28 June 2009

The Case of the Laundered List pt 2

I gave a brief and inadequate account of the lists of atrocities that circulated in old Oregon country as anti-Indian propaganda in the first part of this series; before I continue I'm going to elaborate a bit on our sources. Relationships among texts fascinate me, as I'm sure you're all too aware, but indulge me for a moment.

  1. The Todd list [T] as I mentioned in the previous installment appeared as part of House Misc. Doc. 47, 35th Cong. 2nd Sess. It is the oldest of the five and Drew explicitly acknowledges it as a source. It doesn't seem to be available online.
  2. The first Drew list [D1] appears in Senate Misc. Doc 59, 36th Cong. 1st Sess. Drew used the Todd list as a source (and often repeats it nearly verbatim), but clearly had another source or sources.
  3. The second Drew list [D2] appears in the Report of the Secretary of the Interior for 1863. This list is distinctive; the sources may well be the same as for the first Drew list (or the first Drew list may have been his source), but this list is padded out with some really dubious entries.
  4. The Sutton list [S] is found in a March issue of the Portland Bulletin. Drawn up by a pioneer named Sutton, it has an annoying and nebulous relationship with the first Drew list. In some items the Sutton list seems to be based on the first Drew list, and indeed, in one case I think the evidence is conclusive. But there are other places where it almost looks as though the Sutton list is a source for the first Drew list. In particular it seems to avoid items on the Todd list, behavior explicable if it were an independent source used by Drew in addition to the Todd list, even though the Sutton list was published later. (Sutton is known to have been keeping such a list.) So as a piece of speculation let me try to reconcile the lines of evidence by suggesting that Sutton made a list; that list was used by Drew in compiling his list along with the Todd list; Sutton added some material from the first Drew list to his list when he prepared it for publication by the Portland Bulletin. I don't actually know that the data supports this hypothesis; I'm just noting it as a possibility.
  5. The San Francisco Evening Bulletin list [E] likewise appeared during 1873. The items appear to have been entirely selected from the second Drew list, though I suspect there was a written transcript of some kind in between; perhaps nothing more than the reporter's notes.

Okay, in this installment many of the incidents are related to the laying out of the Southern Emigrant Road through the heart of Modoc country. Lindsay Applegate left us his account of the establishment of the road against the efforts of the Hudson's Bay Company; it was part of the struggle between Great Britain and the United States for the control of Oregon country, as well as part of the competition between Oregon and California for settlers, as well as between southern Oregon and the Willamette valley. For our purposes it is probably enough to say that settlers in the Oregon-California border region found it politically advantageous to lay out a road through Shasta and Modoc territory to attract settlers, and they seem to have been relatively unconcerned about the fact that there were no forts near enough to secure the road, and no treaties with the peoples in whose country the road was run. There were consequences to this act. So let us begin with

Item 4
A Sick Immigrant
(Fall 1846)

In the fall of 1846, a sick immigrant was killed on the southern Oregon immigrant road, near Lost river, by Modoc Indians. [T]

Okay, to start with, this is everything we know about this alleged incident. Oddly, Lindsay Applegate, who was actually in the territory at this time, says nothing about it. Drew left it off his first list, and it doesn't appear in Sutton either, but Drew does mention it in the preface to his second list:

Their history [that of the “Klamath Lake, Modoc, and Pah-Ute … tribe”] … begins with the summer of 1846, the date of the first overland emigration via what is now known as the southern Oregon emigrant road. Their operations that year were mainly of a thieving character, the emigration having been a surprise to them, and allowing no time to mature a concert of action for more bloody purposes, such as they adopted in subsequent years. They made a beginning, however, by murdering one, if not more, of that year’s emigration, and committing many thefts and robberies. Their point for attack was at a place on Rhett or Tule lake, now known as “Bloody Point,” and situated ten miles southeast of the “Natural Bridge,” on Lost river. [D2]

There is a lot of extra verbiage here, but as far as the facts are concerned, it still boils down to one thing: the Modocs murdered one immigrant in 1846. The general statement that the Modocs used to use a place the settlers called Bloody Point for their attacks is true; it has no necessary application to this incident. Here's what the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (SFEB) writer made of it:

The history of their depredations and massacres begins with the year 1846, when warriors of the [Modoc] tribe killed one white man at a place in their country now known as “Bloody Point.” [E]

As far as we can tell the SFEB writer need have had nothing more in front of him than the second Drew list. He has taken the general statement about Bloody Point and turned it into the specific place for this alleged incident, but there's nothing to show any actual extra knowledge here.

All that can be said in our present unsatisfactory state of knowledge is that Todd may well have had some sort of evidence for this claim. No one else, however, seems to know anything about it, though that doesn't stop them from elaborating on it. Drew's statement to the effect that the Modoc, Klamath, and Piute peoples were virtually one tribe gives us little reason to trust his other statements, by the way.

