Press Release: Obama Administration Exceeds Ambitious Goal to Restore 500,000 Acres of Tribal Homelands

Turtle Talk

Date: October 12, 2016 Contact:
(AS-IA) Nedra Darling 202-219-4152

Administration makes good on promise to place at least one half million acres of land into trust for tribal nations, working to make tribal communities whole again

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. “Larry” Roberts today announced that the Obama Administration has exceeded its goal of placing half a million acres of tribal homelands into trust for federally recognized tribes.

“Restoring tribal homelands has been a pillar of President Obama’s commitment to support tribal self-determination and self-governance, empowering tribal leaders to build stronger, more resilient communities,” Secretary Jewell said. “The Administration broke the logjam on trust land applications in 2009 and has worked steadily, collaboratively and effectively to restore Native lands that will help strengthen tribal economies and make their nations whole again.”

The 500,000 acre goal…

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Temporary Reservation for the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck

In 1855-56 Oregon Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer established a number of temporary reservations to hold Indians in Oregon. Many tribes had negotiated treaties and were awaiting the ratification of the treaties in Congress. The majority of treaties  were ratified by April of 1855.  With unrest on the Columbia in the final battles of the Yakima Indian War and with new unrest in southern Oregon in the Rogue River region, Palmer acted to remove the peaceful tribes, many of whom did not have treaties. He moved them to preserve them from settler wrath, and to prepare for their movement to the permanent reserve at Grand Ronde.

Some of these peaceful tribes were on the Columbia and they had signed treaties in 1851 which were never ratified. They had been severely reduced in population by a wave of epidemics in the 1830’s and 1840’s which caused at least a 90% decline in population. As such, they were a remnant of their former grandeur. American settlers and other aggressive tribes like the Cowlitz noted the weakness of the Chinookans and moved to claim their villages and lands, the Cowlitz apparently moving into their villages and taking charge.

In December of 1855, Palmer moved the adjoining tribes of the Ne-Pe-Chuck and Clatskanie (Klatskania) into a temporary reservation at Milton, Oregon (as suggested by the letter of Smith 1/8/1856, stating that the tribes had been there a month). Milton at the time was a booming timber town with successful mills on Milton Creek. There were good roads serving the area, and the Willamette Slough offered a ready way to transport the limber to San Francisco by steamer. Milton lumber was fetching as much as $150 per 1000 board feet, an unheard of price at the time.  Thomas H. Smith owned the major land claim at Milton and he was appointed the Special Indian Agent over the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck Indians.

1854 Oregon Cadestral Survey 4n1w, depicting mills on Milton Creek
1854 Oregon Cadestral Survey 4n1w, depicting Sawmills on Milton Creek and roads

On January 8th 1856, Smith wrote to Palmer of the situation at the temporary reserve. He sends to Palmer a census list of the inhabitants of the encampment and describes some of their challenges. In January the some of the Klatskanie had returned to the encampment with their provisions. Some of them refused to return. The funding allowed to Smith, $1000, had almost run out and the food provided had run out and now the Indians were subsisting on dried salmon. Some of the tribe had gone to the Cascades and had not returned yet, likely due to the frozen river. Perhaps these Ne-pe-chuck were visiting relatives at the Cascades (I found this letter in the midst of my own research, it has been analyzed previously by others. Its mentioned in the Handbook of North American Indians Volume 7, 184, and is analyzed in The Hudson’s Bay Company 1839 Fort Vancouver Censuses of Indian Population by Daniel L. Boxberger, 2012 ).

