of us, which brought us among some rough hills, between the Umpqua and Rogue River, after passing the Grave creek Hills we learned that Mr. Love and some others were awaiting us at the house, intending to kill an Indian, upon going to the house I found it to be a fact, talked with the gentlemen & told them the consequences, went back & requested Capt. Smith to arrest Mr. Love and turn him over to the area authorities. We passed the house however without any difficulty and encamped on a small stream two miles north of Grave Creek. We drove today a distance of eight miles we are now in the midst of a hostile Indian country & not entirely free from danger.

2nd Sunday, clear and frosty upon consultation it was deemed best to move forward, as we were in an enemy’s country & neither forage nor grass could be had for our animals, we found the roads horrible as we traveled on, after traveling hard all day we made a distance of twelve miles & encamped for the night on the west bank of Cow Creek One mile above the crossing.

3rd Monday, the mornings still continue quite cool& frosty, our route lay almost directly North over some what better ground than for five days previous, our cattle was jaded considerable by our continuous marches, without forage or grass, neither of which could be procured, we drove a distance of seven miles & encamped just within the mouth of the canyon.

4th Tuesday, the weather still continues fine for the season, during the night our cattle deserted us passing there the horizon & crossing south Umpqua a distance of twelve miles, some few of them took the other end of the road finding it impossible to collect the cattle in time to move, I took the Indians in advance & went through the canyon before night in order to obtain supplies of which we were getting quite short. In passing through I found some heavy obstructions, the high waters during the fore part of the winter had thrown in large drift logs & a slide from the mountain had filled up the channel of the creek, all of which required to be removed before wagons could pass, which was accordingly done by Lieut. Underwood who sent a detachment in advance for that purpose, the persons who were sent in search of the missing cattle, returned with all but a few head.

5th Wednesday, The Indians remained in camp today, at the mouth of Canyon creek awaiting the arrival of the wagons, about three or four o’clock in the evening they made their appearance the cattle very much jaded & tired as no forage could be had I secured the best pasture I could find & turned them in that. An Indian girl died. This evening we were now a distance of eleven miles from our camp of the evening of the third being occupied two days in making it. Mr. Love who still continued to follow us was arrested & put under guard.

6th Thursday, this morning the cattle were collected together preparatory to making a start of ?, Three cattle still missing. I sent a man back through the canyon in search of those that went in that direction, towards noon three were discovered in the hills on the north side of south Umpqua & bought up to camp this evening. Good road this morning until we reached south Umpqua, which stream we ascertained we could ford with the wagons , the foot passengers were all ferried whilst the teams were crossing & ready to resume this march, here we ascended a considerable hill, passing three sorri? oak Knowles [oak knolls?] come to a very narrow pass around the speer? [spire?] of a mountain which projected down to the waters edge, and around which a road had been dug out of the rock wide enough for wagons to pass, emerging from here we came out in full view of an open prairie, found the road good, we traveled today a distance of eight miles, & camped on the North bank of south Umpqua near Weavers.

7th Friday, the weather still continued cool & frosty of nights and pleasant thro [sic] the day, over road today hilly & in places quite rocky, an Indian woman died this morning & the number of sick increasing it was found necessary to hire or buy another team, I soon perceived one & continued our march, we drove today a distance of ten miles & encamped in Round Prairie on the South Umpqua yet.

8th Saturday, from camp this morning we had a good road for about two miles then we commenced ascending a mountain on the summit of which a wagon upset & broke out a tongue which caused considerable delay, after fixing a temporary arrangement we were enabled to go down the mountain a distance of four miles and encamped on Roberts Creek, about two o’clock in the afternoon in order to repair our wagon before proceeding further, which was accordingly done before night, traveled today a distance of eight miles.

Sunday 9th quite a pleasant day, but owing to our proximity to the hostile Indians, it was deemed advisable to continue our march, which was accordingly done. Mr. Cain who had been sent in search of the missing cattle returned, he stated that he had found the cattle, in the evening of the sixth and corralled them on the south side of the canyon that during the night he believes they were stolen by the Indians, as hostile Indians were seen in that vicinity, & appearances went to show that that they had taken them, our road still continued down the south Umpqua River ever a broken uneven country the roads growing worse as we went North we traveled today a distance of eight miles & encamped on the bank of a little muddy branch about two miles north of Roseburg.

