War Against the Paiutes, Eastern Oregon 1867-68

Shoshone Chiefs

Previously in my posts, I have noted details of the history and culture Paiute peoples of the Great Basin, mainly eastern Oregon. These peoples were hundreds of tribes and bands in Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, California and the surrounding Great basin areas. They were so numerous we may never know the full extent of their collective territories. The bands and tribes operated as autonomous political organizations, sometimes they had alliances with other bands. They are variously called Snake Indians, Bannock, Northern Paiute, or Shoshone in articles and publications.

Shoshone People
Shoshone People

The major settlement of Paiute territory really begins in earnest in the 1860s when the best farm and ranch lands of the western valleys were all claimed by earlier settlers beginning in about 1844. The Great Basin is a rugged area with many lush landscapes surrounded by semi-arid desert. Its a tough place to live in because if its temperature and weather extremes. In many areas there can be extreme 100 degree weeks and months in the summer while the winters can reach extreme cold temperatures and regular snow. The environment is much more extreme than the Willamette or Sacramento valleys where snow is a rare occurrence and the temperature remains for most of the year between 30 and 100 degrees, with only rare temperature extremes.

Malheur reservation and Paiute region
Malheur reservation and Paiute region

This region faced settlement by mainly ranching and farming families early on, but later miners and gold rushers began encroaching. Until the 1860 they majority of the region, except that along the Columbia river, was not under any treaties so the settlement, in whatever form was illegal encroachment. The tribes in the region lived under their own laws and moral codes and fought to continue their traditional lifeways. In this time most military reports in Eastern Oregon are far more extreme than what we read for the 1850s in southern Oregon. In the 1850s, the majority of the conflicts were tribes fighting for survival from the invading Americans, and the Americans organizing Volunteer militia to drive Indian tribes to extinction. When the US military, the regular army arrive in 1854, the commander of the region, General John E. Wool finds that the majority of the conflicts are caused by the invading and encroaching white settlers. The tribes fought back, fought to maintain their lands and then were forced to remove to reservations.

Paiute Region, Eastern Oregon
Paiute Region, Eastern Oregon

In the 1860s, the far west was mainly settled, treaties had been ratified, and the tribes of western Oregon were settling into Grand Ronde and the Coast reservations. But in Eastern Oregon, the Paiutes had yet to be treated with and kept fighting against encroachment. They maintained a steady pattern of attacks on tribal villages of the Wascos, Umatillas and the Nez Perce  who were setting into reservations. The US military set up a series of forts to defend the American settlements and would venture out on raids to find marauding Paiute bands. They were joined by Wasco scouts who by this time had no love for the Paiutes as they had suffered years of raiding from them.

Klamath Reservation
Klamath Reservation

One of the most feared and respected Paiute leaders was Chief Paulina who raided settlements for years while promising to come into the Klamath Reservation. Once at Klamath the Paiutes did not like the reservation. The food was different, supplies were inconsistent, they had to work as farmers and the Klamaths were already in charge of the community. The power imbalances did not appeal to the Paiutes causing Paulina to leave Klamath and continue raiding. he is eventually killed by a farmer. He is considered a hero of the basin by many tribal peoples.

Chief Paulina 1865, Chief of the Snake Indians
Chief Paulina 1865, Chief of the Snake Indians

The following account outlines a central time in this history, depicting the Paiutes as the aggressors and subject to automatic death at the hands of the US Army. There did not appear any attempt by the military officers named in the account to meet with the tribes to work out a more peaceful solution. Soldier outrage at the killing of a few settlers cause the death of whole bands of Paiutes, whether or not they were involved in the initial raid. There was no attempt to prove who caused the raid and only hold them accountable. Indian women and children were arrested and taken to Fort Vancouver were they would be jailed for a time. Through all of the back and forth fighting, there was never a recognition that the contested settlements were on the lands of the Paiutes. There was no attempt to hold Americans accountable for their encroachments, nor an attempt to keep settlers and travelers from the contested spaces. There was never a recognition that the newcomers were hunting out the game and taking the lands and resources that were really the property of the Paiute peoples. The Paiutes exacted their own payments from those who encroached under their own terms.

As you will see whole Paiute bands were hunted down and exterminated with extreme prejudice. A band of Paiutes tending to a salmon trap at Malheur were  killed with no reason for the killing. Later many of the Paiute tribes did get treaties and reservations, but these are short lived rights that are not finally honored as the Paiutes lose their rights and lands and are dispersed to other reservations by the 1880s. This area was the true western frontier with no laws and death coming easy to those who did not take care.

