Native Americans at Buckhorn, 1800 – 1900

Long before the white man came to this country, so long ago, in fact, that Indian tradition does not fix the date, that wonderful collection of mineral springs that promises soon to make Ashland famous, was known and valued by the aborigines for their medicinal properties.

I first visited these springs 44 years ago, and more than 40 years ago published a prophecy that sometime a great health and watering resort would be built here.

I had then only recently arrived from my home in the prairies of Illinois, and everything I saw was new to me and wonderfully interesting, the mountains, the forests, the game and the Indians, were a delightful study for me. I went among the Indians east and west of the Cascade Mountains and learned many things not published in newspapers and books. When I came Jackson County comprised all that area now known as Jackson, Klamath and Lake Counties, and did not contain as many white people by one third as the city of Ashland has now. (Dec. 31, 1914)

The country now embracing Klamath and Lake Counties was known as the “Lake Country”, and by the Indians as the “Land of Many Lakes”. It was inhabited by mainly by the Klamath and Modoc Indians, two powerful and war-like tribes, often engaged in war with each other, but sometimes by treaty combining to fight with the tribes west of the Cascades, also a war-like people, later known as the Rogue River Indians. These last were however, so depleted by the wars of 1855 and 1856 that they ceased to be a menace to the Lake tribes.

When I first came there were stories about the aborigine’s use of the mineral springs, especially those known as the Tolman springs, now owned by Mr. Lawrence and known as the “Buckhorn Lodge”, the escaping gases of which were prized by the Indians as “Hi-U- Skookem Medicine”. I visited them and verified some of the stories told. There were the places hollowed out on the banks of the streams where the gases escaped through fractures in the rocks, excavated by the Indians, in which they treated their patients. Dead birds, squirrels, snakes, rats and other small animals and reptiles lying in those pits told of the deadly qualities of the carbonic acid gas when not used with caution. In fact, the same thing may still be seen about these vents. From these facts the early settlers called them “poison springs”. The Indians, however, had learned to use them and valued them accordingly.

Their method was to find a spot where the gas escaped, hollow out a sufficient space, spread fir boughs in it for comfort, place the patient on the boughs, where he remained under watchful care until he became unconscious. He was then taken into a “wik-i-up”, or tent made of skins and boughs and there put through a course of manipulation until he recovered consciousness. Then would follow a day or two of sweating and incantations by a medicine man. This treatment was continued until the patient was cured or declared incurable. All this time they drank the waters from the springs and used it for the vapor baths in their sweat house.

The Modocs and Klamaths were very skillful in the manufacture of baskets. Many of them were made for cooking in and for holding water. Those water-tight baskets were filled and hot stones put into them, filling the sweat house with steam almost to the point of suffocation. The treatment was heroic, but the Indians insisted that it seldom failed to cure the most obstinate cases of rheumatism, asthma, kidney disease and stomach trouble. It was not unusual for patients to be strapped onto ponies and brought from distant parts of the “Land of Many Lakes” to be treated.

Forty years ago the old warriors, those that possessed the most wisdom, could seldom be induced to talk on such matters, but I became acquainted with Frank Riddle, who came among these Indians nearly seventy years ago (1844 ? my comment) took a wife among them and remained until he died a few years ago. Riddle was a man of much intelligence and grew to be a man of much influence among them. During the Modoc war in 1872 and 1873 he and his wife Toby did great services for the Government troops, acting as interpreters and messengers of mediation. Riddle wanted me to write his history, and I agreed to do it if he would prepare the data for me. This he promised to do bur never did. Our acquaintance ran through twenty years and he often related his experiences and adventures to me. It goes without saying that his tales were thrilling. I asked him how long the Modocs and Klamaths had used the mineral springs of the upper Rogue River Valley. He said he did not know and the oldest men of the tribes when he first came among them did not know. They were in use then and appeared to have been for ages. The people had a superstition about them and attributed their virtue to the “Great Spirit”. The escaping gas was the breath of the “Great Spirit”, and was a guarantee of a sure cure if the patient had led a worthy life, but sure death if he had not. The place in which the “Great Spirit” chose to administer the benefits of his healing breath was considered sacred, and for ages was supervised by a great medicine man.

Even when the tribes of the “Land of Many Lakes” were at war with the tribes in whose territory these springs were situated, if pilgrims from east of the mountains succeeded in reaching the springs for medical treatment, they were not molested while there, but if they could intercept them before they had passed the great forest they were driven back or killed. In this connection he told me a beautiful romance of two lovers of the dim past. They sought the springs in the hope that the maiden might be cured of a malady that threatened he life. The story would be too long for this article and I may give it at another time.
I asked my friend why the people of the “Land of Many Lakes” always stopped at this one cluster of springs, why they did not go to the others, when there were so many further down in the valley, where the grass was better and no rugged canyon to hedge them in. He said that in that early time of which, in their superstition, they spoke with bated breath, this one cluster of springs had by treaty been granted for their use and they were prohibited from visiting any other.

– C.B. Watson