Chief John, Tecumtum, was the leader of the Rogue River Confederacy for over a year in southwestern Oregon. The Confederacy formed when tribal bands on the Table Rock Reservation were attacked by Americans seeking to punish and exact retribution on the Indian there for previous battles, skirmishes, and petty thefts in the region. The region of southwestern Oregon and northern California was a conflict zone for about eight years by 1856 with settlement and gold mining causing numerous territorial conflicts in the region. Gold miners, in particular, were apt to make a try at gold mining for a year or two in their attempt to get rich quickly, all the while forcing tribes off their lands, destroying food sources, polluting water sources, raping native women, and murdering any Indian who got in their way. And while the federal government did not support their actions in policies and laws, federal agents did not hold Americans accountable for their actions, established a series of forts to provide support to Americans in the district, and established a bounty system in the state of California and the Oregon Territory to pay back settlers and others for their losses from Indian “depredations.” No such similar losses were paid back to Native peoples for their loss of land, livestock, food sources, murders on their people, rapes of their women, or thefts by Americans.
Chief John was one of the men at Table Rock Reservation to talk to his people about the abuses suffered on his people, and in 1855 one further attack on the village at Bear Creek in the Rogue Valley became the last straw. Chief John gathered his supporters, several bands of Athapaskan (Chasta Costa), Shasta, Takelma, and Cow Creek Umpqua peoples, to leave the reservation and fight for the return of their lands. These tribes had ceded these lands to the United States through three treaties in 1853 and 1854 (Rogue River, Chasta, and Cow Creek Umpqua). these treaties became ratified by Congress and they directly stated that there will be peace between the Indians and the Americans. The tribes on their part appeared to be following their agreements int he treaties and there are no recorded outbreaks of violence connected to them for about a year. There were some thefts and some travel off of the reservation to acquire foods, but the tribes lived on the reservation in relative peace.
After the Bear Creek Village was decimated by American militia, Chief John and his followed left the reservation a fought a series of battles through the Siskyou mountains, attacking any American settlement in their path, killing men, women, and children. I suggest here that the Rogue River Confederacy wanted to take back their land, assuming that the Americans had broached the treaties through the attacks and through the inaction of federal agents to hold the American perpetrators accountable. There was clearly an unequal system of justice in place, and this frontier area was not at all under the rule of law.
Chief John and his people were defeated in July of 1856 and were sent to the Coast Reservation to live. John moves in 1857 to the Siletz Valley and he becomes a leader to many at the reservation. He is known to have spoken publically to his people about their poor treatment on the reservation and telling them all that they should leave and return to their homes in southwestern Oregon. He is arrested and with his son, imprisoned at The Presidio in San Francisco for several years, in around 1862 he is released and returns to Oregon, to the home of his daughter, at the Grand Ronde Reservation. There he remains until his passing, known by many as Tyee John.
Chief John’s original tribe has been debated for years by scholars of Oregon Native History. Many have assumed him to be Takelman, the original Rogue River tribe of the Rogue River Valley. In numerous accounts, he is addressed as being Rogue River. Rogue River identity itself is confusing, as it has been used by many scholars to mean many different concepts. The Table Rock Reservation was sometimes called the Rogue River Reservation, and in many government letters tribes are assigned an identity related to which temporary reservation they resisted at. Then, after the confederacy formed under Chief John any Natives in than region became known as Rogue River Indians, regardless of their original tribe.
But, Chief John in many accounts before and after he removed to Siletz, was a Shasta Indian primarily. The band he grew up in was a northern Shasta band, from his village at Deer Creek. The furthest north the Shasta peoples had expanded was to the creek at Ashland, Oregon. John was likely from parents of several Native tribes, as it was tribal law that people must marry out of their tribe. So it may be the case that his mother was Takelma or another tribe, but he centrally was Shasta. His heritage from other tribes would have aided his forming the confederacy.
