Erroneous Tropes in Narratives of Removal to the Coast Indian Reservation

Digging through previously collected digitized documents, I found several accounts of removal of the tribes to the Siletz Reservation. These are worthy of commentary for the historical origins of many of the details emphasized. Its apparent that oral accounts are in many ways more accurate than written histories. A good number of early written histories were produced by non-native writers, who did not ask native people about their perspectives on their histories. This was quite common, and so most early histories and many recent histories who do not access more than one perspective tend to privilege a specific bias. Many are overly nationalistic, written for a white American audience and seeking to aggrandize and beatify the role of white Americans in the colonization of the West. Mostly what is emphasized are stereotypes of native peoples, which become powerful erroneous tropes in history and literature. There are numerous generations of the teachings of these stereotypes and it is a tough sell to convince people inculcated in this “knowledge” that what they were taught is simply wrong. The struggle is not just with non-natives but also native people as well, many of whom truly believe the erroneous narratives of historians, even though most also know that the promises of the government are not to be trusted. Many natives were separated from their culture through assimilation processes, and there has been little attempt to recover the missing histories beyind the immediate needs of their tribes for federal processes of restoration. The following is a sampling of narratives offered for comparison with the final essay, narrative #5. I have liberally edited and corrected misspellings, and offer a critical set of comments to accompany most of the issues noted.

Narrative #1- This essay by a native  man, a member of the Coquelle tribe shows unique information about Siletz not found in other accounts. Most significant are the details of the ship journey, the feelings of the tribes, the accuracy of where the travels took place, how they were treated when they first arrived, they actions for self preservation, and the details about the name Siletz. The power and accuracy of the native oral history here is very apparent.

George Thompson,

February 5, 1950

A Story of Siletz

About the year 1855 there was a great unrest throughout a section of Southern Oregon where a number of Indian Tribes were living. Among the tribes were the Chetcos, To-to-to-neys, Coquelles, and other Rogue River bands. All of these Indians were going to be moved to a new home, and after a brief war among the Indians and white settlers and soldiers of the United States, a man by the name of Joel Palmer made treaties with various bands of Indians. In these treaties the Government agreed to give all the Indians land, a home made of lumber, horses, cattle, and machinery if they would move to the new location. Some Indians agreed, but many did not want to go, because they knew no other lands except their home where there was plenty of game and fish and acorns.

(This sentiment is important, the new reservation was a strange land to the tribes from the south and there were many concerns about moving from establish food sources. But many of the native food sources were being destroyed by settlement and development.)

When some Indians refused to go the soldiers were summoned and they were forced and, in many instances, killed in front of their loved ones to show that the Government meant business.

(This is true, many of the volunteers killed Natives as a way to pacify tribes.)

What was a poor Indians to do, but go. In the meantime the Congress of the United States failed to ratify those treaties made by Mr. Palmer, so now, today, the Indians who were forced to move by those treaties, have been allowed a recovery of 16 and one half million dollars for the wrong done to them by the unratified treaties of Joel Palmer, agent of the U.S. Government.

I am a Coquille Indian, my father is Coquelle, and his father was one of the original signers of the treaty. (There were two Coquelle Treaties, that of 1851, and the Coast treaty of 1855.) He had to sign because he was a tribal chief.

(This is likely in reference to the Coast Treaty, which went unratified, the other Palmer treaties for the tribes mentioned, were ratified.)

He was named after our first President, Washington, only the Indians called it Wah-shoe-toon-ya. So at my father’s passing I shall inherit the honor of being the Chief of the Coquelles, the title held at present by my father. I will tell you now the story of how my grandfather was moved up here to become one of the first Indians at Siletz about 95 years ago. I repeat his words:

“It was summer time, we all herded down to the edge of the ocean at Port Orford, Oregon by the Government. Some people were crying. Others were just quiet- nobody talked. Each person was allowed only one package or pack, generally made up in a basket. Naturally the Indians took mostly something to eat, as they did not know where they were going. The only clothes were that they wore; later on the Government did give us a blanket apiece. We left behind many fine canoes, homes, tanned hides and other belongings found in an Indian colony at that time. We are all heart sick, someone said they are going to shoot us and throw us into the ocean- but my father would speak to them and assure them that the whites meant no harm.

We were to camp at Port Orford for one night and during that night many Indians disappeared and were never heard of again. The next day about eleven o’clock we saw a large boat with many sails on it coming straight in from the ocean. It came to within 300 yards from the shore and anchored. Boats were let down and came ashore. Then began the task of loading all the Indians on this ship that had just landed. After several hours the Captain gave the word that the loading was completed and we were ready to sail. It was our first night at sea; many of the Indians got sea-sick – some tried even to jump overboard and swim back. It was an awful night many were sick and could not eat. As day broke we could not see land then all were afraid, we begged the Captain to turn around, and the sea was getting angry also and the boat seemed to almost capsize with each swell. This went on for five days and nights. Then one morning when daylight came we could see land- all were happy again, the water was smooth- we did not know it then but we were in the Columbia River. We sailed up the river to Portland Oregon, only a few large buildings at that time. Here we got off the boat, we were fed and transported to Dayton, Oregon for our last part of the trip.

From Dayton we traveled by ox-team to Grand Ronde, Oregon. Some people stayed at Grand Ronde and the rest of us went on to Salmon River. The Government had provided stations along the way so food was quite plentiful and we could always get soldier’s hardtack. When we reached Salmon River it must have been September because there was an abundance of fish in the river, some men killed deer, while others got mussels from the rocks. Winter was beginning to draw near and my father was anxious to get shelter for his people. When he inquired about the houses for his people the Captain only laughed and said, “You Indians don’t know how to live in houses, what do you want with a house.” This made my father angry and he gathered followers and started south, hoping that maybe we could find some place to build a longhouse so we could withstand the rain and cold wind.

Then came the measles. It killed many of our people, when spring came we only had a handful of people left, 16 in all. We started up the Siletz River (at that time is was called Se-La-Gees) and finally stopped at Euchre Creek and built a longhouse and other small huts so that another winter would find us prepared. There was plenty of camas, fish and deer, and my father said, “We will stay here.” In the meantime the Government was opening up more territory west of Fort Hoskins and it wasn’t but a little while until they came as far west as the Siletz River at about where the town of Siletz now is.

They found some Indians on the Siletz River – as near as I can remember my father told me they did not come with us, but were here all the time. When the soldiers found this nice valley and river with Indians already here they merely presumed that the Indians were some that were brought from southern Oregon. However, this is not true because my father understood what they were always here. When the agent wanted to know their name they told him SE-LA-GEEs – so the agent just called it Siletz after his own pronunciation. Consequently, the birth of a name, a tribe and an Indian Reservation all at the same time. Siletz now stands as an old Indian Agency town, with many stories connected with its name. Now the white man has made it a town for a city with laws and a city council and everything that goes to make up a modern city.”

