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Catlin: Part 4, Section B - Word Reaches Missoula - War in Idaho - Extinguish - Land Titles, Indians, & Treaties - Steal Treaty - Indian Resistance - The Powerful Klickitats - Lane's Dramatic Episode - Kamiakin's Idea - Table Rock Treaty

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By June 29, 1877 word had reached Missoula that an Indian conflict was in progress in Idaho. The news took several days to reach Missoula. The battle of White Bird Canyon, near present day Grangeville, Idaho occurred twelve days earlier, on June 17, 1877. Members of Chief White Bird’s band of Nez Perce Indians killed thirty-four U.S. First Cavalry soldiers under the command of Captain David Perry and wounded several more. The surviving soldiers retreated in disarray after their humiliating defeat. Nez Perce participants later stated not one of their number was killed. (See - http://www.nps.gov/nepe/historyculture/white-bird-battlefield.htm)

Captain Perry’s soldiers were in pursuit of White Bird’s band as a result of the killing of Salmon River settlers over the previous days, beginning on June 14th. A total of eighteen white settlers were known to have been killed and six severely wounded over the two-day period from June 14 to June 16. Also, women were reportedly raped and one woman and her son taken hostage. Still, panic in Missoula did not commense immediately.

EXTINGUISH – Land Titles, Indians, & Treaties

What prompted this conflict?  Why would the Nez Perces fight?

The fuse had been burning a long time. Mistreatment of Northwest Native Americans started not long after the first settlers arrived in Oregon Territory. How did the new arrivals justify their behavior? Hopefully, some of the answers can be found below.

The Nez Perce war in 1877 was not an isolated event. Numerous Indian wars had already occurred in the Oregon and Washington Territories. Indian land and their removal from it - whether by treaty or by conflict - played a large role in the region since whites began their westward migration.

Although the United States settled the Oregon border issue with the Oregon Compromise between the U.S. and Great Britain in 1846, the geographical region was not officially made the Oregon Territory until 1848. It included what are now the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and most of western Montana. Washington Territory was created from Oregon Territory in 1853; Idaho Territory was carved from Washington and Dakota Territories in 1863, and Montana Territory from Idaho Territory in 1864.

Ownership of land was a complex issue. The U.S. Government first began promoting the tide of Oregon immigration when it passed the Distribution-Preemption Act of 1841. This Act recognized squatters’ rights to claim 160 acres of land in the Oregon Territory - preempting it before paying for it. After rapidly increasing in number, Oregon’s Willamette Valley settlers established a provisional government in 1843. Under this provisional government settlers could claim an entire section of land - 640 acres. 

However, when Oregon gained Territorial status in 1848, Congress nullified these provisional government land grants. Settlers were in a difficult situation at that point, since their tenuous claims were technically illegal. Documenting their claims was another problem since no official survey was possible until 1851, when the first Surveyor General opened his office in Oregon City. The first official Oregon township was not plotted until the following year. Few settlers even knew how to find true north. Many of their claims would later have to be revised.

Part of their problem was solved in 1850 when Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which recognized previous claims granted under the Oregon provisional government. Congress was very generous. Terms of settlement changed somewhat, but settling in Oregon was still a bargain. The Act allowed an unmarried white male to claim 320 acres, while a married man and wife were allowed 640 acres – for free. The act also included “American half-breed Indians.” This act expired in 1855. Fort Owen in Montana’s Bitterroot valley was eventually patented under this act. In the five-year span of the Act’s existence, until 1855, over 7,400 land patents were issued and an estimated 30,000 whites had immigrated to Oregon Territory.

