Travels, Campmeetings, and Off-Rez Settlements of the Western Oregon Tribes

In recent years, histories of the Indians of Oregon have come under scrutiny by a cadre of historians and anthropologists. Questioned now are events that took place in Oregon, how the events unfolded and some of the “facts” of native history that most people have come to assume are the only history of Native peoples in Oregon.

My investigation into possible mis-characterizations of Native history in Oregon has led to numerous new discoveries about native history in the historic era. These discoveries place much of the written Native history from 1850 to 1970 in doubt.  One of the most egregious problems is the manner in which there was an utter lack of writing by historians about off-reservation Indians in history after the removal of the Tribes to reservations (1856-1870s).the few accounts that do exist are in local newspapers and a few small press writings by local historians.

The common understanding for most people within Oregon is that tribes were removed to reservations. Once this claim is investigated in detail, it turns out that a good number of Tribal people did not go to reservations. As well many people did not remain on reservations after removal, but left, escaped, soon after their removal to return to their homelands. There is more than one hundred years of history of the tribal people who traveled about the countryside at various times of the year, and participated in various industries (mainly agriculture and logging)  in Oregon, while maintaining a home on a reservation.

One of the most common stories in the Willamette Valley are those of the last of the Kalapuya tribes. In many communities there are local tales of the last man or woman of their local band of Kalapuyans. Two of the most significant are the stories of Quinaby from Salem, and Indian Eliza of Brownsville.

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


Quinaby was a significant figure around Salem in its early days. Salem residents called him Chief Quinaby and he would take donations from people and do odd jobs around the city.

In the early years, Native people were not American citizens (until 1924 with passage of the American Indian Citizenship Act) and were not allowed to freely leave the reservations, so Quinaby of the Chemeketa tribe, and his wife Eliza (said to have been from the Chemaway tribe) 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.

Quinaby spoke Chinuk Wawa (Chinook Jargon) in a friendly manner to all he met and often asked for muck-a-muck (food). He did not work regularly, as working was avoided by chiefs who lived in their traditional lifestyles. Still, Quinaby was known to do odd jobs for money and food. He promoted his status around Salem as the “last” of his people, regardless of the Kalapuyans at Grand Ronde, which brought sympathy to him from settlers.

On July 4, 1875, Quinaby and his wife Eliza “dressed in the National emblem—the Stars and Stripes—which were entwined about ‘their’ shoulders” and paraded around town proudly. Many of the native people in this period wanted to become Americans, and even though they were generally treated as racial minorities, they chose to exhibit their super patriotism to be accepted by the town-folk.

Quinaby died in Salem during Christmas week 1883. Eliza continued to visit Salem into her eighties. Quinaby was buried on the old grounds of the old Bush Elementary School, before the school was built (1936), under the old oak tree. The site for the burial has never been found.  In about 1912, a small community north of Salem was named Quinaby in his honor.

Salem the Gathering Place

Salem was a hotbed of Indian activity.  Previous to American settlement, Salem was a location of many important vegetable resources. Salem, or actually the Chemeketa Plains, had large fields of camas which attracted tribes from the area. Then North of the Chemeketa Plains was Lake Labish which had enormous resources, likely wapato, waterfowl, fish and many other food plants and animals. The local Chemaway village was just north of this and they would have been regular gatherers at the lake. The Chemeketa Indians would have accessed the lake and dug camas in the fields.

GLO maps 6s 2w, 6s 1w, depicting lake labish and associated wetlands in relation to Miller DLC, 1852
GLO maps 6s 2w, 6s 1w, depicting lake labish, 1852

During settlement of the valley by French-Canadians and Americans, Salem was at a crossroads of agriculture for the valley and there are two reservations not too far away. Tribes must have come to Salem to find supplies and meet friends, when traveling to their seasonal jobs at local farms. Salem was the location to find American medicines for the many illnesses on the reservations. Such medicines were not accessible on the reservations which were underfunded and poorly managed by the Indian Department.

Numerous accounts of Indians in Salem suggest that Salem was a regular location to hold campmeetings. These meetings would happen alongside the railroad tracks. the railroad owned lots of land alongside the tracks and it was impossible for them to monitor who was staying on their property. Indians set up temporary living quarters on railroad property. In addition, the Oregon State Fair attracted Indian people. Many Indians, choosing to show their patriotism would attend the fairs each year and camp at the fairgrounds, alongside all of the other campers, and attend events in their regalia. The stories of Quinaby suggest he did this every year.

The other major story is about the ceremony that was held in 1874 among the tribes, witnessed by John Minto.