(George Thompson, February 5, 1950, OHS Library, MS 1531

Narrative #2 -This narrative from the Harrington Microfilm records is quite brief. The story of the rumor about being thrown into the sea is a common notion in narrative 1 & 2. The information about Kings Valley, the the northeast of Siletz Valley, is unique and does follow a few other accounts. There many have been an encampment for the Coquelles at Kings Valley that was short-lived. 

JA (John Albert?): They embarked the Rogue River war Inds. at Port Orford (=Sixes) & the woman carried on something horrible when the whites started to embark the people saying we will all be thrown into the sea. The whites forced them aboard, saying: We are g. (going) to take you to Astoria. The Inds. had never heard of Astoria. They took them in thru the Col. mouth to Oregon City, but the Inds. did not like it there, cd (could) catch no salmon. So they moved them from there to Kings Valley, an out of the way place NW of Corvallis. The Inds. liked it there. Later they moved them to Siletz.Harrington (21:48)

Narrative #3 – This narrative from Hoxie Simmons addresses Klamath Indians and their possible contribution to the Rogue River Indian War. Some few details are accurate, include battel details and treatment by soldiers, and removal through Grand Ronde.

Hoxie Simmons: The Inds. were working for the whites in the mining work, the Kl. [Klamath?] were chased down RRiver down the RR at Big Bend. There was a post of Am. soldiers. The soldiers in this every log house- every night the soldiers – coming out & get water-  they sent 2 Shasty boys out to get water& the besieged Inds. killed them. Then these Inds. mourned over Inds. killed. Then it was that Hoxie’s mother’s uncle… How we got to get away, instead of killing all these Kl. Inds. … lets just quit- The next morning they hoisted white flag & threw the guns all out & that happened to be just what the gvt. soldiers wanted, & at once the soldiers issued them rations, & took them in a boat in 1857 [1856] to Dayton near Portland, and the Jacksonville res. Inds. [Table Rock Reservation] they brought by wagon by inland route to Grand Ronde. [February to March 1856] After 1 year there were so many Inds. at Gr. Ronde overpopulated & shifted some over here to Siletz putting a fort here at Siletz. [Fort Hoskins] (Harrington Microfilm, 28: 3-4)

Narrative #4 – unknown author of this story. The removal of the Coos to Yachats took 8 years to accomplish, they were first removed to the Umpqua Reservation in 1856, then remained there until 1863, they were forced to remove north to the Yachats sub-agency. They were treated very poorly while there, as I have noted in other essays.

In 1857, when the Rogue River War broke out [1855 actually] the United States government, acting in self-defense, removed the Coos Indians to Port Umpqua. Four years later they were again transferred to the Yahatc reservation [Yachats]. Where they remained until 1876. Yahatc [Harrington here offers a linguistic spelling of the word] was thrown open to white settlers and the Indians of that reservation were asked to move to Siletz; but the Coos Indians, tired of the  tutelage of the United States agents refused to conform with the Order, and emigrated in a body to the mouth of the Siuslaw River, where the majority of them are still living. ( Harrington Microfilm 22:89-90, copied from Frachtenberg, Coos, in Bul, 40 2, Introduction 305)

Narrative #5 – This essay by Helen Cherry, appears to be a poorly researched essay from Eugene, Oregon.  Many details are inaccurate as evidenced by the many notes I make in-text. The author seems to have relied upon written accounts, all of which were produced by non-native peoples.The essay is full of the stereotype tropes mentioned above.

The Siletz Indian Reservation

The Siletz Indian Reservation was opened in the year 1856, at the close of the Rogue River War in Southern Oregon. After the last battle in which the Indians lost, the government immediately took charge of the prisoners. The group included twenty tribes making some three thousand Indian in all. Among the most important tribes and their chiefs were those of the Shastas and the Great war chief John; the Galice Creek (Tyee Jim); Klamath (Tyee Joe); Tototini (Oheati); Chetco (Tyee Charlie); Mickanootini (Bensel); Euchre (Tyee Jessie); Alsea (Albert); Siletz (Tyee Johnson); and the Salmon river, William. (Unclear about Klamaths with the war prisoners, they may have come with other removals.)

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs at this time was General Joel Palmer. He was in charge of transporting the Indians up north to the new reservation. Then Indians were taken up through the valley; although it is said that a few came up by water on the boat, Columbia, from Port Orford to Oregon City. (Most actually came by boat on this route.)

Those coming by land went up to Dayton, which was the home of General Palmer, from here they went to Fort Hoskins, located on the Luckiamute river some twenty miles northwest from what … is Corvallis.

(The overland route from Dayton was through two boatloads of people, about 1400 people, who were shipped north from Port Orford, into the Columbia and then by steamer to Dayton, mentioned previously. This route brought the people from Dayton through Grand Ronde, and down the Salmon River Wagon road to the coast. Fort Hoskins was not yet built by the 1856 removals.  The other overland route to the Coast Reservation was of Natives walked straight up the coast to the Coastline between Newport and Salmon River.)

Stationed at the fort was Lt. Phil Sheridan. He took charge of supervising the Indians in constructing a wagon road from Hoskins to Siletz. A distance of approximately thirty miles. Sheridan also built three blockhouses, one at Newport, one at the Reservation, and one east of the Agency.

(The east blockhouse is Fort Hoskins, I do not have records of the two others mentioned, this may be a mistaken statement. There were other blockhouses, Fort Umpqua, Fort Yamhill, and Fort Lane, none of which match the description here.)

The reservation had an area of approximately one thousand square miles, and embraced the Siletz, Yaquina, and Alsea rivers as well as the bays by the same names. It was an isolated spot, Siletz, but the valley was fertile and there was an abundance of fish in the bays and rivers. It is said that General Palmer chose the spot because of this. Its isolation helped to separate the whites from the Indians.

The agency proper was centrally located between what is known as the upper farm, east of the agency buildings, and those west. The government buildings were located on a high hill overlooking a narrow valley that spread west towards the ocean. It was a well chosen spot for its beauty alone but also for protection. (Protection from what?)

Robert Metcalf was the first agent. He was shrewd and clever. His tactics in handling the Indians were cruel and militaristic. This was also true of those following him.

There were, it is true, far too many Indians at Siletz. The Department of the Interior admits that in their reports on Indian affairs.

(The reports do address the lack of funding for some 3000 natives at Siletz, but the landbase was huge for the first 10 years, 1.1 million acres at the Coast reservation, and there were people settled in the Siletz Valley and on the Coast in at least five other sub-agencies, Agencies, and encampments. The problem was lack of federal resources for the agents to effectively feed and provision the native people.)

The tribes were also inferior both physically and mentally. Also, for years these tribes had been at war with each other. But above all they were like little children being led by the great Tyee at Washington.

