The Ten Mile Prairie Indian Outbreak

Contributed by Greg Croxton
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The following letter, written by Thomas Croxton, describes the events following the Indian attack on Rice’s Cabin in 1855 which led to the annihilation of the male members of the Cow Creek band.  Footnotes from the files of the Douglas County Museum identify some of the Settlers mentioned by Reverend Croxton.  The material was edited for publication by Lavola Bakken.

From the Oregon Statesman, 8 January 1856, page 1:

December 16, 1855

MR. BUSH. - Dear Sir:
Knowing that you take an interest in the welfare of the inhabitants of the Umpqua Valley, and that your paper has a wide-spread circulation through Oregon Territory, I knew of no better way of communicating with those who have friends in this portion of the country than through the medium of your journal.  Rumors have spread far and wide about the late outbreak of the Indians in this part of the country.  I shall endeavor to give you the particulars as they have transpired.

Early on the morning of Saturday, December 1st, as Mr. Jesse McCullough1 was returning from his brother-in-law’s (Mr. S. Moore’s2) home, when near the schoolhouse in the Rice settlement, on the south Umpqua river, he found that he was in the midst of Indians, who were laying in ambush by the road side; they commenced firing upon him, and as they were on either side of him, he had to run the gauntlet.  The Indians fired at him about eight times, but fortunately, missed him.

On his way home, which is in Ten Mile Prairie, he gave the alarm to all in his way, who commenced gathering together for protection to each other; this was about 11 o’clock a.m.; about 12, the flames began to ascend from Mr. Richard’s3 house and granary; previous to this they had made an attack on Mr. Rice,4 who stood his ground, but got his arm broke in the affray.  The Indians then set fire to the outbuildings, and left for the schoolhouse, which they set on fire.  They then went to Mr. Robinson’s,5 whose house they set on fire; from thence to Mr. Richard’s, here they set fire to the house and granary; at this place the road to the Ten Mile Prairie forks – the Indians seemed to be studying which of the roads to take.

When Mr. Jas. Wells6 and Mr. Rice, who were going to see if the Indians had really broke out, and to render assistance to the families if needed, in going round the point of brush near Mr. Richards’, they came in sight of some Indians; some of them they knew were Indians that lived in the neighborhood.  They halted their horses for a moment, when they discovered more Indians in the brush; as there was no chance of getting past them, they thought it best to turn back to the settlement – the Indians fired at them several times, and then gave chase, which they kept up for about two miles.  Mr. Wells and Rice making the best of their way to Mr. Thos. Maguire’s7, where the families were gathering together.  When they got near the creek in front of the house, they saw Mr. Olmstead8 with a wagon, bringing his family; they shouted to him to hurry, as the Indians were coming; he hurried to the ford just in time to get across the creek.  The Indians finding they could not cut him off, and the whites ready to receive them, they wheeled their horses towards the foot log where the family was crossing, but fortunately they had just got across.  They then fired at Mrs. Olmstead several times, but without effect.

At this place there were now six men who were going to do the best they could for themselves and families, providing they made an attack; but the Indians thought it best to let them alone; so they proceeded to Mr. Elijah Croxton’s,9 about half a mile from Mr. Maguires, here the Indians enjoyed themselves for about two hours, feeding their horses oats, plucking chickens, etc. being perfectly at home.  After they got through feasting and plundering, they set fire to the house and granary.  They took two hogs that were in a pen fattening, and stabbed them all over with their knives.

From this place they went to John Fisher’s,10 they had left about half an hour before the Indians came; here they stole what suited them, and set fire to the house and granary, serving his two hogs in the same way as Mr. Croxton’s (who, I ought to have said, had escaped with his family a short time before the Indians came.)

They then went to Mr. Wells’, the one whom they had pursued, burnt the granary, and a stack of straw near the house, with the intention no doubt of firing the house, but it escaped.  To show how well the Indians were acquainted here, they found a five pound can of powder which was hid under the floor.

From this place they went to Mr. Martin Newland’s,11 whose house they set on fire.  On their way to the next house, part of Capt. Bailey’s12 company, who had been sent for by express (messenger), made their appearance.  The Indians took to the brush and challenged the whites to fight; but as it was now getting dark, they considered it best to let them alone till they got more help.  To chase them would be of no use, as the Indians were now in possession of some of the best American horses in the country; five from Mr. Rice and Willis,13 two from Mr. Maguire, two from Mr. Train,14 one mare and one mule from Mr. McCullough, and quite a number from others whose names I have not got – all of the best quality.

The Indians having finished their day’s work, returned near to Mr. Wells’ where they camped for the night.
The inhabitants were now aroused – formed themselves in a company, appointing J.P. Day15 as their leader.  Messrs. Jesse Roberts,16 Dillard,17 Bennett,18 Handley,19 McCloud,20 and quite a number of the settlers round, joined that night.  They found the Indians, but considered it best to wait till morning before they made the attack.  They then laid their plans in concert with part of Bailey’s company, to make the attack at daybreak.