Item 5
(Summer 1847)

The following year, 1847, Levi Scott, of Oregon, and of the previous year’s emigration, returned with a small party along this route to make further explorations, but, on arriving near Goose lake, was attacked by Indians, wounded, and had one of his party, named Garrison, killed. [D2]

This is the first of several additions in the second Drew list that appeared neither in the first Drew list or in the Todd list. Unlike some of the later additions, this one seems to have a solid basis. According to Lindsay Applegate Levi Scott led a party out to meet incoming immigrants. At the same time he attempted to find a way to shorten the road by taking a more direct route at one point. While he and a man named Garrison were out exploring they met with a couple of Indians who seemed friendly. It looks like appearances were deceiving. Abruptly the two raised their bows and started shooting. Garrison was killed; Levi Scott, though wounded, managed to drive their attackers off. At least that's the story as told by Lindsay Applegate. Applegate knew Levi Scott, which puts him in a good position to be well-informed. He does preface the story with the words "it appears," which would seem to indicate some sort of reservation on his part, though it might well just be that he was reporting something at second hand.

The SFEB list contains an abbreviated version of this item.

Item 6
Train of Twenty-Three
(Summer 1847)

At the same time an entire train—twenty-three persons or upwards—were massacred at Bloody Point. [D2]

This is the second of the peculiar additions that first appear in the second Drew list, and it is a rather suspect one. We are asked to believe here first that Todd overlooked this major event—twenty-three people killed—during a time when the road was being actively patrolled, and second, that Drew himself had somehow overlooked it when putting together his first list. And on top of this the event went entirely unreported in the newspapers of the time. Indeed, Jesse Applegate, Lindsay's brother, actually reported in October 1847:

Except an old wagon, abandoned by Judge Burch near Rogue river, every vehicle which took the southern road arrived in the valley, the teams in good condition, and their owners in fine health and spirits, having suffered, from all sources, a comparatively trifling loss of animals. [Oregon Spectator]

Now, while I'm trying to take these events in chronological order, this is one time when it's necessary to skip ahead. The very next item in the second Drew list is a similar claim about a party of eighteen who were likewise massacred at Bloody Point. As with this one there is no supporting evidence and neither the Todd list nor the first Drew list contained it. I don't have a specific piece of counter-evidence to cite in this case, but it had really happened, you'd think there would be something more positive to point to.

These items share several peculiarities. First, no names are given. Second, the massacres are said to have happened at Bloody Point. Third, the numbers are oddly precise, considering that the rest of the information about the incidents is so vague.

For me the reference to Bloody Point is a good place to start. A fellow named Ben Wright (whom we will hear of again) named this place in 1852 during conflicts that year with the Modocs. There is no question that attacks occurred here in 1852. It is, however, extremely unlikely that many attacks occurred before that date; all indications are that the settlers were surprised by events. When I read the contemporary accounts there is no indication whatsoever of a history of trouble on the road, no reference to earlier slaughters there, nothing of the sort.

The numbers mentioned are interesting too. In 1852 when a survivor of a Modoc attack arrived in Yreka a party went out to patrol the road and bury the dead. According to contemporary sources about twenty bodies were found and buried; this is reasonably close to the numbers eighteen and twenty-three given for these two unattested items. The lack of names is also suggestive; the people whose bodies were found and buried were unknown. My best guess at this point is that both these items (assuming that Drew didn't simply make them up altogether, which, given his low regard for truth, is by no means out of the question), are distorted reflections of the events of 1852, which made a big impression on settlers, and continued to generate ever more elaborate stories for decades to come.

Something of the effect these grisly discoveries had on people may be indicated by Lindsay Applegate's account of a similar discovery in 1846:

One day, during our march through this country, Capt. Scott and myself, leaving the party on the west side, crossed the river for the purpose of hunting, and, while pursuing a band of antelope, came upon wagon tracks, leading away from the river towards a rocky gulch among the hills, two or three miles distant. Several wagons seemed to have been in the train, and on either side of the plain tracks made by the wagon wheels in the loose sand were numerous bare-foot tracks. Following the trail into the mouth of the gulch, we found where the wagons had been burned, only the ruins being left among the ashes. We found no human remains, yet the evidences were plain that a small train of immigrants had been taken here not a great while before, and that they had perished at the hands of their blood-thirsty captors, not one having escaped to recite the awful tale of horror. Possibly the bodies of the victims had been thrust into the river. Possibly the drivers had been compelled to drive their teams across the sage plains into this wild ravine, here to be slaughtered and their bodies burned. By a more extended search along the river and among the hills, we might possibly have found some of the bodies of the victims, and might have obtained some clue as to who the ill-fated immigrants were, but even this was not practicable at the time, and we could only hurry on with sad hearts to overtake the train far up the river.

