Burns Paiute Tribe

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Trail of Tears

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Trail of Tears

All Indians were then rounded up and held as hostages at Fort Harney, regardless of who sided with the Whites or those who fought against them. Many of the Indians did not understand why they were being rounded up and brought to Fort Harney. In the coldest time of year, January 1879, over 500 Paiutes were loaded into wagons or ordered to walk under heavy armed guard to Fort Simcoe on the Yakima Reservation and Fort Vancouver in Washington state. In knee-deep snow the men were forced to march, shackled two by two, while the women and children were later taken to Fort Boise. The fate of yet another group is unknown. Perhaps they were massacred by the soldiers, or maybe they faded into the hills and disappeared. The tribe suffered great loss of life due to this forced abandonment of their home. It was the Paiutes' own "Trail of Tears."

The majority of those who survived the journey to Yakima found little welcome there and did not stay long. After approximately five years, the Wadatika people were allowed to make their long way back home. Many had not survived the experience; others chose to stay with the Yakima; while still others left to live with relatives on reservations of neighboring tribes. The ones who chose to made the long, difficult journey to Burns. They would travel in small groups or individually. Swimming the Columbia River holding onto their horse's tail, and walking the long miles through the mountains, they eventually arrived in Harney Valley. None returned to the empty reservation still staffed by Agent Rinehart. They were considered outlaws, so they lived on what they could find hunting and gathering in the hills, and quietly working for local ranchers.

In January of 1883 the reservation was made into public domain, open for settlers to claim under the Homestead Act. As Peter Teeman, a 90 year old elder, testified in 1948 at the Warm Springs Reservation:

"The Bannocks kept their reservation but we, the Paiutes, who remained friends with the soldiers, lost our reservation and were taken to Yakima and turned over to our enemies. We did not give up our reservation." (Burns Paiute Colony: Its History, Population and Economy, p. 19)

The federal government then gave out 160 acre parcels of marginal land in the Rye Grass area to anyone who had lived on the Malheur Reservation. Only 115 parcels were ever given out, although many more of the Wadatika survived. Distrust and fear of the government were running high and more than a few tribal members thought this new offer to be a trick.

Many Indian families camped near the towns of Burns and Drewsey in tule or gunnysack "wickiups" or lived on their allotment. The men found seasonal work with ranchers. Women washed clothes and made buckskin gloves to trade occasionally for flour, sugar and coffee. After the Edward Hines Lumber Mill opened in 1928 in Hines and later near Seneca when the mill opened there, more jobs were available to the Indians.