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Snake Uprising in Eastern Oregon.
While these events were transpiring all eastern Oregon was wild with excitement. There were no telegraphs through the country in those days, if we except a line running up the Columbia from The Dalles to Pendleton and Walla Walla. The wildest stories were set afloat, which of course lost nothing by repetition.
When the first news of the outbreak reached me I was doing jury duty in Judge L. L. McArthur's Court at The Dalles. I was engaged in the cattle business in what is now Crook County, and my ranch was 95 miles to the south of The Dalles. My family had been left on the ranch which was being cared for by a couple of young men in my employ. My brother, Senator S. G. Thompson also lived a couple of miles from my ranch.
On coming down stairs at the Umatilla House one morning I met Judge McArthur who expressed surprise at finding me yet in town, saying he supposed I and my friends were well on our way home. I replied that I was waiting the good pleasure of the Court.
"Why, man, have you not heard the news?" replied the Judge.
"I have heard no news," I replied, but seeing that the Judge was in earnest asked to what news he referred.
Judge McArthur then told me in a few excited words of the outbreak of the Bannocks, declaring that in all probability the Indians would reach my section before I could get there.
I waited to hear no more, and running across the street to the livery stable ordered my team harnessed. While I was waiting three young men, one of them being a lawyer named G. W. Barnes, and with whom I had come to The Dalles in a two-seated rig, came up. While the team was being harnessed we secured from a store several hundred rounds of Winchester ammunition, besides a couple of needle guns and some ammunition which we borrowed. One of my friends ran across to the hotel and returned with some provisions for breakfast. We had no time to wait. Other thoughts occupied our minds. We then began the home run, ninety-six miles away. I insisted on driving and nursed the team as best I could, giving them plenty of time on the uphill grade, but sending them along at a furious pate on level ground and down hill. From The Dalles to Shear's bridge on the Deschutes we made a record run. There we changed horses, the generous owner returning not a word when our urgent errand was told. Mrs. Shear also kindly gave us some food to eat on the road. By 1 o'clock we were at Bakeoven, 45 miles from The Dalles. Here we again changed horses, and secured some food, which we literally ate on the run.
Our next lap was a long one and it was necessary to save our horses as much as possible. But we had a good team and made good progress, and when night closed in we were more than 25 miles from home. We finally reached the ranch of old man Crisp, whose son was most savagely butchered a few days later by the Indians at Fox Valley.
My ranch was reached about midnight, possibly a little later, and I found, to my inexpressible relief, that all was well. My wife hastily prepared a cup of coffee for my companions and set them a lunch. While they were eating the young men harnessed up another team, with which Mr. Barnes and companions reached Prineville some time after daylight.
Almost the first word spoken by my wife to me after I had asked the news, was that Capt. George, Chief of the Warm Spring Indians, had been there and enquiring for me. I asked her where he had gone. She replied that he had come there in the evening, and she had ordered supper for him and that he had put up his horse and was sleeping at the barn. The news was a relief to me, you may be sure.
After my friends had gone and while my wife and I were discussing the news, George walked in. He shook hands with me and I gave him a seat. I knew he had news for me. But an Indian always takes his time. After he had sat for some time, and consumed with anxiety to know the nature of his visit, I said:
"Well, George, what is it?"
"Have you heard about the Snakes," was his instant answer.
"Yes, I heard about it at The Dalles, and that was what brought me home. But what do you think about it?"
"I do not believe the Snakes will come this way, but, if they do I will know it in plenty of time. I will then bring lots of Indians over from the reservation, we will gather up your horses, all of Georges' horses and all of Maupin's horses and will take them and all the women and children to the reservation and then we will go out and fight Snakes and steal horses."
That was George's idea of war. It mattered not to him if everybody else was killed, so long as the property and families of his friends were safe. The conversation, of course, was carried on in the Chinook language, which is a mixture of the Wasco tongue and Hudson Bay French.
Captain George was, as I have stated, Chief of the Warm Spring and Wasco Indians. He was one of the most perfect specimens of physical manhood I have ever beheld. He was proud as Lucifer and would scorn to tell a lie. In fact, he was one of the really good live Indians I have known. Years after, when residing at Prineville, my front yard was the favorite camping place of Capt. George, and my stables were always open for the accommodation of his horses. He was my friend, and as he expressed it, "we are chiefs."
Poor old George! He has long since been gathered to his fathers. I do not know that I shall meet George in the happy hunting grounds. But this I know, I will meet no truer friend or braver or nobler soul than that of this brave old Indian.
The next morning after my arrival at home George went up to see my brother, and from there went on to the ranch of Mr. Maupin. So far as I was concerned, after my talk with George, I felt perfectly at ease. I knew he would do as he had promised. But the whole country was in panic and it could not be stayed. Some had abandoned their farms and fled across the mountains to the Willamette Valley, while others were getting ready to go. I allayed the fears of immediate neighbors as far as possible by selecting the ranch of Dr. Baldwin as a rallying point in case of danger. But each hour, almost, would bring a new story of danger and a new cause for a stampede. Some of my neighbors buried their effects and prepared to flee. In the midst of this word reached me one afternoon that the people at Prineville were forting up, and that a company had been organized to go out to meet the Indians. Mounting good horses my brother and I set out for Prineville, nearly thirty miles away. We arrived there about dark after a hard ride, but it did not take me long to size up the situation. The "company" was worse panic stricken than the people, and the fort that had been started was worse than a trap. It was absolutely worthless for defense. Everything, however, was confusion and one scare followed another in rapid succession.
I tried to get a few, men to go with me on a short scouting expedition to discover if the Indians were coming that way. Not one could be found who would volunteer to go. I then returned home and taking one of my young men and a younger brother, struck out for the old Indian trail leading along the crest of the McKay Mountains. After riding some distance, keeping well in the timber, we met two white men who were making their way through the mountains. They told us that the Indians had crossed the John Day at the Cummins ranch, of the fight Jim Clark had at Murderers Creek and the death of young Aldridge. As it was now useless to proceed any further we turned back, and reached Prineville next day. All the ranches were deserted, but we had no difficulty in obtaining food for ourselves and horses.