The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Michael Kinny
Veteran of the Potato Famine, Fort Lane, Hungry Hill, Big Bend and the Steptoe Expedition.

By Fred Lockley
    In the ancient city of Galway there are four gates. On the one facing north is carved this inscription: "From the ferocious O'Flahertys good Lord deliver us." On the southern gate is inscribed: "From the devilish O'Dalys good Lord defend us." Approaching Galway from the east, you read, "From the cutthroat O'Kellys good Lord save and keep us." On the western gate are the words: "From the murderous O'Maddens good Lord preserve us."
    From all of which it is plain to infer that the people of Galway believed the Irish were some scrappers.
    Mike Kinny lives in Walla Walla. He is the last survivor of the historic and ill-fated Steptoe expedition of 1858. The shamrock is not more Irish than Michael Kinny.  Recently I visited him at his home.
    "Wherever did I come from? Well, I was christened Michael, and I came from the same green little isle that most of the Patricks and Michaels come from," he said. "I was born in County Kilkenny on September 21, 1832. When I was a lad of about 16 I began to dream of America. In 1847 our mainstay, the potato, was attacked by a blight and they fair rotted in the ground so you could hardly abide the stench of them. The vine turned black and wilted. The potato plague lasted two years, and what with the starving for lack of our perishing crops and the fever, a good many died. Most of those that didn't die and could get away crowded the emigrant ships for America.
    "The railroads were building in America, and that was the great job for the Irish.
    "When I was a boy we numbered about 9,000,000 Irish in Ireland. Today there is somewhat more than 1,000,000 there. In fact, there are more Irish in this country than in Ireland. Look at the political offices, from policeman up to president. Who do you find there? Irishmen. If it wasn't for whiskey we would have the rest of the offices, but the Irish are great fighters, and when no other fighting is to be found they fight with their old-time enemy, John Barleycorn, and he can knock out anybody--even an Irishman.
    "When I was 21, and my own man, I came to America. That was in 1853. There used to be a girl here in Walla Walla that came from a neighborhood near Castlecomer, County Kilkenny. I knew her at home in Ireland. She married a man named O'Rourke, and I see her daughter nearly every day. Yes, the girl looks like her mother. It takes me back to my boyhood when I get sight of her. When all is said and done and all arguments all in, there are no girls anywhere, nor ever have been, as pretty as Irish girls. This girl I'm telling you of had eyes as black as a sloe; her hair was blue-black and shone like a crow's wing; she was plump, and her cheeks were rosy, and she had a way with her. Sure, and she had the come-hither eye. Her girl is like her, only her eyes are blue, while her eyebrows and eyelashes and hair are as black as her mother's. But that's neither here nor there nor yonder about the fight with the Coeur d'Alenes, Spokanes and Palouses.
    "I landed in New York in 1853 and a few months later I was wearing the army blue, I enlisted in February, 1864. In those days you could join the foot or the mounted services as you pleased. I enlisted as a mounted soldier, and was assigned to C troop, First Dragoons, commanded by Captain A. J. Smith--and that same Andrew Jackson Smith was some soldier! He was about 40 years old when I enlisted. He was a West Pointer; graduated with the class of 1838. He served through the Mexican War. He was out in the Rogue River country in Oregon in '53, the year before I enlisted. At the beginning of the Civil War he was made a major. In the fall of 1661 he was elected colonel of the Second California cavalry, and the next spring he was made a brigadier general. While division commander he protected the retreat of Banks' army so well that Lincoln promoted him. He came out of the war as major general. In the volunteer service and went back into the regulars as colonel of the Seventh United States Cavalry. He was 82 years old when he died in 1897. But to come back to myself. I was sent to Jefferson barracks, near St. Louis, and from there to Fort Leavenworth on the edge of the Indian territory.
    "C" troop was made up mostly of Americans and Irish. There were a few Germans and one Jew. We were given orders to leave for the coast. Colonel Edward J. Steptoe was in command. There were two companies of the Third Artillery and about 100 recruits for the First Dragoons already in service on the Pacific Coast.
    "In those days things were pretty slack in the army. The government issued plenty of rations, but the cooks and the mess sergeant stood in together and sold the sugar and coffee and knocked down the proceeds or bought booze with it. Many a time the soldiers would go hungry through crookednesss, mismanagement or wastefulness. One of the men in our company had served before, so he took up a collection among us and went to Weston and bought some Dutch ovens and other cooking utensils. The men who hadn't provided themselves wasted their flour making it into dough balls and cooking it on sticks over the camp fire.
