To Improve the Status of Our First Citizens: The Irony and Fraud of Tribal Termination

To improve the status of our first citizens

Oregon Governor Douglas McKay, July 14, 1950


McKay’s comment, is meant to be a statement of assurance and commitment to the tribes from the Oregon State government. However the irony is that the agreement reached did not honor the promises implied. The tribes were not treated as first citizens, and were in fact lied to by federal officials. There was no improvement of the status of these native peoples, because native people generally were an outcast minority and treated very similar to how Blacks and Latinos were treated. Other non-terminated tribes treated terminated Indians as if they were no longer Indian, as if they willingly gave up their heritage and culture. The title of Urban Indian and Terminated Indian were negatively used to disallow such people any rights to attend tribal gatherings on reservations. Then their lands, their foundations were literally sold out from under them by the government. Native people became dispossessed in their traditional lands. The mission of the government  to assimilate the tribes and dispossess them of their lands and resources was fully realized with termination. The actions of the federal government amount to the final actions colonizing their lands.

The effects of termination can we seen today all around us. Tribes formerly terminated have to fight for their rights to have some sovereignty in their lands. Other tribes have taken advantage of the lapse of oversight of tribal territories during termination, and claimed rights outside of their usual sphere in other traditional territories. Federal and state offices now have to be retrained to consult with formerly terminated tribes. Histories and cultural narratives have to be written to support the rights of tribes in their traditional lands. Then, many terminated tribes have spaces in their documentation of the tribal records. Some of this is causing negations of enrollment for people unlucky enough to have left the reservations before termination occurred. Many times their records are missing, and as such, they have little or no options for becoming members of the contemporary tribe. In short, federal assimilation policies worked by completely dissociating perhaps thousands of people from tribal membership

In 1954, two congressional bills terminated 64 tribes in Oregon from three reservations and other rural groups. The federal government terminated more tribes in Oregon than any other state. An estimated 13,000 Indians were terminated nationally, roughly 4,000 of them from Oregon (Ulrich 2006). Of the reservations terminated, 2,500,000 acres of land was removed from trust status (Nations 2008).

The Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, Public Law 588, (P.L. 588) terminated the western Oregon Indians, including Grand Ronde, Siletz, and the tribes in southwestern Oregon that did not reside on reservations, in 1954. In addition, P.L. 588 mentioned several tribes that had traditional territory within Oregon, but who resided in either Washington or California states, altogether 60 tribes. P.L. 588 gave the reservation tribes two years to put their affairs in order and correct their membership rolls. Final termination was in 1956. All federal services ended in 1956 and members received their share of the community land sales soon after.

Pre-Termination: Indian Office Termination Meetings in Western Oregon

From at least 1948 until 1956, Indian agents traveled to Siletz and Grand Ronde to have meetings with the tribal councils and the general assemblies, to discuss termination. Many of the meetings were poorly attended and yet the general assemblies of both Grand Ronde and Siletz voted to accept termination and to accept provisions of early termination between 1949 and 1952 (See Appendix G for the Grand Ronde resolutions). On September 28th a meeting was held in Siletz attended by twenty-eight people, who voted to hold another meeting on October seventh (Towle 1951). The initial vote in favor of termination was sixteen to nothing with exceptions. Siletz members were concerned about the remaining reservation lands and wanted to establish a corporation to manage the tribal land once the land was issued fee patents and transferred to the tribe (Towle 1951). This understanding of how the BIA would manage the land transfer represents an early misconception of termination by the Siletz tribe. With a bare forty-four votes in favor at the October 7 meeting, out of a population of about a thousand natives, BIA Agent L.P. Towle, nevertheless felt justified in stating, “If Secretary of the Interior will approve sale of Tribal timber land now we believe no further opposition by Siletz in approving proposed legislation” (Towle 1951).[1]

The telegram reporting the meeting states that the Siletz tribe was negotiating the proposal and considering approval. Their main concern was for the timberlands, which would be the basis of the tribe’s future wealth. The proposal for the formation of a corporation was similar to the 1954 termination bill for the Menominee tribe, which allowed the tribe to form a corporation to manage its vast timber holdings following termination (Peroff 1982).

In 1953, BIA Portland Area Director E. Morgan Pryse reported on his meetings with Siletz and Grand Ronde, detailing the amount of time he contributed to termination:

The writer spent much of his own time on Saturdays and Sundays from 1948 to the present in meeting with various Indian groups, County and State officials in proposing withdrawal of the Indian Service over affairs of Western Oregon Indians and knows of no one opposing such a proposal; therefore it is recommended that the proposed legislation . . . be presented to Congress with strong recommendation for favorable action thereon at an early date (Pryse 1953f).

In Pryse’s summary, it is unclear which tribes he met with. There is evidence to assume that the Siletz and Grand Ronde committees approved of the concept of termination (Indians 1951a; 1951b; Oregon 1951a; 1951b). Although, Pryse does not reference any actual documents that contain such information. It may be that no minutes were kept of the meetings, but Pryse does form a record of the meetings in his monthly reports to the BIA.  Despite the lack of documentation, the discussions set the tone for termination of the tribes.

Constant discussion of the topic by Indian agents led Indian people to expect that termination was an inevitable event. Grand Ronde elder Bob Tom, who has family at Siletz and Grand Ronde, recalls that his father knew that termination was happening and moved his family to Salem in advance of the termination date:

My folks moved to Salem in 43’, 44’, and my dad and mom moved there specifically so that we could go to public school there and get a better education. My dad and mom may have bought into the termination methodology of, you need to go out there and compete with the greater society, as an equal (Tom 2006).

At Grand Ronde, Cheryle Kennedy, present Tribal Council Chair, said her uncle Abe Hudson reported on Indian Affairs on a regular basis. She described her feelings about termination as a child:

We knew we were involved in the sessions, when we would come. We had an uncle, Abe Hudson, married to my aunt, grandma’s sister, that was on the council . . . . I remember they’d be sitting around the table like that and talking. . . Something dreadful is going to happen. And we don’t know how to stop it . . . We knew that something bad was coming cause I was Indian (Kennedy 2006).

That feeling of inevitability caused many Indians to make decisions to preserve their families well before there was any assurance of termination occurring. The feelings of inevitability were strong enough to influence children’s emotions and prompt tribal families to begin moving off the reservation.


Oregon Politicians Preparing for Termination

Governor Douglas McKay, Senator Wayne Morse, and Senator Richard L. Neuberger were the primary state officials who were in charge of individual Indian rights at the federal and state level as the Indians came under their state jurisdiction following termination. In 1952, Governor Douglas McKay was in the midst of his second term as governor. He had promised to serve the full six years, but instead accepted the position of Secretary of the Interior offered to him by President Eisenhower. As Secretary of Interior, McKay was in a position to use much of the information he had received about the Oregon tribes following his installation as Secretary, preparations for termination continued unabated and through the next few years, McKay led the federal government’s policy of termination of Indian reservations. The Secretary used the termination of the Oregon tribes as an example of termination for the rest of the nation.

Political officials in the state of Oregon played a large role in the liquidation of state Indian reservations too. Senators, representatives, mayors, attorneys, state departmental directors, and the Governor’s office all worked with the issue of termination in committee meetings and in discussions with the tribes. E. Morgan Pryse, BIA Supervisor of Indian Affairs for the Portland Area office, was also a member of the advisory committee. Governor McKay opened the initial conference on July 14, 1950 with a list of discussion topics and/or goals:

(a) Bring about the early and equitable settlement of Indian treaties

(b) Accomplish the social and economic rehabilitation of Indians with emphasis upon the initiative and self-reliance of the Indian himself

(c) Equip Indians for living with and in our American culture through education and training

(d) Encourage Indians to preserve, as individuals, their best traditions as an integral part of American life

(e) Bring an early end to federal ward ship, with adequate federal aid in the interim (McKay 1950).

The topics clearly followed the previous goals of the federal government to bring about an efficient termination to the tribes. One goal, “preserving their traditions,” however differs from that proposed by Congress or that practiced for almost one hundred years by the Indian Service. The Congressional goal was to assimilate Indians, and not to retain Native traditions. National Indian policies of assimilation did not include a priority to preserve tribal culture as well.

Goal (a), the “equitable settlement of Indian treaties” is similar to a goal of the “Ten-Year Programs” established in 1944. The goal was to dispose of Indian land claims forever. There was likely some communications between Governor McKay and Indian Agent Pryse over some of these goals. The settlement of Indian treaties was beyond the jurisdiction of the states. Letters from E. Morgan Pryse to Governor McKay disclose ongoing meetings between the two, even before the creation of the Indian Affairs committee. In one letter, Pryse summarizes their discussion on Oregon Indians and thanks Governor McKay for coming to an agreement over the Indian problems:

I was especially gratified for the opportunity to visit with you on March 22 to discuss problems to the Indians in your state. I am very pleased that you agree on a mutual approach to the solution of Indian problems since I firmly believe that it is only through combined efforts that solutions may be obtained which will be beneficial to the Indians, the federal government, and the State of Oregon (Pryse 1950a).

The collaboration between Governor McKay’s and the Indian Office helped McKay to become well informed about federal Indian policy and termination legislation. McKay’s experience with these issues may have been reason for his appointment to Secretary of the Interior in 1952. It is clear from McKay’s statement of goals for Indian management at the state level and Superintendent Pryce’s statements about termination that Pryce influenced Governor McKay.

Education was a particularly important issue that the tribes understood was necessary for people to make a living in American society. Sam Kash Kash from Umatilla addressed education as related to their human rights:

“There should be a law to educate the white people so they would know that Indians are human. I can speak well of Umatilla County, and the public schools have taken care of our children very nicely. . . [But] Several children on the reservation have not been able to continue school because of lack of funds” (McKay 1950).

Coquelle Thomson of Siletz states his thought about education: “We have a choice of sending our children to Chemawa or to the public schools. I find that the majority of the people are sending their children to public schools” (McKay 1950). Those of Abe Hudson from Grand Ronde mirrored Thompson’s statements:

“As far as our schools are concerned the Grand Ronde Indians have been self-supporting for some years. I was a member of the tribal council when this thing started. We have the privilege of sending our children to Chemawa if we want to but most of us are taking the advantage of sending them to the public schools” (McKay 1950).

The statements indict the federal government and make favorable comments about the state’s schools, suggesting that it would be beneficial to have the state take over this service completely. At termination, education of the terminated tribal members was coordinated between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state.

Ultimately, the conflict between Indians remaining under federal supervision and their termination made some Oregon Indians question whether they were Indians. At the 1950 conference, Abe Hudson expressed these identity questions: “I am getting old and I don’t know where I stand, I don’t know what I am – they call me an Indian and I guess I am an Indian but I really don’t know what makes an Indian” (McKay 1950). Many younger people saw the value in selling the land and gaining control of their finances, but doing so constituted a loss to the overall tribal community.

Oregon Indians knew well the impact of the loss of federal services and administration. Even before P.L. 280 was passed in 1952, making state law the prevailing law on some reservations, the tribes were thinking about how this would work. The transfer of criminal and civil jurisdiction to the state had a significant impact on sovereignty rights for tribes. Jackson advocated for the transfer of law enforcement to the state:

I believe in turning law enforcement over to the state. Our plans are such that we intend to continue as a reservation setup, and legal problems will crop up; things we can control we will, and things that are too deep for us I think we should be able to pass along to the state (McKay 1950).

Early Withdrawal Bill, Oregon


The first attempt at termination of the western Oregon Indians was the Program for the Early Withdrawal of Selected Activities and Withdrawing Federal Supervision over Indian at Grand Ronde-Siletz and Southwestern Oregon (Pryse 1950b). Pryse drafted this initial proposal to expedite termination of the western Oregon Indians. He felt that the western Oregon Indians were “well advanced in the ability to handle their own affairs” (Pryse 1950b:3). They had expressed to him a desire to be free of government interference.  They seemed to be ideal candidates for termination (Pryse 1950b:6). Pryse said:

Indians of the Grand Ronde-Siletz Administration have already experienced most of the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship. They have long been accepted by their white neighbors on the same basis as other citizens and are permitted to act on the local school and election boards, as well as other civic affairs (Pryse 1950b:6).

Pryse also noted that many of the southwestern Oregon Indian communities had not received assistance from the government and were running their own affairs (Pryse 1950b:6). Pryse argued that all of the tribes and communities in western Oregon were assimilated and ready for termination.

The Indian Office held discussions with the Grand Ronde, Siletz, and southwestern Oregon communities to seek the approval of the communities for early termination. Siletz was the sole tribal government to agree to early termination (Indians 1951b; Indians 1950). Grand Ronde initiated resolutions that began to eliminate much of their administrative oversight (Oregon 1949; Oregon 1951a; Oregon 1951b), as did the southwestern Oregon and coastal tribes (Alcea 1951; Coquille Tribe 1951) (See Appendix G for the Grand Ronde Resolutions). Given this positive feedback, in 1951 Pryse submitted his opinion to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Meyer: “I believe the commissioner would be justified in starting action without formal resolutions since not one Indian has objected” (Pryse 1951).

The early withdrawal proposed settlement of fourteen issues. Many of the issues were ongoing problems between the tribes and the federal government that could not be resolved quickly or easily. Indian Claims settlements were one such problem, as the tribes previously stated a desire to settle the awards before they would approve termination. From the federal perspective, the proposal gave too much to the tribes, not requiring them to pay for allotments or communal lands. The fourteen settlement points were:

  1. Disposal of tribal lands.
  2. Transferal of unrestricted tribal lands to the Siletz tribe.
  3. Patents in fee to be issued covering the communal lands and buildings at Grand Ronde and Empire.
  4. Patents in fee to be issued for 126 Indian allotments in western Oregon.
  5. 31 allotments to be sold.
  6. Early determination of pending Indian claims cases.
  7. Almost ten thousand dollars in funds be issued to cover this effort.
  8. Bring tribal rolls up to date.
  9. All tribal trust accounts to be transferred to a bonded officer.
  10. Settle funds owed the Empire community.
  11. Pay Tribal member funds owed them, except minors.
  12. Grant Siletz and Grand Ronde members same rights as all other Americans. Revoke all special privileges including treaty rights.
  13. Appoint a special commission to expedite Indian claims awards.
  14. If applications for patents in fee or sale of land is not received in six months dispose of the property (Pryse 1950b:1-2).

The reason for the proposal’s failure was that there were too many unresolved issues between the tribes and the federal government for early withdrawal to occur. The federal government still needed to conduct a full reconciliation of funds spent on the reservation. In addition, the tribes would need a couple years to create their termination rolls. Finally, the tribes had not fully agreed.

On the part of the federal government, Congress ordered the early withdrawal bill tabled and Pryse to write a new bill. Congress did not want to give away the land that was technically owned by the federal government under land trust laws. So regardless of the fact that many Indians at Grand Ronde and Siletz were living on allotments granted to them under the Dawes Act (1887), and received in 1891, and they had been living on their properties since then for roughly 50-60 years, they still did not technically own their land. Congress ordered Pryse to rewrite the bill to have the Natives have the first rights to buy their land.

National Policy becomes Termination

The passage of P.L.108 helped to make the second attempt at termination of the western Oregon tribes a success. P.L. 108 changed official federal Indian policy to terminate all tribes based on their level of assimilation.  P.L. 108 made the status of the Grand Ronde tribe to be in the  “fully assimilated” category from the list created in 1947 (Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs 1954a). The appointment of Oregon’s Governor Douglas McKay to the position of Secretary of the Department of Interior in 1953 probably spurred this change. In 1947, seven years earlier, William Zimmerman’s tables indicated that Grand Ronde has “no resources” (Committee on Civil Service 1947:545-546). With national termination policy set, and Grand Ronde elevated to “fully assimilated” status, termination of the western Oregon tribes began in earnest.

Tribal Reviews of the Termination Bill, 1953

Morgan Pryse, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Portland Area Office, and his staff were an integral part of the termination process in the 1950’s. They spent much of their time traveling to meetings at Siletz and Grand Ronde. Following the meetings, Pryse sent reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and tribal leaders. He and his staff maintained a dialogue with the tribes, communicated to the commissioner information about tribal attitudes regarding termination, and wrote the initial drafts of the laws. The Commissioner then reported to Congress how the tribes felt. At times, Pryse traveled to Washington, D.C. and testified before Congress. The actions of Superintendent Pryse were essential to getting termination approved by Congress and by the tribes.