The following account is of unknown origin. It was found in the RG75 M2 Oregon Superintendency correspondence series records (Microfilm) of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. From the perspective it is highly likely that a military officer wrote the account.

[This is an original transcription by the author of this blog and all mistakes are my own. There are some slight changes in the spelling of a few words, and punctuation because of the inconsistent nature of spelling and grammar of the time, and change in the intervening 150 years. ]

1867, unregistered diary. This diary, existing in three copies in the files, is anonymous and apparently unfinished. It is presumed to have been transmitted to the Superintendent for his information. 

1867 June 27th

Capt. McKay with his company took up his line of march for Camp C.F. Smith. He was preceeded several days by Capt. Darrah, thus leaving the Warm Springs Reservation without any protection by troops from the Snake Indians, and quite a number moved with their stock to the white settlements.

July 1st.

Lieut. Force started from Fort Walla Walla W.T. with a company of U.S. Cavalry, provided with four months rations, to report to Gen. Crook on Snake River and from thence to proceed to Willow Creek.

On the same day Indian “sign” was discovered in the vicinity of Camp Smith. Gen. Crook immediately dispatched Archy McIntosh, one of his scouts, with fourteen Indians to reconnoiter.

At the base of Stein’s Mountain they surprised a camp consisting of ten men, three women and one boy.

A fight ensued in which all the men were killed and the women and boy taken prisoners. One woman escaped, another in making a similar attempt, was wounded, fell into Wild Horse Creek and was drowned.

The remaining women and boy were brought into camp. One of McIntosh’s men was wounded in the shoulder.

July 20th

Indians made their appearance a few miles South of Silver River, drove off several head of stock and killed one animal. The trail was followed and found to bear South in the direction of the place where Col. Jennings and party had their fight about a year before.

On the 18th Col. Baker left Camp Wright. On the 20th his command killed three Indians and captured thirteen prisoners. About the same time Lieut. Goodale’s command captured four prisoners at the head of Duck Creek on their way to camp Wright.

The day after, Capt. McKay’s scouts were informed that the Indian killed by Messers. Moppin and Clark sometime before was supposed to be no less a personage than Paulina, the Head Chief of the Snake tribe. The report proved untrue.

July 21st

Lieut. Goodale with seventeen of his men, intercepted Capt. McKay near the fishery on the Malheur, and with their combined forces had a fight with We-you-we-wan, killing five Snakes, and capturing two prisoners.

They also received through an Indian interpreter, from We-you-we-wan’s daughter (one of the prisoners) another report of Pauline’s death.

In this action Capt. McKay lost one scout killed.

Lieut’ Goodale left Capt. McKay within three days march of Camp C.F. Smith.

July 21st

A large expedition was sent into the field against the hostile Indians by order of Gen. Crook, commander of that Military District. It consisted of Maj. Perry, commanding Co. “F” 1st Cav., Capt. Harris, Co. “M” Cav., Capt. Darrah, Wasco Indian scouts, Capt. McKay Wasco Indian scouts and Archy McIntosh with twenty-five Snake Indian scouts. Making in all two hundred mounted men, with two hundred pack animals.

This command started from Camp C.F. Smith on the date above noted. Early in the morning of the twenty third of July. McIntosh with his scouts struck the trail of four Indians and followed them for eight hours. He killed all of them. He then sent one of his scouts to the main command with a note communicating the fact, and a bow and quiver of arrows.

A Mr. Wood, on his way from Canon City to the meadows on August 1st, unsaddled his horse to rest and retired to the bush from the sun. In a few minutes four Indians commenced firing at the saddle, supposing him there asleep. Mr. Wood being armed with a Henry rifle, shot and killed two Indians. Thereupon the remaining two fled.

Warner Mountains Begin in Oregon and extend into Northeast California, image on loan from Summitpost.org
Warner Mountains, begin in Oregon and extend into Northeast California, image on loan from Summitpost.org

July 28th

Gen. Crook while passing through a canon in the Puebla Mountains surrounded a camp of Indians with his troops, and let the Indian Volunteers “go in” as they requested. They succeeded in killing fifteen Indians, only a few escaping from the canon. He proceeded within eight miles of Camp Warner, where he struck another camp, which he surrounded as he had the previous one. The Indian scouts attacked and killed nearly all of them. Out of these two camps Gen. Crook’s command killed thirty five Indians- one of McIntosh’s scouts being killed. The command then proceeded to camp Warner. Camp Warner is situated about one hundred miles West of Camp C. F. Smith, and is located at the Eastern base of Warner Mountains, which was named after Capt. Warner of the U.S. Engineer Corps, who was killed by the Indians in a canon near that locality several years ago. The country is beautifully situated and capable of cultivation.

