Coquelle Trails

Part 2. Historical Accounts, 1826 - 1875

2. Jedediah Smith Expedition: June 30 – July 10, 1828

Jedediah Smith did not bring the first horses into the study area, but he probably established the first pack trail through the region when he moved more than 300 horses and mules from northern California to the Umpqua River along the Oregon Coast in the early summer of 1828. Like McLeod, he had a single objective: but Smith’s was not beaver (although he collected skins via trade and trapping as they progressed along their route); it was to get his horses to market via the Willamette Valley, Fort Vancouver, and the Rocky Mountains.

McLeod’s purpose had been to explore travel routes, find beaver, and to possibly set up long-term trade arrangements. Good relations were critical to his mission.  Smith just wanted to get to Fort Vancouver as quickly and safely as possible.  Indians, for the most part, were seen as impediments in western Oregon, particularly when they shot his horses and mules with arrows.  There had even been instances where members of Smith’s party had killed local Indians along the route, in an effort to keep them at a distance until the livestock could get through.

In 1940, Alice Bay Maloney wrote an article detailing Smith’s campsites along the Oregon Coast, which she numbered chronologically, from south to north, beginning with “Oregon Camp No. 1” (Maloney 1940: 306).  We retain her numbering system in this report, where Smith enters the study area and camps to the north of Humbug Mountain (Oregon Camp #8), and leaves the study area after crossing Coos Bay and camping on July 10 (Oregon Camp #17).

Smith had been caught and jailed twice for illegally entering the country of Mexico (now present-day California) with an expedition of Americans, for the purpose of trapping beaver. On the second occasion he was suspected of trying to help the US lay claim to Mexican lands by way of exploration and commercial development.  After a fellow American, a resident of Monterey, posted a bond and a voucher, Smith was released from confinement and given two months to leave California (Sullivan 1934: 36-44). By late December 1827, Smith had hired seventeen men and began to journey up the Sacramento River Valley with a herd of 330 California horses and mules he planned to sell once they returned to the Rocky Mountains (ibid.: 46-53). Smith and his employees illegally trapped beaver as they slowly ascended the flooded Valley, looking for safe passage east across the Sierra Nevadas.  When they reached present-day Red Bluff on April 10, 1828, Smith made the decision to turn west toward the Pacific, and then head north to Oregon and HBC Fort Vancouver; which was well-traveled from that point to the Rockies (ibid.: 53-79).  Smith’s expedition included the first white people, black man, horses, and mules known to enter the redwoods. After a few conflicts with local Indians, they reached the ocean on June 8 and headed north toward Oregon along the coast (ibid.: 97).

Smith reached Oregon on June 23, camping on the north side of Winchuck River.  The expedition’s subsequent daily travels and campsites north along the Pacific Coast are fairly well documented by a number of reliable sources (e.g. Dale 1918: 267-274; Sullivan 1934: 104-111; Maloney 1940; Morgan 1964: 256-267; Hall 1995: 16-17; Douthit 1999; Tveskov 2000: 355-358).  On June 30, Smith reached the project study area, skirting Humbug Mountain along Brush Creek and then setting camp either at the mouth of Brush Creek (according to several sources) or the mouth of Gold Run Creek (as appears more likely at this point), near present-day Battle Rock (Vol. II, Part 2.2).  Rogers says “took a steep point of mountain, keeping the same course, and travelled over it and along the beach 6 miles more, and encamped,” which would be Gold Run Creek if the “steep Point of mountain” is Humbug. Smith writes: “From a high hill I had an opportunity to view the country which Eastward was high rough hills and mountains generally timbered & north long the coast apparently Low with some prairae [sic],” which would also be the appearance of the country from the hilltops around Gold Run Creek.

