Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 17 - Bannocks Double on Their Tracks

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Chapter XVII.

Bannocks Double on their Tracks.

Matters now settled down, the scare was over and ranchers returned to their homes and began repairing damages. Fences that had been thrown down that stock might help themselves were repaired that as much as possible of the crops might be saved. I returned to my ranch and was busy with haying and harvest when another report reached us, borne on the wings of the wind, that the Bannocks had doubled on their tracks and were scattering death and destruction in their path. The last scare, if possible, was worse than the first. About the same time the Governor ordered Gen. M. V. Brown with the Linn county company, under Capt. Humphrey, to hasten to our aid. This was the only organized troop of the militia available for immediate service, and without loss of time they crossed the Cascade Mountains and arrived at Prineville about the 10th of July.

The company was a magnificent body of men, and represented the best families of Linn County. One of the privates was the son of a former United States Senator, while others were young men of superior attainments - law and medical students. George Chamberlain, present United States Senator from Oregon, was first sergeant of the company, Capt. Humphrey was a veteran of the Civil War, commanding a company in many sanguinary battles. Gen. Brown had seen service during the war between the States, but he, and all were ignorant of Indian warfare. On his arrival at Prineville Gen. Brown sent a courier to my ranch with a letter urging me to join the expedition. My business affairs had been sadly neglected during the past three months, and I was loth to start out on an expedition, the end of which was impossible to foresee. I however went to Prineville and had a consultation with him. Gen. Brown was exceedingly desirous that I should go with him. He called my attention to personal obligations of friendship due from me to him. That settled it and I told him I would go. He authorized me to enlist 15 men as scouts and placed me in command. The number were readily found, they providing their own horses, arms, ammunition and blankets. Provisions were supplied from the commissary.

In Humphrey's company there was a character known as "Warm Spring Johnny," whom I shall have occasion to mention further on. He was transferred to my contingent by order of Gen. Brown, as it was believed he would be of service to me. The start was made from Prineville the next day, our course leading toward the head of Crooked River and the South John Day.

On the evening of the second day we arrived at Watson Springs where we camped for the night. Guards had been placed around the camp and I had laid down on my saddle blanket to rest when Warm Spring Johnny came and sat beside me. He then told me that at this place he saw his first white man. Going into the history of his life - he was then a man about 38 years of age - he told me the Snake Indians had captured him when he was a mere child - so far back that he had no recollections of his parents or of the circumstances of his capture. He was raised by the Snakes, and always supposed he was an Indian like the rest of them, only that his skin was white. He did not attempt to account for this difference - he was an Indian and that was all he knew.

In the spring of 1868, Lieut. Watson arrived and camped at the spring which was forever to bear his name. Here the rim rock circles around the head of the spring in the form a half wheel. Willows had grown up along the edge of the stream that flowed out into the dun sage brush plain. Into this trap Lieut. Watson marched his men and camped. Evidently he felt secure, as no Indians had been seen, besides the Warm Spring scouts were out scouring the country. Probably not a guard or picket was placed about the camp. They had been in camp an hour, and were busily engaged in cooking their meal when from the rim of the bluff on three sides a host of tufted warriors poured a shower of arrows and bullets upon them. Lieut. Watson was killed with several of his men at the first fire, while a number were wounded. The soldiers for protection took to the willows and defended themselves as best they could. But the Snakes had overlooked the Warm Spring scouts, who, hearing the firing, rushed to the rescue and attacking the Snakes in the rear, which was open ground, routed them with the loss of several warriors killed and half a dozen captured.

Among the latter was Warm Spring Johnny. He was taken to the officer who had succeeded Watson in command. Great surprise was expressed at seeing a white man with the Snakes and the soldiers were for making short work of the "white renegade." But it soon became evident that he was as much a wild Indian as any of them, and his youth, about 18, making in his favor he was turned over to the Warm Spring captors to guard, along with the other captives. They were all taken down the little branch a few hundred yards and securely bound and tied to a stunted juniper tree. During the night the Warm Springs indulged in a war dance, each lucky warrior flourishing the scalp he had taken. Along past midnight all the captives excepting Johnny were securely bound to the juniper with green rawhide, a mass of sage brush collected and the captives roasted alive. Johnny told me that every moment he expected to be served in the same manner, and could not understand why his comrades were burned while he was saved. He said he supposed that his skin being white they had reserved him for some particular occasion. I asked him if the soldiers knew that the captives were being burned. He replied that he learned afterwards that the Indians told the soldiers they had all escaped except the white one. The probabilities are that the soldiers were too busy with their own troubles to pay any attention to what was going on in the camp of their allies.