Oregon’s first Territorial delegate, Samuel Thurston, is credited with sponsoring the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. It is considered the precursor of the 1862 Homestead Act. While the Oregon Act succeeded in promoting more white settlement, it did not bode well for Native Americans. Thurston and his followers had another agenda as well. He persuaded Congress that the removal of Indians was the “first prerequisite step,” in solving the settlers’ Indian problems and that Indian rights would remain an impediment “so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians.” (See - http://www.ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/narratives/subtopic.cfm?subtopic_ID=25)

Many observers viewed the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 as a main cause of most subsequent Indian conflicts. The Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest presents a view of this early land claiming process:

Some of the conflicts over land came from the workings of the Oregon Donation Land Act, approved by Congress and signed by Millard Fillmore in 1850. This law contravened the most basic tenet of U.S. Indian policy – the requirement that Indian title to land must be extinguished before opening the land to settlement by whites...
Ethnologist George Gibbs, who was part of the Stevens’ railroad survey party in 1853 and later served as surveyor and secretary of his treaty commission, called the act “the great primary source of evil in Oregon and the western part of the Territory... in which, contrary to established usage and to natural right, the United States assumed to grant absolutely, the land of the Indians without previous purchase from them.”

The result, he said, was growing friction between whites and Indians because, “as settlers poured in, the Indians were unceremoniously thrust from their homes and driven forth to shift for themselves.” Over its five-year life, the act granted about 8,000 claims covering nearly 3-million acres in Oregon and Washington; more than 500 of the claims were along the shores of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (See - http://content.lib.washington.edu/curriculumpackets/treaties/oregon.html)

In conjunction with the patenting of land by the new settlers, the impact of another form of migration was equally detrimental to Indian life. Gold miners rapidly spilled over from California as they worked their way north seeking the next Golconda. They provided a second blow to Northwest Indians and the effects of mining stampedes continued for decades. The miners’ viewpoint did not include the trappings of long-term residency. It was get out of the way or else.

The Oregon Blue Book examined the impact of these miners as they moved into Oregon Territory:

[D]uring the winter of 1851-1852, packers on the trail to California discovered the placer mines of Southwestern Oregon. Within weeks a reckless population, most of them hardened miners from California, surged over the Siskiyous or stepped off the gangplanks of ships putting in at Crescent City, Port Orford, Umpqua City, or Scottsburg. The rush was on. It meant quick riches for those who found the right pothole in bedrock filled with nuggets or the fortunate miners whose riffle boxes captured fine particles of gold that glistened in the black sand. For the Indians in the Rogue River country it meant that all they had known and their very lives were at stake.

The causes of conflict erupted everywhere. The Donation Land Act became law in 1850. Years passed before treaties, negotiated in 1853 and 1854, were ratified. Some, such as those of Anson Dart or the Willamette Valley Treaty Commission of 1851, never gained Senate approval. In spite of the promises of superintendents of Indian affairs Dart and Palmer, the white people poured in. Dispossession ruled. The miners drove the Takelma, Shasta, Chetco, Shasta Costa, Mikonotunne, Tututni, Galice Creeks and Cow Creeks from their villages. Located on old stream terraces, the Indian homes were prime locations for placer deposits.

The hungry newcomers hunted the game, decimating the deer and elk populations. The Territorial Legislature of 1854 prohibited sale of ammunition or guns to Indians, deepening their disadvantage. The miners and residents of Jacksonville, Canyonville, Kerbyville, and Gold Beach liked bacon and ham. They let hogs run wild, catching them in baited traps. The hogs ate the acorns, a primary subsistence food for the Indians.

Mining debris poured down the Illinois, Rogue, South Coquille and South Umpqua Rivers. The salmon runs diminished; the eel died. Crayfish, fresh water mussels and trout choked on the flood of mud. Starvation threatened. The claimants of Donation Lands fenced their fields with split-rail fences and built log cabins. They worked with a will to stop Indian field burning. The Indian women found it impossible to harvest tarweed seeds and the blackberries that formerly regenerated with the annual fires [and they] did not grow back.  The settlers turned under the fields of camas lilies, and their cattle and horses grazed off the blue-flowering plants.

The mining districts—whether in the Rogue River country or the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon—caused major ecological disruption. The rush for quick wealth through mineral exploitation unraveled nature’s ways and long-established human subsistence activities. Then came the “exterminators”—unprincipled men who believed only dead Indians were good Indians. They formed volunteer companies and perpetrated massacres against the Chetco Indians in 1853, the Lower Coquille Indians in 1854, and in wanton aggression against Takelma Indians camped near the Table Rock Reservation in 1855.

