22 June 2009

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Laundered List pt 1

A good many years ago, no matter how many, I was given a book for a birthday or christmas. It was a limited edition reprint of an interesting little booklet by Charles S. Drew, Oregon pioneer and Indian-hater, entitled An Account of the Origin and Early Prosecution of the Indian War in Oregon. The reprint is dated 1973, and that was probably the year I got it; the original booklet was dated 1860.

The story behind the booklet is something like this: In the 1850s settlers had expended money, goods, and services in a series of conflicts with the native peoples. They expected the Federal government to repay them. The Federal government, in response, looked into the legitimacy of the expenses, and not just whether the money had really been spent and on what. No, they also inquired into the origin of the conflict to see whether it had been justified, or if, let us say, a bunch of drunken settlers had shot up a native village while in pursuit of women to rape, and then had the gall to charge the government for it. The trouble is, the financial interest gave investigators the incentive to see the settlers wrong in any conflict. The response from the settlers was simple; they blackened the character of the native peoples indiscriminately, and painted them as the bad guys in every case.

So when The Topographical Memoir and Report of Captain T. J. Cram, relative to the Territories of Oregon and Washington came out, containing a savage criticism of the settlers' role in the conflicts, Drew responded with this booklet. Its modern reprinter says of it:

This Drew booklet is important source material in that it lists rather completely the early pioneers of the area who were murdered by Indians.

This is an overstatement; the list is neither complete, nor is it correct to say that all those on it were in fact murdered by the Indians, or even murdered at all. On investigation this list turns out to be a hodge-podge of fact, fraud, misrepresentation, and error.

Where did Drew get this list? He points us to an earlier similar list by Nathaniel Todd. Clearly Todd was not his only source, however; he left out some of Todd's and added others of his own. Later on Drew issued a second version of his list; this one made still more changes. In 1873, during the Modoc War, the lists were revived again, with the Portland Bulletin printing a list of alleged Modoc atrocities based on Drew's first list, and the San Francisco Evening Bulletin putting one out that is closely related to Drew's second list. Thus I personally have stumbled on five different versions of this list; there are likely many more.

Now as I turned up various versions of this list I got increasingly curious as to what exactly had happened in these reported incidents. I took the time to investigate some, and for others information just fell into my hands. The stories were interesting. So were the systematic distortions of events. Over time I built up quite a collection of information. I'd always intended to do something with it—put out a book or paper, whatever the material justified—but time has gone by and the loss of so much other work has made me nervous. So what follows here is an installment in what may turn out to be a series. This one features three early episodes found only in Todd's list.

For whatever reason the Todd list starts earlier than the others. As Drew had the Todd list in hand as he wrote he must have omitted them deliberately. Perhaps he felt they were too remote in time to be of any service.

Item 1
Captain Smith

As far back as 1834, a party of about thirty persons, under the control of Captain Smith, were massacred near the mouth of the Umpqua river. [T]

Although the date and numbers are wrong, this item obviously refers to an attack by Kalawatsets on the Jedediah S. Smith expedition near the Umpqua river on 14 July 1828. According to James A. Crutchfield (It Happened in Oregon) a party of eighteen men, led by Jedediah Smith, camped on the banks of the Umpqua while engaged in trade with the locals. Smith and two other men (Richard Leland and John Turner) were out scouting when a party of apparently friendly Kalawatsets decided to attack the camp. At least eleven men were killed (the skeletons were later observed by John McLaughlin, the father of Oregon country) and one escaped (Arthur Brown). Jedediah Smith and his companions likewise survived, leaving three men unaccounted for. The four known survivors all eventually made it to Fort Vancouver and at least some of the goods were recovered.

As far as we can tell at this distance the attack may well have been unprovoked and was perhaps motivated by a desire to get goods without paying for them. While I don't have the details (and it's unlikely that they survive) John McLoughlin—who was a fair man, respected by the natives of Oregon country—investigated the affair, and he seems to have concluded that the attacking party of Kalawatsets was in the wrong, and ordered them to make restitution to the survivors. On the other hand we have no Kalawatset account at all, and in other incidents of this sort the matter is not nearly as cut-and-dried as it first appears. Still, other than doubling the number of victims and getting the date completely wrong Todd seems to have done fairly well on this one.

Although the Smith party incident didn't happen in 1834, another interesting event is alleged to have occurred about this time. According to the Oregon Statesman (20 June 1851) "It is said that a Mr. Turner of St. Louis, destroyed a portion of [the Rogue River] tribe sixteen or seventeen years since, by allowing them to rob him of a quantity of poisoned provisions." I wonder why Todd left that off the balance sheets.