The situation with food at the reserve was the same throughout the reservation system in Oregon. The federal government and the agents grossly underestimated the money and food needs of the tribes. The tribes were not allowed to fish, hunt or gather in their traditional manner and were forced to remain at the reserves. They could not have guns or other weapons that could be used in war. As such they could not gather the food necessary to support themselves and their families. The actions of the government cause the death of hundreds of Indians because of this environmental change imposed on the tribes. Hunger and malnutrition continued well into 1860s at the permanent reservations

Smith reports in his letter that the Indians are desiring a treaty and to be paid for their lands. This is suggesting that they had not been treated with since 1851, and they knew this may be their chance. Since we know that the government did not treat with these tribes after 1851, they likely never were paid for their lands. The lands in question are technically covered under the Willamette Valley treaty, but if the tribe was never paid, then there may be some question whether the federal government legitimately acquired the land. (this may or may not have been addressed in the Indian Claims cases)

1866 OR Cadestral Survey 4n1w showing area of Smith Land claim, see below
1866 OR Cadestral Survey 4n1w showing area of Smith Land claim, see below
1866 inset, detailing Smith Landclaim, the likely location of the Milton Encampment, the Temporary reservation of the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck
1866 inset, detailing Smith Landclaim, the likely location of the Milton Encampment, the Temporary reservation of the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck

Ethnographers in history have not looked very closely at the Clatskanie or Ne-Pe-Chuck. Smith’s census reveal about 47 people for both tribes. The Clatskanie in particular do not have extensive records (J.P. Harrington’s Tlatskanie Notes is the exception). They were an athapaskan speaking tribes, an isolate group in Northwestern Oregon. They apparently lived mostly away from the Columbia in the hilly and mountainous area between St. Helens and the Tillamook region. They are noted as not likely having villages on the Columbia. The Ne-Pe-Chuck are much better described generally, as they are one of the Lower Chinookan tribes who are covered in numerous ethnographic studies.

Smith describes these tribes a bit in his letter.

The section of country claimed by these two bands extends from Cathlamett on the Columbia River to the head of Sauvie’s Island and back as far as the sumit of the mountains dividing the river bottoms from the Falatuie [Tualatin] plains. In addition to the above the Ne-pe-chuck Indians claim a strip of country on the north side of the Columbia River. They live principally by hunting and fishing but some few of the number cultivate small patches of vegetables. They have quite a number of large Chinook Canoes, and are very expert in navigating them. They have all been more or less instructed in the doctrines of the Christian religion and many of their number believe in the existence of a Supreme being and afutione state of reward and punishment. They have a practice of bathing in the river two or three times a week and keep it up during the most severe cold weather, are harmless and inoffensive  and extremely fond of whiskey. Thomas H. Smith, Local Agent

Native land claims of the two tribes (rough area)
Native land claims of the two tribes (rough area) Location pin is Milton, Google map

Smith letter includes an extensive census of the tribes listing 25 headmen and their families. This census is an anomaly as normally Indian censuses in the time period do not list people’s names.

Census of 1/8/1856 Thomas A Smith, RG75 M2 Oregon
Census of 1/8/1856 Thomas A Smith, RG75 M2 Oregon

The Ne-pe-chuck tribe in 1856 may have been a confederation of several tribes in the region. The original tribal territories of the lower Chinookans included the Skilloot who lived from above Oak Point to south of the Cowlitz river. The next tribe west was the Wakanasisi, essentially the Multnomah on Sauvie Island and up the Willamette a ways, and on the north side of the Columbia. Smith’s description in his letter suggests an overlap of the two territories. In addition, Chona-Chona who is the first chief of the Ne-pe-chuck in the 1856 census, above, appears in the 1839 Fort Vancouver Census of the Cathlacanasese, generally accepted as being the Wakanasisi according to later documents (see Boxberger 2012).

1839 Fort Vancouver census, Boxberger 2012
1839 Fort Vancouver census, Boxberger 2012

Kiesno was the Chief of all of the lower Chinooks until his death in 1848, and it may be that Chona-Chona took over the mantle. Smith’s discussion of the movements of Chona-chona suggest they maintained a close relationship with the Cascades. “Chona-Chona of the Ne-pe-chuck tribe left here on the 17th ult (December) to got to the Cascades, and he has not yet returned.” It is unclear by this account if Chona-Chona was visiting the Cascades at the rapids, the Cascades at Dog River, or the tribe at their winter village opposite Fort Vancouver on Hayden Island.   In 1812, Kiesno visits the Cascades with an Astorian party and visits with his relatives in the Cascades tribe in a private meeting. Therefore, it may be that Chona-Chona maintained their relationships with the Cascades.

