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  • The long fight for 'our country'

    The brutal battles over who should live in the Rogue River Valley left scars that still can be felt
  • In the depths of the cold winter of 1856, more than 300 men, women and children began trudging north from the Table Rock Reservation under the watchful eyes of a U.S. Army unit.
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    • About this series
      Today: The slaughter of Indians at Little Butte Creek in October 1855 launches the nine-month Rogue River Indian Wars
      Tuesday: One Talent man risks his life to speak out against violence toward ...
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      About this series
      Today: The slaughter of Indians at Little Butte Creek in October 1855 launches the nine-month Rogue River Indian Wars

      Tuesday: One Talent man risks his life to speak out against violence toward Indians

      Wednesday: A local archaeologist hunts for the site of the battle of Hungry Hill, one of the key skirmishes in the wars

      Thursday: The forced relocation of Southern Oregon Indians to the Grand Ronde reservation reverberates today
  • In the depths of the cold winter of 1856, more than 300 men, women and children began trudging north from the Table Rock Reservation under the watchful eyes of a U.S. Army unit.
    Seven tribal members died during the roughly 260-mile journey that began Feb. 25 at their temporary reservation and ended March 25 at the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations in northwestern Oregon.
    The forced march came during what was known as the Rogue River Indian Wars, which began when a militia from Jacksonville killed men, women and children in an Indian village at the mouth of Little Butte Creek in October 1855. It ended in June 1856 with the battle of Big Bend on the lower Rogue River in which Chief John and his warriors were ultimately defeated.
    "The war was one of the most rapid and really violent endings of traditional population existence that occurred anywhere in this country," said Janet Joyer, historian for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. "The Rogue River Indian Wars were well-known for having been a very difficult, bitter period of time."
    It was so challenging that Army officers who fought in the conflicts were considered well-trained for leading men into combat in the Civil War, which started in the spring of 1861, she said.
    "For the Indians, the Rogue River wars and what transpired were critical events that changed their way of life completely," she said. "The result was they were taken away from their homeland and from everything they knew how to relate to the land to survive."
    The indigenous peoples who had inhabited the Rogue, Applegate and Illinois river valleys for centuries saw drastic changes in a very short time to their homeland, said historian and author Kay Atwood of Ashland.
    "In the five years between 1851, when more-or-less 'permanent' settlement began in the Rogue River valley, and 1855, when the final wars broke out, long-held anger and fear along with more recent violence and retaliation between Euro-Americans and Indian residents spilled blood throughout southwest Oregon," Atwood said.
    "When the fighting ended, their white captors drove the surviving prisoners northward away from long-held homes," she added. "White farmers obliterated signs of their predecessors from the landscape as they built houses, planted crops and replaced the oak forests with pastures."
    Lake Oswego resident Stephen Dow Beckham, 70, author of the 1971 book "Requiem for a People: The Rogue Indians and the Frontiersmen," said hatred and racism fueled the wars.
    "The war was the direct result of the aggression by exterminators — Indian haters — living in the Rogue River valley," said the retired history professor. "They had an attitude of racism that native people were sub-human, savage and had no right or entitlement to be their neighbors."
    Moreover, many in the volunteer militia profited from the war by charging Uncle Sam for any conceivable item they may have used, he said.
    "For them, it was a means of garnering income for the use of arms, powder, bars of soap — anything they could possibly charge the government," he said.
    The historians said several factors came together that did not bode well for the Indians of southwestern Oregon, including the opening of the Oregon Trail, creation of the Oregon Territory in 1848, and promises of free land in the 1850 Donation Lands Claim Act. And the discovery of gold in Southern Oregon in 1851 brought a swarm of gold seekers to the region, they added.
    However, the Organic Act of 1848, which established the new Oregon Territory, called for Indians living in the region to be treated respectfully and reimbursed for any land taken from them, Joyer said.
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