Thunder over the Ochoco Volume II Distant Thunder

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9780892882489: Thunder over the Ochoco Volume II Distant Thunder

Thunder Over the Ochoco is literally the work of a lifetime. Its author spent 40 years combing historical records and interviewing dozens of descendants of pioneer settlers and Native Americans who shared oral traditions that have been passed down through generations.

What emerges is history as it has never been told before. A history of conquistadors and fur trappers, of merchants and missionaries. The history of an Indian war that was one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts ever fought on American soil, but which for political and economic reasons was covered up for decades. Above all, the history of “those first settlers of the Ochoco—men, woman, and children—who were left to wander and starve in a land they thought belonged to them through eternity, a people who in their final agony cried out: `Nimma ne-umpu!'—`We too are human!’

Gale Ontko tells this story with compassion and grace, in a style that combines the precision of the scholar with the vigor and drama of the novelist. The five volumes comprise nearly 2500 printed book pages and have been described by some as the most factual writing by any author on the history of the Shoshoni People.

Volume II covert the twenty-year period between 1840 and 1860 would see overland migration across the land known to the Shoshoni as the Ochoco—Land of the Red Willow. The Americans would call it eastern Oregon. Never on friendly terms with the white invaders, the Shoshoni tolerated passage across their ancestral hunting grounds only so long as the American homesteaders stayed strictly on the dusty thoroughfare called the Oregon Trail. When they transgressed, the distant thunder of gunfire reverberated across interior Oregon like the tolling of a death knell. Volume II narrates the suffering, heartache and death of those unfortunate souls who dared to venture into the Ochoco; and it covers the first brutal Indian wars fought west of the Mississippi River.

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About the Author:

Mix together equal portions of the intellectual curiosity and organizational abilities of Benjamin Franklin and the steely determination of Ulysses S. Grant, let simmer in the Ochocos of Central Oregon for nearly seven decades and the product is Gale Ontko, the writer of Thunder Over the Ochoco.

In most respects this is a man who became an author because of circumstances rather than desire. He grew up in the Ochoco Valley area east of Prineville and unlike most Oregonians has spent his life on the land. His employment as a BLM fire management supervisor took him into back country for long stretches of time and the Indians of the area got to know him so well they finally gave him an Indian name of his own.

It all began innocently enough when he realized that native Americans—except for brief reports of an encounter on the Little Big Horn—had been ignored in the writing of American history as totally as our other non-European minorities. He began to talk with Indians, take notes and enter the world of historical research until one day he felt he was able to add something to what had been written about early days in the Northwest. His other motivation was an increasing belief that the rather desolate land mass of the Ochoco had itself profoundly influenced the history of the region and had an interesting story of its own to be told, if someone was willing to do the work of putting it in proper order.

To a greater extent than is usually the case his writing is a mirror reflection of the man himself. It is said that only the very rich and/or those who live alone can afford the luxury of very strong attitudes and convictions. Gale has lived by himself for many years and the two special gifts of that experience which he brings to his writing are an iron-willed determination to be sure that he has the facts right and an incredible degree of patience. The first has led him to an extraordinary depth of research. There was no solid backlog of Indian data, because the Shoshoni had no written language. So he listened carefully to the oral histories of all the principal tribes and then sought verification by crosschecking contemporary written materials. He has known that his writing breaks new ground and has been determined that regardless of the amount of research required that it stand solid against all inquiry. His remarkable patience has let him continue for years the assembling of his facts before doing the writing.

His book has the refreshing directness and, when necessary, the bluntness that back country people still retain and which their urban cousins have largely abandoned. He has made every effort possible to learn the truth about the people who made the history about which he writes and then to state it. Hudson’s Bay Company is not likely to send him a thank-you note, genteel readers may feel they could get along with fewer details of the way the trapper brigades lived and any descendants of Protestant missionaries to Oregon might well consider putting out a contract on this man. The good news is that when most readers finish this book they are very likely to say, “I had no idea non-fiction could be so interesting.”

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Ontko, Gale
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