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CONFLICT: NATIVE AMERICANS
vs. WHITE SETTLERS
copyright (c) 1977, 2006 by Marilee Miller
THE END OF
An adaptation from scripts of a local history series, written by Marilee Miller and narrated by Bill Bradbury, which aired on KCBY-TV, Coos Bay, Oregon, ca 1977.
While much information relates specifically to the Coos Indian tribe, all the Indians of Oregon's Southern Coast lived similarly.
Please note that at the date of the broadcasts, the word "Indian" was customary, although later "Native American" became preferred.
The South Coast of Oregon was “home” to many Indian peoples. But to whites with colonizing ideas, all Oregon was virgin territory -- free for the taking. Pioneers didn't regard the Indians as owners of the land. They demanded their rights to establish homesteads. And that desire, created conflict!
In June of 1851, Captain William Tichenor’s ship, “Sea Gull”, anchored in the sheltered natural harbor off Port Orford to drop a party of men. They planned to make a new settlement.
The leader, Captain J. M. Kirkpatrick, refused to stay on the prominence later to be called Battle Rock, unless, before he sailed away, Captain Tichenor left behind his ship’s cannon.
Kirkpatrick later wrote an account saying: “The Indians…made signs that they would kill us if we did not go.”
Next morning, the Rogues began shooting arrows. Kirpatrick fired his already-charged cannon. Thus began the celebrated battle of Battle Rock.
Esther Stutzman, from the Empire district Indian Center, admits surrounding tribes did fear the reputation of the Rogues.
--Bradbury: Is it true, the image presented about the Rogues as
being warlike and unfriendly?
--Stutzman: The Rogues were more warlike than any other tribe on
the coast. The Rogue people were the people who came
northward to take slaves. Of course, this is a warlike activity.
None of the other tribes engaged in this.
An 1851 pamphlet wrote with “mellerdramer” technique about the "most glorious battle ever fought." “The Heroes of Battle Rock, or the Miners’ Reward… A story of thrilling interest… A desperate encounter of 9 white men and 300 Indians… Miraculous escape after untold hardships… Savages subdued.”
One can only speculate about the Indians’ real intentions that day in June of 1851. However, Esther Stutzman (of the Indian Activities Center at Empire) says –
--Stutzman: The reports of the conflict were of course written down by
people who were not Indian. I believe it [the account of the
battle at Battle Rock] was exaggerated and overstated, and very
After Battle Rock, raids and skirmishes between Native Americans and white settlers escakated, Of course, not all pioneers agreed that battling Indians was "glorious". Yet most of them intended to do whatever it took to survive all the natural and man-made perils of the harsh frontier. The Indians, also, wished their former way of life to continue.
So the pattern was set. Continued conflict between the races culminated in what came to be known as the Rogue Indian Wars.
In the 1850s, Indian Wars erupted in many regions in the Pacific Northwest. Soldiers, assigned to protect white settlers, battled with angry Indians who resented that their lands and livelihoods had been stolen.
Here on the South Coast, the melee at Battle Rock brought about significant mutual distrust among whites and Indian peoples. Later on,
there would be even more trouble.
However, unlike the protracted wars in some places, on the South Coast the so-called Indian Wars were actually disconnected skirmishes. Down on the Chetco River, men burned an Indian village. Many settlers’ homes saw the torch in retaliation. Each side carried out their own version of ambush and massacre.
Much trouble did indeed focus on the Rogues – the Tututni tribe and others of the extreme lower coast. However, a talk with Esther Stutzman brings out the idea that Coos and Umpqua tribes, and many others, suffered from Battle Rock’s “publicity”. The white pioneers came to suspect all Coastal Indians of being trouble-makers.
--Stutzman: Publicity of a battle such as on Battle Rock would affect
the Indians, in that we would hear of this tremendous victory that
the white people did have. It would maybe tend to serve to make
us afraid. Maybe encourage us to leave.
Our people [the Coos] were not warlike. We had no need for
war. At the time of the Rogue uprising, we had just signed a treaty
with the United States government. This is why we did not intend
to take part in any wars or uprisings.
From Umpqua and Empire City, southward, forts sprang up for the white immigrants' protection. Finally, the army came in the quell the conflicts.
In the treaty of 1855, the Coos Indians had agreed to move to a reservation, if it became necessary. Conditions worsened almost at once. Eventually, the superior force -- and intent -- of the whites prevailed. Indian fighters decided on a methodical round-up of every Indian. All must be seized and confined on a Reservation.
Stutzman sees the so-called Rogue Wars, like those of many other battles in the United States, as a severe cultural clash. Each side in the conflict based lifestyle on long-standing, but divergent, traditions.
-- Stutzman: The Indian person will share everything, because we
share in brotherhood, in mankind. The Indian person does not
take 10 acres of ground and put a fence around it and say that
you will not enter, you are trespassing. Do not take anything that
is mine. The Indian person will share with somebody who needs.
…But when the [white] people began homesteading, began
putting up fences, began telling people that they could not enter
the property, this is where sharing was broken.
Amidst bloodshed and ill will, the Indian people from many tribes were hunted down, and rounded up. An armed force conducted them northward to live on a Reservation.
Reports frequently remind us, even today, about suffering along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, or about the hunting down of Modocs and Nez Perce. However, descendents of local Native Americans still recount the anguishes of a Death March in Oregon. It never got much publicity.
