The conflict known as the Bannock War occurred
in Oregon and Idaho in 1878, involving the Bannocks and Northern
Paiutes, as well as a number of Cayuses and Umatillas.
In previous years, especially during the
early Civil War period, the Bannocks and other tribes of the Great Basin,
as the Paiutes, Utes, and Shoshonis, had raided travelers along the trails—migrants, prospecting parties, freight
caravans, stagecoaches, etc.
In 1860 and 1863, in the Pyramid Lake and
Bear River campaigns, federal troops had pacified the tribes in the Basin
and reopened trails (see "Paiute" and "Shoshoni" ).
Then again, in 1868, federal troops under
the active General George Crook had moved against Northern Paiutes in the
Snake War (see "Paiute" ).
Since that time, Bannocks and Paiutes had
peacefully drawn their meager rations from the government agencies of
the region, supplementing their diet through traditional forms of hunting and gathering in the harsh environment.
It was the issue of digging camas roots
on the Camas Prairie about 90 miles southeast of Fort Boise, Idaho, a right
guaranteed by earlier treaty, that sparked the war of 1878 in the atmosphere of tension following the Nez Perce conflict
of 1877 (see "Nez Perce" ).
Bannocks and Paiutes, furious at the despoilation
of their camas staple by the hogs of white ranchers, began
The first incident was the wounding of
two whites by a single Bannock in May. Afterward, a war party of about
Bannocks and Paiutes gathered under the Bannock leader Buffalo Horn.
In June, Buffalo Horn was killed in a clash
with volunteers; his warriors regrouped at Steen Mountain in Oregon with
Paiutes from the Malheur agency.
The Paiute medicine man Oytes, who had
been proselytizing against whites, and the Paiute chief Egan became the
leaders of the combined force.
Regular troops under General Oliver O.
Howard, who had fought in the Nez Perce War, and his calvary commander,
Captain Reuben F. Bernard, mobilized out of Fort Boise.
A chase through the rugged terrain of southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho ensued.
A major battle occurred at Birch Creek on July 8, with Howard’s force dislodging the Indians from steep bluffs.
On July 12, Captain Evan Miles and an infantry
column cornered some of the insurgents at the Umatilla agency neat
Pendleton, Oregon, where a group of Umatillas had betrayed the rebels and murdered Chief Egan.
After persistent tracking by white forces, Oyte surrendered on August 12 with a party of Paiutes.
A final party of Bannocks were captured east of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming in September.
The Paiute reservation at Malheur was terminated
and prisoners were settled at the Yakima reservation in
After having been held prisoner in military
posts for a time, the Bannock prisoners were allowed to return to their
reservation on the upper Snake River in Idaho.
Another band of Indians, the Sheepeaters,
with some Bannocks among them, fought a war of their own in 1878 and
ended up among the other Bannocks (see "Sheepeater" ).
The first significant outbreak of violence
between Indians and whites in the Northwest—an area of traditionally peaceful
relations since the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 –
involved the Cayuses of the upper Columbia River; it is referred to as the Cayuse War.
Trouble began at the Presbyterian mission at Waiilatpu in Oregon Country, founded by Marcus Whitman in the 1830s.
Whitman, like his associate in the region Henry Spalding
—both Presbyterians competing bitterly
with Catholic missionaries and both having fanatical approaches to the
conversion of Indians—
had never developed a strong rapport with the Cayuse tribe as a whole.
In 1847, when Cayuse children enrolled
at the mission school came down with the measles and started an epidemic
among the tribe, the Cayuses blamed the missionaries.
On November 29, Chief Tilokaikt and a warrior
by the name of Tomahas, while at the mission for medicine,
tomahawked Whitman to death.
Other Cayuses then raided the mission,
killed Whitman’s wife Narcissa and 10 others, and took about 50 men,
women, and children hostage.
Oregon Country raised a volunteer militia,
headed by Cornelius Gilliam, a fundamentalist clergyman who had fought
Indians in the East and believed in the policies of extermination.
A three-man peace commission was also established to meet with other tribes, headed by Joel Palmer.
Meanwhile, Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson’s
Bay Company managed, in the hope of protecting fur interests, to
negotiate the release of the hostages.
Gilliam’s troops, however, further aggravated
the issue by attacking an encampment of innocent Cayuses, killing as
many as 30.
Indians who had previously disapproved of the Whitman murder now joined the cause.
Palouse Indians attacked when some militiamen rustled their cattle, driving the force back to Wiilatpu.
Gilliam himself was killed soon afterwards by his own gun in an accident.
