In 1876, a particular concern of the settlers of the Grande Ronde Valley region (east of the Cascade mountains in the Oregon Territory) was the Bannock Indian uprising. It was feared that the Bannock tribe, which had a hostile relationship with settlers and emigrants in the Snake River region of southern Idaho, would move northward to attack settlers the Grande Ronde Valley. Two scouting parties, known as the Blue Mountain Rangers, were sent out in the mid-July, one by way of the Meacham road and the other up the Thomas and Ruckles route. They found no sign of the Bannocks on the east side of the mountains. The Bannocks had gone westward through the John Day country before coming into the Umatilla area, instead of by way of the Grande Ronde.
On July 12, 1876, four freight haulers were attacked and killed near west of present day Meacham, Oregon, the only victims of the Indian uprising at this time from the Union County region. All of their supplies and animals were taken. The men who were killed were: James Myres, Olney J.P. McCoy, Charles McLoughlin, and Thomas Smith.
This area, then called Crawford Hill, became known as “Dead Man’s Gulch” or “Dead Man’s Pass.”
The Bannock uprising, after several skirmishes that left dead and wounded settlers and Indians and the slaughter of animals and destruction of buildings, ended when they could not interest the Umatilla tribe to join them.
George Coggan, a La Grande resident,was killed on the Umatilla Indian Reservation on the same day. Three young Umatilla Indians were later executed for his murder, but it was never proven that they were part of the same group which had killed the freight haulers (who were thought to have been Bannock or Paiute warriors.)
Today, at the east bound rest area on I-84 near this location, you can see a section of the Oregon Trail. The traces that remain are a series of ruts and scars left by the passing of the emigrants’ wagons. Topographically, this was one of the most dangerous spots along the Oregon Trail. In the summer months it’s a beautiful place to have a chance to “step back in time”, and to be amazed and wonder at the determination of the pioneers to get their wagons over the Blue Mountains.
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