Too often, studies of the history and cultures of tribes are separated by scholars along state boundaries, as if the action of the tribes in southern Oregon are not to be associated with what is happening in Northern California. But this is a fallacy when tribes are written about historically. The Shasta tribe claimed a vast area in southern Oregon and northern California. The tribes and bands in northern California were in the midst of a fight for survival a few years before the same conflict zone begins in southern Oregon because the California gold rush predates the Oregon gold rush. The tribes also communicated with each other and knew about the attacks on their people in the south and on the coast. As gold fever expands northwards rather quickly, a matching set of coastal towns are cropping up in California and Oregon to manage the exportation of gold and the importation of goods for gold miners and settlers. The events of the southern Shasta tribes had to affect the northern Shasta tribes as the tribes in the north began bracing for white people to come amongst them. The news from the south was very bad, due to the poor treatment of the tribes by miners, and so the northern tribes were likely somewhat prepared to meet these newcomers without quarter.
Shasta peoples from the Northern tribe in Oregon were removed further north to live at the Grand Ronde and Coast Reservations in 1856. But today the Shasta tribe is little known to the tribes in Oregon, besides a few prominent families. The name Shasta is well associated with areas of California while many of the descendants claim the Oregon reservations as their home. The following tribal names are gathered from A Shasta Vocabulary by William Bright and D.L. Olmsted (1959), and The Shasta-Achomawi: a New Linguistic Stock, with four New Dialects by Roland B. Dixon (1905).
Ka’hosadi- Shasta people
K’ahusarieki- Shasta Territory
Ikiraku’tsu- Oregon Group
Ikiruk- Jacksonville, Or.- “behind the mountain”
K’amatwa- Klamath River Group 1
Wiruwhikwatso/ Wasudigwatsu- Klamath River Group 2
Konomi’hu- Forks of the Salmon River
New River group (unknown native name)
These Shasta bands and groups claimed a very large area of Northern California, and are also associated with the Achomawi and Atsegawi tribes of the same language group.
The story of the California gold rush that overtook and overwhelmed the tribes and forced them from their lands is a history of the Shasta and other tribal peoples. The recovery of the whole Shasta story proceeds as historians continue the process of centralizing the tribes within the history of the past 200 years of colonization of the west.
All transcription mistakes are mine alone.
I began this research to find the stories of the mass poisoning of the Shasta in southern Oregon, a story which still eludes me. There may be a mass grave associated with this act of genocide. Any help would be appreciated.
Tribal treaties are said to never have been honored by the United States. Native communities from around the continent will state this, and it is a common enough understanding of scholars of Native history. The United States has, during the past 200+ years reneged on, dissociated, or deliberately failed to follow the agreements of the treaties for all tribes that have them. Without yet proving this statement, I will detail why I believe this to be the case.
Treaties are considered by legal scholars and most history experts to be part and parcel of the supreme law of the land because the Supremacy clause of theConstitution of the United States states this.
The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States (Article VI, Clause 2), establishes that “the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the “supreme Law of the Land”…”
This is a truism and the United States and its agents need to have followed the laws, including the provisions of the ratified treaties for every tribe with such a document. But in too many cases of history, cases identified and many yet to be identified, the federal government has failed to appropriately follow the provisions of the treaties. In a number of cases, that I have identified in essays in this blog, federal agents failed to give appropriate administration of tribes on reservations, in many cases people starved, did not have housing, did not have appropriate health care. In other cases, I have identified that the promised Indian allotments to be given to the tribes did not occur (Unofficially) for at least 20 years (The Thompson allotments), and did not officially occur until 1889 which tribal people gained the Dawes allotments.
So for hundreds, perhaps thousands of peoples on at least two reservations, Grand Ronde and the Coast Reservation, many people failed to get appropriate services promised under their ratified treaties in the remainder of their lifetimes and they died without gaining their promised rights and services. It took two to three generations before the federal government acted to allocate the land. Then under the Dawes Act, many native people were left out of allotments if they did not satisfy residency on a reservation, or did not have enough Indian blood quantum. Neither of these provisions of allotments was part of the original agreements in the treaties. These constitute new policies that Indian Agents in the same areas followed to the letter.
Similarly, most treaties specified that schools would be built and education would be a service. But education funding was inconsistent. I documented many cases where a school would be open for a few months and then closed due to lack of funds. The on-reservation day schools were very inconsistent, which is likely why the federal government began boarding schools. First, the boarding schools were established on reservations, but as it was too expensive to pay for a boarding school for every reservation, they were set up off-reservation in central locations and took in students from an expansive land base. Chemawa Indian school had students from Alaska, Oregon, the Southwest, and the Plains. Boarding schools were seen as more effective ways to assimilate native students to American culture. Assimilation policy was similarly not explicitly a part of the treaties, it was a policy of the Education program of the Indian Office. Instead, the treaties mentioned farming, education and schools, and sometimes Christian organizations, all of which were used as agents and tactics of assimilation unbeknownst to the tribes who signed the treaties.
