In 1856 the Rogue River Indian War erupted. An Army officer gives the contemporary account:
May 7, 1856. An express arrived from Rogue River yesterday, bringing among other things the news of a little brush between Captain Ord's company (B, Third Artillery) and the Indians at Chetco River ... The Indians were lying in wait for the pack train, which was being escorted to the mouth of the Rogue River from Crescent City by Company F, Fourth Infantry. It was feared that the enemy might give trouble about that point, hence Col. B, wisely dispatched Captain O. from the mouth of the Rogue River, to reinforce Captain Floyd Jones, where he reached the dangerous portion of the route.
The Indians were in ambush on the north side of Chetco, prepared to attack the train as it attempted to cross. They were dis-concerted by Ord's coming up on the same side, and fled. Ord gave a running fight and killed six Indians, and took a woman and child prisoner. The second chief of the Chetcos was among the slain. Ord had Sergeant Smith killed and one man wounded. From the squaw prisoner, Ord learned that the Indians engaged were the Chetcos, and about 25 from Rogue River.
Ralph Hughes describes the end of the War in these terms:
"The Chetcos headed north with the intention of joining the Rogue River Indians in their war against the whites. They were followed by volunteers from Crescent City and Smith River. Van Pelt, Tuttle and several men from the Chetco, joined the group. When the volunteers reached the Pistol River, they were met by a large body of Indians. Although badly outnumbered, they engaged the Indians in combat and at the start held their own. But the Indians attacked in increasing numbers and the whites were gradually forced back toward the ocean.
With the arrival of reinforcements, the Indians faded away and the combined forces then made their uninterrupted march to the Rogue. In this battle, the Indians lost 17 men and their leader was wounded, forcing him out of further combat. The volunteers had one man badly wounded while helping to cover the retreat of the soldiers on the beach.
Kirby Miller died of the wounds behind the lines. With the addition of reinforcements on the Rouge, war with the Indians was soon over. Things quieted down on the Chetco when a treaty was signed with 35 of the Chetco Indians.
THOMAS VAN PELT
Indian Depredation, 1856 -- No. 1150 Thomas Van Pelt being duly sworn testifies as follows:
Prior to the time I heard of the hostilities of the Indians in Rogue River Valley in 1855, the chief of the Zoo-too-nes Wis-ten-a-tins at the mouth of the Pistol River, Whale-head chief, and the chief of the Chetcos, passed me near my house without saying a word, and went to the Indian village close by my house and appeared to act strangely. The mouth of Winchuck River was supposed to be in California. The name of the chief of Winchuck was Ne-et-cus and I asked him what was up and he replied he would tell me if I could keep it secret from the Indians.
He said the Indians proposed to him to join all the upper Rogue River Indians and all the Indians along the coast and kill all the whites or drive them out of the country. He said he refused to join these Indians, and he said none of the Indians in California would join them as they had not received any presents from Palmer or signed any papers about selling their lands.
About the 19 of February, Ben Wright, the Indian agent came to my house, and we had a long conversation about the prospects of a war with the Indians, the pity of which is he thought his Indians would remain friendly and that his interpreter was telling the truth. I told him of what I saw and heard from the chief, but I refused to give the name of the Indian as I had promised not to tell on him to make trouble. This took place about three days before I heard Wright was killed. He left my house for the mouth of Rogue River.
About the 22 of February, 1856 Ne-et-cus came to my house again and told me the Indians were about to break out, that I might tell all my friends to prepare for them. I traveled night and day to warn all the settlers within 15 miles up and down the coast, and out about the same distance. The names of the citizens are as follows: R. S. Johnson, James W. Taggert, A.F. Miller, widow of Edward O. McLoughlin, Ben McFenan and 10 American packers of the Chetco River, about 17 miles and they had about 200 mules, all of them got out except 11 mules, and the Indians did not kill them, and the Oregon Volunteers including myself took the 11 in a battle with the Indians soon afterwards.
All the citizens of Chetco Valley left in great haste, panic-stricken, except: John Fielderward, Christian Tuttle, Hiram Tuttle and myself. We remained and fortified ourselves in a log house of R. S. Johnson. Here we remained until about the 1st of March following. Then a company of Volunteers from Smith River Valley came to our relief.
Just about the time the citizens left the valley, down came James W. Taggart and Kirby Miller from Ellensburg [Editor?s note: Ellensburg is now called Gold Beach], and they told us they saw all the houses in Ellensburg had been burned, and then we all left for Smith River, California, where the Indians remained peaceable to this day.
I traveled over the county all the way from California to Port Orford and we found many men killed and buried them. All the houses and fences for a distance of 70 miles had been burned, except two or three houses belonging to Frenchmen. The war was waged against the citizens of the United States and not the Frenchmen ...
The houses which were burned in Chetco Valley are as follows: Augustus F. Miller, Christian Tuttle, James W. Taggart, Catherin O?Loughlin, Thomas Sharp, R. S. Johnson, L. W. Susinberry and my own Thomas Van Pelt?s house.
Indian War Is Over
The Rogue River Indian War was over. As professor of History, Bernarr Cresap, observed in concluding his account of that struggle:
For the people of Ord?s time in Oregon and Washington such conflicts had been, and would continue to be, battles of civilization against savagery. It was a bitter struggle in which drastic measures were taken by the whites to subdue the Indians; both sides suffered severely.
Victories for the whites meant that the Indians must give way and in time relinquish the land to the white invaders. To Ord, the beaten Indians were objects of pity, and he had the magnanimity to sympathize with them in their sufferings of defeat.
The Indians had indeed been beaten. The disastrous war was at an end.
Some 1,300 of the surviving Indians, includes the few score Chetcos, were rounded up and shipped to the Siletz Reservation near the present
city of Newport, Oregon. The white settlers had full possession of the Chetco Valley. Now they would get on with the business of building their lives in peace. Others would come to join them, taking up home-steading claims, making new lives for themselves and their children. The Indians, confined to reservations, could not do as well anymore.
Claims Paid the Chetcos
A modicum of belated justice was done the Chetcos, however -- many years later, and insofar as money can ever recompense for heartache. Jerry O?Callaghan in his article, "Extinguishing Indian Titles on the Oregon Coast" tells the story.
In 1885 the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory concluded cessation treaties with the various coast bands and gained their signatures on a treaty which provides for the cession of their holdings along the Oregon coast. The treaty was sent to the U.S. Senate in 1857, but for unaccountable reasons was never ratified.
Meanwhile, an Executive Order in 1855 had created the Coast Reservation;and the bands of Indians were forced on to the reservation and their affairs there were conducted just as though the treaty had been ratified. Four of the bands, including the Chetco, received no compensation, however.
Eighty years later Congress passed an Act authorizing the Court of Claims to hear, adjudicate and render final judgment upon claims of the unratified Oregon treaty. Ten years after that, on April 2, 1945, the Court of Claims ruled that the Tillamooks, Coquilles, Too-too-toneys and the Chetcos were eligible to sue for the uncompensated appropriation of their tribal lands.
Five years later the Court of Claims announced that the value of the Indian lands in 1855 had been $1.20 per acre. After deducing the value of the reservation lands and the amount expended by the government as gratuities, the Chetco Indians were awarded $489,085.20.
This Oregon case was the first time an Indian band has recovered damages when it had no ratified treaty as a base for its claim.
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Sept. 1951