The Bannock Indian War of 1878
During the later part of 1876 and the early part of 1877 I was in Red Bluff California and during that time I heard much and read a great deal of the Pendelton Country and also the Walla Walla country I was impressed with what I heard of its resources the sheep, the horse and cattle outlook and how it was going to become the leading wheat country of the United States. Seven of us almost went wild with the idea of having a home in a country where the climate was so mild as this was reported to be where it was said all the stock came through the winters sleek and fat however the Umatilla Reservation was owned by the Umatilla Indians who might sometime go on the warpath and cause trouble. Not withstanding this outlook however the 9th of May 1877 two families, 8 persons in all, with two four horse teams started to Oregon.
The country we were bound for was 600 miles away and a very rough road to travel to reach it. The country too was all new that we had to pass through.
We landed in Pendelton July 4th and in one week we had staked our claims on the bunch grass plains 4 miles from the Umatilla Indian Reservation and it was as fine a body of land as ever a crow flew over. It was 12 miles from Pendelton the county seat of Umatilla County there was then only one hotel, one stage stand, one blacksmith, the courthouse, four saloons, one dry goods store, a small grist mill run by water power and a race track. The town was built on the very edge of the Indian reservation and there were miles and miles of vacant land all around it. In fact it was typical frontier town in the wild and woolly west.
During the fall and winter settlers came in by the hundreds and the winter being mild we hauled poles and other stuff from the mountains and in the spring log cabins, tents and dugouts could be seen rising in every direction.
One day one of our party was in Pendelton and he heard there were indications that the Indians were preparing to go on the warpath but we were so busy with our work we paid little attention to the rumor. We were really to busy fighting poverty and sorrels and weeds, which were about to take our little gardens. We were ever planning what a fine wheat ranch we would soon have when one night we heard a yell from a friend at the cabin door, "Roll out, roll out, the Indians have broke loose and are on the war path." The outbreak came without a warning to us it was July 2nd 1878. Chief Egan of the Bannock and renegades of other tribes were the disturbing factors, warnings were sent out to all the settlers and by sunup the roads were full of people fleeing to a place of safety.
We all met at Weston, Umatilla County leaving the cows unmilked. Some of us had not eaten breakfast and the women and children were crying, the men swearing and girding themselves for as fight with the red foe and soon the fight was on. However the first rumors of the out break in the early spring had prompted the governor to send out state guns and ammunition to different places in the county less the outbreak would catch the settlers unarmed.
July 3rd 1878 we organized Company B, 2nd regiment Oregon state militia and we called it The Wild Horse Rangers with Robert E. Eastland as captain we were armed with state guns and our own horses and rations. We had no time for red tape at this time of the organization for our families and our sweethearts our deserted cabins and our prospects for a happy home were all at stake.
July 4th our company and several other companies met at Pilot Rock the sheriff of the county was chosen as Commander. July 7th 1878 the boys met the Indians in great numbers at Willow Springs, Umatilla County Oregon. We took shelter in a sheep corral and shed and the battle lasted from 2 o'clock p.m. until dark, four were killed and thirteen wounded. Two of our company were wounded. Just before dark the Indians killed 25 saddle horses, the grub wagon and 2 horses happened to be sheltered and were saved. This gave us a chance to bring out the dead and wounded.
After things settled down the captain said, " Boys what shall we do? Stay here or go out on foot?" All said go out. Then he gave the order that should we be fired on we were to fire at the flash of the guns and then drop to the ground. This was done three times and we lost one man.
Early next morning Lt. Throckmortun at the head of US Troops and the state volunteers came to the company's relief and say the joy we experienced after being surrounded by an unknown number of Indians brought tears of joy to us. It is impossible to describe our real feelings.
I think it was about three weeks after this that the Indians appeared in great numbers on the reservation. The US Troops and the volunteers gave them battle. The fight lasted about three hours there were several killed and a number wounded. The Indians fell back to the hills.
Sometime in August the Indians brought in Chief Evan's head and gave it to the officers as a ransom and they then disbanded. This trouble with the Indians however left us with a number of widows and orphans and burned cabins to say nothing of other property loss and time loss from work in our homes.
Forty-five years is a long time to exactly remember dates and other data in the struggling and eventful days but one event stands out very prominently, the Indians killed a man during the war whose name was Croggins. He wore a fine and large gold ring, the Indians took the ring and sometime after that an Indian was seen in Pendelton by one of Croggins friends, he recognized the ring and reported it to the authorities and they arrested the Indian and two of his companions. They were tried convicted and executed. During the trial the Indians were very solemn there was a great deal of talk that there would be another outbreak of the Indians during the winter. At the advice of the Adjutant General J. H. Turner, he knowing the Indians as he did and the condition of the settlers, we met at Elk Horn school house and perfected and organization that should and have been done July 3rd 1878 but was put off until Dec 20th 1878, it was Company B, 2nd Regiment, Oregon State militia entitled The Wild Horse Rangers with Robert E. Eastland as Captain. We were armed with good state guns and ammunition. We built a stockade and made ready for another fight if it should come. We had good horses always ready. We met once a week for drill and counsel. Two of the Indians were executed in January 1879. So great were the fear that the sheriff called us to Pendelton. On that day also a company of US Troops from Walla Walla met with us. There was ten inches of snow on the ground and a great number of mad Indians not four miles away. It looked as if we might have to test the case. I got one foot frozen that day.
In April, a few days before the third Indian was executed, we had quit a scare, the Indians were mad we were glad our horses, saddles and guns were ready, but after a counsel with the agent and some of the Chiefs it was decided to keep cool and wait for a time. So there was no more bother from the Indians.
But war is war and no matter what kind and our obligation is to defend the flag life and property. This we did on the backs of our own horses and with our own rations. This we did from July 3rd 1878 till April 1879. We could not disband and there was not much done on our claims or homesteads there was too much fear that the Indians might make another effort to drive us out.
Still we did not complain we were young then and we made Umatilla County safe for settlers to come in and make homes in a good wheat country. And the emblem of our country the Red< White and Blue waves over Umatilla County and its very fair and prosperous homes.
George Buzan, Company B, Oregon State Militia