Over the past few months, I have been writing articles about the temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley. From March 1855 to January 1856 these reservations existed in the valley and the Kalapuya and Molalla Indians lived within their boundaries.
Farmers took contracts to supervise the tribes. American settlers did not want to live next to Indians, and as soon as the Treaties were written, it became illegal for Indians to walk across their homelands. I am not sure they understood this at the time. But in time they came to understand the extent of what they gave away. The exchange of their lands occurred because otherwise, the Chiefs feared that their people would disappear forever. Conflicts with settlers, un-investigated murders, genocides, and kidnappings of Native women and children were common-place occurrences in Oregon at this time. There were not enough white American women and some illicit marriages and indentured servitude, or near-slavery was common, as Indians were exploited for their labor and the services they could offer white men.
We have yet to find an account of what happened in this near-year on the temporary reservations, but some farmers hinted that they wanted the Indians to work for their place on the farms. They likely built fences and plowed fields, plant crops, and harvested at least one crop before they moved to Grand Ronde in the winter of 1856. There are indications that some of the tribes lost their belongings and were not repaid for them. Some of the farmers and their neighbors stole their left-behind belongings. The tribes left the settlers in a better place after they left, having built portions of the farms and developed the fields. Afterward, farmers would ask for specific Indians to come labor for them for many seasons afterward.
This period had to be extremely stressful for the tribes who did not know what to expect when they got to the reservation. For many, they stated that they did not get what they were promised. The stories of broken promises of the federal government to the tribes derive directly from this time period when the tribes were promised much to induce them to move to the reservation. Many of these promises were not documented in the treaties or any other agreements, and are now passed through tribal oral history to the present. In one example, the northern Molalla accepted Joel Palmer’s promises, took them to heart, and when the houses, food, and money did not materialize, in less than 5 years half of the Molallas returned to their home territory near Molalla, many to never return to the reservation again.
The following are essays of many of the temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley. There were a few other temporary reservations whose details have yet to come to light. Those others we know more about are the Table Rock Reservation, and the Umpqua Reservation. There are indications that the temporary reservations at St. Helens, the reservation on the south bank of the Columbia at or near the present Portland airport, and at Joel Palmer’s DLC likely featured all of the same issues.
The temporary reservation essays are linked below.