(There is much to be noted here about the prevailing stereotypes and misinformation about the tribes by Americans. It was not the case that the tribes were constantly at war, and all of the suggestions of inferiority were perpetrated by settlers and white people seeking to degrade the tribe’s peoples and culture and substantiate their forced land dispossession and assimilation by missionaries and schools. The notion that tribal people were “like children” was a common thought in 19th century romanticist literature, which is carried forward in movies, cartoons, and mascots in the 20th century. This notion is also perpetuated by the Marshall decision that suggests that tribes are wards of the United States.)

(portion of essay by Helen M. Cherry manuscript, ND, at OHS Archives, MS 1531)



Two Schools at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, 1863

There are a few reports that open the windows wide to a vision of the reservation, its changes, its struggles, and its peoples.

In the 1863 Grand Ronde reports from the employees at the reservation there are great details about the two schools at the reservation. The schools were originally funded through treaty annuities, provisions agreed to, to provide services to the tribes on the reservations should they agree to sell their lands and remove to a permanent reservation. As I have noted in other essays, funding for all services was inconsistent and most services then were given for limited durations any year directly following the money reaching the Indian Agents. Congress was very slow to approve appropriations and building new facilities, maintenance on the old facilities and funding of basic needs of the tribes turned out to be much more expensive that was originally planned. Still Grand Ronde Indian reservation was well supported by treaty annuities, being the recipient of at least seven ratified treaties. The annuities were not doled out directly by the agent, but normally through the Chiefs of the respective tribes. This traditional Chief leadership political structure continued through the remainder of the 19th century, being formalized in the 1870s with a formal Indian Legislature who passed at least 26 laws. At the termination of the treaty annuities in about 1875, some 20 years after the tribal treaties were ratified, as stipulated in the treaties, the political structure likely suffered, as all funds then were given at the whim of Congress.

However, in 1863, the tribes at the reservation were struggling to survive under unconsistent funding and support by the federal government. In 1861, after a Special Indian Agent visited the reservation, the tribes gave testimony that they did not have the equipment, the seeds, nor good soils to effectly grow food at Grand Ronde. By 1863, Indian Agent James Condon had somewhat dealt with this problem by installing a general agency farm of 300 acres for growing wheat, oats, and hay with Indian labor (even today hay is the most common crop in the valley). He struggled to do this became of the extremely poor nature of the soil in the Grand Ronde Prairie.

“I found it difficult to operate successfully, as most of the soil is of a heavy, clayey nature, hard to break and prepare for the crops, and it requires constant care and attention to keep it in good condition. The appropriation for the pay of farmer for the Willamette Tribes having been exhausted during the first few years of their stay here, I found it necessary to adopt some method of instructing these Indians in agricultural pursuits; accordingly I laid out the commenced the cultivation of a farm comprising about 300 acres, for the general good and benefit of the tribes, employing the Indians, and paying them a per diem for their labor out of the annuities. I learning how to farm they have made good advancement, and the money thus expended has been well laid out, the object being as much to educate them as the benefit from their labor. …The Indians have also shown a commendable and praiseworthy spirit in conducting their own farms. A majority of them have permanent homes, and have small farms or enclosures of their own under cultivation. They have raised a large quantity of wheat and oats this season…. The amount of grains raised upon the department or home farm under this system this year were 3,057 bushels of wheat and 268 bushels of oats, also 20 tons of hay. (Condon 1863 annual report)

Condon’s efforts were likely compelled by the extremely poor report he recieved in 1861, prompting him to adopt new methods, including educating the Natives in farm techniques and directly overseeing the farm with a Farmer staff position. The issue emphasized here is that of needing to have enough funding to hire a farmer and to buy the appropriate equipment and supplies. The facilities for processing grains, grist mill and sawmill, were not yet fully operational in 1863, and this remained an issue into the 1870s. This image of the food problems suggests that the Native peoples at Grand Ronde had to struggle hard to find food to survive, that there were likely many people who had malnutrition and subsequently died of the effects of long untreated illnesses. That there was little help for elderly people who were partially or totally dependant upon the help of others to feed them. It might also have been the case that tribal people welcomed the initiation of the manual training school in October of 1862, because when their children were there, they would not have to feed them, and the agency would then have that resonsibility instead. This was the case in the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl caused the collapse of agriculture in the midwest, then native people would intentionally place their children into Indian boarding schools so they would not starve.

Fort Yamhill Blockhouse with students lined up in front

The remarkable substance of the 1863 annual report is the inclusion of two reports from two different schools at Grand Ronde. The first is the Manual Training school, officially named this, while later the school model would become popularly named a “boarding school.” The original manual training school for Oregon was that of Jason Lee and the Methodists at Willamette Mission and Chemeketa (1834-1850s). The model included the students living year-round in the school and learning regular school lessons as well as trade skills like farming, animal husbandry, carpentry, clothes washing, painting, sewing, and blacksmithy, among others. This model of school was extended beyond those schools ran by Methodists and Catholics to schools on the reservations. For a time the schools on the reservations were administered by and taught by members of a religous order until the Federal government took over reservation and off-reservation education in around 1880. The model offered an immersive environment where the students were kept away from their tribal culture and taught to be Americans in all ways, socially, religiously, culturally, etc. The model was brutal to tribal families and to children by forcing them to adopt American culture, and many children died in the schools of various illnesses and mistreatment by the staff.

“There are two schools in operation on this agency, the manual labor school and Umpqua day school. I would most respectfully request that I be instructed to consolidate the fund of these schools into one, to be conducted on the manual labor system; and that I be also instructed to erect a suitable building for that purpose, not to exceed in expense two thousand dollars, as the present building in which the manual labor school is taught would be totally inadequate.” (Annual report 1863, James B. Condon, United States Indian Agent to J. W. Perit Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Salem, Oregon)

Then the teacher at the Manual Training school helpfully provides a good description of the school, its mission and its history.

“Grand Ronde Agency School-house, August 1, 1863

The manual labor school at this place was organized on the 1st of October 1862. During the first two months we received twenty-three children, the most of whom we boarded and clothed through the winter. All but two were as wild as quails when we commenced with them, having had no previous instruction; and all were worse than naked, being clad in filthy cast-off garments. At first we found it no easy task persuading the Indians to give up the entire care of their children; but by a course of kind and gentle treatment we succeeded in taming the little fellows, and gaining the confidence of their parents. Herein, I think, lies the secret of success in conducting any school- win the affections of the pupils and the confidence of their parents, and you must succeed. They were all ignorant of the English language at first, and it was found necessary, on the part of teachers, to resort to Chinook, a jargon spoken here by all tribes, as a means of communicating ideas. We have now almost wholly dispensed with Chinook, as the children understand English very well. The Indians seemed pleased with the wonderful change in their children, and whites visiting the school express surprise at the progress they make in their studies. Reading, writing, and spelling interspersed with singing, constitute the principal exercises in the school-room at present. Mrs. Sawtelle has the general management of the housekeeping, and instructs the little girls in the useful domestic duties. The girls are found quite apt at sewing and knitting, and render some assistance in the culinary department. Some of them are bright, promising girls, and with careful training will make industrious, intelligent, virtuous women, worthy examples to their sex.”

