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Rogue River War

Peace in Oregon was again threatened in 1877 when the Nez Perce War began, and again in 1878 when the Bannock tribe went on the war path. When the Nez Perce War began in 1877, poorly trained and equipped Oregon volunteer units immediately took to the field. Fortunately, no major campaign developed in the state, and the volunteers were soon released. Still, the state legislature gave no thought to the necessity for a well-trained volunteer force.

The Bannock tribe declared war on the white settlers in May 1878. Hostilities began in southern Idaho where the Bannocks battled cattlemen and other white settlers settling on the Big Camas prairie, part of the tribe's treaty reservation. Two hundred warriors, led by Buffalo Horn, moved across the prairie toward the Snake River, raiding settlements as they went. Pursued by federal troops, they crossed into Oregon and joined with the Paiutes and other Indian tribes, numbers 2,000 in all.

As the Indians proceeded into Oregon, newly formed volunteer units hastily were rushed into the field with little or no training, and minimum of equipment. Additional units throughout the Willamette Valley, already in existence and somewhat trained, were called upon to help but could not respond. The legislature refused to purchase weapons and ammunition for their use. Finally, on June 12, Governor S. F. Chadwick sent 100 stands of arms and ammunition, with instructions to protect the settlers in the John Day Valley.

An initial running fight occurred with the Indian tribes near Canyon City. One volunteer was killed and three others wounded. Later, a company of volunteers was dispatched to protect Prineville when that district appeared threatened. The Bannocks, however, headed north towards the Umatilla reservation near present-day Pendleton.

With northeastern Oregon threatened, a meeting was held in Portland asking for reinforcements. The Washington Guards, Emmet Guards, City Rifles and the Portland Light Battery immediately answered the call and began preparations to leave for the battleground. Their assistance was refused, however when federal troops arrived at the scene. A few weeks later, the hostile tribes were put to flight, and a roundup of the scattered bands of Indian warriors began. By September 1878, the Bannocks were returned to their reservation in Idaho.

The end of the Bannock War resulted in a widespread interest in the need for military units. Twenty volunteer companies sprang up throughout the State, including a company of cavalry at Sheridan and batteries of light artillery at Portland and Astoria. Membership in a militia unit during this time resembled a fraternal rather than a military organization. The published by-laws of the Portland Light Battery stated that "new members shall be voted upon by the membership and if three nay votes are counted, the man will not be accepted." Dues of fifty cents per month were charged to enable a member to buy his own equipment. Centralized control and military standardization within the State was nonexistent.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:20:53 Zulu