In 1953, during the second attempt to terminate the western Oregon tribes, Pryse stepped up his efforts. Mindful of the failure of his first attempt at termination, in part caused by the federal governments slowness in settling the Indian Claims cases, Pryse worked harder to build a case for termination that would be successful. His reports maintained that tribal members exhibited continuous support for termination, and pushed the point that the tribes had assimilated enough to run their own affairs. Pryse needed a list of the tribes of western Oregon.  Pryse stated that it was a difficult task to find every name, “we keep finding more tribes and groups all the time scattered throughout western Oregon” (Pryse 1953e).[4]

In October 1953, Pryse began building his (and the federal government’s) case for termination by seeking tribal approval. The first communication regarding tribal review of the bill was to Mr. Vernon Reibach of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, establishing a deadline for review of the draft termination act (see Appendix I for the Draft termination bill):

October 6, 1953

This proposed bill is a rough draft for discussion purposes only. It is requested that each Indian group meet together with their respective tribal bodies at the earliest practicable date and make any changes or additions that they believe advisable. Any suggested changes or additions adopted by tribal action should be drafted and sent to this office immediately for further consideration. It is recommended that resolutions similar to those contained in the “Plan for the Withdrawal of Federal Supervision over Indian tribes of Western Oregon, Portland Area Office, 1951” be prepared and submitted as evidence of affirmative action on this proposed bill. We have been instructed by the Washington Office to submit a draft of proposed legislation not later than November 1, 1953 with your comments (Pryse 1953d).

Pryse understood the need for current resolutions, as those drafted in 1949 and 1951 for the first proposal for termination were outdated. In addition, his letter to Vernon Reibach carefully explained that the draft was for discussion purposes only, considering that the tribes were not in full agreement. Later in October, Pryse informed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the timeline for community meetings and his expectations as to their outcome:

October 23, 1953

We expect to hold meetings with the Grand Ronde- Siletz people November 1. These folks are scattered over a very large area up and down the coast and since it is also their busiest season it has not been practicable to hold meetings at an earlier date. We do not anticipate anything but favorable action on the Grand Ronde-Siletz bill (Pryse 1953c).

The Superintendent set the tone for the commissioner by stating an expectation of approval of the draft plan by the tribes. His positive attitude came from previous public statements and resolutions from both tribes in favor of termination. Pryse’s tone in the report began to lay the basis of the passage of the law for the Commissioner.

However, in a meeting in Siletz on November 1, 1953, Indians from western Oregon expressed concerns about the Indian claims awards and stated they desired that they be resolved before they could approve the termination bill. Some tribal members questioned why Congress had not approved the Alsea Indian claims case settlements yet (filed 1947). Others wanted more time to review the draft termination bill before they would approve it. Superintendent Pryse communicated the tribes’ desires to the Commissioner and stated simply: “I believe it would be good business to grant their request” (Pryse 1953a).

On November 5, 1953, the Superintendent telegrammed a second report about the tribes to the commissioner. He was again optimistic about the expected outcome of the future meetings:

Preliminary reports on legislation . . . [meeting of] November 3. Indians have taken no affirmative action yet. Expect affirmative action on Grand Ronde-Siletz after meeting with them again November 22 (Pryse 1953b).

Unexplained in Pryse’s November report is why the tribes did not take affirmative action in their November 3 meeting. Pryse did not elaborate on any issues brought up in the meeting and the brevity of the report did not bode well for affirmation.

In the December 7, 1953 report, the Superintendent continued to make the case that the tribes favored termination, while noting that they reiterated a desire for a final settlement of the Indian Claims Cases. He submitted no new evidence suggesting that the tribes supported the current termination bill, and in fact, included a statement suggesting that the tribes did not approve of termination:

The attached report . . . contains resolutions from the affected tribes, together with statements from local officials, including Honorable Douglas McKay, Secretary of the Interior, who was then Governor of Oregon. Both Siletz and Grand Ronde Indian groups, in recent meetings, asked that no withdrawal program be carried out pending distribution of the moneys which were recovered by the plaintiffs in the case Alcea Tribe of Tillamooks, et al v. United States. We do not believe, however, that there has been any change in their general attitude which favors the termination of Federal responsibility at an early date. In fact some Indians have expressed informally their displeasure in the delay in obtaining legislation to accomplish Federal withdrawal (Pryse 1953f:Emphasis mine).

In the December report, Pryse made statements inconsistent with tribal testimony. He reported that the tribes did not desire termination before Congress settled the Indian claims awards, and that they had stated this in the last few meetings. This statement is revealing, as Pryse did not mention claims cases in his report on the meetings of November 3 and 22nd, when he simply stated the expectation of a positive outcome. He continued to suggest that the previous acceptance of termination gained from the Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes in 1949 and 1951 was an acceptance of the 1953 draft legislation of termination (Indians 1951a; 1951b; Oregon 1951a; 1951b). It is true that tribal elders in 1952 made public statements approving of termination, but there is no indication that they still approved of termination in 1953 (Oregonian 1952a) (see Appendix H for the statements). In addition, Pryse referred to unnamed “some Indians,” a continuation of his strategy of building an impression of success with the Commissioner. Furthermore, Pryse invoked statements of the Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay to build his argument.

In December 1953, confident that his arguments in support of termination would succeed, Pryse began writing the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. In February 1954, only a few months before Congress was to pass the termination act, the Superintendent reported at length on the reasons why the tribes failed to produce a favorable review of the current draft:

Plans and procedures for terminal action have been formulated after thorough discussion and study by and with the Indian people involved, extending over a period of more than three years. The proposed legislation, in substantially its present form,[5] has been widely distributed throughout the area and has been discussed at length with the various groups of Indian people. By formal resolution they have expressed themselves as favoring early termination of Federal supervision over their affairs. They declined to take favorable action on recent drafts of proposed bills for the reason that moneys recovered several years ago as judgments by the Rogue River Indians, the Alsea Band of Tillamooks, and others in the area, have not yet been distributed to the members of the successful claimant tribes [Emphasis added]. These funds are presently deposited in the United States Treasury to the credit of the interested tribes, and bills are pending before Congress which would authorize and direct the Secretary of the Interior to distribute the funds. One such pending bill is H.R. 4118, which was introduced in the first session of the 83rd Congress.

Copies of the proposed legislation together with our program for the termination of Federal responsibility have been distributed to State and County officials and to prominent citizens interested in the welfare of these Indian people. No objections have been voiced. On the other hand there has been widespread approval of the proposal. The copies of the program which have been submitted by the Department in connection with its report include the favorable endorsements of officials in the counties where the majority of the Indian people reside, together with a copy of letter of approval by the then Governor of Oregon, the Hon. Douglas McKay, now Secretary of the Interior (Pryse 1954).

Pryse continued to build an impression of comprehensive support for termination. He reported that many prominent officials in Oregon, including local governments, prominent citizens, and the Governor (now Secretary of the Interior) agreed with termination, lending authority to Pryse’s case for approval. Pryse was still unable to document that the western Oregon Indians had agreed to termination. In fact, the only declarations the tribes made were that they still objected to termination because Congress had not settled the Indian claims cases. The only favorable opinions had been the 1949 and 1951 tribal resolutions passed in favor of termination under the early withdrawal plan. Pryse’s statements sidestep the issue of termination by stating that the tribes favored it, because all of his years of experience working with them suggested this to be so.

Pryse finished building his case for approval of termination by foreclosing on any possibility that the tribes could present their own opinions before Congress. By ruling out Indian testimony at the Congressional hearing, the Superintendent controlled the environment of the proceedings and assured passage of the law.

It is not believed the tribes will send delegates to appear before the committee. They approve the bill in principal, are conservative with their funds, and are busy making a living (Pryse 1954).

Although, this statement may very well have been true as few Indian people in western Oregon had the money or could spare the time to travel to Washington, D.C. and testify before Congress, it is more likely that Pryse never communicated with the western Oregon tribes when the hearings would take place. Since the Superintendent manipulated the reports, it is likely that he made a conscious decision to eliminate the possibility of the tribes’ testifying against termination. Grand Ronde elder Merle Holmes suggests that in fact the tribe did not know about the hearing:

There was not one word of a meeting, when it was to be, or what is was about I never knew anything about it literally until it was all over (Merle Holmes: Broadcasting 2000).

Merle Holmes’ statement suggests Pryse’s statements about the tribes’ being unable to attend the hearings were disingenuous. The Superintendent ensured that Congress would not invite the tribes, by leading Congress to expect that they would not to be able to attend the hearings. As such, Congress did not hear relevant Native testimony or opinions from the tribes regarding their termination. Additionally, Tribal elders have stated that if they had known such a hearing was taking place, they would have cobbled together some money and sent representatives by train to Washington, D.C. to testify.

Superintendent Pryse’s communications set the stage for full approval of the termination bill in Congress with assumed Indian consent. His communications did not convey what the Indians actually felt about termination at the time and led to the assumption that any further negotiations with the tribes were unnecessary. In short, Pryse effectively and bureaucratically manipulated the Indians and predetermined the outcome of the second termination effort.

Pryse’s document was misleading and lacking in critical tribal documentation representing the true wishes of the tribes. If the Superintendent’s December 1953 report was the deciding document to convey the tribal government’s wishes, then the tribal member stories, such as that from Merle Holmes, are correct in saying that the tribes never agreed to termination. In addition, it is possible that Pryse never asked the tribes if they wanted to testify and led Congress to believe that they did not want to testify, effectively cutting off communication between the tribes and Congress.

While Pryse sent several misleading communications about the tribe’s support for termination neither did the Grand Ronde tribe issue any official statements or current resolutions regarding the second termination act, as they had for the first early termination proposal. The final bill, as authored by Pryse, states repeatedly “upon request of the owners” in its presentation text (Affairs 1954a:136), and the follow-up report Withdrawal of Federal Supervision, Grand Ronde and Siletz Jurisdiction, State of Oregon submitted by E. Morgan Pryse (Affairs 1954a:140-153) states:

The attached resolutions indicate the desire of the Siletz and Grand Ronde groups that the Government withdraw its trusteeship over their properties. They are willing to accept the burden of taxation and otherwise to assume full responsibility of citizenship (Affairs 1954a:143).

The “indications” submitted by Pryse therefore do not rise to the level of “approval” of termination. Pryse present the original tribal Business Committee resolutions that date from 1949 and 1951 and were related to the original agreement captured in the first (1951) “Early Withdrawal” termination bill. This agreement, worked out in numerous meetings with the Tribal councils,  was that the tribes would get all of the remaining lands, so they can manage their own affairs, which at the time would have been a good deal for them. But the 1853 bill did not offer this deal, and made it so that all of the Tribal allotted had to now purchase their lands from the government. As such Pryse presented to Congress the agreements passed by the Tribal councils in favor of the 1951 bill, as if the Tribal resolutions represented the the approval for the 1953 bill, as his evidence of their willing Tribal agreement . It appears that  E. Morgan Pryse acted fraudulently. There is no record yet found that suggests that this action was ordered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The contention of the federal government has always been that the Grand Ronde tribe willingly consented to termination, but from the evidence submitted this is not the case. There is no documentation that the general council of the Grand Ronde tribe in 1953 or 1954 “desired” to be terminated under P.L. 588. From the evidence presented here it appears that termination of the tribe was hastened along by bureaucratic misdirection, perpetrated by staff of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The constant repetition of the story that the tribe willing submitted to termination, based as it was on outdated resolutions, is a fundamental weakness in the federal government’s case. This story of the “willingness of the tribe for termination,” is supported in several follow-up reports, which had the effect of legitimizing it. In the years following termination, many officials were convinced that the tribes had approved of termination and acted accordingly. The following is from H. Rex Lee, Associate Commissioner of the Department of the Interior in correspondence to Senator Wayne Morse on April 30, 1958:

The members of the Confederated tribes of Grand Ronde community thoroughly discussed the proposed termination on at least two occasions, and by resolution passed on August 20, 1951, voted to have Federal supervision withdrawn. . . . the wishes of the tribes as a whole were taken into consideration by the Department and Congress at the time the legislation was considered and the Act passed (Lee 1958).

The issue here is whether the 1949 and 1951 tribal resolutions truly applied to the 1953-1954 termination acts. Lee accepted the legitimacy of this application without questioning whether the agreement for termination changed in 1953.

The legend is so pervasive that despite a body of Tribal oral histories to the contrary many Native people have accepted it as fact. Over two decades later, federal Task Force Ten reports unveiled the truth: “No referendum vote on the subject of termination by Oregon Indian tribes ever took place” (Commission 1976; Ten and Commission 1976:52). Yet, despite lack of documentary evidence for 1953 Grand Ronde support for termination, the myth that the Tribe willingly submitted to termination persists within Indian Country.

The Western Oregon Indian Termination Act

On February 17, 1954, a joint bill S. 2746 and H.R. 7317 was submitted to a Joint Senate and House subcommittee of the Committee on the Interior and Insular Affairs. This joint bill is the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. It listed sixty tribes, bands, and tribal reservation governments from, Oregon, California (Karok, Tolowa) and a tribe from Washington State (Chinook) (Congress 1954).[6]

The Western Oregon Indian Termination Act stated that the United States would have to settle all accounts owed the Indians and tribes, settle all land claims, and rectify all allotment issues owed the government. In addition, the bill provided for the “termination of Federal supervision over tribal real and personal property of individual Indians” (Affairs 1954a:138), and stated “Federal restrictions are removed from the property of each tribe and its members . . . thereafter such Indians will have the same status under State and Federal law as any other person or citizen” (Affairs 1954a:139).

The Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, or Public Law 588, was passed August 13, 1954 (Congress 1954). Published with the act were the first sets of tribal rolls for Grand Ronde and Siletz. Both tribes and the southwestern Oregon communities were given almost two years before the final termination bill was passed to complete the rolls. In addition, the BIA area office had to settle the accounts, and sell all of the land. In the meantime, to facilitate the transition, the federal government began working on education and relocation programs to get tribal people to move away from the reservation and be retrained for their new lives.

Post-Termination Meetings

Following the passing of the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, the BIA continued to hold meetings and make plans with the tribes. In late January 1955, Indian Agent Martin N. B. Holm visited the Grand Ronde Tribal Council:

A short stop was made at Grand Ronde where I talked with Vincent Mercier, Secretary to the council. We discussed the proposed roll and I was assured that it would be submitted within a month or so. There is question as to whether or not they will wish to form a corporation to take over the tribal territory there. We need to discuss this with them in the meeting. Mr. Mercier stated that there was very little interest in Termination at Grand Ronde, and that it was difficult to get a council meeting crowd. He is concerned about the delinquent loans and asked that Credit send strong letters to those who are delinquent. This has been passed on to Credit (Holm 1955b).[7]

Since Grand Ronde had accepted reorganization under the Indian Reorganization Act in 1935, the tribal rolls had been kept up to date, and not much work was needed by the tribe to submit them. Interesting here is Vincent Mercier’s statement on the “lack of interest” in termination at Grand Ronde. It could reflect disagreement with the process or more likely since the legislation had been passed, a feeling of powerlessness among many in the community with the inevitability of termination.  However interpreted, it is not a ringing endorsement.

In 1955, Acting Area Director Martin B. Holm continued reporting and acting in the style of previous Area Director Pryse regarding the assimilation of the tribes in Oregon and their readiness for termination,

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has, over the period of many years, assiduously sponsored and promoted education of Indian children of the west coast tribes of Oregon, and in this process has mixed the Indian children with white children through school contacts. Association with the whites, in school and general society of their respective communities, has resulted in intermarriage and wide assimilation has taken place (1955b:19).

This positive comment on the eve of the final passage of the termination act helped to assuage any fears on the part of Congress as to whether western Oregon Indians were prepared for termination.


Confusion about Termination

The dozen years (1944-56) preceding termination of the Grand Ronde Reservation were fraught with confusion and misconceptions of the meaning of termination and what would actually happen once the tribe was terminated. The fact that the issues that the tribe and the Indian Office staff in Portland discussed and agreed upon changed during the course of ten years added to the confusion. The understanding that the Grand Ronde Tribal Council had of termination in 1951 was very different from that passed by Congress in 1954 (Congress 1954). In 1950, the Grand Ronde people assumed that they would keep the land, but in P.L. 588 in 1954, there was no provision for keeping the land as all reservation land was subject to sale.

