Dave Sandersfeld

Dayville, United States

Dave Sandersfeld start his career in 1970 as a US Forest Service “Wilderness Ranger” in the Frank Church/River of No Return...

Oregon has a 150 year birth Anniversary in 2009.

I was ask to write and overview of Oregon yesterday and today? I thought I’’d share a draft for those wondering about Oregon.

Arnold Pratt of Seneca, Oregon once told me, “I wish I had a million acres of sagebrush; so I could simply burn it.”
New comers to Oregon too may puzzle about sagebrush’s worth driving around the gray, not green, Eastern side of Oregon. It is a key habitat plant for our pronghorn antelope herds and native Sage grouse families. Nothing else, it protects our valuable top soils from washing or blowing away!

However, it is something Oregonians get used to and actually become fond of over time. The author has distinct, instant, memories or flashback of wonderful childhood wanderings through the green gray rows exploring – triggered now simply by driving through the pungent smell of sagebrush during the rain.
There is no doubt that sagebrush is considered the bastard of the family of colorful Oregon landscape plants; but as native Oregonians, you make the best of bad situations – even good memories of sagebrush. Undoubtedly, like Oregon Oysters on the West-side, East-Side Sagebrush is an acquired taste!
However, some of us have stronger associations with sagebrush than others. For example those that live and work out amongst the sagebrush all day long have stronger appreciation or affection for the spicy sagebrush than those who merely look at it out a closed window driving by or in a store during the day today.
Rugged, early Eastern Oregon pioneer families had to live amongst this aromatic stuff – hunting, clearing land for ranching or farming and even build fires out of it in their homes at night; but no one has bigger bragging rights about living with sagebrush than those of the little known Oregon First Cavalry volunteers between 1860 and 1865.

Here is a brief story of their legacy for us today!
Oregon in 1860s was a troubled landscape or populated state influx.
For at least 10,000 years, native people in tribal communities wandered through Oregon’s woods and sagebrush in a search of ways to feed their families and build a notable culture based upon total freedom and living off the land.

However, in 1840s the OREGON TRAIL ROUTE was established and promoted and Eastern farmers, ranchers and store-owners started traveling west looking for adventure, freedom and cheap lands and a better life – from urban areas in the colonies.
History is full of these cultural clashes and everyone loses and wins to some degree in these dramatic historical shifts of land policy. Unfortunately, instigators and innocent people often get killed during arguments or miss-understanding?
Oregon was admitted to the Union of United States on February 14th, 1859 and the 33rd star was added to the American flag officially on July 4th 1859 in Washington D.C.!
By 1860, the eastern colonial states debated (North versus South) over the existence of the right to have slaves in the United States of America! Officially, on April 12th, 1861, The U.S. FEDERAL Fort Sumter was attacked by southern pro-slavery troops starting the “War between the States.”
Newly elected President Abraham Lincoln was just settling into his new office January of 1861 when he had to declare against the southern state militias attacking the United States.
Thus, all federal U.S. Cavalry Troops were pulled back East from the duty of protecting Oregon Trail Wagon Trains from robbers, outlaws and ruffians!
Oregon had reservations already set up by 1850s for peace-loving tribal families wanting to learn farming and more eastern tranquil skills; but many young native braves did not relish suddenly growing corn for a new way of a sedentary life. They preferred to wander the drainages in search of food; as their immediate ancestors had taught them to make a living and do rather well for their families!
