Stories, Legends and Other Things: Who Won the War?


During the conflict between local Indians and the U.S Military over one hundred and fifty years ago, many engagements took place, and most of them were considered major battles. Today different interpretations of what actually happened are still being called into question. Some people question whether it was actually a war at all. Still others debate on who actually won the conflict between the two groups.

Whether or not it was an actual war is pure semantics. But out of respect for our forefathers who died fighting during that time, let’s call it a war.

Over the past few years new history books have been written proclaiming victory over the local Indians by the U.S. Soldiers. In Colleges and Universities, some scholars are also teaching this assumption. In some cases, even Indian scholars are carrying this idea forth, and all are doing it without much explanation on how they arrived on that theory.

Most Historians agree that a state of war existed between the mountain tribes of Northwestern California and the U.S Military during the period of 1858 through 1864. However, with outbreak of the Civil War between 1861 through 1865, most of the regular U.S soldiers went back east for that engagement. During that time, the bulk of the soldiers fighting the Indians in our area were made up of California State sponsored volunteers from towns on the coast and

Weaverville. Many lacked military training which became evident during the most intense battles that occurred during that time.

Up until 1864, Hupa Indians maintained three fighting groups of men. Each group comprised of about fifty men, and most of them were well-equipped with repeating rifles, unlike many of their opponents who were still being issued single-shot rifles.

The Hupa men were led by Tswenaldin John, a man widely known by the white soldiers as a very clever and wise military tactician. His two lieutenants’ were Handsome Billy and Big Jim.

These three fighting groups maintained a clear advantage over the soldiers. A group of fifty men were the perfect size to carry out guerrilla style warfare against the soldiers who were not familiar with the tangled, heavily forested and severe terrain. With their superior knowledge of the land, the Indians could choose where they wanted to fight. And they also knew how to retreat without detection when they wanted too. In a few instances they even used the limestone caves up river to disappeared into and emerge miles away.

In most cases, the soldiers from Fort Gaston were a slow and ineffective force when they responded to an ambush of a pack train or an attack on miners or settlers. Because of the harsh terrain, Fort Gaston had no Cavalry. It was all Infantry, and when they moved out, they all marched in single file with a drummer leading the way to keep them in step. An oral history account by a farmer in Willow Creek told how a troop of soldiers came under attack by one of the Hupa fighting groups while they were crossing the river. The farmer reported that well after the attack, a detachment of soldiers from Fort Gaston finally arrived on the scene. He said you could hear them coming for miles with the drummer hitting the drum for each step the soldiers would take. The Indians of course, were long gone by the time they arrived.

This was the main type of battle that went on during the five years of fighting so that the Hupa could remain in the

Hoopa Valley. Just before the treaty, the Hupa were in control of the whole Trinity River area all the way to Big Bar. They had essentially shut-down all mining activity in the lower Trinity River area.  So, it was in the best interest of the U.S Government to make a treaty with the Hupa and stop the war.

The Treaty of “Peace and Friendship” was signed on August 12, 1864. It included everything the Hupa fought for; the whole of the Hoopa Valley and surrounding areas for hunting. All the white settlers to be removed from the valley and amnesty for everyone who fought in the war, were only a part of the overall treaty.

Years later, my great grandmother and great grandfather, Lilly and Packer Henry Hostler told the family what happened on that day when the treaty was signed. Living at Takimildin, they said that a great commotion went up in the valley during the middle of the day. Bells started ringing and the mountain howitzers all went off at Fort Gaston and firearms throughout the valley were fired into the air. It had to be a tremendously great feeling for both the soldiers and the Hupa to put an end to that terrible but necessary conflict.

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April 25th, 2014

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