The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

La Fayette Grover

La Fayette Grover's Statement
Time and Place--Bancroft Library
    San Francisco, Sat., July 13th, 1878
Present--Grover, Bancroft & writer, A.B.
Personale--Tall and slender. Stature 5 ft 10 to 6 feet. Light complexion, full beard
    and mustache; hair partially gray. Blue eyes. Long and narrow head; sharp face;
    prominent, well-formed nose, high at the bridge. Deliberate, manly speech,
    good voice, and polished manner.
    I was away serving in Rogue River as a commissioner appointed by the Department of the Interior to audit the Indian war spoliation claims of the Rogue River region in 1853. The Indians broke out there in 1853 and burned all the houses in that country and killed a great many of the people, and the government assumed to compensate the settlers for their losses. They withheld the amounts from the annuities of the Indians. That was in the winter of 1854-5, at Jacksonville, that the commission sat. Every house had burnt from what is known as the Cañon up to T'Vault's house, at what is now called Dardanelles--through the Umpqua Mountains. There were several houses and quite a number of settlements all along that road. Every house was destroyed, and several people were murdered. All through the valley of the Rogue River there was a general destruction of residence property by the Indians, and the people were forted up at Dardanelles and at one point in the upper valley and were gathered into Jacksonville for safety.
    When these Indian hostilities were suppressed by the settlers with some aid from Willamette Valley in arms and ammunition, one company of men of which ex-Senator Nesmith was the captain and I was 1st lieutenant, and the present Indian agent at Umatilla Reservation, Major Connoyer was the 2nd lieutenant; we went out there and helped them to suppress the Indians. Gen. Jo Lane commanded all the volunteers. The old general was badly shot in the left arm near the shoulder in the battle of the mountains there, back of Table Rock. A good many whites were killed, and a good many Indians.
    After a good deal of skirmishing and some hard fighting the principal battle being this battle of the mountains, the Indians sent in word that they wanted to make peace, but that they would do it on one condition: that there should be only five men to come to talk about peace, and the whites should come out to their place near this Battle Mountain, six miles away from any troops. Prior to that the whites down on Applegate Creek had got a band of Indians in there to talk peace. They made a great feast and lured them in to have a talk, but while the Indians were eating their feast a set of rough men went in and killed about all of them, without notice. Gen. Lane was reminded of this circumstance when this word came in, and he said that old Joe and old Sam--the one was the war chief and the other the chief of peace--sent him word to come out there with others to talk about making a peace. And he said he would go out there and talk with them. They were to go unarmed, and no troops were to be within six miles of the place.
    He went around the camp to see who would like to go out there and make this talk. He said he wanted men who would not be afraid to go, and who would not get excited if they met with any difficulty. They went altogether without arms. Gen. Palmer, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was to be one. He was present. Gen. Lane invited me to go and invited Capt. Smith of the regular army, who was there with a few regulars--the late Major General A. J. Smith, in the late war. He invited Mr. Metcalfe, who was connected with the Indian agency there locally, and one other as interpreter. And we went out there. We found the Indians drawn up in the form of a horseshoe; these two old chiefs at the head of the horseshoe and the warriors sitting all around here with their rifles loaded and capped in their hands. And we went into this horseshoe. When we first got there everything looked very solemn and morose, and there was not a word said to us, or to each other. We did not say a word to each other. It looked very black and dangerous. After a while there was a daughter of the old chief called Mary, Queen Mary. She was the wife of an Umpqua chief called Joe. She spoke to our interpreter, and after she had talked to the father some time she told the interpreter that the council could go on, that there was a difficulty, but it was not mainly on account of objecting to peace. But her father Joseph had intermarried into the tribe of the Rogue Rivers; he was an Umpqua, and that his ancestors were the original occupants of all the country north of the Siskiyou Mountains up to the Umpqua Mountains, and they were all called Umpquas, and that Jim, her husband, was the only surviving hereditary chief of the great chief of the Umpquas, who owned all that land, that the Rogue Rivers were interlopers, that her father originated from a northern California chief of Pit River Indians, who were more warlike, and Jim's people having already had a good deal they came in on to this part of the old original Umpqua domain and held it, that that feud had been settled by their marriage.
    Now Jim had not been consulted. He wanted peace, but he had not sent word that he would make peace. He had not sent word to that council and had not been consulted about treating in regard to his country. He was not there. These other Indians did not dare to go on without him. They knew that his right was a good one, and out of courtesy he claimed to be the first to be consulted and that he should be considered as the principal chief. Gen. Lane told them they must go and get that chief. He was twenty miles away. So we waited all that time, and they sent for him. In the meantime they began to pass the pipe around, which showed that they were going to make peace in earnest. Everybody must smoke the pipe--all the head Indians, and the five men that came there.
