MEDFORD, Ore. — Archaeologists and volunteers have found musket balls and other artifacts confirming the site of the biggest battle of the Rogue River Indian Wars nearly 150 years ago.
Southern Oregon University announced that the site of the 1855 Battle of Hungry Hill is on federal land west of Interstate 5 in Southern Oregon between Glendale and Sunny Valley.
After fleeing an attack by Jacksonville miners on their Table Rock Reservation outside Gold Hill, a band of about 200 American Indians fought off about 300 soldiers and militia members over several days in October 1855. A few months later, the wars ended when the Indians were forced to move hundreds of miles from their home to the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations.
Southern Oregon University archaeologist Mark Tveskov said the battle’s location has long been a mystery, which was solved over the course of three years. Clues came from an old New York Herald newspaper account found by a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, which provided new details of the battle, and a battle map in the National Archives located by a military historian.
In recent weeks, a team of searchers tramped the Grave Creek Hills west of the old Applegate Trail, now Interstate 5. They looked at two other likely sites and found no artifacts. At the third site, they found two unfired .69 caliber musket balls, which would fit the 1842 Springfield musketoon issued to Army dragoons at the time, and a lead stopper from a gunpowder flask. The artifacts matched similar items found at Fort Lane outside Gold Hill.
“Sometimes when you are out there, walking through the woods and finding nothing, you feel like you are crazy for doing it,” Tveskov said. “And we had been doing that for three years.”
Tveskov said they hope to return to the battlefield for more surveys, and to preserve the site for history. Until then, they are keeping its exact location secret.
Stephen Dow Beckham, professor emeritus of history at Lewis & Clark College, wrote an account of the battle in his history of the Rogue River Wars, “Requiem for a People.”
He told The Associated Press that about 200 Indians, including women and children, were camped in timber on a ridge west of the Applegate Trail between Wolf Creek and Cow Creek, where they were attacked by about 250 local militia members. In the fall, when rivers had fallen too low for placer mining, the miners would then regularly attack the local Indians and bill the government.
A platoon of Army dragoons blazing a trail from Port Orford on the coast to the Applegate Trail stumbled into the fight and threw in with the militias.
Beckham said seven volunteers were killed and 20 wounded, and four Army soldiers were killed and seven wounded. About 20 Indians were killed.