There is a Sawtelle Road near Willamina, likely related to this teacher. We can see above that the female students are being tracked into tradition women’s training programs, related to household duties.

Metzker map image of the Claude E. Sawtell land claim near Wallace Bridge

“Mrs. George, an Indian woman, is employed as assistant teacher. Habits of industry, regularity, and cleanliness are cultivated, demonstrating the advantages of a civilized life over those of a savage.”

This is a clear reference to cultural change, suggesting that Native traditions are the opposite of “civilized.”

“There is little disposition among them to disobey rules, and instead of fighting, or even quarreling, they readily submit all questions of dispute to their teachers. They seem eager, especially the boys, to learn, and engage in their respective employments with pleasure. The health of the pupils has been comparatively good. Of twenty-seven, belonging to the school, only five have been seriously unwell. Three of these were attacked with fever while at their Indian homes, one fell from a horse, badly bruising himself, and one was sick at the school with the lung fever. All have now recovered. Their regular exercises, cleanliness, and out-of-door sports cannot but be conducive to good health. Since the commencement twenty have attended quite regularly. Four boys and three girls were in constant attendance, and as a consequence, they can read intelligibly, and write a legible hand. It had been feared that when the hot summer days should, come the children would desert the school, with its discipline, for the freedom of their old homes, where, unrestrained, they might roam with their parents through woods and over prairies in search of game and berries, lave their dusky hides in the limpid streams, mingle in the midnight dance, and lie in the shade and eat roots and olallies– in a word, be free in the fullest sense of the term. But we have been happily disappointed, for even these little one are beginning to learn that very essential lesson with which the whites have found it so hard to impress them- that indolence, like industry, brings it sure reward.”

There is much to be said about this section of the report. But the romanticist prespective is quite clear, with phrases like “dusky hides” and “midnight dance” (not sure what that is). Its also interesting that the teacher integrates some Chinook Jargon (Chinuk wawa) into the letter suggesting that the teachers were learning the language from their pupils. Olallies means berries.

“The school buildings are located on a beautiful stream of water, and the land around is very good. The garden furnishes an abundance of vegetables, and with fresh butter and milk, the children have a healthy, nutritious diet.”

This school is likely located in Old Grand Ronde near Agency Creek, perhaps quite near St. Michael’s church.

“A small pot of earth for a garden was allotted to each boy, who was left free to draw his ideas of husbandry from the examples set before him in the general garden, and it is truly interesting to notice the various display of taste and muscle in the arrangement and cultivation of the ground. Some of the more industrious have succeeded admirably, and their work would do credit to older and whiter boys. I would suggest the propriety of the larger boys assisting the blacksmith, miller, and carpenter, at such times as they might not be needed at the school. By so doing, these boys might, eventually become practical and useful men among their fellows.”

The Protestant upbringing of this teacher is very apparent, as they write of the male students being “industrious,” and being “practical and useful men.”

“If it should be thought advisable to increase the number of pupils, it can be done with little trouble, as a number have applied for admission, though it would be necessary to have more house-room in order to accommodate comfortably any more than we have at present.”

The need to apply for admission is very interesting. Education then is not given to all but only to all accepted for admission.

“A much larger amount of clothing has been used in the past than will be needed in the coming year. They are very well supplied now. All of the cloth and calico issued to us this summer has been made up, chiefly by the female pupils, and the children seem highly pleased with their tidy “Boston” costumes, and appear to appreciate your determination to elevate them.”

Socially children are sometimes more fashion conscience than adults. As well, there was a cultural admiration of wealthy people and thetribes saw Ameircans as being wealthy. To dress as wealthy Americans would be quite desirable.

The follow section are two lists of students, their attendance and their aptitude. The names are also quite interesting as there is no census of the Grand Ronde Tribe in the 1860s, so this list may be the only time these names appear on any list. This is expecially true because the 1867 education report suggests that many children died in the Manual Training school because of its poor ventilation, suggesting respiratory illnesses may have been at fault. Therefore many of these children may have indeed died of a respiratory illness in the intervening three years.

Appended is a list of pupils, with their supposed ages, etc.

List of boys- Lincoln, Peter, ten years old, constant attendance; Homer, John, nine years old, constant attendance; Baker, Shik-shik, eleven years old, constant attendance; Osyna, Sugar, eight years old, constant attendance; Rolla, ten years old, missed a few weeks; Hooker, Jim, nine years old, missed a few weeks; Bony, Tsiyi, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Baptiste, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Joe Lane, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Butler, Kile-kile, eleven years old, missed a few weeks; Douglas, Bogus, eleven years old, attended bur few weeks; Lyon, Sampson, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Joseph Lewis, eight years old, attended but few weeks; John Long, ten years old, absent half the time.

Among the boys the most extraordinary is Homer, son of Tumwater, Chief. He is truthful, honest, energetic, ambitious, and well-disposed. Surely, nature had some aim in producing such a little prodigy. He is the only flat-head among the boys.

(Homer is likely Homer Hoffer who apparently has the traditional head flattening; Joe Lane is a name we relate to Siletz Reservation, perhaps the family originally came from Grand Ronde?; Sampson is a known Umpqua family; Bogus too is a known family, Kile Kile Butler is likely related to Henry Yelkus, a Molalla, also called Henry Kilkile)

List of girls- Acarte George, seven years old, constant attendance; Zantippe Joe. Eight years old, constant attendance; Eliza Shik-shik, nine years old, constant attendance; Janette Kidno, nine years old, absent few weeks; Alice Sampson, nine years old, absent few weeks; Maggie Tom, nine years old, absent few weeks, Mary Louis, twelve years old, attended but few weeks; La Rose Louis, ten years old, attended few weeks; Lucy, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Mollie, fifteen years old, absent half time; Ellen Adam, fifteen years old, absent half time; Kate Lano, ten years old, absent half time; Lidia, eight years old, absent half time.(Annual report 1863, C.M. Sawtelle, Teacher, Grand Ronde Manual Labor School to J. B. Condon, Esq., Indian Agent, Grand Ronde Agency)

(The only name I recognize is Kate Lano, the surname later besomes Leno, a large well known family at the tribe)

The Umpqua school is very interesting. This school would be funded by the Umpqua and Kalapuya annuities. Its clear from the desciption that the school is poorly supported. The teacher does a lot of work to make the school useable.

Letter No. 25

Umpqua School, Grand Ronde Agency, Oregon, August 1, 1863

The building originally assigned me for a school-house was defective in many respects; it contained neither benches, desks, tables, nor any of the appliances usually found in our modern school-house, with the exception of superior ventilation; in that respect it was much better supplied than any house I have ever occupied, either as a student or teacher. Since my last report I have made benches and desk, relaid floors, and made other improvements, so that I am enabled now to report the building in comparatively a comfortable condition. The attendance during the past summer has been very engaging; there have been from fifteen to thirty scholars in the school, many of whom have made good progress. Some eight of them can write a passable hand, but they appear to have an imperfect idea of its utility. In point of obedience while in school-rooms they will compare favorably with any white children I have ever taught. The irregularity with which they attend school forms a great drawback to their advancement. The material furnished by you for clothing the scholars has been all made up, and as far as it went, has had the desired effect- that of encouraging a more prompt attendance upon the school, and attention to the instructions of the teacher. There was not sufficient, however, to clothe them all, and in consequence many failed to come who otherwise would have attended.

