When the West Was Won

1887, on hills barren and forlorn
Only 12 years shy of when my grandpa was born
In northeastern Oregon, by way of Idaho
Where the waters of the Snake River flow
Just upstream from a prison now, but way back then
A gold rush drew people to the hills again
After thirty years of statehood, for Oregon
Back when the west was won

People came with companies, they came with little bands
To mine for gold in the western lands
People came from east and west, from New York and Chicago
They came from overseas, and from San Francisco
To the home of the Nez Perce, before they were hunted down
To a place they called Hell’s Canyon, far from any town
They traveled out to eastern Oregon
Back when the west was won

Some folks came to work the mines, others came to trade
In mining gear or brothels or whatever work that paid
Some folks were just passing through, others came to stay
Such as some of those in the canyon, in the month of May
They planned their ambush, the gunshots rang
Pioneers all, the Bruce Evans gang
There in the lands of Oregon
Back when the west was won

Miners died, shot in the back, bludgeoned in the head
In a very short order they were all dead
The gang moved up river, found more miners unaware
Set up an ambush, did the same thing there
How many Chinese miners slaughtered, no one knows for sure
Altogether the total is at least 34
Bodies floating down the river in Oregon
Back when the west was won

After all the killing, after some of them confessed
There was a trial, and the justice of the West
Taught everyone watching what the Exclusion Laws meant
When a jury of their peers found the killers innocent
And in Enterprise today you’ll find an arch for the Pioneers
To the memory of a murderer who once lived here
Yeah, welcome to Oregon, in 2021
Here where the west was won