Religion on the Fort Hall Reservation, 1867 to 1899

Following the American Civil War, the federal policy toward Indians was to confine them to reservations and to reduce the size of reservation to accommodate non-Indian agricultural, grazing, mining, and railroad interests. On the reservation, Indians were to become farmers, even if the reservation land was not suitable to farming; they were to become English-speaking and use of Native languages was often punished; and they were to become Christian and to accomplish this Native religious practices were suppressed, sometimes with force of arms.

From the viewpoint of many federal officials, Indians were Indians were Indians: in other words, they often failed to recognize that there were differences between tribes. In creating reservations, the United States often put tribes which had different cultures, languages, and religions on the same reservation assuming that all Indians were the same.

The Fort Hall Reservation

       When the first non-Indians from the Mormon settlements in Utah began to discover what is now southern Idaho, they found that it was occupied by two somewhat related tribes: the Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) and the Bannock. Culturally, the two tribes shared a common heritage and a similar worldview. They spoke closely related languages. Historian John Heaton, in his book The Shoshone-Bannocks: Culture and Commerce at Fort Hall, 1870-1940 writes:

“Shoshones spoke Central Numic, whereas Bannocks, who began to intermarry with Shoshones in Idaho in the early eighteenth century, spoke Western Numic.”

The Shoshone tribes were found throughout the Great Basin area. Those who lived in southern Idaho are generally grouped together as Northern Shoshone and included the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone.

The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes. The Bannock had migrated into the southern Idaho area from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon.

In 1867, President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order creating the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho for the Boise-Bruneau Shoshone. The executive order also set aside 1.8 million acres as a separate reservation for the Bannock. Two years later, the Fort Hall Reservation was formally opened for the Shoshone and Bannock. In their book An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language: Dammen Daigwape, Drusilla Gould and Christopheer Loether report:

“The opening of the reservation began a period of ethnic cleansing and hardship for the Shoshone-Bannock unlike anything they had ever experienced before. They were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the reservation. On the reservation they found little food, no opportunities, and very little hope for the future.”

The Government and Christian Missionaries

In 1869, the Board of Indian Commissioners recommended that, with regard to Indians, it was the duty of government to:

“protect them, to educate them in industry, the arts of civilization, and the princi­ples of Christianity.”

The Board of Indian Commissioners also recommended that schools be established to introduce English to every tribe. According to the Board:

“The teachers employed should be nominated by some religious body having a mission nearest to the location of the school. The establishment of Christian missions should be encouraged, and their schools fostered.”

In 1870, President Ulysses Grant established his Peace Policy in which the administration of reservations was turned over to Christian missionary groups. According to James White in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma:

“Under the terms of the Peace Policy, a single religious group had a franchise over the evangelizing efforts on each reservation.”

Under the Peace Policy, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation were assigned to the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1871. The church, however, failed to send a missionary to the reservation. The Indian agent requested funds to build a mission and mission residence, but the federal government did not earmark any monies for this purpose. According to Brigham Madsen, in his book The Northern Shoshoni:

“When no funds were earmarked for these purposes, apparently the church again responded with dedicated apathy.”

In 1871, a Catholic priest visited the Shoshone and Bannock on the Fort Hall Reservation and requested that the reservation be re-assigned to the Catholic Church. The Department of the Interior responded by transferring it from the Methodists to the Catholics. The Catholic missionary, however, was on the reservation for only a few months and then left because there were no facilities for him.

In 1873, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation were assigned to the Methodist Church. The new Indian agent preached sermons to the Indians, but one army officer charged that the agent was not promoting material progress on the reservation.

In 1875, an Indian teacher from the Methodist Episcopal Church was appointed to the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation. He organized a church society of six members, held church services every Sunday, and established a Sunday school.

In 1887, the Connecticut Indian Association, an auxiliary of the Women’s National Indian Association, contacted the Fort Hall Reservation. The Association was willing to send two missionaries to convert the Shoshone and Bannock if the government would build a cottage for them, provide them with 3-4 acres of land, and allow them to get supplies from the government store. As a result, two women missionaries arrived at the reservation.

Mormons

       Like American Indian religions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormons, was discouraged by the American government and many reservations were closed to Mormon missionaries. The Mormon missionaries often worked among off-reservation Indians.

Mormon missionaries under the leadership of George Washington Hill traveled to southern Idaho in 1873 where they baptized about 100 Shoshone and Bannock. Lawrence Coates, in an article in Idaho Yesterdays, writes:

“Relying upon his previous experiences with the Shoshoni, Hill used his ability to speak their language to tell them of the Book of Mormon, depicting its story by placing pictures on a scroll.”