The Indians were camped near a big log; the whites aimed to take it, which caused pretty warm work for several minutes, as the Indians tried their best to hold it; when they found they could not, they took across the creek into the brush.  How many Indians were killed, it is impossible to tell; it is thought there must be several mortally wounded, who have thrown themselves into the creek, but there was only one Indian found, and he had tried to get in the creek, but got fast in the brush.  He is a Cow Creek Indian, by the name of Tom.21

The whites had one man wounded, a Mr. Castelman,22 not considered dangerous.  The Indians lost all the horses they took the day before.  A great many blankets, much clothing, provisions, etc., which were taken from the families were recovered, also the five pound can of powder.

The whites not being fixed for pursuit, as they were on foot, returned home that night.  The Indians camped about one mile from the battle ground.  A fresh band of Indians came into the prairie during the day to the assistance of the other Indians; supposed to be Umpquas, as part of them were seen coming from towards the reserve, three of whom tried to cut off Mr. Coates,23 who was sent out for help on the morning of December 2nd.

Three young men24 who had a band of cattle about two miles from where the Indians were camped, not knowing of the outbreak of the Indians on the day previous, were out hunting up their stock, and on their return to their cabin that evening, found themselves surrounded by Indians, who fired upon them from behind the trees.  They were so taken by surprise, that they had not time to unsaddle their horses, but left them standing near the cabin.  Then the Indians shot, killing two, and wounding a third.  A cow which had a young calf was also shot down, and a valuable dog, which tried to stop the Indians, was also killed.  The Indians fired several volleys at the cabin, but without effect.  The men not being armed to defend themselves, had stripped off all their spare clothing, intending to make the best of their way to the settlement when it should be dark, but fortunately at this moment part of Gordon’s company25 made their appearance, having come over the mountain from Cow Creek, which is but a few miles distant.  The Indians when they saw the volunteers coming, made a quick retreat.

As it was now sundown, and not knowing anything of the outbreak, nor how many Indians they had to contend against, the volunteers thought it best to wait till morning, and send out an express to gather all the force they could to give them battle in the morning; but the Indians took the alarm , and when morning came they were gone into the mountains.

Where they are now, I cannot tell, as all travel has been stopped for about two weeks, on account of the streams being so high.

The inhabitants are all forted up, not knowing how soon they may have to witness the horrors of another outbreak.  About one half of the Prairie is now destroyed. – The Indians are still camped around us; they were our own Indians, and never were Indians better treated than they have been on this prairie, but all to no purpose.  From the commencement of the war, they have committed numerous petty thefts, till now I think forbearance, under the circumstances, ceases to be a virtue.

 Yours Truly,

1 Jesse McCulloch, son of William Neeley and Nancy Johnson McCulloch, donation land claimants who came to Oregon in 1853.

2 Jesse McCulloch’s sister, Mary J., married Samuel C. Moore 25 February 1855.  Moore’s DLC was across the river from John Dillard.  He was ordained a Methodist minister in 1875.

3 John A. Richards came from Franklin County, Virginia.  He and his wife Frances emi-grated to Oregon in 1852 and settled their claims in the fall of 1853.  Richards was a trustee of the Tenmile church.  When he died in 1887, four children survived him: Jasper H., Newton J., Sarah Jane (Bounds), and Mary Frances (Lewis).  Mrs. Richards died in 1875.

4 An account of the battle at Harrison Rice’s cabin, in which his brother Austin was wounded, may be found in the Umpqua Trapper, Vol. 5, No. 4; Vol. 6, No.4; and Vol. 7, No. 1.

5 Robinson or Robertson, the name is given as Wm. R. Robertson in the DLC records.  He is not enumerated in the Douglas County Census after 1860.

6 James Wells, bachelor son of Daniel Wells of Olalla, arrived in Oregon late in 1850 and settled his claim in the summer of 1853.

7 Thomas J. McGuire, born in Ohio and served in the Blackhawk War, arrived in Oregon with his wife Mary in 1853.  Mary was the sister of Wm. N. McCulloch (f.n. 1, above).  The McCullochs and McGuires came to Oregon over the southern route.

8 John and Elisabeth Olmstead arrived in Oregon in 1852 and settled their land claim in 1854.  John was born in New York, Elisabeth in Missouri, and they were married in Adams County, Illinois, where their oldest children were born.  John Olmstead was a stew-ard in the Tenmile Church and served as a school director in 1857.

9 Elijah Croxton, younger brother of Thomas (the letter’s author) settled his claim in 1853.  Thomas and Elijah were born in Staffordshire, England and Thomas crossed the Plains to California in 1849.  Thomas and Hannah Box Croxton moved to Josephine County in 1857, where Thomas preached.  He died at his sister’s home at Tenmile in 1868.  She was Margaret Croxton Tuffs (Mrs. James P).

10 John Fisher was born in Germany in 1828 and came to the United States with his parents when he was a year old.

Copyright 1999-2006 Greg Croxton; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly
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