War with the Snake, Bannock and Paiute, Umatilla County, Oregon


In the month of June, 1878, a large band of Bannock Indians, under the leadership of Buffalo Horn, began murdering settlers and destroying their property in the southern portion of Idaho and Oregon in the vicinity of Snake river. Buffalo Horn was a celebrated warrior, who had the year before aided the government against Chief Joseph and his band of hostile Nez Percé. His reward for such services was not in keeping with his estimate of their value and importance. He saw Chief Joseph honored and made the recipient of presents and flattering attention, while the great Buffalo Horn was practically ignored. His philosophical mind at once led him to the conclusion that more favors could be wrung from the government by hostility than in fighting its battles.

     Some well-informed gentlemen believe there was a grand combination of tribes in Oregon and Washington, which was defeated and prevented from fully developing by the energy of soldiers and volunteers. Smohalla, the Dreamer, had been prophesying that thousands of dead warriors were going to rise from their graves and aid in driving the whites out of the country. This idea was not original with him. It had been frequently used in former years by the Medicine Men of various tribes, to incite them to hostilities. The times appointed for the great uprising of defunct braves had come and gone and not a grave had opened. Like the Millerites in their days set for an end of the world, the Medicine Men ascribed the failures to a mistake in calculation and not in theory. Smohalla, during the winter previous, held many "seances," became entranced, saw visions, conversed with the dead, and reported results to the living as do white spiritualists, each time proclaiming the great and near resurrection of ghostly warriors to fight in the ranks of the Indian army. Runners were sent throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada by this wily Dreamer, to wall' tribes to prepare for the great Indian millennium. These tribes were the Pah Utes, Bannock, Snake, Umatilla, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Warm Spring, Yakima, and Chief Moses' large band of Colville, Columbia, Spokane and Pend d'Oreille. How much faith was placed in Smohalla and his dreams no one could discover, but an out-break was looked for by those who had taken note of the passage from place to place of Indian messengers. They looked to Chief Moses, who was known to cherish hostile feelings, and whose followers were under direct influence of the scheming Smohalla, to begin the war; and the outbreak by Bannocks was a surprise to them. They then conceived what they still believe, that it was planned to begin hostilities there, sweep north to Umatilla Reservation, cross the Columbia to Yakima, and thence, having been joined by confederate bands as they passed along, to unite with Chief Hoses and carry on a protracted war, with his country as a base of operations and British Columbia as a final harbor of refuge.

     Intelligence of the outbreak rapidly spread. Troops were forwarded from Vancouver, Walla Walla, Lapwai and other points, General O. O. Howard directing the operations in person. Several battles were fought, in one of which Buffalo Horn was killed. The hostiles were joined by a large band of Pah Utes, led by Egan, their great war chief, who took command upon the death of Buffalo Horn, and by a large number of Snakes. They then numbered about 500 warriors, women and children swelling the number to 2,000. This narrative deals only with events within the limits of Umatilla County. Having been driven into the Blue Mountains, the hostiles moved north towards the Umatilla Reservation. On the north fork of John Day River were many Indians from the reservation, as well as Columbia River and Warm Spring Indians. They were there ostensibly to fish and hunt and had their families with them, though many believe their object was to hold a conference with the hostiles. As soon as the agent, Maj. N. A. Cornoyer, learned that the Bannocks were coming in this direction, he mounted his horse and hastened to John Day River, to collect the scattered Indians and bring them upon the reservation. When he reached Camas Prairie he met crowds of Indian women hastening home, who told him the men were fighting on John Day River. He sent a courier to Pendleton with that information, and pushed on. Soon Indians were met, hastening home, who said that Umapine and a few others were holding the intruders in check. A little further on, Umapine himself was en-countered with his little band of followers. No fighting had been done, but Indians had been in plain view on the opposite side of the river. These men were remaining in the rear to guard the retreat of women and children. Instructing them to return home as soon as possible, Major Cornoyer hastened back to Pendleton. All was commotion there. The false report that reservation Indians were fighting the enemy on John Day River had been spread in all directions, and telegraphed abroad.

     Consternation and panic afflicted the people. On horseback, in wagons, and on foot the settlers hastened to the nearest town for protection. Pendleton, Heppner, Umatilla, Wallula, Weston, Milton and Walla Walla were crowded with refugees. Homes were abandoned so hastily that neither provisions nor extra clothing were provided. All settlements within reach of a warning voice were deserted in a day. Cattle and sheep men in the mountains were in a precarious situation, and many of them were killed before they could reach places of safety. Major Cornoyer gathered in all the Indians possible, including Columbia Rivers and Warm Springs, which gave him some 2,000 to take care of, the loyalty of many of whom was seriously doubted. The citizens and refugees in Pendleton made extensive preparations for defense. They dug a trench inside the courthouse fence, and banked dirt up against the boards, making a good fortification in the center of town. The mill was reserved as a harbor of refuge for women and children. A line of pickets was posted to guard all approaches, and full preparations were made to defend the place in event of an attack. At Umatilla similar precautions were taken. J. H. Kunzie was appointed Assistant Adjutant General by Gov. S. F. Chadwick, who had made it his headquarters. That point was selected because it had the nearest telegraph office, and because supplies for troops and volunteers were landed there. Volunteers were organized and armed by Mr. Kunzie, and the town was closely guarded. The stone warehouse of J. R. Foster & Co. was fitted up for a fort in which a final stand could be made in case of an attack. Umatilla was considered as especially exposed, as it was near this place the Indians were expected to make an attempt to cross the river. By careless handling of a needle gun in warehouse, which was crowded with women and children, it was discharged, the ball lodging in the left leg of a girl but fourteen years of age, a daughter of Capt. Cyrus Smith. She was at once taken to Walla Walla, where the limb was amputated below the knee. Similar preparations for defense were made at Heppner, Weston, Milton and other places where refugees had collected.

