VII. THE ARMY AND THE KLAMATH RIVER RESERVATION (continued)
B. THE FIGHT at WAU-KELL
As soon as the baggage, along with the tools and building materials forwarded from Benicia, arrived, Crook turned his people to erecting quarters. Crook, in the meantime, had familiarized himself with the Indians and their problems. He learned that the Indians indigenous to the river were Yurok, and that the Indians removed to the reservation from Smith River were the Tolowa. Although they were neighbors, the two groups had different habits and spoke different languages. The Tolowa wished to return to their homes, while the Yurok were anxious to see them go. 
Much of the disaffection on the part of the Tolowa, he blamed on ill-disposed whites, who wished them back on Smith River. Agent Heintzelman had told Crook that about 100 Tolowa had returned to their former homes prior to his arrival. The two officers were in agreement that they would never return to the Reservation unless force was employed. If they were allowed to continue to defy the authorities war would result, as the Tolowa remaining on the reservation had vowed that they would not stay unless the fugitives were returned. 
Crook's orders from headquarters, Department of the Pacific, were to provoke no incidents and not to fight the Indians unless they fired first. During the last ten days of October and the first two weeks of November, a number of Tolowa took advantage of the restrictions Colonel Clarke had placed on Crook to slip away in small parties. Encouraged by these successes and satisfied that the military's hands were tied, they boasted that they were not afraid of the soldiers, because a "whiteman" had told them that Crook would not dare to fire on them. Discovering that all could not escape in this manner, they organized a conspiracy. Crook soon learned from a Yurok that the Tolowa were plotting to murder him, destroy the boats which had ferried his company up the river, then kill Agent Heintzelman and his employees, sack the agency, and return to their homes. They reasoned that with Crook dead, the soldiers would be helpless, and they would have little to fret about. Already, a number of warriors had returned from Smith River to join the conspiracy.
Crook by this time was already wise in the ways of the redman, and he knew that unless he seized the initiative, some of the troops would be murdered. He made his plans accordingly. The conspirators were to be surrounded at daylight, as soon as their plans jelled and their guilt could be established. A detachment was sent across the river to Wau-Kell.
Several Tolowa visited camp at this time, approached Crook's tent, felt its thickness, and conversed excitedly. They made certain as to Crook's sleeping habits. The enlisted men's tents were about 50 to 60 yards away, at the edge of the redwoods. Crook kept cool, and not for a moment did he permit the plotters to know that he was aware of their intentions. Nothing was said to the soldiers. When he prepared to retire for the night, Crook laid his rifle on one side and his shotgun on the other, with his pistol and bowie knife under his head. A box of brasses belonging to the soldiers' accoutrements were positioned so that if the Indians attempted to slip inside they would stumble over them and awaken Crook.
Crook was so confident of his superiority that he hoped the Tolowa would strike. He would be in the dark, while they would be between him and the skyline, which would give him the advantage. Instead, the Indians determined to first eliminate Agent Heintzelman.
On the morning of November 17, 1857, the Tolowa sent word for Heintzelman to come to their village to see a sick man. The agent went, accompanied by a surgeon. Upon their arrival, they were assailed from all sides by redmen armed with bows and arrows, and knives. The two whites were able to fend off the Tolowa for a few moments, which permitted the guard detachment to come up on the double. Two or three volleys sent the Indians scattering into the underbrush.
The first Crook knew of the attack was when a runner dashed up with a note from one of the agency employees, stating that the agent had been killed. The soldiers at this time were organized into fatigue details, collecting building materials. Crook had the "long roll" beaten. Within less than one-half hour, he had rounded up his company, except for two men, crossed the river, and moved against the Tolowa. The fight was soon over, as the men of Company D routed the Indians from Wau-Kell Flat, killing ten and wounding a number. When he mustered his company. Crook was delighted to learn that the army had suffered no casualties. 
In the mopping up operations which ensued, 26 warriors and a number of women and children were captured and sworn that they would remain on the Reservation. The rest of the Tolowa, however, took advantage of the confusion to flee into the mountains. Those that reached Smith River sent word that if Crook wanted to fight, he knew where to find them. Forwarding this information, along with a report of the fight at Wau-Kell to his superiors in Benicia, Crook observed, "I feel that if they are allowed to remain on Smith River, war is inevitable & that there is but one way to bring them in." 