Despite the many years of discussions between the Portland Area Indian Office and the tribal members as outlined by Superintendent Pryse, there was no indication that the people knew all that termination would entail. Confusion about hunting and fishing rights, rights to the reservation timberlands, and their ability to keep their allotted lands were some of the points of contention. In fact, in an example from the Klamath Indian reservation, in a Stanford University Research Institute Report, only fourteen Klamaths believed that the tribe had requested trust withdrawal, and four Klamaths believed that the tribal members were more assimilated than other terminated tribes (Fixico 1986a:123). Much of this confusion was aided by the fact that the BIA Indian Agents kept the tribes uninformed or misinformed about how the process for termination would work. The tribes, cut off from information, and afterward suddenly terminated, were understandably confused as to what their rights were.

Final Vote at Grand Ronde

There was a final vote before the general council at Grand Ronde that approved of termination. This vote took place after P.L. 588 passed. In 1975, before the Task Force Ten hearings in Salem, Oregon, Tribal Council member Merle Holmes discussed the final vote in favor of termination:

Mr. Holmes: . . . of the 882 people on our . . . termination roll . . . there were 79 yeses and 11 nos on this, and we feel that this isn’t enough to constitute the majority because it was [supposed to be] 2/3 of the adult population, as I recall, in our charter to, we feel, kind of slip it by the people there. There weren’t enough there to actually voice the will of those people . . .

Ms. Hunt: was this prior to the passage of the act or was this just on the distribution of assets?

Mr. Holmes: that was to accept the act as it was executed.

Ms. Hunt: and it was already passed into law?

Mr. Holmes: Yes (Ten and Commission 1976:128-129).

Merle Holmes testimony proves that the vote of the general council at Grand Ronde was not representative of the will of the people. In addition, it is unclear whether the vote was necessary. If P.L. 588 was already law, then there were no requirements of Congress to gain an agreement from the Grand Ronde tribe in favor of termination. The Indian Agents treated the approval of the tribes as a formality, though it was a recommended part of the government process.


Tribes in western states possessed great-untapped resources and lands, and the state and federal governments sought to possess those assets for the benefit of the new settlers and for the growth of the western economy. Previous agricultural methods had degraded the agricultural potential of the Midwest United States, causing a Great Dust Bowl, and the states of this region needed more natural resources to rebuild. Untouched natural resources were to be had on tribal reservations but access to them was limited by the continued existence of the tribes and the federal government who protected tribal sovereignty.

Termination was termed an experiment by at least one Indian Agent. Martin N. B. Holm, Assistant Area Director of the Portland Area office declared, “Western Oregon will be a testing ground” for Indian termination (Holm 1954a). Holm’s statement, on the eve of the termination of the western Oregon Indians, is telling. The federal government had never carried out such a policy as termination and did not know what would occur, or how termination would affect Indians that had always been protected by federal trust status. The experiment was a politically propelled assimilative movement based on the economic needs of many levels of government and individuals and the continued desire to eliminate American Indians as a perceived liability.

The State of Oregon’s preparation for termination commenced early in the termination discussions, but first the state government had to establish a relationship with the tribes. State politicians saw termination as a significant boon to the state as it would free up lands and resources to help the local economies. However, the state needed to rectify a few discriminatory laws in order to make termination more attractive. The most organized of the state’s preparations was that of education. Under Harvey Wright, Director of Education, many Indians entered education and training programs and were successful. Termination was not a seamless affair as many Indians entered the welfare rolls immediately.

The greatest impact on the tribes’ culture was the success of the program of assimilation in Oregon. The collaboration between the BIA and the State took Indian families off the former reservations and into the cities to live permanently. The combination of the federal relocation program and the state’s education programs proved to be particularly effective.

In the years following termination in western Oregon, many tribal people reacted with confusion, not truly understanding what the act did to their tribe. Many petitioned to be added to the final rolls only to be denied by federal and state officials. Others sought to practice their cultural rights as Indians to hunt and fish or participate in other tribal events. The non-terminated tribes interpreted terminated tribes as having sold-out, and as voluntarily giving up being culturally Indian. The state insisted that Indian people obtain regular state issue hunting and fishing permits even though the termination acts never took away these rights.

Finally, the majority of tribal members left the former reservation, causing a loss of family and impacting the quality of the lives of those in the native community that remained at the reservation. People scattered to far-away cities and lost connections with their families. Native languages, oral histories and community consciousness ceased to exist for many.

Most Native families struggled and many immediately began accessing state and federal social services and struggled with assimilation. On May 11, 1954, A. S. Wright, Chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Indian Affairs, addressed the issue of whether the terminated tribes were truly assimilated enough, or prepared to be terminated:

A quick survey of the Klamath Tribe would not support the thesis that these people have the necessary education, business experience, background, or the unanimity of purpose of managing a hundred-million-dollar corporation. If the assets of the reservation were liquidated and distributed among the members of the tribe, it is inconceivable that the people would have the necessary business acumen to handle their assets judiciously. Frankly the State of Oregon could possibly face the fiasco of having the reservation liquidated, all the timber cut off, the watershed denuded, and hundreds of Indians in relief (Wright 1954).

Wright’s statement reveals that the state administration in 1954 was well aware of the problems of termination, and, his last phrase, “hundreds of Indians in relief,” does in fact foretell the future for most of the Indians in Oregon that were terminated.

The termination of the Grand Ronde tribe is an example of an inconsistent and manipulative policy by Congress and the State of Oregon, in favor of assimilation and eradication of the state’s tribal resources, culture, and heritage. This experiment changed tribal cultures and communities in ways that descendant peoples may never recover from.

Essay note: This essay is adapted from Chapter 5 in my 2009 Dissertation. The full dissertation is online at the UO Scholars bank. Some of the following notes refer to sections in the dissertation. 



[1] Full transcript of telegram: September twenty-eighth results meeting Siletz September thirtieth, indicated vote twenty eight to nothing to hold another meeting October seventh when decision would be made on acceptance of legislation on withdrawal indicated by vote sixteen to nothing legislation accepted with few exceptions to be worked out next Sunday October seventh.

Unanimous opposition by the forty-four members present to accept sub section B of section two unless before corporation under state law is formed the tribal timber lands are sold and proceeds of sale distributed among membership contending that is corporation accepted fee patent and sold such land much of proceeds would be eaten up in Federal and State tax assessments thus dissipating their heritage. Apparently, Siletz Indians wish form corporation to conduct enterprise and operate cemetery following Federal withdrawal. If Secretary of the Interior will approve sale of Tribal timber land now we believe no further opposition by Siletz in approving proposed legislation.

[2] Douglas McKay owned a car dealership in Salem previous to being the Governor.

[3] Full transcription of Wright’s speech: The only way we will rid ourselves of the so-called Indian problem in Oregon is for the state, the counties, and the local communities to accept all Indians as citizens and accord them the same rights, benefits, and privileges as other citizens. I think the Indians must be given full citizenship rights, and that they must assume the obligations and duties of full citizenship; furthermore it seems only logical to me that the federal government should subsidize the state of Oregon during this period of transition.

I am aware of the legalistic web of some 4,000 treaties and statutes and the thousands of judicial decisions and administrative rulings that enshroud the Indian. I am also aware that the Indian is a mythical legendary figure in the eyes of the public, alternatively pictured as a cruel, crafty, bloodthirsty savage, or as a poor, misguided, misunderstood aborigine whose culture must be preserved at all costs.

If the state of Oregon sees fit to explore the proposals discussed at this meeting, we must first find out where we want to go. Is the Indian capable of becoming a first class citizen? Is he capable of learning? Is he capable of handling his own affairs, or will he ever be capable of doing so? Can the state take care of all its citizens, or are the Indians special problems that must be handled by the federal government? Is segregation the answer?

If we are to accept the thesis that the Indian is a normal human being, then we must initiate a program that will eventually give him full citizenship and assimilate him into our society. However, I do not think that the Interstate Council on Indian Affairs should make any change in the status quo without the advice and counsel of the Indians. I know from experience that it will take a lot of tenacity and courage to carry such a program through. There will be some Indians that will fight such a program, some of the leeches hanging onto the present program will fight any change, and we always have our sentimentalists that want to preserve the Indian culture.

If we believe in the democracy to which we give lip service, if we believe in the principals on which our country was founded, then we must carefully consider the possibility of accepting the responsibility of all or our citizens.

Our national policy in Indian affairs has been a zig-zag affair. Our first policy was extermination; we then tried the idea of segregation; and the latest experiment was an attempt to get the Indian to return to the tribal autonomy that his fathers were presumed to enjoy, and to preserve his culture. To me the logic of present events is all in opposition to segregation. I believe that our final policy must be assimilation. (McKay, 1950).

[4] For the full list of the tribes terminated in P.L. 588, see Appendix E, Reference 3.

[5] It is unclear if there were missing sections or the review copy was incomplete.

[6] See Appendix I or Appendix E, Reference 3.

[7] See Appendix E, Reference 1 for the full report.

[8] The programs closed for the tribes following their termination date, 1956 for western Oregon Indians, or 1961 for the Klamath.

[9] See Appendix E, Reference 3.

[10] See Appendix E, Reference 2.

[11] These petitions are likely in the BIA Portland Area Office desk files at the National Archives in Seattle. A few petitions were found in limited research in the desk files boxes. These were primarily for inclusion in the Grand Ronde, and Klamath tribes. Many wanted to be included because of the eventual larger payout from the Indian Claims cases.

[12] There is some confusion about this period. See discussion in chapter 6.

Meacham 1871- Mill development and the rights of Whites and Indians at Grand Ronde

A.B. Meacham
A.B. Meacham

Albert Meacham has proven on many occasions to have been concerned about the tribes of Oregon. The Indian Superintendent for Oregon seems genuinely to be concerned about the welfare of the people at Grand Ronde,  and worked to develop the resources on the reservation. In 1871 Meacham visited most of the reservations and worked hard to understand their challenges. He noted where their resources were suffering and made bold proposals to the federal government to help the reservations. The following report and proposal from May 1871 addresses the status of the grist and saw mills at Grand Ronde and proposes a workable solution for their future in the valley and how to pay for this development.

At this time, the federal government was surveying the lands in advance of  allotment,promised by the ratified treaties.  Meacham proposes a series of questions suggesting that the notions of rights of Indians and White were not yet fully developed at this time. Meacham suggests that  white men or half breed men living with Indian women on reservations were considered “Indians” by  the federal government. This is a somewhat revolutionary concept, that most tribes do not have today. Tribal membership today is exclusively Indian bloodlines (for all tribes I have encountered). That the federal government was giving whites [men- as this rarely was allow to happen in the obverse] the identity and rights of Indians on reservations suggests that there is much about Tribal membership in the 19th and perhaps early 20th centuries that we do not known much about.

If these men are then enrolled as Indians on the reservations by the federal government’s  Indian agents how does that affect Indian tribal rolls in the present day? Indian tribes did not get control of their rolls until 1936 when many Tribes accepted the Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act 1935), and reconfigured their tribal governments to comply with the act.  In order for tribes to get a measure of self-determination, they had to create a constitution and accept a democratic form of government with elected officials. So from the earliest days of the reservations to the time their constitution was accepted by the Secretary of the Interior- for Grand Ronde 1856-1935- the tribal rolls were completely controlled by the Indian Agents. In 1936 is the first the Grand Ronde tribe creates its own tribal roll. I equate this situation  to if the United States allowed Great Britain to control the list of citizens of this country, which would result in a undesirable situation for the US.

In tribal history- the colonizing country -the United States – who’s national policy towards tribes was to assimilate and eventually eliminate Indians- controlled the membership lists of the all tribal nations- (What could go wrong?).  The subject of enrollment and citizenship deserves more research to determine what happened in this period in tribal membership rolls.

The survey that was being conducted was for what is known as the “informal” allotments that occurred in about 1873 or so. Another survey takes place in the late 1880s in advance of the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) allotments in 1891.

The mill discussion is incredibly important to understanding the various changes on the land in the first twenty years of the reservation. There was a dam and at least two mills built down next to the river. The grist mill may not have been rebuilt, as the stone of this mill was found in the South Yamhill River some 20-30 years  ago and is now on display outside of the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas. The notion that the agricultural tradition being built at Grand Ronde is here directly tied by Meacham to the policy to civilize the Indians, the national policy of the government at this time. Keeping the grist and saw mills active was an important part of this policy.

Grist Mill Stone on exhibit next to the Polk County Courthouse, Dallas, OR, found in the South Yamhill River, Grand Ronde, Photo David Lewis
Grist Mill Stones on exhibit next to the Polk County Courthouse, Dallas, OR, found in the South Yamhill River, Grand Ronde, Photo David Lewis 2016

The saw and grist mills at Grand Ronde were begin in 1858-59 and completed in about 1860 according to the annual reports. Funding was taken from the treaty annuities to build the mills, over a three year period. In 1861, there remained uncompleted parts to the grist mill, they needed windows and the new agent Condon noted that both mills needed to be rebuilt in their mechanical apparatus. Nearly all annual reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs noted the worn out nature of the mills and the need for repair and replacement of parts. The dam was constructed at the mills as they were run by water power. The dam was constantly getting washed out in the winters and in need to be rebuild every year to power the mills.

Detail Grist mill stone, the two disks would grind the wheat grain into flour
Detail Grist mill stone, the two disks would grind the wheat grain into flour, Photo  David Lewis 2016

The following letter and its accompanying Exhibit “A” document speak for themselves.


Office Supt. Ind. Affairs

Salem, OR May 23, 1871


After returning from an official visit to Grand Ronde Reservation, I desire to call your attention to a few items that are of importance.

First: The Indians have an unusual crop in prospect.

Second: They fully realize the advantage to result from having lands allotted in severalty and there from arises several questions which I propose to submit (see paper marked “A”)

Third: The mills built years since are totally unfit for service for the reason that they were not located with good judgement in this, that they were built in a low flat muddy piece of river bottom composed of alluvial deposit that washes away almost like sand or snow having neither “bed rock” or “hard pan” for foundation, constantly settling out if shape and damaging machinery besides threaten with destruction at every overflow.

The lower frame of both mills but more especially that for the saw mill are so rotten that it would not stand alone if the props and refuse slabs from the saw were removed.

The flour mill is a huge impared [sic] structure, supported on wooden blocks or stilts and double the proper dimensions with an old patched up wooden water wheel that has been a constant bill of expense for ten years: machinery all worn out, even the bolting apparatus rat eaten and worthless at present for several reasons, chief of which is want of water. The “dam” was originally built about ¼ of a mile above the mill- at an enormous expense to government- across a stream (four times as large as need be for such mill purposes) with flat soft alluvial porus [sic] banks and mud bottom.

The history of said dam is that it has broken twenty times in fourteen years, each time carrying away mud enough at the ends of the dam to make room for each successive freshet.

I believe that history- since inspecting the works- as evidence is in sight to show where thousands of days work has been done and many greenbacks “sunk”.

I called to my assistance Agent Lafollett and George Tillottson of Dallas, Polk County, a man acknowledged to be the most successful and practicable mill builder in our state, who stands unimpeachable as a gentleman of honesty and candor. The result of the conference was that it would require $5000. to build a dam that would be permanent: that all the lower frame work of both mills would require rebuilding as a cost of $2000, and that at least $1000 would be required to put machinery in good working condition and when all was done these people would have only tolerable good old mills patched up at a cost of $8000.

But mills are indispensable civilizers and must be had.  I am determined to start these Indians off on the new track in good shape.

There are three several branches coming in above the old mills, any one of which has abundant motive power. On one of these creeks a fall of thirty feet can be obtained by cutting a race at the bend of a rocky cascade, taking the water away from the danger of freshets and building the mills on good solid foundations convenient of access by farmers and to unlimited forests of timber.

Mr. Tillottson estimates the total cost of removing the old mills and such parts as are useful and rebuilding on the new site a first rate no. 1 double circular saw mill with Laffelle Turbine water wheel, all the modern improvements attached- same kind of water wheel for flour mill with new bolting aperatus [sic]  etc- at about $4000 exclusive of Indian labor.

I submitted, in full council to the agents and Indians, the proposition to apply funds already appropriated for the repair of agency buildings: apportion of the Umpqua and Calapooia School fund that has accumulated to upwards of $5000. and so much of annuity fund as may be necessary to this enterprise on the condition that the Indians were to do all but the mechanical work.

The matter was fully explained and without a dissenting voice they voted to have the mills if furnished tools, beef and flour.

