Joe Lane’s Report of the Rogue River battle at Evans Creek, 1853

In 1853, the Oregon Territorial militia commanded by General Joseph Lane was fighting a series of battles in the Rogue River valley, the main battle at Evans Creek. They were fighting the bands of Chief Jo (Apserkahar) and the bands of Chiefs Sam  (Toquahear), and Jim (Anachaarah) and other head men for the Rogue River. During the battles, many men on both sides were killed and wounded. After a day of fighting both sides were exhausted and Chief Jo called for a cease fire and parlay with General Lane, because of his respect for the man. Word was passed that Chief Jo was sick of war and wanted peace.  General Lane responded and walked into Chief Jo’s camp unarmed, finding out that there are over 200 Indian warriors, well more than his men. Negotiations took place a following day, September 8th 1853, in the shadow of Lower Table Rock.

The following is a written report from Joe Lane copied from his letterbooks at the Oregon Historical Society.


Headquarters, Camp Alden, Rogue River, Oregon

Brigadier General Hitchcock,

on the 17th of August, I received information at my residence in Umpqua Valley, that the Rogue River Indians assisted by Klamaths, Shastas, the bands living on Applegate and Grave Creeks, had united and attacked the settlements in Rogue River Valley near Jacksonville; that a number of persons had been killed; a large amount of stock killed or driven off, and houses and grain burned; and that companies were being formed for the defense of the settlements and for the purpose of a general war upon the Indians.

I promptly notified the citizens of the neighborhood, and advised with Maj. Alvord, who was then present engaged in the location of the road from Myrtle Creek to Camp Stewart, and immediately proceeded accompanied by Capt. Armstrong, Majors Cluggage, Nichols and some few others to the scene of hostilities.

On the 21st I arrived at the headquarters of our forces on Stewart Creek, where I found Capt. Alden 4th Inf. who had promptly upon the first information being received by him at Fort Jones, on Scott’s River, repaired to Jacksonville with ten men of his command (all) who were fit for duty, and forthwith proceeded to take energetic measures for an active and effective campaign, by appointing four commissioners of Military Affairs, and mustering into service all the volunteers for whom arms could be procured. His force, on my arrival consisted of companies under Captains Goodall, Miller, Lamerick and Rhodes commanded by Col. John Ross, the whole under the command of Col. Alden.

These troops had been actively engaged in scouring the country in all directions, and had succeeded in driving the main body of the Indians to their strongholds in the mountains; Pack trains were being collected in view of our extended pursuit of the Indians, and all other preparations were being made with the utmost dispatch.

At the request of Col. Alden and the troops, I assumed command of the forces, and on the 22nd at 4 o-clock a.m. left camp for the mountains, having divided the command into two battalions in order better to scour the whole country. Our battalion composed of Captains Miller’s and Lamerick’s companies under the command of Col. Ross were directed to proceed up Evans Creek (which empties into Rogue River from the north) and continue on, if no traces of the Indians were found, until the two detachments should meet at a point designated, but if the trail was found to follow it, and bring the Indians to battle.

At the head of the other battalion composed of Captains Goodall and Rhodes companies commanded by  Col. Alden, I proceeded by the way of Table rock in the direction of the point designated on Evans Creek. After advancing about fifteen miles beyond Table Rock I discovered the trail of the Indians and encamped upon it.

I took up a line of march early the next morning and followed the trail with great difficulty, the Indians having used every precaution to conceal it; the country was exceedingly mountainous  and almost impossible for animals and as the Indians had fired the country behind them the falling of the burning timber and the heat delayed the progress while the dense brush[?] prevented us from ascertaining with certainty the face of the country. About noon we came to the place at which they had encamped a few nights before, by the side of a stream in a dense forest; here they killed a mule and a horse they had captures in a battle some days previous, and used them for provisions. From this point we had more difficulty in finding the trail, it having been very carefully concealed and the mountains lately fired, but after some delay we again struck it.

