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1. The First Killing

In the fall of 1854 there was trouble between the Indians and whites near Crescent City. About three miles north of Crescent City there lived a farmer, A. French. He and three other whites in late October went on a camping trip into the Bald Hills. On Thursday, French started for home while his companions remained behind to continue hunting. When the others returned to Crescent City on Saturday evening, they were met by an anxious Mrs. French, who inquired as to her spouse's whereabouts.

A hasty check revealed that his hunting companions were the last to have seen him, and suspicions were aroused that the Tolowa living on the South Fork of Smith River had murdered him. A vigilante committee was organized to apprehend and question all the Indians in and about the town. Scant information was secured from them. This served to reinforce the suspicions of those suspecting foul play, and a party was sent to search for the body. [17]

On Mill Creek there was a rancheria, where the Tolowa gathered in the autumn to harvest acorns for the winter. At this camp, a team of vigilantes led by J. M. Rosborough stopped and closely questioned the Indians. Rosborough was told that in the latter part of October, an Indian from Chetco had proposed to Black Mow, a Yurok, that they kill a white man. [18] Black Mow refused, stating that "he lived in peace with the whites, and had been for years in the habit of ferrying them across the Klamath." The Chetco then offered the Yurok a squaw, and Black Mow wavered and answered, "Soon."

Rosborough, having secured this information, had little difficulty in locating French's body. The vigilantes found it under a log and partially covered. Wild animals, however, had consumed much of the corpse. With the exception of the hat, none of the clothing was missing, and several of the men recognized French's gold ring. The remains was interred near the log, and the vigilantes rode back into Crescent City. There a warrant was sworn out for the arrest of three Indians—Black Mow, Jim, and Narpa—for the murder of French. [19]

Henry Kennedy, a lieutenant in the Company of Klamath Rangers, was deputized and given the mission of apprehending the guilty ones. Accompanied by a seven-man posse, Kennedy rode southward. [20] The Indians were captured at the mouth of the Klamath, and were escorted to Crescent City on November 17.

2. The Indians are Tried and Executed

On the 18th, the citizens of Crescent City assembled at the Eldorado Saloon on Front Street. E. Mason was called to the chair, while S. G. Whipple was named secretary. Chairman Mason announced that the object of the group was to try the three Indians, and if the evidence warranted a conviction, the jury was to determine the punishment. [21] After the evidence was presented, the jury retired to deliberate, and returned within the hour. The foreman announced the verdict, "Guilty!" The three Indians (Black Mow, Jim, and Narpa) were sentenced by Mason to be hanged on Monday, November 24, 1854, at 12 o'clock. On motion, J. R. Sloan, Richard Barnes, and Capt. John Boddeby were appointed a committee to see that the sentence was executed. [22]

At the time appointed, Black Mow, Jim, and Narpa were escorted from the jail to Battery Point, where a large number of citizens had assembled. One end of the ropes was tied to the limb of a tree, and the other ends fastened around the necks of the doomed. The wagon on which they were standing was driven from under them, and within "a few seconds the case was transferred to a Higher Tribunal, and the souls of three guilty Indian sent to account before the Great Spirit who watches over all." [23]

3. The Executions Beget War

Before 1854 ended, there were repercussions from the murder and executions. The residents of the Smith River Valley held a mass-meeting at Major Bradford's house to investigate threats voiced by Indians desiring revenge. A four-man committee was organized and visited the Tolowa rancheria at Yontocket. [24] Besides the usual residents, they found Rogue River, Chetco, and Yurok Indians. They also observed a number of little-used trails by which the Indians from the various rancherias communicated, and that provisions stockpiled for the winter had been removed. To the whites this looked suspicious, and steps were taken to keep the Indians under close surveillance.

About January 1, 1855, the difficulties between the whites and Indians ended in a fight on Lake Earl. Two companies of rangers (the Coast and Klamath), supported by the Smith River settlers, routed the Indians, killing 30. [25]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004