Dave Ellis, Scappoose section
Dave Ellis, Scappoose/Milton section, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages

Thomas Smith’s land claim appears to have been right on top of the Wakanasisi village at Milton Creek called Scappoose. Chona-chona was likely the principal chief here. Previously Kiesno was the chief at Scappoose  as it was noted as being his home always in Gibbs 1855-56 (Boxberger 2012).  Dave Ellis notes that St. Helens was Kiesno’s home (Chinookan Tribes of the Lower Columbia, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages). Kiesno was the chief over a broad area of the Columbia and his main “home” was the villages of the Willamette Slough and Sauvie Island where he occupied several different villages. Later in his life he even occupied Fort Vancouver as a guest of Chief Factor John McLoughlin.

Dave Ellis St Helens village section
Dave Ellis St Helens village section, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages

These tribes were to be moved with some 24 other tribes to the Grand Ronde reservation in the late winter and Spring of 1856. By January 21, Palmer begins ordering the movement of the tribes from the temporary reservations to Grand Ronde. Most tribes would be transported by steamer to Oregon City, they would traverse the falls and then load onto another steamer to Dayton. From Dayton they would walk overland to the Grand Ronde valley. The tribes would have to leave most of their belongings behind, and these they would lose. Many of the American settlers would take whatever was left behind.

1854 WA Cadestral Survey showing sawmill and Milton 4n1w
Former Location of the town of Milton, area of Thomas Smith Landclaim and likely location of the encampment/reserve Google map
Former Location of the town of Milton, area of Thomas Smith Landclaim and likely location of the encampment/reserve Google map

The town of Milton, an early timber boom town, has passed from existence. Once the county seat, the title has since passed to St. Helens to the north. The Thomas Smith land claim remained in existence well into the 20th century and much of it appears intact and undeveloped on the contemporary map.

Thanks to David Heath for helpful comments to push this narrative along.

Getting Their Due: Indian Claims Cases of Oregon Tribes

The Oregon tribes have sued the United States on numerous occasions in the past 100 years.  Tribes across the United States began suing the federal government for non-payment of land (unratified treaties, American invasion of tribal reservation lands and survey errors), for mis-management of finances, and for misuse of the tribal lands in the early part of the 20th century. The tribes had to request a special right to sue the government from Congress and then they could file the lawsuit. The lawsuits became so common that they began taxing the federal court system. The United States had to pay the court and the attorneys on their side and because of the rights of the tribes (dependent sovereign nations), the federal government had to pay for the attorneys for the tribes as well.

Many of the cases were taking 30 or more years to complete and lawmakers advocated for the special Indian Court of Claims saying that the “Indians deserve their day in court.”  In 1946 the United States establish the Court of Claims to hear Indian Claims cases. The initial plan was that the court would only be in business for only 5 years, but the dockets became so full that the court was continually renewed until 1978, when it was closed. In that time the court had heard 546 cases, and awarded 818,172,606.64. The remaining cases were transferred to the regular federal courts.


Ind. Claims Case First findings Final award Award Issue
California Indians V US (Dkts 31 & 37) 5/6/1949 7/20/1964 29,100,000 Land
Chinook V US (Dkt 234) 4/16/1958 12/3/1971 48,692.05 Land
Coos Bay (Dkt 265) 7/11/52 dismissed
Kalapuya et al V US (Dkt 238) 11/17/54 dismissed
Klamath, Modoc & Yahooskin V US (Dkt 100) 4/9/54 1/31/64 2,500,000 Land
Klamath Modoc & Yahooskin (Dkt 100-A) 5/14/69 9/2/69 4,162,992.80 Land
Klamath, Modoc & Yahooskin (Dkts 100-B01 & 100-C) 10/31/75 1/21/77 18,000,000 (B), 785,000 (C) Accounting
Klamath, Modoc & Yahooskin (100-B-2) 6/26/74 6/26/74 (dismissal)
Nez Perce (Dkt 175) 3/21/67 8/25/71 3,550,000 Land
Nez Perce (Dkt 175-A) 12/31/59 6/17/60 4,157,605.06 Land
Nez Perce (Dkt 175-B) 4/7/64 11/1/72 1,387,911 Land
Nez Perce of Idaho (Dkt 179-A) Transferred to court of claims
Nez Perce (Dkt 180) 6/4/52 12/4/1957 Dismissed (viable claims severed)
Nez Perce (Dkt 180-A) 8/10/55 5/12/61 3,000,000 For gold removed from reservation and other related
Paiute nation (Snake) (Dkt 87) 3/24/59 Snake Indians


