Forming the Grand Ronde Tribal Confederation 1850s

The Grand Ronde Tribe is a confederacy of tribes.  The history of research on how many tribes came to Grand Ronde has greatly progressed in recent years. For a time in the 1990s, Grand Ronde noted five tribes (the primary tribal groups- which encouraged some people to believe that there were only five tribes).  In the 2000s historians and researchers at the Grand Ronde Tribe had enumerated 29 to 35 tribes. Counting them again, we are finding many more bands than previously mentioned, perhaps as many as 48 tribes and bands.

The definition of a Tribe is important. We now state tribes and bands, where a tribe and a band have the same degree of sovereignty. Each tribal village chief had their own autonomy to make their own decisions. Some were aligned with larger villages or related to them and so would respond in defense if requested. But each principal chief basically was the leader of a sovereign Indian nation. This is important when counting tribes that came to the reservation.

The idea of a Tribal confederation is important and perhaps fairly rare among all tribes in the United States. Most tribes in places like Indian Country-Oklahoma have between 1 and 3 tribes per reservation. Indeed, eastern Oregon tribes have 3 tribes on their reservations, it is only Grand Ronde and Siletz that have large confederacies. Siletz is historically estimated at 25 tribes. The confederations created by the United States, or concentrations of many tribes on one reservation, is mainly a west coast creation. The reasoning is clear, the more tribes that are placed on a reservation, the more overall land is available to settlement by white Americans.  As well, many of the tribes and bands were by the 1850s less than 20 people due to population declines through diseases. The government felt they did not deserve their own reservation, with so few people.

The issues are many-fold. Why and how did this occur? Essentially what occurred that created the confederacies happened at the time that Oregonian politicians first considered the removal of the tribes. The first plan for the removal of the tribes was to remove all of the tribes from Western Oregon to Umatilla. Anson Dart was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon in 1851 and came to Oregon to write treaties and remove the Indians from the land most wanted by the settlers. One of his missions was to remove all Indians from west of the Cascades and move them to the east. He set about to do that. He traveled to Umatilla, met with their leaders, and proposed the idea. They hated it. Yet he still set about to make it happen and set up an office in the Umatilla area. Dart and his commission began writing treaties with the tribes in 1851 and he proposed their removal east.

The tribes in the Willamette Valley would not accept moving eastward. They stated they would rather be shot than move from the land their ancestors were buried in. The Santiam were powerful in their rejection and so powerful all of the other Kalapuya tribes joined with them and said they spoke for all of them. The Santiam Chiefs Tiacan and Alquema held out for almost a week of negotiations and finally forced Dart to write into the treaty a  reservation inside the valley. In these negotiations, each tribe had its own treaty and each one forced Dart to create a reservation in their homelands.

1851 Treaty Signature Page, NARA
1851 Treaty Signature Page, NARA
1851 proposed Luckimiute Reservation, note location of Simpson's Ferry, Section of Gibbs and Starling Map
1851 proposed Luckimiute Reservation, note location of Simpson’s Ferry, Section of Gibbs and Starling Map

These 19 1851 treaties were taken to Washington, D.C. by Dart and presented before Congress. After some months of mulling them over Congress failed to ratify the treaties. In the intervening months, Americans from Oregon had written their friends and Congressmen and complained of the plan to have the tribes remain in the Willamette Valley. They wanted all of the lands for themselves and do not want to live beside savages. They took this action, even though many of the tribes had welcomed them and even helped them build their farms. The Tribes had sold the land to them and made friends among the settlers.

Willamette Mission, Methodist Homestead and Indian Mission School, built with Indian labor, Indian students labored on the farm 1836-1840s
Willamette Mission, Methodist Homestead and Indian Mission School, built with Indian labor, Indian students labored on the farm 1836-1840s

The tribes probably had little choice but to accept the settlers. They knew that the settlers were many and they would keep coming and would one day take everything, and the tribes had suffered a great period of death. The first illnesses came in the 1780s, likely smallpox (pocked and pitted faces were seen but Lewis and Clark on the Columbia in 1905) that killed a good number of Indians. Then from 1829 to 1850, there were a number of malaria epidemics that killed some 90-95% of tribal people in the northwest (Boyd 1999). Therefore, having just gone through a huge population decline, the tribes were much decreased. They could not mount much resistance to settlers (or other tribes like the Klickitat). Their villages were fewer and they had become part of the fur trade for the past 30 years or so.  They were learning to adapt to the changes brought by the newcomers.  Still, leaders of the Santiam decried their situation stating that they knew they had thrown away their lands and hoped to gain something for their land, and a permanent place to live as promised.

