The Indian Uprising of 1878Morrow County Chronicles 1985, Volume IV

By Helen Currin

My intentions were to write a short story about the interesting head stones in the Pleasant Point Cemetery located on our ranch five miles North of Lena.

After studying Harrison Hale’s tombstone, (he was killed by the Indians in the battle of Willow Springs on July 7, 1878) I was interested in reading the article “Indian uprising 1878” taken from the History of Umatilla and Morrow Counties by Colonel William Parsons and W. S. Sheik, Published in 1902 by W. H. Lever.

Excitement reigned in Umatilla and Morrow Counties during the early summer of 1878. Major Narcisse Cornoyer, Indian Agent on the Umatilla Reservation, received word from the John Day country that hostile Indians were moving toward Heppner and Pendleton. These warriors were the Snake, Bannock, and Piute Indians from Fort Hall Idaho area.

Families were hurriedly moved to Pendleton from Heppner, Pilot Rock, Wallula, Weston, and Milton-Freewater area. They were housed at Byers Flour Mill- a three story stone building.

Another complication at this time was the outbreak of Diphtheria. My father, Alonzo W. Knotts, who was only eight years old at that time, told me years ago about parents having their children gargle with kerosene to relieve their throats of mucous. Sheets were hung up in the mill with the hope of keeping the disease under control.

Now, back to the Indian War.

Pendleton, with only a population of 150 families plus 150 families who had moved in for protection, was defenseless.

The warriors spent several days in the Butter Creek-Willow Springs area, which gave troops from Vancouver and Walla Walla time to get to Pendleton.

The Indians killed sheepherders and stockmen, burned buildings and scattered stock along the way. Among them was John Vey, who was killed July 4th.

Sheriff Sperry and recruits left Pendleton for Willow Springs. On July 5th, while having lunch there, they were attacked and forced to retreat. Harrison Hale was killed at this time. He is buried at Pleasant Point Cemetery. Harrison Hale is the great grandfather of the present mayor of Portland, Bud Clark. Mr. Clark visited Heppner during Heppner’s Centennial dinner and mentioned having “roots” in Morrow County.

Another prominent State Senator in 1878 was C.L. Jewell who had large bands of sheep in Camas Prairie (Ukiah area). Against the advice of friends, he rode from Pendleton to check on the sheep and he was shot from his horse. He crawled into nearby bushes along a creek until the Indians left; then crawled to the road and wrote a note on a board with charcoal telling where he was hidden.

Ebner Nelson (great grandfather of James Ebner Nelson who now farms near Pilot Rock,) and Luke Skelly rode from Pendleton along with other volunteers to assess the damage to their stock and farms on Butter Creek. Both were murdered by the Indians on July 5th.

Mr. Jewell’s note was found three days later by volunteers. Since he was suffering from the gun shot wound plus three days without food or water, he died after being taken to Pendleton.

General Howard heard of plans from a captured squaw named Sarah Winnemucca that the warriors led by Chief Egan planned to come through Heppner. Quickly a fort was built behind the site where the Palace Hotel was later built. The fort was a five-foot deep cellar with a roof covered with dirt.

Captain Frank Maddock, 1st Lt. J.L. Morrow and 2nd Lt. A.S. Wells organized recruits. The U.S. Government sent a box of guns, which was greatly needed. Luckily, the Indians changed their plans so Heppner was safe.

During a battle Chief Egan, leader of the warriors, was shot twice in his left arm, which left him crippled—also his famous buckskin horse was captured. He was rescued by his own warriors; but later captured by other Indians who scalped him. His warriors retreated and the skirmish ended. The Umatilla and Cayuse Indians remained friendly to the white people and took no part in this uprising.

Families returned to their homes, which they abandoned three weeks before to find buildings burned and stock stolen.

Among my souvenirs is a bill to the U.S. Government from my grandfather Isaac Knotts, who lived near Pilot Rock, for three good American horses—stolen by the Indians.

©1985 Morrow County Chronicles

Note: The original painting depicting the Battle of Willow Springs, painted by Olive Bush Swaggart, hangs in the Morrow County Museum located in Heppner, Oregon.

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