3,650,000 Land
Shoshone-Bannock (Fort McDermitt inc) (Dkts 326 D-H, 366, 367) 2/13/1968 2/13/68 15,700,00 Accounting, Land (consolidating dockets)
Snake, Piute of Malheur res (Dkt 17) 12/29/50 12/4/59 567,000 Land
Tillamook et al

(Dkt 239)

11/23/55 6/17/58 416,240.85 Land
Tillamook Band of Tillamooks et al (Dkt 240) 6/10/55 8/27/62 72,162.50 (Nehalem)

97,025 (Tillamook)

Umatilla Reservation Conf. Tribes (Dkts 264, 264-A, 264-B) 6/10/60 2/11/66 2,450,000 Land, fishing rights, survey error (Land)
Warm Springs res. (Dkt 198) 6/10/60 10/17/73 1,225,000 Land interest
Warm Springs  (Dkt 198-A) 6/30/70 dismissed


In the table above, California is included for comparison and because a number of members of Oregon tribes had California Indian ancestry. Many tribes on the borderlands between California and Oregon had territories that were originally in both states, and many tribal members inherited those rights.

The complete amount paid to the Oregon tribes including the California award is $90,869,629.26. It is unclear what portion of the California money came to Oregon Indians as well. The total for Oregon without California is $61,769,629.26. This total includes the Shoshone/ Bannock money which was apparently divided among tribes in Nevada and Idaho as well. It is unclear how much came to Oregon Paiute (Shoshone, Bannock) tribes. The Fort McDermitt (Paiute) reservation today spans Oregon and Nevada.

The Nez Perce cases were for those people living on the Colville reservation at the time of the cases. The Nez Perce were originally an Oregon tribe, living in the Wallowas in the northeastern corner of Oregon. Once they were released from Fort Leavenworth, they were sent to the Colville reservation in Washington, and were not allowed to return to Oregon. The Nez Perce (Niimipu) now have a reservation in Idaho.

Finally, when the California Indians won their case in 1950, several tribes on the Nevada and Oregon borders of California filed against the case stating that it was not only California Indians that have a claim in the state. The state was divided into two jurisdictions, A and B, based on this counter-claim. It is likely that some of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Band of Paiutes received some of the California money as well.



United States Indian Claims Commission, August 13, 1946, September 30, 1978 : final report.;view=1up;seq=5

University of Oklahoma Library, Digital Collections, Indian Court of Claims Decisions


Are We Now Colonizing Ourselves!?

Native peoples are quick to note how colonization of tribal lands and societies has caused numerous problems. Colonization removed the agency of the original peoples and places it with the colonizers. The Colonizers, normally people of European origin, but really any expansionist nation, take control of vast areas of land and enslave Native peoples, commit genocide to the point that they are kept under control and afraid to revolt, and then The colonizers replace the society and culture with that of the Colonizers.

Colonization occurs in physical and psychological levels. People become physically constrained in what they can do and accomplish, and colonizing practices, like assimilation, work to create cultural change and cultural modification in the children of the native peoples. The next generation are culturally much more integrated with the colonizing society around them.and at some point the descendants become culturally the same as their colonizers.