1851 Proposed Santiam Reservation, based on the 1851 treaties, Gibbs- Starling map
1851 Proposed Santiam Reservation, based on the 1851 treaties, Gibbs- Starling map

The news of the failure of the 1851 treaties did not reach Oregon until 1853. By then Joel Palmer was appointed as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon. The promises implied in the 1851 treaties were the first in a series of disappointments for the tribes. In the interim, because the word of the federal government was not trusted by the tribes, conflicts arose as settlers, miners, and ranchers pushed into their lands.  Indians in the southwestern Oregon-Northern California and on the Columbia began fighting back against those who were squatting on their lands and taking their game. These lands had not been bought and paid for and the Indians still owned them under international and United States land laws. The Californian tribes had similarly signed treaties in 1851, to never be ratified, causing many problems in that state. The Rogue River and northern California battles and wars were really parts of the same regional conflict over territory.  In fact, the Tolowa Tribes were imprisoned on an island in Crescent City to keep them away from the Rogue River conflict because of how well related they were to the Tribes there.

Oregon Spectator, 9/2/1853
Oregon Spectator, 9/2/1853

Palmer set about to solve the problems. He began writing treaties with the southern tribes first, placing them on temporary reservations (Umpqua, Table Rock) and promising a permanent reservation later. This quelled the fighting and tension for a short time until racist attitudes from the settlers in southern Oregon took over and they began attacking the tribes on the reservation. In fact, California miners formed a militia and came into Oregon and began attacking Indians at Table Rock for a theft. The Volunteer Militias, formed under state policies and laws, began attacking Indian settlements in increasing numbers for any excuse. Generally, if a cow or horse was killed, or someone robbed in the trail, a whole village of Indians in the Rogue Basin may be exterminated.   There were attacks back and forth, and guilt on both sides, but the crux is that the settlers encroached on Indian’s land and began exterminating Indians with high discrimination. Without this, there may not have been a war in the south.

Chief John, likely Shasta Chief
Chief John, likely Shasta Chief, a Hero to the Indian people

In 1855, Chief John, finally could take no more of this and formed a confederation of like-minded tribes and left Table Rock. They attacked white settlements and killed many people and were finally cornered at Big Bend and had to surrender.

Palmer’s initial plan when writing the first five treaties was to move all of the tribes to the Coast reservation. A 100 mile stretch of the coast and Coast range, where there were few or no settlements of whites. The thought was to create one large reservation for all western tribes, in the west, as they refused to move east. In all seven treaties were written with the tribes, which were eventually ratified.

Title Page to the 19853 Rogue River Treaty
Title Page to the 19853 Rogue River Treaty, NARA
Signature Page to the 1853 Rogue River Treaty
Signature Page to the 1853 Rogue River Treaty, NARA

In early 1855 once fighting broke out in the south, Palmer set about reformulating his plan. He needed another temporary reservation away from the major areas of conflict. This year, he had noticed that the western edge of the Willamette valley was very quiet. In fact the 1851 proposed reservation for the Yamhill Kalapuya tribe was to be Gopher Valley, and it may be the relative peace of that area that caused him to look for another temporary reservation spot near there.

Section of Gibbs Starling Map, 1851, showing Proposed Yamhill reservation and entry to Grand Ronde Valley
Section of Gibbs Starling Map, 1851, showing Proposed Yamhill reservation and entry to Grand Ronde Valley

Sometime in 1855 Palmer had chosen the site of the new temporary reservation, the Yamhill Valley- Yamhill River or Grand Ronde Reservation. In fact, Grand Ronde is mentioned in the Molalla Treaty negotiated that month. Palmer worked with the Army and bought out the settlers who had Donation Land Claims in the Grand Ronde valley. In January  1856 Palmer hosted a visit of the Kalapuya chiefs to the Grand Ronde Valley and got their agreement to remove there. This agreement they took back to their temporary reservations on farmer DLCs in the Willamette Valley, so to convince their people to remove peacefully.