General George Crook Indian Fighter
General George Crook Indian Fighter

August 5th

Two men while traveling from Washco [sic] Ferry to John Day’s River were pursued by five Indians but being well mounted they succeeded in making their escape.

August 5th

Archy McIntosh discovered an Indian camp and captured eleven prisoners, composed of women and children. Two warriors were known to be killed but the others escaped. Mr. F. Adams reported on the 19th inst. That a small party of Snake Indians had stolen some stock from Camas Prairie, and on their way South had stolen some horses from the farms on the North Fork of John Day’s River. They were pursued however and the stolen animals recovered. The Indians however escaped.

August 14th

Col. Coffin attacked a camp of Indians on the Owyhee River and was supposed to have killed five and drowned three more. On his return to camp he received information from his scouts of another camp. About three O’clock next morning he attacked them, killing fifteen, taking three prisoners and a large amount of dried fish. The prisoners stated that there were other camps in that vicinity.

August 24th

Some Indians visited a cabin on Sinker Creek, broke up some saws and other property and then fled.

September 29th

Mr J. B. Scott, wife and two children on their way home from Rye Valley to Burnt River, were fired upon by Indians while in their wagon. Mr Scott was shot in three places, mouth, breast and arm.  He fell back into the wagon helpless. Mrs Scott was also seriously wounded but seized the reins and drove with all speed to a place of safety. Mr. Scott died in an hour after. Mrs. Scott died on the day following.

Neither of the children were injured. On the road from Farewell bend, Snake River, to Mormon Basin, a white man was shot twice by five Indians. He died next day.

October 4th

Two Indians stole some horses from Express ranch, and succeeded in making their escape although they were pursued.

October 5th

Joseph F Colwell was shot and partly burned by Indians, within one mile of Owyhee City. The Indians obtained one pair of blankets and a revolver. The same band stole fifteen head of oxen from Messers Hyde & White. The trail was followed into South Mountain but the cattle were not recovered.

October 4th

Sergeants Nichols and Denville and Mrs Denville started from Camp Lyon in a four horse ambulance for Fort Boise.  About nine miles out the party was attacked by Indians. At the first fire Denville (who was sick) was mortally wounded. Sergeant Nichols commenced firing upon the Indians, but lost the reins of the team which run at a rapid pace for half a mile. Sergeant Denville fell out of the wagon while the team was running. When the team stopped Sergeant Nichols jumped out, in company with Mrs. Denville, but, she became frightened and started back to her husband. The last Nichols saw of her she was in the hands of the Indians. Nichols hid among the rocks. The Indians stripped Denville’s body, getting twelve hundred dollars in green backs and a valuable gold watch. The ambulance and contents were burned. Nichols arrived at Carson’s ranch with nothing on but pants and shirt, and in an exhausted condition.

A Mr Hardey was fired upon at the same place, on the same day, had his horse killed under him, but made his escape by hiding among the rocks.

Efforts were made by the citizens to learn of Mrs Denville, but without success.

October 4th

Mr William Black, who resided in the town of Ore, went out of his house with candle in hand to enter his cellar from an outside entrance, between his own and another house about forty-five feet distant, he was shot with arrows, one entering the breast in the region of the heart, killing him instantly. The tracks of five Indians were found near by the next morning.

October 5th

At three o’clock in the morning the stage from Hunter’s Station was fired upon, wounding one of the horses, which fell dead in short distance from where it was shot. The only passenger, kept up a hot fire on the Indians with a Henry rifle, which drove them away. After taking the dead horse out of harness, the stage proceeded to its destination without further molestation. This was supposed to be the same band of Indians who killed Mr. Black. Lieut. J. F. Small reports the following. Started from Fort Klamath on the 2nd Sept. with fifty one men of Co. “A” U.S. Cav. and ten Klamath Indians and one white man as scouts. On the 7th at Lake Abert captured two prisoners, but the remainder escaped by swimming an arm of the lake. Moved down the lake, and on the 8th surrounded another camp in the night. Attacked the Indians at daylight. Killing twenty three and capturing fourteen, only two escaped. Ten Chiefs were among the killed, “Chic-hoc-hox” and “Cova-took,” signers of the treaty of Oct. 4th 1864,

1860 Henry Rifle
1860 Henry Rifle

One soldier and two Indians were wounded. Lieut. James Pike left in pursuit of four Indians who had plundered a Mr. Howe’s cabin a few miles East of the post of a Henry Rifle, 175 pounds of ammunition & other articles. On the morning of the 5th Lieut. Pike discovered two camps and immediately charged them, but the Indians escaped in the brush. Pike in drawing a rifle from one of the camps, accidently discharged it and received the contents in his thigh. Which proved fatal six days afterwards at Camp Logan.