In Oregon, this change happened over the course of 5 or 6 generations. By the 1950s, most of the descendant Native peoples, many on reservations, were culturally the same as their white American neighbors. The Oregon Natives were subjected to economic change, when they became farmers and ranchers, to educational assimilation by their children being placed in boarding and day schools, political change in modification to a Democratic system of self-governance on reservations in the 1930s, and many of the Native children were forced to dissociated with their original territory and community by estrangement from their lands, and finally termination of their treaties. Termination caused a loss in the legal and political right of the tribes to claim dependent Indian status and to live in tribal communities separate from their white American neighbors.

This system of colonization is well known and well described in numerous texts. The mission of the federal government to completely dissociation Tribal peoples from their lands and rights, took some 100 years in western Oregon. The federal government and the state gained the whole of western Oregon for about 1.5 million in payments to the tribes.

In the 1930s and 40s, many Native people optioned to no longer teach their Tribal languages and cultures to their children and grandchildren. Living as a Native was tough and everywhere they were met with racism and discrimination. Those who chose to stop identifying with their Native past did not have to endure much racism. It was much better to be paid full wages and for everyone in society to treat you like and equal.  These fence-sitters would many times destroy their genealogical records and/or completely cut themselves off from their families to maintain their new white identity. Others, taught trades in the Indian boarding school chose to get jobs in the cities and stayed away from their tribes where there were not the jobs that paid for them to practice their skills. many of these people and their descendants are dissociated from the tribes.

We are now living in a generation of resurgence of Native descendants seeking their tribal identities. Many have realized that they can never become a member of a tribe because their parents or grandparents destroyed or lost records, or dissociated themselves from the tribes for a variety of reasons. Its now popular and preferable to become part of a tribe, there are material benefits and much everyone can learn about their culture and history. its a long hard road for many.

These new generations of Native descendants, many Gen-xers, Millennials, or earlier generations, are now seeking to learn through education. Many colleges and universities have classes on Native or Indigenous studies. Many of these curriculums offer opportunities to learn through experiential internships at tribes or embedded volunteers in Native community groups. Many of these new scholars then can become the next generation of educators and Native researchers.

Native life at universities is much different from that at tribes. The Universities teach in broad generalizations. Much of the content is survey courses dealing with tribal issues, history, and generalized tribal cultures. It is in this environment is borne the critique on “all” Native Mascots. native students activate against any such stereotypes as they seek a more-pure characterization for Natives nationally.

While for the most part Tribes do not think the issues of mascots rise to the level of of importance of having a national movement against them. Tribes are much more concerned with feeding their people, lands rights, treaty rights, environmental issues and federal conflicts. There are some native scholars that are also embedded in the Universities and many of these people have brought national interest in the issues of mascots to the fore at universities and at tribes. Mascots now are equated with human rights level issues, and likened too other historic ethical and moral conflicts, like Hitler and the extermination of millions of Jews and other ethnic minorities on Europe, and Black enslavement in the United States.

There is now emerging a new level of native scholarship which is not well informed by the true histories and cultures of the tribes. Much of the movement is emerging to fill an intellectual void. Native scholars and individuals are now working to teach mis-information of Native peoples to their ethnic kindred. We see this all that time on social media, when we see memes of some ultra-native statement about the injustices of the Native historic past. One meme in particular addresses the “fact” that all Tribes lost their cultures, languages, history and land. While the fact is most tribes sold their lands, perhaps forced to sell would be more accurate, and many tribes still have their culture, history and parts of their lands intact. It is a fact that many tribes did loss all of their lands, but many others did not, they sold a good portion and maintain some under treaties. Tribes are engaged in writing and researching their histories, so while for many their history is not well known, it really is the responsibility of the individual to learn their tribal history. Tribal cultures are now being revitalized like has not happened in 100 years. Many cultures are being taught and relearned, tribal languages are a huge focus of tribal scholars.

The lack of such knowledge or information today is a part of how tribes were colonized. Their cultures and languages were suppressed. Many of their histories were poorly written and tribes are trying to rectify that with now work. But for the “tribe” to learn the culture, history and language, takes the work of everyone concerned about this issue. If people are not inspired to do this work, there is not much the Tribal government can do. All tribal peoples need to understand the depth of colonization of their tribe and work to overcome that with educating themselves about the true cultures and histories. They should not wait for someone else to step up, but instead undertake their own study as soon as they can.