After an unsuccessful continuing campaign that threatened to unite all the Columbia Basin tribes, their troops retired.
Tilokaikt and Tomahas, plus three other Cayuses, tired of hiding out, turned themselves in two years later.
They were tried, convicted and sentenced to hang.
Before dying, they refused Presbyterian rites, accepting Catholic ones instead.
The Cayuse War had long-term repercussions.
Cayuse lands were open to white settlement.
The war also led Congress to establish a territorial government for Oregon and more military posts.
And other tribes of the Columbia Basin, once peaceful, now distrusted the whites and feared for their own lands.
More wars would follow.
The Cayuses themselves would be involved
in two of them: the Yakima War of 1855-59 and the Bannock War of 1878
(see "Yakima" and "Bannock" ).
The Coeur d’Alene War of 1858 in Washington
and Idaho territories can be thought of as the second phase of the
Yakima War that had started three years before,
the conflict spread to more tribes, including the Coeur d’Alenes, Spokanes, Palouses and Northern Paiutes.
It is also sometimes referred to as the Spokane War because of that tribe’s degree of involvement.
Chief Kamiakin of the Yakimas had been
calling for a general alliance among the tribes on both sides of the Columbia
River for some time, citing the inexorable growth of the mining frontier in the Colville region and the repeated pattern of
forced treaties and land cessions.
When a column of 164 federal troops under
Major Edward Steptoe marched out of Fort Walla Walla and across the
Snake River into Indian country, the tribes prepared for war.
The first engagement occurred in May 1858, at Pine Creek.
A combined force of about 1,000 Coeur d’Alenes, Spokanes, and Palouses attacked and routed Steptoe’s column.
General Newman S. Clarke sent out another
force, 600 strong, under Colonel George Wright, with instructions to
persist in a severe defeat of the hostiles and to seek the capture of Kamiakin and other leaders, especially Owhi and
his son, Qualchin, Kamiakin’s relatives by marriage.
Confident because of their earlier victory,
the allied tribes made the mistake of meeting the enemy on an open field,
In that battle and the Battle of Four Lakes,
both occurring the first week of September, the Indians suffered high
casualties, whereupon they scattered to their villages.
The army column continued its trek through Indian lands, rounding up dissidents.
Fifteen were hanged; others were jailed.
Owhi gave himself up to Colonel Wright
and was tricked into also surrendering his son, Qualchin. Qualchin was
Owhi was shot while trying to escape.
Kamiakin, although wounded at Spokane Plain, managed to escape into Canada.
He quietly returned three years later and lived out his life in peace on the Spokane reservation.
The power of the Columbia Basin tribes
had been broken. The next uprising in the region would occur to the south
among the Nez Perces in 1877, the year Kamiakin died.
The discovery of gold in California in
1848 brought droves of settlers in search of the Mother Lode, leading to
reduction in the number of California Indians.
The disruption of their hunting and gathering patterns of subsistence by the rash of mining camps,
the outbreak of European diseases among
them, and policies of extermination, with many whites shooting Indians
sight, reduced the population by almost two-thirds within a few short years.
The generally peaceful nature of the California
Indians hastened their attrition since most hostilities were one-sided
In 1850, however, the Miwoks and Yokuts
of the Sierra Nevada foothills and San Joaquin Valley mounted an uprising
against the miners in their midst.
Warriors under Chief Tenaya attacked prospectors and burned the trading posts of James D. Savage.
Savage led a force of state militia, called
the Mariposa Battalion, into the Sierra Nevada in 1851, to quell the insurgents;
this resulted in only minor clashes.
The resistance of the Miwoks and Yokuts, known historically as the Mariposa Indian War, faded gradually.
A much larger rebellion, involving the Modocs, would occur 20 years later in the northern part of the state.
As far as the whites were concerned, the
Modocs had long been tamed together with the state in which they had
formerly lived, California.
The tribe had signed a treaty in which
they ceded their lands and agreed to live on the Klamath reservation in
Many of them had even taken Anglo-American names.
Nevertheless, while federal troops were concerned with Indian uprisings on the Great Plains and in the Southwest,
and officials in Washington argued the
merits of President Ulysses S. Grant’s peace policy, the remnants of this
formidable tribe staged an uprising that shocked the nation.
Fed up with conditions on the Klamath reservation
and their treatment at the hands of the Klamath Indians, a group of
Modocs under a young leader by the name of Kintpuash, called Captain Jack, returned to their ancestral homelands
just south of the California border, along the foothills of the Cascades in the northwest corner of the Great Basin.
For several years, Kintpuash and his followers
were allowed to live unmolested in their village on the Lost River just
north of Tule Lake, where they had requested a permanent reservation.