Agent Heintzelman agreed with Crook that the army would have to pursue the Tolowa "to their old haunts and severely punish them." Many of the young men had participated in the Rogue River War and were skilled in the use of firearms, besides having established close contact with a number of the Chetco, who had fled into the mountains rather than submit. According to reports reaching Wau-Kell, these sturdy warriors were biding their time, and in the spring they would resume hostilities against the Rogue River settlers. If they did, he believed the Tolowa would rally to their cause. Twice before, in 1856 and again in 1857, the Tolowa had been brought to the Reservation by "peaceable means," and both times they had refused to stay. Now he argued, they must be taught that "the Reserve is their home & that the agent is there to protect them & see to their wants, & what they are told by the squawmen are lies." 
Meanwhile, Superintendent Henley had been studying the reports of the clash filed by Crook and Heintzelman and the stories carried by the newspapers. What he read convinced him that to "a very great degree," the outbreak could be attributed to "the injudicious management" of Heintzelman. In his opinion, the subagent's zeal for the interest of the Service exceeded his knowledge of Indians or his judgment in their management. 
When he forwarded this critical evaluation of Heintzelman's capabilities to Commissioner Denver, he pointed out that the people of Crescent City had been constantly agitating for the removal of the Tolowa to the Reservation. Before agreeing to this, Heintzelman had consulted the superintendent. Henley had advised him not to proceed with removal unless the agency was "fully provided with provisions for their subsistence." Succumbing to pressure from Crescent City interests, Heintzelman had proceeded to remove most of the tribe, about 600 strong, to the Reservation. At the time of their arrival, food was scarce, as the crops had not been harvested. This, along with dissatisfaction with the housing at Wau-Kell, had sparked the fight. 
Henley, learning that most of the Tolowa had fled into the mountains, gave them permission to return to their villages on Smith River. This was a great disappointment to Crook, because he believed that most of them would have returned to the Reservation on their own initiative. Before receipt of Henley's latest directive, certain whites at Crescent City had been apprised of it and had leaked the information to the Tolowa. Those Indians who had indicated a desire to stay on the Reservation were told that they would be harassed by the Yurok. This had the anticipated effect, and they quickly crossed the Klamath and headed northward up the trail to Crescent City and Smith River. 
Although he had been in the area less than three months, Crook had learned that there were a number of "low principled whites" in and about Crescent City, "who had been living with squaws & subsisting off the Indians, who with a few headmen" of the Tolowa were at the bottom of the trouble. Heintzelman had secured verbal evidence that several of these men had lain in ambush along the Crescent City-Klamath Trail for the purpose of assassinating him. Prior to Company D's arrival at Fort Ter-Waw, the squawmen had told the Tolowa that if they returned to Smith River, Crook would be compelled to subsist them as Lieutenant Garder had during the winter of 1856-57. 
Relaying this information to Department headquarters, Crook warned that if the Tolowa were allowed to remain on Smith River, the squawmen would cause a war, at the close of which they would "bring in a large claim against the government for services never performed." Moreover, he warned, the Tolowa with their numerous moves had failed to lay in a winter's supply of food, and without such "they must either steal or starve." If he compelled the Tolawa to return and it led to war, he did not believe there would be any trouble on the Reservation, because the Yurok had assured him that they desired them back, and were even willing to assist in bringing them in. But if the worse came and there was war with the Tolowa, Crook was confident Company D, 4th U. S. Infantry, could cope with the situation. 
Superintendent Henley was backed by Commissioner Denver in his decision not to employ force in returning the Tolowa to the Klamath River Reservation. In view of this decision, the military found its hands tied. Crook for the next several months could concentrate on construction projects. The barracks were built first. By the time he was ordered to Fort Vancouver, in the last week of June 1858, to participate in a campaign against the Indians who had defeated Maj. Stephen Steptoe's command, Fort Ter-Waw was nearly completed. 
Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004