Frederick M. Smith, sub-Indian agent at Port Orford, in 1854 addressed the attacks on the Indians in his district. They were ravaged by hunger, dispossession of their villages, onset of new and fatal diseases, and overt murders. Reporting the massacre of the Lower Coquille Indians, he wrote: “Bold, brave, courageous men! to attack a friendly and defenseless tribe of Indians; to burn, roast, and shoot sixteen of their number, and all on suspicion that they were about to rise and drive from their country three hundred white men!” Smith’s lament, the mourning cries of Indian women, the death rituals of rubbing the hair with pitch, and the inexorable course of hunger, attack, and death precipitated the conflicts known as the Rogue River Wars. The troubles seethed between 1852 and 1856. Finally the U.S. Army had sufficient forces to mount a campaign in 1855-56 to destroy the Indian’s ability to resist...

Vanquished by the combined operations of the Oregon Volunteers and Army regulars, the Indians of the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys and the southwestern Oregon coast were then removed to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. Forced marches through winter snows or over the rocky headlands and through the sand dunes of coastal Oregon became trails of tears for hundreds driven to the distant reservations. Other survivors were herded aboard the Columbia, a sidewheel steamer, which removed them from Port Orford to the Columbia and lower Willamette River area. Then they had to walk the muddy trail to the reservations.
(See http://bluebook.state.or.us/cultural/history/history14.htm)


One of the basic tenets of Indian ownership of land is known as Indian Title, giving tribes the right to occupy their land and to retain possession of it. So ruled the renowned United States Chief Justice, John Marshall, in 1823. He also found that the doctrine of “discovery” by European governments vested in those governments an “ultimate dominion” in the land - subject only to Indian title. Douglas Roger Nash explained some of these important concepts in his article titled, Indian Lands”:

These principles of Indian title have endured over time. They were more recently summarized:

It very early became accepted doctrine in this Court that although fee title to lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign - first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States - a right of occupancy in the Indian tribes was nevertheless recognized. That right, sometimes called Indian Title and good against all but the sovereign, could be terminated only by sovereign act. Once the United States was organized and the Constitution adopted, these tribal rights to Indian lands became the exclusive province of the federal law. Indian title, recognized to be only a right of occupancy, was extinguishable only by the United States.
Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida , 414 U.S. 661, 667 (1974).

When in 1790 Congress passed the first Indian Nonintercourse Act, it gave the United States the sole power to acquire Indian Land. The Act also provided that the sale of Indian lands was invalid unless, “made and duly executed at some public treaty, held under the authority of the United States.” Hence, treaties were the process used to ‘extinguish’ Indian land titles.

Nash further examined treaty making as it applied to the Nez Perce:

Treaties between the United States and Indian tribes became the primary means of extinguishing Indian title and opening lands for settlement. Indian treaties were recognized as “not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them – a reservation of those not granted.” United States v. Winans, 198 U.S 371 (1905). Tribes would typically cede vast territories to the United States in exchange for some measure of consideration and, at the same time, reserve some of its aboriginal territory for its continued occupancy as a homeland. These tracts became known as “reservations.” See e.g., the Nez Perce Treaty of June 11, 1855, 12 Stat.957, Articles 1 and 2. The demand for the opening of more lands often resulted in the United States negotiating additional treaties with tribes by which Indian title to more lands was extinguished and reservations accordingly reduced in size. See, e.g., the Nez Perce Treaty of June 9, 1863, 14 Stat. 647, Articles 1 and 2.
(See - http://library.findlaw.com/1999/Jan/1/241490.html)

In reference to the two Nez Perce Treaties that Nash cited above, the second treaty resulted in a 90% reduction of the geographic size of the Nez Perce reservation formed by the first treaty in 1855, and is now referred to as the ‘Steal Treaty’ by the Nez Perce people.


In 1850 Congress also passed the Oregon Indian Act, which gave the President authority to appoint a Board of Commissioners to negotiate treaties with the Indians and extinguish their title to tribal lands. This act provided a legal basis for the future treatment of lands claimed by Oregon’s Indians.