    In the meantime the Indians began to gather around and showed where they had been shot in the war. We saw that we could make a treaty.
    Directly Jim came in with fast horses. He was very much on his dignity. All was silent again when Chief Jim came in. Jim stood in silence again in this horseshoe. He would take a seat with nobody.
    I recollect he stood up there like a native orator, and began to talk. He spoke at least half an hour in the Indian dialect. There was no jargon about it. You never heard the most polished orator use more perfect intonations and gestures--and the effect it had [on] them was the effect of true oratory. He was recounting the history of his forefathers, and asserting his authority before those chiefs. He gave an affecting history and stated that they had settled it by marrying Queen Mary; she had his heart and she had his hand. Then they made a kind of love feast and went on and killed a fatted ox, and that was the great occasion of making a general treaty.
    Then old Chief Joseph got up. He made his speech in his own tongue. He made his speech for us, and it was interpreted to us. He said, "We have sent for you to come here to make a treaty of peace. We intend what we say. A few days ago some white men sent for the Indians to come into Applegate Creek to have a talk and to make peace. They went and while they were eating their feast the white men came in and killed them all. Now here you are, five of you. We sent for you to come here, and to leave the soldiers behind, six miles off. We told you to come without arms, that we wanted to make peace. We intended what we said. The white men killed the Indians when they said that to them. You are 5 and we are 200 all armed. We could kill you all now." But the Indian chief meant what he said: "The Indian is nobler than the white man." He spread himself up there and looked really a nobleman.
    Old Joe Lane said, "He makes a d---d hard case for us, don't he?" He said to the chief, "There are bad white men and bad Indians. The mistake your Indians made was that they listened to bad white men. They ought to go to the chief men of the whites. If you had come to us we would have treated you right."
    We had no guarantee of our lives when we started on this trip, only what Gen. Lane said--that he had faith in old Chief Joseph and Sam. He said, "I am going; now who will go with me?" He went around the camp and asked us if we would go. It was just such a situation as Thomas and Canby were in. They had the same opportunity, in fact better. There were but few Indians there. They came out between the forces. There were only the same number of Indians as white men and the principal forces were separate. Why, we were entirely at the mercy of the Indians. We were really unarmed; had no pistols, nor anything. Pistols would not have done us any good. We just had red shirts on that is all, and no means of concealing weapons. Red hunting shirts were the custom of the country. Jo Lane had a red hunting shirt on, and I had one on. I do not recollect how Gen. Smith and Palmer were dressed.
    That was the basis of permanent peace so far as that part of the tribe was concerned. A few years afterward Chief John made a difficulty, and he was transported down here to Benicia one time. He was kept there some time. You recollect he tried to take a steamer coming down. He and his son attempted to capture the steamer. That was quite an episode.
    Chief John after making his war in 1854-5 [sic] was captured and taken to Fort Vancouver. I was over there a day or two after he arrived. He was sitting there and had chains on. He looked up to me and said in his jargon, "A few days ago I was a great chief; now I am a dog." That is all he said.
*      *      *
    And I will give you some items of his warfare. He raised a band of warriors & went against the whites there in the Rogue River country, wherever he could strike them. There was quite a number of regular troops sent out there against him, as well as volunteers, & his band was so closely driven that they took refuge in a house that had been built by a settler out of hewn pine timber & in the shape of a blockhouse so as to make himself safe against the intrusion of Indians ordinarily. And he had rifle holes through the walls for shooting out at Indians if they should come near him. This was upon a little open sand prairie with chaparral brush in spots all around.
    When John took refuge in that house they did not dare to go close up to him because he would shoot out through those loopholes & kill a great many. They sent for a howitzer to Fort Lane and knocked it all to pieces they thought. They brought up some shells. The roof of this house was made of long shingles. It was one story high, & as it was some time before they could get that howitzer in operation they practiced to drop a shell down through this roof into the house, where there were 30 or 40 Indians. They thought it would scatter them certainly. Well, sir, finally a shell dropped right down through the roof & burst right among them of course. There was a deafening yell of the Indians as though they were all destroyed & suffering terribly. The officer ordered a charge, & the charge was met by a deathly volley of rifles from those loopholes, & they had to retreat.
    Well, they dropped another shell down into it, thinking they had not killed them all. The same yell inside of pain and rage, and another charge was made on the house. Every loophole was manned. We did not dare to repeat that.
