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Indians ambush gold prospectors in McLoughlin Canyon (Okanogan Valley) on July 29, 1858.
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On July 29, 1858, Native Americans from the Chelan, Okanogan, and Columbia tribes ambush a group of approximately 160 prospectors in McLoughlin Canyon in the Okanogan Valley. Six of the travelers are killed, about nine others are wounded, and several Indians may be killed. The miners withdraw and continue their journey amid sniping and theft of stock, but no one else will be killed.
In 1858, gold discoveries along the Fraser River in British Columbia attracted miners from California. Prospectors made their way north by sea to Victoria, by traveling up the Columbia River, and by land through Klamath Falls, Oregon. Word reached the prospectors that Indians had killed prospectors across the international boundary north of Lake Osoyoos. Some 160 men collected at Fort Walla Walla in July 1858 and organized themselves into four companies under the leadership of David McLoughlin, son of the longtime Hudson's Bay Company factor at Fort Vancouver.
The Columbia Chief Moses organized Chelans and Okanogans to attack the party to avenge the death of Quil-tin-e-nock, a popular Yakama leader. Quil-tin-e-nock was killed in a raid on other miners.
The party headed north and James McLaughlin replaced David McLoughlin as the leader. At Fort Okanogan they started up the east side of the Okanogan River along one of the many paths that made up the Cariboo Trail to the gold fields. At what would become known as McLoughlin Canyon, sheer rocks require travelers to proceed up a narrow defile away from the river. David McLoughlin was at the head of an advance party when he noticed some trees with dead leaves and stopped. At that point an Indian fired a musket, which struck McLoughlin's horse in the neck, killing the animal.
The Indians began firing from behind trees felled as part of the ambush plan. Three men from California were killed immediately and as many as nine others were wounded. Fort Colvile trader Francis Wolff saw his horse gallop away with $2,000 in gold dust in the saddlebags. The main party reinforced the advance guard, and the Indians set fire to the grass and trees. The miners pulled back.
The prospectors built rafts to cross the Okanogan River and ferried and forded their supplies and stock to the other side. Several days later, a party returned and buried the dead. The Indians continued to harass the party, one night attempting to stampede the stock. Another group found a pack string and cattle also owned by Wolff and stole them. Miners found several Indians drying meat from two of Wolff's cattle and took them prisoner.
The McLaughlin group encountered 20 men of the annual Hudson's Bay Company fur brigade traveling from Fort Colville to Fort Hope. Chief trader MacDonald calmed things down with the Indians, secured the release of McLoughlin's prisoners, and provided protection for the miners to the Fraser River. The journey from Walla Walla to the Fraser took 30 days. Three more parties made their way up the Okanogan that summer without incident.
As part of a two-pronged expedition to punish Indians for the McLoughlin Canyon attack and for the defeat of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Steptoe, Colonel George Wright (1803-1865) dispatched Major Robert S. Garnett (1819-1861) from Fort Simcoe with 314 members of the 9th and 4th Infantry Regiments and 50 mule packers. In the Yakima and Wenatchee Country, his officers summarily shot nine Indians while losing one officer. At Fort Okanogan, trader Francois Duchouquette accused Sarsopkin's band, which resided at the forks of the Okanogan, 60 miles upriver, as responsible for the McLaughlin ambush. Garnett and his men headed north in pursuit and another detachment swept the Columbia plains. Finding no one to punish along the Okanogan or on the plains, Garnett returned to Fort Simcoe, having marched 505 miles in 45 days.
The following spring, four companies of soldiers built Fort Colville, 14 miles southeast of the Hudson's Bay Company post at Kettle Falls, called Fort Colvile (spelled with one l). Two other companies accompanied surveyors marking the international boundary. All troops withdrew in 1861.
Bruce A. Wilson, Late Frontier: A History of Okanogan County, Washington, 1800-1941 (Okanogan: Okanogan County Historical Society, 1990), 55-62; Andrew Jackson Splawn, Ka-mi-akin: Last Hero of the Yakimas, (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1917, 1944), 107-115; H. Dean Guie, Bugles in the Valley: Garnett's Fort Simcoe (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1977), 111-123.
Note: This essay was revised on May 5, 2007, and corrected on August 15, 2007 to note the spelling of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Colvile.
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