Fort Jones “was situated on the edge of a beautiful mountain valley,” said Gen. George Crook, remembering his first Army post as a 25-year-old lieutenant.

Lessons of Fort Jones lingered with Crook

For nearly 50 years, the U.S. Army sent George Crook to one Indian war after another.

By the time he died in 1890, Gen. Crook was America's most famous "Indian fighter," but he was also an outspoken critic of the way his former adversaries were being treated.

Like so many reluctant Army officers who followed his orders to fight, Crook blamed settlers and miners for most of the trouble.

"It was of no unfrequent (sic) occurrence for an Indian to be shot down in cold blood, or a squaw to be raped by some brute," he said. "Such a thing as a white man being punished for outraging an Indian was unheard of."

He said the consequence was that there was rarely a time when a war wasn't raging in the West.

"The Indians would confide in us as friends, and (yet) we had to witness this unjust treatment of them without the power to help them. Then, when they were pushed beyond endurance and would go on the war path, we had to fight them, when our sympathies were with the Indians."

Crook had formed his opinion as a young lieutenant at his first military post on the frontier, Fort Jones in California.

Established in October 1852, Fort Jones was named for Col. Roger Jones, who had just died after serving 27 years as the Army's chief administrative officer.

Twenty-five-year-old Crook arrived at the fort in the fall of 1853 after passing through Yreka, Calif., or as he called it, that "large ant's nest" of miners.

"The post was situated on the edge of a beautiful mountain valley called Scott's Valley," he said, "with a beautiful river of the same name running through it."

Crook began talking to the Shasta Indians who were scattered nearby. From them he first learned of "the wrongs these Indians had to suffer in those days."

"The country was overrun by people from all nations in search of the mighty dollar," he said. "Greed was almost unrestrained."

Within a few weeks of his arrival, Crook, with a company of soldiers and volunteers, was off through the snow along the Klamath River in his first fight with Indians.

He was ordered to cross the Siskiyou Mountains and procure a howitzer from the recently established Fort Lane near Jacksonville. He returned with the howitzer, accompanied by troops from the fort.

Negotiations with the Indians revealed that they had killed a miner in self-defense because a group of miners had attacked their village while trying to steal horses and women.

The Indians were free to go, much "to the dissatisfaction of the volunteers who were anxious to have the Army regulars charge into the Indians' stronghold."

Later, Crook would accompany Lt. Henry Abbot on his railroad survey of Oregon, passing through the Rogue Valley just after the Rogue River Indian War of 1855. He returned a year later to assist in the relocation of Indians to a reservation in the north.

In 1857, Crook left Fort Jones and the surrounding country "with many regrets."

Although he would fight Indians again and again, he had learned to respect his adversaries, and they to respect him.

"His words gave the people hope," said Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. "He died, and their hope died again."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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