Item 2
Daniel Miller et al
(June 1835)

In June, 1835, George Gay, Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, Dr. Bailey, Mr. Sanders, John Turner, John Woodworth, and an Irishman called Tom, were attacked by Rogue River Indians near where Mr. Birdseye now lives in Rogue River valley, and Mr. Miller, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Sanders, and Tom were killed. The other four were badly wounded, but made their escape. [T]

Now the story behind this seems to run something like this: In 1835 John Turner—who was one of the survivors of the 1828 incident just mentioned—led a party of settlers up to Oregon from California. Among them were Dr. William J. Bailey from either England or Ireland, George Gay from England, John Woodworth about whom nothing seems to be known, along with Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, —— Sanders or Saunders, and a fellow from Ireland known as Big Tom. Turner's Indian wife also accompanied them. They had with them forty-seven horses and the necessary equipment for trapping. One morning, while they were camped along Foot's creek near the Rogue River, members of the Rogue River tribe started showing up. Turner's wife conversed with them through Chinook jargon, the trade language of the Oregon country, and concluded that they meant no harm. More and more Rogue Rivers showed up, and then, without warning, they attacked the small party. While the men attacked the trappers, the women drove off the horses and gear. Two of the settlers, Barnes and Miller, were killed quickly, but the others fought back, Turner seizing a blazing log from the fire and wielding it as a club against the foes. They successfully fought the Rogue Rivers off, or, more likely, the attackers, having got what they came for, made a successful withdrawal. Either way the six survivors [correction: there were actually seven, as Turner's wife also survived the attack] set off nearly destitute, all of them wounded to a greater or lesser extent. Sanders and Big Tom were unable to continue, and were abandoned to die of their wounds. Dr. Bailey, however, even though his jaw was split and never properly healed, survived to make civilization, as did John Turner, George Gay, and John Woodworth. Dr. Bailey, a surgeon, became a man of some importance in the Willamette Valley; George Gay made and lost a fortune in Oregon country, John Turner lived as a recluse, and John Woodworth vanished into obscurity.

Now again with this incident we are hampered by the lack of any sort of check on this account. The Rogue Rivers had a bad reputation; on the other hand there are accounts—or rather rumors—of trappers taking potshots at them during this same time period. While the Rogue Rivers don't seem (on what little evidence there is) to have had any grievance against Turner's party, they may have had reason to be unfriendly to passing Euro-Americans. We're in speculation country here. As it stands, it seems likely that the locals saw an opportunity to gain forty-seven horses with relatively little effort, and took it. (Sources: Transactions of the Tenth Annual Reunion of the Pioneer Society, 1882; Bancroft's History of Oregon.)

Item 3
Cattle Drive
(September 1837)

In August, 1838, as a party of citizens of Oregon were driving the first cattle from California to this Territory, they were attacked near the same spot where the party were attacked in 1835, by the same Indians, and Mr. Gay, who was of the party of 1835, was again wounded. [T]

Walling's* account differs significantly from Todd's: the date was September 1837 rather than August 1838 and the attackers were almost certainly not the same people. Further, and most egregiously, Todd omits the reason for the attack completely.

Walling named a number of the members of this particular expedition. For our purposes I will note only a few of them. The leader was a man named Ewing Young. P. L. Edwards kept a diary of the trip. George Gay and Dr. William J. Bailey, survivors of the previous incident, were also along. [Addition: From Edwards' diary it looks as though John Turner, who survived both previous incidents, was also along on this one.] And there was a man named Tibbetts or Tibbats. There were about twenty in the party in all.

On 14 September 1837 an Indian came into their camp, on what mission we are not told, but he was alone [correction: actually he had a ten-year-old boy (his son?) with him] and not making any trouble. George Gay and Dr. William Bailey, however, were still pissed off about the events of two years before, and wanted revenge on somebody. Keep in mind that both had been injured and Dr. Bailey had been hideously disfigured for life by the blow that had broken his jaw. As Walling notes they were still some distance from the place of the attack two years before, and it is quite possible that this particular individual had never even heard of it. Still, he was an Indian, and that was enough for Gay and Bailey. They shot the poor fellow, and, as Walling puts it, "The act was deeply resented by the Indians throughout the whole section, and the party met with the greatest difficulty in continuing the course."

[Update: The Diary of Philip Leget Edwards is actually available online thanks to the California Association of Texas Longhorn Breeders. I had relied on the excerpts in Walling for my version of events, but the account of the murder of a local man is even shabbier than Walling indicated:

About two miles before reaching camp, five or six Indians came to us in a friendly manner, and one, accompanied by a boy about 10 years old, followed us to camp. There had been frequent threats on the way that Indians would be killed as soon as we had crossed Shasta river, and I had heard threats of killing this one while he was following us. It had generally passed as idle braggadocio, and I was hoping that present threats were of the same sort. I, nevertheless, intended telling Mr. Young. In the hurry, however, of unpacking I could not do it unobserved. We had just let loose our horses and sat, when a gun was fired just behind me. Gay and the Indian were sitting within ten feet of each other, when the former shot. The Indian sprang up to run when Bailey also shot at him. The Indian ran about 20 paces and fell dead, down the hill. Some of the scoundrels now hallooed, "Shoot the boy! Shoot the boy!" The little fellow, however, turned a point of rocks, plunged in the brush, and, as he was not pursued, he escaped. They afterwards alleged it was only to prevent his spreading the news. At the sound of the gun, Mr. Young asked vehemently, "What's that?" and began censuring the act. I sprang up, calling it a mean, base, dastardly act, and that such men were not to be depended upon in danger! Bailey retorted, "Are you to be depended upon in danger?" I replied, "Yes." "We'll see," said he. I said, "Yes." Carmichael was one of the first to censure the murder, but he now joined others against me. "We are not missionaries," said he, "we will avenge the death of Americans." Mr. Young and myself soon saw that it was of no use to wrangle. Some of the party were silent—most were in favor of the act. Only one that I recollect spoke against it. Turner, Gay and Bailey were three of four survivors of a party of eight men who had been defeated at the next river, and several of the survivors were much mangled. Turner's wife had also escaped. This they allege as their justification. But the murder was committed four days before reaching the place of their defeat, and the Indians may have been of another tribe. Nor could any consideration of private revenge, allowing its legality in itself, authorize endangering the property of others. We must now prepare ourselves for fighting our way through the hostile Indians. This fool act, as Mr. Young said, "cost us half our animals." One act of barbarity is not to be omitted. Camp and Pat stripped the Indian of his skin clothing, and left him lying naked.

