In March 1855, Patora a chief of the Yurok tribe was murdered by volunteers on the Klamath River in California. The Yurok at this time were peaceful and trusted the military and distrusted a band of volunteers called the Red Caps. The Military under Capt. Judah was organizing to arrest the Red Caps with the help of the Yuroks who knew the territory well. The following is an account of how Patora was murdered, and account which is remarkably similar to other genocides in California and Oregon.
Capt. Judah and Mr. Whipple arrived in the Indian Country March 22nd. They found that the majority of the whites, who had interests in farming and mining, at stake, were ready to leave the settlement of the troubles to them. There was much excitement among them caused by the murder of one of the most influential chiefs named Patora by a white man, who enticed him out to hunt, for the purpose- Patora had not only given up his arms, but induced other Indians to do so, and was universally respected for his honesty and friendly affairs towards the whites. There were two companies of Volunteers under brothers named Woodward, who would appear to be the authors of all the trouble. Being out of employment they have embodied themselves with the intention of claiming compensation for their services in suppressing hostilities. Captain Judah reports that they went to one of the Indian ranches, called the Indians from their houses, shook hands with them and immediately afterward, each white picking his man, numbers of the Indians were shot. They then took away with them some squaws, under the name of prisoners, whom they outrageously abused. In calling attention to this report of Capt. Judah, Bvt. Lt. Col. Buchanan commanding Fort Humboldt remarks that this is the Battle! which has been described heretofore in the newspapers in such glowing colors, and these men are now making efforts to get pay as having been in the service. I deem it my duty to call especial attention to this case in order that the Government may be prepared to act on any application that may be made in favor of paying them. Muster Rolls of the party are in preparation as I am informed.
March 28th- Captain Judah writes as follows: after promising that the hostile Indians had separated and taken to [places] unknown, and almost impenetrable to whites, in consequence of which he had abandoned the pursuit of them: In furtherance of my intention to mete out justice to the Indian murderers, (for nothing short of their lives will satisfy the people upon the river.) Through Indian now friendly and if allowing the remainder to come in, it became necessary for me to communicate with the Indians below this point, numbering over three hundred warriors. Convinced upon the representations of those who knew them best, that it would be useless in their present alarmed state, after the cowardly murder by Capts. C. & M. Woodward upon one of their ranches, and the indignities imposed by them and their men upon the squaws, to request them to meet me. I took with me Capt. Young, Mr. Walker and six more of my command (having previously sent word to the mouth of the river of my intended visit.) and on Monday 26th proceeded in canoes to a ranch called jenngoyne?? about twenty miles below this point (camp Strawbridge and eighteen below any white settlement. The portion of the river I descended has never before been traversed by any government official, and by but few white men- In view of this fact I made such observations upon the general character of the country through which it runs, and its adaptation to meet the wants and comfort of the Indians, as I thought might prove useful to any officer who should succeed me. I found every ranch deserted to the point referred to, and no Indians to meet me at the point designated. I immediately dispatched two Indians to the mouth of this river with messages from Capt. Young and Mr. Walker (well known to them) and just before dusk last evening. They arrived at my camp to the number of fifty-one embracing the most prominent among them, and all arrived with a species of long knife, bows and arrows. The details of our conference would be too extended to familiarize?? They complained much of the treatment they had experienced at the hands of the Volunteers, enumerated their acts of forbearance, and asked me what I could expect of them when after their voluntary offer to operate against the hostiles, they were not permitted thus to justify their friendly protestations because a portion of the whites, (referring to the command of Mr. C. Woodward) would not concede the privilege of killing them (themselves) whenever they felt inclined to do so. They were perfectly ignorant of troops of their character and had been so often deceived by individuals representing themselves to be in authority, that I found it next to impossible to convince them that I had any or to make them understand its character. Before we separated they became convinced that my intentions towards them were friendly, promised to cooperate with the Indians above in furnishing the murderers, and agreed to meet me and them at a point about four miles below my present camp, on Saturday, 31st instant. Upon my return a few hours since I found Mr. Whipple, who brought with him three Indians from the mouth of Salmon, I shall try to go to Hoopah Valley tomorrow with Mr. Whipple, and being down a deputation of the Trinity Indians. I have very little doubt but that the war party will be made up and start to accomplish its object by the middle of next week. In the meantime I expect three of the hostile Indians to be brought to my camp, according to my directions, tomorrow, they having through squaws, expressed their desire to come in. A majority of the people upon the river seem from all I can learn, to acquiesce in the plan I am now endeavoring to carry out. There are, however, desperadoes who would, if an opportunity offered, kill any of the hostile Indians upon sight. Captain Judah thinks the pressure of a permanent regular force in that section of the country is absolutely necessary to preserve peace between the whites and Indians. Should an Indian Reserve be established there, the question will be settled, and Fort Humboldt may be broken up and moved on to the Reserve depending on circumstances.
