Off-Reservation Histories: Native Peoples of Western Oregon

Once the tribes were placed at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation the Indian agents worked to keep everyone there. It was thought that the reservations would keep the Indians and Whites separate and thus avoid conflicts. The reservations were intended to keep the Indians away from White settlements, and keep the White volunteers from coming on the reservations and exterminating them.  The forts, Yamhill, Hoskins and Umpqua, were built to protect the military detachments assigned to them, in case the tribes attacked, which never occurred. But from their vantage points, the army could watch over who was traveling the access routes to the reservations. The narrow access routes were easily circumvented at night or if people braved travel through the forests.

Section of 1856 Map of GRIR, OT showing narrow passage the people had to walk through to get out of the Grand Ronde Valley, with Fort Yamhill on the Hill watching the Pass
Section of 1856 Map of GRIR, OT showing narrow passage (proposed in red)  the people had to walk through to get out of the Grand Ronde Valley, with Fort Yamhill (flag) on the Hill watching the Pass

In the earliest days it was policy that the tribes remain on the reservations and if people left without permission, the army would hunt them down and return them. Into the 1860s, people in many communities in Oregon would write the Indian agents asking them to collect one Indian or a group of Indians from one of the towns in the valley. Indians would get in trouble for drinking and causing disturbances, which was the most common complaint. When the civil war erupted, the abilities of the army to pursue Indians was eroded as the army called troops to the east coast.

Over wise, there were farmers who had come to know particular Indians and would request their labor on their land claim. It was a common occurrence for Indian men to live for several months to a full season at a farmers establishment and be paid for their labor for the farm, planting, tending, harvesting, and other farm work. Some farmers even allowed Indians that traveled extensively to store their property in their barns, and pick it up a year or so later. People were a lot more honorable then.

Indian agricultural pickers, 19th century
Indian agricultural pickers, 19th century

Later, traveling off reservation to wark in the farms, became what was essentially a migrant indigenous labor force of Indian families who would travel from their reservations in the summer, into the Willamette Valley and live at a farm for several weeks harvesting crops. Areas like Independence, Wheatland, and Eugene were places were many Indians went to harvest hops, beans and berries. other crops may have included Black walnuts and cherries. The farmers would set up areas of their farm for families to live and segregate people from different races from one another. The Willamette Valley attracted native migrant farmer labor from tribes in Arizona,  and from Klamath, Warm Springs, as well as Grand Ronde and Siletz.

The beginning of this regular, cultural activity by Indian families became so common that the Indian Agents had to adopt a new way to manage and control who was on and who was off the reservation. The military proposed a system that became the Passbook. Under this system, Indian groups would be  logged in and out of a ledger book, and they would receive a “pass,” a short handwritten note that stated their destination and was signed by the agent giving permission for the Indians to travel off the reservation. Generally if an Indian was found to not have a pass, this would be reported and the military would go collect them and return them, or local law enforcement would detain them and ask the agent to come collect them.

Passbook page 1, OHS collections
Passbook page 1, OHS collections

This was all necessary because Indians were not American citizens. They were considered foreigners, members of dependent sovereign nations that lived on federal trust lands called reservations. The reservations were federally managed and thus not technically part of the state lands. The federal government took complete administrative control of the tribes, and state laws did not apply on the reservations. There were occasionally Indians who had joined or served in the US military and thus earned US citizenship, but until 1924 all Indians were not Americans. In 1924 Congress passed the American Indian Citizenship act making all Indians within the US citizens.

There were some significant happenings in this early period which are a different historical narrative from that which states that all Indians were on reservations. There were some tribes  and individuals who came for a time to the reservation, then left to never return. There are other tribes that never went to a reservation in the first place. There are some tribes where a few individuals came to Grand Ronde, and there are some people who married people on other reservations and went to live elsewhere.

