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1. The Red Cap War

War broke out in the same month on the Klamath. On the Klamath and Trinity there had been much ill-feeling in 1853 and 1854, but there was no open rupture. There was some loss of life, as a killing usually was followed by retaliation. The miners on the Klamath in January 1855 began to desert their claims and rally on the camps for protection, while the Indians removed their women and children to the mountains. On January 6 a mass-meeting was held at Orleans Bar, and it was determined to disarm the Indians and to take vigorous action against whites suspected or found guilty of selling arms to the redmen. Persons hereafter detected selling firearms to Indians were to have their heads shaved, receive 25 lashes, and be banished from the camps.

Many of the Indians complied with the call to hand over their firearms, but a few, led by the Red Caps, refused and prepared to resist. The whites struck first, burning several rancherias and committing outrages on squaws. The Indians struck back. A steer belonging to Stephen Smith was slaughtered, and on January 12 the Red Caps swept down on the diggings near Weitchpec and killed six whites and wounded two others. [26]

A call for help by the miners was forwarded to Captain Buchanan at Fort Humboldt. At Trinidad a volunteer company was organized and attacks made upon the Indians of the lower Klamath and Redwood Creek, who had heretofore lived in peace with the whites. Captain Buchanan ordered out a company of regulars under Capt. H. M. Judah. Reaching Weitchpec in the last week of January, Judah began negotiating with the redman. The local Yurok soon gave up and offered to assist the army in suppressing the Red Caps. The miners, however, refused to be a party to such an arrangement, but Judah held his ground and a settlement seemed at hand, when he was recalled by Captain Buchanan. [27]

Meanwhile, A. M. Rosborough, a special Indian agent for the County of Siskiyou, had reached Weitchpec. Even before Judah's recall, he sensed that affairs were at a critical stage, and could take an unfortunate turn at any moment. Most of the Yurok were still on their rancherias and wished peace, but, if the Red Caps who had fled to the mountains killed any packers, it would be impossible to prevent the miners from attacking those Indians who had chosen peace, and from driving them into the mountains. The volunteers had made one patrol into the mountains, but the Red Caps had successfully avoided them. [28]

Unless the Red Caps could be prevailed upon to come to terms with the United States Rosborough informed his superior, Thomas J. Henley, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California, it would be necessary to "surrender this whole mining country to the Indians, which would be unthinkable." Currently, there were between 500 and 600 miners employed on the Klamath and Salmon rivers diggings, who received their supplies by pack trains from Trinidad and Union. As all supplies for these diggings had to pass through Weitchpec, it would have to be held if the miners were to remain.

To hold Weitchpec, he recommended that a company of regulars be permanently posted in the Hoopa Valley. The company of soldiers, along with an Indian agent appointed to reside on the lower Klamath, would guarantee the peace. [29]

Superintendent Henley was understandably distressed to learn of the outbreak of hostilities on the Klamath. Relaying this information to Commissioner of Indian Affairs G. W. Montgomery, he reported, "business of every kind is suspended, and unless peace is quickly restored, a serious check will be given to the prosperity of that part of the State." So belligerent were the miners and packers that he and his agent were hard pressed to prevent a massacre of the Indians. In hopes of achieving an amicable settlement, he had named S. G. Whipple as special agent for Klamath County. Whipple had resided in the area since 1850, and he was well acquainted with the miners and packers and with "the Indians' character." [30]

The withdrawal of Captain Judah and his company had compounded Rosborough's problems. Even so, most of the Yurok remained on their rancherias, although a few more had slipped off to the mountains. Those still on the Klamath had requested protection, and the majority of the whites were anxious to grant this plea, but they lacked the manpower to guard the rancherias and at the same time pursue the hostiles and work the diggings.

Rosborough feared that it would be impossible for the law abiding whites to maintain their leadership in the camps much longer. If the Red Caps should kill any more miners or packers, it would be impossible to prevent the fire-eaters from shooting up the rancherias of the peaceably inclined Yurok. If this occurred, Rosborough cautioned Superintendent Henley, there would be a general stampede for the mountains and "such Mts. & evergreen canons are not to be found anywhere."

Up to the present, the vigilantes had been unable to pinpoint the 40 to 50 Red Caps who were at large. The Yurok, Rosborough warned, were not "such cowards as I had thought & I am satisfied that they refrain from an attack & killing the whites mainly on the grounds of saving the Indians remaining on the rancherias." [31]

Captain Judah, on returning to Fort Humboldt from the Klamath, had suggested to Captain Buchanan that they appeal to Brig. Gen. John E. Wool, the commander of the Department of the Pacific, to order a company of infantry to Weitchpec. To reinforce his plea, Judah pointed out that there was no law on the Klamath, not even a constable or justice of the peace. Buchanan was a typical bureaucrat, and unwilling to act on his own initiative, so he ordered Judah to Oregon, while awaiting instructions from General Wool.