October 18th

A party of seven Indians incorrectly reported to have been Nez Perces- entered a miners cabin on Eagle Creek & robbed it of all its contents, also destroying seventy five feet of eight inch hydraulic pipe.

From the first to the 22nd of October the Indians crossed Snake River four times, stole twenty three head of stock and made good their escape.

On the 25th of September a large command under Gen. Crook, which left camp C.F. Smith on July 21st came upon a large number of Indians in an extinct volcano on Pitt River, about three days march North of Fort Crook, California. Gen Crook immediately attacked and fought them for three days. He lost eleven men, killed. First Lieut. John Madigan was killed on the second day. The Indians fled and Gen. Crook resumed his march towards Camp Warner. There were three Indians captured, and the bodies of seven killed were found.

Fort Crook 1850s
Fort Crook 1850s

December 15th

A party of scouts from Camp Lyon found a camp of twenty Indians on the Owyhee River. They immediately attacked them and killed five and took six prisoners, one being a squaw wearing a pair of Mrs Denville’s stockings. At the same time a horse was captured belonging to the ambulance in which Sergeant Denville was killed. An interpreter was informed that Mrs Denville was still alive but several months afterwards (June 1st 1868), an Indian was captured by Lieut. Pike who said that he was one of the number who killed Serg’t Denville and captured his wife. This Indian said they had killed her the same day. He offered to show the party her bones. This offer was accepted, and about half of a mile from the place of first attack of that unfortunate party, as indicated by the prisoner the bones of Mrs Denville were found. The savages had placed her head on a stone and taken another one and dashed out her brains.

December 16th

Two Indians made a raid on Boise Valley and stole Twenty horses. They were followed next morning and killed. The horses were recovered. One of the Indians then killed was branded “1849” on one hip. Mr Haley last from “Forty nine ranch” sixteen head of stage horses on the night of Dec 15th. The Indians with the stolen stock crossed Snake River six miles above Washoe Ferry.

1868 January 11th

Gen. Crook came upon a camp of Indians on the Owyhee. Killed one and captured sixteen.

February 14th

Gen. Crook’s command had a fight with the Indians near “Dunder and Blixen,” in which twelve Indians were killed and two captured.

One soldier was slightly wounded. A few nights afterwards the Indians got among his herd of animals and killed twelve mules and eleven horses (including the General’s) by shooting them with arrows and then cutting their throats. The night was so dark that the herders did not make the discovery until next morning. Next day the command continued their march. The General sent back six men to watch for Indians. They discovered two engaged in cutting off flesh from the slaughtered animals, fired upon and killed them.

March 18th

A Mr Jarvis started from Boise Valley to Owyhee City with a wagon load of vegetables for market. He crossed Snake River with the stage. While going through a cañon between Carson’s ranch and Fruit’s ferry, he was killed by two Indians, his body stripped, wagon partly burned and horses stolen. His body was recovered the next morning by the return stage.

March 30th

Maj. Perry, with one hundred and eleven men left Camp Harney for a scout on the Malheur River, and on April 5th the Indians were found camped on the top of a mountain.

The troops were stationed so as to surround them, and one detachment was within thirty yards of them. In a few minutes the Indians made the discovery, and made a dash to escape. There were thirty killed, two taken prisoners and three escaped, two of whom were thought to be seriously wounded. The command then returned from the field.

May 20th

Some Indians attempted to run off the Quartermaster’s herd of horses and mules at Camp Watson, but did not succeed.

May 23rd

Robert Dixon, driver of Hill and Beachy’s stage was killed by Indians a few miles below Inskip’s ranch, in Jordan Valley. The Indians hid behind rocks, and at the first fire Dixon fell dead. The passengers on the box with him could not reach the reins, and the team started to run. The passengers jumped off and succeeded in driving the Indians away. In a few minutes they overtook a team on which two men had been seriously wounded at the same place a short time before. The body of Dixon was recovered. Capt Harris commanding at Camp Lyon ordered scouts Beebe and eight soldiers to take the trail and follow it which they did. On the morning of the 29th they attacked the camp, killing the entire party-thirty four- in number.