Late in the evening we came to the main fork of Evans Creek, now called Butte Creek, where we come to a spot at which the Indians had again encamped. Beyond this, all trace of the Indians seemed to be lost, and after searching in rain for the trail until dark, we were forced to encamp. The valley being very narrow, and almost entirely covered with an impenetrable thicket of maple vines, leaving scarcely room for the men to lie down on the bank of the creek. The animals were closely tied to the bushes, there being no grass of forage of any kind. The command was ready to move by daylight, a party on foot early discovered the trail, and after cutting out the brush for nearly a quarter of a mile, we succeeded in reaching it with the animals. about a mile farther up we crossed Battle Creek and ascended a high, steep mountain  which forms the dividing ridge of the numerous branches running into Rogue River- this part of the country had not been fired.

About 9 o’clock a.m. we arrived at another Indian camp on the ridge at a spring very difficult of access, on side of a mountain. On leaving this camp we found that there had been recently fired which induced me to believe that the Indians were not far in advance of us. About a half a mile from the spring, as I was riding slowly in front, I heard the crack of a rifle in the direction of the enemy- without halting, I proceeded to a point commanding the rapid descent of the trail from the mountain, and halting could hear persons talking in their camp about four hundred yards distant , in a dense forest thick with underbrush which entirely obstructed the view. As the troops came up they were ordered in a low voice to dismount, tie their animals and prepare for battle. Col. Alden at the head of Captain Goodall’s company  was directed to proceed on the trail and attack the enemy in front , while a portion of Capt. Rhodes’ company were directed to follow a ridge running to the left of their trail and turn their flank.

Col. Alden proceeded to engage with them in the most gallant manner, his well directed fire being the first intimation of our approach; it being found impracticable to turn their flank, Capt. Rhodes proceeded at once to engage them on their right- the men were deployed taking cover behind the trees, and the fight became general. I was delayed a few minutes on the hill, for the arrival of the rear guard, these were dismounted and all except fifteen men , I immediately led into action. On arriving on the ground I found Col. Alden, who had been shot down early in the fight, dangerously wounded in the arms of his faithful sergeant and surrounded by his own men. The battle was now raging with great fierceness, our men coolly pouring in their fire masked? by the hideous yells at war whoops of the Indians, or by their rapid and more destructive fire.

After examining the ground and finding that the enemy were securely posted behind trees and logs, and concealed by underbrush, and that it was impossible to reach them except when they carelessly exposed their persons in their anxiety to get a shot at our men, I determined to charge them. I passed the order, led forward in the movement and when within thirty yards of their position received a wound  from a rifle ball, which struck my right arm near the shoulder joint and passing entirely through came out bear the point of the shoulder- believing at the time that the shot came from the flank, I immediately ordered our line to be extended to prevent the enemy from turning our flank, and the men again to cover themselves behind trees.

This position was held for three or four hours during which time I talked frequently to the officers and men, and found them cool and determined on conquering the enemy. Finding myself weak from loss of blood I retired to the rear, to have my wound examined and dressed. While here the Indians cried out to our men, many of whom understood their language, that they wished for a talk; that they desired to fight no longer; that they were frightened and desired peace. Mr. Tyler was dispatched by Capt. Goodall to inform me of the desire of the Indians to cease firing and make peace. At this time Robert Metcalf and James Bruce had been sent to the lines to talk, and having informed them that I was in command, they expressed a great desire  to see me. Finding that they were much superior in numbers, being about two hundred warriors, well armed with rifles and muskets, well supplied with ammunition; and knowing that they could fight as long as they saw fit, and then safely retreat into a country exceedingly difficult of access; and being desirous of examining their position, I concluded to go among them.

