1878 Bannock War and Chief Buffalo Horn

By rebelling against the United States military, Chief Buffalo Horn took initiative in improving the livelihood of the Bannocks after their relocation to the Fort Hall Reservation. Although his death did not immediately end the war, the Bannocks eventually returned to the reservation, forced to deal with confinement and limited resources.

The first Bannock War against the United States military occurred in 1878. With close ties to the Shoshones, groups of Bannocks and Paiutes joined together to oppose confinement at Fort Hall in southern Idaho. Reasons for action included limited agricultural opportunities, lack of promised supplies, and discontent with their treatment by the American military.

The Bannocks and Shoshones exhibited friendship toward Americans during the fur trade in the first half of the 19th century. Relations turned sour when the fur trade declined and increasing numbers of permanent American settlers encroached upon tribal homelands and consumed native resources without compensation. Additionally, as native peoples’ land and resources diminished, so did their ability to maintain independence. During the 1860s, treaties held at Fort Bridger and Box Elder in 1863 and 1868 relocated indigenous people to the Fort Hall reservation.

Although the U.S. government required that the Bannocks remain on the reservation, in the summer of 1877, many natives left the territorial limits dissatisfied with their current situation. Despite threats of military involvement, the Bannock rebellion and subsequent war quickly commenced in May 1878, perhaps because the Bannocks felt that the United States had failed to fulfill treaty obligations.

Bannock leader Chief Buffalo Horn mobilized several hundred Bannocks, adding additional Paiute allies to augment their numbers. These warriors engaged in a sequence of attacks along the Snake River, raiding settlements and even killing some settlers who opposed them. Word reached American leadership in Boise, who called upon military action to force Chief Buffalo Horn’s men to surrender. In early June, Chief Buffalo Horn and his accompanying warriors briefly fought against a small volunteer group of militiamen, resulting in a few casualties, including the fatality of Chief Buffalo Horn. Chief Egan took his place until the Umatilla people, posing as allies, killed him to collect an alleged bounty reward offered by the United States.

The remaining Bannocks separated into smaller groups or surrendered and returned to Fort Hall by August 1878. Following this resolution, the U.S. government carefully monitored Bannock movement within the reservation, limiting their use of local resources and interactions with local native groups. As a result of their surrender, the Bannocks conceded to rebuilding their livelihood on the allotted territory on the Fort Hall reservation.



Attack By the Umatilla Indians Upon Hostile Snakestif / 12.80 MB Download


The location on the map is that of the historical marker for the bannock war near Fairfield, Idaho.