The agent has now on hand a considerable amount of flour, and beef. I propose to use a number of old worn out work oxen as they are now fifteen or twenty years old, worthless for work and dying off with old age.

To sum up, I have out this enterprise in motion, and propose to have the new saw mill grinding in ninety days.

I now ask permission to apply the funds I have named to this object, fully satisfied in my own mind that it is for the benefit of these people. If it cannot be granted, then I will insist on funds that may be so applied to furnish from the general funds of the department. These Indians must have a mill, besides it would effect on the present administration of Indian affairs to turn them over to the world without that indispensable appurtenance of civilization.

Klamath mill is a monument of pride and has done much to redeem the reputation of our department and I propose when I retire to leave every reservation supplied with substantial improvements of like character.

Klamath flour mill is how [illegible] way and will grind the growing crops.

Going out of the ordinary grove and wishing you to be fully posted about such transactions is my apology for inflicting this long communication.

Very respectfully

You obt Sevt

A.B. Meacham

Supt Ind. Affairs in Ogn


Hon. E.A. Parker

Commissioner etc

Washington, DC


[exhibit]       “A”

I respectfully ask for instructions in regard to Indian lands and as the time for allotment is near at hand, it is necessary that some points be settled for instance:

1st Where there is more land suitable for settlement in a reservation than is required to fulfill treaty stipulations, shall more than the said stipulated number of acres be set apart for the Individual Indian?

Some of the reservations will have an excess and others will fall short of the amount required to comply with treaty stipulations. In some instances, when the excess is small It would seem proper to divide prorata. It does not appear that any of these tribes are on the increase hence no necessity exists for lands to be held in reserve to any considerable amount for future allotment. When possible I would favor giving them more than treaty calls for.

2nd When less land is necessary to comply with treaty is found, must the number of acres be cut down so that a proportional allotment can be made? Or may unoccupied government lands outside be allotted to Indians belonging to reservation?

A few instances will occur of this kind as at warm Springs where insufficient lands can be found and a few families who are well advanced and capable of taking care of themselves could be located outside. I favor that plan and suggest if approved some instructions be given land officers so that said location can be legaly [sic] made.

3rd May Indians not on reservation be allotted lands on reservation, and may they be allotted government lands not on reservations?

There are Indians in this state that have never yet been brought in that can be induced to locate on reservations under the system of allotment. And when all parties consent they should be allowed to do so. Again some of these people have advanced sufficiently by being among the white persons to locate and appreciate a home. And there are a few instances where the whites would not object to their being located among them.

They must have homes allotted them somewhere and the sooner it is done the better for the Indians.

4th Are not Indians who have never been on reservations citizens under the late amendments to the Constitution, and have they not the right – without further legislation- to locate lands and do all other acts that other citizens may rightfully do?

I am fully aware of the political magnitude of the question but while I am superintendent for the Indians in Oregon, they shall have all their rights if in my power to secure them whether on or off reservations.

5th Are white men or half breeds who are husbands of Indian women who do now or have belonged to any reservation considered as Indians- by virtue of their marriage to said Indian women- in making the allotment of lands?

I understand that all half-breed men living with Indians on reservations are considered Indians (but always allowed herewith to vote at all white men’s elections) but there are several Indian women on various parts of the country who are married to white and half breed men, and the question is asked whether they are not entitled to land. Again, there are Indian women living with white men but not married who have children that should have some provision made for them.

6th May the allotment be made immediately in completion of survey without waiting for survey to be approved?

For many reasons it is desirable that the allotment be made as early as possible so that the people may prepare for winter. They are very impatient and I hope no unnecessary delay will be made.

7th Is a record to be made by and in local land office of surveys and several allotments? Is record of allotment to be made in county records, and if so how is the expense to be met?

These people are soon to be as other citizens and stand in equal footing. I have no doubt about the propriety and necessity for making these records but so as to close up all the gaps, I want to be instructed to have it done

  1. B. Meacham

Supt. Ind. Affairs In Ogn


M234, Roll 10


When Treaty Annuities End – Federal Austerity in 1876

In the Oregon Territory of 1853-1855, the United States set about writing and negotiating treaties with the Oregon tribes.The first treaties were made with the tribes in western Oregon. upon the ratification of the seven western Oregon treaties the United States promised to make payments for some 20 years in payment for upwards of 14 million acres of land (all lands from the Crest of the Cascades to the crest of the  Coast Range). The Coastal lands, partially covered by the Coast treaty, did not ultimately fall under treaty as the treaties for the coast were never ratified (1855 and 1851 treaties were never ratified). Those lands in Eastern Oregon fell under a different set of treaties.

Most of the treaties required that the annuity money for professional services, annual expenses, schools and building of structures. The majority of annuity payments ended for the tribes by 1875. A few provisions were open-ended and allowed for the  payment of professional help indefinitely.  The following table addresses two Kalapuya treaties, those of 1855 and 1854.

Title begins payments Purpose Additional additional
Treaty with the Kalapuya Etc.

Jan, 22, 1855

 September 1855 1. $10K-  5yrs years, (1855-1860)

2.$8K – 5 yrs (-1865)

3. $6.5K – 5yrs (-1870)

4.$5.5K – 5 yrs (-1875)

All of which several sums of money shall be expended for the use and benefit of the confederated bands, under the direction of the President of the United States, who may, from time to time, at his discretion, determine what proportion thereof shall be expended for such objects as in his judgment will promote their well-being, and advance them in civilization, for their moral improvement and education, for buildings, opening and fencing farms, breaking land, providing stock, agricultural implements, seeds, &c.; for clothing, provisions, and tools; for medical purposes; providing mechanics and farmers, and for arms and ammunition. $50K


horses, oxen, and other stock, wagons, agricultural implements, clothing, and provisions, and- homes, mills, shops, school-houses, a hospital, and other necessary buildings, and making improvements; for seeds, stock, and farming operations- removal, expenses of settlers, subsistence in first year Pay for five years


Physician, school-teacher, blacksmith, superintendent of farming
Umpqua and Calapooia


September 1855 1. $3K- 5 yrs (-1860)

2. $2.3K – 5 yrs(-1865)

3. $1.7 K -5 yrs (-1870)

4. $1K – 5 yrs (-1875)

advance them in civilization; for their moral improvement and education; for buildings, opening farms, fencing, breaking land, providing stock, agricultural implements, seeds, &c.; for clothing, provisions, and merchandise; for iron, steel, and ammunition; for mechanics and tools, and for medical purposes.




Removal, subsistence for 1 yr, survey and fencing 50 acres, erection of buildings, purchase teams, farming utensils, other purposes President will pay for;



 erect for said Indians a good blacksmith-shop, furnish it with tools, and keep it in repair for ten years, and provide a competent blacksmith for the same period; to erect suitable buildings for a hospital, supply medicines, and provide an experienced physician for fifteen years (-1870); to provide a competent farmer to instruct the Indians in agriculture for ten years (-1865); and to erect a school-house, and provide books, stationery, and a properly qualified teacher for twenty years (-1875)


in 1869, for the quarterly budgets


The Umpqua and Calapooia annuity in 1869 according to treaty for the 3rd and 4th quarters was to be $850.00 ($1700 /2)and that is what was stated  in the report.

1869-1In addition, the federal government was paying for a Physician at $750 for his six month salary and a teacher for 725 for the same period.

For the Kalapuya Etc Indians, their annuity was a flat  $3250, half of the requisite annuity of $6500. Their treaty  did not pay for doctors or teachers.


The gradual declination of the annuity payments was designed to encourage the Indians to become self-sufficient. The government imposed education on the younger tribal members designed to assimilate them away from being culturally Indian.  The assumption was that in 20 years the tribes would be assimilated and there would be no further need for payments to them

Overall the annuity and miscellaneous  payments in this era were about $66.5K for all tribes in Oregon

1869 COIA funding request for Oregon

By 1871 these payment grew to $74.3 K with the addition of payments for the Shoshonne and Bannock tribes at the Malheur Reservation.

1871 COIA funding request for Oregon

This figure still kept the tribes living in abject poverty. Most of the reservations had not been allotted yet and tribes were very insure if they would be able to keep their lands. the Coast Reservation had faced a major loss of land and was again decreased in 1875, with the remainder being what is now Lincoln County.

In 1875, most of the funding ended, and the government began to tighten its belt. From 74K the whole of the Oregon budget reduced to $15K. The following Letter of orders from the Acting Commission of Indian Affairs must have brought feelings of doom to Oregon Indian Superintendent William Bagley.

August 21, 1876

William Bagley, US Indian Agent, Toledo, Benton, Co. Oregon

… The whole amount appropriated for incidental expenses of the service in Oregon is $10,000.00. Out of this amount must be paid all expenses if Alsea and Siletz Agencies, all of the Grand Ronde except school and the incidental expenses of the other four agencies. You will see at once the imperative necessity for cutting down expenses. the $4,000.00 allowed you must cover all employees ( except interpreter) from July 1st 1876 to June 30th 1877, including indebtedness already incurred on this account and you are directed (if you have not already done so) to at once discharge employees and reduce salaries, so that your total expenses on this account will not exceed the sum above named. In addition to the above a small sum will be allowed you for the incidental expenses of your agency for the current fiscal year, not exceeding $1,000.00, making a total of $15,000.00 for all purposes except salary of agent and interpreter. You will exercise great prudence and economy in the management of your affairs and are charged to incur no indebtedness whatsoever which said $5,000.00 will not cover,as that is the outside limit at the disposal of this office for the service at your agency. This necessarily puts an end to further improvements at your agency this year and while regretting the necessity this office can furnish no remedy…

S.A. Galpin, Acting Commissioner

The  80 % decline in funding after 1876 must have caused tribal members to decide to leave the reservations, as many tribal people left the reservations to return to their home territories (Tolowa, Cow Creek Umpquas, Coquille, Coos,etc). There was malnutrition, lack of access to basic services, like health care. Even educational services must have suffered. Just after this the religious schools on the reservations, now unsupported, could not remain open and closed. The federal government still had responsibilities to provide education and  began its boarding school programs, concentrating services in remote locations to presumably save money. While  many people had assimilated, the reservations still had thousands of people living there as rural farmers and ranchers. This must have caused people to leave the reservations to seek work elsewhere, even if it was illegal to do so.

The work of tracking the effects of this new policy of austerity in Oregon reservations has now begun.

Manifest Destiny is not the Only Story: The Value of Inclusionary History

Contemporary education in social sciences amounts to teaching of the principles of Manifest Destiny. In a recent student essay from a University they stated, “set curriculums of history protect and glorify the rise of the US, it hurts true Natives to the land and increases the already growing stereotypes that they face in society.” Very Insightful!

Native History Education

Currently education about the history of the US ignores the real true history of the tribes. Most times local tribal histories are not taught at all. What education about the tribes amounts to is a generalized history of “Native Americans” and usually about some attractive aspect of the culture. I have seen good presentations about Indian dwellings where kids construct models and write exhibits about the meaning of the dwellings. I have seen exhibitions and teachings about Native Dance and costume. Rarely if ever is there instruction about the complete culture and history of Oregon tribes.

In many fourth grade classes in Oregon, when Native history is taught, students construct covered wagons or learn about the virtues of the Oregon Trail or Lewis and Clark. These subjects are rich in the history of American exploration and settlement in the West, and the Manifest Destiny of the Americans to take this land, and only peripherally addresses Native History. The perspectives of Native people, how Native people thought about this invasion of Whites into their lands, is completely ignored. The history is washed of all negativity, and nothing is said about genocide, about loss of land, loss of culture, loss of people to diseases and wars, racism against Native peoples, reservation experiences, boarding schools, the Dawes Act, additional loss of land and natural resources in the 20th century, fishing rights, treaty rights, or termination of the tribes. This is not at all a comprehensive list but you get the point.

Very Old Curriculum

Native history normally involves how native people helped the development of American civilization in the West and essentially got out of the way. There are some deviations from this in a scattering of schools, but that’s really based on the efforts of rare teachers.  I know this is the case, because after teaching Native studies and Anthropology in six different colleges in Western Oregon for the past 12 years, the majority of students, 99%, are learning about Native people for the first time. The majority have had no instruction that they remember from their public or private schools. They are amazed and surprised that there was and is a great diversity of tribes, in Oregon, and that the tribes have a extremely long history (at least 15,000 years) and that there is a diversity of cultures and languages. They are also amazed at how the United States has treated the tribes and about the fact that the US government and their settler predecessors were party to the aforementioned actions that disenfranchised and dis-empowered the original peoples of this land.

Heroes of Oregon

Instead the heroes of Oregon are primarily taught. Jason Lee, John McLaughlin, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. On rare occasions a Native chief like Chief Joseph is addressed. The Oregon Trail is a primary subject, it being an amazing journey of faith by Americans hoping to find opportunity in a new holy land, A literal American Eden. The very definition of Manifest Destiny. The Indian wars may be discussed but by definition, Indian Wars, suggests that the Indians were the reason for the wars, while if not for the settlers to Oregon and the Gold Rush, these conflicts would not have occurred.

Those Who Win Write Their History

The history as taught is a study in American privilege. The Privilege to tell the history so it benefits Americans, so that Americans are glorified, so that all actions of the Americans are justified because the Indians were first, not human, and second, rogues, scoundrels, thieves, murderers, and savages.  They are not human because settlers refused to accept that the Tribes had governance, laws, systems of counting, history, legitimate spirituality, etc. In many discussions there is in fact a denial of all of these characteristics of civilization. Many people still believe natives had no concept of time, laws, math, ownership of land, and many other denials. The notion that tribes did not own the land, is not true at all. These are new age mythologies built up by generations of pseudo-native philosophers.

History as Historical Fiction

Then, on these layers of colonized historical and cultural information, is a whole lot of miss-information. Like new age mythologies about native philosophy, of philosophies that have literally been whitewashed so that they are acceptable to the population, are fictional stories of the naming of places and of mythological heroes. The name of Mt. Hood is not Wy-east, that was invented by Frederick Balch in his book Bridge of the Gods, which is a historical fiction, not a true account. Yet generations of Portlanders and Oregonians believe that, that is, the native name of Mt. Hood as its taught that way in school. Similarly the idea of Chief Multnomah, also created by Balch, is a historical fiction.  There are many other fictions, like those addressing the extinction of tribes, the naming of the last of a tribe, like those stories about Indian Mary (of Brownsville), as being the last of the Kalapuya, when in fact that is not the case at all.


Then, the characterizations of natives are very racist. Indian as stoic warriors. Indians as drunks, as if they did not have the genes to process alcohol. Indians as lazy, as not working hard. Indians as wasting their lands and resources. Indians as always angry and violent. The recent Fargo series which has one angry and murderous Indian is a good example. Indians as freeloaders, welfare recipients. Indians as stupid, activists, criminals, etc. Today we have Indians seen as being wealthy casino owners. In the 1950s, Indian communities were likened to communism and socialism The list goes on, and while we cannot say that every school system is teaching this for certain,  its fairly ingrained in our society, and there certainly is not education away from this way of thinking.

Moral Center of the World

So yes, essentially our American history is biased by the principles of Manifest Destiny, the notion that Americans were destined (by God), to take over a great land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in the 19th century. In the present generation and for the past 160 years at least, our education system has extolled the virtues of Manifest Destiny, and presented a history of an America, built on the principals of democracy, where the only struggles are to defend the Nation from the evils of the world outside. In nearly all scenarios the United States is the moral and ethical center of the world in this history. That vision relies heavily upon not teaching about all of the immoral and unethical actions of Americans and the United States that destroyed and moved Native people out of the way.  There is currently no place for that story in education.

Holistic History

Why would that be important? What are the benefits of teaching the whole history? All people are of the world, and all people and cultures deserve the respect of that status. To only discuss the virtues of the United States is creating an artificial understanding of the history of the world we all live in. In the situation of the tribes, for the past 500+ years, tribal people and cultures were not respected, were looked down upon, and the tribes were seen as an infestation that needed eradicating so that the true and legitimate people could take over the land and make better use of it. Within that dynamic, there is little opportunity for understanding and respect.


We may decry the events of the past, but we live in the present. We cannot do much about the past, or can we? So many people come up to me after my presentations and say they are sorry for what has occurred to native peoples. There is an aspect of guilt in their statements of apology, as if they cannot do anything now and want some sort of absolution for the evils of their ancestors. That is the easy way to respond, and takes little effort on their part. It is an empty gesture unless they actually act to partially fix the problem today. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it, and not continue to cover up the truth by supporting and accepting an education system that makes native peoples invisible in our history, without saying something.