Federal records do list a number of payments to the tribes for the first five years, which was the normal period for payments, then there are detailed reports of payments for an additional 20 years for education and other services. After 20 years, all funding for the reservations and the tribes were part of the responsibilities of the federal government promised in treaties. The amount allocated each year was a political process involving the House of Representatives, the Senate and the President. Each administration had its own Indian policies and so tribal peoples had to adjust to new federal policies every four years on average.
Much of the problems caused by annual federal payments to reservations, or annuity payments, could have been dealt with early on if every Native who was a party to a ratified treaty became a US citizen. But citizenship was not bestowed on most natives until 1924 when the Indian citizenship act was passed. So the tribes were forced to live under full federal administration for at least 68 years in Oregon (1856-1924), and longer periods for other tribes in the east. If citizenship has been bestowed from the beginning, tribal peoples, disgusted with their treatment on poorly managed reservations would have left to integrate into the cities and the “Indian Problems” would have been solved much faster. This was actually happening in many ways in the earliest days of the reservations, as families and bands chose to illegally leave and return to their homelands from 1856 into the 1870s. But settler Americans knew that it was illegal for Indians to be off reservations and had very racist attitudes against the savage and heathen Indians and would have the Indian attested and sent back to the reservations.
Racism against the Indian peoples as a race is really the problem for Natives on the reservations. White Americans did not want to share the land with the Native peoples and so jealously guarded against them owning any land. This seems like a further extension of the Manifest Destiny notions, that the West and Oregon was not only to be the “promised land” of the white Americans to extend their country to the Pacific but that it was also their right to keep undesirables from their neighborhoods too. Under this notion, the Chinese workers, Japanese, Blacks, Latinos and Native Peoples were kept from gaining a foothold as citizens of the state, kept from voting, and kept from full citizenship for many decades. This practice intentionally disadvantaged all minority peoples, and privileged whites until federal and state policies liberalized. It’s no wonder that the majority of wealth is owned by white people in the region today and many are the descendants and recipients of 70 years or more of privileged treatment by the lands of the state and the federal government.
I think Molalla Chief Crooked Finger may have foresaw the disempowerment of his people and that his people would never see the money and rights and services offered during the 1851 treaties of the Willamette Valley. He stated that he would rather have all of the money promised now, so he could do as he pleased,
Crooked Finger said they did not want goods etc. as the Callapooyas had agreed to take, nor did he want to payments made in the way proposed. He said we wanted the payments made at once, and all of it money.
Judge Skinner said that it was better to take the money as annuities to pay their “Red Children” in that way.
Crooked Finger said that the whites when they first came here, and up to within a short time since, had always told them that the Great Father would pay them for their lands, and that they had believed them. He said the time had now come, that the Great Father had sent out three chiefs to trade with them, and they had met in council. We are now ready, he said, to trade with the chiefs and we want our payments made as we wish. That they were dieing [sic] off very fast, and would not live long enough to receive their payments, in the way proposed. Crooked Finger said he wanted the whole amount paid in money, then, they could buy what they wished. Crooked Finger said he wished the Great Father and the commissioners to be pleased, and that they wished to be pleased themselves, and they wanted to be paid in money.