In his book, HISTORY OF OREGON, author Charles Henry Carey presented a discussion of the effects of this Indian act on various indigenous people in Oregon Territory. From the start the objective of the Indian Affairs commission was to place Native Americans east of the Cascade Mountains. (See: Carey, Charles Henry. History of Oregon. Chicago: Pioneer History Publishing Co., 1922, pp. 564 – 629)

Congress on June 3, 1850, passed a bill authorizing the appointment of commissioners to treat with tribes west of the Cascade Mountains. The President appointed Anson Dart of Wisconsin superintendent of indian affairs for the [Oregon] territory and also named three commissioners...The commissioners received only general instructions from the acting commissioner of indian affairs at Washington, who wrote that “the information in the possession of this office is so limited in this office that nearly everything must be left to your discretion beyond what is here communicated and even that may be found by you to be somewhat defective.” However, the treaty commissioners were informed that the object of the Government was to extinguish the title of the indians to all the lands lying west of the Cascade Mountains, “and, if possible, to provide for the removal of the whole from the west to the east of the mountains.” They were told to spare no effort to procure the removal of all in a body; failing in this they were authorized to treat with the tribes separately. Expenditure of $20,000 was authorized, of which $5,000 was to be invested in “goods suitable for presents for the indians, which will be sent around Cape Horn...”

[Footnote reference is given here to a letter from A. S. Loughery, quoted below: (p. 564)]

Letter of A. S. Loughery, acting commissioner of indian affairs, October 25, 1850. With reference to prices to be paid for indian lands, Loughery wrote: “As to the quantity of land to be acquired and the price per acre to be paid for it, it is impossible for this office to form even a conjecture; the quantity, of course, must depend upon the number of treaties to be made—upon estimates of the rights of the indians to the soil to be ceded by them. As to the price to be paid, that will depend on the locality of the land with reference to its value to the United States, if it is possible to make such distinctions. * * * The maximum price given for indian lands has been ten cents per acre, but this has been for small quantities of great value from their contiguity to the States; and it is merely mentioned to show that some important consideration has always been involved when so large a price has been given. It is not for a moment supposed that any such consideration can be involved in any purchases made by you, and it is supposed a very small portion of that price will be required.” No part of the purchase price was to be paid in money, however, but all in “objects beneficial to the indians.” The commissioners were authorized in their discretion to enter into negotiations with indians east of the Cascades to procure lands to which to remove the western tribes.

Carey cited one example as typical of “objects beneficial” promised in the treaty made with the Twality band. It was to provide $40,000 in twenty annual installments, of which only $500 was to be in cash:

[They were] promised annually 130 blankets, 38 coats, 26 pairs of pants, 152 shirts, 76 vests, 130 pairs of shoes, 200 yards of calico, 200 yards of linsey plaid, 27 blanket shawls, 200 yards of domestic shirting, 38 hats or capes, 132 pocket handkerchiefs, 24 axes, 5 plows, 10 plow harnesses, 24 hoes, 6 scythes and cradles, “all of which are to be good and substantial articles.” It became the custom also to provide by treaty for certain gifts to tribal dignitaries. Thus, it was stipulated that on the occasion of payment of the first two annual installments the United States should deliver to each chief a “good indian horse and a good bridle, for the use of the said chiefs, to encourage agriculture among the said tribe.”

Carey also addressed the Oregon Land Donation Act in conjunction with the Oregon Indian Act:

...The [Oregon] donation land law made no exception predicated on extinguishment of indian titles and the effect of this omission was to foster settlement in advance of treaty making. Further to complicate this question, the treaties of Gaines and Dart were never ratified. [Dart had made thirteen (un-ratified) treaties generally allowing Indians to remain in their homelands.] The reservations which they proposed to create were chosen unfortunately from the settlers’ point of view, and the Senate was bombarded with protests. To the indians, however, who had entered into them in good faith, and who could not be brought to understand the reasons for the delay in fulfillment of their provisions, this could only be an additional cause of disappointment and irritation.


