Dispossessed of Tribal Traditions, the Fishery at Clackamas Village 1860s

A letter addressed to J. W. Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon in 1862.   The letter was from John Campbell who had worked for John McLaughlin and was making an appeal to grant the Clackamas Tribe rights to return to their traditional village and fish for salmon. He writes,

An Indian named George of the Clackamas is here and is very anxious to be permitted to come here during the fishing season and bring his family”

Westfir Saw Mill, perhaps simialr to Bucks Saw Mill, Bucks eventually became the Pittock Mill
Westfir Saw Mill, perhaps similar to Bucks Saw Mill, Bucks eventually became the Pittock Mill (yes that Pittock!)

“The Clackamas village is on Mr. Cason’s land, immediately opposite Mr. Wm. Buck’s Saw Mills. I understand  from Mr. Buck that Mr. Cason and himself had no objection at all to the Indians remaining there, and they must assuredly have been as much interested in their removal as others who lived at a greater distance from them.”

1852 GLO 2s,2e,showing Clackamas Indian Village
1852 GLO 2s,2e,showing Clackamas Indian Village

After a bit of research I found the Cason Donation Land Claim in the town of Gladstone, and the 1852 GLO survey map shows clearly the Indian Village which likely partially stood in 1862.

1862 GLO survey map showing the Cason DLC #50
1862 GLO survey map showing the Fendal C. Cason DLC #50, in the same location as the Clackamas village pictured above.

The Clackamas had been removed to the Grand Ronde Indian reservation in about 1856. Reservation correspondence suggests that the tribes did not like it at Grand Ronde. The Natives at Grand Ronde were starving and the agents struggled to get food for the reservation as funding and supplies took time to get to the west coast from Washington, D.C.

Grand Ronde Reservation
Grand Ronde Indian Reservation 1857



In the late 1850s the Commissioner of Indian affairs stated that the tribes were to feed themselves as there was not enough resources to feed them. So the agents began devising ways to have the tribes continue to have access to hunting areas and fisheries. In the 1860s the agents at Grand Ronde were developing the Salmon River Fishery on the coast for the Grand Ronde Indians.

In fact a toll road was built by the Indians over the Coast Range to access the fishery.  But many tribes desired to return to  their homelands to fish. A Pass system was developed and Indians were logged into the Pass book to grant them passes to travel away from the reservation. The Passes were to certify they could travel among the American settlements, as they were not Americans, and the settlers were wary of Wandering Indians, who may steal and raid  at their farms.

Nechesne (Salmon River) estuary, location of the Salmon River Indian village, fishery, and encampment
Nechesne (Salmon River) estuary, location of the Salmon River Indian village, fishery, and encampment

Most Americans did not want anything to do with Indians as thought them to be like scavengers to be exterminated. A few of the settlers had not mind the Indians, had established relationships with them, and really felt guilty for how they had been tricked  and forced out of their lands.

Cason’s land featured agricultural fields a ferry and later a bridge. The Cason family come to Oregon in 1843, and the land was originally Fendal Cason’s provisional land claim (1846) then DLC. He died in about 1860 and the ownership passed to his son Adoniram J. Cason (State Archives records). Because the date of this letter is 1862, it is likely Adoniram is the Cason that Campbell talked with.

Campbell continues,

The Salmon are now commencing to run lively and I have never seen them finer than they are this season. If you could permit a few of the old owners of this fishing ground to come down during the fishing season, it would not only be humane, but I should think perfectly justifiable. You will excuse me for troubling you so much in regard to these Indians.but they look upon me as an old friend. From the fall of 1844 up to the spring of 1847, I presume that I hired and traded more with the Indians, than any man that then resided and now resides in Oregon City, I being at that time in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Co’s and Dr. McLaughlin’s accounts, and some of that time have employed many of the Indians to work for myself.”

Campbell here presents well his credentials. An impressive history of interaction with the tribes in the region. In addition, there was quite a large salmon run up the Clackamas River, the river hosted a good number of Clackamas Indians who would fish at the riffles and rapids. They would also fish at Willamette Falls as they would have had rights there.

Indian Fishing At Willamette Falls 1841, Drayton woodcut.
Indian Fishing At Willamette Falls 1841, Drayton woodcut.

“If you have seen the number at this place in 1843 when I arrived here, and would now count the miserable remainder of them, and recollect that their depredations upon the white man’s property have been so small I think you would feel inclined to use some latitude in your rules of them, as they are sliding to their graves like the waters over our falls.”

Campbell clearly feels something for what has occurred to the tribes. He likely witnessed the burning of their longhouses in the 1840s. In the 1830s and 40s, the Indian populations fell due to diseases (mainly malaria), and since moving to the reservation many more people died. There was a large die off of tribal peoples removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation due to stress, diseases, alcohol abuse, malnutrition, and neglect.

The Grand Ronde passbook mentions  Clackamas man “George” requesting passes in the 1860s. There was regular travel of Native men and women between the reservation and fishing areas along the Willamette River and at Willamette Falls. Oregon City John, Chief of the Clowewalla regularly visited Canemah and Oregon City in this period.

The dispossession of the right to continue to practice tribal traditions is likely the main cause of stress and anxiety suffered by Tribal peoples. To then be forced to request the right to travel across one’s own land, and to be forced to rely upon the good will of relative strangers had to be very unsettling for Natives who’s ancestors had lived there for thousands of generations.

De Girardin in 1840s at Willamette Falls, with Native Longhouse in foreground
Looking South at Willamette Falls, with Native Longhouse in foreground, vicinity of the Clackamas River and Willamette River  joining, De Girardin 1840s.

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