Lost In A Book

These day’s it is hard to find time to read a book yet I have always enjoyed reading. Yet things are busy and when I sit down to read, well I fall asleep. But I have been reading “Thunder Over The Ochoco” by Gale Ontko. Basically covering the trade routes between tribes before and after we set foot in America. The Ochoco itself is the land around Prineville, Oregon and before it was settled it was covered with 7 ft tall grass all kinds of game. Some beavers even weighed 100 lbs. Trappers competing against each other took care of all that though.

If you want a real history lesson of the area and the fur traded. Prepare to be amazed about the hardship that were endured and the money that was made. Plus the traditions and lives that were forced into unwanted change. What I found on Amazon sums it up better than I ever could.

Thunder Over the Ochoco is literally the work of a lifetime. Its author spent 40 years combing historical records and interviewing dozens of descendants of pioneer settlers and Native Americans who shared oral traditions that have been passed down through generations.

What emerges is history as it has never been told before. A history of conquistadors and fur trappers, of merchants and missionaries. The history of an Indian war that was one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts ever fought on American soil, but which for political and economic reasons was covered up for decades. Above all, the history of “those first settlers of the Ochoco—men, woman, and children—who were left to wander and starve in a land they thought belonged to them through eternity, a people who in their final agony cried out: `Nimma ne-umpu!’—`We too are human!’

Gale Ontko tells this story with compassion and grace, in a style that combines the precision of the scholar with the vigor and drama of the novelist. The five volumes comprise nearly 2500 printed book pages and have been described by some as the most factual writing by any author on the history of the Shoshoni People.

Volume II covert the twenty-year period between 1840 and 1860 would see overland migration across the land known to the Shoshoni as the Ochoco—Land of the Red Willow. The Americans would call it eastern Oregon. Never on friendly terms with the white invaders, the Shoshoni tolerated passage across their ancestral hunting grounds only so long as the American homesteaders stayed strictly on the dusty thoroughfare called the Oregon Trail. When they transgressed, the distant thunder of gunfire reverberated across interior Oregon like the tolling of a death knell. Volume II narrates the suffering, heartache and death of those unfortunate souls who dared to venture into the Ochoco; and it covers the first brutal Indian wars fought west of the Mississippi River.

Volume III covers the period between 1860 and 1869 when rich deposits of gold were discovered in eastern Oregon, and the citizens of the Willamette Valley were out to claim their share at any cost. Shoshoni dog soldiers were equally determined that they keep to their side of the Cascade barrier. War was officially declared. The opposing forces went for each other’s throats locked in a death struggle that seemed endless. The crashing crescendo of thunder was accompanied by lightning strikes of destruction which ricocheted into four western states—and the military campaign they thought would last but a few weeks stretched into years. In flashing raids, Shoshoni dog soldiers humiliated the Oregon Cavalry, taking a deadly toll on mining settlements, homesteads, stagecoaches and wagon trains. It would take a battle-hardened army baptized in the carnage of the Civil War four years to bring the Shoshoni to their knees: an aggressor with unlimited resources pitted against a foe that was undermanned, undernourished and outgunned—but desperately fighting for survival. Volume III is the story of the first violent Shoshoni outbreak, which would again erupt in the 1870s.

Volume IV covers the thirteen-year interval between 1866 and 1879 that would witness monumental changes in the Ochoco. With the surrender of Has No Horse’s battered army, western Oregon had free rein to exploit the Ochoco as it saw fit. In a blind daze, the Shoshoni would witness frontier towns springing up where their lodges had once stood. As thousands upon thousands of bawling cattle and sheep trampled their ancestral hunting grounds to dust, the proud warriors of a by-gone year again rebelled. And, for a fleeting moment, shook the state of Oregon to its very foundations. Then it was over. Stripped even of reservation rights, the few survivors drifted between the four winds on their final journey into the bitter rain of tears.

Volume V, the final volume of Thunder Over the Ochoco covers ther period of 1880 and 1916. Rifle shots echoed the length and breadth of the Deschutes canyon as the Hill-Harriman railroad giants battled to link central Oregon to the outside world.

The birth of industry would give vent to new bloodshed in the Ochoco. Six-shooters roared in the night, ranchers disappeared never to be seen again… and the juniper trees bore fruit: the dangling bullet-ridden bodies of men whose only crime was to oppose the land barons who ruled old Crook County with a Winchester rifle and a rawhide rope. As the 19th century staggered to a close, a Shoshoni visionary born in the Ochoco foretold the rebirth of Indian supremacy. His wondrous dream was buried in a common grave at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. By the time the 20th century blundered onto the scene, saddle-blanket blazes hacked into the Ochoco pines marked the deadlines between sheep and cattle range and woe unto him who crossed these barriers.

Ironically, the last Indian war fought in the United States would explode on the Oregon-Nevada border in 1911 when a Shoshoni chief led his followers, armed only with bows and arrows, in a suicidal charge against a group of stockmen. Thus ended the Thunder Over the Ochoco.


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