Gale Ontko (Historian, Author, Veteran….along a quiet road)

Gale Ontko and Superb Writing~SwittersB

Gale Ontko and Superb Writing~SwittersB

True Story: Driving along a back road east of Prineville, Oregon. I was remarking to the family about the history of the region and how few Oregonians really know their history. I further remarked to my captive audience that the best, bar none, history I had ever read was by Gale Ontko…his Thunder Over The Ochoco series was extraordinary. ‘Oh, I want to check out that unmarked cemetary down aways’.  We troop around the cemetary looking at the few headstones. The young mother and child taken the same day. The pioneer graves. The ornate fence around a grave. And suddenly I notice a headstone for Andrew Gale Ontko. Wow, I wonder. Look at the last name…that must be related. That is an unusual last name! Then upon closer inspection I see the nearby circle headstone with just Gale Ontko and the depiction of Indians Astride Horses! OMG! I was just talking about him! The reflexive reverential silence one deploys in a cemetary was gone as I bantered on to my still captive audience.

Wooden Cross at Ontko Grave~SwittersB

Wooden Cross at Ontko Grave~SwittersB

So, let me once again encourage  any NW USA history buff to find Gale Ontko’s six volume set and learn about the Western Shoshone Nation, Chief Paulina, Howard Maupin, Smith Rocks (who was the courageous Smith), the explorers, the thriving history that was so dominant around Mt. Pisgah. A must read. What a discovery for me (and my captive audience)!


31 Responses to “Gale Ontko (Historian, Author, Veteran….along a quiet road)”

  1. 1 Jim Mock
    June 24, 2018 at 14:41

    found Thunder over the Ochoco at goodwill hope to find the others eventual there as I’m on affix income. enjoyed the book so much as I love reading of Oregon history.


  2. 3 Bill Prout
    June 21, 2016 at 03:16

    But, is this all fiction or fact? There seems to be no evidence that Has-No-Horse existed at all outside of the “Thunder” books. I will say that I’ve read the series three times and find it fascinating.


  3. April 8, 2015 at 10:37

    I am wondering where/how/if I am related? My grandfather came to the “new world” from Slovakia/Hungary – him being the youngest of 3 Ontko brothers. I can’t recall the exact date, but saw it in the records at Ellis Island and got a copy for my dad who is now 77. (The youngest and only surviving male of his immediate family of 12 siblings.) I am an author, too and with the last name Ontko. It’s a rarity to find that name and when I was googling, I found this! I am going to order these books ASAP, because I have a thirst for Native American history. Looking forward to learning more…


  4. 8 Alzada
    July 1, 2014 at 10:29

    I just started reading Thunder over the Ochoco; I bought the whole set. It is fascinating. New to Oregon, this book is beginning to situate us in history and appreciation of the area. Do you have any information on the Shoshoni Trail?


    • July 1, 2014 at 17:42

      That is great you bought the books. Have a good map of Oregon, particularly Central/Eastern/Southern Oregon. One of the best investments in time and eyesight (studying maps) I ever made. As far as Shoshone Trail, I am unfamiliar with that trail. If you mean the contemporary Utah/Nevada event, I know nothing about that. The Shoshone nation was divided into regions and had Summer/Fall areas they migrated to…hence the area around the Ochoco’s and the Summit Prairie area in Oregon. Enjoy the series and if you enjoy it then make the journey to Howard, Oregon to find the cemetery and the grave of Gail Ontko.


    • 10 Alzada
      July 2, 2014 at 08:48

      I am reading and annotating my maps so that I can see the history on them. We hunted in the Ochocos last year, and spent over 25 days living in the mountains and walking them daily. They are obviously special and felt like sacred and well lived land. So I am following that thread by reading their history. We will definitely go to his grave!
      As for the Shoshone Trail, I have had a yen to take a long walk (like a couple hundred miles) for many years, and am finally at a place in my life where I can consider taking the time to do so. I had better get on it before I get much older! So I have been looking for a historic route that was used for some purpose, as I would like to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.
      It seems fitting to mark the routes on the map and see where they lived and hunted. Then perhaps a walk will suggest itself.


      • July 2, 2014 at 08:58

        That is wonderful! To be honest, I cannot recall the migratory route the Shoshone used to move into the Big Summit Prairie area. Another area in the Ochocos you are not doubt aware of is Mt. Pisgah. It has special significance to the Shoshone in a departed spiritual sense. Unfortunately others know this and harvest the artifacts. I admire your plan and sincerely wish you the best of luck in planning and ultimately carrying it out. Perhaps the books will provide the information you need. I recall once one is beyond Volume 1, it digs down into the locale with great detail. The old forts, that no longer exits, that were in the area are always fascinating to me. You perhaps noted a recent comment from Ontko’s granddaughter. The family still resides in the mountains above the small cemetery. It is all so fascinating and again best wishes.



