Soldiers kill 10
who left reservation
As white settlers moved during the 1850s into what later would become Del Norte County, both Tolowa and Yurok tribal members were being housed at Wau-kell. Neither tribe was was happy with the situation.
The Tolowa wished to return to their homes, while the Yurok were anxious to see them go.
Gen. George Crook blamed the Tolowa's dissatisfaction on whites who wanted them back on Smith River.
Before Crook arrived in the region, about 100 of the Tolowa had returned home, and he agreed with federal Indian Agent H. P. Heintzelman that they would never return to the reservation without force.
When the Indians learned that Crook's orders were against provoking incidents and fighting with them unless they fired first, a number of Tolowa slipped away in small parties.
But since they realized they could not all leave in that manner, they organized a different plan.
Then a Yurok tribal member told Crook that the Tolowa were planning to murder him, destroy his boats, kill Heintzelman and his employees, then sack the federal Indian agency and go home, according to the Redwood National and State Parks Basic History Data.
Crook's plan was to strike first, surround the conspirators at daylight and establish their guilt.
When Crook bedded down that night, he took weapons with him, leaving a box of brasses inside the entrance of his tent so he would be awakened if anyone tried to come in.
But the Indians had decided to first eliminate Heintzelman, and had sent for him to come to their village to see an ill man. As the agent and his surgeon headed that way, they were attacked. Able to fend the Tolowa off for a few moments, Heintzelman's rear detachment was able to scatter the attackers when he got to the scene.
Crook knew about the attack when a runner brought him a note telling him that Heintzelman was killed. It proved later not to be the case, but Crook summoned his soldiers, crossed the river and moved against the Tolowa.
The fight ended with 10 dead and many wounded. Twenty-six warriors and a number of women and children were captured and made to swear they would stay on the reservation.
But the rest of the Tolowa fled into the mountains.
The free Tolowa sent word that if Crook wanted to fight, he knew where to find them. Heintzelman agreed that pursuit was necessary. With Tolowa and Chetco Indians in the mountains, and reports that the two might fight together against the Rogue settlers, Heintzelman wanted them brought to the reservation and taught that it "is their home."
Federal Indian Superintendent Thomas J. Henley, who had been reading both men's reports and newspaper coverage of the events, decided the outbreak came because of Heintzelman's "injudicious management."
Henley wrote in his evaluation to that the people of Crescent City had pushed "constantly" for removal of the Tolowa to the reservation. Before Heintzelman agreed to do that, he consulted with Henley, who told him not to remove anyone until he had food to give them.
Heintzelman succumbed, however, to the settlers' pressure and forced most of the tribe to the reservation.
The lack of food and dissatisfaction with housing at Wau-Kell had sparked the fight.
Henley gave the Tolowa permission to return to their villages on Smith River, but some whites in Crescent City leaked his directive to the Tolowa.
At the same time, the Indians who decided to stay on the reservation were told they would be harassed by the Yurok. They quickly crossed the Klamath and headed to Crescent City and Smith River
At the bottom of the trouble were a number of "low-principled whites" who had lain in ambush to assassinate Heintzelman.
Relaying the information to department headquarters, Crook warned that if the Tolowa were allowed to remain on Smith River, those whites would cause a war. He also warned that the Tolowa had not laid in a winter's supply of food, and thus would either steal or starve.
High federal authorities agreed with Henley, thus tying the hands of the military, which could concentrate on construction projects and build Fort Ter-Waw.