    "l soon saw that I would have to learn to cook if I didn't want to starve, so I asked to be assigned to the job as assistant cook. I soon learned, and having the first chance at the victuals I got along pretty well.
    "Fifty of the recruits were mounted, and 50 were afoot. We had 500 head of Kentucky horses we were taking out as mounts, but we were only assigned 50 saddles so that put half our number afoot. I was mounted. We had lots of antelope and buffalo meat, and we got along fairly well on our march across the plains.
    "We reached Salt Lake City in the fall and were ordered to winter there. Brigham Young had been appointed governor of Utah Territory by President Fillmore, and the Mormons were almost up in arms against the United States. We were the second party of United States troops to reach Salt Lake City, and we got pretty black looks from the Mormons. The year before Captain Gunnison had been there with a company of mounted rifles. We were quartered over Ben Holladay's dry goods store on Main Street. For a while it looked as if we would have to wipe the Mormons out or they would wipe us out. They resented our presence bitterly."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 10, 1915, page 4

By Fred Lockley
    "Salt Lake City was a pretty tropical place for anyone not a Mormon 60 years ago," said Michael Kinny of Walla Walla. "I spent the winter of '54-'55 there as a member of C troop, First Dragoons, under Colonel E. J. Steptoe. We were among the first of United States troops to reach the city of the saints, though why they called themselves saints I never could understand, for they acted in a manner far from saintly to Uncle Sam's boys in blue.
    "The first United States officers to go there were Captain Howard Stansbury and Lieutenant J. W. Gunnison, in command of a body of troops. In the spring of 1849 Captain Stansbury was ordered to report to Fort Leavenworth to organize an expedition to survey Great Salt Lake and the country thereabout.
    "Captain Stansbury was warned that he would be wiped out if he attempted to make a survey. He went to Salt Lake City, put it up to Brigham Young, who endorsed the plan, so he went ahead.
    "They explored a route to Fort Hall and surveyed part of the lake and wintered in Salt Lake City in '49-'50. They put in the summer of 1850 surveying the Great Salt Lake, Lake Utah and the Jordan. They returned to Fort Leavenworth by way of Bridger's and Cheyenne Pass.
    "A year or two later, in 1853, Gunnison, by this time a captain, was sent back in charge of a party of topographical engineers and troops to look for a route to the  southward. One of the soldiers with him later was my bunkie and told me all about it. They had a lot of government sharps to look at the rocks and the flowers and to have interviews with the different bugs so as to tell the government what they ate and why and all about them. In the party were Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith, a man named Kern, who was a government artist; a man named Homans, who went along to study the stars; Dr. Sheil, who acted as surgeon and sized up the rocks and formations, and a man named Creutzfeldt, who made a collection of the plants and flowers. The escort of mounted riflemen was commanded by Captain R. M. Morris. While they were camped on Sevier River, Captain Gunnison, with a small escort and the government men, went on a side trip of exploration while Captain Morris and the rest of his company went up the river.
    "It seems that a party of emigrants from Missouri had met a small band of Piute Indians and had fired on them and killed and wounded several. The Indians figured that the white men had attacked them without provocation, so they would do the same by the whites. At daylight they attacked the Gunnison party and only four escaped. Lieutenant Gunnison didn't fall until he had 15 arrows in his body. One of the four men to escape was Mike Mearre. He hid in the brush and though the Indians almost stepped on him while looking for him they didn't flush him. He soldiered with me in the Rogue River war in Southern Oregon in 1855 and was killed while serving under Crook some years later.
    "While we were in Salt Lake City Colonel Steptoe secured the murderers and turned them over to the Mormon civil authorities, who had a sort of trial and turned them loose for lack of evidence. Gunnison Peak and Gunnison Canyon are named for Captain Gunnison.
    "I was just a young lad of about 23 and I was full of curiosity, so I used to go to the temple and hear Brigham Young preach.
