Mary Jo Estep

Mary Jo Estep

Death 19 Nov 1992 (aged 82)
Yakima, Yakima County, Washington, USA
Burial Yakima, Yakima County, Washington, USA
Plot Block 8
Memorial ID 65130285 · View Source
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This Bio was submitted by Bill Gransee:
Originally printed Saturday, July 30, 1988 in the Journal American, Bellevue, Washington. Written by Nicholas K. Geranios, an Associated Press Writer.

Last Survivor Recalls Little of Massacre, Indian Roots

YAKIMA, Wash.-- There isn't much of the Old West in Mary Jo Estep, which is surprising considering she is the last survivor of what many historians regard as the last massacre of Indians in U. S. history.

The Yakima woman was taken off her dead mother's back as a screaming
infant in 1911 and raised by a white family.

Today she lives quietly in a bungalow with two pianos and a color
television set, and says she cannot recall the tragic flight of Shoshone Mike and his family.

The Indians were ambushed and eight were killed by a white posse in the snow near Winnemucca, Nev., on Feb. 26, 1911, 21 years after the last major Indian massacre at Wounded Knee, S. D.

Estep, then 18 months old, was the granddaughter of the Indian leader who refused to live on a reservation. Despite that, she perceives herself as more white than Indian.

"The white people treated me just like one of them," the diminutive,
white-haired woman, who is around 78, said recently. "Most of my friends are non-Indians."

Although her adoptive parents told her about the massacre, she never asked
for details and they never talked much about Shoshone Mike, she said. "I
knew he had something to do with stealing things," Estep said. "But I never
asked. I'm just not a curious person I guess."
She did not learn the full story until about a decade ago, when she met
Oregon writer Dayton Hyde. He was the author of a 1973 book about Shoshone
Mike called "The Last Free Man."
Hyde had noted the four surviving children in his book, but had been
unable to find out what happened to them.
One of Estep's college classmates contacted Hyde after reading his book
and told him about the Yakima woman.
Hyde traveled to the central Washington city and was able to provide Estep
with the first details about her past.
But there is still much she doesn't know about the time before she was
lifted from that blood-soaked cradleboard after falling face-down in the snow.
"They know my mother was one of Shoshone Mike's daughter," Estep said.
"Her name was Snake, and one thing I can't stand is snakes," she joked.
The identity of her father is unclear, as is her age and whether she was
born a Shoshone or a Bannock Indian.
The close brush with death doesn't occupy her thoughts today.
"I never think about it," she said. "I've got too many other things to
think about."
In contrast to her quiet life now, her early years were the stuff of legend.
Shoshone Mike refused to settle on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in
Idaho and instead roamed the mountains near Twin Falls with his sons,
daughters and grandchildren.
The Indians lived off the land and sometime worked for farmers in the
area, living in peace.
But in 1910 one of Mike's sons was killed by white horse thieves, and the
family retaliated by murdering the killer.
Not trusting white justice, Shoshone Mike took his followers and fled into
The 12 Indians survived a brutal winter by stealing cattle for food. When
four ranchers discovered the loss, the Indians killed them and took their
Posses from Nevada and California pursued the Indians for 300 miles until
Feb. 26, when they caught the ragged band sleeping and slaughtered four
men, two women and two boys during a brief battle, One posse member was
The four survivng children were jailed in Reno because there was no place
else to put them.
While the back-and-forth massacres of whites and Indians had been common
in the 19th Century, they were shocking by that time in the nation's history.
"What makes this significant is it occurred in 1911, when there were
automobiles, airplanes and movies," said Frank Bergon, a Vassar College
professor whose first novel "Shoshone Mike" was recently published by Viking.
After the massacre, the federal government ordered Evan Estep, then the
superintendent of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, to go pick up the
Mary Jo Estep's memories begin with the train trip north in November 1911.
"I remember when we went to the dining car I wouldn't eat the food," she
said. All except for the raisins in the raisin bread, which tided her over.
The other three children died of illnesses within a year. The toddler
survived tuberculosis and was adopted by Estep and his wife, Rita, who were
childless. They guessed she was about 18 months old.
She has never been to the Nevada site since the massacre, but is now
making plans to visit with some friends.

Such a visit, she says, may finally bring the scope of the tragedy home to her.

"It would be strange because I feel like I stand off from all of it." she said. "It's in the distance, you know."

Liz Davis

Evan & Rita were May Jo's adoptive parents.

Birth daughter of Wenegah "Snake" Daggett - Find A Grave Memorial# 144123939

Natural daughter of Shoshone Mike Daggett Find A Grave Memorial# 144121504

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  • Created by: Joan Kobernik Hoeft
  • Added: 3 Feb 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 65130285
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Mary Jo Estep (11 Apr 1910–19 Nov 1992), Find A Grave Memorial no. 65130285, citing Terrace Heights Memorial Park, Yakima, Yakima County, Washington, USA ; Maintained by Joan Kobernik Hoeft (contributor 46963924) .