Portion of Molalla Treaty which mentions removal to the Grand Ronde Valley at the Base of the Coast Range, December 1855, NARA
A portion of Molala Treaty which mentions removal to the Grand Ronde Valley at the base of the Coast Range, December 1855, NARA

By February 1856 Palmer was ordering the tribes onto the new reservation. The first big removal were the tribes on the Umpqua Reservation. They arrived in Grand Ronde  Feb. 2, with 380 people.

The order to remove the Table Rock Reservation tribes was especially important as the tribes that had remained there were under constant threat of violence from the settlers at Jacksonville. They set out on February 23 from Table Rock on foot and in wagons.

Table Rock Reservation 1856
Table Rock Reservation 1856

They marched 35 days and arrived on March 25th at Grand Ronde. Seven people died and seven babies were born on the trip through the dead of winter (some stories have the numbers as 8 died and 8 babies born). They were harassed by settlers on the journey so badly that they had to avoid many towns and camp out in the open.  The Grand Ronde Trail of Tears ended in the Grand Ronde valley. The people had to set up canvas Sibley tents alongside the streams and creeks and were forced to feed themselves as supplies from the federal government were slow to arrive. That year they built cabins for their people and began working the land for crops.

 Drawing of Fort Orford, Oregon Territory, 1855. Port Orford about 1890, Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Libr., bb008499
Drawing of Fort/Port Orford, Oregon Territory, 1855.
Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Libr., bb008499

More tribes arrived through the summer of 1856. The Rogue River tribes that had left Table Rock in 1855, surrendered at Fort Orford in 1856. They were shipped by schooner through Port Orford, to Portland, transferred to a steamer above the falls at Canemah and transported to Dayton. There they marched overland to Grand Ronde. This trip from Port Orford occurred three times with as many as 700 Indians on each schooner. The final journey was a march up the coast of the last southwest Oregon Indians to surrender. This last body of refugees were settled temporarily on the coast  in the vicinity of  Newport and Depoe Bay. Some of these people helped build the Siletz Agency along with the military.

The initial peoples at Grand Ronde, in 1856, were all of the Kalapuyan tribes, the Clackamas and Chinookans came in a little later, Umpquas in February, and the Rogue River tribes in March.

  1. Clowewalla (Oregon City Tumwaters)
  2. Multnomah (not the same as Clowewalla)
  3. Clackamas
  4. Tualatin (Wapato Lake, Wappato, Atfalati)
  5. Yamhill (Yamel)
  6. Chemeketa (may have been aligned with the Santiam)
  7. Calapooia (at Mt. Angel, may have been Chemeketa)
  8. Ahanchuyuk
  9. Luckiamute (various spellings)
  10. Mary’s River (Chepanapho)
  11. Chemapho (Muddy, Muddy River, Little Long Tom Creek)
  12. Chelamela (Long Tom band)
  13. Winefelly (Winfelly)
  14. Mohawk (Pe-u)
  15. Tsankupi
  16. Chafan (Chifin, Chafin)
  17. Santiam (Halpam)
  18. Yoncalla (Yonkalla, Komema)
  19. Calapuya (Calapooia band of Calapooias at Brownsville)
  20. Northern Molala Band
  21. Santiam Band of Molala
  22. Southern Molala Band
  23. Upper Umpqua
  24. Cow Creek Band
  25. Grave Creek Band
  26. Takelma
  27. Latgawa
  28. Cow-nan-te-co Band of Scotons
  29. Sa-cher-i-ton Band of Scotons
  30. Mikonotunne
  31. Galice Creek
  32. Applegate Creek
  33. Dakubetede
  34. Quil-si-eton Band
  35. Na-he-ta Band
  36. Shasta
  37. Klickitat (some came in during the initial removal of tribes by being married to other tribal people)
  38. Klamath (a good number came in having been caught up in the removal in SW Oregon, its reported they  were removed to the Klamath Basin later)

These tribes are enumerated in the first census at the Grand Ronde Agency in November 1856.



The final enumeration of the 1856 census shows 1,885 Indians at the Grand Ronde Reservation.

Note: Rogue River Tribe: Rogue or Rogue River is a misnomer. They are a loose confederation of tribes, including the Athapaskan, Takelma, and Shasta tribes, and sometimes the Cow Creek Umpqua that fought against the Americans. The original Rogue River tribe were the Takelma. Later the term was used to refer to the confederacy of tribes that banded together against the Americans under Chief John.