William J. Bridgefarmer, Teacher, to James B, Condon, Esq., United States Indian Agent, Grand Ronde

The story of the schools of Grand Ronde is a difficult one to tell. The records are well scattered. Previous to the reservation there was a school in the valley that served thje settler families. The next school was began in late 1856. From 1856 to the 1870s schooling was inconsistemnt at best as the Federal government did not fully fund the school and funding from the treaties was divided between Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations. It appears that Siletz got the funding for their school from the Rogue River Treaty. There was some questionafter Siletz Agency was finally settled in 1857 whether Siletz could claim funds from the treaties, as the Rogue Rivers and Chasta moved to Siletz from Grand Ronde were those who had fought the Americans, and its possible that the federal government thought they had breeched the terms of their treaties (at the same time there was no determination or consideration that the American settlers had breeched the same treaties by committing acts of genocide, as the Indians were always seen to be the aggressors in accounts of the time). Then the Manual training school opens in 1862, and the Umpqua school is still in operation, albeit not well funded or supported. In 1867 there are still issues with the schools, the manual training school is in poor repair. In 1880 Chemawa Indian Boarding School, also called the Salem Indian Industrial School, and also called the Harrison Institute, opens in its first iteration in Forest Grove, Oregon as a multistory one building schoolhouse. In 1884 there is a fire at the Forest Grove Manual Training school, and the school is moved to Chemawa outside of Salem. The initial landgrant is smaller and the students work at farmers’ agricultural fields and the money they make is used to buy more land. Grand Ronde students attend then agency schools in Grand Ronde, run in a Day school model, Public schools in the area if they live outside of the reservation, and Chemawa Indian boarding school. Later some Grand Ronde students attend other Indian Boarding schools in California and Kansas and other locations.

The 1867 Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde

In the 1860s the issue of education was at the fore of the duties of the Indian agents at Grand Ronde. Years of letters complained about irregular federal funding and support for this service to the tribes, a service supported by provisions in most of the ratified treaties. Still further Indian Agents were working to find ways to assimilate their Native charges, as this was the federal Indian policy of the time, but the agents did not have the federal support to have a sustained effort to get the natives converting to American culture. The school at Grand Ronde was operated by the Catholic Priest, Rev. Adrien Croquet, who surpervised an order of Sisters. They taught a mixture of regular subjects of reading and arithmatic, while also imposing upon the impressionable minds Catholic religious teachings. Education then was conceived of and operated as a two prong system of assimilation, educating the young people to become white Americans and devaluing Native culture.

The transription that follows suggests that the mission of assimilation and conversion to Catholicism was largely successful at Grand Ronde. John W. Wells, the Special Indian Agent encountered a population of some 300 people at the Saturday Council meeting, who did not like the Protestant teachers at the school and so would not send their children there. Walls asks for regular Catholic teachers so that the children may be educated faster.

The Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde is hinted at in numerous letters. Wells' account suggests that the school is in the Grand Ronde community, within Old Grand Ronde, likely situated somewhat close to St. Michaels Church, due to the education services provided by the Sisters. The school house described below which earlier letters state is of the "manual labor plan" is clearly that of a boarding school, with two lines of military bunks. The other type of school, a Day School, is operated much like public schools today with the students arriving in the morning and leaving at the end of the school day, but living at home. The "manual Labor plan" is really an immersion plan to quickly turn young Native students into civilized Americans. The sparcity of the building and its furnishings suggest that the students spent their time during the day, perhaps all day, grouped around the one large table listening to instruction and doing their work. At night all of the students slept in the same room. much to the consternation of Wells.

The conditions of the schoolhouse are particularly grim. A small unventilated space with little light.The space has a fireplace. The conditions suggest that the students would be suseptible to resperatory illnesses, perhaps flus, and pneumonia and perhaps molds, which can help grow resperatory problems, which in this period would have easily killed young people.

Wells seems particularly entranced by Homer, likely the 13 year old Homer Hoffer, an old tribal family. Homer was the best student of both reservations. His father was one of the original chiefs of the Oregon City Clackamas Clowewalla tribes.

"I found the school located in a small room, unventilated; dark; and humid; a stove in it without fire which the closeness of the room rendered unnecessary. A desk of the capacity in length to seat the scholars, stove at the end of the line or row of bunks like those used in barracks; opposite to which stood another row of bunks of like kind with room to pass between. This was all the accommodation for sleeping which I saw, and if it be all I should judge it an unfit place for the male sex alone. And if, the girls have sleeping apartments elsewhere, the eye rests nowhere upon these, or partitions, to convey the idea of an observance of the rule for the separation of the sexes; at least, in the daytime, before and after school hours. The narrow school room (with its bunks) appears located at the back of the sitting room of the family; these are at the side of a room of the length of both devoted to washing and cooking; this long room and the school room have the same damp, cheerless air; and from the location of these three rooms, it is impossible for the long room and the school room to receive that healthful ventilation in a sanitary point of view.

The repellant tone of the school-room was brought forcibly to my mind, on Saturday during the council I held with the chiefs. They told me that apart from their repugnance to the school which they had on account of their religion (they being Catholics) they, that is those of them who had children, would not send them to this school because they sickened and died after being there a few months. The reason for this mortality was patent to my mind while the chiefs were speaking; and I felt that what otherwise might be deemed their superstition, was alas a truth which physiological causes demonstrated!

The children did well in their exercises in spelling, reading and the first four rules of arithmetic; or, I should say the arithmetical branch of the exercises was engrossed by a small boy about 13 years of age, a son of the Chief of the Oregon City Tribe, named Homer (Homer Hoffer). They were not so proficient in singing as the scholars of “Siletz;” they sang no hymns at all, but on the contrary, a rude song called “Johnny” of low metrical character indeed the terms of which were not indelicate, but rather unrefined for youth. (the song could be "When Johnny Comes Marching


," a popular Civil war song)

These children evince remarkable aptitude to learn; but, as a whole, they are not I should think so proficient as those at “Siletz”; while I believe Homer to be the aptest and best scholar of all in both schools To show you their susceptibility to learn, and the progress which they have made, I herewith enclose the books of Homer after two years

Hooker, after odd spells of a year

Lincoln, the same

Susan Clarke, after 5 month tuition

George Washington, after 3 days

Geslie, the same

(these appear to be study books of the students, they would have kept them so they can study for tests. The books are not with the letter)

Which afford a practical test of the sufficiency of the system of the education of the Indian youth so happily founded by your Department and which you and your efficient coadjutors Mr. Mix and Mr. Watson have so much at heart.