In another example a Native company is working to sell an educational aid to the Tribes.  This scholar has created a Tribal territorial map and they are working to sell it through social media. I have examined this map on numerous occasions and there are many tribal names on the map. The colors of the map are very attractive. When i look closely at the placement of the tribal names, most of them are out of place, and many important tribes are missing. I applaud the effort to create such a product. tribes and educational organization could use it to help educate everyone about the diversity of the tribes throughout North America. However, the placement of the tribal names in irregular locations is worrisome. Children learning from this map would be subjected to mis-education.

Finally, even university professors are not immune to the publication and dissemination of mis-education. The new book “An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States” by Ortiz (2015) contains a number of problems. For one example the author states that there was corn use in all areas by all tribes in the Americas. This may be an exciting idea to state, but it is completely not true. The Tribes of Oregon, or the Northwest Coast, did not use corn.  The tribes of the arctic and most or the Plains did not use or grow corn. The tribes of California did not grow or use corn. Corn was used from about the Mississippi to the east, in the Southwest, and down into Meso-america. I am unclear if corn was used in the amazon or in much of the South American rain forests at all. Once I noted that problem, I began critically analyzing the remainder of the book and what the author was stating. The author was very good at addressing 20th century themes in Indian affairs, but when they addressed tribal cultures and made broad generalizations about them, many were inaccurate. Many of the general statements were not well referenced and so the student cannot know where to verify the information presented. The book amounts to another form of stereotyping of Native peoples.

It is exceedingly important for Native scholars to make sure they are accurately representing tribal histories and cultures. Native studies as a discipline in colleges and universities is only about 30 years old. Many of the Native studies programs are poorly funded or supported by their host universities. And while there is a void in information about the tribes, just any information, however exciting, is not the answer. Mis-information about the tribes was a problem with many of the histories about the tribes written by non-native scholars into the 1970s.  Native scholars disseminating information must be better than that. Mistakes are common with all scholarship, and we all learn from them. It is important to maintain a critical eye and offer positive feedback to scholars so that they can correct their information. Its also necessary for scholars to admit their mistakes and move forward. In this manner we can all contribute to decolonizing our collective histories.

When the Tribes Sold Everything: Oregon Tribal Treaty Payments

In the 1850s and 1860s the Tribes of Oregon were treated with by the federal government, they signed at least 16 treaties, and Congress ratified them. The Tribes were paid for their lands in a system of annual payments.  The federal government bought the majority of Oregon for less than 1.5 million. Afterwards, the tribes were removed to reservations and most remained on the reservations for the next 100 years. The treaty funds, or annuities, paid for most services at the reservations, building schools, providing food, and hiring laborers and professional service providers. Most of the treaty annuities ended in the 1870s, and most of the Native people remained on the five permanent  reservations (Warm Springs, Umatilla, Klamath, Grand Ronde, Siletz). Two reservations were terminated, Malheur and Nez  Perce. Today there are nine reservations, and most Tribal members no longer live on their reservations.

1870s Treaty and Reservation federal area map
1870s Treaty and Reservation federal area map

It is truly startling to see the little amounts paid to the tribes for their homelands.

Treaties Total amounts stated in the treaties totals Notes of general region
Kalapuya 1855 $50K+40K+32.5+ 27.5+50 200,000 Willamette Valley and part of Lower Columbia River
Kalapuya and Umpqua 1854 15+ 11.5+8.5+5+10 50,000 Umpqua valley
Cow Creek Umpqua 1853 12+ .400 12,400 Umpqua valley and Mt ranges
Chasta 1854 30+5+6.5 41,500 5K for depredations, Siskyou area
Molalla 1855 12 12,000 Mts around Umpqua valley
Rogue River 1853 60+ 1.5+ 1.5+15 78,000 15K for depredations, RR area and Siskyous and lwr Cascades
Rogue River 2.15 2,150 Not for lands
Western Oregon total   396,050  
Middle Oregon 1865 3.5 3500 Not for lands
Middle Oregon 1855 40+30+20+10+50+ 10 160,000 Columbia River and tributaries
Nez Perces 1855 200+ 10 210,000 Wallowas and surrounding areas
Nez Perces 1863 262.5 +20+ 2.5+10+ 1.2+ 2+ 3+ 24+ 3+ .6+ 4.665 333,765 reduction of reservation
Nez Perces 1868 0 Not for lands
Total for Nez Perces lands (543,765) *Most Valuable Lands
Walla Walla 1855 40+30+20+10+50+30+2+ 182,000 Part W.T.  in Oregon Cayuse and Umatilla territory
Klamath 1864 40+25+15+35 115,000 Klamath Basin
Snake 1865 10+12

