Lost Oregon Indian Battlefield Discovery Attributable to ‘Detective Work’

Archaeological survey took place over three years, until the battlefield locations were finally identified in September, 2012. The crew included staff and students of the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology as well as community and tribal volunteers.

Lost Oregon Indian Battlefield Discovery Attributable to ‘Detective Work’

After being lost for more than a century and three years of searching, the location of the largest battle of the Rogue River Wars has been discovered by Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) archaeologists.

A number of clues including archived maps and newspaper clippings led to the eventual pinpointing of the location of the Battle of Hungry Hill, which took place in October of 1855 in the Grave Creek Hills at the beginning of the war.

But the clues that confirmed the location of the site were found while combing a 24-square-mile area of mountainous, heavily timbered terrain southwest of what is now Roseburg, Oregon.

When a team of a dozen archaeology students, armed with metal detectors and led by anthrology professor Mark Tveskov, found .69 caliber lead musket balls and a lead stopper.

The musket balls were the kind used by the U.S. Army in its 1842 Springfield musketoons and the stopper went to a gunpowder tin manufactured by the DuPont de Nemours & Company of Wilmington, Delaware, the leading supplier of gunpowder to the U.S. Army during the mid-19th century, according to a university press release.

"It's very gratifying to finally find it—we've done a lot of detective work," Tveskov told Ashland Daily Tidings, stressing it was a team effort.

The press release reports that the Rogue River War of 1855-56 started when Euro-Americans flooded southern Oregon in the early 1850s looking for gold. Tensions rose in 1855 when villagers from the mining town of Jacksonville attacked Takelma Indians from the Table Rock Indian Reservation, murdering many, on October 8. Several Indian groups retaliated, destroying homes and killing families along the Oregon-California Trail. Toward the end of the month, 300 U.S. Army dragoons and volunteer militiamen led by Caption Andrew Jackson Smith attacked the 200 Indian warriors. By nightfall on the first day of the attack, the American force retreated with 39 casualties; at least 16 Indian men were killed.

But it wasn’t the easy victory the Americans were expecting, so the Rogue River War continued until the following spring, when southern Oregon’s Indians were removed from their ancestral homelands to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations in northern Oregon.

“It’s important to find sites like the Battle of Hungry Hill because the events of the Rogue River War were essential to the development of the Oregon Territory,” Tveskov told The Oregonian. “They’re a part of our pioneer history, part of our Native American history and part of our national history.”