Governor Gains said explained that the board is now acting by instructions from the Great Father, and could not do otherwise than as was proposed. [even though later they accept the proposal of a permanent reservation for the tribes in their own territory, which is against the instructions]
Crooked Finger said that the board could write to the Great Father and tell him the Moolalla’s [sic] wanted it different. tell him we want it in money, and not like the Callapooyas. (1851 Northern Molalla Treaty Transcript)
Crooked Finger knew that he and perhaps all of his people would not live long enough to get all of the money and services promised. This treaty of the Molallas in 1851 was never ratified, and Crooked Finger did not live to see the next negotiations in 1855. The Molalla who survived did go to the Grand Ronde reservation in 1856 for about five years, then in about 1860 about half of them left the reservation to return to their homes and never returned. The final promises made by Joel Palmer in Spring of 1856, to get the Molallas to go peacefully to Grand Ronde, were never carried out because Palmer was fired soon after. The Molallas have the story of the promises of Palmer,
Palmer said, I will take you westwards. The chiefs said, “Why will you take us? “The treaty chief told them, “I’m assembling all the other people in the same way.“ “I’ll give you food, all kinds of food.“ “You’ll eat lots of meat.“”I’ll give you all blankets, and I’ll give shoes to the men, and likewise to the women.“”I’ll give you horses.“ “I’ll give you cattle.“”Now answer me, and I’ll take you along tomorrow.“ All the Molalla didn’t want to go. They said, “We will never leave.“ “We don’t want to give up our country.“ General Palmer brought lots of soldiers. Then now he told them, “Get ready. “The Molalla said, “We will never get ready.“ “I’ll kill you all if you don’t get ready.“ “The Molalla are ready for war now.“ They fought all evening, only half a day. Then the treaty chief sent word. “Now I’ll buy the land from you.“ Then he told them, “I’ll give you this much money.” (The sum was $46,000.) Then the Molalla agreed. Then it was all right now. Then finally now the Molalla began to get ready. (Jacobs)
The failure of the federal government to honor the promises of Palmer likely caused the Molallans to distrust the word of the United States Agents. This is a story that has played out on many reservations in many time periods across North America. The final straws may very well have been the terminations of tribes in the 1950s and 1960s, when reservations promised in the treaties, to be “permanent” reservations for the tribes were sold and tribes lost the majority of their rights as Native peoples. In this period, tribal rights to hunting and fishing are assumed to be taken away, but after tribes challenged this interpretation, the tribes win the rights to fish in their usual ways.
In short, Chief Crooked Finger may have been right all along, and if the federal government had just done what he wanted, we may have avoided many of the issues we have today. If tribal peoples had been given rights as citizens and racist policies had not prevailed we would be living a different present. We cannot change the past, but we can change our future as we learn lessons from the past.
By the 1830s, right about the time that “fever and ague” a great plague, likely malaria (Boyd, the Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence,1999) hit the tribes of the Columbia River and Willamette Valley, Klickitat Indians began occupying parts of the Willamette and Umpqua valleys unopposed. It’s likely that they had been coming into the valleys, crossing the Columbia River in small groups, for decades, even hundreds of years. But, tribes like the Chinookans and the Kalapuyans were quite numerous and they would have defended their territory and presence at key resource locations, like falls, and riffles and rapids good for salmon fishing. The Kalapuyans and Chinookans were interrelated by trade and kinship and were willing to take the field in defense of their previous claims when other tribal groups threatened their rights. Chief Kiesno proved this in 1812 when he stood off a Cowlitz raid, or perhaps attempt at occupation, in the Columbia until his allies, other Chinookans and possibly Kalapuyans, could join him and force the Cowlitz and their allies back up the Cowlitz River. But after the “fever and ague,” there was little will or numbers of people among the plagued and reduced Kalapuyans or Chinookans, to stand off an invasion of hundreds of extremely aggressive Klickitat warriors. The Klickitat’s in this era were renowned and feared for their military prowess, were extremely mobile mounted infantry who traveled in bands of 700 warriors and family. They are noted traveling is such groups into the 1850s through the Willamette Valley and down into the Umpqua drainage where settlers complained that they “hunted out all of the elk.” In fact, the American settler military would hire Klickitats to be guides, scouts, and mercenaries when venturing into hotly contested regions, such as the Rogue River Country.
Somehow after the 1830s, due to no opposition from the Kalapuyans who occupied the majority of the Willamette Valley, the Klickitats got the impression that they had defeated the Kalapuyans and as such “owned the valley by conquest”. They very well may have had some unrecorded skirmish in the Tualatin Valley. There were many signs that the Klickitats were regular travelers through the valley as there was a Klickitat trail that ran through the valley in a southwestern direction, crossing from the Portland basin through the Chehalem area, through the Yamhill area, and into the Grand Ronde Valley (east to west through Fort Yamhill is an exposed part of this trail today), and continuing to the Coast. Scattered reports along the route suggest annual camping areas at Parrett Mountain and other locations along the trail. The Klickitats were a common enough presence in the early white settlement area, after 1844, that many settlers assumed that they belonged in lower Oregon territory (south of the Columbia River) and wrote about them as being indigenous to the valley. But Indian agents and many early American settlers knew better, likely from having regular contact with the Klickitats and the Kalapuyans and hearing different sides of their stories. Certainly, Lewis and Clark knew in 1806 that the Kalapuyans were the people of the valley, as this was told them by a Clowewalla man who guided Clark into the Multnomah (Willamette) for about 10 miles and regaled him with stories of the tribes and description of the wealth of the area.