The Indians were then settled on farmland near Brigham City, Utah. The Indians named the community Washakie, after a Shoshone Chief.

In 1877, in response to the establishment of a Mormon farm for the Shoshone, non-Indians again demanded that the Indians be forcibly returned to the Fort Hall Reservation. Rumors circulated that the Indians were well-armed and that their horses were in good condition. The district attorney reported that the Indians had become members of the Mormon church, that they were under Mormon control, and thus they were “disloyal.” He recommended that the Indians be returned to the reservation and that the missionary should be charged with “illegally tampering with the Indians.” While the district attorney argued that military force be used to move the Indians, the Indian agent noted that the Indians in question had never resided at Fort Hall but had always made the Bear River area their home.

The agent of the Fort Hall Reservation in 1883 estimated that 300 Bannock and Shoshone were now members of the Mormon Church and he asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for help in stopping the Mormons from instructing the Indians in polygamy and other vile doctrines.

The Ghost Dances

       During the last part of the nineteenth century there were several indigenous religious movements which arose in response to the religious oppression forced upon Indian people by the United States. Two of these movements, both commonly called the Ghost Dance, came from Paiute prophets in Nevada and impacted the Fort Hall reservation.

In 1870, a new indigenous religious movement, known as the Ghost Dance, was started by the Paiute prophet Wodziwob in Nevada. The Shoshone and Bannock from the Fort Hall Reservation became active proselytizers for the new religion and sponsored a number of Ghost Dances.

In 1889, a Paiute named Wovoka died during an eclipse. He then returned to life with a message and a dance for his people. The message called for peace and promised an exclusively Indian world. Thus, the Ghost Dance (not to be confused with the earlier Ghost Dance movement of Wodziwob) was born. Wovoka’s message was distinctly Indian, but influenced by Christianity. According to Meldan Tanrisal, in an article in the Journal of the West:

“Wovoka had been influenced by Presbyterians on whose ranch he worked, by Mormons, and by the Indian Shaker Church.”

The Shoshone and Bannock quickly took up the new Ghost Dance. The Bannock, whose language is Northern Paiute, easily understood Wovoka’s doctrine and passed it on to their Shoshone neighbors who in turn passed it on to the Shoshone at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Brigham Madsen reports:

“Fort Hall, therefore, became one of the distribution centers of the new religion to the Indians of the northern plains.”

The Bannock War

A casual reading of almost any book on American history—from popular accounts to textbooks to scholarly tomes—reveals that there have been a lot of conflicts or wars with American Indians since the creation of the United States. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. This suggests that there was about one military action per month against Indians during the first 131 years of the nation’s existence. This count does not include a number incidents or wars involving state militias and volunteer groups, such as vigilantes. In some instances, the military action was a single battle, in others there were a series of battles.

According to the War Department, only two of these military actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War. Of the two “official” wars delineated by the War Department in 1907, the 1878 Bannock War is probably the least known. The Bannock are a Great Basin tribe which migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River in present-day Idaho. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone, a group which is linguistically and culturally related. The Bannock language belongs to a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family known as Western Numic while Shoshone is Central Numic. Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture.

The Bannock call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), and they often were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

The Bannock War was about camas:  Camassia quamash, a plant with a blue or purple flower which has a nutritious bulb about the size and shape of a tulip bulb. For many of the tribes in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Montana, camas was a major food item. It was gathered in late spring or early fall. It was either eaten raw or steamed in a pit for immediate consumption. If the camas was to be preserved, the camas bulbs were pounded in a mortar to make a kind of dough. The dough was then shaped into loaves, wrapped in grass, and steamed again. After the second cooking, the loaves were made into smaller cakes and dried in the sun. Without stores of camas, people would be ill prepared for the cold months of the year.

In Idaho, one of the most important camas areas was known as Camas Prairie.

In 1867 the Bannock met in treaty council with the American government at Long Creek. The Americans wanted to confine the Bannock as well as the Shoshone to a reservation so that the land could be opened for American settlement. In the discussions about the reservation, Chief Taghee told the Americans:

“I want the right to camp and dig roots on Camas prairie, when coming to Boise to trade.”

