This is the first in a two-part series looking into the history of Paiute Chief Paulina and exploring how that history is told from both the written historical perspective and the Native American historical perspective.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years of doing “Little Did I Know” is that when it comes to the state of Oregon, the indigenous people and the 1800s — who the good guys were depends on what kind of spectacles you were wearing.
For example, John Fremont, Kit Carson and their crew mistook a Native tribe for would-be attackers and killed somewhere between 150 and 700 innocent people in an event called the Sacramento River Massacre.
The famous John Day and his companion were beaten, stripped naked and left for dead by a Native attack party at the confluence of the Columbia and what is now the John Day River because they were the same skin color as some men who had attacked the Native camp. They fell victim to a case of mistaken identity.
So when I first looked into the history of Chief Paulina, I wasn’t surprised to find out that who you think Chief Paulina was kind of depends on what side of the fencepost you’re sitting on.
In this part of the story, we’re taking a look at Chief Paulina from a non-Native, written historical perspective. For that, we go to Kelly Cannon Miller at the Deschutes Historical Society.
“So from 1864 to 1868, coming out of the Civil War, you have a very bloody campaign against these various tribes that are loosely conglomerated together in guerrilla warfare against the United States Army and settlers, as well as some other Indian tribes, specifically the Warm Springs,” Miller said.
More settlers began migrating into their lands and it pushed the Paiute people into conditions that were so intolerable, that Chief Paulina began taking what he needed by force — even from other native tribes. Until, one day, some U.S. soldiers executed a mission.
“That ends up successfully capturing Paulina’s wife and child, as well as other members of his group. And this forces Paulina to the negotiations table, and he does sign a treaty in 1864 and agrees to go to the Klamath Indian Reservation,” Miller said.
Life on the reservation was not what Paulina expected.
“By 1866, he’s done with it. This is not his homeland. And that that’s part of the difficulty of this time period is that you have tribal members who are being lifted out of their homelands and put on reservations. There were other tribes’ homelands,” Miller said.
Paulina went back to his old ways, living off the land but also taking what he needed from the settlers by force. And his reputation began to spread like wildfire.
“September 15, 1866, he and his band attack the ranch of James Clark by where Bridge Creek and John Day meet. Pretty much wipes James Clark’s ranch out. Burns the house, burns his hay and oats and barley. Steals horses, steals cattle. Pretty devastating. Clark’s wife isn’t at home and they’re not at home. They’re on the property,” Miller said. “Paulina sees them, gives chase, but they get away.”
And that’s when Paulina’s luck ran out.
“Clark does form a posse intent on trying to recover some of his property. And among his posse is Howard Maupin. And they keep continually searching for Paulina. And that next spring they find Paulina’s party encamped near Ashwood, Oregon, in northeast Jefferson County and attack and shoot and kill Paulina,” Miller said.
Howard Maupin actually had Chief Paulina scalped. And history at the time did not look favorably on the young chief.
“And so over time, he’s portrayed as a very ruthless, brutal, guerrilla tactics leader who killed a lot of people and destroyed a lot of property,” Miller said.
“From the flip side of that, he was a resistance fighter. He was fighting against being confined to a reservation and the loss of his traditional way of life. And that’s the controversial rub of that kind of history. And both things are true.”
Over the years, a lot has changed on how we view the actions that were taken during those violent times. Most historians view the written history from that time in the context of the time it was written.
Coming in Part 2 on Oct. 20: As we seek to understand and give reverence to the other side of the story, we’ll introduce you to Wilson Wewa, the Warm Spring’s Paiute Tribe’s oral historian and a descendant of Chief Paulina.