Johnny could speak fairly good English, but to all intents and purposes he was as much of an Indian as any of his copper colored friends. He was adopted into the Warm Springs tribe and remained with them for a number of years, but marrying a squaw from another tribe moved to the Willamette Valley, where he lived and died an Indian. He was almost invaluable to me because of his knowledge of the ways and signs of the Snakes. But aside from this he was absolutely useless as he was an arrant coward and could not be depended on when danger threatened.

The next day we moved south and after a rapid march reached the Elkins ranch on Grindstone, a tributary of Crooked River. It was known that the Indians were returning practically by the same route they had previously traveled, and our duty was to prevent raids from the main body and protect the property of the settlers as far as was possible.

First gaining permission from Gen. Brown, with my scouts and four volunteers, I started out to discover the camp of the Indians, which from the lay of the country, I thought likely would be at the head of Buck Creek, at a spring in the edge of the timber. About 2 o'clock we arrived at the vicinity of the supposed camp of the Indians, and taking an elevated position, patiently waited for dawn. Finally the gray dawn began to peep over the crest of the eastern mountains, and leading our horses we moved closer. When daylight finally arrived we were within a hundred yards of the spring, but nowhere was there a sign of life.

Assuring ourselves that the renegades had not passed that point, and that they were further back, we started to meet them, meantime keeping a careful lookout ahead. We continued on to Crooked River and despairing of finding or overtaking them, we retraced our steps to camp, arriving there about dark after riding 75 or 80 miles.

The next day it was determined to send a strong detachment into the rough brakes of the South John Day. Accordingly Capt. Humphrey detailed 36 men and I joined him with the scouts. We were absent three days and returned to camp without encountering or seeing any signs of Indians. After resting our horses one day we again struck out, this time going farther north in the direction of Murderers Creek. The country was indescribably rough, and our first night's camp was at the John Day at a point on the trail made by Gen. Howard when he was herding the Indians north. About 10 o'clock one of the men from a picket came in and told me that the Indians were signaling from two sides of the camp. I walked down to where Capt. Humphrey was sleeping and woke him up. We watched the signaling for a few minutes and then sent for Warm Spring Johnny. He said they were signaling that we were a strong party of soldiers and had come from the south. He then explained how the flashes were made. A pile of dry grass was collected and then surrounded by blankets. The grass was then fired and when the blaze was brightest the blankets on one side was quickly raised and again lowered, giving out a bright flash light.

I advised Capt. Humphrey to hold his men in readiness for a daylight attack, feeling certain nothing would be attempted until just at the break of day. We knew, however, they were not far distant and that great care was necessary. After discussing the situation with Capt. Humphrey it was determined to go on as far as Murderers Creek, striking the stream at the Stewart ranch. As we passed over the intervening space we saw abundant evidence of the presence of Indians and proceeded across the bald hills with caution. On the hill overlooking the Stewart ranch we saw quite a commotion, a cloud of dust raising and pointing back towards a deep, rocky, precipitous canyon. Believing the Indians were beating a retreat, we rode forward at the gallop, but arrived only in time to see the last of them disappear in the mouth of the canyon.

On the open ground at the mouth of the canyon we halted. The canyon presented a most forbidding appearance, and to follow an enemy of unknown strength into its gloomy depths was to court disaster. The canyon into which the Indians had been driven was steep, rocky and with the sides covered with brush, while the ridge was covered with scattering pines back to the timber line where rose the jagged, serrated peaks of the extreme summit of the mountain. After taking a careful view of all the surroundings we retreated down the mountain pretty much as we had ascended it.

Capt. Humphrey agreed with me that we did not have men enough to attack the Indians in such a stronghold. There remained nothing but to return to the Stewart ranch and go into camp for the night. While returning we decided to hold the Indians in the canyon if possible and send a courier back to Gen. Brown for reinforcements. Accordingly Ad. Marcks was selected for the night trip. He was familiar with the country and undertook the night ride without hesitation. That night a strong guard was kept around the camp, and daylight came without incident worthy of mention.