Fundamental Story

A big part of our collective experience is an understanding that what has happened to us, whether 500 years ago or 160 years ago, is an unforgivable series of attacks on our peoples to destroy and eliminate us all from this world. And every part of western civilization worked against our survival, churches and religions, governments, explorers, industrialists, settlers, and even the diseases they carried and the farm animals they brought here. For centuries the whole of the societies of Europe and later the United States worked to commit genocide on our people, to eradicate us like polio or smallpox or wolves. And then in the present era, the details of those attacks on our people, were erased from the history books, erased from educational curriculum. The book Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison) is a perfect story of how this has occurred, just replace all of the Black references with Native or Indian references. That is how the genocide continues today, an erasure of the history of our people.

Inclusionary History

Interestingly, the story of the past 500 years of colonization of the Americas exists not only in European culture, but in Native cultures as well. Our histories are at least half of the story of how this history unfolded. To make  half of the story invisible creates a historical fallacy, that is re-taught or re-centralized each generation.

The Problem today

In Oregon, there have been efforts to create curriculum to address the history of the tribes. By and large, the curriculum is not being used. Whether related to the fact that most teachers are not trained to teach Native studies, or there is no “approved” curriculum available, that they know of, or there is no will on the part of administrators to offer any new units that change the content of the 4th grade curriculum, or there is no money to implement such a program. The fact is that it is not being taught, and most efforts have been in vain. The education system is now saddled with a succession of national education programs that attempt to standardize all education in the country. one of the latest, No child left behind, now repealed was a failure. And now the STEM program, attached to federal money, is directing education away from Social sciences altogether. STEM will create a generation of students who do not know anything of America’s past, much less that of any other ethnic or cultural groups. What will happen when there are generations of adults who are a-historical? What does this do to our communities, to our national cohesion, to our past and future? This is one of the greatest experiments in the history of education and ranks up there with Indian Boarding Schools and their assimilationist curriculum.

(What is now taught needs a new phrase, manifest education, an education built on creating intentional ignorance in the next generation of Americans by erasing the minority perspective of history.)

A Well-Rounded Education?

The Tribes have offered some education and curriculum, but the tribal resources are not enough to handle all of the need. Tribal educators have been going into classrooms and offering historical and cultural education in one hour segments to numerous schools. This has been somewhat successful but unsustainable. Still some education is better than nothing. The fact is education of our children needs to be not a focused effort at a few mathematical or scientific programs, but more well rounded, where people have the opportunity to become knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. The extreme need to grow scientists, engineers and mathematicians and perhaps take the lead on innovation in the world, I believe, is a path to an immature society.


There is a significant role in society for offering perspectives and histories of Natives and other minority peoples. People like to see how they relate to the history of the United States, and others appreciate seeing a holistic history that truly represents the diversity of our society. As the history of our education system has shown it will not change unless the community demands that change needs to happen. This means we need to support efforts to stop teaching history through the lens of Manifest Destiny. We need to “decolonize” our education system to accomplish this.

Charge it to my Account in the Next World- The Nathaniel Wyeth Venture

Nathaniel Wyeth  was an early American explorer and investor in a salmon fishing and fur trade industry in the Oregon Territory. Wyeth  built as many as four forts in the West, including Fort William on Wappatoo Island (Sauvie Island), Oregon Territory, and Fort Hall on the Lewis River (Snake river)  in what is Idaho today.


In 1831 Wyeth, then a young businessman (29 yrs), was being courted by Hall Kelley of Boston to join an expedition to colonize the Oregon Country. Kelley envisioned some 200 persons, many of them women and children would make the overland trip to the Oregon Country. Wyeth did not believe that venture would work with women and children along, as he thought they could not travel in the winter nor travel as far, or over as rugged terrain, and so dissociated himself from the venture. Wyeth instead began a Joint Stock Concern where his companions would be  under contract for a term of 5 years, and they would follow under his direction in fur trading, agriculture, salmon fishing, and other business in the Oregon country. He set about to raise some $5000 for articles of trade, munitions for hunting, stock for manufacturing, and for  horses for baggage some $2000-$2500.

Wyeth began to send letters to all the people he knew, including many relations, asking for their monetary investment in the expedition. He spent a good 3 years in preparation, with multiple letters sent to many of the potential investors he knew. Many business partners and family gave $600 or more for their stake in the company. For the profit of the adventurers, he divided the shares 50 ways, and would keep 8 shares for himself, 2 shares for doctors and other specialists, and the remainder would be divided among the party’s laborers, hunters, scouts and boatmen. accompanying him on the expedition were naturalists Professor Thomas Nuttall of Harvard University, and John Kirk Townsend, plus the Methodist missionary Jason Lee, who would go on to establish the first Methodist Mission and school in the Willamette Valley. Wyeth promised the investors that he would net some $40,000 for the five year expedition, and would be able to easily pay back all of the investors, with a little profit for himself. Some of his investors were highly skeptical of that level of profit, yet still contributed.

Fort Hall 1845

Fort Hall

Wyeth began with his exploratory party in early 1834, and arrived in the Oregon Country with 26 horses and mules and 41 men. Before coming onto the Columbia, Wyeth and his men built Fort Hall on the “Lewis” river (Snake river) where he left a small contingent of his men, and sent word to the local tribes that they were open for business in trade.

Fort Hall- Built a fort at the Lewis River (Fort Hall) and raised the American flag- we manufactured a magnificent flag from some unbleached sheeting a little red flannel and a few blue patches, saluted it with damaging powder and wet it in villainous alcohol, and after all it makes a very respectable appearance amid the dry and desolate regions…Its bastions stand a terror to the skulking Indian and a beacon of safety to the fugitive hunter. It is manned by 12 men and had constantly loaded in the bastions 100 guns and rifles. After building this Fort I sent messengers to the neighboring nations to induce them to come to it to trade.

In September 1834, Wyeth arrived on the Columbia, visited many tribes along the way, and stopped in at Fort Vancouver to visit John McLoughlin. At this point his men left him, choosing the stability of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and he had to hire new men to take him to Astoria to meet a packet with his supplies that he had previously arranged to be shipped around the horn. He met his vessel on September 11, 1834. The vessel had visited Hawaii and taken on about 20 Hawaiians as laborers. The vessel had also been struck by lightning, somewhat delaying its arrival at Astoria. Wyeth chose to delay its departure because of weather and the need for repairs.

Fort Vancouver, no found images of Fort William

Fort William

Wyeth then separated the party on the packet in Astoria and directed Captain Thing with about 20 men, including 13 Hawaiians to travel to Fort Hall to garrison the fort and help with trade operations. The remainder of Hawaiians and white men were sent to Wappatoo Island to build Fort William.

By October 6th Wyeth was writing his friends stating that they had established a fort on the south side of the Columbia on, “about 75 miles from the mouth of the river,” and had built out a “few buildings for store houses, smiths and cooper shops and dwellings.” in preparation for entering the salmon fishing business. His plan was to fill ships holds with large kegs of fresh salmon bound for San Francisco.

Barrels being loaded on ships bound for international trade
Barrels being loaded on ships bound for international trade

Wyeth writes home:

Set about preparing for fishing, finished a canoe 60 feet long and 3 feet wide of clear Spruce wood, cut off 30 feet of clear stuff from the same tree, not a shake or knot in it. There are trees that would square free from knots that would produce a canoe 100 feet long.


Wapatoo island is about 15 miles long and an average of 3 miles wide. One side runs the Columbia and the other the Multnomah. It consists of woodlands and prairie and has considerable deer. 

Likely location of the prairie where Wyeth set up his homestead, Champoeg to Sandy Camp
Likely location of the prairie where Wyeth set up his homestead, Champoeg to Sandy Camp

Willamette Homestead

In late September, Wyeth had begun seeking a claim of his own in the Willamette Valley. In 1834, there were not even a half dozen white claims in the valley and so Wyeth had his pick of many choice lands.

Wyeth’s description of the Willamette settlement is very detailed,

[Journal] On the 29th (September) with Abbot and Woodman in an Indian canoe I started for a journey up the Wallamet or Multnomah  River this river which is highest in the winter was so at this time but us not rapid until near the falls. … my estimate 27 1/2 miles to the falls which are perpendicular about 20 feet past these we carried our canoe 1/4 mile and launched above the falls…Above the falls for 22 miles the banks of the river are high enough to prevent overflowing but timbered and not fertile and rough and the country apparently not available except for Timber… mostly cottonwood and alder… 3 or 4 Canadians settled as farmers they have now been there one year have hogs, horses, cows, have built barns, houses and raised wheat, barley, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, corn, pumpkins, melons…. at the falls the H.B.C. are erecting a saw mill to which they contemplate adding a grist mill, the situation for mill privileges is beyond anything I have ever seen. I have never seen country of equal beauty except the Kansas country… Carrots are here finer and larger than I have ever seen…. 

(Letters of: Columbia River Oct 6th 1834) I am busy in making an establishment, a farm, on the Multnomah (Willamette) about 40-50 miles from its mouth, on a prairie of about 15 miles long bordering the river which is nearly as large as the Ohio surrounded by beautiful and well assorted timber and watered by a good mill stream, The soil is beautiful. If some of the things on which the minds eye casts a ‘longing lingering” look were here I might be content to rest from my labors and lay my bones in this remote wild.

He sets out in September to find a farm on the Willamette.

22nd- Not suiting myself as to a farm returned to Duportes and went to look at a prairie about 3 miles below his place and concluded to occupy it. It is about 15 miles long 7 wide surrounded with fine timber and a good mill stream on it. Laid out a farm [in the] afternoon took canoe and descended as far as falls.

23rd made the portage of the falls and was taken violently sick of vomiting and purging probably caused by having eaten some Lamprey Eels recovered toward night and arrived at Fort Vancouver…

26th sent Stout up the Wallammut with 2 men and implements to commence farm and started myself up to Vancouver on business.

28th- Up the Wallamut with Mr. Nuttall and Townsend and Mr. Stout

Wyeth never lives at his homestead, and instead has his contract engagees work the farm. Upon his last visit to the place in 1835, most of his men have left and joined the Willamette Mission of Jason Lee. Naturalists Nuttall and Townsend, presumedly collected their samples of botanicals and returned to the east coast to teach classes and write their papers and books on their findings.


Wyeth arrived at Wappatoo Island in the aftermath of the malaria epidemic that killed most of the Chinookans . He laments the death of these people but appears to suggest that he may have had to do the same to them to make a place for his company.

Mortality has carried off to a man its inhabitants and there is nothing to attest that they ever existed except their decaying houses, their graves and their unburied bones of which there are heaps. So you see as the righteous people of New England say, Providence has made room for me and without doing  them more injury that I should if I had made room for myself viz Killing them off.

And, on the Willamette Wyeth arrives in the midst of an epidemic and describes in great detail the overwhelming destruction of the Kalapuyans  in what will become French Prairie.

[Journal, September 29th] There appears much sickness among the people here especially among the common people which I think arises from low diet and moist weather for as far as I can observe the gentlemen who live well are not much subject to disorders. The main disorder is an intermittent fever which has carried off  all or nearly all the Indians who live even worse then the engages (contract workers).

Interior of a Native Plankhouse
Interior of a Native Plankhouse

Wyeth here perfectly captures the destruction of the tribes by the new diseases (mainly malaria) recently introduced by fur traders. The ultimate loss of tribal peoples is close to 90-95% for the Chinookans and Kalapuyans. This event, caused a societal and cultural collapse and created vast empty territories where the remaining people could not defend their territories from encroaching immigration. Tribes like the Klickitat and Cowlitz take advantage of the vulnerability of the tribes and move into the regions. Similarly, Americans encounter a vast open land with few native peoples, where there was plenty of room for their land-claims. In addition, the environmental management of the tribes in the Willamette Valley, over centuries, had prepared a vast open prairie of rich soils seemingly ready for settlement by American farmers.

Gathering up the Hawaiians

Then, word reached Wyeth of the Hawaiians he sent to Fort Hall, who had escaped the party, and disappeared into the wilderness.  As these were contracted workers, Wyeth set out to round them up but encounters a significant delay when the Columbia freezes.

[journal] January 8th [1835]- there was much floating ice in the river… Mr. McKay gave our room a treat of Buffalo meat salted and smoked and this being the first opportunity of comparing good buffalo meat with other good meat was highly acceptable. I think it equal to the best meat ever eaten…. 11th the river closed with ice and I am detained here until it opens… on the 14th I walked across the Columbia and found the ice 6 inches thick where it lay smooth….  20th- raining still, and thermometer 52 degrees. River not yet cleared ice stationary…. 23rd the river broke up.

For the next two months Wyeth and his party traveled through eastern Oregon Country searching for the Hawaiians. When returning to the Columbia in March of 1835, on his return, he heard news of the Hawaiians from the local tribes, and found 7 of them near the Columbia . The rest of them had died by Indian attack, drowning, and being froze to death. He rounded them up and they went to Fort William to join the remainder of the workers.

American Expansionism

Wyeth, from the beginnings of the enterprise saw this venture as a counter to Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1832, he had visited Fort Vancouver and made an agreement with John McLoughlin that his new venture would not directly compete against the HBC. For this reason, Wyeth spends most of his efforts working on the salmon industry, an industry that HBC was not heavy invested. Wyeth set about to create a series of American forts in a network across the west, from the Columbia,to the Snake to Great Salt Lake, areas where HBC was not operating, to offer Americans areas of safety and respite on their journey west. In addition, the ultimate plan was to establish a permanent American Presence in the Oregon Territory, an area under joint occupation by the British and Americans. Previous to 1834, American ventures were not allowed in the OT under international treaty.

Wyeth was putting into action the national policy of American expansionism, first began under Thomas Jefferson. Fort Hall is eventually sold by Wyeth but it becomes one of the most important outposts for migrating Americans along the future Oregon trail. Wyeth’s plan was sound, if ten years too soon.

Failure of the the Enterprise

Wyeth’s business by 1835 was not making the money he had expected. His last shipment of salmon was only half a hold of salmon. There had been a poor salmon run the previous two years. In addition, Wyeth did not utilize as many Native laborers as he should have. Involving Native people in the enterprise might have made the difference as they knew the best methods of fishing salmon. The loss of the Wappatoo Indians by disease might not have been as fortuitous as Wyeth imagined.

In his letter of September 6th 1835, Wyeth wraps up his situation and begin to conclude his business affairs in the Oregon Territory.

Journal Columbia river Sept 20th 1835

We have had a bad season for salmon. about half a cargo only obtained. The Salmon part of the business will never do. Our people are sick and dying off like rotten sheep of billious disorders

Letter of: Fort William Sept 6th 1835

This business has not been successful in any of its branches Therefore It will terminate soon.  We have lost 14 persons none by natural death, loss of property from hostility of Indians has been considerable.

Journal Sept 22nd 1835

17 are dead to this date… off to Fort Hall

Salmon Camp on Columbia, OHS

By 1847 Wyeth has sold his property and stake in the business to other interests. For a decade, HBC takes over dairy farming on Wappatoo Island, but their affairs end in the Oregon country after the Oregon treaty (1846), which decides on the national border between the United States and Canada.

Letter of 1847- At Fort William we grazed all the animals obtained from the  islands [Hawaii], California and the Indians, planted wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, beans, turnips, grafted & planted apples and other fruits, built dwelling house and shops for working iron and wood, and in fact made a permanent location which has never been abandoned. I made this my personal residence during Winter and Summer 1835. In the autumn of that year’s proceeded to Fort hall with supplies, having sent some previous to that time. During the winter of 1836 I resided at my post of Fort Hall, and in the Spring of that year returned to Fort William of Wappatoo Island whence I carried more supplies to Fort hall… and arrive home (US) in the autumn of 1836.

All property in the interior including Fort Hall was sold, it being necessary in order to retain the post, to keep up a garrison… Fort William at Wappatoo Island required nothing  of that kind, was retained, and the gentleman then in charge Mr. C.M. Walker was directed to lease it to some trusty person for 15 years… Nothing having been heard from Mr. Walker for a long time I sent a request to John McLaughlin to have the island entered in my name at the land office established by the Provisional government.


