The Rogue River Wars of 1855-1856

Updated: Mar 12

and Isaac Shelton's unfinished breakfast.

The amount of activity that has taken place on the few acres that make Riverpass, should arouse suspicion of being fabricated by any sensible person. It is an ironic blessing that Mario, in wanting to create a special place to raise a family, chose a place that was unknowingly already very special.

When you discover that Riverpass lies at the intersection of a river bend, valley pass, a boulevard, and a ley line, we see just how a potent concentration of events could have transpired here.

When the future site of basketball/tennis tennis court was being cleared, it became very evident that this had been the site of decades of past human activity. The area is quite flat and clear of large trees, which is why it was picked for the court site in the first place.

Hundreds of tin cans that had been only opened by knife, ceramic and glass shards, as well as a 1936 license plate, were all found along what turned out to be an old trail cutting right through the Southwest of Riverpass.

At the edge of the clearing, near a few ancient pines, was a single boulder roughly the size of a dishwasher. Under a small overhang, there are old campfire smoke stains. These finds led Mario to research what he could about this spot in the Rogue Valley.

After much time and effort Mario has compiled a brief understanding of the history that has been painstakingly uncovered regarding Riverpass.

La Riviere aux Coquins (River of the Rogues)

The Rogue River was so named, because the native inhabitants of the Rogue River valley, whose hatred for the white man’s disregard for the natives land and culture, made them unwilling to join the newly ‘civilized’ world. Through theft, murder, and treacherous deeds of all sorts, they made the already tough job of homesteading even harder. The Rogue River Valley, was known to be a dangerous place for any non-natives, yet this river pass through the mountains was logistically critical for pioneers and the like, to make their way from Oregon into California or visa-versa.

Along the river there were few places to cross in safety, strong currents and rapids still make it very dangerous to enter the water, with or without supplies and pack animals. The riverbanks are also steep in many places, making it hard to get in or out of the water. Miners and trappers had to carefully find their way across, sometimes they traversed miles around just to get to the opposite side of where they had started. In the 1850’s there were too few permanent settlers to construct a real bridge in the Rogue River Valley, the natives here, were just too hostile.

In 1851 an entrepreneurial man named Davis Evans constructed not a bridge, but a much simpler ferry to cross the Rogue River. He built it adjacent to the little town of Woodville that had previously been called Tailholt, known as such because you would hold your horse's tail while it swam across the river with you in tow. The ferry was replaced by a bridge in 1909, and the town is now the City of Rogue River. The Jewitts ferry location is well known and officially marked by the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

When Davis Evans built this first ferry, he called it Jewitts ferry, since it was situated near the Jewitt family home. Soon after, he realized the fortunes to be made not in gold mining, but in conveying gold miners across the river. He built another Ferry downriver, he named it after himself calling it Evan’s ferry.

So in simple explanation, Jewitts ferry was in fact Evan’s ferry, but ‘the real Evan's ferry’ was 3 miles downstream. This is an important distinction because the two ferries are often mistaken as being the same. With the real Evan’s ferry receiving little attention until now.

The definitive location of Evan’s ferry (historian Frank Walsh has published this as being 3 miles downstream from Jewitts ferry) was unknown, yet with a little topographic knowledge, construction concepts, and archeological aptitude, one can surmise the red 'X' in this photo is the best place for a river ferry landing in this vicinity, this is also where Riverpass is located. A flat clearing, sitting above the highwater mark, on a calm portion of the waterway, where the riverbanks are not too steep or too flat is ideal.

These ferry sites became a hotspot for travelers to exchange information about the growing hostilities and rumors of a coming war concerning the natives of the area. On October 9th, 1855 just before dawn, the natives known as the Rogues began a vengeance filled murder spree, thus igniting the Rogue River Indian wars that lasted for more than a year. Starting at Jewetts ferry on the North side of the river they shot and killed some folks there. They then proceeded to murder every man woman and child they came across at homesteads along the river. For several miles, stealing horses or anything else they liked, then they would burn down all cabins and outbuildings.

When the Natives reached Evans ferry around 6AM they found 25 year old Isaac Shelton, camped with some companions. The men took cover, but Isaac was too busy cooking breakfast in a skillet over a small fire. In a flurry of gunshots, Isaac was shot four times, he had no chance to eat that final meal, he died in writhing agony 20 hours later.

The most likely location of the historic North landing for Evan’s ferry is in the Southwest corner of Riverpass, and by default, where Isaac may have met his fate more than 150 years earlier.

The sports court will be built, but a commemorative marker will be placed on the big boulder, stating,

"At or near this site in 1855, was the North bank landing for Evan's ferry, where a 25 year old Willamette valley man named Isaac Shelton, was shot and killed by natives while cooking his breakfast, before his planned trip to Yreka."

To keep it light, we'll engrave it onto an old iron skillet.