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Subagent Buell on February 23, 1860, left Wau-Kell for San Francisco on official business. He stopped off at Humboldt Bay on the 26th, and there he learned of a "terrible massacre" committed the night before on the Indians of that area. "A more brutal, heartless deed cannot be found recorded in the history of our country." [12]

By the post commander at Fort Humboldt, Maj. Gabriel Rains, Buell was briefed on the background to the murders. In January an effort had been made to raise a volunteer company under Capt. Seaman Wright, "as the fishing season was over and many men out of employ." This force planned a campaign against the Indians of the area, who had fled the Mendocino Reservation. Wright outfitted his unit on credit, promising to repay the Eureka merchants on the completion of the campaign. His company, about 30 strong, advanced up South Fork of Eel River, killing indiscriminately about 40 redmen. Wright then applied to have his company mustered into state service. Governor John B. Weller turned down this request, as he had learned that Colonel Clarke had ordered another company of regulars to Humboldt County. The California legislature at the same time had before it a report of a committee adverse to the payment "to murders of women and children" in a similar case.

Captain Wright and his men were infuriated by the State's refusal to muster them in or pay them for their services, and they held a meeting on Eel River, and "resolved to kill every possible Indian man, woman, and child in this part of the county." On the night of February 25, a score of these men rode to Humboldt Point, stole several small boats, crossed the bay, and murdered nine men and 47 women and children. They then retraced their route and rode into Eureka, while it was still dark, took a ship's boat and rowed out to Indian Island. Disembarking, they gunned down three men and caused the rest to take to their heels. Wright and his followers then entered the Indians' huts. Five of the more bloodthirsty of the whites bludgeoned to death, with axes and hatchets, 57 women and children. Returning to the mainland, the killers proceeded to Eagle Prairie and murdered another 30 to 35 Indians. [13]

Major Rains, in forwarding details of the massacre to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, observed:

These Indians were the most inoffensive I ever saw—killed nobody, troubled nobody, and nobody's cattle, were useful furnishing fish and clams to the whites . . ., living apart by themselves, orderly, never drank liquor; and were in hostility with the Mountain tribes, whom they were accused of supplying with ammunition. [14]

Buell now continued on to San Francisco, where he described the atrocities to Superintendent McDuffie. Former agent Whipple, who now edited the Northern California, told McDuffie that the survivors had sought protection of the more enlightened whites, but, he cautioned, the security afforded was limited and temporary. Unless the survivors were removed to a reservation, they were in danger of sharing the fate of their slaughtered friends and families. [15]

McDuffie, after listening to what Buell and Whipple had to say, determined that the survivors should be taken to the Klamath River Reservation. Buell was told to proceed with their removal.

Accordingly, he left San Francisco on March 5, for the Klamath, traveling by way of Humboldt Bay and Uniontown. Upon landing at Eureka, he learned that Major Rains had concentrated a number of fugitive redmen at Fort Humboldt to whom he was issuing rations. As it was necessary for him to return to the Reservation to complete arrangements for the reception of the refugees, Buell did not call on Rains. But, at his request, Whipple did, and told the army officer of the steps taken by Superintendent McDuffie for the Indians' removal to the Klamath. Rains gave Whipple the impression that he was satisfied with this situation. He promised to write Buell, assuring him that the military would cooperate by providing "an escort & transportation for the old & helpless Indians." Buell, however, received no letter from Rains. [16]

By April 7 Buell had seen that a number of huts were renovated and others erected at Wau-Kell for the reception of the refugees, and he started for Eureka. He reached Humboldt Bay, 48 hours later, and called on Major Rains. The army officer seemed willing to permit the Indians to accompany Buell to the Klamath, but he observed that "he had no authority to compel them or to use any force in their removal & that if there was any compulsion brought to bear, it must proceed from the Indian Department." Buell answered that if the issuance of rations was stopped, no force would be required. There the subject was dropped.

The next morning, the 10th, Buell called on Rains to implement his mission. Rains called him aside and told him that if the Indians were willing to go, it was satisfactory; but if not, he would permit no compulsion. Moreover, the soldier continued, he would not allow them to starve. Calling for an interpreter, Agent Buell told the redmen that he would see that they were provided with homes and protection on the Reservation. They shook their heads, indicating that they preferred to remain at Fort Humboldt. [17]

Buell retired to his hotel in Eureka and wrote Rains an "official letter," informing him of his readiness to receive the Indians and conduct them to the reserve, where he was prepared to subsist them. Rains was a boor and refused to reply. [18]

On April 11, Buell rode out to Uniontown where he found the surviving Mad River Indians, living with liberal-minded whites. Told by their friends that they could no longer vouch for their safety, the Mad River Indians agreed to go to the Klamath with Buell. First, they returned to their homes to get their possessions, after which they fired their huts, stove in their canoes, and destroyed all nonportable property. Accompanied by 124 Indians, Buell, with no other force than J. C. Chapman and his pack mules, headed up the Crescent City trail to the Klamath. The column, after five days on the road, reached Wau-Kell on April 16. [19]

Major Rains, on learning that Agent Buell had started for the Klamath with the Mad River Indians, had second thoughts. He ordered Lt. A. B. Hardcastle to take a detail and escort the 322 Indians who had sought the protection of the army to the Klamath River Reservation. Hardcastle's column moved out on April 21. In an effort to screen his failure to cooperate with Buell, Rains charged that the agent "without authority apparently in direct violation of Section 2d, Chapter 122, Laws of the State of California, for the government and protection of the Indians, passed April 22, 1850, forceably removed the Indians from their homes on Lower Mad River." [20]

Lieutenant Hardcastle and his soldiers of the 4th Infantry pushed the Indians too hard. By the time they reached Redwood Creek, 100 of the old and infirm were too weak to continue up the trail. They were left behind, guarded by a small detachment. Hardcastle, with the rest of the Indians, reached the mouth of the Klamath on April 26. From there he sent a messenger to the Wau-Kell Agency, with a letter telling of his arrival with 180 Indians.

Buell turned out a number of Yurok with canoes and headed down to the mouth of the river, returning with the newcomers to the agency. The next day, the 27th, the agent sent a pack train to the relief of the Indians camped on Redwood Creek. Subsequently, another 40 Indians were brought up to the agency from Fort Humboldt. [21]

Thus in 1860 the Klamath River Reservation became a haven of refuge for the Indians of the Mad and Eel rivers. Here, among pleasant surroundings, they found for the time being peace and security from that vile class of whites which believed the only good Indian was a dead one.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004