10th Monday, a very fine morning indeed we got an early start this morning found the roads very bad, in about two miles we arrived at Winchester, situated on the south bank of the Umpqua, here we had to ferry the river, which occupied us about three hours we then ascended a considerable hill and traveled over a rough prairie country, very muddy roads we found a very pleasant camp about four miles north of Winchester on Camas Swail Creek, a distance of seven miles. This morning a writ of Habeas Corpus was served on Lieut. Underwood to show cause why he detained, & held in custody unlawfully the person of Timeleon Love, to which he made a return that he held him by the authority of a legal Indian agent & according to law & that said Love was held only to be turned over to the civil authorities according to law, Lieut. Hazen was left at Winchester in charge of the guard & to turn the prisoner over to the proper officers of the law.

11th this morning the teams were got up quite early and preparations were made for starting. I then proceeded to Judge Deadys, and caused a writ to be issued for the arrest of Timeleon Love for the murder of a friendly Indian on the 28th of February last before the service of the warrant Mr. Love had affected his escape, we found the roads in a horrible condition and grass quite scarce. The teams ? but they ?  today & encamped for the purpose of attending the trial.

12th Wednesday, cloudy & threatening rain, we have some trouble in finding our cattle,  we however succeeded in getting them together about ten o’clock after traveling through a canyon about one and a half miles we arrived at Calapooia Creek, our rout lay directly up the creek for two & a half miles over hilly but prairie country, where we crossed the stream on a bridge at Bakers mill for the remainder of the day our rout lay northwards & over some steep hills, about four miles from the mills we struck camp at what is called Oakland, two deaths occurred today since we camped one man & one woman.

13th Thursday, this morning we had quite a shower of rain rendering it quite unpleasant traveling after burying the dead we took up our line of march over a rough hilly & uneven country, our cattle traveled quite brisk today about two o’clock we struck camp on the bank of a small stream by the name of Elk Creek near Jesse Applegates. The day was quite cool with frequent showers rendering it unpleasant traveling we however traveled about twelve miles.

14th Friday, cloudy & showry, by keeping our cattle in pasture we were unable to get an early start our rout lay down elk creek thru a rough canyon which we found quite muddy, we crossed Elk creek & several other streams, after crossing pass creek our road lay immediately up the creek & bounded by high mountains on either side, we drove eight miles today & camped at the foot of the Calapooia Mountains.

15th Saturday, cloudy this morning our cattle were missing and upon search we ascertained they had crossed the mountain pursuit was immediately made & they were found about ten miles from camp, they were brot [sic] back and we were ready to start by two o’clock, from camp we commenced our ascent up the mountain at just quite gradual, after ascending some distance we occurred at the summit, we then followed the ridge of the mountain some distance before we commenced the descent, the road was quite dry over the mountain and till we were near the base, where we found some very heavy mud the last team arrived in camp after traveling a distance of eight miles, one woman died today.

16th Sunday, cloudy with occasional sun shine remained in camp all day to rest nothing occurred worthy of relation.

17th Monday, This morning we took up our line of march in northward direction, the roads were quite hilly and places very muddy this morning while crossing a small stream a teamster broke a wagon tongue which delayed us an hour to repair after which we proceeded without any further difficulty for the remainder of the day, we encamped to night on the west bank of Rock Creek a distance of thirteen miles from when we started, arrived in camp by four o’clock.

18th Tuesday, cloudy & threatening rain during the night an Indian died which detained us a short time to bury, however by nine o’clock we were in readiness to start, we traveled over a level flat country in places quite muddy, the greatest difficulty we experience is in obtaining grass for our cattle, which we find to be exceedingly scarce, we drove today a distance of twelve miles, camped in an oak grove near the claim of Mr. Smith.