When Rosborough learned that it would be some time before help was forthcoming from the army, he complained to Henley that all that was needed was a company of soldiers and a deputy marshal. He believed knowledge that there was an officer of the law on the Klamath, with authority to arrest offenders and send them to San Francisco for trial in a United States court, would curb the lawlessness. [32]

Already the peaceably inclined Yurok had offered to go into the mountains to locate the Red Caps, but they had been disarmed by the miners. If General Wool were unable to send a company of regulars to the Klamath, Rosborough wondered if Governor Bigler could not order out a battalion of militia. As urged by Rosborough, additional volunteer companies were organized to carry the war to the Red Caps. One of these units moved out with Indian guides to show the way. The Indians led the company into an ambush, but fortunately the whites escaped without loss. Drumhead court marshals condemned 26 of the treacherous Indians to death, while an equal number were captured and two villages burned.

As another appeal was being forwarded to Governor Bigler for additional troops, Whipple (having been named Special Indian Agent for Humboldt and Klamath Counties) arrived. He was accompanied by Captain Judah and his company of regulars.

Judah and his 30 regulars returned to the Klamath on March 22. The captain's orders were to assist Whipple "by all means in his power, and if the agent saw fit to select a site for an Indian Reservation, to examine it in reference to its suitability as a post."

Judah now found that most of the miners and packers were prepared to let him cope with the situation. There was considerable excitement, however, and the peacefully disposed Yurok were very frightened by two recent events. One of their leaders, Patora, had been murdered by a white, after he had surrendered his weapons and had induced others to do likewise. Judah, on making inquiries, found that the deceased "was universally respected for his honesty and friendly attitude toward the whites." [33] The other atrocity had been perpetrated by two companies of volunteers commanded by Capts. C. and F. M. Underwood. They had ridden out with their companies to a rancheria, where they called out the Yurok, shook hands with them, and after each had picked a victim, opened fire. The volunteers had then carried off the squaws "under the name of prisoners." Judah had lost no time in telling Captain F. M. Underwood that his service and that of his men could be dispensed with. [34]

Captain Judah, within the week, was satisfied that for the time being it would be impossible to locate the Red Caps in their mountain retreats. He would bide his time until the fears aroused by the cowardly deed perpetrated by the volunteers had been soothed.

Accompanied by an eight-man patrol, Judah on March 28 started down the Klamath in a canoe. The reaches of the river visited had never before been traveled by an officer of the United States army. He found the rancherias deserted, and no Yurok at Oregon where he had sent word for those desiring peace and protection to assemble. Two Indians, who had accompanied the patrol, were sent to the mouth of the Klamath. They returned on the evening of March 30 with 50 Yurok, all well-armed with knives, bows, and arrows. The leaders complained to Judah of the treatment they had received at the hands of the volunteers. Judah, although it was difficult, finally satisfied the Indians that his intentions were friendly. They promised to cooperate with him in punishing those Red Caps guilty of murder. [35]

On April 3 a grand council was held, attended by deputations from most of the tribes living in the area. Captain Judah inspired confidence among the redmen, and it was agreed that a war party would meet at Young's Ferry on the 6th. They would be provided with ten rifles and food, along with the names of eight Red Caps that were to be executed. All other hostiles encountered would be urged to turn themselves in, and they would be taken care of by the government, pending the establishment of a reservation. [36]

2. Whipple Proposes a Reservation

By mid-June several, of the Red Cap leaders were dead and most of their followers had availed themselves of the opportunity to surrender to Special Agent Whipple and the army. According to Whipple's informants only a score of Indians were still at large, and as their hands were stained with the blood of whites, they had no hope of escaping the gallows. As they were well-armed, they could be expected to form a hard core around which the disaffected, in event of future trouble, could rally. It might be good policy, Whipple reasoned, for the army to hunt them down. [37]

Meanwhile, Whipple had reconnoitered the Klamath from its mouth to Weitchpec. The countryside was rugged, with the river flowing "with a bold, though not rapid current, through deep gorges and rugged canons, which alternated with pleasant valleys and grassy flats." The Klamath was "abundantly supplied with Salmon, a fine large fish quite easily taken, and . . . which is very properly regarded by the Indian as his staff of life." Whipple asserted that the Klamath was the "best fishing grounds in North California, and thousands of Indians have stored away their annual supply of dried salmon upon these grounds for centuries." In addition, there were seals and sea lions, in large numbers, at the mouth of the river, while the rocks provided a rich harvest of mussels of which the Yurok were fond. As far up the River as Weitchpec, there were large banks of mussel shells, which demonstrated their popularity.

The flats bounding the river seemed well adapted to the practice of agriculture.

Whipple also noted that only one white was currently residing on the reaches of the Klamath between its mouth and Weitchpec. This individual claimed to have pre-empted 160 acres near the site of Klamath City. No pack trails paralleled these reaches of the Klamath, nor would it be feasible to open any, because of the rugged terrain. Intercourse between the villages was by canoe.