Worship in the Ancient Form, John Minto November 6, 1874, Willamette Farmer

By the merest accident I was riding past the railroad depot at Salem in the evening of Oct. 11th and noticed many Indians coming from their camping grounds east of the depot.At first I thought it might be that one of their numbers had died, but observation soon dispelled that idea and my curiosity was aroused to learn what was going on. Men, women and children were coming from various directions; falling into line they took a course from the city, at a slow pace and in perfect silence. Riding up to the rear of the procession I asked an Indian man of my acquaintance what was going on? He said in a low voice that he did not quite understand; strange people had come among them. I pressed forward and asked another who was carrying a bucket of water, who said he did not know but “may-be it would be like a campmeeting.” Reaching the head of the column, composed of the older men, I put the same question to another Indian to receive another indefinite answer, all speaking in the same subdued tone. Being assured that there was no objections to my seeing what they would do, I accompanied them by a narrow path, into a thicket, where the concourse entered single file. The path led past two tents, into an open circular space that had been cleared for the occasion. The men and boys ranging themselves around the South side, the women on the North, seating themselves, and the men and boys reverently uncovering their heads, excepting three or four young hoodlums who kept outside and occasionally made jeering remarks in an undertone, because as I afterwards learned, they did not believe in the rites about to be practiced. I became satisfied that I was about to witness devotional exercises in the Old Indian form of worship. I questioned George, the last man of the Chemeketas, who once owned the site of Salem, and he assured me that my presence was not offensive. The inner circle was complete and a second had formed outside of it, when a middle aged man of robust form and strongly marked features passed out of a tent nearby, bearing blankets that he spread down on the west side of the circle, inside, returning to come again with another man and two women. These women were painted with white marks down each cheek, edged with stripes of red. The man first mentioned had some red on his face, but, but the second had no paint, and his countenance, strong in its outlines, was sedate even to melancholy. Moving deliberately and without a word spoken, he shook hands with every adult person in the circle before seating himself on the blankets.
He was evidently the priest, preacher or teacher. He asked Jo Hutchins, head man of the North Santiams, to take a seat inside the circle. Joe’s wife, of the chieftain line of the Molallas, and the last of that line, was seated on the left of her husband and the strangers, at the head of the female portion of the assemblage. The exercises commenced by the strangers lighting the calumet and passing it amongst the men. Then the priest commenced a series of questions in the Klamath language which were answered by Mrs. Jo. Hutchins in the Chinook Jargon. My knowledge of the Chinook wa-wa has grown rusty by disuse, but I have since learned that I was right in my idea of the questions and answers. One question was: “Do you remember when all this country belonged to your people?” The answer was in the affirmative. “Do you remember when your people were many in numbers; when you had many young men and many old men?” Do you remember when many of your people died? Did your heart sorrow for the death of your people? These questions evidently had allusion to the terrible “cold sick” that swept such numbers of the Indian off. In former conversations George has told me that when a boy he was at the falls of the Willamette during the prevalence of the cold sickness; that the sick were so numerous that many would jump from the sweat houses into the river, die in the water and float away down stream, no attempt being made to take them out for burial. It scarcely needed my knowledge of Chinook to understand the nature of the reply so full of pathos was tone of the answer. She spoke in particular of the death of a little boy as making her heart very sad. Being asked some questions about the sale of their lands by her people, she expressed an enduring love for her native land and an abiding sorrow that it had been parted with, by expressed herself free from malice or hate on that account. She was submissive but sorrowful. These questions seemed intended to revive the love of country, people and former condition in the hearts of the audience, and so make the coming form of worship more effective and impressive. The stranger then commenced a recital of traditional history, which was interpreted by the woman to her own people in her language (not the Chinook) and for nearly two hours he talked to them in that manner, then the pipe was again lit and passed around.
The other stranger now took the lead commencing a song in which the Indians all joined, the two stranger women placing themselves behind the two men. Eight pieces were thus sung, each in a different measure. Time was kept by striking hands; some of the women swayed the body in unison with the music. Then a stranger delivered a short exhortation and was followed by Jo Hutchin’s in a similar strain and at greater length. The company up to this time had been seated, except one whose duty it was to feed the fire in the circle. They now arose to their feet, the drum was struck at intervals of about a minute, the people uttering a low sound after each stroke. After some time so spent, some of the Salem Indians commenced to sing, the women beat time, and the circle joined hands and swayed first to the right and then to the left, first partially and then entirely around the circle and back again. When the dance commenced many of the women adorned themselves with head dresses of painted features and some of the eldest entered into the spirit of the exercises with great enthusiasm, as if animated by recollection of other days. They preserved through all a solemnity of demeanor equaling that of Christians at their devotions. About one hundred persons participated and the exercises continued for about five hours, all was conducted “decently and in order” without indecorous act or sign of impatience.This was the first of a series of seven meetings held here by those people during the week of the State Fair, during which time these two men of the Klamath tribe, propagandists if the ancient Indian form of worship (as I have since learned from Jo. Hutchins, they were) did their best. I have no doubt to convince their bearers that God’s revelations to man were not all made through books, as the white man believes, but that in times past the Great Spirit made himself manifest to Old men of their race by natural objects and by dreams, when they saw “Tawanamas,” which I understand to mean spirits or angels. John Minto

This piece speaks for itself. The ceremony may very well have been an annual occurrence. The Klamath people were known for regularly coming into the Willamette valley and hunting the valley and camping with their friends in the tribes. Their history remembrance was a way to heal from the stress of losing everything to colonization.