    We fired all day & put a double row of guards around the house at a safe distance and the next morning we opened fire again with shell. They dropped one or two shells into that house, but there was perfect silence; no response whatever.
    We thought we had killed them all sure. A charge was ordered, & there was no firing from the house. We broke in & did not find a single Indian in the house.
    But we found this: The house was floored over by what they call a puncheon floor--split slabs of pine laid down covering the whole floor. They had taken up a couple of those puncheons at one end of the house--it was all in one room. And this was in the midst of a little sand prairie of light sandy loam. These Indians from the time they were first surrounded had gone to work fortifying. They had dug down underneath, coyoteing, & threw up three or four feet of sand onto the whole floor. It was a bombproof fortification, nearly. And they had gone down & dug out a perfect cellar there & thrown all the sand on this puncheon floor. When those shells dropped in they were down in this cellar. In a moment they would come up & man the portholes, & when a charge was made they were ready to meet us. They did that all day. In the night they continued coyoteing, and taking a bearing of the nearest point of the chaparral they dug themselves out of that and crawled on their bellies through the guard into this chaparral, & all of them got out.
    But they could not carry their guns through that hole, & in order that the whites might not get those guns & turn them on the Indians--they were good guns, fine rifles, which they had gathered up for a long time--they unscrewed the stocks and carried them out in their mouths through the badger hole, & left the rifles all there. And they escaped.
    That was Chief John in the Rogue River War of 1855. I do not know his Indian name. When that Chief John was transported as I told you down here to Benicia to keep him out of the way of all Indians he grew heartsick & broken down, & his daughter, who with the rest of his tribe was put on the Yamhill reservation, went down to Portland to see Superintendent Rector who was then Superintendent of Indian Affairs. They had made many applications to the Superintendent to have Old John come back. She came down that time and asked if he could come back. She said her father was nearly dead, old, broken down, homesick; that he was about to die, & she wanted him brought home. They told her he had been a very bad Indian, that they did not dare to bring him up here because he would incite insurrection at the reservation, & that he must deny her request. She sat back & thought a long while, & finally she began to talk and says: "Mr. Rector, you have a home?" "No, my mother is dead several years." He was a man nearly 60 years old himself. "You have a father?" "No, he is dead." "Well, now, supposing he was living, & he was away off in another country, & you knew he was very old & very sick & would not live but a little while, wouldn't you like to be present to close his eyes when he died & to bury him?"
    Well, the old man thought that was a pretty strong plea. He says, "Yes, I should." "Well, now, my father won't live a great while. I know it from the great spirit. Although I have not seen him, he is old, he is weary, he is broken down. I want him up here. I shall bury him in a few weeks I know sure."
    Mr. Rector says, "Well, I will send for him; I will make a request of the government." Sure enough, he was a perfect wreck of his former self & did not live but a little while & was buried at the Yamhill reservation. That is the last of the greatest warrior, the most determined Indian that ever raised arms against the whites on the Pacific Coast.
    Another little anecdote of him. Capt. Smith went after him in the lower Rogue River War, after he escaped from this blockhouse. Smith was pursuing him on Lower Rogue River. He surrounded Smith & got him in upon a little knoll cut off from water. By accident the little knoll had a depression on the top, & Smith sheltered himself from John's deathly fire by making his men lie right down in that hill. Whenever one would poke his head up he would shoot him & kill him. They would climb trees & shoot down into that hill. The men preserved their lives by making further entrenchments against the Indians. While they were lying there under a fierce fire old Captain John climbed a tree at a safe distance & says he: "Hello, Captain Smith, Captain Smith! You go on the reservation? You go on the reservation? Hiyu chick chick," that is, a great many wagons, good traveling, "Hiyu ikta"--a great many good things. "Hiyu muckamuck"--a good deal to eat. "Hiyu clothes. Wake klatawa reservation"--that is, if you do not go to the reservation--"take lope, Capt. Smith." [The Rogue Rivers pronounced "R's" as "L's."]--he had a rope with him up in the tree--"do you see this rope, Captain Smith?"
    Capt. Smith told him if he went to war: "Do you see that rope? We will catch you & hang you, sir, but if you go to the reservation you can live in Yamhill in peace. Do you see these wagons, blankets, clothes, horses? You will have everything good, plenty to eat, & can go in peace. If you do not come do you see that rope, sir?"
    Says he: "Captain Smith, take lope?"