In 1855, the Klickitat were asserting their rights in the Willamette Valley, at the time when Indian Agents Palmer and Stevens wrote numerous treaties with tribes up and down the Columbia, and in the Willamette Valley. Some bands of the Klickitat were not present at the middle Oregon treaty proceedings where other Klickuitat leaders participated and were granted treaty annuities, and as such did not get an opportunity to participate in the treaties. Those Klickitats who did not participate were likely ranging in Oregon and were simply not present in the region of the eastern face of the Cascades of Washington Territory, and the Americans would not have cared if everyone was present as long as they have a tribal leader who signed off on the sale of their lands. The Klickitats who were not present appeared to have been somewhat jealous and put off by their exclusion, while other tribes, like the Yakima of Kamiakin, refused to sign the treaty, refusing to sell the land and rights and even worked to rebel and force the American from the Columbia in March of 1856 with is series of attacks on American settlements. While Kamiakin’s confederacy failed, he stands as a hero and great leader of the regional tribes for standing up to American imperialism and stranding for his rights to not sell his land, a right that the Americans and their military simply ignored. Yet many tribal leaders knew by 1855 that their only salvation lay in accepting the treaties and living in peace, otherwise, their people would be decimated in various ways by the stingy Americans.
Carey, an early historian of Oregon wrote about this claim by the some Klickitat bands over the Willamette Valley.
Judicial records bear testimony to the Klickitat’s repeated assertion of their rights in the Willamette Valley. At the term of court held in Washington County in 1851, Donald McLeod brought an action for trespass against a band of Klickitats who had destroyed timber he had prepared for his house. Indian Agent Parrish represented them. The Indians contended that the timber was as much theirs as McLeod’s that they had acquired the land by conquest and had warned McLeod against settling there, and that the land had never been purchased from them. The judge held that they had a possessory title that had never been extinguished by the Government and refused judgment for trespass. Another farmer built a fence across the trail which was their public highway. They tore down the fence and the court gave another decision. (J. Ross Browne, report, P.8.) Recognition of the claims of the Klickitat’s by the treaty commissioners would seem therefore to have been suggested by diplomatic consideration if no others. The omission in this instance my have led to widespread war, and without which it is improbable that the Indians would have deemed themselves sufficiently powerful to undertake a campaign of extermination against the settlers (Carey, History of Oregon, 566). (Readers should be careful with the Carey information about the tribes as some of his information as presented is inaccurate, particularly his information about treaties.)
However, regardless of this decision, Joel Palmer the Indian Superintendent of Oregon knew better and he forced these Klickitats back over the Columbia to their lands on the Eastern face of the Cascades. The Court decision in this instance was then ignored by Palmer, as Palmer was an early settler and trailblazer, knew the tribes well and knew that the court here was in the wrong. As well, it would not have been good to write another treaty to pay tribes for land that was already claimed by the Tualatin. Interestingly, if we compare the way the Klickitats and the Americans claimed Kalapuyan lands, it is a very similar situation, but the Americans benefitted by their citizenship status and by the Oregon Donation Landclaims Act (1850), which certified their “illegal” land-claims “illegally” in 1850, at a time when the land had yet to be purchased from the Kalapuyans and was not officially purchased and ratified until March of 1855.
A speech of J.N. Dolph paints the Klickitats of a broader conquest of Oregon, as far south as the Rogue River Basin. This perspective is in the minority of all historians. It is true that the Klickitat ranged down into southern Oregon. There are later rumors, even a few short statements by military leaders that suggest that the Klickitats were very active in trading between the Columbia River and the Rogue River Basin and may have been helping organize a larger confederation between the tribes in the region to rise up and force the Americans to vacate the region (now a truly remarkable what-if issue for me!). Certainly, they helped the Rogue Rivers in some way by trading armaments to them and then perhaps helping sustain their fight in 1855 and 1856 to regain southwestern Oregon from the genocidal American volunteer militias. But there is no evidence that they had such a war of conquest as suggested by Dolph below. However, Dolph’s note of disease reducing the tribes does seem accurate. But again, Joel Palmer knew better and knew the Kalapuyans held the primary claim and ignored the Klickitat claims, which may have been largely a political ploy on their part to get paid by the rich Americans.