One of the tribes that objected to their treatment, and actually took steps to rectify the problem were the Klickitats. Carey furnished a summary of their treatment and the consequences of it:

The treaty commissioners, however, contributed further to misunderstandings between the whites and the natives and laid the foundation for that future alliance of the tribes north and south of the Columbia River which was a few years later to inflame the entire region with war by ignoring the claims in the Willamette and Rogue River Valleys of the powerful and warlike Klickitats. In the early fur trade era the Klickitats had confined themselves to the region near the headwaters of the Cowlitz, White Salmon, Lewis and Klickitat rivers, and they were unknown south of the Columbia when the Methodist missionaries arrived in Oregon. They were more nomadic than the Willamette Valley tribes, probably because of earlier wars with the Cayouses, who had driven them westward from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Becoming acquainted with other parts of the country, as well as with the advantages of trade, they extended the field of their operations, overflowing their natural boundaries and reaching the Columbia River at some time between 1835 and 1840. Here they began war on the Chinooks and other inferior tribes. The game of the Willamette Valley next attracted them and they made numerous forays against the indolent Calapooyas. The Calapooyas in this period suffered greatly from diseases introduced among them by the whites and were much diminished in numbers and in powers of physical resistance.

The Klickitats boasted that they had taught the Calapooyas to ride and hunt. They were the most skilled of all the Oregon tribes in the use of firearms, and they quickly assumed possessory rights over the entire Willamette Valley, dictated terms to the conquered, established camps, exacted tribute, opened an extensive trade in furs, and made the Willamette Valley their public highway to the north and their depot during the greater part of the year. After the immigration of 1843 they sought work as farm laborers, becoming skilled in husbandry, and also acquainted with the nature and extent of the immigration movement. Their services were regarded by the settlers as superior to those of other Indians. In their systematic efforts to obtain supremacy over the southern tribes, they aided the whites in every outbreak in the region. They furnished a small but effective contingent of warriors to General Lane on the occasion of a hostile demonstration in the Rogue River country in 1853.


The Klickitats therefore believed themselves to have acquired – by conquest – the right to be considered in the negotiations to quiet the indian title to the Willamette Valley. They moreover constituted a communicating bond between all the tribes. When they were removed in 1855 by the superintendent of indian affairs for Oregon to their original country north of the Columbia, they accused the government of cheating them, contended that every right obtained in accordance with indian usage had been violated, and they were, from that moment, in a state of war. The exodus of the settlers to the gold mines in California tempted the indians of the Klamath and Rogue River countries to commit a number of petty thefts and minor depredations. The treasure hunters, a considerable portion of whom were of a less responsible class than the home-seeking immigrants, retaliated without discrimination, and a state of practical warfare was created which took Governor Lane south in May, 1850, to endeavor to conclude a treaty of peace...

Lane was accompanied by fifteen Klickitats led by Chief Quatley, and by a small party of white men. Coming upon a camp of Rogue River warriors on Grave Creek he held a council with them which was enlivened by one of the most dramatic episodes in the early history of the dealings of whites with the indians. At a critical point in the conference the Rogue River chief cried out to his followers, who sprang to arms as if by prearrangement. Quatley, the Klickitat, seized the treacherous chief and held him fast, while Lane menaced him with a pistol, and by threatening to kill the chief upon the first sign of violence by his followers contrived to get him out of camp as a hostage. Employing this advantage, he induced the leading men of the tribe to sign a peace compact. Lane’s boldness on this occasion so impressed the Rogue River chieftain that he took the name of Jo, after the formality of obtaining [Joseph] Lane’s consent. The governor then proceeded to the California mines and the indians remained quiet for a short time.

There were repeated encounters, however, between the travelers and the indians, particularly at the ferries, where the indians were wont to steal canoes left by the white men, with the purpose of exacting toll for crossing the river. The treaty obtained by Lane failed of its purpose for reasons not discreditable to the better classes of either race. The earliest settlers, who had come to the country with kindly feelings for the indians, had been accompanied by some who entertained contrary sentiments. The gold mines, as has been said, attracted a more reckless class of whites. There were transient renegades also, among the indians, who committed excesses which were charged to the tribes permanently resident in the region. It is impracticable to fix the exactness of the blame for the hostilities in 1851 and thereafter, which some annalists have attributed wholly to the disregard of treaty obligations by the indians, and which others, with equal inaccuracy, have charged solely to the whites...

