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Dead Indian Memorial Road drops more than 3,000 feet in less than 15 miles as it twists and turns toward Ashland.

Legend of Dead Indian Memorial Road

By late summer 1855, vengeance and retribution were about to explode. Settlers and American Indians both felt the tension.

Two years after the 1853 Rogue River Indian War had ended, fear and suspicion were stronger than ever.

In September 1855, Fred Alberding was returning to the Oregon Territory after a year living in the United States. He made camp in the Siskiyou Mountains off the Applegate Trail.

When he woke up, one of his horses was missing. Seeing smoke from a nearby Indian village, he decided they must have taken it.

He hurried to Ashland, where he spread the news that Indians had stolen his horse on the Emigrant Road. It didn't take long to find 15 men who were willing to go out and "lick them Indians," just to get Fred's pony back.

They rode to the Greensprings and camped, intending to attack the village before daybreak, but they overslept and the attack came well after sunrise.

The Indians had been peacefully gathering berries for the winter, but as soon as they saw the attacking settlers, they grabbed their rifles, took shelter behind trees and opened fire.

One settler was shot through the hand, another through his arm and Alberding was wounded above his eye. Granville Keene was dead.

The outnumbered "posse," chased by the tribe, scrambled for their lives. Only when the Indian's leader was wounded did his men stop their pursuit.

The next day, a detachment of 38 soldiers from Fort Lane were ordered to recover Keene's body. Nearby Keene Creek would be named for him.

It was an embarrassing defeat for the volunteers, especially when Alberding's horse suddenly reappeared, dragging a large tree branch caught in its harness. It was the same branch that Alberding had tied the horse to on the night it had disappeared.

With a rumor that Keene's body had been mutilated, another, larger company of volunteers set off to find his killers.

To the west, not far from an old Indian trail, buzzards circling in the air drew the men to an abandoned Indian camp. There they found at least two, and some say as many as 15 murdered bodies.

Because items were found that Alberding's volunteers lost when they ran away, it was assumed that these Indians were the ones who had attacked on Keene Creek.

Who had killed the Indians has always generated controversy. Some say it was the volunteers, although it was a time when a settler was likely to brag about killing an Indian, and no one ever did.

Another story said members of an Indian tribe who camped along Little Butte Creek had told Indian Agent Ambrose they were the culprits.

According to the account, fearing they would be blamed for Keene's death, they had sent a war party to the camp and murdered the men of the tribe while letting the women run away.

The area where the bodies were found soon was known as Dead Indian Prairie, and when the settlers began developing the Indian trail they named it Dead Indian Road.

In 1993, after years of protest, the road was renamed Dead Indian Memorial Road.

And, as happens so often in our history, after all these years, no one knows for sure what really happened.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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