At the time of the treaties of Shampoeg (sic) were negotiated (April 1851) the valley of the Willamette was the main resort of the Klickitats, a powerful and warlike tribe from the country west of the Simcoe, in the Cascade Mountains… Bold, adventurous and cunning, they had gradually acquired an influence over nearly all the Indians of Oregon as far south as Rogue River. At an early date (probably between 1835 and 1840) they descended from the Simcoe to the banks of the Columbia River, on the northern side, where they commenced war against the Cowlitz, Chinook, and other inferior tribes, whom they soon conquered and reduced to such terms of tribute as they chose to dictate. In 1841 they began to turn their attention to the south side of the Columbia. Rich valleys and fine hunting grounds exist there, of which they had heard traditionary reports. At this time the Clackamas, Moleallies (sic), Yamhills, Santiams, and other tribes of the Willamette Valley had become greatly reduced by diseases introduced among them by the whites. They were wholly unprepared to resist the encroachments of their warlike and formidable neighbors. From time to time, as opportunity occurred, Klickitats crossed over, made inroads upon them, and finally entirely subdued all the tribes of the Willamette, whom they caused, to pay tribute. Assuming a possessory right over the whole valley, they established camps on the various rivers, and in the course of a few years, by gradual advances, pushed their way over the Calapooia Mountains into the valley of the Umpquas (Speeches of J.N. Dolph of Oregon).
Then, there is another legal case, that of Tualatin Chief Kiakuts against the settlement of Donald McLeod. Kiakuts as the head chief had a large land-claim at the shore of Wapato Lake. The lake was an amazingly rich resource in the Tualatin valley where there was a cluster of villages within a few miles of the lake. The lake was rich with Wapato, know by settlers as Indian potato which would sustain the tribes through most of the year. It is my contention that the tribes absolutely laid claim to area of rich resources, falls, salmon fishing sites, camas fields, certain oak groves, and Wapato Lake, rich with Wapato. The rest of their lands were common use lands where any tribe may travel in peace after following certain obligatory protocols of presenting oneself to the chief, gifting them, and declaring peaceful intentions for the visit.
In 1850, resettler Donald McLeod claimed 640 acres along the lower west side of Wapato Lake, and in 1852 he began to build a log cabin. Chief Kiakuts of the Tualatin had his own claim there, where people camped and gathered wapato bulbs. He confronted McLeod, and two days later, Kiakuts and Kuyape-i (Black Jack) tore down the cabin. In the case brought against the Tualatin in U.S. District Court, the judge dismissed the charge of “unlawful assembly to do unlawful acts” and told McLeod to leave the Indians alone because it was their land. In 1855, the Tualatin signed the Willamette Valley Treaty and agreed to remove to the Grand Ronde Reservation with at least twenty-eight other tribes (published in another essay about Wapato Lake in this blog site).
This is one of the few cases where justice was somewhat fair to the tribes. Many Oregon circuit courts in this time refused to hear Native testimony, as it was normally to be in a native language and unintelligible to the American judge. So in most courts Indians could not give testimony and many crimes against them went unpunished. Without justice and a rule of law many tribes, experiencing the discrimination and racism in the system of justice would have rebelled, as we see happening in southern Oregon. But in this instance, and its yet unclear, Kiakuts and his friends were able to be heard, likely through some sort of interpretation, also likely in Chinuk Wawa, to the judge and then plead their case. Since the Tualatin Basin was one of the first to be settled by the Americans, Kiakuts would have been a known and respected Kalapuyans leader and this would have helped him as well.
On 10/26, 2019 I visited the Open house at the Oregon State Archives, Salem, OR, and was supremely disappointed at their new exhibit Rust, Rot, & Ruin, which documents the beginning of key industries in Oregon through the boomtowns founded by gold mining, logging, farming and ranching, and other mining. Some of these industries produced company towns, which have since become ghost towns, largely abandoned by the original settler families who made their wealth off of these natural resources.
The text has few, very few, mentions of Native peoples and Chinese people. There is a panel on the Chinese laborers and one section of a panel on native peoples of the coast.