On Saturday the 19th, I held a council with the chief at the office of the Agent;

… They say the school is repugnant to them for the reasons heretofore stated; and they wish their daughters placed in the charge of the Sisters, and their sons in that of a Teacher or Priest of their persuasion, being Catholic converts; and that this is a reason insuperable to them why they have never acknowledged the school.

They say they have no objection nor have they ever raised any, to the children of Protestant Indians being educated there; but have been subjected as Catholics in not having the benefit of the religious ministration and culture to which they are attached.

This subject is so easily solved under the 1st article of the Amendment to the Constitution, that it does not need the school and its paucity of numbers (with an education fund of 2200 dollars a year, assigned to the Grande Ronde Agency, productive of so trifling an amount of good with so much harm) to elucidate it.

… an appropriation be asked of Congress for this employee (teacher) at an annual salary of $1000.00.

With reference to the school system for Indian children as applicable to the Grand Ronde Reserve, I would respectfully recommend that a contract be entered into with the Rev. F.N. Blanchet, Archbishop of Oregon,… and that the usual facilities for the erection of a Mission and school houses, and buildings for the accommodation of the Sisters & teachers (common to those according to or enjoyed by the Protestant Societies) for the religious and mental training of the Children of Catholic Indian converts.

This done, apart from the unquestioned right under the Constitution to worship God, according to the dictates of their consciences, the Indians will no longer complain that in a few month after entering the school at Grand Ronde, their children die or have to leave with broken constitutions occasioned by maladies contracted there; a terrible truth unhesitatingly imparted to me by Mr. Clark the present Teacher of the Grand Ronde School; and new, plain, but commodious and well ventilated buildings, will prevent it." (Report of John W. Wells Indian Agent to The Superintendent of Indians Affairs 1/21/ 1867 RG75 m234 r615)

Another issue is mentioned at the near conclusion of the letter, that of the freedom of religion. Wells is most concerned that the Natives at Grand Ronde be free to have instruction in Catholicism, that they worship Gods based on their "Conscence". His definition of religious freedom appears to only concern Christian religions.  Ironically this conversion is a very recent phenomenon as the majority of the tribe resisted conversion from their native religions. In fact, many tribal leaders continued their tribal spirituality well into the 20th century despite all of the effort to convert them. It actually appears that the people at the reservation were still practicing their culture while they professed to be Catholic. Their protestations against the Protestants may actually be a protestation they had learned from their Catholic priest as there were minor political conflicts in this period between the Catholics and Protestants over access to Native peoples at reservations and control of the schools, which are the main conversion facilities.

The council meeting mentioned above has additional notes in Wells' report. He notes the leaders present and they are presented as the leaders of their respective tribes. They where,

Tom- Chief of the Rogue River band  (Likely Tyee Tom)
John- Chief of the Oregon City tribe (Homer's Father?)
Jake- Chief of the Cow Creek band  (Cow Creek Band of Umpquas)
Lewis- Chief of the Umpquas & Calapooias   (Upper Umpqua and Yoncalla Calapooias)
Billy- Chief of the Calapooias       (Willamette Valley Calapooias- could be southern tribes)
Peter- Chief of the Umpquas       (another Umpqua tribe? or same as above, tribes normally have more than one chief)
Joseph Hutchins Chief of the Saint Ams    (Santiam Band of Calapooias)
Joseph Sangareto- Chief of the Marysvilles  (Marys River or Chapinafu)
Quackety- Chief of the Molels       (likely Southern Band of Molalas)
Tom, Sub chief of the Calapooias     (Willametet Valley Calapooias)
Peter the Yamhill Chief            (Peter Kenoyer- here the Acount could be mistaken at Peter is Tualatin)
Exceptions being Dave, Jake, Kilkie, and Wacheno (not being present) (John Wacheno- Oregon City Chief)

January 21, 1867 Report on Grand Ronde, John W. Wells to Superintendent of Indian Affairs, RG75 M234, r615
Report on Indian Affairs 1863, Oregon Superintendency report

Redskins Etc. as Racial Stereotypes

Native peoples of the America were thought of in early philosophy as being Red Indians, fitting perfectly into a color wheel of peoples of the earth, White people being from Europe, Black people being from Africa, Brown peoples being from the Mediterranean and surrounding regions, Yellow people being from Asia, and Red people being the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. This was common thought in European philosophy that predated the creation of anthropology and most other social sciences (I don’t have the references, just go with this for now). Anthropology was not really borne until the 1850s with Anthropologists like Lewis Henry Morgan writing books about Indians. Morgan developed a version of Social Darwinism by placing different civilizations into a top down model of development. Native peoples were barbarians, at the lower level of Morgan’s model, while Europeans, i.e.: Western Civilization was of course at the highest level of “civilization.” Because of this, I have taken to writing about the Kalapuyan civilization in several of my essays, a prod at Morgan and his ilk, and a way to caste the Kalapuyans in a new light which helps enable rethinking much of what we know about Kalapuyan peoples’ culture and lifeways. Many anthropologists today accept that there is no such thing as a hierarchy of human civilizations, that these notions were created well before scientists or really anyone have a universal vision of the different cultures of humanity, and that they are severely biased towards the culture, society, and context of the creator of the paradigms. As such there are simply different cultures of humans in the world, none better that any others, some have advantages over others, privileges that are hard to defeat for those who do not have privileges. White privilege, male privilege, wealth is privilege, religion can be a privilege, and culture itself can be a privilege.

Within this reality, our American culture (also a privilege) continues to use pejorative terms for Native peoples without pause. The most egregious word is Redskins, but words like squaw, Indian, metis, siwash, redmen, brave, chief, tipi and even Rez or reservation can be racial slurs depending on how they are used, and who uses them. The racial slur of any of these words is in how it is used, the context, which is normally in conjunction with a racial stereotype. There are perfectly acceptable ways to use most of these words, without using them as a racial slur. But the use of many racial stereotypes about Native people is part of the privilege of otherAmericanss, most of whom know nothing about Native people, take no responsibility for the use of the terms, think that they are somehow honoring Native peoples, and would not accept similar racial stereotypes about Blacks, Asians, or Latinx peoples because they are considered racist.

An example of the use of Rez as a slur, is when people ask how far you have to travel from the rez? They are assuming that you like all other Natives live on a reservation, rather than living in an American town. Many people have these assumptions, even though close to 70 percent of all Native peoples do not live on their reservation, if they have one. But most people, American know nothing of Native peoples, only what they have seen on TV, in the Movies, or read in a history book. The “Rez” word is even used quite a bit in movies and on TV. I have been hearing the phrase “off the rez” in numerous Hollywood produced shows as a common phrase. It means that someone is outside of where they are supposed to be, like Native peoples are supposed to be living on a Rez, and not living In American society like “regular Americans.” I take it back; the word should never be used by non-native people.

The words “Indian” and “Indians” is another stereotype of Native peoples. I think we are all clear now that Columbus created the term in reference to “los Indios” (Spanish for Native people) he encountered in the Caribbean. Many scholars and students now decry the use of “Indian” and “Indians” because it is a non-descriptive generalization of who we are as Native peoples. There are some 1000 or more tribes, cultures of Native peoples in the Americas and there is nothing in common except what land masses we live on. We all have unique names for ourselves. So, there is no “Indian culture” there are not “Indian people.” There are people native to their lands, or Native peoples, Indigenous peoples, First Nations, American Indian, and Native American peoples are most acceptable generalizations. Some people have problems with these phrasings too. There are proper ways to address Native peoples in context as well. Legal and political contexts use Native Americans, as parts of laws. Older scholarly programs and use American Indians, but the trend is now turning to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous Peoples. Historians really must use the word “Indians” in context of the historic era they write about so that they do not alter history. Altering or washing history of the word “Indian” would do a disservice to all peoples who need to understand the racial and political contexts of Native peoples of all eras. By the way I am Kalapuyan, Chinook and Takelman, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and not simply an “Indian.”

There are many terms that are based on poor knowledge of Native cultures. Many people still assume that Native people grow up in Tipis, and are not aware that not all tribes had a tipi, but it’s a housing structure for peoples of the plains and Plateau and Great Basin but not the Northwest Coast or many other Native culture regions. Similarly, the word chief is a serious problem. I have been called “Chief” by people I have known for several years. They do not even know what they are doing. A chief is a well-respected leader of a tribe that’s is chosen by the people and normally maintains they status their whole life. The casual use of “Chief” in public is really shocking, and I have heard it a lot. I have seen in used in movies and TV and at those times it is shocking. My best retort is now, “How did you know?”

Redskin is a term with direct reference to genocide. The context of its use, was in the American West, when colonization and settlement was occurring, the white Americans wanted to remove the tribes from the lands and resources they wanted as their own. The tribes were not too happy with an invasion of the White men, some called literally “Whitemen” who disregarded the previous long-term presence of the tribes, ignored tribal laws, denigrated tribes as savages and heaths, and indiscriminately killed any Native people, men, women, and children simply because they were in the way of settlement or gold mining. Tribes upset that all of their lands and resources were being taken away, or plowed under, began seeking retribution, by stealing from the settlers, and sometimes killing them in an attempt to maintain their sovereignty and/or drive these newcomers away. Some ten years into settlement in Oregon and all of the best lands were claimed in the Willamette Valley leaving nothing for the tribes. Settlement and creating farms on former tribal lands plowed under root crops and fenced off whole prairies so that the tribes lost valuable food sources.

By 1850 the tribes in the most settled regions were starving as they were unable to put up enough winter stores of preserved and dried foods, and most settlers refused to share their food with savages, so many tribal people began to steal to survive. Then settlers upset that their “property” was being stolen passed laws which allowed voluntary militias to take retribution on tribes for bad behaviors and recoup their losses of supplies and expenses for their campaigns from state and territorial funds. In this manner, hundreds of tribes were attacked and nearly or completely wiped out because a horse was stolen or a cow was taken to feed the tribe. There was not a trial, there were no authorities issuing warrants to bring thieves to justice in a court system, the militias simply killed whole villages, men, women, and children. And if there were captives taken, many would not survive to be taken to a fort. This was genocide of entire populations of tribes. Tribal peoples had no standing in the American court system and many judges would not allow them to testify so there was never a way to hold the militias accountable for murders.

Several states and territories allow the members of militias and regular Americans to collect bounties on Redskin scalps as proof of their work. California and Oregon are famous for this. But the federal government also allowed “depredation” claims from Americans who would claim that they had lost property to Indians, and so they could get paid for their losses to tribes. There was no similar process for tribes. Tribes could not claim that Americans had taken their lands and resources and get paid back for encroachments and squatting by Americans on tribal lands. They could not take murder or rape charges to an American court for the actions of gold miners against their people. The context of the Redskin phrase then is deep within the United States history of Manifest Destiny, and state-sponsored colonization, and genocide of tribal land and peoples. Redskins today most people only know as a NFL football team, but for Native peoples it represents genocide of our people, and the colonization of our lands and our loss then of sovereignty and the resulting history of losses and federally sponsored mistreatment which has gone on for some 180 years.

The rules for using these terms shift when tribal people use them. Words like “Indian” and “skin” are common on reservations and in native communities. Native people have essentially owned the terms and use them for their own purposes. In most Native communities among community members there are no outlawed terms, and these are not even issues. Academically educated Native peoples and allies though have studied and know the origin of the terms and are generally more conscious and pickier about the use of such pejorative terms.

The Trials of Tom Gilbert, Convicted of Murdering Wapato Dave and Ponomapa.

On November 28th, 1882, Tom Gilbert, a native man enrolled in the Grand Ronde tribe allegedly murdered fellow Grand Ronde Reservation inhabitants Wapato Dave Yatskawa and his wife Ponomapa on their allotment on the Grand Ronde Reservation. Gilbert was reportedly drunk and had traveled from Willamina, and reportedly attacked the two with a hatchet, nearly severing their heads. He also attacked their son Indian Dave cutting him in the hand, but he escaped, Testimony from Indian Dave indicated that after Wapato Dave was mortally wounded he told his son to leave the house and go get help.

Tom Gilbert was then arrested by the Grand Ronde police, who had him jailed in suspicion for the crime. He was indicted on December 8, 1882. He was then taken to the Polk County Jail in Dallas and remained there for three trials in the Circuit Court and one in the Oregon Supeme Court (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908).

Wapato Dave was Dave Yatchekawa (various spellings), a leader, a chief of the Wapato Lake, or Tualatin Kalapuya tribe. He had signed treaties for his people and was a well-respected leader at the reservation. Tom Gilbert was the half-brother to Stephen Savage, part of a clan of native people who had lived in the Upper McKenzie River area of the southern Willamette Valley. The family included relations with the Halo family of Yoncalla Kalapuyans, the Hudson family of Santiam Kalapuyans, and the Tufti family of Molallan peoples. The family was of mixed tribal heritage, Kalapuya, Umpqua, Molalla and likely Wasco who had been split up and removed to two different reservations, Grand Ronde and Warm Springs. The family genealogy has an essay on this site.

Witnesses were native people from the Grand Ronde Reservation who were summoned by the court to testify. They were H. C. Rowell, David Yatskawa, John Schallor, Jake Wheeler, E. F. Hussey, Jo Apperson, Susan Wheeler, Jim Foster, George Sutton, Gov. Woods, Cowles, Baltice Jaundra, and Dan Watchena,

On January 12th Gilbert was found guilty of murder in the first degree. There were five jury ballots were taken, the first four the vote was 11 guilty to 1 not guilty. The fifth ballot was unanimously guilty. Gilbert had been defended by Messrs. Daly & Butler. Indian Dave, the son, was the only eyewitness to the testify against Gilbert and he had been wounded by Gilbert (Polk Co Itemizer 1/13/1883). The article went on to describe Gilbert as a well-to-do Indian who could speak English well.