May 31st

Archy McIntosh found a band of Indians on the North fork of Malheur River where they had put in a Salmon trap, eighteen or twenty made their escape, but a very important sub-chief “E-hei-gant” with four warriors was captured in a dense thicket.

They also captured twenty horses. During the skirmish 1st Serg’t McCullough received a very severe flesh wound from an iron slug shot from a rifle. On that night Lieut. Stanton fearing an attack, sent reinforcements.  At eight o’clock Monday evening Lieut. McClere, with eighty men, arrived after fourteen hours ride. Tuesday “E-hei-gant” was summoned before Lieut. McClure. He expressed a desire for peace, and a willingness to send for his warriors also for “We-you-we-waw” who is the head chief of that district. On the sixth of the same month there came into Camp fifty Indians, headed by “We-you-we-waw,” who said all of his band would come in within ten days. In the hands of these Indians and in their camps, was found one of the latest patent Henry rifles, with globe sights, a hat with a bullet hole through it, and the remains of three soldiers who had deserted the winter before. A messenger was dispatched to intercept Gen. Crook who was enroute for Camp Warner.

June 6th

The Indians made a raid on Susanville and drove off twelve horses. They were pursued and three.(?) One white man was killed name John Belknap. The stock was not recovered.

June 15th

Two parties of citizens and soldiers started out to search the country on the head waters of Shasta Creek for the band of Indians who attacked the stage at or near “Sheep ranch”. Each party followed separate cañons. Although unknown to each other, they came unexpectedly upon separate sides of the Indian’s camp at the Junction of the three cañons. The Indians finding escape impossible surrendered – sixty one – in number and begged for peace. The celebrated chief “Big-foot” who committed so many depredations on the Owyhee proved to be the leader. He was said to be almost a giant and his foot measures seventeen inches in length. He claimed to be Chief of five hostile bands, and said they would all cease hostilities as soon as he could gather them together. The squaws and children were kept in custody while he went to bring the remaining bands.

June 15th

At Fort Boise, in the night of June 14th during a heavy storm, fifty prisoners (Indians) made their escape from the military. In an hour the Cavalry were searching the country for them. Next morning four squaws were captured.

June 22nd

One hundred Indians came into Camp Harney and surrendered to the Military authorities. Runners were out in every direction and all the bands were expected in, in a short time.

Lieut. Upham of First Cav. with his company enroute for Camp McDermott Nevada, to Camp Logan found a band of Indians near Stein’s Mountain and killed sixteen out of twenty eight “E-hee-gant,” their chief, who was a prisoner in Capt Kelley’s Camp, went out and brought in the twelve survivors.

June 30th

Gen. Crook at Camp Harney held a council with the principal bands of hostile Indians infesting the vicinity of Malheur River, Castle Rock, Owyhee and Stein’s Mountain, under their principal Chief “We-you-we-waw”. It was mutually agreed that the Indians return to their own head quarters in the vicinity of Castle Rock, and that while they remained peacible [sic] and did not molest citizens or private property, they should not be punished. All the property captured by the Indians, has been turned over to the Commanding Officer of Camp Harney, to be subject to the order of the owners, when the title could be clearly proven.

The next day Gen. Crook started on an expedition against the Pitt River Indians, taking with him ten Snake Indians as guides. On the 25th day of June a party of prospectors was attacked by a large band of Indians on Wind Creek. Henry Seaman was killed, three of the men became separated from the balance and have not been heard from since. All hopes of their safety have been given up. Eight Indians are known to have been killed.

On the 26th day of June, six Indians attacked a farmer thirty miles from South pass. Although severely wounded he drive the Indians off. They succeeded in stealing eleven head of horses. On an expedition against the Pitt River Indians, taking with him ten Snake Indians as guides.

[repeated report] On the 25th day of June a party of prospectors was attacked by a large band of Indians on Wind Creek. Henry Seaman was killed, three of the men became separated from the balance of the party and have not been heard from since. All hopes of their safety have been given up.  Eight Indians are known to have been killed.

[repeated report] On the 26th day of June, six Indians attacked a farmer thirty miles from South pass. Although severely wounded he drive the Indians off. They succeeded in stealing eleven head of horses. On an expedition against the Pitt River Indians, taking with him ten Snake Indians as guides.

July 14th

Col. Coppinger and the Idaho Road Company’s party had a fight with Indians near the head waters of Owyhee, killed three and captured several squaws and children.



M2 Microfilm collection, Oregon Superintendency

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Various Internet images

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