Yet, as the white population increased, so did complaints about the Indian presence.
In November 1872, a force of cavalry under
Captain James Jackson set forth from Fort Klamath with instructions to
bring back the renegade Modocs.
When the troops tried to persuade the Modocs
to return to Oregon with them, a fight broke out with a fatality on each
Kintpuash managed to lead his people out
of the village to the cover of tules along the edge of the lake and then
southward to the "Land of Burnt Out Fires," a volcanic highland of lava beds that served as natural fortifications.
Another Modoc band under Hooker Jim resisted
a posse of civilians trying to round them up, suffering the loss of an
old woman and an infant.
Hooker Jim’s band retaliated with attacks
on ranchers in the region, killing about 15, then also took refuge in the
Kintpuash had hoped that the army would
not attempt to dislodge his people from their stronghold, and so he was
dismayed to hear of Hooker Jim’s actions, which made war inevitable.
The feared attack came in mid-January 1873,
after a build-up of regulars and Californian and Oregon volunteers under
Lieutenant Colonel Frank Wheaton.
Artillery rounds were fired into the dense
fog enveloping the Lava Beds, but they dropped closer to the advancing
bluecoats than to the Indians.
Kintpuash recommended his people sue for peace.
The militants under Hooker Jim prevailed in a democratic vote by 37 to 14, and they counterattacked.
The Indians, protected behind their lava breastworks, triumphed in the ensuing fight.
Wearing sagebrush in their headbands as
camouflage, they moved about the lava trenches and caves and led the
soldiers to believe they were a much larger force than 51.
White casualties were high; the Indians
did not lose a single man. Demoralized, Wheaton called for 1,000
reinforcements with mountain howitzers and mortars.
The volunteers, who had had enough fighting, dispersed to their homes.
The military commander of the Northwest,
Brigadier General Edward Canby, decided to take over the campaign
He built up his force to 1,000 but he also set a peace plan in motion.
He managed to set up negotiations with
the Modocs through the help of Kintpuash’s cousin Winema—or Toby
the Modoc wife of the interpreter Frank
Riddle, plus a rancher named John Fairchild, and President Grant’s peace
commissioners Alfred Meacham and Reverend Eleasar Thomas.
A peace tent was erected on a neutral ground between the two forces and a series of talks were held.
Kintpuash asked now only for the barren Lava Beds as a reservation.
He also refused to turn over Hooker Jim
and the other warriors involved in the attack on the white settlers, pointing
that the whites were not prepared to turn over the killers of the Modoc innocents.
The militants, growing restless, taunted Kintpuash and called for action.
A medicine man by the name of Curly Headed
Doctor convinced Kintpuash that by killing the white leaders he would
render the white troops helpless.
At the next parley with Canby on April
11, Kintpuash drew a hidden revolver and killed the general, the only general
killed in the Indian wars.
Another warrior, Boston Charley, killed Eleasar Thomas.
With these rash acts, any national sympathy
for the Modoc’s brave stand ended, as did any hope of a federal
Four days later, the new commander in the
field, Colonel Alvan Gillem, launched an indecisive attack with minimal
casualties on both sides.
Because of the overwhelming firepower of the army, the Modocs moved further south to another lava formation.
Then, on April 26, 22 Modocs under the
war leader Scarfaced Charley ambushed a patrol of nearly 80 troops who
stopped in an indefensible hollow, killing 25, including all five officers.
Still, the Modoc resistance was coming to an end.
The Modocs, torn by dissension, and without food and water, had scattered into small groups.
The army, under a new commander, General Jeff Davis, began a mopping-up operation.
They routed one group of warriors at Dry
Lake. Another group under Hooker Jim turned themselves in, offering to
Kintpuash in exchange for their own freedom.
Although Davis knew Hooker Jim was guilty in the death of the settlers, he agreed.
After a chase over rugged and rocky terrain, Kintpuash was finally cornered in a cave on June 1.
Three faithful warriors—Black Jim, Boston Charley, and Schonchin Jim—surrendered with him.
In a perfunctory trial, Hooker Jim served as a witness against Kintpuash and the others.
Kintpuash claimed in his final statement
that he had never been the one wanting to fight, but Hooker Jim had, and
he had been conquered by his own people, not by whites.
The defendants were sentenced to be hanged.
After the execution, grave robbers disinterred Kintpuash’s body,
embalmed it, and displayed it in a carnival in eastern cities.
Hooker Jim and the other Modocs were sent
to the Indian Territory. In 1909, the surviving 51 Modocs were allowed
return to the Klamath reservation.