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1. First Contacts Between the Whites and Indians

Initially, the prospectors and those who followed them met little opposition from the Indians. The newcomers had trade goods which, although of slight monetary value, were prized by the redman. Moreover, the white man's firearms made resistance not only futile but disastrous. The Indians at the same time did not realize the full meaning of this invasion of their lands.

Josiah Gregg and his companions in 1849 therefore encountered no opposition, and at times they were even able to prevail on the Indians for assistance. [1] Other early exploring parties were received in similar fashion. It was not until the redman saw that the whites were squatting on their village sites that they began to think of war. On the coast this hostility had no serious repercussions, but in the interior it soon resulted in bloodshed. Two men were killed by Indians in the late summer of 1850 in the redwoods, 18 miles from Union. There was also a clash on the forks of the Salmon, where in reprisal the whites burned three villages and killed a number of Indians. [2] Several others were to die before the year ended.

The situation got worse in 1851. In the spring of that year, a party of prospectors led by Capt. S. R. Tompkins left Trinidad, taking the trail across to the Bald Hills, and worked their way up the Klamath River. [3] Halts were made at every bar showing any traces of gold. Guards had to be detailed to watch for Indians while the party was camped on Wingate's and Wood's bars, three of the group (Barney Ray, Moore, and ______Penney) pushed ahead. In doing so, they were undoubtedly influenced by several Indians, who had told the party that if they went "one-half a sleep" farther up the Klamath, they would find good camp grounds and diggings.

When they failed to return, several men from Wood's Bar went in search of them. As they ascended the river, they sighted a tent but could see or hear nothing of the occupants. A number of redmen were skulking about. Concluding that some misfortune must have overtaken their comrades, they returned to Wood's Bar. A volunteer force was turned out, and on returning to the tent, they found Penney and Ray. The former was terribly wounded and the latter dead. After burying Ray, they placed Penney on a litter and taken downstream to Wingate's Bar, where he died. Several weeks later, a badly decomposd body, presumed to be Moore's, was found floating in the Klamath. [4]

Vowing vengeance, a force was organized and started in pursuit of the Indians. The redmen's trail, leading up the river, was soon discovered. This brought the prospectors to the village. Biding their time, the miners sent back to their camps for reinforcements. Just as day was breaking and while most of the Indians were in their huts, the whites launched a vicious surprise attack, which routed the Indians. [5]

Several weeks later, the prospectors moved from Wingate's and Wood's bars and established a camp, which they called Happy Camp. This was the first permanent settlement on the middle reaches of the Klamath. [6] The settlers of Happy Camp were compelled to be on guard against the Indians, while getting ready to face the approaching winter.

This nasty incident and others caused many of the hard-bitten miners and packers to regard the Indians as enemies to be shot on sight. The Indians, unable to discriminate between whites who were their enemies and those who were their friends, took revenge. Whites were slain, and unfortunately for all concerned, it was seldom the ones who had committed the wrong. [7]

2. Colonel McKee Goes North

In an effort to put a stop to these murders and prevent a war Col. Redick McKee, a United States Indian Agent, was alerted to proceed to northwestern California and negotiate treaties with the tribes. Accompanied by a large escort, McKee left Sonoma on August 11, 1851. The expedition was accompanied by a company of soldiers led by Capt. H. W. Wessels. [8] Taking the Sonoma Trail, McKee's party reached the Humboldt Coast via the South Fork of the Eel River. As the column pushed ahead, stops were made to distribute beef and presents to the Indians and effect a peaceful settlement of outstanding differences. In the lower Eel River Valley, McKee saw that the redmen were living under submarginal conditions. A reservation for these Indians was established on the left bank of the Eel. C. A. Robeson, a settler and squawman, was placed in charge of the projected reservation, and with him were left three yoke of oxen and farm implements for cultivating the land. [9]

McKee, after visiting the bay settlements at Humboldt City and Union, crossed over the Bald Hills to the Klamath River. While en route, he passed through the country of the Chilula, knows locally as the Redwood or Bald Hills Indians. This tribe had an evil reputation among the packers, one of their camps being called "Bloody Camp," because two whites had been murdered there.

A grand council, attended by all the tribes of the area, was held in October at Durkee's Ferry, at the confluence of the Trinity and Klamath rivers. Gifts were distributed to the Indians and after McKee had told the redmen of the vast numbers of white men and their desire for peace, treaties were signed with representatives of the 24 assembled bands. Two tribes, the Chilula and Redwood Creek Indians, boycotted the council. [10]

McKee now traveled up the Klamath, distributing food and gifts at the villages and telling the Indians of his desire for peace. Simultaneously, the whites were asked to refrain from mistreating the Indians. As winter was approaching, Captain Wessels determined to return to Benicia with his detachment. Upon the departure of the military, McKee, accompanied by a small party, met with the Indians at Scott's Valley. Most of the redmen, either suspecting treachery or off hunting, avoided meeting with the agent. Finally, a treaty was effected, and McKee returned to San Francisco by way of Humboldt Bay. [11]

McKee was understandably pleased with the results of his expedition and declared:

Considering the results which have happily followed, the expenses are trifling. Taken as a whole, I doubt whether ever, in the history of Indian negotiations in this or any other country, as much work has been done, as much positive good effected, and as many evils averted with such comparatively inadequate means at command. [12]

Not everyone attached the same importance to Colonel McKee's service. When the California legislature convened in 1852, the Indian treaties were debated. A Committee on Indian Reservations was named by the assembly, which presented resolutions denouncing a policy of Indian agents in granting lands to the Indians as reservations. Only the personal appeal of two of the agents prevented the senate from endorsing this report in the form of a joint-resolution to Congress. [13] The opposition to the treaties was such that when they were submitted to the United States for ratification, they were rejected. [14]

Notwithstanding the controversy between the various officials and departments of the government following the negotiation of the treaties, the Indians seem to have accepted them in good faith, because, except for some thefts, there were no troubles instigated by the redmen for several years. There was at the same time considerable sentiment among the whites championing removal of the Indians from California. In April 1852 several north California senators notified Governor John Bigler that during the past "few months" 130 white people had been killed and $240,000 worth of property destroyed in their counties. Colonel McKee about the same time notified the Governor that the whites evinced an unjustifiable hostility toward the Indians, and urged that some action be taken to punish the offenders. In support of his position, he cited the murder of 15 to 20 Indians on Humboldt Bay in February, and a similar outrage in March, when nearly twice that number were killed on the Klamath. [15]

Pressure was brought to bear on Brig. Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, the commander of the Department of the Pacific, by both sides. Each asked the aid of the military in settling the difficulties. Hitchcock accordingly determined to establish a millitary post on the Humboldt Coast. Two companies of the 4th United States Infantry, which had arrived in California in August, were designated to establish and garrison the post. In January 1853 Capt. Robert G. Buchanan and his two companies went ashore at Humboldt Bay and established a post destined to be called Fort Humboldt. [16]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004