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The Bloody History of Battle Rock City Park – Port Orford, Oregon

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Battle Rock

Battle Rock

The Oregon coastline is dotted with both National Parks and smaller State Parks. Even smaller than these are the City Parks. Most of these are dedicated to some hard-working civil servant or park ranger, but one in particular caught my imagination.

Driving south from Newport there was no reason to stop at most of these Wayside Parks, but it coincided with me wanting to grab another drink from the cooler, so we pulled into the car park and stopped in front of the information sign. The imagery conjured up by this brief description was enticing enough to get me to go to the nearby visitor centre to learn more about the story of Battle Rock.

Captain William Tichenor

In 1850 the US Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act. This allowed white settlers to lay claim to Indian land in Western Oregon. The Indian tribes were not required to sign the treaty or able to contest the claim.

The first European settlers arrived the following year, under the command of Captain William Tichenor of the steamship Sea Gull.

On June 9th, 1851, Captain Tichenor dropped off just nine men to establish the first white settlement, whilst he headed north to resupply. He left the nine men with three aging flint-lock muskets, rusty swords and a few pounds of ammunition. The men were none-too-pleased about this and managed to grab the tiny signal gun from ship, a four-pound cannon.

The following morning, as the ship sailed away, the local Qua-to-mah tribe gathered and warned off the intruders from their beach. The nine settlers didn’t have any way to leave, so retreated to the nearby seastack, where they set up a defensive position around the small cannon.

Looking towards Battle Rock

Looking towards Battle Rock

Seeing their unwillingness to leave, a band of more than a hundred Quatomahs attacked. The only route to the rock was along a narrow walkway, which was covered by the cannon. One account tells how the cannon ripped through the approaching Indians, and the shock knocked others into the water, so that the advance was stopped after the first shot. Another account claims that the first attack reached the seastack and the settlers won in hand-to-hand combat.

However they did it, the attack was repulsed, but led to the death of twenty-three natives and the wounding of two of Tichenors men by arrows.

A truce was called when the settlers agreed to leave after 14 days, when their ship returned. For those two weeks the besieged settlers didn’t see any sign of the Quatomah tribe. When they were still there on the 15th day an even larger band of Indians attacked (reports vary between 100 & 300). In the ensuing conflict the chief of the tribe was mortally wounded and died on the battle field.

Port Orford

The natural harbour that they fought over

Battle Rock

The tribe retreated with their dead leader and set up camp nearby, whilst the settlers fled north under the cover of darkness. On foot they travelled over a hundred miles to the Umpqua valley, being pursued by Indians, wading through rivers and living on snails and wild berries. Eventually they all survived, and told their tales, earning the seastack the name Battle Rock.

In July of the same year, Captain Tichenor returned to Battle Rock with a well-armed group of seventy soldiers and established what is now Port Orford. When Tichenor eventually retired from the navy he became a permanent resident of the town and oversaw the success of the growing port.

Battle Rock City Park Sign

The sign that piqued my interest

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Author

Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

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