Letter from Arcata’s L.K. Wood, 1862

L.K. Wood House–Janes Road at Zehndner

Arcata, Humboldt Co. Cal

August 22, 1862


My Dear Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters,

It has been a long time since I wrote you.  And until a few days ago I thought a long time since I heard from any of you.

I received some time ago a letter from Ella and Emma dated April 23, 1861 & a few days ago one from David of April 20, 1862 and one on yesterday from Emma dated 27th June last.  Neither of which I have answered so I must write now to the whole of you.

The only exciting thing now before our County people is the Indian—They have made war with the white population, and are killing every one of us who dares to venture out & every family who dares to remain 5 miles in the country, all citizens have now left the country who lived that far out from Arcata and have gone to the town; and the people of the town of Trinidad 18 miles from here up the coast have all left, some for San Francisco and others to the towns of this county.

The Volunteer Companies which have been sent here from the southern part of this state and from Oregon have been able to do us no good, the Indians are more daring than they ever were, several companies have at difference times have been recalled from here because they proved useless to us and other companies sent us, but all to no good—we have now two companies just arrived and all the old ones have left, but they have not yet found an Indian, though they have been out for them for the last 4 or 5 days—they returned today without a single scalp.  Three or four of our town boys were out east Wednesday looking for “Indian sign” and found about 20 in camp—they came to town and raised a company of about 30 and made an attack upon them Thursday or yesterday morning with shot guns and rifles—they killed but 2—and badly wounded many others, some of the boys were so thoughtless as to venture into the brush where they saw the wounded go—when one of the party was shot dead, which taught them discretion.  A party have gone out, of about 50 (35 citizens and 15 soldiers) in pursuit of them, started about 3 o’clock this P.M., they feel confident of finding them—as they have an Indian squaw for pilot, the squaw is one who has lived with a white man for the last few years as his wife and who the mountain Indians captured about 2 months ago—she made her escape a day or two ago and now offers to pilot the whites to their place of rendezvous—I hope every red skin may be killed—they can’t be more than 15 miles from here & when they were attacked on yesterday they were only 5 miles from here, there are many reports as to their number none less than 50 but some say 400—they divide off in companies of about 20 or 30 when they start out on their murderous tours—then we hear of this family and that family being murdered in parts of the County least expecting an attack–& sometimes persons killed in different parts of the County about the same time.  We are still in the country—one mile from Arcata and have no notion yet of leaving our home & crops & stock though at one time, about 5 weeks ago, every family left except ours & two others, though some of them were lving within the corporate limits.  The citizens of the town have several times been very much excited through fear of an attack upon the town, but I apprehend no danger of that sort—for the wretches know they could make nothing by that—if they ever do attack the town, I think it will be to rob the county, a small band could attack and detail the town people, whilst other bands were murdering & robbing the country people, but I don’t think anything of that sort will be attempted, they are too cowardly, though they could do is great damage if there are as many as 200 well armed warriors, and they are well armed—each having a good rifle, colts’ revolver.

Six good guns were taken by the party yesterday morning—they were picked up in camp together with a large lot of lead & powder and beef.

No man ventures this far in the country unless well armed, though I never carry such things.  I have a good double gun & 2 six shooters which I keep in good order and in the house and were I to take them with me whenver I went out the Indians would be likely to find it out and would walk on their hands and knees 40 miles to shoot me for them—firearms are no protection o ta man for an Indian will never be seen by the person they seek to kill.

This is believed to be a letter from LK Wood to his family in Kentucky


I also pulled the following from Ancestry.com which may help to identify the folks in the photo:

Lewis, born 2/17,1819 d. 7/12/1874

Clarissa b. 1/19/34, d. 5/30/80

Emma b. 7/21/1858, d. 5/19/1945

Ella b. 2/6/1860

Clarissa b. 1/2/1862


3 Responses to Letter from Arcata’s L.K. Wood, 1862

  1. Fred says:

    I’ve never heard this question addressed before: Anyone know if the indians from here used horses back in those days, or did they just travel on foot?

    I never hear mention of the indians being on horses so I’m guessing they mostly walked?

    • Lynette M says:

      The only accounts I’ve read about local indians having horses in the early settlement period (1850-1865ish) was when the indians were in the service of white men.
      If anyone has other info, please share.

  2. olmanriver says:

    What a find Lynette! The letter certainly captures the fears of the populace at this time period, before the Mountaineer Battalions were formed in 1863.
    Though I have seen more evidence of Indian attacks on stock than people in the Humboldt Times for this period, I am sure the fears were somewhat justified. There were only about 1000 registered voters in the county at the time, so the whites were still very much outnumbered, and as the letter indicates, on the retreat from some of the lands they appropriated.

    Good question Fred. I have early accounts of white men trading horses for Indian wives, but in general it would seem that they preferred to eat their horses rather than ride them. I never have read anything about the Indians riding off on their horses like in the movies. Perhaps they preferred the stealth of moving around on foot.

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