    "We had our hands full of fighting that winter. Our sutler had rented a storeroom near Ben Holladay's building where we were quartered. One of our recruits, a German, was coming to our company quarters from the sutler's. He was a little fuller than he really ought to be, so the Mormons started to worry him and call out, 'Soldier will you work; no I'll sell my shirt first.' One of our troop C men, an Irishman, was coming just back of him. He told Dutchy to wade into them, but he wouldn't do it. One of the Mormons turned to the Irishman and said, 'Soldier, will you work?' The Irishman said, 'Yes; I'll get to work right now, and work your ugly face over for you,' and he did. The rest of the Mormons jumped onto him, and the soldiers poured out of company quarters and took a hand, more Mormons ran up and the whole street was full of the fight. We had to stay in quarters a week for trimming the Mormons.
    "On Christmas night an amateur theatrical performance was given by the name of 'All That Glitters Is Not Gold.' Colonel Steptoe and the other officers in full dress were in the box beside the stage. Just in front of the stage were some of the Third Artillery boys and some of the troopers of the First Dragoons. One of the girls had stage fright. She stood on the stage looking foolish while somebody in the wings kept prompting her. They let the curtain down to let her look over her lines again. When the curtain went up again she was stalled again and never a word could she say. One of our boys, an Englishman, hissed her. A Mormon policeman grabbed him by the shoulder. The trooper said: 'I have paid my money and I have a right to applaud the good actors and hiss the poor ones.' The policeman told him to hiss again and he would find out. He hissed. Instantly the whole house was in an uproar. I knew I couldn't stay or I would be in the thick of the fight and I had sneaked out of quarters without a pass, but I fought around the edges, knocking the Mormons down as they tried to get to where the main fight was going on. Colonel Steptoe and the other officers jumped on the stage and began calling commands to the men, but it did no good. Hell was popping, and no one could quell the riot until the soldiers had fought their way out. It was a matter of honor with us not to let any of our men be arrested by the Mormon police. There was a little chap in our troop. He had more fight in him than an Irishman, and that's going some. He always chummed with a big husky Irishman. He was always starting fights, getting knocked out in the first round and leaving his 'bunkie,' the Irishman, to finish the fight. In the spring of 1855 we started by the southern route for Fort Lane in Southern Oregon."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 11, 1915, page 6

By Fred Lockley
    "We wintered in Salt Lake City in 1854-55," said Michael Kinny of Walla Walla. "In the spring of 1855 we started for Fort Lane in Southern Oregon. At Carson Sinks, near the head of the Humboldt River, Lieutenant Colonel Steptoe took two companies of the Third Artillery to California while the rest of us belonging to the First Dragoons under Lieutenant Oleson went on to Fort Lane. We reached Fort Lane in July and almost at once we were into the thick of the Rogue River Indian war. We were detailed to act as escort for pack trains to Yreka, Crescent City and Jacksonville.
    "I have fought for Uncle Sam for many a long year. I have been among Indians for more than 60 years, and in all that time I have yet to see the Indian war that was started by the Indians. Every time the trouble has been stirred up by bad whites, and the rest of the country has been dragged into it. I mind how Lieutenant John L. Gratton, of the Sixth Infantry, one of the most popular young fellows in the service, was killed with 29 troopers over a lame cow belonging to an emigrant. The cow didn't keep up with the rest of the stock. The Indians, finding it without an owner, took it and ate it. The owner made complaint to the commanding officer at Fort Laramie, who sent Lieutenant Gratton out to round up the nearby Sioux Indians and arrest the thief. The upshot of the matter was the Indians refused to specify the thief or turn him over. They came to words over the matter and then to blows, and Gratton and 29 out of his 30 men were killed. Next spring a force of 2300 cavalry and infantry were sent out from Fort Leavenworth to make further investigations about the lost cow. Little Thunder, the chief of the Sioux Indians, asked for a parley, but the officer said, 'No, we have come to fight, not to parley.' When the matter was adjusted there were a lot more dead soldiers, and they picked up and buried 83 dead Indians. They called this fight the battle of Ash Hollow.
    "In August, 1855, a white man in Southern Oregon sold some Indians whiskey, and the result was a fight in which a number of the Indians and several white men were killed. A company of volunteers was organized. Its members came to our captain, A. J. Smith, and demanded the Indians. Captain Smith would not turn the Indians over to be killed without trial. This made hard feelings toward the regulars. The settlers couldn't see what need there was of trying Indians. They thought hanging was too good for them. The settlers said they were tired of fighting the Indians and soldiers, too, but whenever there was any real fighting to be done I notice they always said we were paid for fighting and told us to wade in.