A succession of encounters occurred in the spring of 1851 on the road from the Willamette Valley to California between parties of travelers and roving bands of indians. In June, Major Philip Kearney, with a detachment of mounted United States regulars who had been ordered to leave Oregon, arrived on the Rogue River. He responded promptly to an appeal by whites in the vicinity for protection by pursuing and engaging the indians near Table Rock on June 17...

Events of 1852 which command attention by reason of their relation to the Indian troubles in Oregon were the discovery of gold in the Rogue River Valley near the present site of Jacksonville, a marked increase of immigration to southern Oregon, and failure of the United States to ratify any of the treaties previously entered into with the indians. The Federal Government had not yet formulated its policy, and Indian Agent A. A. Skinner, who was assigned to duty in the Rogue River Valley, could only council patience and continue to make promises which the Government did not perform. On the other hand, the intractables among the indians grew more menacing, the acts of the peace faction were repudiated, and the larger number of travelers increased the temptation to pillage. The main immigration to Oregon in 1852 over the usual trail escaped serious encounters because of its very magnitude, but the smaller number of immigrants who traveled over the southern route were not so fortunate...


[Kamiakin meant “He Won't Go” in the chief’s native language – See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Kamiakin ]

Hostilities in 1853 were restricted to Southern Oregon and Northern California, but this was a year of historical significance in the great struggle between the races. It is quite essential here to bear in mind the previously established relationship between certain tribes north of the Columbia River and those in the South. And here also enters another dominating character, Kamiakin, chief of the Yakimas, who in this year conceived the idea of uniting all the Indians of the Northwest in a mighty struggle for possession of the land. At this time also Lieut. George B. McClellan arrived in the Yakima Valley with the advance guard of an expedition under command of Isaac I. Stevens to explore the route of a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast. Kamiakin, who had not resented the coming of the fur traders or the missionaries, and who had so far shown himself amenable to progress that he was said to have introduced the first cattle into the Yakima region and to have built the first irrigation ditch ever constructed by indians in the Oregon Country, was of a different mind when the soldiers of the United States appeared. Here he saw confirmation of the stories that had been told him by indians farther east, that the white men were coming to take the indian’s hunting ground from them.

Meanwhile, in August, 1853, savages in the Rogue River Valley who repudiated the treaty of the previous year, among them a Rogue River sub-chief named Taylor, suddenly attacked the isolated settlements. The settlers arrested two indians in war paint and took them to Jacksonville and hanged them after a trial. Reprisals and counter reprisals resulted. A coalition between the disaffected Rogue Rivers, Shastas, Klamaths, and Siskiyous gave encouragement to the hostiles, who by this time were better armed than were the whites. Several citizens were ambushed and murdered. Lieut. Col. Bonneville, the same officer who had led a fur-trading expedition across the Rocky Mountains in 1833, was then stationed at Fort Vancouver, and he responded to a requisition from the governor of the territory for arms by sending a howitzer and rifles and ammunition, with an escort consisting of Lieut. A. V. Kautz and six artillerymen. Forty volunteers from the Willamette Valley in command of J. W. Nesmith, accompanied the train. Three companies of volunteers, about two hundred men, were recruited in the Rogue River Valley. Eighty residents of Shasta Valley organized into two companies. Maj. B. R. Alden, then at Fort Jones, Cal., joined the hastily improvised army and took command, which he relinquished a few days afterward, on Aug 21, 1853, to Lane, who had meanwhile been commissioned by Governor Curry a brigadier-general of volunteers. Lane had heard of the hostilities in the Rogue River Valley while at his home on the Umpqua River and had hastened to the scene with the company of about a dozen settlers. The indians were driven to bay and decisively defeated, August 24, 1853, in a battle in which the whites lost three killed and five wounded and the indians eight killed and twenty wounded. Lane received a bullet in his right arm and Major Alden a gunshot wound from which, two years afterward, he died.


The Indians by this time had discovered that Lane, for whom they had conceived a savage admiration, was in command of the expedition against them and cried out to him for a parley, which was granted with some misgivings, and this resulted in setting a date early in September for a treaty council, Lane taking as hostage a son of his indian namesake, Chief Jo.

