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Snake War
Part of the Indian Wars
Date 1864 to 1868
Location Oregon, Nevada, California, and Idaho Territory
Result "US victory"
 United States Northern Paiute, Bannock and western Shoshone
Benjamin Alvord,
Reuben F. Maury,
L. H. Marshall,
George Crook
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
 ?  ?

The Snake War was a war fought by the United States of America against the "Snake Indians", Native Americans of the Northern Paiute, Bannock and western Shoshone bands from 1864 to 1868. Fighting took place in the states of Oregon, Nevada, and California, and in Idaho Territory. Total casualties from both sides of the conflict numbered 1,762 dead, wounded, or captured.



From the time time of the Ward Massacre in August 20, 1854 and the punitive Winnas Expedition in 1855, the Snake Indians commonly called the "Snakes" by the white settlers,[1] where harrassing and sometimes attacked emigrant parties crossing the Snake River Valley. The U. S. Army had protected the migration by sending out escorts each spring after the end of the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene-Paloos War in 1858. However parties still were attacked, particularly if they were straggelers like the Myers party in the Salmon Falls Massacre, of September 13, 1860. As the withdrawal of Federal troops began in 1861, the void was filled by California Volunteers and later by the Volunteer Regiment of Washington and particularly the 1st Oregon Cavalry that replaced the Army escorts on the immigrant trails. However the influx of miners into the Nez Perce reservation during the Clearwater Gold Rush raised tensions among all the tribes and divided the Nez Perce when a new treaty permitted the intrusion. The location of new mines near Boise in 1862 and in the Owyhee Canyonlands in 1863 contributed a great deal to the unrest of the "Snakes", as an influx of white settlers descended on the area. This brought on a war with the "Snakes", in the Snake War from 1864 to 1868.


No specific incident triggered the conflict, as it was a result of continuous tension that was growing between the Indian tribes and the white settlers over several years. Explorers had passed through the area for many years, but didn't pose a serious threat to creating hostile relations with the Indians because they never really had a negative impact on the land since they were constantly on the move. The tension started to escalate when the settlers searching for gold started to move west, because they would establish themselves on the Indians' land for longer periods of time and would consume precious resources like food and water, which were often scarce. There were many isolated occurrences that resulted in violence that contributed to the building tension between the white settlers and the Snake Indians, and eventually to the Snake War in 1864. In October 1851, Shoshoni Indians killed eight men in Fort Hall Idaho, and in August 1854 they killed about twenty-one people when they attacked several pioneer trains along the Snake River. Many more of these attacks had taken place in the years building up to the Snake War, and in some cases the white settlers would retaliate by attacking Indian villages. In September 1852, Ben Wright and a group of miners responded to an Indian attack by attacking the Modoc village near Black Bluff in Oregon, killing about forty-one Indians.

About the war

The Snake War was unlike many other Indian Wars, because it was not defined by one large battle. The Snake War was a guerrilla war consisting of many separate smaller skirmishes, which spanned across California, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. The Snake War was also unlike many of the other Indian Wars, because both the U.S. and the Indian sides lacked the big name leaders. Perhaps the most well known U.S. Army commander in the Snake War was George Crook, who was led battles in the Apache Wars and played a significant role in the Civil War. Many of the U.S. troops in the beginning of the war were volunteer regiments from the surrounding states, especially California.


The Snake War wound down after peace talks between George Crook and the Snake leader Weahwewa had taken place. The Snake War is widely forgotten in American history, and while there are no definite reasons for this, there are some speculations. One reason that people may have forgotten the Snake War was because the Paiutes and Shoshoni Indians were not taken seriously as warriors. Because of this, the situation never received too much attention, and few reporters covered it. Joe Wasson was one of the first and few reporters that went into the field with the Army during the Snake War. Another reason why it may be forgotten is because most of the American troops were volunteers, because many of the U.S. Regulars were sent back east to fight the Civil War. Despite the Snake War being widely forgotten, it was statistically the deadliest of the Indian Wars in the West in terms of casualties. Whites and Indians casualties in terms of killed, wounded, and captured reached about 1,762 by the end of the Snake War. By comparison, the Battle of the Little Bighorn produced about 847 casualties.


  1. ^ Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Oregon, Volume II, 1848-1888, The History Company, San Francisco, 1888, p.462 note 4.




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