    The fighting out of the Rogue Rivers was the most difficult thing we ever had. We had two wars there, in 1853 & in 1855. Disease cleared the way throughout the whole of Willamette Valley for the settlements there. We never had any settlers war there in all that fine large country. All through the lower valley of the Columbia River & the Willamette they seem to have been thinned out by measles & smallpox years before. I do not know how it was, but once the country was densely peopled there. That happened in 1842 & 3; before 1845 the Indians were all thinned out. Earlier than that they were carried off by diseases that they caught from the early ships.
    I had to go to Jackson [County] as one of three--I was president of the commission appointed by the Interior Department to audit & assess the claims of settlers for the destruction of their property by Indians during the war of 1853. All of the old settlers came before our board to testify. We took depositions as to all the items of property lost by them and the amounts in value. That record, if it were printed, might furnish some resources for the history of that time.
La Fayette Grover, Notable Things in a Public Life in Oregon, 1878, Bancroft PA 36-43

. . . not discover it from the Indians.
    Mr. Bancroft. I do not see that this throws any light on it.
    Mr. Grover. No, no light, but it gives it as a name. Several of our historians in Oregon have discussed the matter, & I have mentioned what I saw on that chart. I think I can go into some of those old shops & offices in New York & find that chart. It was an old English chart compiled from the French & Spanish voyages. The name as mentioned by Carver is the first mention undoubtedly of the name.
    Archbishop Blanchet insisted to me that this was called the "Rogue River" because the Indians were wild & roguish. They were bloodthirsty, treacherous & murderous. They never were thieves.
    Mr. Bancroft. That name could be as well applied to one Indian as another. These Indians were so murderous that the early missionaries never dared to go among them. And to show how far they were from any religious instruction even as late as 1855, when they were moved to the Willamette on a reservation, although the different missionaries had been there more than twenty years, those Indians had never received any religious instructions, & there never had been any mission among them because of their wild & savage nature. Everybody was afraid to go there. When they were taken to the Yamhill Co. reservation where the remnants of the tribe now are the Methodist Church at its conference appointed a missionary to go & preach to them.
    The missionary went over there, & he could speak the jargon tongue. He explained to them the nature of the Christian theory, the crucifixion of Christ, his death & the atonement, & spread it out in a light the would attract their attention & invite their sympathies in order to get them to accept religion; he explained that by this atonement all men who were wicked and wrong could be saved. He gave them a full discourse upon the origin of the tenets of the Christian doctrine. They listened to him with a great deal of attention. And the chiefs, when he made a point, said Ugh
in giving their assent or dissent.
    After he got all through he told them he would come there every Sabbath & preach to them & he wanted to form a society. He wanted them to come & be good Indians and to join this society. He gave them a pressing invitation.
    Well, they told him after the services were over that they desired him to meet them the next morning, on Monday morning. He was going to leave them that day.
    They said they wanted to see him specially about this matter that he had been stating to them.
    "Well," he said, he would be very happy to confer with them.
    They came, three or four of the principal chiefs, & said they wanted to ask him a few questions about what he had said to them the day before. They said we heard all you had to say, and we were glad to hear you talk. You made a good talk. We are interested in your talk. We want to be good Indians. We have given up our wild habits now.
    "Now we want to know," they said, "if those Jews you spoke of, who killed Christ, were Indians or white men."
    Well, he said, he must state to them that they were white men.
    Then they thought they were very bad white men, as he had said. Now, Christ, "he was a very good man?"
    "Now what was he? Was he an Indian or was he a white man?"
    "Well, he was a white man. He was a good white man."
    Then they went away and talked together, and came back and told him they did not want him to come up there any more, that they had often got into difficulties by taking up the quarrels of white men, that they frequently were led into difficulties by white men. They believed what he had said, that this Christ was the best man of men, & that he suffered wrongly, but those who killed him were white men, they were not Indians, & they did not wish to be mixed up in that matter. They told him he need not come anymore.
    He never could get their ear, & there never was any religious service of any effect among them until the Catholics came. The Catholics are there now as their religious instructors.
    Mr. Bancroft. They thought it was a regular white men's row, & they did not care anything about it.
    I would like to have you go back to the Provisional Government, & to the character of the different legislatures.
    Mr. Grover. The mere records of the Provisional Government as far as they are preserved are in a small volume collected by myself under authority of the legislature of 1852, called the "Oregon Archives." You will find in that the first meeting of the settlers announced that they proposed to form a government until such time as the United States should extend its government over that country. That simple sentence indicated the controlling idea that they had in forming that government--that it was American in form, & American in purpose. You will find also a rude protest against that first . . .
Notable Things in a Public Life in Oregon, 1878, Bancroft PA 36-43, pages 18-23

Last revised August 13, 2017