Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Northern Gold Activities Mixed, Many Headed for Boise Basin [otd 06/16]

A correspondent who signed himself as “Mudsill” wrote a letter from Lewiston on June 16, 1863, that was published in The Oregonian a week later. He said, “I arrived at this place yesterday evening. The town is dull, awful dull. Everybody has gone to Boise, and everybody else getting ready to go.”
Luna House Hotel, Lewiston. [Illust-North]

This refrain had, of course, been operable for a good many weeks. All the northern gold towns had lost people, sometimes nine out of ten from their peaks. Mudsill went on, “This is not the route for miners to travel now. I am informed that Mr. Sanborn is out at work on the trail with a force of ten or fifteen men; but saddle horses are scarce and high, and the opportunities for getting goods taken out are not good.”

That remark referred to Homer D. Sanborn, a native of New Hampshire, who had emigrated west in 1857, when he was in his early twenties. He settled first in Oregon, and then followed the rush into Idaho. By 1862, Sanborn had established himself as a Lewiston merchant.

A week or so earlier, folks in Lewiston had raised $2,000 to finance construction of a good road south to the mining camps of the Boise Basin (Placerville, and so on). Sanborn had agreed to supervise the work.  An earlier report said his team “will remove all rocks and obstructions found, will build such bridges as may [be] necessary on small streams or over deep gulches, and place ferries or rafts on such places as are necessary.”

Yet the project provided only a temporary ray of hope. Once the roads in southern Idaho improved, Lewiston lost any role for the mines there. Sanborn himself eventually gave up on Lewiston and returned to Portland.

Mudsill’s letter to the Oregonian continued, “I have been diligent in obtaining information concerning the mines near this place. … Elk City is dull, little doing. Cause, want of water. Florence is dull – causes too numerous to mention. Oro Fino is more prosperous – laborers in demand at five dollars per day, without board, and supplies cheap.”

Changing topics, he said, “Umatilla Landing is a lively place, but persons intending to sojourn or locate there, must not be too expectant.” As evidence, he mentioned “Taylor’s Restaurant,” one of the most heavily publicized establishments in town. But the eatery was actually located “in a loose board shed, some ten or twelve feet in width, and cobbled up against the side of one of the few more permanent structures of the town.”
Umatilla Landing, ca 1864.
Umatilla Museum and Historical Foundation.

Some businesses still felt the effects from everyone stocking up when freight costs on the river steamboats were low. The writer said, “I saw packers and teamsters soliciting freight for Boise at sixteen cents per pound. Some of them stated that they had been waiting for three weeks without procuring a load.”

Mudsill noted in passing that he had encountered “a real live vigilance committee” – which sounded more like a civilian posse – on his journey. He averred that it was “the first that has ever come under my immediate personal observation in this country.”

He was not “favorably impressed.” They had recovered some stolen horses from two “somewhat notorious” thieves, but had let the crooks get away. Moreover, as Mudsill's party left, the posse had decided to indulge in “Capt. Alcohol, embodied in a keg of whiskey.” And, from “the hearty welcome he received from the company,” the usual outcome could be expected.
References: [Illust-State]
Joseph Gaston, Portland, Oregon: It’s History and Builders, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago (1911).
“Letter from Lewiston,” The Oregonian, Portland (June 23, 1863).

Monday, June 1, 2015

Indian Agent Discourses on “The Snake Indians” [otd 06/01]

On June 1, 1863, J. W. Perit Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, addressed a report to his Washington, D. C. boss, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The essay summarized what he had learned about the Indian tribes commonly known as the “Snakes.”
J. W. Perit Huntington.
Image courtesy of
the Oregon State Library.

He wrote, “The word Snake appears to be a general term applied to several bands or tribes of Indians quite distinct in language and characteristic, and inhabiting different tracts of country, but so connected by relationship (having intermarried with each other for long periods), and by long continued friendly intercourse, that they are usually regarded by whites and neighboring Indian tribes as one people.”

The Journals of the Corps of Discovery for 1804 contain the first mention of the “Snake Indians.” Captains Lewis and Clark learned of the “tribe” as a source of horses while they wintered at Fort Mandan, about forty miles north of today’s Bismarck, North Dakota.  The following year, near the Salmon River in Idaho, they traded for horses with the Lemhi Shoshone, one of the tribes collectively known as the Snake.

The next recorded encounter happened in 1811, when a fur company party led by Wilson Price Hunt met some Snakes in Wyoming. Later, two Snakes guided them over Teton Pass into Idaho [blog, October 5].

During the fur trade era that followed, mountain men and the Snakes mixed amicably, some whites acquiring Indian wives. The early flow of pioneers on the Oregon and California Trails through Idaho offered more opportunities for Snake bands to trade profitably. Thus, despite minor incidents, relations between the Snakes and white remained friendly.

However, the discovery of gold in California released a flood of gold-seekers and pioneers on the trails. That further degraded hunting and grazing in those areas, and clashes became more frequent and more violent. Then prospectors found gold in Idaho. Now, the tribes had to deal with miners and merchants who built cabins and stayed.

By the time Huntington prepared his report in 1863, conflict had escalated severely. The Superintendent tried to name the tribes he thought fit under the “Snake” designation. Modern scholarship does not agree totally with his list, which included the Modocs and the Klamaths.

Still, he did correctly identify the groups we now call the Shoshone, Bannock, and Northern Paiute Indians. He estimated their collective population as perhaps “5,000 to 6,000 souls” and said, “They have had but little intercourse with the whites, and that little of a hostile character.”

The worst of that violence, he felt, was between the miners and the tribes: “Many murders and thefts have been committed by the latter, which of course have been retaliated by the whites. In fact an actual state of war has existed there for the last twelve months.”
Shoshone Encampment.
William H. Jackson photo, Library of Congress.

He had conferred with the regional Army commander, and “The general concurred with me in regarding a war with the Indians inevitable, and regretted his inability to send troops to that region sooner than midsummer.”

Huntington strongly recommended that “the Indian Department” meet with the Snakes, hand out presents, and negotiate “the purchase of their lands.” He went on, “In my opinion the public interests urgently demand that an effort be made to accomplish this object.”

Unfortunately, the administration had no attention to spare for his recommendation. Over five years would pass before protracted military action brought a measure of peace with the western Snake bands.
References: [B&W]
Wilson Price Hunt, Hoyt C. Franchère (ed. and translator), Overland diary of Wilson Price Hunt, translated from the original French Nouvelles Annales des Voyages (Paris, 1821), Ashland Oregon Book Society (1973).
Daniel S. Lamont (Director), The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. (1897).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gary E. Moulton (ed.), The Definitive Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002).
“The Snake War: 1864-1868,” Reference Series No. 236, Idaho State Historical Society (1966).