Friday, April 14, 2017

Who the Heck was A. J. Bolon?

. . . and why does he have a monument dedicated to him?

This post is about connecting the dots.  It's what makes traveling so much fun.

On a recent road trip through Klickitat County in south central Washington, we stopped at a Heritage Marker, west of Goldendale.  There was an interesting map and comments about an old military road that traversed these parts back in the mid 1800's.  There used to be a fort here where the cavalry were garrisoned and which served as a resting place for the many immigrants who were making their way to the west coast territories.

But why had it been built in the first place?  There's nothing out here, but trees and rivers and elk.

Because of A. J. Bolon, that's why.

And then something I had read at the Oregon Historical Society a few weeks ago, jarred a memory.
I grew excited.  "Bolon had something to do with the Indian Wars," I said.  "We gotta go find this monument."

But finding it was not easy.  The above map is over-simplified.  There are back roads upon back roads out here in the boonies.  We flagged down a mail carrier for directions when we couldn't find Cedar Valley Road.  She gave us a funny look and finally said, "Well, it's pretty far and the road is pretty rough."

"That's okay," I said.  "We've come this far."

So she pointed us down an unnamed dirt road and told us to keep going straight until we crossed Pine Forest Road.  Then follow Cedar Valley Road which turns into Monument Road (duh) where we would find the marker.  (Note to the Klickitat County Historical Society--You really need a more accurate map!)

But we first came upon this:
A gravestone type monument informing us that Bolon was killed 4 1/14(!) miles from this spot.  Uh.
Very peculiar.

Then, as luck would have it, a woman on horseback showed up and we asked her, "So where's the actual monument?"

She looked at us (in the same funny way the mail carrier had) and then looked at our van.  "Sorry, guys, there's no way you can make it up there.  It's another five miles up on a steep, muddy, icy dirt road.  Your van won't make it."  She said this with such conviction that we believed her, and for once in our lives decided the prudent thing to do was to turn around.
Even so, we've been talking nonstop about the history of this region and the huge, huge gap in our American History textbooks.  Native Americans inhabited this area for thousands of years before their land was suddenly taken from them.  In the Oregon and Washington Territories, treaties were reluctantly signed by the Yakama Nation and other tribes.  In return for recognition of U.S. Sovereignty they were awarded money and provisions, reserved lands where white settlers were prohibited and half of the fish in the territory in perpetuity.  This treaty was signed in the summer of 1855.  But many of the Indians were unhappy.  Skirmishes resulted and finally, a full on war erupted. It lasted for three years.

And A. J. Bolon was the spark.

For one thing, white settlers were not honoring the treaty.  They were encroaching on reserved lands because gold had been discovered.  These miners were a rough lot.  They abused the native women and the Yakama took their revenge.  Many of the miners were killed.   And so Indian Agent A. J. Bolon set out alone from Ft. Dalles to try to find out what was going on, but he never returned.  Rumors started to fly.  Panic ensued up and down the Columbia River.  The Cavalry was called in.

It was later discovered that Bolon had indeed been killed by a couple of hot-blooded young warriors; he had been stabbed, his horse shot and his body and personal effects burned.  There is a stone marking where this happened up on a muddy, icy road in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, it's a sad story and perhaps he should be honored.  Very quietly.  After all, this was a tumultuous time in our country's history.  There were wrongs committed on both sides. But where are the monuments to massacred Native Americans?  Where can their stories be found?

I'm not here to judge.  Just to learn the facts.  And that's why I love traveling down these forgotten roads, going to museums, stopping at Heritage Marker signs.  It's all about connecting the dots.
Next on my list is the Yakama Nation Cultural Center, located in Toppenish, Washington, to hear their side of the story.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll find another obscure, but fascinating monument to a fallen martyr.  A Native American one.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. A lonely monument with no one to see it but the hardy few who make an effort. As you said, where are the other monuments?