Pit River Actions

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the Mountain Pacific Forts

The following is from the book, Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, by Gregory F. Michno.

10 June 1857: After hearing reports of massacres of white settlers in the Pit River Valley during the winter of 1856-57, the military organized an expedition to punish the perpetrators, who they believed were Shasta Indians. On 18 May, Capt. Henry M. Judah led 65 men of Companies D and E of the 4th Infantry from Fort Jones to the scene of the massacres. At Lockheart's Ferry, they met Sam Lockheart, whose brother Harry had been one of those killed. Lockheart gave the soldiers directions, but Judah could find no Indians.

The captain returned to Fort Jones, leaving Lt. (later Gen.) George Crook with 16 men of Company D. to guard the trail and the ferry. Crook scouted southeast of the ferry and, after two days, found a small Indian rancheria. By the time he returned with his men to attack, however, the camp had moved. Crook found a trail and in his excitement went too far ahead. He came upon a warrior, probably a Shasta, and killed him, but when several other Indians appeared, Crook hightailed it back.

Crook then led his little group into a canyon on the Pit River several miles upriver from the ferry. They came upon an Indian camp at the water's edge and attacked. Crook caught an arrow in his right hip after shooting a warrior trying to swim the river. The Indians soon fled, and the short fight was over.

Two Indians were killed in the skirmish. Crook with his wound was the only army casualty. The soldiers thought the arrow was poisoned, for Crook became very sick. A surgeon from Fort Jones hurried to the scene and decided it would be better to leave the arrowhead embedded. It was never removed, but Crook lived for many more years.

Here is another version of the above story from the book, Indians Wars, by Bill Yenne.

In June 1857, with Crook heading Company D, the 4th Infantry Regiment went into the Pit River country in response to a series of fatal attacks against settlers that had occurred through the winter. In a skirmish on June 10, Crook was hit in his hip by an arrow, the head of which would remain in him for the rest of his life. In a series of engagements lasting through July, Crook and his men killed about two dozen Indians, lost none of their own, and managed to recover some stolen cattle.

A month and a half later, in the same area:

27 July, 1857: Upon refitting his men after the battle at the Fall River Lava, Lt. George Crook and his Company D, 4th Infantry, set out in search of more Indian raiders. They covered the lava beds again, then moved about eight miles northeast to a glen where some Indians had established a camp under a bluff. Crook estimated that the camp had 500 Indians, quite outnumbering his company, yet he proceeded to attack.

Before Crook could get his men down the rocky bluff, the Indians saw them and scattered. At the bottom, each soldier picked an Indian and chased him down. Crook shot one, then rode after another who was drawing a bead on one of his men. The warrior saw Crook coming and the two faced each other at 60 yards. The Indian dodged from one side to another while singing his death song. Crook kneeled down and fired, breaking the Indians's back. The lieutenant claimed he killed another warrior as he tried to escape into the hills.

After the chase, the soldiers rallied in the village and destroyed everything they could find, including a large supply of grasshoppers drying for the winter food supply. Crook had no casualties. His men killed or wounded about ten Indians.

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