Chief Henry Yelkas and Molalla Kate
Chief Henry Yelkas and Molalla Kate

The Molalla

The northern Molalla signed the Willamette Valley treaty in 1855.  They were removed to the temporary Crooked Finger reservation just south of the area of Molalla, a small valley that had yet to be settled. In April of 1856 Joel Palmer set about collecting the Molalla onto the Grand Ronde reservation. They refused to come and so Palmer had to go convince them. He gathered some help from the military and went to visit the Molalla. The Molalla carry a story of that meeting,

Palmer said, I will take you westwards. The chiefs said, “Why will you take us?“ The treaty chief told them, “I’m assembling all the other people in the same way.“ “I’ll give you food, all kinds of food.“ “You’ll eat lots of meat.“ “I’ll give you all blankets, and I’ll give shoes to the men, and likewise to the women.“ “I’ll give you horses.“ “I’ll give you cattle.“ “Now answer me, and I’ll take you along tomorrow.“ All the Molalla didn’t want to go. They said, “We will never leave.“ “We don’t want to give up our country.“ General Palmer brought lots of soldiers. Then now he told them, “Get ready. “The Molalla said, “We will never get ready.“ “I’ll kill you all if you don’t get ready.“ “The Molalla are ready for war now.“ They fought all evening, only half a day. Then the treaty chief sent word. “Now I’ll buy the land from you.“ Then he told them, “I’ll give you this much money.” (The sum was $46,000.) Then the Molalla agreed. Then it was all right now. Then finally now the Molalla began to get ready.

The Molalla moved onto the Grand Ronde reservation and are enumerated with the other tribes in September 1856. In  about 1860 Chief Yelkus of the Molalla decided to move his people back to their home at Dickie Prairie. All of the promises from Palmer had not occurred and about half of the Molalla left the reservation in the night. They were well accepted back at Molalla as they already had friends there. Most of the people later moved to Oregon City to find work. Chief Yelkus stayed in the area and become a well known symbol of his people and died there in 1914.

Chief Halo
Chief Halo

The Halo Band of Yoncallas

The Halos or Fearn family lived before removal time in the Umpqua valley. They had become friends with the powerful Applegate family, a family of settlers who moved into the area in about 1850. The most well known Applegate, Jesse Applegate wrote extensively about his experiences with the tribes. When it came time to remove the tribes to Grand Ronde the Halo’s under Chief Halo refused to move. He was confronted at gunpoint by the Indian Agent and the army and Robert Applegate stepped in the middle of the parties and offered to keep the Halo’s on his property. For many years the Halo’s remained living on the Applegate DLC and worked at the farm. The descendants of these families remain friends today.

Chief Halo said, “I will not go to a strange land.” This was not reported to the agent. When the tribe arrived on the reservation without the chief the agent was troubled, and came to our house to get father to go with him to visit the chief. …The agent said, “Tell the old Indian he must go to the reservation with the other people, that I have come for him.” The chief understood and answered defiantly, “Wake Nika Klatawa,” that is ,” I will not go.” The agent drew his revolver and pointed it at the Indian when the chief bared his breast, crying in his own tongue as he did so, “Shoot! It is good I die here and am buried here. Halo is not a coward, I will not go.” “Shall I shoot him?” said the agent. “No!” cried father, his voice hoarse with indignation. The chief standing with his back against the giant oak, had defied the United States. We returned home leaving the brave man in peace. Father and my uncles protected the old chieftain and his family and they were allowed to remain in their old home. (Jesse Applegate, Recollections of my Boyhood)

Some of the children of Chief Halo did come to Grand Ronde for a time. Jake Fearn testified (Applegate Report) that he did come to Grand Ronde but later returned to the Yoncalla valley.

We first went to the temporary reservation on the Umpqua River and remained there about a year.  Then my mother, my brother Beel and his family and other relatives came with our Yoncalla band to this reservation.  My father did not come at the time but came in a year or two later…. No allotments yet being made on the reservation there was no encouragement to improve the lands, and so I returned to the native place in the Umpqua country and located a homestead of eighty acres, became a citizen and resided on my land and proved up.   I then located eighty acres more to make up my 160 acres, lived on it seven years and proved up on it also.  Since then I have visited the reservation and my people here occasionally but have never made my home here.

Quinaby (Standing) and unknown man, OHS collections
Quinaby (Standing) and unknown man, OHS collections

Quinaby, Chemeketa Kalapuya

One the Tsimikiti (Chemeketa) Kalapuya Indians, Quinaby (Quimby, Quiniby) originally live on the Chemeketa Plains, which became Salem Oregon. Known as Chief Quinaby to settlers in Salem, he reportedly carried himself in a regal manner and was considered an honest person who worked to keep the peace between Indians and whites. To many Americans in Salem he represented the “last” of the Kalapuya people and they hosted him as a celebrity around town until his death.

