George L. Curry correspondence relating to the Yakima War and the Rogue River War, 1855 October-1856 May 29

Overview of the Collection

Curry, Geo. L. (George Law), 1820-1878
George L. Curry correspondence relating to the Yakima War and the Rogue River War
1855 October-1856 May 29 (inclusive)
0.22 cubic feet, (1 custom box (12.5x10x3))
Collection Number
Coll 895
Correspondence of Oregon Territorial Governor George L. Curry (1820-1878) relating to the Yakima War and the Rogue River War of 1855-1856. Most of the correspondence, which relates to raising and supplying volunteers or to military orders, consists of drafts or office copies written on Curry's behalf by Benjamin Stark (1820-1898), who acted as Curry's aide-de-camp.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Additional Reference Guides

An inventory of the letters in this collection and a summary of their historical background and contents, written by Bill Papesh, is housed with the collection.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

George Law Curry was born in 1820 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After working for newspapers in Boston, Massachussetts, and St. Louis, Missouri, he came to Oregon in 1846, and worked as the editor of the Oregon Spectator until he was fired in 1848. He subsequently founded the Oregon Free Press, but that paper soon failed, and Curry shifted to farming in the Willamette Valley.

In 1849, Joseph Lane appointed Curry as the Oregon Territory's public printer. This began Curry's political career, and in the early 1850s he held a number of positions: as chief clerk of the Council, the upper house of the Oregon territorial government's legislature, during its 1850-1851 session; as a member of the legislature's lower house, the Assembly, in the 1852-1853 session; as secretary of the territory in 1853; and then as acting governor that same year. After the resignation of territorial governor John Davis in August 1854, Curry served as the interim territorial governor before being officially appointed as governor that November. During his tenure, Curry encouraged Euro-American settlement of eastern and southwestern Oregon. When this led to armed conflict between Euro-Americans and Native peoples, he repeatedly asked for federal troops and government funding for volunteer forces.

Curry left the office of governor in 1859, and in the 1860s returned to the newspaper business as editor of the Portland Advertiser, though U.S. federal authorities suppressed this newspaper for suspected opposition to the U.S. Civil War.

Curry married Chloe Boone in 1848; the couple had five children. In 1874, Curry sold his farm and moved to Portland, Oregon. He died in 1878.

Sources: "George Law Curry (1820-1878)," by Barbara Mahoney, Oregon Encyclopedia,; Corning, Howard McKinley, editor, "Dictionary of Oregon History," second edition, 1989.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

In 1855, the Yakama, Imatalamłáma (Umatilla), Liksiyu (Cayuse), and Walawalałáma (Walla Walla) peoples were forced to cede more than 6 million acres of their lands to the United States in the Yakama Treaty. The governor of Washington Territory, Isaac I. Stevens, assured Native peoples that Euro-Americans would not intrude on their remaining lands. However, gold strikes near Colville, Washington, and the Fraser River area in British Columbia led to numerous Euro-American miners passing through these lands. Native people killed some miners in retaliation, which prompted Major Granville O. Haller of the U.S. Army to deploy troops to the Yakima Valley. There, his troops and Native fighters led by Yakama Chief Kiamiakin battled on October 5, 1855, which sparked what would become known as the Yakima War. During the war, Oregon Territorial Governor George L. Curry provided volunteer troops to assist the U.S. Army and Euro-American emigrants in Washington to fight Native peoples, and notable Oregon figures such as James W. Nesmith served in the war. The war ended in 1859, and resulted in the United States seizing 90% of the Yakama people's traditional lands and confining them to a reservation.

Sources: "Yakama Indian War begins on October 5, 1855," by Paula Becker,,; Corning, Howard McKinley, editor, "Dictionary of Oregon History," 1956.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

The Rogue River War of 1855-1856 occurred when, following the massacre of Native people in southern Oregon by Euro-American settlers led by James A. Lupton, Native peoples fled down the Rogue River, killing some Euro-American residents and miners in the region. In response, U.S. Army troops and Euro-American volunteers came to the region, where they fought Native fighters on several occasions from October 1855 to May 1856. Following hostilities, the U.S. sent most surviving Native people in the region to either the Grande Ronde Reservation or the Coast Reservation.

Source: "Rogue River War of 1855-1856," by E. A. Schwarts, Oregon Encyclopedia,

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of the correspondence of Oregon Territorial Governor George L. Curry relating to the Yakima War and the Rogue River War. While most letters concern the Yakima War, some concern or make reference to the Rogue River War. The letters primarily relate to efforts to raise, supply, and deploy volunteer troops, or give orders to officers of volunteer troops. Most of the collection's letters are drafts or office copies, and were written on Curry's behalf by Benjamin Stark, who was acting as aide-de-camp for Curry. Correspondents include Thomas R. Cornelius, James K. Kelly, Joseph Lane, and James W. Nesmith; there is also one letter to Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Other items in the collection include a draft for a proclamation to raise volunteer troops; an authorization to pay the quartermaster general of the Oregon Territory to defray war costs; a note from James W. Nesmith to Curry; a letter from Benjamin Stark to Curry; and an authorization for the enrollment of a company of volunteers made up of Canadian citizens and people of partial Native ancestry.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

George L. Curry correspondence relating to the Yakima War and the Rogue River War, Coll 895, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society owns the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Letters are arranged in chronological order.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Bill Papesh, November 2018 (Lib. Acc. 29408).

Related Materials

Additional papers of George L. Curry at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library are located in: the George Law Curry papers, Mss 700; the James Willis Nesmith papers, Mss 577; the Philip Foster papers, Mss 996; the Benajmin Stark papers, Mss 1155; and the Samuel A. and Harriet T. Clarke papers, Mss 1156.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Rogue River Indian War, 1855-1856
  • Yakama Indians--Wars, 1855-1859

Personal Names

  • Cornelius, Thomas R.--Correspondence
  • Curry, Geo. L. (George Law), 1820-1878--Correspondence
  • Kelly, J. K. (James Kerr), 1819-1903--Correspondence
  • Lane, Joseph, 1801-1881--Correspondence
  • Nesmith, James Willis, 1820-1885--Correspondence

Form or Genre Terms

  • correspondence

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Stark, Benjamin, 1820-1898