Chief Paulina, master tactician

Chief Paulina, master tactician

"Why did Chief Paulina hate the whites?" asks a 1966 Portland newspaper article, as if being forced to a reservation and surrendering claim to almost all of Eastern Oregon was nothing more than a simple real-estate transaction.

The Northern Paiute tribes had lived in small groups across Central and Eastern Oregon for centuries. With the arrival of settlers, miners and ranchers in the 1850s and early 1860s, the Paiute people were left with just three choices: agree to give up their land claims and live in peace, hide or join war leaders such as Paulina and fight.

To his people he was Paluna, but the terrified whites knew him as Paulina, "The Bulletproof," "Attila of the Sagelands" or "The Brutal Devastator," the man who waged fierce guerilla warfare.

Legend says he was born in the early-morning darkness of Nov. 13, 1833, on a night of terror for Indians, whites and everyone else in North America.

"Come to the door, Father," said a child of the Rev. Samuel Rogers, a circuit-riding preacher in Antioch, Va. "The world is surely coming to an end. See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!"

The Leonid Meteor Storm of 1833 is considered one of the brightest meteor showers in history. The night sky grew daylight-bright as a flurry of fireballs streaked across the heavens.

From the terror of that morning was born the man who would bring hysterical fear to settler communities and Indian reservations throughout Central and Eastern Oregon.

The legend also says another child was born that morning. They called her Falling Star and she would become Paulina's wife.

In his rebellion against the whites, Paulina was a master tactician. His attacks were carefully planned and lightning swift. After each assault, his men would elude capture and frustrate the U.S. Army and volunteers by scattering in all directions before joining together again, many miles away.

Hostilities increased as violence on both sides raged until 1865, when Paulina put his mark on a treaty, the translator writing his name as Pah-ni-ne.

He had no choice. Army troopers had captured a group of Paiutes near what is now known as Paulina Creek. Among those held hostage were Cactus Fruit, Paulina's sister, and his wife and their son.

Paulina took his warriors and their families to the Klamath Reservation, where the government had promised farmland, food and necessary supplies.

The winter of 1865-66 was hard and the Army was late with promised food. Nearly starving, Paulina, his wife and his soldiers escaped the reservation and returned to war.

In April 1867, in the John Day Canyon of Eastern Oregon, Paulina made a mistake. A posse of men tracking Indian cattle rustlers came upon Paulina and his seven hungry warriors, roasting one of the stolen cattle.

Caught by surprise, four escaped, but four, including Paulina, died. The ranchers scalped them and left their bodies unburied.

Why did Paulina hate whites? Why not ask why whites hated Paulina? Hate feeds hate in a vicious circle, and in the end, no one really wins.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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