Nathaniel Wyeth’s legacy is his vision of what it would take to expand the country to the Pacific coast. Tightly financed, his self-made vision of blazing a trail to the west that Americans could follow, sets the stage for the next generation of explorers who fine tuned the route of the Oregon Trail. Wyeth did make mistakes. He spent three or four months (1834-1835) trying to find the Hawaiian escapees, when his time may have been better spent working on developing his business. He also did not appear to see the value of Native peoples. This is not a mistake HBC made, as they heavily employed natives in the fur trade and for labor about Fort Vancouver.  Fort William joins the list of American fur trade outposts that dot the Willamette and Columbia rivers.


Correspondence and Journal of Nathaniel J. Wyeth.

public domain images when available

Google maps

I generally paraphrased many of his letters and journal entries. They are substantially the same as he wrote them.  I also liberally edited the text for grammatical and other errors. The Title of this article is directly lifted from one of his letters.


Colonization in Native Country 2016: Standing Rock Encampment

Manifest Manners- Manifest Manners are the course of dominance, the racialist notions and misnomers sustained in archives and lexicons as “authentic” representations of Indian cultures. Manifest manners court the destinies of monotheism, cultural determinism, objectivism, and the structural conceits of savagism and civilization. Gerald Vizenor

Americans of the United States have accomplished (extermination & deprival of rights) … with singular felicity; tranquility, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating a single great principle of morality in the eyes of the world. It is impossible to destroy men with more respect for the laws of humanity (Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835).

In 2016, we are seeing colonization of Tribal Nations again rearing its ugly head. Perhaps we forgot, Americans have certainly forgotten as they assume that we are past all of that, and we are all so progressive and diverse and accepting of other peoples. Its not a well-studied history in our public schools. Tribal history is generally ignored in favor of a few Native heroes who helped the expansion of the American nation.

Yet for Native people of this country we have not forgotten,  colonization is all around us all the time. The United States is an Imperialist country. In the past 200+ years the US has gone into other countries and either taken them over or forced a new regime to take control. The US calls this “rebuilding” or some-such, yet the effects are the same. Ask the Hawaiian peoples about imperialism? Ask Native tribes about how they lost their lands and how they were forced to give away or force to sign treaties and sell their lands.

And after the lands are taken, then colonization begin, changing the government, assimilating the people, forcing the society to adhere to specific narrow “Americanized” boundaries. Or in some cases completely destabilizing the country and taking advantage of continuous destabilization to take military action. The examples of this are many. For Native peoples destabilization is constant political pressure on Tribal nations for land, resources, rights. The reservation lands the tribes have today are ultimately owned by the federal government, or called federal trust lands. If the government chooses to negate tribal rights to their lands, they can.  Ask any tribe that underwent Termination.

Now in 2016, the United States took away from the Standing Rock Tribe the right to manage their water resources and lands from becoming subject to the passage  of the oil pipelines from Canada. The plan was to place oil pipelines across the reservation, across its water supply, their river, and the tribe had no right to say no. Their permanent reservation and their sovereignty was negated by Congress so that oil could flow.

The tribe chose to fight back and encamped in front of the pipeline to stop the progress. They were protecting water, and their sacred sites. Yet that fight seems to fall on deaf ears as the American Media chose to ignore the conflict, even though traditionally 4the media has seved as an important check on the federal government. Big media seems to not see Native activism, Native rights of even human rights for clean water. Yet peoples from over 300 Native nations responded and caught the attention of many independent news sources. Facebook is our friend today and our only true media source.(update 9/13- Facebook appears to have been compromised by someone? against this movement)

Ignoring this conflict is a mistake because every time Natives have activated and taken action, that story has become the most studied conflict in American history. How many Indian wars have been studied, how much has Pine ridge, or Wounded Knee I or II been studied? Indian conflicts and wars likely have more studies and books written about them than any other single event in history.  Native scholars, historians,  and anthropologists do not let these types of events go unstudied, and I predict in a year we will all see a florescence of studies of the Standing Rock encampment. 

Yet it is the anonymity of the conflict to Big Media that is so interesting. When the protest was peaceful there was no attention. even when the encampment reached 3000+ people, there was little or no attention from the media. When security guards began attacking the people at the encampment, then the media began to take notice. And then the first news, for the news-spinners in North Dakota, was to label the Native people as the instigators. Ironically the media had no outrage over attacking other humans with dogs. Where is their outrage and 24-hour-discussion about the human rights of these Americans? Where are the panels of consultants and opinionists who will talk at all hours of the day about the legality of the actions on both sides?  These people are Americans, not simply Native Americans, do they not have right guaranteed in the constitution? Or is it really that they are to the media first Native Americans, and activists, so they can be ignored as they are not real Americans? Their rights to clean water and land is not considered important enough to merit attention.

I think Winona Laduke said it best, “When does protecting water become criminal and threatening to destroy water not?” (I paraphrase). She raises an important question. Why is protecting the earth a criminalized activity and development which destroys the earth considered alright, approved, and the way things should be?

The fact is that the presence of Native peoples in any conflict is uncomfortable to Americans. The Presence of Native peoples and Tribes are in many ways a reminder of the horrible colonizing roots of this country. Colonization and imperialism which included: causing the genocide of millions of Native peoples. then colonization of tribal nations that continued into the 20th century with the taking of tribal lands and termination of reservations. Today, colonization is continuing with taking tribal lands, and rights to control and manage their lands and resources.

I believe, when tribes speak about the earth and the land, the implication is that Americans need to consider it, its health and its survival in plans for development and taking of resources. Native people and their cultures then serve as a conscience of the earth to many people. Who else speaks for the earth, for its survival? Who else will be that conscience? This is uncomfortable to many Americans who are inculcated on the notion that they can freely develop and destroy and not worry about the effects of their actions on people or the earth. Maybe that is why Native people are ignored, because if Native people are right, that would mean that Americans would have to be responsible for their actions. And that is not something many Americans are used to doing, especially those investing in the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The pipeline is halted for now to Standing Rock. The fight now will continue in the halls of Washington, D.C. The actions of the pipeline in attacking people to continue development may be their undoing. I hope the conversation turns to what the pipeline would do the earth as well and that a decision is made to protect the earth, because without it and its resources we would not be here.

This is not a tribal fight, this is a human fight for the rights and welfare of everyone. The dangers to human health and the environment posed by this pipeline deserve the undivided action and attention of everyone, white, black, latino, asian, native, poor, middleclass, rich in this region. 

September 11 & 14, 2016

David Lewis, Oregon

Douglas Encounters Kalapuyans In Oregon

Macnee's 1829 portrait of David Douglas. Linnean Society, London
Macnee’s 1829 portrait of David Douglas. Linnean Society, London

Scottish Botanist David Douglas (25 June 1799 – 12 July 1834) did extensive work in Oregon. On David Douglas’ famous trips to Oregon he documented a collection of plant seeds and samples, but also a collection of animal samples, and material culture (hats and baby boards). He famously names the Douglas fir tree. Douglas shipped the collections in barrels to the Royal Horticultural Society from the port at Fort Vancouver.  His collections are now in the British Museum or in Anthropology  museums in Scotland.

The journals of David Douglas offer a glimpse of the environment of the Willamette Valley at a very early date, 1825-1826. During  his expedition Douglas, travels first south from Fort Vancouver to the Umpqua valley, and then returns north. These excerpts are vignettes along that route. Douglas meets and accompanies many of the key fur traders and explorers of the time. He eventually visits Hawaii, where he is caught in a large animal trap and killed.

Agate- Fording the Yamhill 1841

In late summer 1826 Douglas begin a trip south, through the Willamette Valley.

Grey Foxes in Oregon, image courtesy of Trobairitz blog (pending)

On the Multnomah [Willamette] there is a most singular species of fox… brown at the base, white in the middle, and black at the points… it differs from most of the genus in its propensity for climbing trees, which he mounts with as much facility as a squirrel. The first that came under my notice were two skins forming a robe for an Indian child, belonging to the Calapooie tribe, inhabitants of the higher reaches of the Multnomah. In August 1825, I was desirous of purchasing some for the purpose of showing at the establishment, but too great value was put on them. (155)

September 28th 1826- Camped on the south side of the Yamhill River, a small stream about twenty five yards wide; channel for a greater part mud and sand. Two hundred yards below where we forded are fine cascades 7 feet high. Country much the same as yesterday; fine rich soil; oaks more abundant, and pines scarcer and more diminutive in growth.  (214)

Saturday, September, 30th- Most parts of the country burned; only on little patches in the valleys and on the flats near the low hills that verdure is to be seen. Some of the natives tell me it is done for the purpose of urging the deer to frequent certain parts, to feed, which they leave unburned, and of course they are easily killed. Others say that it is done in order that they might the better find wild honey and grasshoppers, which both serve as articles of winter food. … soil deep rich black loam… Passed at noon some Indians digging the roots of Phalangium Quamash in one of the low plains. Bulbs much larger than any I have seen, except those on Lewis and Clarke’s River [Columbia].

… In the dusk I walked out with my gun. I had not gone more than a mile from the camp when I observed a very large wasp nest, which had been attached to a tree, lying on the plain where the ground was perfectly bare and the herbage burned, taken there by the bears. At the time John Kennedy, one of the hunters, was out after deer and saw a very large male grizzly bear enter a small hummock of low brushwood two hundred yards from me. Being too dark, we thought it prudent to leave him unmolested.

October 1st- country the same as yesterday, rich, but not yet a vestige of green herbage; all burned except in the deep ravines. …on the elevated grounds where the soil is a deep rich loam, 3 to 7 feet thick on a clay bottom, some of the oaks measure 18 to 24 feet in circumference, but rarely exceeding 30 feet of trunk in height.

Thursday 19th of October- (Umpqua area) six Indians of the Calapooie tribe [Yoncalla Kalapuyans]  assisted me to my camp, (226)

[this is assumed to be in the vicinity of Fort Umpqua]

November Sunday 12th- at two o’clock passed Longtabuff [Longtom] River, which falls into the Multnomah [Willamette]. (236)

Monday 13th- smoke from our fire attracted several Indians to our camp belonging to the Calapooia tribe, who had little food and had come to beg a little. I was glad to relieve them, and as none of us knew the way one of them undertook to guide us to a crossing-place and to procure for us a canoe at the same time. (237)

Tuesday 14th- Early this morning two Indians fortunately came to our camp and informed us that we could cross the river on a fallen tree and the horses could swim at an old traverse, a little below. This we found correct and they for a small compensation assisted us. (237)

Wednesday 15th- on arriving at Sandiam [sic] river, which falls in the Multnomah [Willamette], a stream of considerable magnitude, we found the village deserted and no canoes. The men chose to swim their horses, I alone. …proceeded on and found an Indian village only two miles further on, with plenty of canoes. (237)

Thursday the 16th- at Two o’clock were met by Tochty (or Pretty) one of the Calapooia chiefs, who directed us on the right way and said we should find canoes on the Multnomah [Willamette], a few miles above his house.

Friday 17th- went down on the high banks of the river to two Calapooia lodges where was kindly treated by the inmates. The only article in the way of animal food was a small piece of the rump of a Long-tailed deer, which the good woman on seeing I stood in need of food had without loss of time cooked for me. The greater part of it was only the bare vertebrae, which she pounded with two stones and placed it in a basket-work kettle among water and steamed it by throwing red hot stones in it and covering it over with a close mat until done. On this, with a few hard nuts and roots of Phalangium Quamash [camas], it made a good breakfast. After paying my expenses with a few balls and shots of powder, and a few beads, I resumed my walk towards the end of my journey, five miles distant.

Camas going to seed, Bush Park  2015

The Kalapuya tribes lived in a land full of abundant resources. There were plenty of big game animals to hunt, a great variety of berries and fruits, and plenty of fish in the rivers and streams. Nearly any time of the year there was plants of resources to feed and the people. In addition, there were great Western Red cedar trees for building houses and making carvings. There were plentiful trading opportunities with neighboring tribes that had abundant resources of their own. In addition they employed methods of managing the incredibly lush vegetation of the valley by setting fires to control it. The Kalapuyas lived a very wealthy life with time to engage in other pursuits other than gathering, hunting or fishing.

Tualatin Kalapuya Calendar, Albert Gatschet 1877
Tualatin Kalapuya Calendar, Albert Gatschet 1877

One of the most significant of their resources was the Camas lily bulbs [Antip-Kalapuyan}. Camas lily bulbs (Camassia Esculenta or Quamash) were the main food of the Kalapuyas. Camas (Camassia quamash) is very strongly identified with the Kalapuya peoples throughout the valley. Ethnologist Albert Gatschet gathered a Kalapuya calendar from the Atfalati (Tualatin) Indians in 1877 that depicts the Kalapuyans following the camas seasonal cycle. Camas was very widespread in the valley, and the Kalapuyan tribes would manage fields of the blue lily for their own harvest. They had established a form of agriculture where the camas would be dug annually once flowering was finished, and the energy of the plant had gone back into the bulbs. They would harvest with ironwood digging sticks, and collect only the larger bulbs, throwing the small bulbs back into the holes to grow bigger for the next year. Kalapuyan families harvested so much camas, that they would cook the bulbs in large underground ovens.

Camas was a large crop for the tribes. Camas bulbs were harvested with digging sticks. These sticks were slightly curved, with a handle on one end, and sharpened digging end. There were made from “ironwood” of hardwoods that were fire hardened for strength. In the summer, women would travel to their customary camas fields, and dig the larger bulbs, letting the smaller bulbs fall back into the holes. In this way several large camas could be dug within the same area efficiently. Camas was then cooked overnight in underground rock-lined ovens. This was a major staple of the Kalapuyan diet, and was a major trade item.

Detail of the flower star with petal pointed downwards
Detail of the flower star with petal pointed downwards

The Kalapuyas had originally a six month calendar that organized the spring, summer and fall according to the camas growing cycle. The winter did not have any particular months as it was a long period where it was best that people stayed indoors because of the extensive rainfall. In the mid-19th century the Kalapuyas adopted a 12 month calendar along the lines of those shown to them by the newcomers. Albert Gatschet copied one such calendar down from a Tualatin informant in 1877.  The calendar also shows us that the Kalapuyas lived in a seasonal cycle of travel throughout their lands. From permanent

David Douglas describes the cooking method for camas:

“Phalangium Quamash; its roots form a great part of the natives’ food; they are prepared as follows: a hole is scraped in the ground, in which are placed a number of flat stones on which the fire is placed and kept burning until sufficiently warm, when it is taken away. The cakes, which are formed by cutting or bruising the roots and then compressing into small bricks, are placed on the stones and covered with leaves, moss, or dry grass, with a layer of earth on the outside, and left until baked or roasted, which takes generally a night. They are moist when newly taken off the stones, and are hung up to dry. Then they are placed on shelves or boxes for winter use. When warm they taste much like a baked pear…. Flowers large, blue: abundant in all low alluvial plains on the margin of woods and banks of river.”

The Kalapuya tribes practiced another method of managing the land in the valley, as described by Douglas on his journey,

Most parts of the country burned; only on little patches in the valleys and on the flats near the low hills that verdure is to be seen. Some of the natives tell me it is done for the purpose of urging the deer to frequent certain parts, to feed, which they leave unburned, and of course they are easily killed. Others say that it is done in order that they might the better find wild honey and grasshoppers, which both serve as articles of winter food.

Fire was used as an important technique, where the Kalapuyans would set fire to the valley,  in the late summer/early fall, annually to clear the valley of dense underbrush. Oregon enjoys plenty of rain, making the environment constantly rich in dense undergrowth. Without the annual fires, it would have been nearly impossible to walk across the valley.

Tarweed, native to Oregon, many folks have assumed its an introduced plant, but this is not so, many early farmers and sheep ranchers wanted it gone because the sticky sap of the plant would stick to the sheep fleeces. Very pungent odor, and grows in rare patches.

Secondary effects of the burning resulted in the control of insect populations, to make the vegetation rebound and restore itself and helped the Kalapuya hunt for deer on the cleared valley floor. After a burn Kalapuyans would harvest roasted tarweed (Madia sativa) seeds, and roasted grasshoppers. Some plants like wild hazel (Corylus americana), when burned, would grow branches back the following year perfectly straight. The straight hazel shoots are perfect materials for weaving basketry.

Western hazel nuts, the nuts were harvested and sun dried and then cracked open on a large flat rock.