The perspective portrayed in this exhibit privileges the white pioneer perspective, and their acquisition of wealth, and ignores and glosses native perspectives and experiences of having been invaded and exposed to violent conflicts over resources, including genocide, and war, by settler white people who sought to destroy Tribes for economic gain.
The exhibit is meant to highlight photos and information available in the Oregon State Archives, but replicated history as written 30 years ago and previously which privileges and normalized white perspectives and experiences over all others.
I suggest people view the exhibit and see for yourself, but for me, it is a statement by an Oregon state institution that ignores the work of contemporary scholars to tell the story of all peoples of Oregon rather than a select and privileged few, white settlers.
It is literally practicing and aggrandizing manifest destiny in this exhibit’s portrayal of Oregon history.
I have had many positive projects within the archives in the past and do not believe that the exhibit is the product of all of the staff. It clearly was not fully vetted and reviewed with an eye toward telling the whole story of the colonization of Oregon.
Critics of this criticism may suggest that exhibits like this do not have to tell the whole story and can simply address enough of the story to fulfill their narrow subject. This may very well have been the intention as I think the archives wanted to tell the story of Ghost Towns and wanted to show how the original boomtowns, formed in the settlement of Oregon around gold, timber, or other industries became the now famous ghost towns of the present.
However, in the process of telling the biography of these boomtowns, there is presented the story of their formation. That story certainly needs to reflect the truth of colonization, and its effect on other human societies, tribes, whose descendants are today citizens of Oregon as well. The native story is hugely glossed by the narrative text offered. what is offered is a standard statement of the previous existence of tribes without the violence they experiences while settlers sought to take their land and access resources in their lands to create the boomtowns of the story. Settlers literally carved, forcefully space within tribal lands for their personal wealth, and in the process destroyed native communities and societies. Areas of the Oregon coast, like the Chetco area, in 1855 saw white genocidal actions as settler entrepreneurs sought to clear tribal villages from the Chetco River in order to create ports and other services for the gold miners to spend their gold in. A bit earlier, in 1851, the town of Port Orford was built on the Oregon coast, forced onto Sixes tribal lands, over their forceful protests and actions. In 1855, the Rogue River region saw a war caused in large part by volunteer militias based in Jacksonville- one of the towns spotlighted in the exhibit as a typical boomtown began by gold miners.
Then the text addressed farmers and Ranchers in mostly eastern Oregon. These large land claims were forced into tribal traditional lands, which caused multiple wars as tribes were first forced onto reservations and then completely removed from Oregon. The Bannock Indian war and The Nez Perce war were both caused by increased settler pressure and encroachment into tribal lands, eventually forcing tribes to flee for their lives, and eventually being removed to other reservations or outside the state completely. The same situation exists for the Modoc Indian war. The whole of this removal of the tribes served to open more lands for white settlers, and as none of the militia was event held accountable for illegal actions, their crimes of murder, encroachment, genocide, and many other horrible crimes became inculcated in Oregon history as a righteous action by Oregon’s pioneers in defense of their manifest destiny over the state of Oregon. The exhibit literally enshrines this narrative further by not telling the story of the tribes.
Finally, tribal peoples, Latinos, and others were laborers in these early industries and helped develop and grow them into the powerhouses they became. The exhibit only mentions Chineses laborers and ignores racism against the Chinese after their labor was completed. Numerous other ethnic peoples were also laborers in these industries, Japanese, Hawaiians, Basques, Russians, Blacks, and Scandinavians to name a few.
There is an implicit responsibility in all such exhibits to tell the complete truth of how history happened, and I cannot say that this is what was intended by the curators. It is meaningful that this exhibit is presented by an Oregon State institution. All such state institutions are supposed to have some measure of Tribal liaison and the tribes of Oregon are recognized by the state as being other sovereign entities in Oregon, so much so that there is a Tribal Affairs office within the State Capitol building, a mere 4-5 blocks from the State Archives. The process of tribal liaison is clearly not working here.