With the promised U.S. Federal Cavalry being pulled from Oregon to back East, The new “Oregon” Legislature o.k.’s a new volunteer OREGON FIRST CAVALRY!
Captain George B. Currey (U.S. Cavalry retired) printed a poster on October 19th, 1861 posted all around Oregon communities back then:
These largely, new pioneer volunteers were promised $31 a month and a $100 cash-out and a land grant in Oregon for their service to the United States. They had to have their own horse and report to Fort Dalles for sign-up in summer of 1862!
There are several diaries still around from actual members of the Oregon First Cavalry.
Captain George B. Currey has one and so does Captain John M. Drake, in my possession. The author has one smaller and more candid and personable diary by Second Lieutenant John F. Noble that we will use excerpt from as a time capsule for the Oregon First Cavalry legacy.
According to the fore-mentioned Captain John M. Drake’s diary (page 15), John F. Noble was born in 1828 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. According to Drake’s Diary, Noble first came to Oregon in 1849 as a civilian part of an elite military “Mounted Rifle Regiment”- attached to the U.S. Cavalry. The 1850s were tough for Nobles. He was listed as an army quartermaster at Fort Vancouver and Fort Dalles; “and for a time was an Indian Agent for the Washington Territory” near Yakima, Washington. He also was also engaged in a cattle ranching enterprise until the Yakima Indian War in 1855 put an end to his herd!
The Oregon First Cavalry’s land grant and $100 gave him and his family of four a chance at a new start! However, as we shall see, Noble left the Indian fighting side soon after the one battle with the ‘Indians” that cost a friend named LT. Watson’s life.
Still, he served with the Drake Expedition from 1864 to 1866 stationed at Camp Watson and Fort Walla Walla until he mustered out in 1866.
For some reason, the dream of an Oregon First Cavalry was slow to take form. The “Calls to Arms” poster was published in October of 1861; but Brigadier General Benjamin Alvord was not put in charge of the “Military District of Oregon” until spring of 1864?
This “Military District’ basically meant the “Indian country” of all Eastern Oregon and particularly south of the Blue mountains (John Day, today). Most Oregon native Indians were peaceful; but a small mobile, renegade band of young men and families, under Chief Paulina, called “SNAKE Indians” were burning homesteads, attacking wagons and robbing Canyon City Road Travelers.
Captain George B. Currey was in charge of one segment of the Oregon First Cavalry stationed in Fort Walla Walla protecting Oregon Trail travelers and Captain John M. Drake was in charge of a segment outfitted out of Fort Dalles. The Dalles group of the Oregon First Cavalry’s charge mainly consisted of safeguarding the Goldmines in John Day and the Canyon City Road bringing gold and people back to the Dalles.
Here we will pick up the actual Oregon First Cavalry story from an actual Oregon First Cavalryman Second Lieutenant John F. Noble’s Diary:
20th of April, 1864: The Command left Fort Dalles @ 9a.m.; but as Officer of the Day, I left Fort Dalles at 2p.m. with rear guard and wagons. Made 6 miles today and camped on 5-mile creek.
22nd of April, 1864: Been Officer of day for two days and stuck with rear guard. Lay in camp awaiting more wagons, much trouble with transportation, also able to turn over beef cattle responsibility to young LT. Robinson. Very hot-windy and dusty – a volunteer taken with measles. Very tiring – arrange transport back to Fort Dalles of sickly.
Saturday, April 23rd, 1864: left Camp at 6:30 A.M, I marched at the middle of column –very dusty – camped on Mud Flat, no wood, water good. Distance 17 miles. Some confusion about roads – Joe Meek’s road come in here? Wagons come in very late; another man came down with “Hull’ at this camp.