  5. 12 Necole
    May 24, 2014 at 09:17

    This man, is/was my Papa! He died when I was 8, gosh I wish I would have been older to talk first hand about all the history/knowledge he knew, but the books will have to suffice! All of my memories are bittersweet, Old vanilla cookies in a coffe can, western family sodas he kept behind a drapped cabnat, we could never look, only grab, his green stanly thermus rolling on the floor board of his blue chevy pickup…and the smell of campfire and ciggaret smoke on his clothes, I remember always hanging out with Rockie, he was in the yern on his grave, a blue heeler he was. I would sit and watch him write by hand in his office…. :”) I loved my Papa so dearly!!! Thank you for all of your intrest! We still live at the old ranch house above the cemetary a couple miles. 5th generation acctually. Take care and God Bless!

    -Necole Ontko
    second to youngest of 9 grandkids! I am in the plad flannel witht my siblings and the rest of my cousins, in the front of the book!
    If you love this book. Try to find “The Golden Gates of Yester Year” Wrote by my Great Grandma Vera, Papa’s Mom. her autobiography.


    • May 24, 2014 at 18:55

      Necole I am honored that you have written. By far one of the most enjoyable historical novels ever in my humble estimation. I loved his work, I loved finding the cemetery and then discovering your dad was there was incredible for me and my family. I will definitely check out the book by your dad’s mom. You made my day Necole.



    • 14 C. Roberts
      August 5, 2015 at 18:53

      There could be another volume with the maps that accompany the set. It is hard to get a feel for the distances and terrain without ever being there.


      • August 6, 2015 at 07:31

        Oh I was not aware of that. I know I did fairly well with Oregon Maps, the Ochoco National Forest Map, the Deschutes Nation Forest Map. I have explored the Central Oregon area in depth by vehicle, by foot…especially the areas east of Prineville. A volume of maps would be a HUGE addition to this amazing set of books. I cannot recommend them enough especially to anyone living in Oregon with an interest in history.


  6. 16 Anonymous
    January 4, 2014 at 09:13

    I own T.OT.O. Volume two in type in a three ring binder. Authors written submission to the publisher.


  7. 18 Keith W Drahn
    November 15, 2013 at 10:39

    My brother shared Vol III with me recently when he visited from Terrebonne, OR. Reading it in Pennsylvania where I now make my home made me wish I had taken the opportunity when I lived in Prineville between 1973-1982, and in Nampa, ID from 1982-1996. Ontko’s book is filled with names of men and places I took for granted. I had no idea of the long, deadly conflict and genocide that had taken place as I wandered the back roads of Crook and Owyhee counties. Remnants of old military roads were surprising but without context were merely interesting. Ontko was publishing his books when I lived in the area and I recall announcements of his work in the Central Oregonian newspaper. I sincerely regret not reading his work then when there was opportunity to see the region through informed eyes.


    • November 15, 2013 at 13:28

      Totally understand Keith. I have camped with the family at Walton L. for years, up out of Prineville. Nearby on Big Summit Prairie was a historical gathering place. I had no idea either.


  8. 20 Ralph Turre
    December 13, 2012 at 10:06

    Thunder over the Ochoco was recommended to me by a friend who wished he had grown up in the 1700’s and could have trapped the high mountains of the west. I purchased the first two volumes and had a hard time putting them down. My wife is Shasta and Modoc indian and is related to Kiente-poos and Winema. We knew the other side of the story on the Modoc Wars and why the Shasta nation never did sign a peace treaty with the US Government. It was both refreshing and nauseating to see the truths of how the indian nations were dessimated by the white man’s diseases and the hunger and greed of the white man to settle on the lands that belonged to the indians. This is a VERY well written series of books and I would recommend them to anyone wanting an unbiased look at both sides of the indian wars.


  9. 22 Teresa Porter
    May 8, 2012 at 08:53

    The Gale Ontko books are the best I’ve ever read on the Idaho-Oregon Native American history, and I’ve been reading Northwest history for a long time! They are so full of accounts that make it very interesting-and I read it took some 40 years of gathering that info. Wonderful contribution to history!


  10. 24 Jeff
    October 25, 2011 at 10:31

    Great story! What an amazing man! It’s a shame I was too young to remember meeting him. His books hold a place of honor on my shelf.
    Stopped in to see his headstone as well on a trip to dayville. It’s no wonder you found it, it’s within spitting distance of the Ontko ranch.


  11. 25 Carolyn Ford-Trudo
    April 25, 2011 at 14:49

    Was Gale Ontko working for the BLM in Prineville, Oregon in 1974? If so, I had the pleasure of knowing him.


  12. 27 pablo de la fille'
    April 16, 2011 at 08:55

    The first book found me..It started at a garage sale in Eugene.,2 dollars for vol. one…..looked interesting enough.Next one used book store. Complied, I found the rest online, from Utah. New York and London.Out of print!…..for shame…..I raise my hatchet to Gale Ontko …a true miner of gold……This series is the mother load of western history … THE MISSING STINK…The stuff they teach in school is worse then rotgut wiskey


  13. 29 Dennis
    March 14, 2011 at 18:31

    Gale Ontko…last true Western Sheshoni….RIP old friend.


  14. 31 Puddle Jumper
    September 10, 2009 at 06:55

    One of my favorite writers, Gale knows how to hold the interest on his subject matter! I am beginning to appreciate some of the ones you have on this site. I don’t often comment, but wanted you to keep up the good work. I like what you have to bring to light, and Creekwalker takes me places, keeps me dreaming. Your piece on this man is a good lesson to all of us to open our eyes.


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