At this time, popular opinion among non-Indians in Idaho called for the extermination of all Indians. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman advocated that the military continue to kill Indians. According to the editor:

“The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous…They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”

Another newspaper editorial suggested:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

The following year, the Bannock and the Shoshone met in treaty council with the Americans at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Once again the Bannock insisted that Camas Prairie be included in their reservation and article 2 of the treaty expressed this desire. However, instead of saying “Camas” Prairie, the wording of the treaty indicated “Kansas” Prairie.

In 1870, the American government, instead of establishing a separate reservation for the Bannock, assigned them to the Fort Hall Reservation which they were to share with the Shoshone. In moving to Fort Hall, the Bannock were to give up all rights to areas outside of the reservation, including Camas Prairie. Under military escort, the Bannock were moved to the reservation. The soldiers expressed little sympathy or concern for the Indians they were herding and some Indians were killed for slowing the procession down.

Life on the Fort Hall Reservation during the 1870s was not good for the Bannock and Shoshone. While the American government had promised to provide the Indians with rations as they made the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled agricultural lifestyle, the promised food supplies were meager. Hunger was a regular part of life. By 1877, the Shoshone and Bannock were starving. To alleviate the hunger, the Indians once again travelled to Camas Prairie were they harvested camas to prepare for the coming winter.

In 1877, the Americans were afraid that the Bannock and Shoshone might join with the non-treaty bands of Nez Perce in their war against the United States. After the camas harvest, the chiefs travelled to Boise to meet with the governor and express their peaceful intentions. Once again, the Bannock explained to the Americans the importance of camas. Bannock leader Major Jim asked that Camas Prairie be included in the Fort Hall Reservation. He complained that the Americans were driving their hogs and cattle onto Camas Prairie and destroying the camas. The Americans were grateful to hear that the Shoshone and Bannock did not intend to join the Nez Perce, but they did nothing about the Camas Prairie situation.

The food shortages at the Fort Hall Reservation did not improve, and by 1878 the Indian agent felt that he had no choice but to encourage the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn visited the territorial governor and obtained permission to buy $2 worth of ammunition for deer hunting. With Indians hunting off the reservation, fears and rumors about Indian wars spread throughout the non-Indian settlements.

Once again the Bannock went to Camas Prairie to obtain the food they needed. They found that American settlers had turned their cattle loose in the area and so the Bannock insisted that the Americans remove the cattle. The Americans belligerently refused, insisting that the Indians had no rights to the land.

The Shoshone and Bannock then met in council to discuss what to do next. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn and about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war against the Americans. The Boise Shoshone under the leadership of Captain Jim and the Bannock under the leadership of Tendoy opted for peace and returned to their reservations.

Buffalo Horn and a war party of 60 warriors were attacked by American volunteer troops. While the Indians killed two volunteers and wounded several others, Buffalo Horn was badly wounded. After several days travel, he asked to be left behind to die.

After Buffalo Horn’s death the war party went to Oregon. At the Malheur Reservation, Paiute Chief Winnemucca refused to join the war against the Americans and was taken prisoner. Sarah Winnemucca, his daughter, snuck into the camp and helped the chief and about 75 others to escape.

In Oregon, Oytes and Egan assumed leadership of the rebel group. Egan was initially a reluctant leader, but he was persuaded to become the war chief. Oytes was a Dreamer Prophet and this created problems for the Americans. Part of the reason for the Nez Perce War a year earlier was to eradicate the Dreamers—followers of the Washat Religion of the prophet Smohalla.

At this time, the regular army entered the picture. The army was headed by General O.O. Howard—America’s Christian general. Howard had fought against the Nez Perce and was strongly opposed to Smohalla and his Dreamer movement. He saw himself as a Christian warrior fighting against the forces of evil. Howard and his army were soon in pursuit of the rebel Indians.

At Silver Creek in Oregon, the Americans caught up with the war party and carried out a daring daylight attack with the scouts and some of the troops charging through the camp. Egan led a countercharge, but was wounded first in the wrist and then was shot in the breast and the groin. He was carried off by his warriors and Oytes assumed command. Though badly wounded, Egan directed a retreat and the war party crossed over into the John Day Valley with the army in pursuit.

The war party headed for the Umatilla Reservation hoping to enlist them in the war. Near the reservation, they engaged the army in a day-long battle in which five warriors were killed. The Umatilla under the leadership of Chief Umapine watched the battle from a hilltop. The next day, the Umatilla held council with the Americans. The Umatilla agreed to capture or kill Egan and in exchange tribal members were to be pardoned for their role in the war.