Coastal Indians at first were confined at a fort on the Umpqua River. Later they were forced to march to a reservation at Yachats. They weren't cared for along the way. For many, the transfer became a Death March.
There was an estimated 50 percent death rate of the people.
Esther Stutzman speaks of the people being chained together. Very little
food was available. "The idea was to get the people there in the least amount of time possible" Since there were few roads up the Coast during this time period, the route often led along the rocks at the edge of the ocean. "Many people fell over the sides -- and of course, they were chained together."
Some whites viewed the reservation as a permanent jail for Indians, all of whom they viewed as troublesome. But many new settlers sincerely believed the tribes could be rehabilitated if they were taught new methods of farming and education.
Yet, at once the Indians were caught in crossfire between “outdated” and “unfamilar” lifestyles. Taken from their homelands, Indian women were compelled to go away without their white husbands. Children often faced permanent separation from both parents, says descendent Bill Bowen.
--Bradbury: Once the people arrived [at the Reservation], having lost
fifty percent of their numbers, what happened to the all-important
--Bowen: Well, of course, this split up the family structure. And with
that, we lost a lot of our customs and legends and things. ...I must
stress, that's where we lost our culture. You weren't allowed to
speak Indian [language]... You were just told to do your chores.
Primitive behavior and vague ties to rituals must be stamped out as paganism. Wood carving marked a sign of laziness. However, the overseers encouraged basket- making -- because pioneer women would buy them.
--Stutzman : To be a traditional Indian was forbidden: the language,
the religion, the customs. To do otherwise was death or punishment.
Without traditions and culture, the Indians are almost a defeated
people. Within the culture and the different traditions is our life. The
people experiencing these 20 years on the reservation without being
able to be an Indian, were expected to become white people. And
our [old] culture was gone.
The Indian people chafed at what they considered harsh treatment from their white supervisors. The Reservation system did not prepare them adequately for a new way of life.
Some 20 years later, when the reservation disbanded in 1876, the fruits of bitterness remained.
The Reservation Period lasted almost 20 years, from 1856 – 1876. Neither race of peoples will ever be able to look backward to that era with real pride or satisfaction.
When the Indians arrived at the site at Yachats, the land was mostly bare, or raw. Hardly any structures, or resources, existed. It has been told that the Native Americans were forced to build buildings, roads, all kinds of structures, during that 20 years of Reservation living. The buildings were supposed to benefit the Native Americans and give them a start toward a new life. But apparently many felt the experience was slavery. They were expected to work, to farm, to plant and harvest potatoes. They may often have seen the time as a period when all they were allowed to do was to work.
Then the expanding enclaves of white pioneers began to covet the land where the Reservation was located. They lobbied insistently until the land was thrown open to white pioners, who took over the property, and even the buildings, erected by Indian hands.
It has been pointed out that Reservation-dwellers were given no guidelines on how to survive thereafter. They were simply ordered to get out, and to
--Stutzman: The people -- some went north, some went south, [or]
stayed along the Siuslaw River. The large body came back down
southwards to Coos Bay, their old territory..
However, they found that log cabins now scattered the frontier. Lands were now “owned”, rather than “shared”. Fences of barbed wire prevented passage across once-open territory.
--Stutzman: We could not go back to our old campsites…[near
available sources of] fresh water…because the campsites… were
turned into homesteads. And this was what we found. Everything
was privately owned.
Confinement on the reservation at Yachats, and then the sudden release, became a hard lesson for whites and Indians alike. The foundation of the old Indian system centered around large tracts of land on which to gather food. Skills and standards acquired during “Americanization” – basketry and inadequate schooling and lack of coherent incentive-plans – hardly equipped people for competition with determined pioneers who had come to Oregon to make a new way of life – or “bust”.
What exactly, could Indian people, such as the Coos, do?
-- Stutzman: So rather than leave the area again, our people decided
they must assimilate to survive.
The Indian people married non-Indian people. Many of our
grandmothers married some of the early white settlers. And then
denied their heritage, because it was not popular at the time to be
Today no one can speak the Coos language. A few fragments of customs and stories, furtively passed down by grandmothers, are all that remain of a forgotten heritage.
How many persons, today, are still inadvertently harvesting from the ugly seeds of discord sown during the Indian “uprisings” and “Reservation Days”?
[On location with Bill Bradbury , along the Umpqua River]
This archaeological dig is located on the Umpqua River. I am standing on the site of an old Indian campsite.
Our modern world has only tantalizing glimpses of a people who once made their yearly hunting and fishing camp along the Umpqua. Field Archeologist Peter Stenhouse, of the Native American Research Center, studies clues to a vanished way of life.
-- Stenhouse: Basically, what we’re trying to do is find out how these
people lived, how they adapted to environment, and how they
went about it. …Rather a lot of its been lost. Now it could be
nearly 150 years, through erosion and development.
--Bradbury: How would you describe trying to put the pieces back
--Stenhouse: Very frustrating. Because, I have very little outside
information to go on. The other people who found things have
been rather splotchy in the recording of them.
Stenhouse claims the “whole game” of archeology is to share with many lay people, not just with scientists. Otherwise, his “finds” at the dig (in this case, obsidian scrapers), would be limited in value.
--Bradbury: What you hope people will take away from this?
--Stenhouse: The Native Americans who lived here were not people
you could look down your nose at, but you could look up to them
with a certain amount of respect. They had adapted to an
environment and they had made it beneficial to themselves.
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