More What’s in a Name!
|The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the young United States of America. The land had been occupied for centuries by Native American tribes but white settlers began to immigrate, many of them via the Oregon Trail. There were inevitable cultural clashes between the two groups, some violent. The U.S. government sent in the Calvary.
Some U.S. soldiers listed were stationed in Harney County and their presence is referenced by geographic locations. Other camps and landforms were named in honor of military personnel who never visited Oregon territory.
Wright was a career military man and West Point graduate, involved with skirmishes with northwest tribes but never visited Harney County. He was put in command of “The Department of Oregon” which encompassed now Washington state and most of Oregon. During the Civil War he was moved to southern California to protect frontier settlers, monitor secessionists and keep the coast secure. He and his wife were aboard a steamboat to transport them to his next command, the Department of Columbia (the present states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of California) when the boat sank. Wright and his wife both died.
Camp Wright and Wright’s Point were named in his honor. Camp Wright was also called Adobe Camp because it was constructed of Sod.
|Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, 1807-1862
Like Wright, Smith made the military his career and also like Wright, never visited Harney County. He traveled extensively in the new western territory (what was later states of Minnesota and Utah) and participated in the Mexican-American war. Unlike Wright, Smith saw battle in the Civil War where he distinguished himself. For a time, he was a West Point instructor and had U.S. Grant as a student. Later Grant became his superior officer and Smith responded with loyalty and selflessness. A leg injury led to an infection that (along with chronic dysentery) caused his untimely death.
Camp D.F. Smith was named in his honor. It was located just above Whitehorse Creek
|Colonel George B. Currey, 1833-1906
Pioneer, lawyer, soldier, farmer, editor. He was a lawyer in Eugene, Oregon prior to his military service. He served in the territorial forces during the Rogue Indian War and remained with the Union army during the Civil War monitoring the Oregon territory.
He began winter campaigns against the Snake Indians, sending detachments to establish camps in eastern Oregon. He left the army and George Crook assumed the campaign. Curry relocated his law practice to Salem. He farmed in Lafayette, and later moved to eastern Oregon, returning to law practice in Canyon City. He died in LaGrande.
Camp Currey (named for him), was located on Silver Creek near Indian Springs. The location may have the remains of two or three soldiers.
|Major General W.S. Harney, 1800-1889
Harney was a controversial figure. He served dutifully under Andrew Jackson, yet was court martialed during the Mexico-American conflict. He was relieved of duties during the Civil War because of his Confederate sympathies, yet worked to keep Missouri from joining the secessionists. He may have beaten a slave woman to death. Following the Civil War, he served on the Indian Peace Commission. He was both known as “the man who keeps his word” and “woman killer” because while he did adhere to treaties between the U.S. and tribes, upon his order troops fired cannons into a cave thinking there were warriors inside but instead were women and children seeking shelter.
He was also involved in a war over a pig.
On June 15, 1859, American farmer Lyman Cutlar found a pig rooting and destroying his garden, located on San Juan Island. The island was disputed property between the U.S. and Britain and citizens from both countries lived there. The pig was owned by an Irishman named Griffin, who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company to run a sheep ranch. Since this wasn’t the first time the pig had trespassed, Cutlar shot and killed the pig. He offered to compensate Griffin for the pig. Griffin thought the amount paltry and demanded more.
“Following this reply, Cutlar believed he should not have to pay for the pig because the pig had been trespassing on his land. One likely apocryphal account has Cutlar saying to Griffin, ‘It was eating my potatoes’; and Griffin replying, ‘It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.'”
Cutlar was threatened with arrest and asked for U.S. military protection. Here is where General William S. Harney comes in. Harney had a temper and was not known for diplomacy. He dispatched Captain George Pickett (later a Confederate soldier) and 65 American soldiers to prevent British troops from arresting Cutlar. Things escalated quickly and soon 500 military personnel were on the island.
Eventually leaders from both sides realized a war about a pig was just…silly. For 12 years a truce was held and the island was occupied by both U.S. and British soldiers. International arbitration settled the matter. Thankfully the only blood shed was the pig’s.
