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As It Was: Cow Creek Umpquas Befriend First Southern Oregon Settlers

Miwaleta, chief of the Cow Creek band of Umpqua Indians, befriended the Riddle family when they settled in Southern Oregon in 1851. Young George Riddle later wrote about his family’s relations with the band.

He described Miwaleta’s war dress as two large elk skins overlapping his chest, so strong that arrows had only left pitted places in the armor during conflicts with other Indians, mainly the Rogue and Shasta tribes to the south.

The encroachment of European settlers and miners presented new opponents.  In late 1852, runners from the Rogue tribes came to Miwaleta to ask the Cow Creeks to join an attack on settlers.

Miwaleta held a great council and began to speak.  Riddle later learned that Miwaleta repeated the entire oral history of tribal conflicts, talking for more than two days until he fell asleep orating.  Miwaleta’s band did not join the Rogues’ fight.

War broke out again in 1853 between settlers and the Rogue and Shasta tribes.  Miwaleta brought his band’s camp close to the Riddles and remained at peace.

Source: Riddle, George. History of Early Days in Oregon. reprint ed., Myrtle Creek, Oregon, Myrtle Creek PTA, 1948, pp. 35-36.

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Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.