(Shoshine Bannock)

22,000 Part of Eastern Oregon
Eastern Oregon Total   1,026,265  
Total for Oregon   1,422,315  

The annuity funds noted are those amounts innumerated in the treaties for various purposes. The Eastern Oregon Stevens treaties included much more details, including the amounts to be paid to the chiefs and head men and the costs of building the reservation institutions. The Palmer treaties of Western Oregon do not detail such payments in most of the treaties.  The western Oregon treaties rarely stated what it would cost for mills and other structures and simply promised that they would be built.

Tribal Territories
Tribal Territories

In addition, several of the treaties did not transfer the ownership of lands. These agreements and treaties generally were meant to keep the peace or modify the original treaties.

Most of the payments stated were not to be paid in cash to the tribes. Instead this was money that was to be managed by the Indian Agents to annually purchase food and supplies and build and maintain the reservations. They paid to maintain the buildings and purchase contracted services from local traders, teachers, doctors and farmers. There has yet to be a project to innumerate the value of the houses built, services contracted, or supplies transferred to the tribes.

from book Melville Jacobs _Kalapuya Texts_, 1945
Willamette Valley treaty area from book by Melville Jacobs “Kalapuya Texts,” 1945

The funds promised as annuity payments had to be requested by the regional Indian superintendents in their annual budgets.  Once they requested their budgets of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the commissioner had to champion their budgets before the United States Congress. Each year Congress had to vote to appropriate the annuities for the tribes for the amounts already promised under treaties. In many cases, budgets were radically slashed and there was not money to repair necessary structures, no money for upgrades, not much for continuation of professional services beyond 1875, in many cases.

There are several times when the tribes were probably malnourished by the government. In the 1860s, the tribes were told they had to grow or gather they own food, but they were not allowed to have guns, nor were farming supplies or seed given them. On numerous occasions Indian Agents make requests to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to allow the butchering of old animals to feed hungry Indians.

Coast Reservation
Coast Reservation, neahkahnievisions (Fort Umpqua is not located in the correct location on this map)

The Coast Indian Reservation was in a peculiar quandary since its inception. Of the tribes removed to the CIR, many did not have treaties which would support building the reservation. The coastal tribes did not get a ratified treaty and so their annual appropriation was completed under the good will of Congress. This is likely why the agents at the Siletz agency could not effectively administer the Tillamook tribes until 1886, as there was no money for building roads or services for them. So the Indian agents at Grand Ronde instead were assigned to manage the Tillamook tribes. In addition, in 1875 the federal government closed the Alsea reservation and the tribes there were told to go to the Siletz Agency. To get the tribes at Alsea to agree to remove, the agent promised them houses. These tribes were instead taken to salmon river and no houses were ever built for them. The agent at Siletz Agency did not have the money to build houses as they only had 10,000 to manage all the tribes for the whole year. It appears that the treaty funds of many of the tribes that were at Siletz Agency were going to the Grand Ronde Reservation. It is unclear exactly why, but the theory is that when the federal government split up the tribes in 1857, they decided to leave the “treaty-abiding” peaceful Indians at Grand Ronde and send the warlike “treaty-breaking” Indians to Siletz. This may be why there was less money at Siletz Agency for the expenses of the 25+ tribes of the coast and southern Oregon.

