|James N. Clark was among the first men to settle in what was then Wasco County, when he
built a house near the junction of Bridge Creek and the John Day River, which functioned as a
stage station. Because of Indian trouble, and because his wife wanted to see her parents, Clark
had recently sent his family to safety in the Willamette Valley. A short time later, Indians raided
along the Canyon City Road and on September 13, as described above, attacked the Canyon City
& Dalles Stage East of Clark’s Ranch. The following day, Clark and his 18-year-old brother in
law, George Masterson, were working in the fields and had just forded the John Day to gather
firewood from a large tangle of driftwood that gathered at a sharp bend in the river. They carried
their firearms with them every day—except this one. Just when they crossed the river they saw
about fourteen Indians riding toward the house, but were powerless to do anything. The Indians
burned the house, stables, and forty tons of hay, 1,000 bushels of barely and oats, and ran off two
horses and a cow. Clark later estimated the losses at $6,494, and the remains of the house thus
received the name it bears today—Burnt Ranch.
The raiders saw the two white men and chased them. Clark tried to tell young Masterson to rein
in his horse and save him, for they might have a long ride, but George lashed him at full speed.
Clark went just fast enough to keep out of range of the Indian arrows, and could see Masterson,
who was ahead by a quarter mile or more, but was slowly dropping back as his horse tired. Soon,
Clark was even with Masterson and a warrior on a black horse was within ten yards of them.
When the Indian raised his gun to fire, George jumped from his horse, called “O, Lord,” and ran
for Bridge Creek only a short distance away. The rest of the Indians were 50 yards behind, so the
lead warrior continued after Clark, probably figuring that the other warriors would take care of the
foolish man who jumped from his horse. Clark however, who had saved his horse, soon
outdistanced his pursuer and Masterson made it to the creek, saw an overhanging bank draped
with matted roots, dove in, and crawled underneath. “I was compelled to hide and secret myself
in a creek,” he said. He found a deep hole and tried to keep only his nose above water. The
Indians “were very near me but did not discover me,” Masterson said.
Clark rode eight more miles until finding a party of Canyon City packers with an escort of Warm
Springs Scouts under Private Skanewa. At Clark’s request, they joined forces and returned to
look for Masterson, whom they found, nearly in a state of shock, but still alive.
The Warm Springs Scouts returned to Camp Watson and Clark convinced the packers to join him
to look for the Indians and try to recover some of his property. The eight men, including Clark,
Perry Maupin, John Atterbury, John Bonham, William Thompson, and a shaken George
Masterson, trailed the Paiutes, led by Ocheho, West up Cherry Creek and over to Trout Creek.
About the same time, Weahwewa and Howluck were in the area raiding the Warm Springs
Agency. They found the Wasco Chief Postaminie and his brother Quepama, with seven other
Wascos and their families who had left the agency to hunt. Postaminie waved a white flag and
tried to talk, but was gunned down. The other Wascos fled and Weahwewa stole seventy-seven
horses. At dawn on September 15, Clark’s party ran into Quepama’s camp. Figuring they saw
the attackers were white men and shouted out, “Warm Springs! Warm Springs! Wascos,
Wascos!” Clark and Maupin recognized them and yelled, “For God’s sake, boys, don’t shoot!”
“We halted among them without firing a shot,” Thompson said. The two parties exchanged
stories and learned there were at least two raiding bands in the area. Ocheho’s and Weahwewa’s.
That morning the Scott Brothers and five other men rode into the camp, also looking for stolen
horses. Clark got Scott and his men and several Wascos to join him. Some of the Wascos
believed Paulina was bullet-proof and could not be killed, but figured that maybe by going with the
white men, who had “good medicine,” they could kill him. Now there were about twenty well-
armed men to take up the trail. The tracks they picked up were not Ocheho’s, who was long
gone, but that of Weahwewa, who did not expect the Wascos to follow him. Clark’s party trailed
South up Trout Creek into the Ocheho Mountains and over the divide down Little McKay Creek.
About three in the afternoon, they found Weahwewa’s camp at the junction of McKay and Allen
Creeks. There looked to be about sixteen warriors. Clark and his men discussed if they should
wait until the next morning and take a chance on being discovered or the Indians pulling away in
the night. The Wascos wanted to attack immediately, and Clark thought the same, but added,
“We might bite off more than we can chew.” Regardless, they divided in two, with the Wascos
going around to the West side to stampede the Snake’s horses.
The Wascos were nearly into the Snake horse herd before they were seen, and at that time, let out
their war whoops and charged in. The whites burst in from the other side, shouting and shooting.
The Wascos quickly drove off the horses and the Snakes were left on foot, running for the thick
woods nearby. Bill Thompson with a bit of braggadocio said this was his first Indian fight, but “I
felt no fear and not so much excitement as when stalking my first buck.” He dropped to his knee,
took careful aim, and hit a great “big fellow” who “sprang into the air and fell, and I then knew I
had made one ‘good siwash,” Thompson said. He later came to believe he had killed Bigfoot.
Thompson then took his Colt pistol and, with the other whites, chased the Snakes into the timber.
There, the Indians, quickly regrouped and got in a good defensive position, where, to pursue
them, Thompson claimed, “Would have been madness.” Clark called a halt to the attack and the
Snakes crept through the trees and escaped. Two Wascos were wounded and four Snakes were
dead or soon to be. The Wascos caught one wounded Snake and scalped him alive. Thompson
watched the process of running a knife around the head just above the ears and peeling the skin
back. “That was the first I ever saw, he said, “and I had no desire to see the operation repeated.”
After the fight, the Scott Brothers went back to look for stolen livestock, the Wascos headed for
Warm Springs, and Clark and his volunteers returned to Bridge Creek where he fully assessed the
losses to his property. The ruins of the “Burnt Ranch” smoldered until late September.
At times it appeared that the civilians had better luck tracking down the Snakes than did the army.
In August, Captain Richard F. O’Beirne, with Company E, 14th Infantry, marched from The
Dalles along the Canyon City Road to Fort Boise, scouting the country along the way, but finding
no Indians. From Boise, O’Beirne scouted the Burnt and Powder River regions, again with no
result. In September, Captain Perry left the Three Forks area with fifty-three men of Company F,
1st Cavalry, and marched to Camp Lyon. He then went northwest to the Owyhee, found and
destroyed a native fishery, and crossed over the Malheur River, to Pilot Rock, over to Willow
Creek and Burnt River, and back to Fort Boise. Five hundred miles and thirty-seven days later,
he reported, “I saw no fresh signs.” O’Beirne and Perry returned to Boise to the usual civilian
scorn of unsuccessful army commanders.
The Deadliest Indian War in the West
The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868
by Gregory Michno
|How The Burnt Ranch Got It's Name
CLARK’S FIGHT ~ SEPTEMBER 15, 1866
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