Different time, different place—but the effect of this mute testimony to a past catastrophe may be the key to understanding these ghost reports. By the same token, of course, if these two were inventions, it may well be that the inventor (Drew, I would suppose) was exploiting the feelings the sight of such burned wagons evoked.

Item 7
The Whitman Massacre
(November 1847)

On the 29th November, 1847, Dr. Whitman, a Protestant missionary, his wife, two orphan children, a Frenchman, and about eleven immigrants, were massacred at and near the mission in Walla-Walla valley by Cayuse Indians. This was the commencement of the Cayuse war. [T]

This item, which appears only in the Todd list and the first Drew list, is shameless padding, as the event happened in a different part of old Oregon country from the area under consideration—the Oregon-California border region. I can only suppose that Todd and Drew were relying on the notoriety of the event and the ignorance of western geography in their intended audience back east to help make their case. And, as I don't intend to deal with it here and now, I will refer interested readers to the Wikipedia entry for The Whitman Massacre.

Item 8
Party of Eighteen

In 1849 another train of eighteen or more persons were also massacred at the same place. [D2]

The "same place" is Bloody Point, and this item (which appears only in the second Drew list and the SFEB list) has the same problems as the earlier alleged train of twenty-three. For the general discussion, see Item 6 above.

Item 9
Captain Warner and Party
(26 September 1849)

September 26 the same year, Captain Warner, of the United States engineer corps, and several of his party were murdered near Goose lake. [D2]

This item is unique to the second Drew list (out of the five versions I know of) and is a bit out of the immediate geographical range of the rest. R. S. Williamson left us an early (14 February 1850) account of the event, reprinted in Senate Ex. Doc. No. 47, 31st Cong. 1st Sess., pp. 17-22. Captain Warner was in charge of an exploring expedition attempting to determine possible routes from the Humboldt Valley to the Sacramento River.

When Captain Warner had discovered the pass, and reached the eastern base of the range, he travelled to the southward, intending to recross the mountain on the Lassen trail. On the 26th day of September he was riding in company with the guide, a short distance ahead of his little party. They had descended a little ravine and were ascending the rugged hill on the other side, when a party of about twenty-five Indians, who had been lying in ambush behind some large rocks near the summit, suddenly sprang up and shot a volley of arrows into the party. The greater number of the arrows took effect upon the Captain and guide, and both were mortally wounded. The Captain's mule turned with him, and plunged down the hill; and having been carried about two hundred yards, he fell from the animal dead. The guide dismounted and prepared to fire, but finding he could not aim his rifle, he succeeded in mounting and retiring down the hill. He died the next morning. The party were thrown into confusion and retreated at once. Two men, George Cave and Henry A. Barling, were badly wounded. Cave died before reaching the valley, while Barling reached Benicia, was placed in the United States hospital under charge of Assistant Surgeon Deyerle, and has now nearly recovered. Captain Warner's body was visited several times, and his note-book, &c., brought to me. The Indians who made this attack are supposed to be of the same tribe, and have the same manners and customs, as those in the immediate vicinity of Tlamath lake. They caused a great deal of trouble among the emigrants by stealing their cattle in the night; and they acted with a great deal of caution, never showing themselves during the day. They have no other arms than bows and arrows, and generally go entirely naked. They seemed to have been emboldened by the presence of so small a party so far from the emigrants' trail, and presented themselves in considerable numbers in the vicinity of Captain Warner's camp for several days preceding the attack. It is difficult to make an estimate of their numbers, but they certainly can form a formidable body.

One of the reasons this item appears only in the second Drew list may well be that it is not really an instance of an innocent settlers being struck down by a savage foe, which is the general purport of these lists. Captain Warner was the leader of a military expedition into Indian country; he was in fact (even if 19th century legal theory didn't look at it this way) invading territory belonging to another people. The Klamaths (if they are the ones responsible) may well have looked at themselves as noble patriots repelling a savage invader.

Item 10
Sprink [or Prink] and Cushing
(August 1850)

August.—Messrs. Spink and Cushing, packers, were murdered, and their train and loading destroyed by Indians, on Klamath river. No provocation given and none claimed. The murderers were not punished. [D1]

The Sutton list also has this item, the only material change being that the incident is said to have happened "near the line of Oregon and California" rather than "on Klamath river." Walling devotes a couple of lines to this incident, but adds little except that the perpertrators were Shastas:

In August, 1850, two packers, Cushing and Prink, were killed on the banks of the Klamath river near where the ferry was afterwards established. Their train was taken and their cargo destroyed by Shasta Indians. [Walling]

This is one where I haven't turned up any further information; a check of newspapers from the era revealed nothing, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

To Be Continued

These parts are running much longer than I had envisioned when I started the series. The next part should concern events of, or contemporary with, the first Rogue River War (1851). There will also be material in a later section dealing with the southern emigrant road.

No comments:

Copyright © 2005-2021