19th Wednesday, cloudy & threatening rain, quite showry thru the day, we continued our march down Long Tom & passed over some very muddy roads, we traveled today a distance of fourteen miles & encamped on the bank of Long Tom at Slaves Point.

20th Thursday, the weather still continues cloudy and threatening rain, we secured a good pasture last night for our cattle & this morning quite early were underway our route lay immediately down Long Tom over a level Prairie Country, in consequence of the recent rains our wagon dragged along heavily all day we drove a distance of fifteen miles and encamped on the bank of Marys river, at the ferry, a very hard day drive but no camp could be found short of this.

21st Friday, clear & pleasant, this morning we were two or three hours in ferrying the river, for two or three miles we found the roads very muddy about three miles north from Corvallis our road improved very much becoming rolling & dry we traveled today distance of twelve miles and encamped near the claim of Mr. Reeds.

22nd Saturday, cloudy weather again, this morning for several miles our road was in excellent condition, we then found some very bad road and sloughy Prairie to cross over after which we arrived at the south Luckymute, which we crossed on a bridge. Still continuing our course Northward in a few miles we arrived at little Luckymute which we also crossed on a bridge & passed up on the north bank of the stream a short distance and encamped near a little lagoon? Traveled twelve miles.

23rd Sunday, remained in camp all day quite pleasant weather

24th Monday, got me an early start this morning and had an excellent road, we drove a distance of fifteen miles & encamped near Mr. Fredericks.

25th Tuesday, clear & pleasant we got an early start this morning and after driving hard all day reach the reservation about four o’clock in the evening after driving a distance of sixteen miles, so ends my journey & journal after a period of thirty three days in which time we traveled a distance of two hundred & sixty miles started with three hundred and ninety-five Indians. Eight deaths and eight births leaving the number the same as when we started.

Yours Respectfully

G. H. Ambrose

Ind. Agt.

(Letter of 1856 (no month or day) George Ambrose, Indian Agent to Joel Palmer Oregon Indian Superintendent, M2 Oregon Superintendency records, reel 14)

In other letters from Palmer and his agents, additional details of this removal are elucidated. The following paragraph in a letter from Palmer addresses a meeting with a band of 25 other Indians who wanted to join the removal. There is no indication in the note where exactly the encounter took place, but Ambrose, being suspicious declined their request.

March 25 1856

The friendly band of Rogue Rivers &c., numbering 391, will reach within a few miles of the Grand Ronde today & will be placed in possession of a tract purchased to be used as wheat farms, upon which they will remain until improvements are made nearer the coast. I learn from Agent Ambrose, in charge, that a party of some twenty five Indians, heretofore acting with the hostile bands, met them on the route, and earnestly solicited the privilege of accompanying them, avowing they did not want war and had not sought it, but had fought in self defense. The agent, however, fearing it might involve the entire camp in difficulty, declined to receive them. I shall leave here tomorrow for the Grand Ronde, and personally superintend the location &c. of these Indians.

Most respectfully
    Your obedient servant
        Joel Palmer
            Supt. Ind. Affairs



[see my others articles about the tribes when they arrive on the reservation]



Ambrose to Palmer, Dec. 14 1855, M2, Oregon Superintendency, reel 14

Ambrose to Col. Ford, Rickreal, O.T., January 7, 1856, M2, Oregon Superintendency, reel 14

Ambrose to Palmer, January 7, 1856, M2, Oregon Superintendency, reel 14

Letter of 1856 (no month or day) George Ambrose, Indian Agent to Joel Palmer Oregon Indian Superintendent, M2 Oregon Superintendency records, reel 14             [there were several transcription issues where words could not be easily identified, If anyone want to take a shot, let me know.]

Beckham, Stephen Dow Trail of Tears: 1856 Diary of Indian Agent George H. Ambrose, Beckham SOHS Magazine v. 2, no. 1, Summer 1996:p. 16 (not consulted for this essay)

NARA Series M234 Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs 1824-81, Reel 609 Oregon Superintendency, 1856, frames 617-620.

NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, page 91.


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