Egan regrouped his warriors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains and waited for the Umatilla to join him. A large party of Umatilla under the leadership of Umapine, Five Crows, and Yettinewitz, came into the camp to talk with Egan. The Umatillas then opened fire, killing Egan and 13 of his warriors. The Umatilla retreated with Egan’s scalp before his followers could react.

Following the death of Egan, the Bannock and Paiute broke into a number of smaller groups which were pursued by the troops. At Birch Creek, the Umatilla under Umapine surprised part of the fleeing war party. They killed 17 warriors and captured 25 women and children. One of the fallen warriors was reported to be Eagle Eye, the leader of the Weiser Shoshone. Eagle Eye was, however, still very much alive and had not been involved in the fight with the Umatilla.

One of the small raiding parties decided to make a run for Canada to join Sitting Bull and the Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies.

The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles, was actually in Yellowstone National Park. They were not on active duty, but were there as tourists. They surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The writer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Oytes and his followers elluded capture for another month.

In looking back at the causes of the Bannock War, the territorial governor explained that Camas Prairie was the Indians’ garden and it provided them with an abundant supply of vegetable foods. The governor further explained that the government had failed to follow through with the treaty stipulation to assign the prairie as part of the reservation for the Bannock. He recommended that immediate action be taken to assign it to the Fort Hall Reservation or to compensate the Indians in some other way.

In an interview with the Omaha Herald, General George Crook explained that the root cause of the Bannock War was hunger. He said:

“It cannot be expected that they will stay on reservations where there is no possible way to get food, and see their wives and children starve and die around them. We have taken their lands, deprived them of every means of living.”

Crook later wrote:

“Our Indian policy has resolved itself into a question of warpath or starvation; and, merely being human, many of them will choose the former alternative where death shall be at least glorious.”

The Idaho Statesman disagreed with General Crook, and the editor wrote:

“It was not the want of food which started them upon the warpath, but their savage thirst for blood, which had not been restrained and prevented by proper discipline and Governmental supervision.”

The Bannock War

( – promoted by navajo)

A casual reading of almost any book on American history-from popular accounts to textbooks to scholarly tomes-reveals that there have been a lot of conflicts or wars with American Indians since the creation of the United States. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. This suggests that there was about one military action per month against Indians during the first 131 years of the nation’s existence. This count does not include a number incidents or wars involving state militias and volunteer groups, such as vigilantes. In some instances the military action was a single battle, in others there were a series of battles.

According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War.

Of the two “official” wars delineated by the War Department in 1907, the 1878 Bannock War is probably the least known. The Bannock are a Great Basin tribe which migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River in present-day Idaho. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone, a group which is linguistically and culturally related. The Bannock language belongs to a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family known as Western Numic while Shoshone is Central Numic. Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture.

The Bannock call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), and they often were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

The Bannock War was about camas: Camassia quamash, a plant with a blue or purple flower which has a nutritious bulb about the size and shape of a tulip bulb. For many of the tribes in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Montana, camas was a major food item. It was gathered in late spring or early fall. It was either eaten raw or steamed in a pit for immediate consumption. If the camas was to be preserved, the camas bulbs were pounded in a mortar to make a kind of dough. The dough was then shaped into loaves, wrapped in grass, and steamed again. After the second cooking, the loaves were made into smaller cakes and dried in the sun. Without stores of camas, people would be ill prepared for the cold months of the year.

In Idaho, one of the most important camas areas was known as Camas Prairie.

In 1867 the Bannock met in treaty council with the American government at Long Creek. The Americans wanted to confine the Bannock as well as the Shoshone to a reservation so that the land could be opened for American settlement. In the discussions about the reservation, Chief Taghee told the Americans:

“I want the right to camp and dig roots on Camas prairie, when coming to Boise to trade.”

At this time, popular opinion among non-Indians in Idaho called for the extermination of all Indians. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman advocated that the military continue to kill Indians. According to the editor:

“The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous…They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”

Another newspaper editorial suggested:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

The following year, the Bannock and the Shoshone met in treaty council with the Americans at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Once again the Bannock insisted that Camas Prairie be included in their reservation and article 2 of the treaty expressed this desire. However, instead of saying “Camas” Prairie, the wording of the treaty indicated “Kansas” Prairie.

In 1870, the American government, instead of establishing a separate reservation for the Bannock, assigned them to the Fort Hall Reservation which they were to share with the Shoshone. In moving to Fort Hall, the Bannock were to give up all rights to areas outside of the reservation, including Camas Prairie. Under military escort, the Bannock were moved to the reservation. The soldiers expressed little sympathy or concern for the Indians they were herding and some Indians were killed for slowing the procession down.