On entering their lines I met the principal chief Joe, and the subordinate chiefs Sam and Jim who told me that their hearts were sick of war, and that they would give up their arms and make a treaty and place themselves under our protection. The preliminaries having been arranged the command returned to the place where they had been dismounted the dead were buried and the wounded cared for. By this time Col. Ross with his battalion arrived having followed our trail for some distance. This gallant command were anxious to renew the attack upon the Indians who still remained in their position, but as the negotiations had proceeded so far I could not consent, that night was spent within four hundred yards of the Indians and good faith was observed on both sides. At the dawn of day I discovered that the Indians were moving and sent to stop them until a further talk had been held. Accompanied by Col. Ross and other officers I went among them and became satisfied that they would faithfully observe the agreements already made. By the advice of the surgeon we remained that day and night upon the battle ground and then retired to Table Rock. 

Our loss in the battle was three killed, Pleasant Armstrong, John Scarborough and Isaac Bradley and five badly wounded, Col. Alden, Myself and private Charles C. Abbe (since dead), Henry Flesher and Thomas Hays. The Indians lost eight killed, and twenty wounded, seven of whom, we know to have since died. 

Soon after my return from the mountains, Capt. A.J. Smith 8th dragoons arrived at camp with his troops from Port Orford- his arrival was most opportune. his presence during the negotiations for a peace, was of great assistance, while his troops served to oversee the Indians.

The Governor of the Territory upon the first information being received by him promptly ordered a company under Captain Nesmith, and sent them as an escort, for a large quantity of arms and ammunition which were procured from Fort Vancouver. Captain Nesmith arrived after the negotiations had been commenced but was of great service to me from his intimate knowledge of the Indians, and their language.

Lieutenant Kanby (Canby) 4th Infantry, accompanied Captain Nesmith, and had in charge a 12 pound howitzer, and caisson, which he brought safely into camp. Although the road is a very difficult one, and seldom travelled by wagons. A commission as Brigadier General, from the Governor, reached me a few days after. I have assumed command, at Captain Alden’s request. A treaty of peace has been made with the Indians and I have no doubt that with proper care, it can be strictly maintained. The tribe is a very large one, and to a great extent controls the tribes in this part of the country, a peace with them is a peace with all. 

This in my opinion can only be perfectly secured by the presence of a considerable military force in this valley. I would therefore most earnestly recommend the establishment of a military post, in the Rogue River Valley without delay.

I have the honor to be

Very Respectfully

You obedient Servant

Joseph Lane

(portions omitted, edited for clarity)

Lane’s amazing narrative details the respect the tribes had for him, gained during the 1850 treaty of peace with Apserkahar (Chief Jo). As well, the mention of Native tactics offers new information on Native warfare. The Firing of the land, as a way to cover their trail and impede their pursuers is a shrewd tactic not addressed in any other writing. The difficulty that the army had in tracking the tribe, yet their success, is really the success of the mountain men, those pioneer explorers an early settlers who had good skills in outdoor woodcraft. The region of the Rogue is very mountainous and it would be nearly impossible in the midst of the summer to chase and find anyone in this difficult terrain. The area of hot, and is susceptible to forest fires and these fires are extremely dangerous.

Lane here proves his military acumen, gained first in Mexico. His promotion, to Brigadier General had to help launch him into politics again.

Interestingly, Lane is unconcerned as to why the tribes got to this point. He seems uninterested in why they so readily surrendered. They did not really want war, were not really warlike, and really only wanted the protection of the U.S. government. The contextual backstory of the Rogue River people is they were being invaded by gold miner sand settlers. In subsequent essays I will likely uncover a series of attacks on the tribes by Gold miners and other. In other essays I have documented attempts to exterminate the tribe, of taking their lands and food supplies, of raping their women and treating them as lesser humans, and of the tribe having no recourse within the United States a system of jurisprudence, of finding relief for their grievances against the Americans for murder, theft and rape and innumerable other ills the Americans brought. The tribal people, not being Americans, had no rights under U.S. law to make claims against Americans, testify in court, or be paid back for their losses. This one sided, racist system really caused the Rogue River conflicts and eventual war to expand and worsen until they ended in 1856.

The story of the September 8th treaty of peace that immediately followed this battle is in another essay.

The story of their Treaty of September 10th ceding their lands in yet another essay.


The Joseph Lane Papers at the Oregon Rhetorical Society library: the Rogue River War Letterbook

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