The Last Indian Battle

The Last Indian Battle in the United States was a sad little affair, a microcosm of the tragic genocide that rid the West of Indians. On one side was a band of 15 Indians, Bannocks probably, who simply wanted to be left alone to live the old ways. Mike Daggett was perhaps 65 years old and led the band as they hunted for game in the forests, dug camas bulbs for meal, harvested pinon nuts, and lived off the ever more grudging bounty of the land. Life was hard, but better, Mike and his followers felt, than life on the reservation.

Falsely accused of murdering a white man, Mike's band was hunted and hounded out of their home range in Southwestern Idaho and Northeastern Nevada to a hiding place in the rimrock above the Little High Rock Canyon. There, in the coldest Nevada winter then on record, the hungry Paiutes killed a few cattle to avoid starvation. When a stockmen and three sheepherders rode out from Denio Camp one morning to investigate, the Indians killed them in an act of desperation and stacked their bodies in the frozen creek bed to be blanketed with snow until Spring.

On the other side stood a hard-nosed lawman, a vengeful brother, and a posse of buckaroos and misfits clutching at their last chance to participate in the great Indian Wars and get themselves a "Trophy Injun." They had no desire to take the renegades into custody, only to slaughter them to the last man. And that they did at Rabbit Creek wash north of Golconda.

Well-researched, fascinating, and marvelously poetic is the account contained in Dayton O. Hyde's The Last Free Man, The True Story Behind the Massacre of Shoshone Mike and His Band of Indians in 1911 (Dial Press, 1973). Frank Bergon also wrote a novel based on the incident entitled Shoshone Mike (Penguin Books, 1987). Both describe the last whimper in the clash of cultures as the traditional Native American way of life was finally crushed beneath the wheel of Western greed and conquest.

Dayton Hyde writes of the final battle site at Rabbit Creek wash, where no Boy Scout bothered to erect a plaque, the following:

"When I stand at that lonely site--that forgotten battleground amidst the wild, unchanging sagebrush desert northeast of Winnemucca--armed with perspective, there are scenes that haunt me. I see the little family of Indians, the last holdouts of their culture, stumbling in near-exhaustion down the snowy wash. The hooves of their unshod horses are worn to the quick, bleeding crimson snowberries into the remnant snows. The feet of children and adults are wrapped with sagebrush bark and rags against the cold. The faces of all are haunted with sadness, their cheeks hollow and eyes dull with malnutrition. I see no hero makers here.

"Their weapons are laughable. Only the thirty-eight Savage automatic taken from Cambron's body, and in Jim's possession, can be termed 'modern,' and there may well be only one cartridge left for it. Mike has a forty-fifty-two Henry black powder, while another of the boys has an ancient Colt cap and ball. The shotgun in their possession is a black powder blunderbuss that shoots a charge of small rocks or anything that would fit down the barrel.

"These against a posse equipped with new, high-velocity repeating rifles and sidearms. There are only four able-bodied men--Jim, Eat-em-up Jake, Catchum Charlie, and Mike--fighting for their lives against twenty. But they are Bannocks, and ready to die like Bannocks. A cornered wolf does not surrender while there is breath in his body, nor does a corraled mustang stallion."

Return to "Shoshone Mike's Stronghold"