The entire diary is well worth reading; check out the link.]

On 17 September they camped at Foot's creek, where the previous incident had occurred. The next day—well, let's allow P. L. Edwards to tell the story from his diary:

SEPTEMBER 18.—Moved about sunrise. Indians were soon observed running along the mountain on our right. There could be no doubt but that they were intending to attack us at some difficult pass. Our braves occasionally fired on them when there was a mere possibility of doing any execution. About twelve o'clock, while we were in a stony and brushy pass between the river [Rogue river] on our right, and a mountain covered with wood on our left, firing and yelling in front announced an attack. Mr. Young, apprehensive of an attack at this pass, had gone in advance to examine the brush and ravine, and returned without seeing Indians. In making further search he found them posted on each side of the road. After firing of four guns, the forward cattle having halted, and myself having arrived with the rear, I started forward but orders met me from Mr. Young that no one should leave the cattle, he feeling able, with the two or three men already with him, to rout the Indians. In the struggle Gay was wounded in the back by an arrow. Two arrows were shot into the riding horse of Mr. Young, while he was snapping his gun at an Indian not more than ten yards off. To save his horse, he had dismounted and beat him on the head, but he refused to go off, and received two arrows, probably shot at his master. Having another brushy place to pass, four or five of us went in advance, but were not molested. Camped at the spot where Turner and party were attacked two years ago. Soon after the men on day guard said they had seen three Indians in a small grove about three hundred yards from camp. About half of the party went, surrounded the grove, some of them fired into it, others passed through it, but could find no Indians. At night all the horses nearly famished as they were tied up. Night set in dark, cloudy and threatening rain, so that the guard could herdly [sic] have seen an Indian ten paces off, until the moon rose, about ten o’clock. I was on watch the first half of the night.

To sum up, passing through Rogue River country a party of cattle drivers shot a peaceful Indian. His friends retaliated by attacking the party, injuring one of the men who had done the shooting. Nothing of this could have been gathered from the Todd list alone. It's a reminder on the earlier episodes how much we don't know about the events. Gay and Bailey had good reason to be pissed off; they had no reason to attack that particular individual. Conceivably the attackers in the earlier incidents likewise nursed grievances they chose to take out on unoffending third parties. Or, it is quite possible that extant accounts leave out significant incidents (like the shooting of a passing tribesman) that would cast a different light on affairs. But greed and cruelty are also motivating factors in human affairs, and it may well be that the events happened as narrated.

However exaggeration also plays a considerable part in the narrative of events. I mentioned earlier a guy named Tibbetts who was along on this expedition. A few years later he was again in this region, and here's how one of his fellows narrated the story he told them:

The man Tibbats was one of a party of fifteen, which was defeated here by the Indians, some three years before. One of their number was killed, and two died of their wounds on the Umpqua, whither they were obliged to retreat, although they had forced the Indians back with great loss.

Contrast this with the contemporary account given by Edwards and you can see how tall the tales grew in this region. And, to give credit where credit is due, we note that as inaccurate as Todd's version has proved to be here, it could have been worse.

A Note or Two

The Todd List [T] is found in House Miscellaneous Document No. 47, 35th Congress, second session (running title: Oregon and Washington Volunteers). My photocopy is among my missing files, and unlike many government documents it doesn't seem to be available online. The quotations in this entry are taken from my notes on these incidents, and were transcribed from my lost photocopy. I plan to replace it, time permitting, and (I hope) will post the complete list online at some point.

*One of the books that I will probably be citing often is a little difficult to describe easily. In the 1880s Portland publisher Albert G. Walling put out a series of county histories for the state of Oregon, a different volume for each county. Chapters 1 to 34, covering the exploration of the state and the Indian wars, are identical in all volumes, however. Only the chapters from 35 on differ for each county or region. The useful material in this book, for current purposes, comes in this common section. So while I'm actually quoting from Walling's History of Southern Oregon, the links to the online Illustrated History of Lane County will work just as well. At this point the two are really the same book. Oh, yeah, one more complication—the volume is anonymous. I will refer to it as Walling, after its publisher.

Update: Part two deals mainly with alleged events along the Southern Emigrant Road.

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