Eliza Young
Eliza Young

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

Eliza Young was born in the Mohawk Valley, the Land of her father of either the Pee-yu or Calapooia Kalapuya Indians. Her mother was from the McKenzie River, the homelands of the Winfelly Kalapuya. In the 1830s, her parents died, like the many Kalapuya of this period,  likely of introduced diseases in the valley which caused the deaths of some 97% of the tribes in the Willamette Valley. 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. Indian Jim  treated Eliza badly when he drank and eventually ended up in prison. They continued to be attached to each other for many years despite Jim’s drinking.

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 Kalapuya 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.

Chief Halo
Chief Halo

Chief Halo

Chief Halo (Halo Tish) commonly shortened to Chief Halo (meaning “having little” or “needing little”), was leader of the Yoncalla Kalapuya Tribe and was married to Du-Ni-Wi, one of several wives. He remained on the Applegate family donation land claim in the Umpqua Valley after removal of other tribes to reservations. Halo and his family were prominent Native people in the community of Yoncalla and for generations were friends with the Applegate family.

The Yoncalla chiefs signed the Treaty with the Umpqua and Kalapuya with the U.S. government on November 29, 1854, and the tribes removed to the temporary Umpqua Reservation, west of Roseburg. In January 1856, Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer began removal proceedings to the permanent Grand Ronde Reservation. Jesse Applegate wrote that Halo refused to go to the reservation, saying

“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. We boys went with them. When Halo saw us coming he came out of his house and stood with his back against a large oak tree which grew near the door. We approached in our usual friendly fashion, but the chief was sullen and silent. He had lost faith in the white man. 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. (Applegate Recollections of a Boyhood)

Halo and his family remained in Yoncalla, where the Applegates built a house for them.

Halo had a Native name, Cam-a-phee-ma, which in Yoncalla Kalapuya means “fern,” which became the Fearn surname for the family.  Chief Halo and his sons, Mack, Jake, and Sam (Be-el)— finally decided to live for a short time on the Grand Ronde Reservation. By 1891 they had returned to the Umpqua Valley, where they received off-reservation allotments

In the 1860s, Chief Halo went into business with a local settler, John Walker, who would found the town of Walker. They built a fish trap on the Row River, four miles east of Cottage Grove, where they alternated days to clear the trap of salmon, trout, and eels. Chief Halo remained active until his death in 1892. He is estimated have been at least seventy years years old.

“While living on Row River, he went into business with Halo Tish. They constructed a crude trap on Row River. Mr. Walker took the catch one day, Halo Tish the next. If Mr. Walker was too busy to go to the trap on his day, Halo Tish brought his fish to him.” (Alice M. Fox, Community of Walker)

Indian Mary Fisherman
Indian Mary Fisherman

Cottage Grove Kalapuyans

“Several hundred Calapooya Indians lived within the area of present day Cottage Grove. Many small villages were located along the banks of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River  and its tributaries. In addition to the Calapooyas, the Klamath Indians from Eastern Oregon often crossed the mountains to fish the Row River. They made their camp in the area of present Wildwood Park. The Klamath fished with spears and dip-nets to catch the fish that collected in the pool at the base of the falls. The fish were then dried and put into large baskets to be taken back over the mountains.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991) 

Cottage Grove was a known gathering location. In the summers, the local tribes would leave the reservations to travel about the Willamette Valley and take jobs harvesting the crops. The Indians who gain special travel letters and get signed out in the Passbook to allow them to travel off-reservation. Indian without the travel permission would be subject to being detained by law enforcement. The Indian agent would then get a note asking them to come get the Indians from the jail.

During these outings the tribes would have gatherings in specific locations. These places were called council grounds, or meeting grounds, or council trees. There was normally a large field where the tribes had been using the location for a long time. Pleasant Hill had such a location and Polk Scott, one of the last Native shaman at the Grand Ronde reservation, was the leader of the group there. Another gathering location was at the Cottage Grove fair grounds. the city has a heritage fair there every here even today. The Salem Fairgrounds site mentioned above was also probably a traditional gathering location. Most large tribal areas had sites to hold meetings, sometimes called campmeetings.

