The location of the Battle of Hungry Hill, the largest clash in the Rogue River Indian Wars of 1855-56, has been discovered after being lost in the dust of time for more than a century.
The site was located this month by a team led by Mark Tveskov, director of Southern Oregon University's Laboratory of Anthropology in Ashland.
"It's very gratifying to finally find it — we've done a lot of detective work," Tveskov said, stressing it was a team effort.
The team bushwhacked up and down steep hills and pored over old records, from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, Calif., following every clue during its three-year search.
The historic battlefield was found on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in an area known as the Grave Creek Hills west of Interstate 5 between Sunny Valley and Glendale. Hungry Hill west of Glendale is not connected with the battle, he said.
"Our search area covered more than 24 square miles," Tveskov said, noting the exact spot is not being divulged out of concern it could spur illegal artifact hunting.
Two musket balls and other items found at the site, as well as evidence provided by historic maps and documents, nailed down the location, he said.
"All the dots have been connected," he said.
The site is important because it will undoubtedly shed light on the short-lived war, he said. No detailed, contemporary firsthand account about the battle by an Army officer had ever been found.
Until Robert Kentta, historian and member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, discovered a front-page article in the New York Herald that was dated Nov. 12, 1855, from Crescent City, Calif., that provided precise information that only an Army officer who was in the battle would have known, Tveskov said. The anonymous correspondent who wrote the article was undoubtedly Lt. August V. Kautz, a survivor of the battle, he said.
Another important new clue was a copy of a battle map drawn by Kautz discovered in the National Archives by retired Army Col. Daniel Edgerton, who had worked in the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Tveskov added.
Others helping in the effort were SOU archaeologist Chelsea Rose, BLM employees, SOU students and tribal volunteers, he said.
"Sometimes when you are out there, walking through the woods and finding nothing, you feel like you are crazy for doing it," he said. "And we had been doing that for three years."
They also followed the clues of local folks who searched before them.
In 1934, Richard I. Helms, a reporter for the Daily Courier newspaper in Grants Pass, believed he had found the battle site atop a prominent site in the Grave Creek Hills, Tveskov said.
"We actually looked there and didn't find any artifacts," he said.
But historian and pioneer descendant Larry McLane, author of a 1995 book called "First There was Twogood: a Pictorial History of Northern Josephine County," argued the battle occurred near a site local residents call Bloody Spring, Tveskov said. No evidence of a battle was found at that site by the team, he said.
Armed with the new information provided by Kentta and Edgerton, the team made one last field trip for the summer early in September, he said.
The historic documents indicated the battle began on Oct. 25 at one site, ending on the night of Oct. 31 at another location, he noted.
"Those two locations are described with reference to each other," he explained. "When we found the first musket ball, which was on the main Oct. 31 battlefield site, then, for me, that meant that the Oct. 25th site had to be over there."
They went to the other spot where they found the other musket ball, convincing them they had finally rediscovered the battle site, he said.
"We also found a lead stopper to a gunpowder tin which has 'DuPont' on it," he said, noting it referred to DuPont de Nemours & Co. of Wilmington, Del. "DuPont was the main supplier of gunpower to the U.S. military in the 1800s."
An identical lead stopper to a gunpowder tin was found during the team's archaeological dig at Fort Lane across the Rogue River from the Table Rocks, he added.
"The .69-caliber musket balls we found were the same that had been found at Fort Lane," he said. "That was the standard long arm for the Dragoon from the fort — the model 1842 Springfield musketoon.
"The Army officers say the Native Americans had better guns than the dragoons," he added. "In some of the written accounts about the battle, they talk about better arms among the Indians was one of the reasons the soldiers got pinned down."
Neither of the musket balls had been fired, he said.
There were some 300 Army and militia on one side with about 200 Native Americans, including women and children, representing the remainder of the participants, Tveskov said.
"There were 39 casualties on the (Army's) side, including 10 who died on the battlefield," he said. "A number of people died later. On the Native American side, 16 dead on the battlefield seems to be the number people can agree on."
Despite being outnumbered, the Native Americans won the day, he said.
"From a tactical point of view, the Army and militia were routed," he said.
The battle was "the worst defeat, particularly in terms of the total number of casualties, suffered by the combined force of U.S. Army and Oregon Volunteers in Oregon during the Indian wars," Edgerton said.
The battle was triggered by the Lupton massacre in which more than two dozen Indians were slain in a village near the Table Rocks on Oct. 8, 1855, by vigilantes from Jacksonville, Tveskov said. The fleeing Indians split into at least two groups, with one seeking protection at Fort Lane while the other, led by Chiefs George and Limpy, headed down the Rogue River, killing several settlers en route, he said.
The battle delayed the end of the Rogue River Indian War until summer 1856, he said.
"It was an attempt by Capt. (Andrew Jackson) Smith from Fort Lane and the volunteer militia to end the Rogue River Indian War just as it was getting started," he said. "It was a tactical victory for the Indians but it sealed their fate.
"It ultimately led to the removal of Indians from Southern Oregon to the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations," he said.
With the discovery of the battle site, the team will be working with the BLM, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians to conserve the battlefield and learn more from it, he said.
"We want to go over this with a fine-tooth comb," he said. "We want to be able to tell a story about how the battle progressed."
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.