Harney County, Harney Lake, Fort Harney, etc. were named for him.
|Brevet Captain William Horace Warner, 1812-1849
A brevet is an upgrade in rank during or immediately following a military action, though it did not often translate into a pay raise. Several of the men listed here received brevet promotions.
Warner served the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, surveying and mapping areas of northeastern California and southeastern Oregon. It was during a survey that began in California’s Goose Lake Valley that the group he commanded split up to cover ground. Warner’s party was attacked by Indians four miles south of the state border (the exact location is unknown). He and the guide were immediately killed and two others injured. Warner’s body was never recovered.
|Beaty’s Butte was named for a Sergeant A.M. Beaty who served with Lt. Colonel Charles S. Drew. It is not known why the butte was named for him and we were unable to locate a photograph of the man.|
|Lt. Colonel Enoch Steen, 1800-1880
The man with the bad hair day in the photo is Enoch Steen. Yes, THAT Steen. Born in Kentucky in 1800, raised on the Missouri frontier, he was a woodsman, hunter, surveyor, and soldier. He explored areas unknown to white settlers in present day Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Oregon and held commands in New York and present-day Washington, Arizona, and Colorado.
Steens and his Calvary outfit were in Central Oregon when they received word that Captain Andrew Smith and his survey party were attacked by Native Americans north of Harney Lake. Steen and his group came to their aid. While in what is now Harney County, Steen explored areas of the Donner und Blitzen River and skirmished with a band of Paiutes.
Steens Mountain was first known to the area settlers as Snow Mountain, because…well, it had snow on it. After Steens and his men crossed the mountain in pursuit of the Paiutes it became known as Steens Mountain—no info as to who instituted the change.
Steens was given command of Fort Walla Walla when the Civil War broke out. Though raised as a southerner, he served the Union army. His son Alexander Early Steen was a Brigadier General for the Confederacy, which could have made family reunions awkward had he survived.
After retiring from the Army, Steens returned to Missouri where he died in 1880. It’s nice when landmarks are named for you if the spelling is correct. Steens Mountain, Oregon (incorrect grammar) and Steen’s Butte, Colorado are named for him, but so were Steins Pillar in Central Oregon and Steins Mountain, Steins Creek and Steins (now a ghost town)–all in New Mexico. Somewhere someone incorrectly wrote his name and the rest is history.
|Brigadier General Benjamin Alvord, 1813-1884
Old photos can be deceptive. Subjects had to remain still for long periods of time, and a solemn face was the best expression. Because of this, many of us think pioneers, Native Americans, and soldiers of the time were humorless or didn’t have much of a personality.
What do you think this man was like? This is a Matthew Brady photograph of Brigadier General Benjamin Alvord, for whom the desert and peak are named. He appears stoic and brave, but he was much more. He was a mathematical genius (particularly in geometric designs) and born teacher, curious of the world around him. He was a botanist and writer.
From a tribute: “His moral beauty of character surpassed his intellectual. Everyone who knew him in social life respected and loved him, so genial was his humanity and so broad his charity. Abounding in sympathy, benevolence, and kindness to his fellows, he was necessarily tolerant of their infirmities. Though he was in temper as gentle as a child and in manner as modest as a maiden, it was not from weakness, as those best knew who met him in debate or upon the battlefield. Always considerate of others, he was most exacting to himself, manfully bearing his own burdens, which he never sought to cast upon other shoulders. In fine, Alvord was a most useful officer, a sterling patriot, a devoted husband and father, a generous and tender-hearted friend, and a thorough Christian gentleman.”
Camp Alvord was also named in his honor. It was located at the base of Steens Mountain.
Major General Oliver Otis Howard, 1830-1909
Howard Valley (and possibly Howard Point and Little Howard Spring) in Harney County is named for this man: Oliver Otis Howard. He fought in several Civil War battles (First Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg among others). He lost his arm in The Battle of Seven Pines and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Howard attempted but didn’t always succeed in making changes to Southern culture and economy during Reconstruction. He took steps to ensure freedmen were paid wages when they worked at old plantations and promoted voting rights and education. Howard University, as well as a high school and technology school are named for him, as is Howard, Kansas and Howard County, Nebraska.