Douglas’ success in documenting and collecting new species (new to Europeans) and the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, who also collected and documented many new peoples and cultures, sets the stage for the naturalist traditions of the later 19th century. Naturalists, most amateur and untrained, took to gathering “curios,” curiosities of interest to a European audience. This truly began the development of animal, plant, and cultural studies of peoples, that becomes ethnology and ethnography in anthropology, mythologies and oral histories in folklore studies, and new discoveries for biological and botanical studies.



20 Years of the Southwest Oregon Research Project


SWORP II Team at Potlatch 2001
SWORP II Team at Potlatch 2001, JoAllyn Archambault (SI-MNH, Project Advisor) speaking, from Left David Lewis, Denni Hockema, Patti Whereat, Admada Mitchell, Bryan Hudson (not on the team), Robert Kentta Mark Tveskov and baby Tveskov, Back row Coquille Tribal Council.

Southwest Oregon Research Projects &
The Archival Collection

In 1995, I attended an event that would impact me for many years. The event was a potlatch held by the Coquille tribe and the University of Oregon. There was given away copies of some 50,000 pages of information collected from the Smithsonian Institution to the Tribes of Oregon. It was amazing to see all of these national figures in anthropology and the university and local tribes attend and receive their gifts. I did not known much about the project then, nor did I view the collection. It wasn’t until 1997 when I became involved as a researcher in the second SWORP project, that I became intensely interested in the collection, the information it contained, and its potential to help the tribes in Oregon.

Denny, Patty & Karen
From left Denni Hockema, Patti Whereat, unknown, old UO Longhouse in background with Don Day, James Fox, Deborah Carver

The Southwest Oregon Research Project or SWORP began as a Project to help the Coquille Tribe collect the paper proof of their existence. They, along with some 60 tribes in Oregon had been terminated in 1954, and all of the tribes were fighting back for their people, and cultures, that had been degraded by over 100 years of colonization. After termination, the tribal people did not have any special rights to practice their cultures, and most of the languages and traditions were heavily impacted or disappeared. The promises of the treaties, to give permanent reservations to the tribes in exchange for all for the lands of Oregon, turned out to be a lie. When the politics changed, the tactics of the federal government changed several times during 100 years (1856-1956); from extermination, to treaty and removal (1853-1870s), to assimilation through religion and education (begin 1853), to individualism and the Dawes Act (1887), to self determination (1930s), and then to liquidation or termination (1954).

George Wasson and JoAllyn Archambault, Background is Knight Law, 201 Potlatch
George Wasson Jr. and JoAllyn Archambault, Background is Knight Law School, 2001 Potlatch

The tribes were heavily impacted, and they found themselves in the 1970s without a land-base, rights, or resources to keep their cultures alive. Tribes began organizing to become restored. Federal reports and state statistics showed everyone that the great experiment of termination had been a failure and Native people were the least apt to finish high school, go on to college, earn a living wage, survive past 45 years, and had horrible social problems (poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of employment). In short the fears of the late 19th century that Indians would disappear, appeared to be happening at a rapid pace, due to government neglect, systemic racism, and complete disempowerment.

Smith River, Tolowa Feather Dancers, 2001 Potlatch
Smith River, Tolowa Feather Dancers, Teshu Bommelyn in the middle, 2001 Potlatch

To become restored, tribes had to prove to politicians and to Federal agencies that they continued to exist as an active government and had an intact culture. These happened to be the very things that the Federal government had been trying to eradicate in tribes for 120 years. One Oregon native George Wasson Jr. (Coquille) had some experience in Washington, D.C. and knew something about the ethnographic records in the Smithsonian Institution. In the 1990s, George began organizing with anthropologists at the University of Oregon to collect back the ethnographic records gathered from Oregon natives in the 19th and 20th centuries by a multitude of researchers.

Klamath Plat map, collected in 2006
Klamath Agency Plat map, collected in 2006

The project as envisioned would bring copies of original ethnographic documents back to Oregon and make them available to local Tribes and researchers. The original off-hand assessment from the SI was that there was not many records there from Oregon so the SI offered to pay for all copies. That first project netted some 50,000 pages from the tribe of Southwestern Oregon, including maps, microfilm and photographs. The collection was brought back to the University of Oregon and stored in Special Collections of the Knight Library.

The timeline for the projects was thus;

1995: George Wasson (Coquille/Anthropology-UO) initiates SWORP field research in Washington, D.C. at National Anthropological Archives and National Archives

1997: SWORP collection is given by Potlatch to five western Oregon Tribes; Grand Ronde, Siletz, Cow Creek, Coos Lower Umpqua Siuslaw, and Coquille; and two Northern California Tribes; Smith River and Elk Valley.

1998: Mark Tveskov (Anthropology-UO) and Jason Younker (Coquille/Anthropology-UO) coordinate SWORP II field research in Washington, D.C. at the National Anthropological Archives, National Archives and National Archives, College Park.

1999-2001: SWORP I & II collections reorganization is completed by David Lewis (Grand Ronde/Anthropology-UO) and Inventory to the SWORP Archival Collection is published.

June 9, 2001: Coquille Tribe and University of Oregon initiate the 2nd Potlatch, giving 17 greater Oregon Tribes copies of SWORP manuscripts and 44 Tribes copies of the Inventory.

2006: SWORP III Initiated by and a led by David Lewis.

2009: SWORP III organized and 2 copies made

2013: Oregon Tribal Archives Institute (not part of the project yet related)

Jason Younker Kneeling with SWORP gift, 2001
Jason Younker Kneeling with SWORP gift, Don Dumond in background, 2001

Supporters of the 3 projects were these organizations and institutions;

  • Coquille Indian Tribe
  • Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
  • Special Collections, Knight Library, UO
  • Department of Anthropology, UO
  • Museum of Natural and Cultural History, UO
  • Graduate School, UO
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • National Anthropological Archives
  • National Archives Records Administration
Tribal representative accepting gift from Coquille Council Members
Tribal representative accepting gift of SWORP Finding Aid from Coquille Council,  Tom Younker foreground, 2001

Advisors to the Project have been,

  • Dr. Joallyn Archambault (SI, Natural History)
  • Dr. Jon Erlandson (Director of UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History)
  • Gina Rappaport (SI, National Anthropological Archives)
SWORP II team viewing Oregon Treaties 1997, from left, David Lewis, Mark Tveskov, Patti Whereat, Robert Kentta, Deni Hockema
SWORP II team viewing Oregon Treaties 1997, from left, David Lewis, Mark Tveskov, Patti Whereat, Robert Kentta, Denni Hockema

George Wasson had conceived of the project to create the paper proof of the tribe’s existence, but also to fill a notable void. He called this void the Cultural Black Hole.  The void was a large area of cultural information, languages, that are integral to all tribal cultures, that appeared to be missing. Oregon society and education did not address tribal cultures of western Oregon. Tribal histories were non-existent, and Tribal people were like “Invisible men and women” in Oregon. In the 1980s, it appeared that culturally many Oregon Tribes had ceased to exist. George’s hope was that when the project returned the volumes of ethnographic documents to Oregon that they would be used to help the tribes restore, revive, and preserve their cultural traditions. That is what the collection did.

Sample Inventory from SWORP 1 & 2 combined in M. Access
Sample Inventory from SWORP 1 & 2 combined in M. Access

The collection as given to at least 17 tribes in 2 potlatches. Many of the tribes did not have the resources to manage archival collections. So tribes began working in this direction. The model of SWORP resonated with many and it inspired the Umatilla tribe to begin a large archival project, now a part of their Tamaskiliskt Museum.  Grand Ronde got serious with its archival collections and started to scan their collection. Smith River Rancheria had a project at Humboldt State to scan their portion of the collection, and all their tribal government records. Then, UO Special Collections hosted a project to make the SWORP finding aid one of the first available on the Archives West website. Many of the researchers who had been part of SWORP went on to contribute greatly to their Tribes, especially in the cultural programs. In 2013, Oregon State University Library sponsored an Oregon Tribal Archives Institute to train archivists from all area tribes in archival procedures.

SWORP Finding Aid cover, Graphic Art-Deana Dartt
SWORP Finding Aid cover, Graphic Art-Deana Dartt

Archival Organization

In the summer of 1999, David Lewis began an inventory of the collection. That year the SWORP 2 collection was turned over to the UO. The collections (SWORP I & SWORP II) existed as separate collections and were difficult to access, to find documents, and basically unknown to researchers. After the Fall term spent inventorying the collection in some spare time, a report was handed over to Jon Erlandson the project advisor at UO. Erlandson began looking for money to fund an archival organization project.  From that effort, and subsequent efforts by Jon, with support from the Knight Library and the Graduate School, Lewis was able to gain funding for some seven years to organize the collection, make copies of it for the 2nd potlatch, and represent the collection. The whole of 2000 was spend organizing the collection, and creating a publishable finding aid. Special Collections at UO trained Lewis in archival techniques and the original two collections were married to become one concentric collection. The next year was spend making 17 copies of the collection to be given away at the 2001 potlatch. This project was not completed until 2002, organized and arranged by Lewis.

Don Day cooking the salmon for the feast, 2001.
Don Day cooking the salmon for the feast, 2001.


The third project changed tactics a bit. The project expanded the scope from only western Oregon to include all of eastern Oregon. The Klamath records were earmarked for copies as, they had undergone termination at the same time as the western Oregon tribes. In addition, there are spectacular Klamath collections at the UO libraries, that would parallel the ethnographic documents at the SI.

The SWORP II gift, 2001
The SWORP II gift, 2001, Gordon Bettles in background

As well, for the correspondence series at the National Archives Records Administration, the team noted that the original letter indexes, created by the National Archives missed many letters during the year. The strategy was altered to ignore the indexes and cull through the letters of one year individually. In this new method, the team found 7x the letters for Oregon than we found by using the microfilm index. The SWORP III collection is not at the UO and two physical copies exist, at Grand Ronde and at the Coquille Tribe.

The Project was also subsequently written about in the Journal of Western Archives, Special Issue on Tribal Archives. And was well reviewed in this article, Anthropology in and of Museums—Class Review Journal of Western Archives Special Issue on Native American Archives (2015).

The SWORP basics (as of 2013).

  • Three projects 1995, 1998, 2006
  • Two Potlatches 1997, 2001
  • 17 tribes received copies of documents
  • All Oregon tribes received full collections
  • ~150,000 pages of documents recovered
  • Main archive is at the University of Oregon
  • Members of 5 Oregon tribes were researchers
  • 49 acid free archival boxes, 32.25 linear feet, (some adds have been reported).
  • Records date from 1850s to 1950s.
  • The collection covers the Tribes of southwestern Washington, western Oregon, northern California, about 44 federally recognized Tribes.
  • Linguistic manuscripts contain information from 80+ Native languages from throughout the Americas.
  • The collection contains a unique combination of ethnographic and government manuscripts.
  • The Primary collection (most accessible) is at the University of Oregon Knight Library Special Collections and University Archives.
SWORP III team, David Lewis, Leslie Riggs, Sandin Riddle, Dennis Worden
SWORP III team, David Lewis (coordinator), Leslie Riggs, Sandin Riddle, Dennis Worden, 2006


The project has helped a number of tribes in the region restore parts of their culture. For example, canoe engineers have learned from the collection how the local Tribes hollowed out logs by burning them out. Other tribes have benefited by having the linguistic information readily available as they work to restore languages. Still others have nothing in common with the project, but have found that the model is something they can employ when searching for information about their particular tribe. Perhaps the greatest benefits is having this information locally available to inspire more research by scholars on tribal histories and cultures. The SWORP collection continues to be the most accessed collection in the Special Collections at UO, and has been since its reorganization.

Travels, Campmeetings, and Off-Rez Settlements of the Western Oregon Tribes

In recent years, histories of the Indians of Oregon have come under scrutiny by a cadre of historians and anthropologists. Questioned now are events that took place in Oregon, how the events unfolded and some of the “facts” of native history that most people have come to assume are the only history of Native peoples in Oregon.

My investigation into possible mis-characterizations of Native history in Oregon has led to numerous new discoveries about native history in the historic era. These discoveries place much of the written Native history from 1850 to 1970 in doubt.  One of the most egregious problems is the manner in which there was an utter lack of writing by historians about off-reservation Indians in history after the removal of the Tribes to reservations (1856-1870s).the few accounts that do exist are in local newspapers and a few small press writings by local historians.

The common understanding for most people within Oregon is that tribes were removed to reservations. Once this claim is investigated in detail, it turns out that a good number of Tribal people did not go to reservations. As well many people did not remain on reservations after removal, but left, escaped, soon after their removal to return to their homelands. There is more than one hundred years of history of the tribal people who traveled about the countryside at various times of the year, and participated in various industries (mainly agriculture and logging)  in Oregon, while maintaining a home on a reservation.

One of the most common stories in the Willamette Valley are those of the last of the Kalapuya tribes. In many communities there are local tales of the last man or woman of their local band of Kalapuyans. Two of the most significant are the stories of Quinaby from Salem, and Indian Eliza of Brownsville.

Quinaby (Standing) and unknown man, OHS collections
Quinaby (Standing) and unknown man, OHS collections


Quinaby was a significant figure around Salem in its early days. Salem residents called him Chief Quinaby and he would take donations from people and do odd jobs around the city.

In the early years, Native people were not American citizens (until 1924 with passage of the American Indian Citizenship Act) and were not allowed to freely leave the reservations, so Quinaby of the Chemeketa tribe, and his wife Eliza (said to have been from the Chemaway tribe) often received travel passes to visit Salem, as is noted in the Grand Ronde Pass book from the 1870s.

While in Salem, Quinaby and Eliza lived in a dwelling he built in the brush near the Salem Railroad Depot, and he often played Stick Game, a Native gambling game, all night with other natives, likely other native people traveling in the valley.

Quinaby spoke Chinuk Wawa (Chinook Jargon) in a friendly manner to all he met and often asked for muck-a-muck (food). He did not work regularly, as working was avoided by chiefs who lived in their traditional lifestyles. Still, Quinaby was known to do odd jobs for money and food. He promoted his status around Salem as the “last” of his people, regardless of the Kalapuyans at Grand Ronde, which brought sympathy to him from settlers.

On July 4, 1875, Quinaby and his wife Eliza “dressed in the National emblem—the Stars and Stripes—which were entwined about ‘their’ shoulders” and paraded around town proudly. Many of the native people in this period wanted to become Americans, and even though they were generally treated as racial minorities, they chose to exhibit their super patriotism to be accepted by the town-folk.

Quinaby died in Salem during Christmas week 1883. Eliza continued to visit Salem into her eighties. Quinaby was buried on the old grounds of the old Bush Elementary School, before the school was built (1936), under the old oak tree. The site for the burial has never been found.  In about 1912, a small community north of Salem was named Quinaby in his honor.

Salem the Gathering Place

Salem was a hotbed of Indian activity.  Previous to American settlement, Salem was a location of many important vegetable resources. Salem, or actually the Chemeketa Plains, had large fields of camas which attracted tribes from the area. Then North of the Chemeketa Plains was Lake Labish which had enormous resources, likely wapato, waterfowl, fish and many other food plants and animals. The local Chemaway village was just north of this and they would have been regular gatherers at the lake. The Chemeketa Indians would have accessed the lake and dug camas in the fields.

GLO maps 6s 2w, 6s 1w, depicting lake labish and associated wetlands in relation to Miller DLC, 1852
GLO maps 6s 2w, 6s 1w, depicting lake labish, 1852

During settlement of the valley by French-Canadians and Americans, Salem was at a crossroads of agriculture for the valley and there are two reservations not too far away. Tribes must have come to Salem to find supplies and meet friends, when traveling to their seasonal jobs at local farms. Salem was the location to find American medicines for the many illnesses on the reservations. Such medicines were not accessible on the reservations which were underfunded and poorly managed by the Indian Department.

Numerous accounts of Indians in Salem suggest that Salem was a regular location to hold campmeetings. These meetings would happen alongside the railroad tracks. the railroad owned lots of land alongside the tracks and it was impossible for them to monitor who was staying on their property. Indians set up temporary living quarters on railroad property. In addition, the Oregon State Fair attracted Indian people. Many Indians, choosing to show their patriotism would attend the fairs each year and camp at the fairgrounds, alongside all of the other campers, and attend events in their regalia. The stories of Quinaby suggest he did this every year.

The other major story is about the ceremony that was held in 1874 among the tribes, witnessed by John Minto.