The 29th of March eight hostile Indians and five squaws, instead of only three, came in to Capt. Judah’s camp. Four were well armed with ? These were not implicated in the murders, but the names of the murderers were known to Capt. Judah. The 20th March Capt. Judah held a conference with the Hoopah Valley Indians who number it is said nearly two hundred warriors.
April 3rd- A grand conference was held, deputations from the several tribes to the number of seventy five warriors securing their services in the execution of the plan I had determined upon. The war party will meet at Young’s Ferry on Friday 6th instant when I shall furnish them with ten rifles, and food, and give them the names of the eight murderers whom I wish to have killed. Any of the remaining hostiles whom they may encounter are to be lent in to my camp, where they will be taken care of with those already here, until arrangements are completed to locate them upon the river below, their return to their old ranches situated as they are in the vicinity of the murder of the white men, being certain to prove fatal to them. I have tomorrow morning with Capt. Young for the mouth of Salmon River, 28 miles above this point, for the purpose of making known to the people of the river what has been done, in order that they may do nothing to frustrate our operations, also to station a guard of Capt. Young’s company at the mouth of Salmon for the protection of the friendly Indians near that point against the desperadoes of Orleans Bar and mouth of Salmon. I am daily in receipt of intelligence of outrages upon squaws, which I shall endeavor to prevent by moral, the only kind of suasion my limited authority permits me to use.
I make one more extract from Capt. Judah’s report, concerning the volunteers, showing who this Capt. Young to whom he refers, is.
A man named Young, himself nearly Indian in habits from long residence among various tribes is in command of the only reliable company of Volunteers in the field, being formed of men who live upon the river and have interests at stake. The men of this company are at their respective residences and ready to respond to the call of their leader at any moment. Captain Young is in the entire confidence of all the Indians below this place, and has his spies out at this time. He is daily appraised of the whereabouts of the Red Caps who number only fourteen, the remnant of those hostile being made up probably to the number of Thirty four from other ranches. I have this morning (March 22) apprised Capt. F.M. Woodward that his services are no longer necessary and he will leave in a day or two. I shall see his brother in the course of the day and do not doubt but that he will also disband.
In conclusion, I have only in my communication of reports prove what I stated in my communication of February 26, that in this, as in a thousand other instances, the Indians were not to blame. After suffering the greatest outrages from the whites, they were still ready to listen to reason, and even to take arms against the few who having killed several whites in retaliation fled to the mountains.
(John E Wool April 11, 1855, reel 2, pp 243-247)
It is difficult for us to fathom today that white murderers would ever go free and that law officials would not pursue them, arrest them, and imprison them. The military in 1950s California did not have the authority to pursue civil matters and there was no law enforcement in northern California, in the Del Norte region. It is clear that the military was well-meaning and yet ineffective. White miners and farmers gathered behind the Woodward brothers then sought to massacre and kill as many Indians as possible and rape the women. The tribes however still seemed to trust and look to the military for protection and trust. For the military to not detain the murderers and transfer them to civil authorities in the south seems like an injustice. Limited authority for law enforcement was vested in the military but they chose to allow the Red Caps, the murderous volunteers to leave.
The manner in which the village was attacked very much matches that of another attack, that on the village of Chit on the Chetco River in Oregon in 1854. There as well, the murderers gained the trust of the Indians and purchased their weapons before attacking and killing over 2 dozen of the warriors. It is quite possible that the leaders at the Chetco were the Woodward brothers or associates who learned how to successfully massacre a village, without much danger to themselves.
There were as well numerous attacks on the Tolowa villages from Crescent City to Smith River, from 1853 to 1860. This area of the coast, due to its location near the gold-fields of Northern California, very much attracted the most lawless of whites. The fact that these histories have existed since the beginnings of the conflict written into federal military records makes me pause and wonder why then native peoples have been assigned the blame for their own massacres in so many historical texts. Wool’s narrative is quite clear when he assigns full blame to the lawless whites of this frontier and that the tribes only acted in defense or in retribution when there was no civil authority. And we also see that Native people in this time had no rights to full protection or for civil authorities to respect their rights at this time. During this same period, General Wool is confronted with the peace of the whole West, and there were avenues for whites to reclaim property they had lost in battles and conflicts with Indians, but there was not a similar right given to Indians, because they were not citizens of the United States even though they had been subsumed by the US after its war with Mexico and California. Never had they been respected in their places by Americans, as suggested they should be in the Northwest Ordinance, and the treaties written with the tribes in 1851 were never ratified by Congress leaving the land technically under aboriginal title until the 1950s when the California Indian Claims suit was settled and paid to Native peoples living then.
Note the excellent essay The Red Cap War which explains much of the history of the beginnings of the Klamath Reservation and documents many of the movements of the Red Caps.