“The Calapooya Indians adapted to the White Man’s ways very quickly. They soon were wearing the same clothing as the settlers. They learned and spoke the language of the whites. Indian and white children often played together and attended the same schools. Inevitably, the ever increasing numbers of white settlers caused the Indians to lose their lands. In Curry County, the Calapooya were removed to reservations.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991) 

Western Oregon Exposition Fairgrounds Cottage Grove and Oregon Kalapuya Village site
Western Oregon Exposition Fairgrounds Cottage Grove and Original Kalapuya Village site

“a favorite local living place of the Calapooya was in the area of the Western Exposition Fairgrounds. The ground in the area had a hollow sound and the Indians believed that the Great Spirit spoke to them from the ground. Indian and white children alike enjoyed the sound of the ground as they raced their horses across the area.” (Gene Savage, Looking Back, Dec. 18 1991)

“As late as 1871 there were small isolated tribes of Indians living near Oakridge and Cottage Grove. The two groups were related and often visited back and forth. During these visits, the Indians near Oakridge took all their ponies and dogs to the settlement near Cottage Grove. The Cottage Grove Indian returned the visit, and at these times the population of the Indians settlements would swell to almost 100. It was unlawful for the Indians to homestead land. a man by the name of Black changed the names of the Indians and after considerable difficulty two Indians, Charley Tufti and James Chuck Chuck, succeeded in homesteading and securing title to two parcels of land containing 80 acres each. This was the maximum acreage permitted under the Homestead law at the time.” (Fred Macfarland)

“As late as 1910 there was a well established campground used by the Indians. The Indians of 1910 traveled by wagons and saddle stock… They hunted in the Calapooya Mountains.” (Fred Macfarland)

“The Indians came in large numbers to Lowell to pick hops in the hop yards there. they would return across the summit with salmon, dried fruits, and some green fruits and clothing; pick huckleberries and hunt in the vicinity of Rigdon and cross the Willamette Pass just prior to the snow storms in the early fall.” (Fred Macfarland)

jake fearn 1973

Pleasant Hill Kalapuyans

Chief Fisherman Bristow was the grandfather of Indian Sam Fisherman, and father of Jack Fisherman,  Kalapuya Indians of the Pleasant Hill area. This is the area of the Winfelly Kalapuyan Indians who were likely related to the Yoncalla Indians, according to this story.

“Chief Fisherman Bristow was a treacherous troublesome character here during the fifties and early sixties (1850s-1860s). This surely old chief was given the name of Bristow, after that grand old Pioneer Elijah Bristow, who settled Pleasant Hill, in 1846, and who exerted a powerful influence over this wily old brave who was chief of the Pleasant Hill tribe of Calapooias.” … in 1878, there was quite a flourishing Indian Village just back of the McFarland Hill north of Town, among the most noted Indians being Jack, Polk Scott, Jerry and Bob, Indian Sam (Fisherman)… Enoch (Fearn) the sole survivor of the tribe. (Leader May 8 1903)

Grand Ronde Passbook, Oregon Historical Society
Grand Ronde Passbook, Oregon Historical Society

The Passbook

The Grand Ronde Passbook documents the coming and going of many tribal members over about 20 years(1860s-1880s). Native people, not being US citizens were not free to leave the reservation until 1924, without a pass from the Indian agent. In 1924 the United States made all Native Americans citizens by congressional act.

Much of the travel was for resources, money and food. After traveling the Willamette valley and earning some money, the people would also visit their traditional homelands to hunt, fish or gather in their traditional manner. Fishing locations like Willamette Falls was a prime area for this activity.

A few groups left the reservation to return to their homelands. At Grand Ronde and Siletz groups like the Rogue Rivers, Tolowas and Molallas left these reservations soon after they were removed. Much of their problem was that they were promised a number of things by the Indian Agents to induce them to move peacefully yet when agents like Joel Palmer resigned soon after, all of the verbal promises were forgotten.

Other evidence of off-reservation Indians continues to surface. In most communities there are known gathering sites and Council Trees. The trees are normally old growth and with them comes stories of gatherings of native peoples around or at the base of the tree.


Thanks to Cottage Grove Historical Society for their articles about the Kalapuyans

Various newspaper accounts

Melville Jacobs Kalapuya notebooks

4 thoughts on “Travels, Campmeetings, and Off-Rez Settlements of the Western Oregon Tribes

  1. Reading..this material..both new, or ..amplified a understanding..the inner connections our family has..for so so many areas around us. 2 weeks ago..there was the tearing of our a suicide..occurred in the friendship circle. Bereft..burned to our pain. I read..this morning..of how those who ..WOULD..have remained..hereabout our area..and what they..had to leave. Yes..I at 79..feel a true depth of pain. May we all work help bring new all of our cultures, and our cultural young..that they..may not face any repeat of these situations.

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