    "The miners and settlers kept having brushes with the Indians and finally Colonel John E. Ross of the Oregon militia organized a number of companies and took the field against the Indians. The Indians and volunteers had a fight on Skull Bar on Rogue River in October, 1855, in which some of the volunteers and some Indians were killed. Late that same month in the hills of Grave Creek to the southward of Cow Creek, 250 volunteers and about 100 United States dragoons had a fight with the Indians. Our captain, A. J. Smith, had grown gray in the service and yet he was outranked by the commander of the volunteers, so he had no voice in the matter. The volunteers had an idea they knew how to fight better than the regulars. Well, we had the fight and the Indians licked us. Captain Smith was told to charge up the hill and dislodge the Indians. We did so and had three men killed and seven badly wounded. During the next two days we killed some Indians and they killed and wounded a good many whites, both volunteers and regulars. We were more afraid of the volunteers than of the Indians, for in the volunteers every man was his own boss and some of them were so inexperienced they would shoot if they saw a bush move, and as often as not the bush was moved by one of our dragoons working his way forward toward the Indians. If a regular was told to go he went, whether he knew he would be killed or not, but in the volunteers the officers had but little authority and the men stopped to argue the question. The amateur officers of the volunteers were brave enough, but they had no experience. They were lawyers and clerks and politicians and none of these jobs had trained them in military science.
    "Toward the last of the year we were ordered to go to Applegate Creek, where the volunteers had surrounded Chief Jo and a band of Indians. We had been in the saddle for 24 hours and were dead for sleep, but we started out and rode through rain and sleet for 12 hours. There were 40 of us under Lieutenant Underwood. We had a howitzer along. The Indians were fortified in three log cabins. We dropped a howitzer shell through the roof of one of the cabins and scattered the Indians in that cabin to the other cabins. It was dusk, so we decided to wait till next morning and do the job by daylight. During the night the Indians escaped.
    "Later we caught up with them and dispersed them with some loss on both sides. During the early part of 1856 Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Buchanan of the Fourth Infantry was in command and kept us in the field constantly. He had two batteries of the Third Artillery, four companies of the Fourth Infantry and our troop--Troop C of the First Dragoons. Our hardest fight was in May at the Big Bend of the Rogue River. We were 50 strong and we stood off a vastly superior force of Indians for a day and a half until we were relieved by Captain C. C. Augur of the Fourth Infantry. More than a third of our force of 90 men were killed or wounded in the 36 hours' fighting. Captain John's band finally surrendered.
    "We took about 700 Indians by boat to Portland and from there to the reservation at Grand Ronde in Polk County. We escorted Chief John's band and the Pistol River and Chetco bands from near Roseburg overland to the Grand Ronde Reservation. That settled the Rogue River war."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 12, 1915, page 6

By Fred Lockley
    "In the spring of 1856 Colonel Steptoe arrived at Fort Vancouver on his way to the Yakima country," said Michael Kinny, of Walla Walla, who served under Colonel Steptoe in the fifties. "At the Cascades we went across to the Washington side and had a fight with the Indians. It was here that Second Lieutenant Philip H. Sheridan of the Fourth Infantry showed that he had the real Irish fighting blood. He was mentioned in the commanding officer's dispatches for gallantry and courage in action.
    "That fall Colonel Steptoe went with his command to Walla Walla and built the army post buildings. During the summer of 1857 Colonel Steptoe's command at Walla Walla consisted of four companies of the First Dragoons, the Third Artillery, part of Steptoe's old command, and also part of the Fourth Infantry and some companies of the Ninth Infantry.
    "We sent our mounts in the fall of 1857 down to Fort Vancouver to be wintered, so our drill was afoot that winter. Along about the first of May Lieutenant Taylor brought the horses up from Vancouver. There had been some trouble in the Colville country with the miners and Colonel Steptoe was ordered to go and investigate. The Indians were restless because surveying parties from both sides of the line had been in their country establishing the international boundary. When they heard that Captain Mullan was coming with a surveying party they were still more restless, for they had been told the whites were coming in to survey their land and take it away from them.