Upon return of Major Cornoyer to Pendleton on the second of July, confirming the news that hostiles were on John Day River, a volunteer company was organized, and the next morning started for the scene of action. At Pilot Rock they received recruits, the company then numbering about thirty men, under the command of Captain Wilson. They camped that night in Camas Prairie, and on the morning of the fourth had proceeded but a short distance, when an Indian scout was discovered. After a long chase he was overtaken and killed. They soon after encountered a large body of Indians and were compelled to retreat with one man wounded. They were pursued ten miles, several of them losing their horses and making their escape on foot, being reported killed by those who reached Pendleton first. As soon as this company returned with intelligence that Indians were in Camas Prairie, and that some of their number as well as some sheep herders had been killed, another was organized by Sheriff J. L. Sperry, and started on the fifth for the front, with a company from Weston under Dr. W. W. Oglesby and another under M. Kirk. At Pilot Rock they received recruits, and were then consolidated into one command.

     The company was organized as follows: Captain, J. L. Sperry; Lieutenants, M. Kirk, William M. Blakely; Sergeants, William Lamar, T. S. Furgerson, J. C. Coleman, William Ellis, R. Eastland; Privates, W. W. Oglesby, T. C. McKay, George Bishop, S. L. Lansdon, Andrew Sullivan, A. Scott, A. Acton, C. R. Henderson, B. E. Daugherty, J. H. Wilson, H. Rockfellow, B. L. Manning, F. D. Furgerson, M. P. Gerking, C. P. Woodward, F. Hannah, S. I. Gerking, G. W. Titsworth, S. W. Smith, J. M. Stone, H. H. Howell, W. M. Metzger, W. P. Grubb, W. L. Donalson, J. L. Smith, S. Rothchild, R. F. Warren, J. W. Saulsbury, H. A. Saulsbury, Harrison Hale, L. Blanchard, J. B. Perkins, A. Crisfield, B. F. Ogle, C. C. Townsend, J. Frazier, W. R. Reed, Thomas Ogle, Joseph Ogle, Doc. Odeer, Waller Harrison, George Graves, P. J. Ryan, A. R. Kellogg.

     On the morning of the sixth they left Pilot Rock for Camas Prairie. General Howard had followed so closely upon the trail of the retreating savages that he had forced them out of Camas Prairie, and when the volunteers were taking their dinner at Willow Springs, firing and yelling announced the presence of the enemy, who were driving in the pickets and making a close race with them for camp. At the first alarm, thirteen men mounted their horses and departed in haste. The others tied their animals in a sheep corral and took shelter in a small shed. A sharp fight was maintained all the afternoon, William Lamar being killed, and S. L. Lansdon, A. Crisfield, S. Rothchild, G. W. Titsworth, C. R. Henderson, Frank Hannah, Jacob Frazier, J. W. Saulsbury, and H. H. Howell, wounded, Saulsbury twice and Hannah seven times. The Indians kept well under cover, fired from long range, and what loss they sustained could not be seen. Towards night they turned their attention to shooting the horses, but at dark ceased firing and apparently withdrew. A consultation was held, and it was decided to retreat on foot, such of the wounded as could ride were placed on the few surviving horses, and the others were put in a light spring wagon that had been brought along to carry provisions. The men were instructed to fall prostrate the instant a gun was fired, a precaution that saved them from annihilation. They had gone but a few hundred yards when the flash of a gun caused them to throw themselves upon the ground, just in time to escape a volley of bullets that went whiz-zing over them. Harrison Hall was too slow, and was shot dead. The volley was returned, and the Indians retreated after firing a few scattering shots. The retreat began at midnight, and before daylight they were attacked four times, having made but six miles, and lost but one man.

     When Sperry's company left Pendleton, Major Throckmorton had arrived from Walla Walla, and was joined next day by troops from Lapwia, amounting in all to 150 men. The men who had fled from Willow Springs brought news of the precarious condition of their comrades, and Major Throckmorton instantly started to their relief. The retreating band of volunteers met the troops soon after day break about four miles from Pilot Rock, and their blue coats were a welcome sight to those weary men, who had fought so gallantly and made such a masterly retreat with their wounded comrades.

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