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Indian killer's rashness led to his own death

James Lupton arrived in Jackson County ready to fight Indians and just two years later he got his wish. An arrow pierced a lung and he was dead.

The 29-year-old led a sneak attack on a Takelma Indian village and set off a revenge raid by small bands of Takelmas who moved west along the Rogue River into Josephine County, burning cabins, killing nearly 20 settlers, and igniting the Rogue River Indian War of 1855.

Although Lupton had just been elected in fall 1855 to represent Jackson County in Oregon’s Territorial Legislature, no one would have called him a calm, rational thinker.

Historian A. G. Walling, in his 1884 history of Jackson County, describes Lupton as “rash and headstrong” and Lupton’s partner, George Cole, agreed.

“A more honorable, upright and energetic man it has never been my fortune to know,” Cole would write, “but he was brave to rashness.”

Early one morning, in June 1853, Cole and Lupton were headed for Jacksonville from the Umpqua Valley with a drove of hogs. Near the ferry across the Rogue River, near today’s TouVelle State Park, they ran into trouble.

“We found ourselves confronted by a band of about 40 Indians,” Cole said, “armed with guns, pistols, bows and arrows.”

Lupton reached for his pistol. Cole grabbed his arm and told him not to shoot. Speaking with the Indian leader in Chinook jargon, Cole learned the men expected a raiding party of whites who erroneously believed that the Indians held a white woman captive.

Convinced of the travelers’ peaceful intentions, the leader shook hands with Cole, but eyeing Lupton’s pistol, refused to shake hands with him.

“My companion,” Cole said, “proposed going back and taking a few shots at them just to teach them better than to interfere with white men.”

The partners continued on and eventually went their separate ways.

Two years later, on Oct. 7, 1855, Lupton left Jacksonville, leading a group of between 20 and 40 men on an early morning extermination crusade against an Indian village that sat not far from the junction of the Rogue River and Little Butte Creek.

“Hair-brained enthusiasts and professed ruffians,” Walling said. “It is the prevailing opinion that he was led into the affair to court popularity, which is almost the only incentive that could have occurred to him.”

The dawn attack met little resistance. “An indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children,” said a reporter.

How many died remains in doubt. Estimates range from 25 to 80, yet with general agreement that the majority killed were women and children.

James Lupton, who styled himself as Major Lupton, although he never was in the military, was the only person to die in the attacking force. Apparently, while rushing through the village with knife, rifle and pistol, a single arrow found its mark in his chest.

“The Lupton incident,” Walling wrote, “should have been promptly repudiated as of too brutal a nature to represent the wishes of an enlightened and humane public.”

But it wasn’t. When they finally buried Lupton in the Jacksonville Cemetery, they marked his gravestone as if he had been an innocent man — a man simply, “Killed by Indians in Jacksonville.”

Reach Shady Cove writer Bill Miller at newsmiller@live.com.