    "We started from Walla Walla on May 6, 1858. Colonel Steptoe, expecting no trouble, ordered us not to take our sabers. There were three companies of the First Dragoons, C, E and H and part of E company Ninth Infantry mounted. There were exactly 158 of us who rode northward that morning. The ammunition for our use had been put out near the magazine, and the commissary stores were put out ready to be packed from the storeroom. Tom Beall, who now lives at Lewiston, was the packmaster. He packed the stores, supposing the ammunition had been put with the rest of the stores, and so we started out gaily with 40 rounds of ammunition to the man and we never knew any different until the packs were opened when we were in the midst of a battle and found we had no ammunition. The cartridges were muzzle-loading cartridges. You bit the brown paper in two, poured the powder in
your gun and then rammed home the ball. My company, Company C and Company E of the First Dragoons were armed with musketoons. They were really short muskets and would shoot up to about a hundred yards. If you hit a man at more than as for as you could throw a rock and hit him, you were lucky.
    "We crossed the Snake at Red Wolf's crossing near what they now call Alpowa. We were going to visit the Palouse Indians and then go up Colville way. Chief Timothy and Levi of the Nez Perces loaned us their canoes to cross the river. We traveled north for nine days and on Saturday night camped on Pine Creek. Next day, Sunday, we headed for the Spokane River. Just before noon we were marching along when from the ravines between the rolling hills through which we were passing nearly a thousand warriors rode out, closing in on both sides of us. They asked for a talk, so Colonel Steptoe stopped and they held a powwow. They asked why armed soldiers invaded their country. Colonel Steptoe said he had not come to fight the Indians but to try and settle the differences between the Indians and the whites. Most of the Indians seemed satisfied, but some of the younger ones were apparently anxious for a fight. Colonel Steptoe gave the command to advance. My horse was a new mount I had drawn, and it was panic-stricken at the sight and smell of the naked and painted Indians. C company started on, but my horse planted its front feet and never an inch would it budge. I spurred it, but it simply trembled. Soon I was several hundred yards behind the rest of the troops. I dismounted, and throwing my rein over my arm I started on afoot. Captain A. J. Smith, our captain, was on furlough, so Brevet Captain Oliver Hazard Perry Taylor, our first lieutenant, was in command of the company. He looked back and saw me and said, 'Kinny, why are you hanging behind?' I said, 'I'm not, captain. It's my horse.' He said, 'Make him come on.' 'Twas easy enough to say but 'twas harder to do. A big Indian rode up to me and rode along beside me. I said to him in jargon: 'Why are you naked and painted with your warpaint? Are you going to fight?' He said, 'Not today. Today Sunday. Make the Great Spirit sorry if his children fight on his day.' We pushed on, the Indians riding along beside our command. Late in the afternoon Colonel Steptoe and the officers held another talk with the Indians. Colonel Steptoe told the Indians we were on a peaceful mission. They pointed to the howitzers and asked if we talked peace with the big guns; if so, they would talk peace with their muskets and bows and arrows. Colonel Steptoe refused to argue longer with the contrary creatures.
    "We slept in our arms that night at Rock Lake and kept the horses close by. Colonel Steptoe told us next morning to avoid a fight if possible, as we were heavily outnumbered and so far the Spokanes had been peaceful and friendly to the whites. He gave orders to turn back toward Walla Walla. During the night a Nez Perce scout we had with us was sent with a message to Walla Walla asking immediate reinforcements. By daylight on Monday morning we were in the saddle and on the way. First came Company H of the dragoons under Lieutenant Gregg, Company C of the dragoons; our company came next, then Captain Winder with part of Company E, Ninth Infantry, with the howitzers, then Tom Beall with the pack train and then Company E of the dragoons under Lieutenant Gaston. As we started we saw the Indians getting under way to overtake us."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 13, 1915, page 8

By Fred Lockley
    "When you start in for an all-day fight with Indians, see that you don't pick out a balky horse," said Michael Kinny to me recently at his home in Walla Walla while describing the retreat and defeat of Colonel Steptoe in 1858. "We started back for Walla Walla by daylight on May 17. By sunup the Indians were following us, strung out on both sides like the tail of a comet. The smell and sight of the Indians was too much for my horse. He planted his feet that solid [that] you would think he had decided to grow there. No amount of coaxing or spurring could induce him to think his legs were not fence posts and meant to be stationary. I got off and began leading him. He walked with his nose almost against my shoulder, he was that afraid of the Indians. As we entered a little flat that led down into Pine Creek valley, I heard the rapid beat of hooves back of me and I saw a little man coming a-tearing up the road towards us. I saw he was a priest so I took off my hat as he rode up and said: 'Father, do you think the Indians mean to fight us?' He replied in broken English: 'Some fight, some not fight. Most Coeur d'Alenes not fight. Spokanes and Palouses maybe fight.'
