THE BANNOCK WAR


By 1878 the rush was off of the gold mining. While there was still mining going on it was being done by the larger mining outfits working either lode mines or hydraulic mining. The days of towns springing up overnight were over and more and more people were taking up permanent homesteads for the purpose of farming and ranching. But before things became too bucolic the Indians made one last attempt to wrest back control of eastern Oregon in what was called the Bannock war of 1878. It started on the Big Comas Prairie in southern Idaho. Sheephearders and cattlemen were tresspassing on Indian camas-cligging grounds, land that was the Indians by treaty. Indian leaders had been warning the stockmen for sometime. On May 30, 1878, three sheepherders were killed by the Indians. This event, combined with these feelings on the Fort Hall reservation in Idaho, set the wheels of violence in motion, Bannock war parties attacked several outlying ranches, burning and plundering and stealing livestock.

The U. S. Army took these events very seriously and began moving in troops from the Columbia River, Nevada and northern California. The Bannocks soon found themselves beyond a point of no-return. The Bannock tribe headed west into Oregon, hoping to unite with the Paiutes in the Harney Basin. They did this for two reasons: One, they hoped there would be a better chance of defeating the Army with a larger force, and they felt the Army would lose their ambition to pursue in the still largely unpopulated area of southeastern Oregon. However, the Bannocks found the Paiutes unenthused about the idea of going to war. The Bannocks thereupon took many of the Paiutes hostage, threatening them with death if they attempted to leave. The Bannock chief had been killed coming to Oregon and the Paiute chief, Egan, was made the war chief.

The first battle between soldiers and Indians occured at Silver Creek, not for from the present town of Riley, 24 miles west of Burns. The Indians were taken by suprise by several companies of soldiers that were far outnumbered by the Indians early Sunday morning, June 23. One soldier and somewhere between 10 and 50 Indians were killed. After this encounter the Indians headed north through Grant County, hoping to escape the pursuit of the soldiers and to unite with the Umatilla Indians near Pendleton.

Looking back at that event of over a hundred years ago it is difficult for us to comprehend the fear thatt'he Indian revolt caused in the white population, but a couple of things help put it into perspective. It was only two years before that Custer had been defeated at the Little Big Horn, making people realize that the U. S. Army's cavalry was not omnipotent in comparison to the Indians. In addition, the group that headed north from Silver Creek numbered between 1200 and 2000 persons. Of this group, 700 were capable of fighting. In comparison, the census showed Grant County's population at around 2000 people in 1880. The population in 1878 was probably not any greater, was widely dispersed, and had no resident civilian or military militia.

The Indians reached Murderer's Creek on the 27th or 28th of June and killed two sheepherders, On June 29th the Indi a ns were encountered by a group of volunteers from Canyon City. The white men found themselves far outnumbered and fled. One man, Oliver Aldrich, was killed and two others wounded. The report of Indians nearing Canyon City put fear into the general populace. Farmers in the area came to the town for safety. Families were moved into the abandoned mining tunnels for protection. Things were touchy enough that an approaching pack train was mistaken for the Indians. Pandemonium broke loose with people running to tunnels, for guns and just because standing still didn't seem the right thing to do. The Indians never went to Canyon City or John Day. From the South Fork of the John Day River they headed northeast into Fox and then into the Long Creek Valley, stealing livestock and burning buildings as they went.

The settlers in Long Creek Valley had constructed a log fort to which everyone had gathered. 0. P. Cresap, civilian scout for the Army, was in the fort when the Indians passed by: "There were probably between 600 and 700 Indians - mostly Bannocks and Paiutes. The old men, women and children formed the van, the fighting men the rear.

