Friday, November 25, 2016

Tough Talk and Action Versus Snake War Violence [otd 11/25]

Governor Lyon. Library of Congress.
The Owyhee Avalanche newspaper (Silver City, Idaho) for November 25, 1865 reported some “good talk” (their expression) by the Territorial Governor about the on-going Indian unrest.

Paraphrasing Governor Caleb Lyon [blog, Nov 14] the article said, [He] “says he will either fight or feed them, and for this purpose has requested, with all hopes of success, two regiments of cavalry. He says he does not expect to reduce them to a state of peace, except by offering them the terms of peace or death; and if they will not quietly accept the one, the other will be forced upon them.”

Preliminaries to what the newspapers called the “Snake War” had simmered and flared ever since the 1862 gold rush into the Boise Basin. In an attempt to counter the violence, in July 1863 the Army built Fort Boise, which sparked the growth of Boise City [blog, July 4]. That provided some protection along the Oregon Trail, but did little to quell raids on isolated ranches.

The conflict grew worse the following year, which spurred the formation of various ad hoc civilian volunteer companies. A fight in July 1864 resulted in the death of rancher Michael Jordan, a member of the party that originally discovered gold in the area [blog, May 18]. The Idaho Statesman in Boise reported (August 23, 1864) on “the probability of an extensive Indian war.”

In early 1865, the volume of complaints rose even more with the increased traffic along the freight and passenger routes between northern California and the Silver City area. In July, the Army established Camp Lyon, about 17 miles northwest of Silver City. However, commanders assigned too few troops to stop the depredations. Thus, the Idaho Statesman reported (October 12, 1865) that the operator of “The Chico Stage Route” had lost many horse and much of his hay supply to Indian raids. The losses were so bad “that it will be an impossibility for him to run his line of stages this winter.”

Two week later, the Statesman reported that a “Mr. Cox” had been shot and killed by Indians just twenty miles or so from Camp Lyon.

Finally, with the end of the Civil War in the East, the Army was prepared to respond to Governor Lyon’s request. The same November 25th issue of the Avalanche reported, “two Companies of Regulars, lately from the East, have been ordered from Walla Walla to” Camp Lyon. However, even these Regular Army troops did not do that well initially, including a repulse at the Battle of Three Forks (in Oregon) [blog, May 27].
General George Crook, ca 1875.
Library of Congress.

Frustrated at the lack of progress, in late 1866 the Army assigned the job to Lieutenant Colonel George Crook. Crook had gained valuable Indian fighting experience in northern California and the Pacific Northwest before distinguishing himself in the Civil War. He went on to even greater fame as an Indian fighter after leaving Idaho and Oregon.

Even the intelligent and determined Crook found no instant solution to the Indians’ guerrilla tactics in country they knew intimately. Still, 18 months of unrelenting pressure and attrition finally forced the tribes – Bannock, Shoshone, and Northern Paiutes – to accept confinement on reservations. These impositions, by the way, delayed a final reckoning for less than a decade.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
Gregory Michno, The Deadliest War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868, Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (2007).
“The Snake War,” Reference Series No. 236, Idaho State Historical Society.

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