Oregon history of a century ago, up to about the midcentury, was written to aggrandize white Americans and their founding and creation of Oregon. That history, like the one shown in this exhibit, is hugely biased, tell only stories of white men, and largely ignoring the stories of all other ethnic groups or even white women, unless they fit into certain themes. These themes were stories of the superiority of white civilization, the holiness of the mission of white men practicing manifest destiny while saving tribes from their savagery, the extreme hardships white pioneers endured on the 9 month Oregon trail, the amazing contributions of the explorers in founding Oregon for the United States, and the stories of conquest over the tribes normally written as bloodthirsty savages bent on the savage destruction of white civilization. Unless the tribes fit into this narrative they were ignored. Rarely if ever were tribal peoples asked their history, and few other ethnic minorities were similarly regarded as possessing any history. As such, without other perspectives, Oregon’s history was severely abridged and stunted. It is really only with the contemporary inclusion of other perspectives that we can approach a deeper, fuller, and truer history.
It is extremely disheartening, knowing how much work that the tribes have done to tell their stories, as well as how much work I have personally done in the Willamette Valley to tell tribal stories in numerous exhibits (Mission mill, Washington Co, Linn County) as well as this blogsite (over 380 essays), and through hundreds of presentations. Then, the State Education Department is right now testing a new native curriculum, a project which has seen a lot of notoriety and attention in the media, to help educate students in the state about Native history and culture. It’s disheartening that there is so much well-researched and inclusive history available but that the curators of this exhibit chose to ignore all of that to tell a much-dated version of Oregon history. Our government institutions should know better, and many people in them do know better, and our government should be expected to tell a better story of the formation of our state, a story which does not ignore hugely important history in favor of a narrow story of how well manifest destiny worked.
All photos are my own, taken at the public Open House.
Phillip Drucker’s field notes from the 1920s and 30s had him questioning many Native people from the region, from Grand Ronde and Siletz. Many of these people were not living on reservations. His Molalla notes are brief compared to his work on the Tolowa and Clackamas. They are embedded in with Coos and Tolowa and Rogue River notebooks. Drucker’s Molalla (La’tiwi) informant was Kate Chantel, a well known Molalla woman, and sister to Henry Yelkas, a well known Molalla chief. They lived for a time at Dickie Prairie, apparently the village name is Mokanti, south and east of the present town of Molalla. Drucker noted the name of many placenames for towns and peoples. The Molalla had a large affinity for a good portion of the Willamette Valley, from their villages in the foothills to Lake Labish. The name for Lake Labish (Tcinti galug) for the Molalla is also a name found. The pattern of of some of the Molalla placenames see to follow that of the Kalapuya placenames with Tci- or Tca- as a prefix, while Kalapuyans have Tsi-, or Cha-, Che-, which are really the same sound. These Molalla placenames in Drucker may be actually Kalapuyan language placenames, in part.
Drucker furthermore notes good details of kinship, dances, dress styles, plankhouses, and ceremonies, plants used, hunting and fishing, trade, and much more. I was excited to be able to put together a map of placenames from his information. Unfortunately the exact location of many villages is still not known. The villages in the Willamette Valley were likely only seasonal village sites, or encampments, habituated for a few weeks of the year through the summer. They also have winter villages in the valley, at Mt. Angel and perhaps along the Molalla River. A couple notes by Drucker stated that the Molalla did not have true villages of large clusters of houses, but instead had smaller towns of 2-3 houses. Its likely that the named villages had chiefs and thus were more important and named.
Other documents online from the Dibble house- and written by historians- seems to mischaracterize the Molalla houses as having the plankhouse roofs thatched. I tracked the information back to Drucker (4516-78 vol 1) and saw that the notes may be somewhat confusing, but that they do state that the houses were make of split cedar, and their roofs of bark.
“houses scattered about 2s & 3s, atc– not concentrated in towns…
Hil’em- house of cedar bark, houses 1/2 excavated, rectang. walls & roof of cedar bark-posts. Firepit in center, smokehole overhead, doorway wide side, floor covered w. tule mats, hung from wall over bed. Door-made of suspended rush mat.
Summerhouse- bark etc. walls roof, thatched with bunches of tules.”
Drucker here did not state that the roof was only thatched, but it was a bark roof, thatched. The one photo we have shows a cedar plank house with a plank roof. There is no indictation of using teepees in the Drucker notes.
Phillip Drucker fieldnotes from the NAA, Smithsonian Institution, but not collected in the SWORP collection at UO. This fieldnote book is Drucker 4615-78 vol.1. The scanned file I have shows that the UO file may be out of order, there is one page of Molalla placenames, then the Molalla notes do not continue until page 43, and thereafter. The rest of the file is Coos, Tututni, Tolowa, and Rogue River.