Dennis Cassinelli: The Pyramid Lake Indian Wars, Part 3: The Second Battle

In my pervious article, I told about the ill-prepared attempt by the quickly formed Comstock militiamen to retaliate for the massacre at Williams Station. This group of 105 untrained volunteers was gathered from the farms, mines and businesses around the Comstock region. Not expecting the resolve of the 700 Paiutes gathered for a council at Pyramid Lake, these inexperienced militiamen were quickly defeated. Seventy-six of them, including Major Ormsby, were killed in the brutal first battle. The survivors, many of them wounded, limped back to Virginia City to regroup.

Since the first attempt to defeat the threat of violence from the Indians had miserably failed, the local settlers and mining interests on the Comstock decided to seek help from nearby California. Former Texas Ranger Col. John C. Hayes happened to be in Virginia City at the time on business and promptly organized a regiment of about 500 volunteers which he called the “Washoe Regiment.” Placerville, Sacramento and Nevada City contributed another 160 volunteers to the effort. Hayes and the Washoe Regiment quickly marched out to Williams Station and had a brief skirmish with about 150 Paiute. The Indians retreated back home to Pyramid Lake and sent all their women and children to hide out in the Black Rock Desert, knowing a major battle was imminent.

Meanwhile, Capt. Joseph Stewart, commander of Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco, took command of a regiment of 200 regular Army soldiers called the “Carson Valley Expedition.” Stewart’s forces joined up with those of Hays near where Wadsworth is now located on June 1, 1860.

Hays sent out an advance party of two companies downriver where they soon found the scattered remains of many of those volunteers killed in the first battle nearly a month earlier. The main force moved slowly and cautiously at some distance behind and made a stand in a mile-wide canyon flanked on the left by the steep Virginia Range and on the east by the Truckee River. This was done to prevent being out flanked by the Indians. Near the middle of the battle field there was a rocky butte with gullies running down the sides where the troops could find cover for making a stand.

The advance party encountered the Indians rapidly coming toward them in a wedge-shaped formation. They then retreated back toward the main force. The Paiute advanced so quickly, they took possession of the rocky Butte and formed a skirmish line that extended from the Truckee River to the mountains on the west. Stewart’s regulars formed the skirmish line along the west side and the volunteers formed the line to the east along the river. Capt. Edward Farris Storey commanded the volunteers from Virginia City and Capt. J.B. Van Hagen each led their companies to make a charge on the Rocky Butte and succeeded in taking it back from the Indians.

The Paiute were slowly driven back along the skirmish line on the west side near the mountains by Capt. Stewart’s forces and along the river by those of Hays. The battle line was nearly a mile long. For three hours, the fighting continued until at last, the Paiute forces retreated back along the Truckee River toward Pyramid Lake.

On June 4, Capt. Stewart’s forces followed the path of the retreating Indians and found their village at Pyramid Lake to be abandoned. Hays sent a group of scouts in pursuit of the Indians through a canyon northeast of the lake on June 5. The scouts were ambushed and Private William Allen was killed. He was the last casualty of the Pyramid Lake Indian War. Also killed was Capt. Edward Farris Storey. He has been honored for his service and sacrifice by the people of the Comstock by having Storey County named for him. Major William Ormsby, killed in the first battle, has been honored by naming Ormsby County (now Carson City) after him. In this, the second battle, there were three whites killed and five wounded. There are conflicting reports on how many Indians were killed since they carried many of their dead away with them as they retreated. In all, 750 volunteers and Army regulars participated in the campaign. It is estimated there were 300 Paiute braves involved in the battle. An estimated 25 of them were killed and perhaps 20 more were wounded.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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