Samoa, a POW Camp in 1862


Samoa Peninsula, taken from Kneeland


The other day a friend talked about going surfing on the Samoa peninsula.  I forgot to tell him it used to be a prisoner-of-war camp. 

It was at the height of the Indian wars.  The soldiers had built a corral at Fort Humboldt to contain the Indian “prisoners”, but that hadn’t gone well.

Fort Humboldt, June 8, 1862.

MAJOR: I have the honor to report…that the limited number of troops at this post renders it impossible to detail a sufficient guard (in addition to that required over the many general prisoners in the very weak guard-house) to safely deep the large body of Indians now here and constantly accumulating. This fact, together with the frequent complains from the Indians that white men, soldiers, and others, were nightly having intercourse with the squaws (a knowledge of which prevented many Indians at large from coming in), rendered it in my judgment necessary to take measures to suppress this evil, and at the same time secure the safe custody of the Indian prisoners. Accordingly I ordered the construction of a circular corral, now completed, eighty feet in diameter and ten feet high, to be built of two-inch plank twelve feet in length, standing upright, and two feet in the ground. The cost will not probably exceed $150, and the plank will be perfectly available for others purposes in the future. I trust my action in this matter may be approved by the general commanding, as it seemed absolutely required in view of the facts above stated, and of the facility with which all these Indians, collected at so much expense by the Government, could at any hour of the night break for the dense forest 100 yards distant, and in five minutes thereafter be beyond pursuit.

I have the honor to remain, your most obedient servant,


And while the corral may have been built, in part, to protect the female “prisoners”, the Natives held there began dying in alarming numbers.


            Fort Humboldt, August 4, 1862.

Maj. R. C. DRUM, U. S. Army,

            Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Pacific:

MAJOR:…  A few days since the Indian prisoners at this post were removed by my orders… They had commenced dying in unusual numbers, and the mortality was rapidly increasing. This caused a general alarm among them and desire to escape. Some had actually attempted to do so. Their corral being but a few yards from the edge of the great forest, they could have all escaped with ease, and of the bucks few, if any, could have been caught again. Independent of this, the sudden mortality among them would soon have become known to the Indians in the mountains, who would have attributed it to our treachery, and no more of them could be expected to come in. The official report of Brigade Surgeon Egbert traced the mortality to two causes-the close confinement and total inaction, to which they were not accustomed, and the sudden and complete change of diet…

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Lippitt had them removed to “the narrow neck of land terminating the peninsula that shuts in the bay.”

 The peninsula seemed the perfect answer, as Lippitt believed that both the problem of confinement and change of diet were

 “remedied by their change of location. They have plenty of ground to roam over in the daytime, being kept together only at night, and on the shore they find plenty of clams, crabs, and fish, their usual diet. Every precaution has been taken to prevent their escape. A picket guard is constantly posted there with a chain of sentinels, to whom the most stringent orders have been given to prevent any molestation of them by the whites. The place is about two miles from this post, and in full view of it. Day and night signals have been established, on which thirty men could be rowed over there in ten minutes in the boat belonging to the post. The hospital steward goes over to them every day, and the surgeon twice every week, and as much oftener as occasion may require.

Since their removal the unusual mortality has been entirely checked. The land belongs to the United States Government, being on the lighthouse reservation. It is covered along the shore with great quantities of driftwood, furnishing abundance for building shelters and for firewood. Excellent water abounds everywhere within three feet of the surface. I have authorized the purchase of another boat, which is obviously necessary to be kept on the other side of the bay for the use of the guard. It is supposed the cost will be about $60. This expense will be very soon more than balanced by the saving of rations, the issue of which to the Indians will now be comparatively small. Thousands of Indians could be kept on the new site in perfect security and content. The peninsula is so narrow that one company would suffice to guard them; whatever might be their number. I respectfully request to be instructed to what extent it is my duty to execute any direction or suggestions coming from Mr. Hanson, the superintendent of Indian affairs, who is expected here daily, especially as to whether I am to send away the Indian prisoners to such place as he may direct without waiting for instructions from the department commander. The present number of Indians confined here is 412. …

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,



The editor of the local paper soon went to visit the prisoners and reportedly found them in “…in a very healthy and apparently cheerful condition..”  [1862, Sept. 6, Humboldt Times]

Cheerful, most likely, because the women weren’t being raped and people stopped dying.

The peninsula wasn’t seen as a long-term solution, though,  and the “prisoners” were soon moved to the Smith River Reservation.


The peninsula is a beautiful place, but its history as a prisoner-of-war camp should be known.  And never forgotten.





Samoa, present day



9 Responses to Samoa, a POW Camp in 1862

  1. Kym Kemp says:

    Lynette, I didn’t know this. Thank you. (I love your blog!)

    • Lynette M says:

      Hi Kym,
      Always happy when I share something little-known. I’ve been wanting to do a post about this for a long time –glad I finally got to it.
      I hope all is well with you.

  2. olmanriver says:

    Yes, Lynette, good post.

  3. Lynette
    Good Post!

    I seem to recall an Indian massacre on the Samoa Peninsula. Or was that during the original white occupation?

    • Lynette M says:

      Hi Ernie, Glad to see you here.

      It does seem like I read about a massacre on “south beach”, though I don’t know for sure.

      I was pleased to finally post this info. It has been in my head for a long time…

  4. Lou Henderson says:

    Very interesting, looking for information about Andrew Nathaniel Foote, and Venus great grand parents.
    Venus was about 12 then and Indian…any info would be appreciated.

  5. […] held prisoner were often forced to build roads and do heavy labor of various types… They were not always treated humanely, and often the Indians died from disease and lack of proper feeding because of their […]

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