Battle Creek, The First Battle in The Willamette Valley

Battle Creek, in Salem, is the location for perhaps the earliest conflict between the tribes in the Willamette Valley and the settlers, in early August 1846 (Oregon Spectator article August 6, 1846). The original inhabitants of the Salem Hills and Jefferson areas were the Santiam Kalapuyans. In this instance the fight was between the settlers and a visiting band of Klamaths. The Klamaths were regular visitors to the valley having much trade with the Kalapuyans and a close friendship with the nearby Northern and Santiam Molallas. A good system of trails, some called Klamath trails, connected the regional tribes from the Klamath Basin to the Columbia river and into the valleys to the west.

Albert Bates and the Lone Maple Company Dryer, Red Hills, Salem, Oregon, 1915. Dryer is building towards center of photo. There is a creek next to the dryer named Battle Creek. The photographer wrote that Indians used to come and steal food and frighten women left alone into cooking for them. From Rosedale a group of men gathered on a Sunday morning and shot at Indians hiding in the alder brush waiting for the women to be left alone. One Indian was shot in the loins and another was nicked by a bullet. The Indians ran away and never came back. The photographer notes it wasn't much of a battle to name a creek after. Bush House Museum, Salem Art Association Photo ID number bhp0299
Albert Bates and the Lone Maple Company Dryer, Red Hills, Salem, Oregon, 1915. Dryer is building towards center of photo. There is a creek next to the dryer named Battle Creek. The photographer wrote that Indians used to come and steal food and frighten women left alone into cooking for them. From Rosedale a group of men gathered on a Sunday morning and shot at Indians hiding in the alder brush waiting for the women to be left alone. One Indian was shot in the loins and another was nicked by a bullet. The Indians ran away and never came back. The photographer notes it wasn’t much of a battle to name a creek after. Bush House Museum, Salem Art Association Photo ID number bhp0299

One story suggests that when settler men were gone from a farm Calapuya Indians would be blamed for taking advantage of the situation and steal food and take advantage of the women. The settler men planned a trap for them and hid the in bushes near the farm, and waited for the Indians to come out of their hiding place. When this happened, a small battle ensued were some of the Indians were shot. Its likely that this account is not correct and incorporates elements from the Crooked Finger stories of how he entered settler houses, and the part of the actual  battle story.

Jesse W. Looney DLC
Jesse W. Looney DLC, GLO map 9s, 3w

Another account, occurs near John Minto and Virgil Pringle and the Jory family properties in the Red Hills (Salem Hills). The account is verified in several sources, (Minto, Bush, Looney) and states that some Klamath Indians came into the area and stole one  of Jesse Looney’s prize mares. The Looney’s established their land claim near the southern base of the Red Hills (Salem Hills, the red earth is called Jory Soil)  in 1843 and brought horses with them from the east.

Drawing of the Jesse Looney Farm 1887
Drawing of the Jesse Looney Farm 1887

A call went out to the local volunteer militia rangers, under the command of Captain Bennett. Bennett was not at the skirmish and it was E.A. Robinson who organized and marched the men 12 miles to (Battle) creek.

Jory, Minto and Pringle properties along Battle Creek, 1852 GLO map8s 3w
Jory, Minto and Pringle properties along Battle Creek, 1852 GLO map8s 3w

They charged in an undisciplined manner, and fired blindly into the brush at the Klamaths. One Indian man  was wounded through the thighs while the rest escaped. Robinson called off the attack and the mare was found tied to a tree near there. After the battle a meeting was held between the participants, and in apology for injuring the  Indian, the rangers  paid him a horse and several blankets. He survived his wounds and was seen at The Dalles sometime later.

The Battle Creek site of the conflict was some 3 miles from the Looney DLC.

3 miles from Looney property to Battle Creek
~3 miles from the Looney property to Battle Creek GLO maps 8s 3w & 9s 3w

This Battle is perhaps the first of many conflicts in the Willamette Valley between the tribes and the settlers. Generally the settlers were illegally taking land and settling well before there was any treaty or understanding about payments for the land by the United States. The tribes retaliated many times, for the over-hunting of the area by settlers, by  stealing property of the settlers. In many tribal societies when there was starvation, all of the community would share with those in need. The settlers did not generally follow this neighborly policy, and hoarded their property and resources for themselves and for their white neighbors. This caused much division  and strife in the West between Americans and the tribes.

In addition, it was proper to offer a gift to the original inhabitants of the territory when you were a newcomer visitor. Such gifting was part of the Tribal diplomacy, where visitors would assure to the original Tribes and their Chiefs that they were not going to attack them and they would respect their authority. Many settlers did not follow such diplomacy and would ignore the tribes altogether. Many Americans and Europeans thought that the the tribes did not have any semblance of a civilization, nor governance, nor concepts of counting  or land ownership. Therefore they treated the Tribes as if they were savages and never sought to understand them. Men like John Minto were the exception as he learned the Chinook Jargon and employed tribal people as scouts and laborers, and worked to understand the culture of the tribes better.

Thanks to the Marion County Historical Society for aid in researching this story.

Sources:

John Minto’s account of the Battle Creek (transcribed)

Georgina Looney’s story of the Battle Creek

John Jory account of Battle Creek in Ladd and Bush Quarterly, April 1915

Bush House Photo Collection at the Oregon Historical Photograph Collections

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