    "He hurried on to talk to Colonel Steptoe. His name was Father Joset. He was stationed among the Coeur d'Alenes. He had ridden 90 miles as hard as he could with word from the Spokane chiefs who were friendly to the whites. Father Joset was afraid the Indians were about to attack us, and he asked Colonel Steptoe to let him bring some of the chiefs up and try to come to an understanding so that trouble would be avoided. He brought up Chief Vincent of the Coeur d'Alenes. Vincent said the Spokanes would fight if the white soldiers tried to cross the Spokane River. Colonel Steptoe said they would not cross but would go back to Walla Walla. Vincent said he would try to persuade the Indians to disperse. As they were talking Chief Vincent's uncle rode up and said the Palouses were going to fight anyway, so Vincent dropped to the rear and rejoined the Indians.
    "I had caught up, but when the troops moved on my horse again balked and no whipping or spurring would make him go. As I labored with my horse three Indians rode up. One had a rifle and the other two had bows and arrows. The one with the gun asked me why I stayed behind the other soldiers. I didn't like to tell him I couldn't make my horse go, so I said my horse was sick and I was leading him. The rest of the command were several hundred yards ahead, and I was back there with Indians all around me. Suddenly it seemed as if someone said: 'Mount your horse and run for it.' I jumped on and like a flash my horse bolted to catch up with the command. I overtook my company as they were fording Pine Creek, and as I reined up the Indians began firing at us from the hills on both sides. In a few moments we were all engaged, and as we were outnumbered six or seven to one we had our work cut out for us. The Indians rode to the top of a hill where they could fire down on us.
    "Lieutenant Gaston was not only a gentleman and an officer but he was brave as a lion. He charged the hill and lost his horse with a bullet through him and got wounded himself, but he drove the Indians before him. The Indians tried to take the hill but he and his men held it until we got the pack train up. We unpacked the howitzer and fired a couple of shots at the Indians. It drove them back but they attacked from the other side. We mounted and pressed forward. The Indians would lie in the grass and fire and then jump on their horses and go to the rear to load. Our companies took turns acting as rear guard. We would charge back into the Indians and then gallop after the rest. We got to the top of a hill near Pine Creek.
    "Sergeant Williams and 10 men were left as a rear guard to keep the Indians from cutting off the pack train. Sergeant Williams was struck by a bullet that shattered his thigh bone. His men wanted to rejoin the command, but he told them they were there to protect the rest of the command and to stay until they were all killed if necessary. When the pack train joined the advance guard Williams and his men fell back slowly. Lieutenant Gaston and Taylor kept charging back into the Indians. My troop was acting as rear guard, one-half the company being on one side of the creek and the other half on the opposite side.
    "I couldn't help watching Captain Taylor. He had a fiery little blooded horse. The horse seemed to enjoy the fight as much as its rider. Captain Taylor would ride back a couple of hundred yards at a bunch of Indians and fire his revolver when he was almost into them. I saw three Indians ride ahead and hide in a clump of brush. I called out: 'Captain Taylor, look out for that brush. Three Indians are waiting there to kill you.' He waved his hand and called out: 'The Indians can't hit anything. I'll go and run them out of the brush.' He galloped up to it to run them out of it and one of them shot him through the neck.
    "E troop under Lieutenant Gaston was armed with yager rifled guns. After shooting four or five times you had to clean the gun or the bullet would stick in the barrel. They also had six-shooters. When their guns became useless they fell back on their six-shooters. In the charges the six-shooters were soon empty. Gaston sent word to Colonel Steptoe to have the trumpeter sound the halt so his men could reload their six-shooters. It is impossible to load the six chambers of a six-shooter with powder and ball while your horse is dancing around with you. Colonel Steptoe sent back word it would be inadvisable to halt. A moment later Lieutenant Gaston was shot and fell. Not a man in his troop had a load in his gun. They fell back and the Indians rushed forward and secured Gaston's body. Colonel Steptoe then ordered a halt."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 15, 1915, page 4

By Fred Lockley
    Michael Kinny, a survivor of the battle of Tohotonimme fought by Colonel Steptoe's command of 158 men against 900 Spokanes, Coeur d'Alenes and Palouses in 1858, is one of the pioneer residents of Walla Walla. In telling me of the battle recently he said: "Our little force of about 150 men were moving forward so as to be near the stream. The Indians were trying to prevent us reaching the water and were charging us desperately. Gaston and Gregg had caught the Indians between their charging companies and had inflicted heavy losses, which seemed to fill the Indians with fury. They wanted revenge for the loss of several of their chiefs and a number of their braves. They rushed our near guard, killing Captain Taylor, the commander of my company, C troop of the First Dragoons, and Lieutenant Gaston of E troop of the First Dragoons. When Captain Taylor fell, shot through the neck, the Indians with exultant war whoops charged down to get his body. A Frenchman of our troop, Victor DeMoy, with some troopers of E troop kept the Indians at bay with clubbed muskets while Francis Poisell and a couple of our troopers carried him to where the pack horses were on the summit of the hill.