Quinaby and the Tsimikiti who had survived, were likely part of 300 Santiams at Grand Ronde, and were removed from their lands in 1856 when the Willamette Valley tribes were marched to the Grand Ronde Reservation. Despite treaty annuities supporting the tribes at the reservation, those at Grand Ronde were treated poorly by the government and had to fish and hunt for their food in the Coast Range while waiting for rare food shipments. There were few opportunities for wage labor at the reservation and many tribal people temporarily left the reservation and visited nearby towns to work, earn money, so they could have resources for survival. Quinaby and Eliza often received travel passes to visit Salem, as is noted in the Grand Ronde Pass book from the 1870s.

While in Salem, Quinaby and Eliza lived in a dwelling he built in the brush near the Salem Railroad Depot, and he often played Stick Game, a Native gambling game, all night with other natives, likely other native people traveling in the valley. When Daniel Waldo confronted him about the loud noise they made during the games, Quinaby responded by saying, he was the last of his people and this was his peoples’ land long before whites came. Waldo then left him alone. 

Quinaby was known to saw and buck firewood for money and food and to perform menial jobs for households in Salem. He promoted his status around Salem as the “last” of his people (even though several hundred Kalapuya lived on the Grand Ronde Reservation) which brought sympathy and goodwill to him from settlers.

On July 4, 1875, Quinaby and his wife Eliza “dressed in the National emblem—the Stars and Stripes and paraded around town proudly. Quinaby would attend the parades, fairs and national holiday events dressed in the best of his regalia.

Quinaby therefore maintained a habitation on the reservation, but also spent quite a bit of time in Salem. Quinaby served the role of the last of the Kalapuyans for the people of Salem.

Indian Eliza Young of Brownsville
Indian Eliza Young of Brownsville

Indian Eliza, Brownsville

Indian Lize, Eliza Young (c. 1820-1923)

Eliza Young was born in the Mohawk Valley, the Land of her father of either the Pe-u or Calapooia Kalapuya Indians. Her mother was from the McKenzie River, the homelands of the Winfelly Kalapuya. After her parents died, Jacob Spores, an early settler to the area, took Eliza in and raised her in the Coburg area.

Later Eliza moved to the town of Calapooia, now renamed Brownsville, and became the 3rd wife of a Pe-u (Mohawk) Kalapuya Indian. They were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856 with some 27 other tribes. Eliza left her husband many times because of his brutal treatment of her and met Indian Jim (Jim Young). Indian Jim purchased Eliza from her husband for 15 ponies, a rifle and 15 dollars. They moved to the Calapooia River near Brownsville, built a house and had two children, both of whom died at an early age.

Eliza harvested traditional berries and materials for weaving throughout her life. She would sell the berries and woven baskets to the people in Brownsville to make a living. Eliza would also take on odd jobs and housework from the neighboring settlers. Local stories of Eliza state that she was neat and clean and was extremely intelligent. Later in her life she went blind and yet continued to harvest weaving materials and making baskets on the porch of her house (shown). Her specialty was purses. A local Brownsville family hosted her on their farm and she lived to be over 100 years old.

At her death in 1923 in Brownsville, the local papers stated that she was the “Last of the Calapooyas.” This was of course incorrect as most of the Kalapuyan Indians removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and their descendants remain members there today. Eliza was one of the last of the Kalapuyans to live off of the reservation in her original homeland during the time when it was illegal for Indians to be off of a reservation. Eliza’s baskets are now collected in museums and private collections throughout western Oregon.


There are many cases of Indians living off the reservation. The examples presented are just a few of the more well known cases. Indians did not stay on the reservations, completely separated from American society. It was common for Indians to leave to find work, to visit friends, to fish, hunt and gather native foods, and to work on American farms. Many Indians continued in their lifestyles from the late 19th into the mid 20th centuries. This became a new cultural lifestyle for generations of natives.

In 1924, the US Congress passed the American Indian Citizenship act making all Tribal people American citizens. It is at this time that the people could then freely travel from the reservations. The restriction on such travel began breaking down much earlier, and the tribes of western Oregon were left on their own from the beginnings of the 20th century. Still, some policies, like forcing children to go to boarding schools, continued to limit the free actions of Native peoples for some time.


The Quartux Journal