History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society
homeSection 4Subtopic: Social Costs of...
Subtopic : Settling Up the Country: Social Costs of the Cattlemen's Era

Themes: People and the Environment, Politics and Government, Economics, Resettlement, Industrialization

  featured image  

Mr. Heinlein Issues Blankets
and Tents to Northern Paiute
Gifford Photograph
Gi 8037½

In 1878 the “Bannock War,” which originated in southern Idaho due to incorrect language given in the treaty, brought bands of Shoshones and Bannocks westward from the Snake River to the Owyhee Mountains, through the Jordan Valley area, and northwest into the Harney Valley. Hoping to find aid and refuge from Army troops on the Malheur Reservation, they enlisted some of their Northern Paiute neighbors to join in skirmishes with ranchers, including Pete French, at his Diamond Ranch. Due to the by-now overwhelming numbers of whites living in the Pacific Northwest, the “Bannock War” was lost from the beginning.

Unfortunately for the Northern Paiute, participation of some Paiutes in this brief and futile 1878 episode provided Oregon politicians an excuse for demanding the Malheur Reservation be dissolved. Many of its Native inhabitants were removed to the distant Yakama Reservation in central Washington, or to central Oregon’s Warm Springs Reservation, where they lived among their traditional enemies. This removal became known among the Northern Paiutes as their own “Trail of Tears.” With their Malheur Reservation abolished, nearly 2 million acres of Harney Basin and upper Malheur River land lay open for settlement and grazing by ranchers. The resulting land rush brought more newcomers to northeastern Harney and northwestern Malheur counties in the early 1880s and helped tip the balance against the area’s absentee-owned ranching operations. For Native people, it meant a fast-decreasing portion of the region’s total population, as well as low-paid employment on ranches. By 1900, most of the high desert’s remaining Northern Paiute had become concentrated in three small communities: Fort McDermitt, located just south of Owyhee County, straddling the Oregon/Nevada border; Fort Bidwell, south of Lake County’s Warner Valley in the northeastern-most corner of California; and on the northern outskirts of the town of Burns, in Harney County.

Following close behind the hooves of cattle, other livestock, particularly large herds of sheep and horses, had arrived on the high desert range by the 1880s. Sheep wool was in steadily growing demand, first by woolen factories in western Oregon and subsequently by northeastern Oregon’s big Pendleton Woolen Mills. In contrast to hostilities in northeastern Oregon, conflicts between cattlemen and sheepmen over grazing were few in southeastern Oregon. On occasion Lake County ranchers drew “deadlines” in the sand, lines beyond which any herd of sheep was exterminated by local buckaroos. However, many ranches in the immense region raised both cattle and sheep, and the local range wars amounted to little, with the notable exception of bloody conflicts near Benjamin Lake and Silver Lake from 1903 to 1906, during which several thousand sheep were slaughtered and at least one person was murdered. Large herds of horses also formed an integral part of the livestock empire, and Bill Brown established a big horse-trade ranch near Wagontire in the 1890s, taking advantage of the increasing herds of wild mustangs. Although horse prices remained low for much of Brown’s career, he allegedly later made a fortune selling them to the Allied armies during World War I.

© Jeff LaLande, 2005

Themes: People and the Environment,Politics and Government,Economics,Resettlement,Industrialization

Regions: Central Oregon,Southeastern Oregon

Date: 1878-1918

Author: Jeff LaLande

The participation of some Northern Paiute in the “Bannock War” of 1878 gave Oregon politicians an excuse to dissolve the Malheur Reservation thus opening up large tracts of land to new settlement.

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Related Documents

Report by W.V. Rinehart, 1879
government document
August 15, 1879

Bannock War Chiefs
c. 1890s

Malheur Indian Reservation

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