    "Colonel Steptoe ordered the packs taken from the pack horses and used to form a barricade around the edge of the hill.
    "Captain Taylor soon died and Lieutenant James Wheeler ordered me to take a detail of three men and bury him. We only had one short-handled spade in the whole command, so taking turns with this, we dug a grave in a ravine toward the head of the hill. Many of our men were recruits, and this was their first fight. They would not scatter out as skirmishers, but would bunch up for company and protection. The Indians charged us as we were digging Captain Taylor's grave. My three recruits broke and ran. I called them back. One of them was an Irishman named Lynch. I told him he was no Irishman to run like that and if he did it again I hoped he would get shot. Again the Indians charged us, and again my three men ran and sure enough Lynch got shot. I made them come back and they stayed with their job till Captain Taylor was decently buried. He was the only one of our killed we had a chance to bury.
    "Our men were getting badly used up and our surgeon, Doctor Randolph, had his hands full taking care of the wounded being brought in. Word came from many of the men that their 40 rounds had been shot, so the packmaster was ordered to go to the packs and secure a case or more of the paper-wrapped ball cartridges for distribution to the men. After a time he returned and reported there was no ammunition in any of the packs. By oversight he had left it when packing up at Walla Walla. It was the middle of the afternoon and the Indians were apt to rush us at any moment and we were out of ammunition.
    "Lieutenant Wheeler said: 'Sergeant Hall and Corporal Kinny, go and get all the ammunition the men have and bring it here.' We found some of the men with their last round in their guns, others without any and some with a dozen or more rounds. Lieutenant Wheeler counted it out. There were three rounds for each man and six cartridges over. We distributed it to the men, telling them not to shoot unless the Indians charged, and the six extra rounds we gave to the advance guard. Once the Indians started to carry the hill by storm, but the men waited till they were close and then gave them a volley right in their faces, so they fell back.
    "Toward evening the Indian chiefs called their men off to a distance where they held a council. Colonel Steptoe had us prepare for a night attack. Captain Winder and Lieutenant Gregg thought we could get away in the darkness, but it was 75 miles to the Snake River and Colonel Steptoe saw no use in abandoning a good position to be caught in a trap further on and slaughtered. The other officers urged Colonel Steptoe to make a dash for it as some might escape while, if we stayed, we were all sure to be killed. Colonel Steptoe at last consented. The thing that broke his heart was leaving our two howitzers.
    "We had some Nez Perce Indians with us, among them Timothy and Levi. They volunteered to go and find where the Indians were and find a way through if possible. I was told to take six men and go toward the Indian fires to see if the fires were a mere ruse or if Indians were there. We went to within a couple of hundred yards and I told the men to stop there and I would crawl the rest of the way and investigate. I was in my shirtsleeves, so I put my blanket around me so I would look like an Indian. I was gone maybe half an hour. When I came back the men saw me coming with the blanket over my shoulders and Jack Vincent, one of my men, thought I was an Indian and drew a bead on me but Charley Vernon saw him just in time and struck up the barrel of his gun and undoubtedly saved my life."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 18, 1915, page C4

By Fred Lockley
    "My bunkie, Elijah R. Birch, had served with me through the Rogue River war and was with me in the Steptoe fight and retreat," said Michael Kinny of Walla Walla. "He was a Virginian, and a genial, likable fellow. He had been wounded at the battle of Hungry Hill in Southern Oregon, and I had helped fix him up. When we were fighting our way toward the hill where Colonel Steptoe was going to make a stand Birch said, 'Mike, I'm hit.' I said: 'What, again? Where did they get you this time?' He rode ahead to where Surgeon Randolph was and had a flint arrowhead cut out of his side. Fortunately it had struck a rib and had stuck in the bone, so when it was pulled out he was ready to come back to the firing line.
