Skip to content Rogue River Wars (1855-1856)

The Rogue River Wars was an armed conflict between the US Army, local militias and volunteers, and the Native American tribes commonly grouped under the designation of Rogue River Indians, in the Rogue River Valley area of what today is southern Oregon in 1855–56. While the conflict designation usually includes only the hostilities that took place during the mentioned period of time, numerous skirmishes escalated in the area since 1850, eventually breaking into open warfare.

The interaction between the Rogue River Indians and the first settlers who established homesteads in the area was relatively peaceful. However, the situation changed drastically with the opening of the Oregon Trail and the gold rushes in northern California and later in eastern Oregon. Flocks of white settlers and miners soon flooded the area, consuming without restrictions the natural resources upon which the Indians relied on for living, like hunting, fishing and chopping down entire forests of oak trees.

Along these lines hostilities can be traced to American Ewing Young’s travel to Oregon in 1834 when his party murdered several natives and buried their bodies on the island where the party was camped. These bodies were later discovered by the local tribe and led to a retaliation the next year when an American fur trapping party passed through and was attacked by the natives. Four of the eight European-Americans were killed with William J. Bailey and George Gay as two of the survivors. Then in 1837 as part of the Willamette Cattle Company Young, Bailey, and Gay were herding cattle north to the Willamette Valley when Gay shot and killed a native boy for no other reason than the previous attacks years earlier. The locals were unsuccessful in retaliations during the remainder of the cattle drive as only a few animals were lost to attacks.