With the Indians were 2,000 to 3,000 head of horses and these were herded and driven by those unable to fight. The wickiups, personal property and plunder were packed on poles which were dragged by horses. This advance did most of the plundering and illaging.",

The Indians kept heading north. The Army was following, but not too closely, hoping that reinforcements would be in place on the Columbia to prevent the Indians from crossing it. There was a fight on Battle Mountain, 18 miles south of Pilot Rock, on July 7, that caused the Indians to flee in chaos. After that there were small skirmishes but no major confrontations. The Indian revolt was over, and the Indians began to head south to the reservations in small groups. The fight on Battle Mountain (named for the encounter) was the last Indian-Army battle in Oregon. With the Indians were 2,000 to 3,000 head of horses and these were herded and driven by those unable to fight. The wickiups, personal property and plunder were packed on poles which were dragged by horses. This advance did most of the plundering and illaging.",

The Indians kept heading north. The Army was following, but not too closely, hoping that reinforcements would be in place on the Columbia to prevent the Indians from crossing it. There was a fight on Battle Mountain, 18 miles south of Pilot Rock, on July 7, that caused the Indians to flee in chaos. After that there were small skirmishes but no major confrontations. The Indian revolt was over, and the Indians began to head south to the reservations in small groups. The fight on Battle Mountain (named for the encounter) was the last Indian-Army battle in Oregon.
TIMBER

One of Grant County's greatest natural resources is its timber. The ponderoso pine in the county is part of the largest stand of ponderosa pine in the world. Ninety percent of the Malheur National Forest is made up of Ponderosa and it is this high quality softwood that first attracted mills to the area.

In the 1800's, sawmills were small, water or steam powered and usually employed just a few men. These mills satisfied the demand in the local area only. It was not until 1926, when the Edward Hines Lumber Company of Chicago come into the county, that logging became big business. The empire that Hines put together in the south end of Grant and northern Harney counties was as big and powerful as any of the cattle empires of earlier times. With a huge sawmill in Harney County, its own railroad that ran from the mill to the forests, and its own company town, Seneca, Hines had in the early days a near monopoly on the virgin pine south of the Strawberry Mountains.

By the 1940's there were several large companies operating in Grant County, and logging and sawmilling soon outpassed agriculture as the county's number one industry.
POLITICAL BOUNDARIES

When it was created in 1864 out of Wasco County, Grant County contained the areas of both Grant and Harney counties of today. By the 1880's the population in the Harney Basin was beginning to grow, and the people there felt very removed from the county seat in Canyon City. In 1889 Harney County was created out of the south half of Grant County.

From the earliest days the county seat has been in Canyon City, but that location was contested in the late 1880's. After the gold rush and Canyon City's population was in decline the citizens of Long Creek felt their town was a much better location for the county seat. The Long Creek residents felt that since their population was on the increase and was the center of an agriculture area it would lend an aura of more stability than would a declining mining town. However, it became obvious that the cost to rebuild the courthouse was beyond the means of the county's treasury and the seat remained in Canyon City, where it has been to this day.

This is a sampler of Grant County's history. We have looked more at the events than the people that shaped them. It would be wrong to think that the history of this county was painted in broad strokes by a long array of colorful people who always felt that their actions were ones of greatness. Rather, our history was made by hardworking people who were simply trying to make their everyday lives a little better, for themselves and for their neighbors.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. The Geologic Setting of the John Day Country by the U. S. Department of the lnterior / Geologic Survey.
2. Inside Oregon's Grant County: Meeting Ground for Cultures in Conflict by William F. Willingham.
3. The Trailblazers by the editors of Time-Life books with text by Bil Gilbert.
4. Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis A. McArthur, 4th edition.
5. Harney County and its Rangeland by George Francis Brimlow.
6. China Doctor of John Day by Jeffrey Barlow and Christine Richardson.
7. Atlas of Oregon by Loy, Allan, Patton and Plank.
8. An Illustrated History of Baker, Grant, Malheur and Harney Counties by Western Historical Pub. Co..

Special thanks to The Oliver Historical Museum for providing background research and photographs.

Editing by Jack Southworth.



1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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