Worship in the Ancient Form, John Minto November 6, 1874, Willamette Farmer

By the merest accident I was riding past the railroad depot at Salem in the evening of Oct. 11th and noticed many Indians coming from their camping grounds east of the depot.At first I thought it might be that one of their numbers had died, but observation soon dispelled that idea and my curiosity was aroused to learn what was going on. Men, women and children were coming from various directions; falling into line they took a course from the city, at a slow pace and in perfect silence. Riding up to the rear of the procession I asked an Indian man of my acquaintance what was going on? He said in a low voice that he did not quite understand; strange people had come among them. I pressed forward and asked another who was carrying a bucket of water, who said he did not know but “may-be it would be like a campmeeting.” Reaching the head of the column, composed of the older men, I put the same question to another Indian to receive another indefinite answer, all speaking in the same subdued tone. Being assured that there was no objections to my seeing what they would do, I accompanied them by a narrow path, into a thicket, where the concourse entered single file. The path led past two tents, into an open circular space that had been cleared for the occasion. The men and boys ranging themselves around the South side, the women on the North, seating themselves, and the men and boys reverently uncovering their heads, excepting three or four young hoodlums who kept outside and occasionally made jeering remarks in an undertone, because as I afterwards learned, they did not believe in the rites about to be practiced. I became satisfied that I was about to witness devotional exercises in the Old Indian form of worship. I questioned George, the last man of the Chemeketas, who once owned the site of Salem, and he assured me that my presence was not offensive. The inner circle was complete and a second had formed outside of it, when a middle aged man of robust form and strongly marked features passed out of a tent nearby, bearing blankets that he spread down on the west side of the circle, inside, returning to come again with another man and two women. These women were painted with white marks down each cheek, edged with stripes of red. The man first mentioned had some red on his face, but, but the second had no paint, and his countenance, strong in its outlines, was sedate even to melancholy. Moving deliberately and without a word spoken, he shook hands with every adult person in the circle before seating himself on the blankets.
He was evidently the priest, preacher or teacher. He asked Jo Hutchins, head man of the North Santiams, to take a seat inside the circle. Joe’s wife, of the chieftain line of the Molallas, and the last of that line, was seated on the left of her husband and the strangers, at the head of the female portion of the assemblage. The exercises commenced by the strangers lighting the calumet and passing it amongst the men. Then the priest commenced a series of questions in the Klamath language which were answered by Mrs. Jo. Hutchins in the Chinook Jargon. My knowledge of the Chinook wa-wa has grown rusty by disuse, but I have since learned that I was right in my idea of the questions and answers. One question was: “Do you remember when all this country belonged to your people?” The answer was in the affirmative. “Do you remember when your people were many in numbers; when you had many young men and many old men?” Do you remember when many of your people died? Did your heart sorrow for the death of your people? These questions evidently had allusion to the terrible “cold sick” that swept such numbers of the Indian off. In former conversations George has told me that when a boy he was at the falls of the Willamette during the prevalence of the cold sickness; that the sick were so numerous that many would jump from the sweat houses into the river, die in the water and float away down stream, no attempt being made to take them out for burial. It scarcely needed my knowledge of Chinook to understand the nature of the reply so full of pathos was tone of the answer. She spoke in particular of the death of a little boy as making her heart very sad. Being asked some questions about the sale of their lands by her people, she expressed an enduring love for her native land and an abiding sorrow that it had been parted with, by expressed herself free from malice or hate on that account. She was submissive but sorrowful. These questions seemed intended to revive the love of country, people and former condition in the hearts of the audience, and so make the coming form of worship more effective and impressive. The stranger then commenced a recital of traditional history, which was interpreted by the woman to her own people in her language (not the Chinook) and for nearly two hours he talked to them in that manner, then the pipe was again lit and passed around.
The other stranger now took the lead commencing a song in which the Indians all joined, the two stranger women placing themselves behind the two men. Eight pieces were thus sung, each in a different measure. Time was kept by striking hands; some of the women swayed the body in unison with the music. Then a stranger delivered a short exhortation and was followed by Jo Hutchin’s in a similar strain and at greater length. The company up to this time had been seated, except one whose duty it was to feed the fire in the circle. They now arose to their feet, the drum was struck at intervals of about a minute, the people uttering a low sound after each stroke. After some time so spent, some of the Salem Indians commenced to sing, the women beat time, and the circle joined hands and swayed first to the right and then to the left, first partially and then entirely around the circle and back again. When the dance commenced many of the women adorned themselves with head dresses of painted features and some of the eldest entered into the spirit of the exercises with great enthusiasm, as if animated by recollection of other days. They preserved through all a solemnity of demeanor equaling that of Christians at their devotions. About one hundred persons participated and the exercises continued for about five hours, all was conducted “decently and in order” without indecorous act or sign of impatience.This was the first of a series of seven meetings held here by those people during the week of the State Fair, during which time these two men of the Klamath tribe, propagandists if the ancient Indian form of worship (as I have since learned from Jo. Hutchins, they were) did their best. I have no doubt to convince their bearers that God’s revelations to man were not all made through books, as the white man believes, but that in times past the Great Spirit made himself manifest to Old men of their race by natural objects and by dreams, when they saw “Tawanamas,” which I understand to mean spirits or angels. John Minto

This piece speaks for itself. The ceremony may very well have been an annual occurrence. The Klamath people were known for regularly coming into the Willamette valley and hunting the valley and camping with their friends in the tribes. Their history remembrance was a way to heal from the stress of losing everything to colonization.

Eliza Young
Eliza Young

Eliza Young, Indian Eliza (c. 1820-1923)

Eliza Young was born in the Mohawk Valley, the Land of her father of either the Pee-yu or Calapooia Kalapuya Indians. Her mother was from the McKenzie River, the homelands of the Winfelly Kalapuya. In the 1830s, her parents died, like the many Kalapuya of this period,  likely of introduced diseases in the valley which caused the deaths of some 97% of the tribes in the Willamette Valley. Jacob Spores, an early settler to the area, took Eliza in and raised her in the Coburg area.

Later Eliza moved to the town of Calapooia, now renamed Brownsville, and became the 3rd wife of a Pe-u (Mohawk) Kalapuya Indian. They were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856 with some 27 other tribes. Eliza left her husband many times because of his brutal treatment of her and met Indian Jim (Jim Young). Indian Jim purchased Eliza from her husband for 15 ponies, a rifle and 15 dollars. They moved to the Calapooia River near Brownsville, built a house and had two children, both of whom died at an early age. Indian Jim  treated Eliza badly when he drank and eventually ended up in prison. They continued to be attached to each other for many years despite Jim’s drinking.

Eliza harvested traditional berries and materials for weaving throughout her life. She would sell the berries and woven baskets to the people in Brownsville to make a living. Eliza would also take on odd jobs and housework from the neighboring settlers. Local stories of Eliza state that she was neat and clean and was extremely intelligent. Later in her life she went blind and yet continued to harvest weaving materials and making baskets on the porch of her house (shown). Her specialty was purses. A local Brownsville family hosted her on their farm and she lived to be over 100 years old.

At her death in 1923 in Brownsville, the local papers stated that she was the “Last of the Calapooyas.” This was of course incorrect as most of the Kalapuya Indians removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and their descendants remain members there today. Eliza was one of the last of the Kalapuyans to live off of the reservation in her original homeland during the time when it was illegal for Indians to be off of a reservation. Eliza’s baskets are now collected in museums and private collections throughout western Oregon.

Chief Halo
Chief Halo

Chief Halo

Chief Halo (Halo Tish) commonly shortened to Chief Halo (meaning “having little” or “needing little”), was leader of the Yoncalla Kalapuya Tribe and was married to Du-Ni-Wi, one of several wives. He remained on the Applegate family donation land claim in the Umpqua Valley after removal of other tribes to reservations. Halo and his family were prominent Native people in the community of Yoncalla and for generations were friends with the Applegate family.

The Yoncalla chiefs signed the Treaty with the Umpqua and Kalapuya with the U.S. government on November 29, 1854, and the tribes removed to the temporary Umpqua Reservation, west of Roseburg. In January 1856, Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer began removal proceedings to the permanent Grand Ronde Reservation. Jesse Applegate wrote that Halo refused to go to the reservation, saying

“I will not go to a strange land.” This was not reported to the agent. When the tribe arrived on the reservation without the chief the agent was troubled, and came to our house to get father to go with him to visit the chief. We boys went with them. When Halo saw us coming he came out of his house and stood with his back against a large oak tree which grew near the door. We approached in our usual friendly fashion, but the chief was sullen and silent. He had lost faith in the white man. The agent said, “Tell the old Indian he must go to the reservation with the other people, that I have come for him.” The chief understood and answered defiantly, “Wake Nika Klatawa,” that is ,” I will not go.” The agent drew his revolver and pointed it at the Indian when the chief bared his breast, crying in his own tongue as he did so, “Shoot! It is good I die here and am buried here. Halo is not a coward, I will not go.” “Shall I shoot him?” said the agent. “No!” cried father, his voice hoarse with indignation. The chief standing with his back against the giant oak, had defied the United States. We returned home leaving the brave man in peace. Father and my uncles protected the old chieftain and his family and they were allowed to remain in their old home. (Applegate Recollections of a Boyhood)

Halo and his family remained in Yoncalla, where the Applegates built a house for them.

Halo had a Native name, Cam-a-phee-ma, which in Yoncalla Kalapuya means “fern,” which became the Fearn surname for the family.  Chief Halo and his sons, Mack, Jake, and Sam (Be-el)— finally decided to live for a short time on the Grand Ronde Reservation. By 1891 they had returned to the Umpqua Valley, where they received off-reservation allotments

In the 1860s, Chief Halo went into business with a local settler, John Walker, who would found the town of Walker. They built a fish trap on the Row River, four miles east of Cottage Grove, where they alternated days to clear the trap of salmon, trout, and eels. Chief Halo remained active until his death in 1892. He is estimated have been at least seventy years years old.

“While living on Row River, he went into business with Halo Tish. They constructed a crude trap on Row River. Mr. Walker took the catch one day, Halo Tish the next. If Mr. Walker was too busy to go to the trap on his day, Halo Tish brought his fish to him.” (Alice M. Fox, Community of Walker)

Indian Mary Fisherman
Indian Mary Fisherman

Cottage Grove Kalapuyans

“Several hundred Calapooya Indians lived within the area of present day Cottage Grove. Many small villages were located along the banks of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River  and its tributaries. In addition to the Calapooyas, the Klamath Indians from Eastern Oregon often crossed the mountains to fish the Row River. They made their camp in the area of present Wildwood Park. The Klamath fished with spears and dip-nets to catch the fish that collected in the pool at the base of the falls. The fish were then dried and put into large baskets to be taken back over the mountains.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991) 

Cottage Grove was a known gathering location. In the summers, the local tribes would leave the reservations to travel about the Willamette Valley and take jobs harvesting the crops. The Indians who gain special travel letters and get signed out in the Passbook to allow them to travel off-reservation. Indian without the travel permission would be subject to being detained by law enforcement. The Indian agent would then get a note asking them to come get the Indians from the jail.

During these outings the tribes would have gatherings in specific locations. These places were called council grounds, or meeting grounds, or council trees. There was normally a large field where the tribes had been using the location for a long time. Pleasant Hill had such a location and Polk Scott, one of the last Native shaman at the Grand Ronde reservation, was the leader of the group there. Another gathering location was at the Cottage Grove fair grounds. the city has a heritage fair there every here even today. The Salem Fairgrounds site mentioned above was also probably a traditional gathering location. Most large tribal areas had sites to hold meetings, sometimes called campmeetings.

“The Calapooya Indians adapted to the White Man’s ways very quickly. They soon were wearing the same clothing as the settlers. They learned and spoke the language of the whites. Indian and white children often played together and attended the same schools. Inevitably, the ever increasing numbers of white settlers caused the Indians to lose their lands. In Curry County, the Calapooya were removed to reservations.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991) 

Western Oregon Exposition Fairgrounds Cottage Grove and Oregon Kalapuya Village site
Western Oregon Exposition Fairgrounds Cottage Grove and Original Kalapuya Village site

“a favorite local living place of the Calapooya was in the area of the Western Exposition Fairgrounds. The ground in the area had a hollow sound and the Indians believed that the Great Spirit spoke to them from the ground. Indian and white children alike enjoyed the sound of the ground as they raced their horses across the area.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991)

“As late as 1871 there were small isolated tribes of Indians living near Oakridge and Cottage Grove. The two groups were related and often visited back and forth. During these visits, the Indians near Oakridge took all their ponies and dogs to the settlement near Cottage Grove. The Cottage Grove Indian returned the visit, and at these times the population of the Indians settlements would swell to almost 100. It was unlawful for the Indians to homestead land. a man by the name of Black changed the names of the Indians and after considerable difficulty two Indians, Charley Tufti and James Chuck Chuck, succeeded in homesteading and securing title to two parcels of land containing 80 acres each. This was the maximum acreage permitted under the Homestead law at the time.” (Fred Macfarland)

“As late as 1910 there was a well established campground used by the Indians. The Indians of 1910 traveled by wagons and saddle stock… They hunted in the Calapooya Mountains.” (Fred Macfarland)

“The Indians came in large numbers to Lowell to pick hops in the hop yards there. they would return across the summit with salmon, dried fruits, and some green fruits and clothing; pick huckleberries and hunt in the vicinity of Rigdon and cross the Willamette Pass just prior to the snow storms in the early fall.” (Fred Macfarland)

jake fearn 1973

Pleasant Hill Kalapuyans

Chief Fisherman Bristow was the grandfather of Indian Sam Fisherman, and father of Jack Fisherman,  Kalapuya Indians of the Pleasant Hill area. This is the area of the Winfelly Kalapuyan Indians who were likely related to the Yoncalla Indians, according to this story.

“Chief Fisherman Bristow was a treacherous troublesome character here during the fifties and early sixties (1850s-1860s). This surely old chief was given the name of Bristow, after that grand old Pioneer Elijah Bristow, who settled Pleasant Hill, in 1846, and who exerted a powerful influence over this wily old brave who was chief of the Pleasant Hill tribe of Calapooias.” … in 1878, there was quite a flourishing Indian Village just back of the McFarland Hill north of Town, among the most noted Indians being Jack, Polk Scott, Jerry and Bob, Indian Sam (Fisherman)… Enoch (Fearn) the sole survivor of the tribe. (Leader May 8 1903)

Grand Ronde Passbook, Oregon Historical Society
Grand Ronde Passbook, Oregon Historical Society

The Passbook

The Grand Ronde Passbook documents the coming and going of many tribal members over about 20 years(1860s-1880s). Native people, not being US citizens were not free to leave the reservation until 1924, without a pass from the Indian agent. In 1924 the United States made all Native Americans citizens by congressional act.

Much of the travel was for resources, money and food. After traveling the Willamette valley and earning some money, the people would also visit their traditional homelands to hunt, fish or gather in their traditional manner. Fishing locations like Willamette Falls was a prime area for this activity.

A few groups left the reservation to return to their homelands. At Grand Ronde and Siletz groups like the Rogue Rivers, Tolowas and Molallas left these reservations soon after they were removed. Much of their problem was that they were promised a number of things by the Indian Agents to induce them to move peacefully yet when agents like Joel Palmer resigned soon after, all of the verbal promises were forgotten.

Other evidence of off-reservation Indians continues to surface. In most communities there are known gathering sites and Council Trees. The trees are normally old growth and with them comes stories of gatherings of native peoples around or at the base of the tree.


Thanks to Cottage Grove Historical Society for their articles about the Kalapuyans

Various newspaper accounts

Melville Jacobs Kalapuya notebooks

Sharon Delgado

Speaker, Author, Minister

Fred Klonsky

Daily posts from a retired public school teacher who is just looking at the data.


For Global Truth, Justice, Peace

storytelling in all its wonderful styles

Diane Ravitch's blog

A site to discuss better education for all

poems and paragraphs

by Kindra M. Austin

Finding Our Way Home

A Spiritual Journey Into Earth Community

settler colonial studies blog

A blog for the advancement of settler colonial studies

Join the Movement!

"Social Justice is alive, come join the movement and be an agent of change"

Voices from the Margins

A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.

Turtle Talk

Indigenous Law and Policy Center Blog Michigan State University College of Law


Res ipsa loquitur ("The thing itself speaks")

Eddie Two Hawks

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are


Wellness Leadership Education


Quips and quibbles over popular entertainment.

%d bloggers like this: