For years now few new details about our allotments at the Grand Ronde tribe have come to light. Our allotment system, created for all tribes in the United States Under the Dawes Allotment in Severalty Act of 1887, rolled out over the course of two years. The tribal people at the reservation were already living on informal allotments given to them by the Indian agents in the 1870s. These informal allotments allowed the people to start farms and make some money and a little food off the poor soils of the Grand Ronde Valley, an outcropping of the Willamette Valley.
When the Allotment act was initiated the Government sent special Indian agents to survey the land. They created a grid system of allotments for the people across the valley floor and into the foothills of the Coast Range. The grid system did not treat all of the people equally, those with power and influence at the tribe, normally influential chiefs and their family got the best lands on the valley floor. Other people were given lands in the hills. The people were to possess the allotments for 20 years before they gained the fee-simple titles and were able to sell their property. Being on a reservation the lands were not subject to state taxes or laws, only to federal laws. Then, not all people at the reservation got allotments. People had to have 1/2 Indian blood quantum or better to get an allotment, a new policy decision by the government, one which was not part of our treaties at all. Men, women and children all got allotments, but the head of the household normally got more land. The men normally got between 200 and 300 acres, while women 80-200 acres and children 20-100 acres. Again this was a policy decision by the government even though all of these people were tribal members.
(note: recently it was suggested by S.D. Beckham (report of 2017), that at some tribes the blood quantum policy was not followed. It remains to be proven through research how well it was followed as a policy, if at all. For Grand Ronde, I will need to conduct a survey of all allottees to see what their blood quantum was at the time of their allotment to see if this policy held true. However, blood quantum was national policy and likely influenced tribal policy and federal policy in the 20th century, especially due to the number of tribes that use blood quantum to determine tribal enrollment status even today.)
A big problem with the allotments is the fact that it induced a farming system on the reservation. This is occurring at a time when American society was changing away from farming and people moved increasingly to cities to find work as they could not make a living farming. In addition, the Dawes Act was not created to help the tribes. It was created to reduce the overall acreage of the reservations across the US, by giving individual allotments to people, and declaring the remainder of the reservation lands surplus to be sold to the public. The frontier in America had officially ended, as most of the West was claimed by decades of pioneers moving westward. the last remaining lands were at the Reservations and as Indian populations were declining, the government decided that the tribes possessed too much land, they were wasting it, and the surplus lands need to be opened up to additional settlement by Americans.
So at Grand Ronde, after an examination of the Allotment Book (held by the Oregon Historical Society), there was an initial selection of lands for each eligible member of the tribe. This selection took place in 1888, between July and December. It is still unclear whether the Indian agents went to each house for the selection process, or there was a line -up of eligible tribal members. An examination of the records of 1888 might reveal how this occurred. Allotment occurred in 1889. The Allotment Book is arranged, generally, in alphabetical order by the surnames. There are several names out of place, several added to the end but this is the general order. The book also states the tribe for each person in most entries, the acreage they received, and the location of the allotment. There are additional notation about if the land was sold or traded later. The book has an index of names, and by the time of the last entry many people are noted to have died while the book was in use.
Looking at the raw information, I could not easily envision how the selection process took place. I then conceived of a small project to place some of the relevant information into a spreadsheet so I could manage the data, and reorganize as I needed. My first question was, how much acreage had been allotted, exactly? We had used the figure of 30,000 acres as a general estimate in the past, but with the information we had, we can get an exact number. It took about three days to log into an Excel spreadsheet the people’s names, their acreage, their allotment number, their selection number and tribal designation. Working in reverse order, from 270 to 1. During this process I conceived of a few other benefits of reorganizing the data by selection numbers. We could see family groups appear, we could see if the tribal names were the same throughout the family groups, and we could possible see more details as to who were allowed to choose their lands first. this could indicate their power and influence at the tribe. And later if we could access an accurate map of the houses of the people in the 19th century, we could perhaps see if the agents visited them or there was a line-up on the day of selection. Did they choose their lands based on the informal allotment system already in place? Or did they have to rebuild their houses in the new allotments. Perhaps these details would be revealed if we access other information.
After organizing the data, we do see that the selections were made in family groupings. This sometimes reveals who was living with or closely associated with a family.
We also see that some people in the same family had a different name for their tribe of origin. There may have been some assignment of tribal origin by the agent in charge.
The Allen family has a clear Molalla relative, and they appear to be be close friends with the Appersons and Kenoyers. This is important, as this close relationship is also noted in many histories of the families.
This association is very important, not necessarily revealed by the reordering as can be seen. But the fact that people in the same family were associating themselves as Iroquois and Clowewalla is a study in native identity. To identify as Iroquois at this time was likely a point of pride. This apparently did not eliminate them from getting an allotment at Grand Ronde. This is the result of a couple generations of French-Indian people (metis) marrying local natives, normally Chinook or Kalapuya, and those people electing or being forced to go to Grand Ronde to live.
And, in answer to the first question, how many acres were allotted, it turns out our estimates were not too far off the mark. There were 33225.35 acres allotted in 1889 at the Grand Ronde reservation. The original acreage of the reservation was somewhere between 59,000 and 69,000 acres, and so 27,000 acres were surplussed at the reservation. The estimated acreage the tribes ceded to the United States is about 14 million acres, which is all of Western Oregon from the peak of the Cascade Range. The other reservation in western Oregon, the Coast Reservation, was originally about 1.1 million acres, extending for 100 miles along the Oregon Coast.
The details of the sale of the surplussed lands are not clear at this time. There were advertisements in local newspapers for the sale of the lands, mainly timberlands. The majority of sales went to logging companies and Oregonian editorials suggested there may have been something wrong with the original arrangement to allow a new generation of settlers buy these lands for stakes of 160 acres. Research into the details of the bids and sales would reveal what occurred in this period. If it is proven that the logging companies colluded with the federal government to get possession of the lands, it would not at all be surprising.
In this period, logging, which had become a major industry in Oregon, was declining, as much of the old growth timber was already gone. The Indian reservations on the coast had the last remaining stands of untouched old growth timber and the timber companies coveted the land. Once they had possession of the lands, the timber companies began building railroad spur lines into the Coast range. By 1918, logging camps had been established all throughout the range and logging towns were established by the Timber companies. One such town was Valsetz, just south of Grand Ronde, established by William W. Mitchell Company (or Cobbs & Mitchell) in 1919, sold several times, and existed into the 1970s. Many Indian loggers at the Grand Ronde Reservation recalled living in the town. The logging of spruce from the Coast Range contributed to the growth of the US Airforce which needed spruce wood for building light aircraft for the airwar over Europe during WWI.
In the 1880s, there had been several attempts by a local real estate firm in Dallas, to get the tribes to agree to sell their reservation. One such attempt was in the form of a false petition that appeared to have been signed by the majority of men at the reservation. The petition suggested that all the people at the reservation “wished to sell their land, and become white men.” This petition was followed a month later by another letter from the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, signed by many of these same men, stating that the previous petition was fraudulent.
By 1950 when liquidation of the reservation was being considered, there remained only about 600 acres (597). After 20 years of allotment, beginning about 1907, the original alottees, many of them had passed and the BIA initiated a series of heirship studies. After 1911 and until about 1918 these studies were decided and the majority of the allotments were sold, with the proceeds given to the descendants of those passed. Very little land was passed on to inheritors, which accounted for thousands of acres being sold from the reservation.
By the 1930s, very little land remained in trust at the reservation, and the BIA, the new John Collier administration, proposed self determination policies to address many of the “Indian problems” on reservations (poverty, lack of infrastructure, alcoholism, lack of education, lack of services). One such program, Rehabilitation, began in 1935 and in part allowed from additional allotments to occur, with some of the original lands of the reservation being purchased back, and allotted again.
There is more to be learned in this short project but for now that’s all.
The Allotment book is at the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland, OR.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.