Nez Perce Treaty area, National Park Service Map
Nez Perce Treaty area, National Park Service Map

The Nez Perces treaties are exceptional in that they tell the story of how the tribe was invaded and began losing lands and horses to the American Invaders. Their treaty of 1863 is the only one to offer depredations claims to the tribe for the theft of their horses. They are also the most shrewd of negotiators because fully one third of all money paid to Oregon tribes went to the Nez PerceTribe.  And then, some years later they lost all their lands in the Nez Perce War, which is misnamed, as it was really the actions of the renegade Americans that caused the war in the beginning.

The lands in eastern Oregon appeared to be much more valuable than those of western Oregon.  This is interesting because the western Oregon lands were much more desired by settlers, especially early settlers, and then later the gold rush in southern Oregon made that region exceedingly desirable. It is likely that the tribes of eastern Oregon learned the value of their lands to the Americans and chose to negotiate strongly in the later decade. As well, tribes in western Oregon appeared to be greatly decimated by diseases like malaria, to the point that they could not defend their rights to their lands and had to take whatever was offered.

Many tribes in Oregon were not paid for their lands under treaty but instead had to sue the government in the 20th century for essentially reneging on their promises under unratified treaties or not fully paying the tribes for their land claims. The tribes of the Oregon coast, from Tututni to Coos to the Tillamooks were never paid for their lands under treaties. They were all forced to sue the government to gain payments (See When the Tribes Sold Everything). In addition, many off-reservation Indians, like the Lower Chinooks on the Columbia River and many of the Paiute tribes of eastern Oregon, were never paid for their lands.

The Best Land Deal of All Time-or-Getting Western Oregon for Almost Nothing

The orders given Palmer was that he must purchase the land at the lowest price possible and to try to get the tribes to accept goods and services instead. When tribes were offered education, they readily agreed, and when offered blankets and houses for the chiefs, they agreed to this too. It is possible that the houses for the chiefs were a pay off to have them sign the treaties. Regardless, when we work the numbers a bit and get the estimated acreage for the lands transferred to the United States by treaty, its truly startling how cheap the land was sold for.

Treaty Cash paid Acreage Price per acre
Kalapuya 1855 200,000 8,051,919 .024
Kalapuya and Umpqua 1854 50,000 4,724,167 .01
Cow Creek Umpqua 1853 12,400 467,923 .026
Chasta 1854 41,500 700,732 .059
Molalla 1855 12,000 3,199,296 .0037
Rogue River 1853 78,000 2,085,115 .037
Average price per acre  .026
Totals 396,050 19,229,152 .020

Of all the western Oregon treaties, the Southern Molalla got the worst deal, being paid  about one third of a cent  (.0037 cents) for each acre in their over 3 million acres. The Chasta Costa got the best deal getting almost 6 cents an acre for their over 7 hundred thousand acres. Collectively,  the tribes in the Umpqua valley and neighboring mountains, the  Kalapuya, Cow Creek Umpqua and Molalla,  received .008 cents per acre for their 8,391,386 acres of land.   For all of western Oregon, over 19 million acres, the area covered by treaties, which excluded the coastline, the tribes collectively were paid 2 cents an acre. This has got to be one of the best land deals the Americans ever made. In 1853, that same land was being sold at the Federal Land Office in Oregon City to American settlers for $1.25 an acre, a truly amazing profit margin.

Joel Palmer was the Indian agent that negotiated all of these treaties from 1853 to 1855.  His was the most successful treaty making project as seven of his nine treaties were ratified. His predecessor Anson Dart, had negotiated 18 treaties in 1851, none of which were ratified. Dart was ordered to offer a maximum of 10 cents an acre. He ended up settling with most tribes for 3 cents an acre. Palmer’s results appear very stingy compared to Dart’s.

These totals are startling, and tell a story of how Oregon was bought for less than 1.5 million dollars. There has yet to be a project to audit the treaty payments to understand how tribes were paid, whether they were paid correctly, according to the treaties.


all treaty amounts gathered from this site

Thanks for Volker Mell for the Treaty area acre estimates. Based on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s treaty map database.

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.


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