Life on the Fort Hall Reservation during the 1870s was not good for the Bannock and Shoshone. While the American government had promised to provide the Indians with rations as they made the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled agricultural lifestyle, the promised food supplies were meager. Hunger was a regular part of life. By 1877, the Shoshone and Bannock were starving. To alleviate the hunger, the Indians once again travelled to Camas Prairie were they harvested camas to prepare for the coming winter.

In 1877, the Americans were afraid that the Bannock and Shoshone might join with the non-treaty bands of Nez Perce in their war against the United States. After the camas harvest, the chiefs travelled to Boise to meet with the governor and express their peaceful intentions. Once again, the Bannock explained to the Americans the importance of camas.  Bannock leader Major Jim asked that Camas Prairie be included in the Fort Hall Reservation. He complained that the Americans were driving their hogs and cattle onto Camas Prairie and destroying the camas. The Americans were grateful to hear that the Shoshone and Bannock did not intend to join the Nez Perce, but they did nothing about the Camas Prairie situation.

The food shortages at the Fort Hall Reservation did not improve, and by 1878 the Indian agent felt that he had no choice but to encourage the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn visited the territorial governor and obtained permission to buy $2 worth of ammunition for deer hunting. With Indians hunting off the reservation, fears and rumors about Indian wars spread throughout the non-Indian settlements.

Once again the Bannock went to Camas Prairie to obtain the food they needed. They found that American settlers had turned their cattle loose in the area and so the Bannock insisted that the Americans remove the cattle. The Americans belligerently refused, insisting that the Indians had no rights to the land.

The Shoshone and Bannock then met in council to discuss what to do next. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn and about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war against the Americans.  The Boise Shoshone under the leadership of Captain Jim and the Bannock under the leadership of Tendoy opted for peace and returned to their reservations.

Buffalo Horn and a war party of 60 warriors were attacked by American volunteer troops. While the Indians killed two volunteers and wounded several others, Buffalo Horn was badly wounded. After several days travel, he asked to be left behind to die.

After Buffalo Horn’s death the war party went to Oregon. At the Malheur Reservation, Paiute Chief Winnemucca refused to join the war against the Americans and was taken prisoner. Sarah Winnemucca, his daughter, snuck into the camp and helped the chief and about 75 others to escape.

In Oregon, Oytes and Egan assumed leadership of the rebel group. Egan was initially a reluctant leader, but he was persuaded to become the war chief. Oytes was a Dreamer Prophet and this created problems for the Americans. Part of the reason for the Nez Perce War a year earlier was to eradicate the Dreamers-followers of the Washat Religion of the prophet Smohalla.

At this time, the regular army entered the picture. The army was headed by General O.O. Howard-America’s Christian general. Howard had fought against the Nez Perce and was strongly opposed to Smohalla and his Dreamer movement. He saw himself as a Christian warrior fighting against the forces of evil. Howard and his army were soon in pursuit of the rebel Indians.

At Silver Creek in Oregon, the Americans caught up with the war party and carried out a daring daylight attack with the scouts and some of the troops charging through the camp. Egan led a countercharge, but was wounded first in the wrist and then was shot in the breast and the groin. He was carried off by his warriors and Oytes assumed command. Though badly wounded, Egan directed a retreat and the war party crossed over into the John Day Valley with the army in pursuit.

The war party headed for the Umatilla Reservation hoping to enlist them in the war. Near the reservation, they engaged the army in a day-long battle in which five warriors were killed. The Umatilla under the leadership of Chief Umapine watched the battle from a hilltop. The next day, the Umatilla held council with the Americans. The Umatilla agreed to capture or kill Egan and in exchange tribal members were to be pardoned for their role in the war.

Egan regrouped his warriors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains and waited for the Umatilla to join him. A large party of Umatilla under the leadership of Umapine, Five Crows, and Yettinewitz, came into the camp to talk with Egan. The Umatillas then opened fire, killing Egan and 13 of his warriors. The Umatilla retreated with Egan’s scalp before his followers could react.

Following the death of Egan, the Bannock and Paiute broke into a number of smaller groups which were pursued by the troops. At Birch Creek, the Umatilla under Umapine surprised part of the fleeing war party. They killed 17 warriors and captured 25 women and children.

One of the small raiding parties decided to make a run for Canada to join Sitting Bull and the Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies.