After completing his reconnaissance and evaluating what he had seen Whipple notified Superintendent Henley on June 19 that the lower 30 miles of the Klamath was a "most Eligible Site for an Indian Reservation." The proposed reservation should include within its bounds, "a strip of country five miles in width on each side of the river for the entire distance." Residing on the land in question were 1,200 to 1,600 Yurok, who "seemed attached to their land, regarding it as an honor to be known as residents of the Klamath." If the reservation were established, Whipple urged that all the 5,000 Indians living in Klamath County be segregated and settled thereon. [38]

Apparently, Whipple was difficult to get along with, Captain Judah complained that the Indian Agent was uncommunicative, and there was "no concert" of action between them. Hoping to gain the agent's cooperation, Captain Buchanan recalled Judah and replaced him with Capt. DeLancey Floyd-Jones. But when relations failed to improve, General Wool brought the matter to the attention of Superintendent Henley. When he did, he pointed out that the troops would remain on the Klamath until the approach of the autumn rains, when they would be recalled to Fort Humboldt. [39]

The army was not the only agency having difficulty with the strong-willed Whipple. Superintendent Henley was complaining to his superior that the agent had overstepped his instructions, for he had no authority to locate a reservation. His instructions had been to make an investigation "with reference to the fitness of the Klamath as a temporary place of rendezvous for the Indians," at the close of the Red Cap War. He was also to acquaint the redmen with the government's plan to locate them on reservations.

But in view of Whipple's promises, Henley felt it would be unwise for the United States to renege, because if the Indians were now removed from the Klamath, they would resume hostilities. Moreover, it was now incumbent on the Office of Indian Affairs to forward subsistence stores for the Yurok to the Klamath. [40]

Superintendent Henley in September visited the Klamath, and while there he was compelled to admit that he had underestimated Whipple's accomplishments. The area would indeed make an excellent home for the Indians. Scaling down the size of the reservation, Henley on October 4, 1855, recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that a reservation be established on the Klamath, commencing at the coast, and enclosing a strip of territory, one mile in width, on each side of the river, for a distance of 20 miles. About 2,000 fertile acres, scattered in a number of small valleys, could be cultivated. Admiring the redwoods, Henley reported that "the supply of timber of the best quality was unlimited." The rugged terrain bounding the river should prevent encroachments by whites.

He had been assured by Whipple that the Indians, living convenient to the proposed reservation, could be removed to it at a trifling expense. As his superiors and Congress were interested in economy, Henley assured them that "the Reservation can be established & sustained, and the Indians subsisted upon it, at much less expense than at any other location with which I am acquainted in the State."

To keep the peace, which Whipple and Captain Judah had been instrumental in establishing, Henley urged that the special agent be continued in his position and that funds be budgeted for a farm to feed the Indians. [41]

3. President Pierce's Executive Order

The Congress had already provided statutory authority for the establishment of the reservation. The appropriation act of date of March 3, 1855, to fund the Office of Indian Affairs had sanctioned the creation of two additional California reservations, besides the three authorized by the law of July 31, 1854. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars were appropriated by the act of March 3, "for collecting, removing and subsisting the Indians of California," on the proposed new reserves—which reserves had not yet been selected. An additional appropriation of $125,000 was voted at the same time to cover the expenses of the three reserves provided for in the act of July 31, 1854.

Superintendent Henley on December 18, 1854, had called attention to the need for new reservations and had asked for their establishment. He had reiterated his proposal in a report dated April 30, 1855, and mentioned at the same time that it was "indispensable" that one of the two reserves should be in Klamath County. On June 22 Commissioner George W. Manypenny (who had replaced Montgomery) wrote Secretary of the Interior Robert McClelland recommending that the funds appropriated by the act of March 3, 1855, be employed for the establishment of two reserves—a recommendation which McClelland relayed to President Pierce on June 25. On August 8 McClelland wrote Manypenny, "The President has returned the papers with his approval of the recommendation of the Department, and they are, herewith, enclosed for the proper action of the Indian Office in the matter." This action was taken on August 15, when Acting Commissioner C. E. Mix wrote Henley, authorizing the latter to locate the new reservations in accordance with "the suggestions in your report of the 30th of April." The first of the new reserves to be located and established was that on the Klamath, while the other would be at Cape Mendocino.

Acting on Henley's recommendation of October 4, as to the boundaries of the Klamath Reservation, Commissioner Manypenny, on November 10 forwarded the correspondence to Secretary McClelland, and two days later the Secretary transmitted the papers to President Franklin Pierce. On November 16, 1855, President Pierce by Executive Order approved the Secretary's proposal that the Klamath River Reservation include "a strip of territory commencing at the Pacific Ocean and extending one mile in width on each side of the Klamath River, for a distance of 20 miles." If on survey the reservation were found to exceed the 25,000 acres provided by law, a sufficient quantity was to be cut off from the upper end to bring it within this limit. [42]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004