River Mileage


River Left

A brief history of Battle Bar Flats

This is a greatly abbreviated history of the intricate relations between the native tribes of the Rogue River Valley and settlers that began to arrive in the area in the 1830s onward. In addition, the below text does not depict the detail and nuance the different tribes, languages, dialects, and practices of the area had and continue to have.

Before white settlement, the Rogue River Valley was the home of three major tribes: The Shasta, Takelma, and Athabaskans. Nuances between the culture and language of each tribal band varied, but the way of life was centered around the river and the resources fostered in its valley. All three groups depended upon the natural landscape for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine, and they took great care to honor, preserve, and protect it: They were stewards of the land. First contact with pioneers was made in 1826, when the Hudson Bay Company sent a trapping expedition into the Klamath River region. Settlement of the surrounding Illinois valley followed in the 1830s, as settlers pushed further west seeking fertile soil to farm. In 1850, gold was found in the Rogue Valley. This resulted in a dramatic influx in white settlers who traversed to the area in pursuit of wealth. As was common with settlement on the so-called frontier, the existing culture of the tribes in the Rogue Valley was brutally misunderstood by the settlers. Pioneers in pursuit of gold and farmable land regarded the Rogue River Valley as unused by local tribes. This assumption, of course, was untrue, as the Shasta, Takelma, and Athbaskan groups depended on the valley for material and cultural resources. However, settlers lacked an understanding of the tribes’ cultural and traditional practices. As more settlers moved to the area, new industries such as mining and logging were fortified; the impacts of which quickly compromised the long managed resources of the tribes. This threatened their food security, access to ancestral lands, cultural wealth, and way of life.

Such threats to native life materialized in a brutal display of animosity in October of 1855, when self-styled settlers massacred 27 native men, women, and children living near the Table Rock Reservation (near present day Medford). Disputes over land and resources had occurred since contact in the early 1800s, but the cruelty of the massacre reflected rising hostilities in the region, and was the beginning of a series of battles now known as the Rogue River Indian War. The war consisted of numerous battles between banded groups of the local tribes and combined forces of volunteer miner militias and U.S troops. One of the battles occurred here, at Battle Bar. The Battle of Battle Bar took place in April 1856, when government sanctioned US troops were sent to “eliminate the Indians” that had taken refuge at the site during the winter months. The battle was fought from across the river, with the tribes and troops on opposing river banks. Casualties occurred on both sides. Hostilities lasted throughout 1856, but by the year’s close, the Takelma, Shasta, and Atabastkans were forcibly removed and relocated to the Siletz Reservation on the central Oregon coast. This action marked the beginning of a new era for the tribes; one of relocation, reservations, and forced cultural assimilation. In the following years, laws were passed that prohibited native dress, spiritual practices, and language. Traditional foods were replaced with rations of flour and beef. However, despite repressive laws aimed to eliminate native culture, practices remained. In recent years, revitalization has continued to increase, and traditional ceremonies are again being practiced. There are also active attempts to revitalize traditional languages. Ever resilient, cultures kept alive by elders continue to be passed down.

Sources and further reading