It was then decided to circle the canyon into which we had driven the Indians on the previous day. We made the start soon after sun-up, taking a course to the east of the point ascended the day before, and which would enable us to ascend with our horses. We reached the summit of the first steep raise and were rewarded by seeing three scouts disappear in the canyon. We gave chase and fired a few shots from the rifles of the scouts which had no other effect than to cause them to lean a little further forward on their horses and go a little faster. As we passed up the ridge we could see the smoke from the camp fires of the Indians coming out of the canyon. The camp was evidently several hundred yards long and indicated they were in considerable force. Nearing the timber line, the pines became very thick, in fact so dense that we could force our horses through with difficulty. My scouts were a couple of hundreds yards in advance, and as we burst out of the brush we came upon the horse herd guarded by four Indians. Taking in the situation at a glance, I put spurs to my horse, and calling to the men to come on, made a dash to cut them off from the canyon down which the herders were endeavoring to force them. We made no attempt to use our rifles, but drawing our revolvers opened fire on the scurrying herders. It was quite a mix-up, but we managed to capture nineteen head of good horses. After the fray I looked around for the first time and discovered that instead of all, but one man had followed me, that was the young boy, Eugene Jones. The others had taken to trees, one going back to hurry up Capt. Humphrey. Had they all followed as did the boy we would have captured every horse and probably have got the herders as well. Descending the ridge on the west side we crossed the trail made by the Indians when coming into the canyon.

At 2 o'clock the next morning I again started to circle the camp with twenty men, leaving Capt. Humphrey at the Stewart ranch. I ascended the mountain farther to the east than the day before and reached the timber line at daylight. A hundred yards or more from the timber line was a clump of stunted trees. I determined to dismount my men and rest our horses. As we were dismounting one of the scouts, Al Igo, asked permission to ride up the ridge a ways and get a better look at the country. I gave consent but cautioned him not to venture too far. As soon as the girths of our saddles were loosened and guards placed around I threw myself on the grass and was asleep in five minutes. But my sleep was of short duration, for Igo came dashing back, calling, "get out of here, we are being surrounded." He said he had counted eighty odd warriors on one side and fifteen on the other.

We lost no time, allow me to assure you, in "getting out of there." A quarter of a mile above us, and about the same distance from the timber line on every side, were three jagged peaks, and not more than twenty yards apart. Here I stationed the men, first dismounting them and securing our horses among the rocks so as to shield them from the bullets of the Indians. I felt sure that we were going to have a fight, and against heavy odds. But the rocks made a splendid fort, and I explained to the men that if they would save their ammunition and not get excited we could stand off all the Indians west of the Rocky mountains. After talking to them I took two men, Charley Long and a young man named Armstrong, two of the best shots in the company, and crawled down through the grass about 150 yards to another pile of rocks. I calculated that if I did not hold that point the Indians could unseen reach it and pour a deadly fire into our position above. Besides I had hopes of getting some of them when they came to the edge of the timber. We had reached the position but a few minutes when two rode out of the timber to our left and about 400 yards away. The boys wanted to fire, but I held them back telling them that we would get surer shots by not disclosing our position. We could see them watching the men in the rocks above, and soon they turned and rode straight towards us, all the while watching the men in the rocks. When within 100, yards I told the men to take deliberate aim and we would fire together. I pulled on the trigger of my needle gun until I could feel it give. But something told me not to fire and I told the men to wait. On they came, and again we drew deadly beads on the unsuspecting horsemen, but there was an undefinable something that told me not to fire. When they had come within thirty yards we discovered they were white men. We rose up out of the rocks and grass and when they came up I discovered that one of them was an old friend, Warren Cassner, from John Day Valley. We also discovered for the first time that the sun was in total eclipse. Everything looked dark, and they had taken us for Indians and we had came within a hairs breadth of sending them into eternity under the same false impression. When I saw how near I had come to killing my friend I was all in a tremble.

The two men belonged to a company of 125 men raised in John Day Valley and Canyon City and were pursuing a large band of Indians that had come in the night before. They made a trail as broad as a wagon road and evidently numbered a hundred or more warriors. Joined with those we had been watching they constituted quite a force and would evidently put up a stiff fight. We returned with the John Day men to the Stewart ranch, and Gen. Brown having arrived during the day, our forces numbered full 250 men, and all full of fight. That night plans were discussed for the coming attack. I favored dividing our forces and attacking them from both sides of the canyon. In this, however, I was overruled and all was arranged for a combined attack on the Indian position from the west side. It was arranged that I should start at 2 o'clock with 25 men, circle the west side of the camp, and if the Indians had slipped out during the night I was to follow and send back a messenger to the main command. That there might be no mistake as to the course we should take in the morning, I pointed to the canyon in which the Indians were encamped and the ridge up which we would go.

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