Gilbert, at his sentencing, is quoted stating, “I am going to hang. I did not kill Dave and his wife. If I had killed them, now I am going to hang, anyhow, I would not tell a lie about it. God knows whether I killed them. The boy killed them, and they swear against me to save the boy from hanging. The boy killed another boy once… It will be found out who killed Dave and his wife, but I hang for it. It will do me no good then.” He spoke very earnestly and gestured with his left hand, occasionally placing it on his breast. During the delivery, there was a deep hush, and the audience was standing. The prisoner’s earnest manner made an impression on the hearers and caused some persons to express a doubt as to his guilt. The judge pronounced that he would be hung on March 1st, 1883 (Polk County Itemizer 1/20/1883).

In fact, Indian Dave had been charged with killing a boy in 1879. Indian Dave and another from Grand Ronde went hunting and a couple days later the dead body of the companion was found in the forest. Indian Dave was arrested and spent some time in the Grand Ronde jail but claimed that the other boy had shot himself. The police stated that circumstances indicate a premeditated murder and that he be held for trial (Corvallis Gazette 2/21/1879). It is clear that he was not held long in jail, and was out in 1882. The next newspaper account is a case review in 1885, which does not reveal any details (Indian Dave V State, Curry Co. Circuit Court Calendar, Coast Mail 6/4/1885 (this may be a different Indian Dave)).

The Polk County itemizer (1/20/1883) also described Gilbert’s appearance. He was “exceedingly ill-favored, his forehead being very narrow across the top, caused from Compression which it received when an infant” (skull deformation). “His eyelids droop over his eyes, giving him a sinister expression, Yet when he was making his speech the emotion caused by the imminence and horror of his fate, humanized his face.” Clearly, the cultural skull deformation Gilbert had, caused some racist feelings on behalf of the white Americans, so much so that he was de-humanized to them by his appearance.

After sentencing, Gilbert’s attorney took the case to the Oregon Supreme Court due to confusion about which crime he was charged with. He won the challenge and on May 14th the Supreme Court declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial. The new trial in May ended with a hung jury. The next chapter of his case ended in December 1883 when he pleaded guilty to Manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in jail and a fine of $100 (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908).

The intrigue continued in the Polk Itemizer newspaper, likely because this was a fairly large case for such a small town. On January 27th the story of Tom Gilbert “The Doomed Indian” included a visit to the jail of an Indian from Grand Ronde. They “”told him that an Indian, Jimmy John, had said to the latter’s father that Gilbert was going to hang for nothing and that he (John) knew who committed the murder. John has left the reservation and cannot be found. Gilbert says his friends are hunting for him. He was asked: “Are you afraid to die!” He smiled, and said he could not tell yet; it was more than thirty days yet till the day of execution; he couldn’t say whether he would be afraid or not. “I am going to hang,” he continued, and I can’t help it.” “Do you get lonesome here?” he was asked. “Oh yes,” he replied, with a sigh that expressed more than his words. The prisoner said he was thirty-eight years old, and, from a boy, had never done any mischief. He earnestly protested his innocence of the crime for which he is to suffer the dearest penalty” (Polk Co. Itemizer 1/27/1883).

The following letter from the Indian Agent at Grand Ronde, P.B. Sinnott, states many of the details of the case.

United States Indian Service
Grand Ronde Agency
29th January, 1884
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter C – 4041-4839– 1883 – 18787 – 1882 dated March 15th 1883.

Replying thereto you are informed that in the Case of the State of Oregon vs. Tom Gilbert an Indian belonging to Grand Ronde Reservation who was indicted by the Grand Jury at the November term of the Circuit Court for the County of Polk State of Oregon, charging him, Gilbert, with the crime of murder and by the malicious killing of Wapato Dave and his, Dave’s, wife Indians belonging to this Agency – and further charged that the crime was committed on Grand Ronde Reserve. The Grand Jury found two separate indictments one for the killing of Dave and one for the killing of Dave’s wife. The Defendant was duly —, and the Attorney for Gilbert filed a Motion to Dismiss the indictment for want of jurisdiction. Upon submitting the question of jurisdiction the court overruled the Motion  To Dismiss, and held that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction.

The Defendant Gilbert was then placed upon his trial. The result of the trial was a verdict by the jury of guilty of murder in the first degree. Upon this verdict the Court sentenced Gilbert to be hanged on March 1st, 1883.

The attorneys for Gilbert now made the discovery that the Records fail to disclose which of the two indictments the defendant was tried and convicted under. They succeed in getting a stay of judgment and carried the case on appeal to the Supreme Court, upon both the question of jurisdiction and upon the error of the Records. Whether Gilbert’s attorneys pressed the question of jurisdiction before the Supreme Court so as to secure a ruling of that court upon the question I do not know, but the Supreme Court sustained them on the question of error in the Records and remanded the Case to the Circuit Court for a new trial.

Gilbert’s Attorneys now abandon all legal technicalities and made a powerful effort to save this man by a verdict of acquittal by the jury. The result of the second trial was a disagreed jury; 11 for conviction 1 for acquittal. The case went over till the last term of Court – (December last) when the Defendant was by the agreement of counsel allowed to plead guilty to Manslaughter and was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and be confined at hard labor in the State Penitentiary one year.

This is the first case on this North West Coast where one Indian was tried in the State Courts for the killing of another Indian on an Indian Reservation.
Most Respectfully
Your Most Obedient Servant
P.B. Sinnott
U.S. Ind. Agent


In early December 1908, Tom Gilbert died by falling drunk from his horse into the Yamhill River. The newspaper description is very strange with deep details. ” His clothing caught on a snag, and he was unable to extricate himself. When found his head and feet were out of the water but this is accounted for as happening after rigor mortis set in” (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908). He did not drown but instead died of the exposure in the icy river. “There was no water in his lungs so his death could not be attributed to drowning, and there were no marks of violence on his body. The clay bank in front of him was scratched and torn where his fingernails had slipped through the moist earth in a vain effort to hold, as the limber branches dragged him back into the water after each fruitless effort to climb out… He had repeatedly attempted to clear himself from the entangled vines until his strength became exhausted and he was dragged back and held irresistibly in the icy water and slowly chilled to death.” Two of his nephews at the inquest attributed his death to foul play. (Polk Co. Itemizer 2/1/1908).

Tom Gilbert was 65 at the time of his death and he left a wife, Lucinda, and several children.


Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter #2572,  Written Jan. 29, 1884 at Grand Ronde Agency by P. B. Sinnott, Agent. Transcript by Heather Ulrich.

Trial and Case information from the Polk County Circuit Court (case # 479) and Oregon Supreme Court files (#1463) is archived at the Oregon State Archives in  Salem. Thanks to the OSA staff for their help finding the case files.

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