On July 1st Smith “Encamped on a river 60 yards wide” after traveling about 12 miles, by Rogers’ estimate. Smith estimates they traveled only nine miles, which would take them to the Sixes River from Gold Run Creek, after crossing Cape Blanco. On July 2 Smith says they traveled 12 miles north “principally along the shore,” and passed a small lake at about six miles. If Smith’s figures are accurate, then the “small lake” would be Floras Lake.   Smith also describes the hills they passed as being three or four miles from the shore with “the intermediate space being interspersed with grassy pairae [sic] brush, sand hills & low Pines.” This also describes the Floras Lake area.  Rogers agrees with Smith, saying the party traveled “pretty much along the beach and over small sand hills; the timber, small pine; the grass not so plenty nor so good as it has been some days past,” and also for a distance of 12 miles.  That evening they camped about two miles south of the Coquille River, which would be somewhere near Bradley Lake.

On the 3rd of July Smith made his final journal entry, as the expedition reached the Coquille River:

At 2 Miles from camp I came to a river 200 yards wide which although the tide was low was deep and apparently a considerable River.  On first arriving in sight I discovered [two] some indians moving as fast as possible up the river in a canoe.  I ran my horse to get above them in order to stop them.  When I got opposite to them & they discovered they could not make their escape they put ashore and drawing their canoe up the bank they fell to work with all their might to split it in pieces.

Whether Smith simply stopped making journal entries at this point, or whether future entries were lost, is unknown.  Rogers reports that they used the canoe obtained by Smith to cross the Coquille, and then traveled five miles more before setting up camp, which would place them near Whiskey Run.  Given the theft of an Indian boy near the mouth of the Coquille by one of the men with Alexander McLeod less than two years earlier (January 4, 1827), Rogers’ entry has an interesting note: “Marishall caught a boy about 10 years old and brought him to camp.  I give him some beads and dryed meat; he appears well and satisfied, and makes signs that the Inds. have all fled in their canoes and left him.”

The first American 4th of July on the Oregon Coast was observed (if at all) at Cape Arago, which Rogers describes as “a long point” [of land]. On the 5th camp was moved 1 ½ miles to find better grass for the horses and mules.  Here: “Two Inds., who speak Chinook, came to our camp; they tell us we are ten days travell from Catapos on the wel Hamett, which is pleasing news to us.” Rogers is saying that they have been told by reliable sources that they are nearing their journey’s end from California, when they reach the friendly Kalapuyan tribes in the Willamette Valley.

On July 6 the expedition traveled two more miles to a location likely near present-day Yoakam Point, Here they stayed for two days, resting their horses and preparing the meat from two elk killed by hunters. On the 7th “about 100” Indians came to the camp with fish and mussels for sale. Here Rogers noted that one of the Indians had a gun and all had knives and “tomahawks.” One person also had a blanket and several pieces of cloth – additional indicators of trade with the HBC.

On July 8, the trappers moved two more miles and camped near a large Indian town at present-day Charleston, where eight animals were shot with arrows, killing three mules and one horse. The following day camp seems to have been moved to present-day Empire, or possibly further north to Pony Slough (“another river”), although Rogers says they only travelled about two miles after crossing South Slough:

We made an early start again this morning, and crossed the 1st fork of the river, which is 400 or 500 yards wide, and got all our things safe across about 9 o.c. A.M., then packed up and started along the beach along the river N., and travelled about 2 miles, and struck another river and enc.  We crossed in Ind. canoes; a great many Inds. live along the river bank; there houses built after the fashion of a shed.  A great many Inds. in camp with fish and berris for sale; the men bought them as fast as they brought them.  We talked with the chiefs about those Inds. shooting our horses, but could get but little satisfaction as they say that they were not accessary to it, and we, finding them so numerous and the travelling so bad, we thought it advisable to let it pass at present without notice.  We bought a number of beaver, land, and sea otter skins from them in the course of the day.

On July 10 the expedition crossed Coos Bay in the morning, with Smith crossing in a canoe with a mule swimming alongside “where the swells was running pretty high.” Two more horses died of their wounds before crossing.  From somewhere near the crossing point Rogers observed: “The river we crossed to-day unites with the one we crossed yesterday and makes an extensive bay that runs back into the hills; it runs N. and S., or rather heads N.E. and enters the ocean S.W., at the entrance into the ocean its about 1 ½ miles wide.” Finding good grass nearby, they decided to camp another day before heading north along the coast toward the Umpqua River.


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