Health reports from the physicians assigned to the reservation push the number to 1,950 in September. The discrepancy could be because Indians were arriving for many years onto the reservation as new bands were discovered and rounded up and many were dying of illnesses. In addition, the physician may have had a more personal relationship with the tribes, as he was likely visiting their tents and doing what he could to administer to the sick, of which many may have died in a month. At least 30% of the Indians were sick at the reservation, which seems like a high number.

1856 Health Report for September, Highlights show number of sick, deaths and population count
1856 Health Report for September, Highlights show the number of sick, deaths, and population count and Population is 1,950 Indians.



From the beginning, the Grand Ronde reservation was envisioned as temporary, but by 1857, so much work had gone into building the agency at Grand Ronde that the reservation became permanent. In that year a portion of the tribes at Grand Ronde moved to the Siletz Valley to become members of the Coast Reservation.

“Early in the month of May (1857) the greater portion of the Rogue River and all of the Shasta Indians were removed, with their own consent  to the Siletz Coast reservation,… leaving two hundred and sixty-seven of the above stated tribes at this agency (Grand Ronde)” (Report of the COIA 1857)

This decision to move people again was made based on which tribes had left Table Rock and fought Americans after the treaty was signed (regardless of their reasons). The Indian agents wanted to seclude the more violent Indians at Siletz and separate them from the peaceful Indians to remain at Grand Ronde.  The population at Grand Ronde ended up with about 1,200 Indians.

Na-aso, Devil's Lake, now in Lincoln City, US Army Corps map
Na-ahso, Devil’s Lake, now in Lincoln City, US Army Corps map, west is at the top, north is on the right

Soon after, by at least by 1860, Grand Ronde agency also took charge of the Coastal Zone on the north part of the Coast Reservation. The agents at Grand Ronde administered the tribes at Tillamook and Salmon river until 1886.  Grand Ronde men built roads to Salmon River and Tillamook. Tillamook, Nechesne, Nehalem, Nestucca Indians would come to Grand Ronde for services. There was no road to the Siletz Agency from this area of the coast, and so the Siletz agents did not take charge of the “Lincoln County to Tillamook County” area until 1886.

This area of the coast had no ratified treaties. The 1851 treaties failed in Congress and the 1855 Coast treaty commission never reached beyond the Nestucca territory and was never ratified anyway. Therefore the ownership and administration was not well handled by the federal government and the tribes were not satisfied until they sued the government in an Indian Claims Commission Lawsuit in the 20th century.  Many of the tribal people from these tribal peoples were accepted by the various agents and came to Grand Ronde by marrying in and became members of the tribe.

  1. Nestucca Band of Tillamook
  2. Nehalem
  3. Nechesne (Salmon River)
  4. Tillamook

There are as well members of some other tribes that were caught up in the removal to Grand Ronde.  These are,

  1. Coquille
  2. Clatskanie (joined with the Skilloot and their territory is under the WV treaty)
  3. Skilloot (Unclear if in the WV treaty, one line in the treaty suggests that there is a land claim)
  4. Cathlamet (unclear if in the WV treaty, one line in the treaty suggests we claim their land, and they may have been an integral part of the Multnomah)
  5. Wapato Island/ Sauvie Island Indians (unclear of they are enumerated with the Multnomah or Clackamas)
  6. Clatsop (members of this tribe did come to Grand Ronde and were accepted by the agents as members of the tribe)

Finally, perhaps the most contentious claims of the tribes are the Wałála (Cascades, Watlala Tumwaters). They signed the Willamette Valley treaty and were slated to remove to Grand Ronde. Instead, the Yakima and Klickitat, under Chief Kamiakin, attacked the Columbia Gorge American settlements in March 1856 and were repelled by the army. The Cascades stated they were not part of the attacks yet the army did not believe them The army hung and shot their chiefs and leaders, 8 in all. One of the leaders was taken to prison at Fort Vancouver. Many of the remainders of the Cascades simply remained at their villages for a few years and were left alone. A few moved down to The Dalles. The Oregon side Cascades simply remained on their land or went to Celilo. The Washington side likely stayed and integrated with the settlers. At least one Cascades family and perhaps others went to Grand Ronde reservation. A few families did go to Yakima but did not stay.

Fort Rains, North Cascades, University of Washington Libraries
Fort Rains, North Cascades, University of Washington Libraries

The history of removal to the Grand Ronde Reservation is incredibly complex. The following articles will address case studies of various tribes that were brought later to Grand Ronde or left to return to their lands.

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