The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles, was actually in Yellowstone National Park. They were not on active duty, but were there as tourists. They surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The writer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Oytes and his followers elluded capture for another month.

In looking back at the causes of the Bannock War, the territorial governor explained that Camas Prairie was the Indians’ garden and it provided them with an abundant supply of vegetable foods. The governor further explained that the government had failed to follow through with the treaty stipulation to assign the prairie as part of the reservation for the Bannock. He recommended that immediate action be taken to assign it to the Fort Hall Reservation or to compensate the Indians in some other way.

In an interview with the Omaha Herald, General George Crook explained that the root cause of the Bannock War was hunger. He said:

“It cannot be expected that they will stay on reservations where there is no possible way to get food, and see their wives and children starve and die around them. We have taken their lands, deprived them of every means of living.”

Crook later wrote:

“Our Indian policy has resolved itself into a question of warpath or starvation; and, merely being human, many of them will choose the former alternative where death shall be at least glorious.”

The Idaho Statesman disagreed with General Crook, and the editor wrote:

“It was not the want of food which started them upon the warpath, but their savage thirst for blood, which had not been restrained and prevented by proper discipline and Governmental supervision.”

Indians 101: Murder in Montana (19th Century)

( – promoted by navajo)

red_black_rug_design2
American-Indian-Heritage-Month

photo credit: Aaron Huey

The West in the nineteenth century was at times violent and this violence was sometimes expressed in murder. This was particularly true with regard to interactions between Indians and Americans. Often, Americans who murdered Indians escaped any legal consequences for their actions. On the other hand, Indian violence, or even the threat of violence, against Americans was met with retaliation against which ever Indians were nearby with no concern about their identity or guilt. In addition, many incidents were blown up into full scale massacres by the press, even when these incidents hadn’t happened. These can be seen in a series of events that took place in the mining town of Bannack City, Montana in 1863.  

It began when a miner bought an Indian woman (perhaps a Sheepeater or Bannock). It was not uncommon at this time that Indian women would be taken captive and then sold. On the other hand, it was also common for the husband in an arranged marriage to pay a bride price to the family of the bride. Not understanding the meaning of this, Americans would often feel that they had purchased a wife. It is not clear which kind of purchase happened here.

The Bannock woman left the American miner, claiming that she had been mistreated. An Indian elder came to her defense when the miner protested. A group of drunken Americans who witnessed the event then declared that they were not afraid of Indians. They followed the elder to his camp on the edge of town. They shot into his tipi, killing the old man, a boy, and a baby.

Later a group of American “road agents” came across Lemhi Shoshone Chief Snag bathing in a creek. One of the men drew his gun and shot the chief, killing him. The next day, Tendoy was elected chief by the Indians in accordance with the wish of the dying Chief Snag.

Tendoy then rode his war pony into the town of Bannack and stopped in front of the general store. He waited there for the townspeople to gather. He reminded them that as war chief for the Lemhi Shoshone he had protected them against assault from hostile Indian tribes. He told them that he has come to find out why they have killed his uncle, Chief Snag. Did this mean that they have declared war against their friends? If so, Tendoy told them, then he would accept the challenge. The townspeople responded by telling the new chief that the killings were the actions of a few bad men and that the good people in the town deplored the act. After a long conversation, Tenday returned to the band, called for his warriors to maintain the peace, and then led them on a long buffalo hunt.

While the Americans took no action against the drunken miners who had killed three Indians outside of town, they did “arrest” the men who had been involved with the killing of Chief Snag. At the trial before a local jury, the men simply explained that they had killed the chief in revenge for the killing of some of their friends by Indians during the 1849 California gold rush (14 years earlier). The jury completely exonerated them.

Following the trial, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported that, in retaliation, the Indians had killed 24 miners. The miners then organized a militia which attacked and killed 17 Indians. According to the paper, some 300 miners were now looking to take the scalp of Paiute Chief Winnemucca (who had nothing to do with any of the events).  However, an investigation found that the reported retaliations between the Indians and the miners did not actually take place. During this time period, it was fairly common for newspapers to print totally fictitious accounts of Indian attacks, “wars,” raids, and massacres.

Bannack and Bannock:

Bannack, now a ghost town operated as a Montana State Park, was named after the Bannock Indians who are related to the Northern Paiute. The Bannock were later moved to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho. Shown below are pictures of the ghost town and the Bannock Indians.

Bannack 3

Bannack Courthouse

Bannock Indians