Sunday, April 24th, 1864: I was in advance, left camp at 5:30 a.m. Camped at Hay Stack Valley – traveled 12 miles. Wrote to Mrs. Noble from here.
Tuesday, April 26th, 1864: Gave letter to Mrs. Noble for express heading back to Fort Dalles. Left 5:30a.m. road-rough –saw 8 Cascades Mountains at one time (He lists them in margins, as Rainier, Hood, Three Sisters, Jefferson, St. Helens and Adams.) half mile before reaching camp at Cross Hollows. The road from Tygh Valley comes in here @ Old Trader “Biffeles” camp. Here we leave Canyon City Road which turns south-east. Our road diverges south from here.
Thursday, April 28th, 1864: Left at 5:30 a.m. Road very rough and rocky, distance 12miles. Camped at old cabin at Trout Creek. The express from Dalles arrived, the papers were very acceptable. Cayuse George shot antelope yesterday and feast today! I also went fishing with “greenfly” and caught a fine mess of trout! In evening, Lieutenant Stephen Watson and others from Warm Springs Indian Reservation arrived with scouts and trackers for our mission ahead.
Monday, May 2nd, 1864: Wagon trains sent to follow Lt. Watson to Deschutes River crossing and Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Meanwhile, teamsters busy making roads & bridges ahead. Met Stock-whitley, chief of our 12 Indian guides as they road horseback single file into encampment singing war songs.
Tuesday, May 10th, 1864: Left camp at 5 a.m. Morning very cold, traveled 12 miles to Cotton wood Creek. Climbing a Blue Mountain ridge that parallels the Canyon City Road heading to John Day. The assent gradual – somewhat soft in places & sidling for wagons. The desert rather steep and somewhat abrupt at first – road requires some working to let the teams pass – upset one wagon – no damage after getting down the valley – spread out – and was very pretty – the balance the road good but miry. The road still very dusty and dry in other parts, very windy day.
Thursday May 12th, 1864: Left Camp @5:30a.m. and took up the canyon – the road very stony & rough and much washed out in many places & had to be worked…then we struck the “Crooked River”. Here we have to make the crossing – the banks very steep. Hard trip & broke one wagon. Distance 15.5 miles.
Friday, May 13th, 1864: Left at 5:30a.m. Wagons got off from other side of river 6:30a.m. Pack Train left at 7:45 a.m. Made four crossings of Crooked River – the banks miry & steep –each had to be worked and brushed. The must have been a very big freshet in 1860 – as the washing of banks are very great. Two mules mired and saved. Commenced raining in the evening with thunder & lightning – stopped about 11 p.m. Camped at place called “Wah-pass” by the Indians, meaning separation of waters as the little creek that comes in here separates into several branches. Distance 6 miles.
About 9 p.m. the horses stampeded by thunder! 52 head and one mule. Captain Small took a party in rapid pursuit!
Saturday, May 14th, 1864: Stayed in Camp rounding up horses. The country so bad to travel over, I never travelled over a worse country. I struck the trail where the main band of horses left the road & struck up a very steep, long, rocky gulch – in places almost perpendicular. I and Indians struck up this place, we were compelled to pull each other up- & then haul our horses up – I had thought at times I would lose my horse also. It would have been thought impossible for horses to have made the assent!
Later, we learned how stampede started last night. The night Horse Guard tied his horse’s pickett to a sage brush root and a clap of thunder bolted the horse into the air jerking the sagebrush out of the ground. All was fine until that horse realized he had something following him or the sagebrush tied to him. This horse took off running trying to out run his green-grey sagebrush nemesis following close behind – bouncing around all the while. The other horses and a mule seen the poor horse coming, with a green-grey banshee following him, and all took off to out running this one scared horse with a follower!
Tonight, we found most of our horses badly broken down conditions; but still missing three horses – two being Captain Drake’s!
Sunday, May 15th, 1864: Stayed in Camp 15 looking for Captain’s horses. Several parties started out again at dawn. It started raining around 2 p.m. and obliterated any signs of horse tracks. Saw 5 fine large deer – no time to hunt. So headed back to camp. Lt. Stephen Watson had found the three lost horses and Captain happier. Earlier, Drake told Captain Small to not come back without his horses! They tied up all horses starting tonight!
Monday May 16th, 1864: Left at 5:45 a.m. traveling 6 miles along bottom lands up Crooked River for next Camp 16. Raining all day –road soft & miry. Saw ducks, geese and sage hens today and found large petrified tree – think it is juniper? Found a dead horse shod (American) killed by Snake Indians.
Tuesday, May 17th, 1864: Left Camp at 5:30 a.m. Traveled bottom lands 7 or 8 miles, made 3 crossings of Crooked river – last crossing bad. Camped at forks of “Tuch-chee’ or willowed creek & Crooked River. One scouting party discovered the tracks of a host of Indians as reaching camp. OFFICER OF THE DAY this evening – relieving Lt. Watson.
Around 7 p.m., Warm Springs Indian Reservation Indian scouts reported finding hostile Snake Indian camp on ridges above. Lieutenants J.MCall and Stephen Watson left camp with 30 men in a north-easterly direction. Ten friendly Indians under Chief Stock-whitley and Cayuse George and a citizen named Barker joined the command unit in pursuit.
The night fine, all were anxious to join the Command. They left at 10 p.m. Horses all tied up all night!
Wednesday May18th, 1864: Rest of command left camp at 6:15 and Rear Guard at 7:45 a.m. (as all were out & watching for hostile Indians)! About 2.5 miles from camp at the mouth of a canyon, Captain Drake was given a message from a rider saying Lt. McCall requests re-enforcements and a wagon for injured in battle. Lt. Watson, Chief Stock-whitley were killed in a dawn raid.
Captain Drake and Small and 40 men of company G headed up to help Lt. McCall in battle; and I was told to return to camp with most wagons and prepare portable meals for troops in battle.
For Brevity’s sake, I’ll leave out the historic details of this Battle that occurred near the modern day “Sabre Ridge” above Paulina, Oregon.
I want to leave you with Lt. John F Noble’s Diary – thoughts about his friend and co-worker Lt. Stephen Watson – dated THURSDAY, MAY19 TH, 1864:
“I gave little thought when I relieved him as Officer of the Day on the 17th that I would have to have his grave dug – and command his funeral escort on the 18th – but such is Life! He was my warm & intimate friend – he was to have been left in charge of this our Depot; but he, poor fellow, now rests here – and perchance may never leave it until the Last Reveille warns him to appear before his God. But such is a soldier’s lot.”
Remember, OREGONIANS, as you’re driving to work in the rain today or stomach grumbles awaiting a lunch break, how tough the days were for the Oregon First Cavalry & Pioneer families camping out continuously in nature. At least, the Cavalry men where guaranteed $31 a month?
Times are much better 150 years later. Make it a great day. :o}}}}}!

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