The military position of the whites was strengthened during the period of armistice by the arrival of Kautz with the howitzer and a store of ammunition, accompanied by Nesmith and his Willamette Valley volunteers, and also a small detachment of regulars from Port Orford in command of Capt. A. J. Smith, so that when the day of the historic council of Table Rock, September 10, 1853, arrived, the troops made a formidable showing even against the aggregation of Rogue River warriors, estimated by Nesmith at about seven hundred. Joel Palmer had been appointed superintendent of indian affairs for the territory and he arrived on the scene meanwhile, with authority to represent the Government in the treaty-making. Lane, whose policy it was to show no fear in the presence of indians, had consented, even before the arrival of reinforcements, to preliminary terms to which Nesmith, hardened pioneer and experienced indian fighter that he was, demurred. These were that he would proceed to the indian encampment, which lay at the base of the perpendicular walls of Table Rock, at a distance of some two and half miles from the military front, attended only by a bodyguard of ten unarmed men. Lane kept his agreement to the letter, and Nesmith, although he afterward admitted that he had no liking for the adventure, consented to accompany the party as interpreter. “Against those terms,” said Nesmith, “I protested, and told the general that I had traversed that same country five years before and fought those same indians; that they were notoriously treacherous and had earned the designation of ‘Rogues’ by never permitting a white man to escape with his scalp when once within their power; that I knew them better than he did and that it was folly for eleven unarmed men to place themselves voluntarily in the power of seven hundred well-armed hostile indians, in their own secure encampment.” Lane replied only that he had fixed on the terms of the meeting and was determined to keep his word. If Nesmith was afraid to go, said Lane, he could remain behind. Nesmith retorted that he was as little acquainted with fear as Lane was, though still insisting that he believed the white councillors were going to their own slaughter.

An incident of the conference almost justified Nesmith’s forebodings... Arriving at the meeting ground, they found the indians in full panoply of war; on the plain below and within full view of the indians, the dragoons were formed in a line, the sunlight of a perfect autumn morning glinting from their white belts and burnished scabbards. Behind the indians frowned the perpendicular cliff of Table Rock.

Lane and Palmer made long speeches, which were translated twice – first into the Chinook jargon by Nesmith, and then into the Rogue River tongue by an indian interpreter. The replies of the chief were also twice translated, in reversed order. Shortly before the final understanding was reached a naked indian courier rode wildly into camp with tidings that a company of whites at Applegate Creek had captured a sub-chief known as Jim Taylor, tied him to a tree and shot him to death. The courier’s harangue threw the indians into a turmoil, in the midst of which the indian interpreter informed Nesmith that the braves were threatening to tie the councillors to trees and serve them as the whites had served Chief Taylor. Nesmith “noticed nothing but coolness,” however, among his companions. Lane sat immovable on a log, his arm bandaged from his wound of a few days before. At Nesmith’s suggestion the others of the party scattered among the indians, to avoid becoming targets for the hot-headed warriors. After a few tense moments Lane addressed the tribe again. “Owens, who violated the armistice and killed Jim Taylor,” he said, “is a bad man. He is not one of my soldiers. When I catch him he shall be punished. I promised in good faith to come into your camp with ten unarmed men to secure peace; I do not believe that you are such cowardly dogs as to take advantage of our unarmed condition. I know that you have the power to murder us and you can do so as quickly as you please, but what good will our blood do you? Our murder will exasperate our friends and your tribe will be hunted from the face of the earth. Let us proceed with the treaty, and in place of war have everlasting peace.” Lane’s bold defiance, and a promise to compensate in shirts and blankets for Taylor’s death, quieted the excitement. The treaty signed that afternoon was measurably effective in preserving the peace in Southern Oregon for about two years...

Before leaving the country Lane made a less formal peace agreement with Chief Tip-su whose band laid claim to the region of the headwaters of the Rogue River, and September 19, 1853, Superintendent Palmer completed a treaty with the small Cow Creek band of the Umpquas, who relinquished their claims to the Umpqua Valley in exchange for a reservation and $12,000.

The remaining months of 1853 and 1854 were nominally peaceful, though marred by several conflicts between nomadic, non-reservation indians and whites who were not settlers, but which conflicts occasionally involved the settlers.

The Table Rock Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on April 12, 1854, and proclaimed on February 5, 1855.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 15:42