    "While I, with a squad of six men, was out on the skirmish line the night of the battle, Timothy, the Nez Perce chief, had come back and said he had found a way out through the Indians. The whole force silently withdrew. They sent a man to recall us. When we got back to the hill Dr. Randolph and Lieutenant Gregg were tying Sergeant William C. Williams on a horse. His thigh bone was shattered. He said: 'Doctor, it will be only prolonging the agony to try to ride with my broken thigh. I can never make it. For God's sake, kill me or give me something to put me out of my pain.' Dr. Randolph said: 'I can't do it. You must try to stick it out. Even if I knew you were going to die, I couldn't kill you.'
    "As we were starting, a man rode back and said that Crozet of H troop, who had been shot through the spine and had been lashed to a pack horse, had worked loose and had fallen by the side of his horse, and wanted the surgeon to help lash him on so he would be as easy as possible. I left my mount and took a pack horse to ride.
    "We rode away as silent as ghosts. The wounded men were cautioned not to groan or make any noise to let the Indians know we were slipping away from them. Sergeant Williams and Victor DeMoy were badly wounded, and the motion of the horses was unbearable agony to them. They begged to be unlashed from the horses and left by the side of the trail. So they were left on the ground to die in peace.
    "We left the hilltop, guided by Chief Timothy of the Nez Perces, about 10 o'clock Monday night. We rode hard all night and all next day. We struck the Snake River at dusk Tuesday night. We had ridden 80 miles in about 20 hours, and the horses as well as ourselves were all in. Chief Timothy called his young Nez Perce Indians across the river. They brought us boiled salmon and we made some coffee, and then [we] dropped in our tracks and went to sleep. The Nez Perce Indians guarded us all night.
    "Next day the young men and young squaws took us across the river in their canoes and swam our horses across for us. If it had not been for Chief Timothy and Levi and their Nez Perces, not a one of us would have escaped. We had not been gone from the battlefield more than a few hours until the Indians charged the hill. They found our packs and outfit and extra horses, and by the time they had made a division of our plunder to the three different tribes, we were too far away for them to catch us.
    "Wednesday morning the Nez Perces prepared breakfast for us. The Nez Perce Indian courier sent to Walla Walla when we were hemmed in had made the distance of 125 miles to Fort Walla Walla in wonderful time, and Captain Dent, with a detachment of troops, by forced marches met us near Alpowa. He had plenty of provisions and forage, and we filled up on the good old reliable army rations.
    "Chief Lawyer, with some other Nez Perce chiefs, came to our camp with a large number of his warriors in their war paint, and offered to return with our command and give battle to the Spokanes and Coeur d'Alenes. The Nez Perces could muster a large number of warriors, and Chief Lawyer felt sure that our combined forces could whip the hostile Indians. Colonel Steptoe, much to the disappointment of the Nez Perce warriors, decided to go on to Walla Walla, where our wounded could be cared for.
    "Next year, 1859, Colonel Steptoe was given a furlough and went for a visit to his home in Virginia. The Civil War broke his heart entirely. He was a Virginian and loved his state, but he loved his country more; so he took the side of the government and remained with the Union. He died April 16, 1865, at Lynchburg, Va.
    "Our captain, O. H. P. Taylor, who was killed and buried on Steptoe Butte, had seen service in Oregon. He served for a time at Fort Lane in Southern Oregon, and later at Fort Yamhill. It was a sad time when we got back to Walla Walla, for Mrs. Taylor and her two children were there, and we were not able to give her the poor satisfaction of even bringing her husband's body back to her. Captain Taylor had been married only five years when he was killed. He married a girl from
Kentucky, a very charming young woman."
Oregon Journal,
Portland, May 17, 1915, page 4

Purchaser of Valuable Land, for Rifle, Is Dead
    WALLA WALLA, Wash., Oct. 28.--Michael Kinny, aged 89, died here last night. Kinny was the last survivor of the famous Steptoe expedition against the Indians in 1857 [sic].
    He bought property from a gold prospector for a rifle. The lots are now in the heart of the business section here.
Alaska Daily Empire, Juneau, October 28, 1921, page 1

Last revised November 16, 2023