Meacham 1871- Mill development and the rights of Whites and Indians at Grand Ronde

A.B. Meacham
A.B. Meacham

Albert Meacham has proven on many occasions to have been concerned about the tribes of Oregon. The Indian Superintendent for Oregon seems genuinely to be concerned about the welfare of the people at Grand Ronde,  and worked to develop the resources on the reservation. In 1871 Meacham visited most of the reservations and worked hard to understand their challenges. He noted where their resources were suffering and made bold proposals to the federal government to help the reservations. The following report and proposal from May 1871 addresses the status of the grist and saw mills at Grand Ronde and proposes a workable solution for their future in the valley and how to pay for this development.

At this time, the federal government was surveying the lands in advance of  allotment,promised by the ratified treaties.  Meacham proposes a series of questions suggesting that the notions of rights of Indians and White were not yet fully developed at this time. Meacham suggests that  white men or half breed men living with Indian women on reservations were considered “Indians” by  the federal government. This is a somewhat revolutionary concept, that most tribes do not have today. Tribal membership today is exclusively Indian bloodlines (for all tribes I have encountered). That the federal government was giving whites [men- as this rarely was allow to happen in the obverse] the identity and rights of Indians on reservations suggests that there is much about Tribal membership in the 19th and perhaps early 20th centuries that we do not known much about.

If these men are then enrolled as Indians on the reservations by the federal government’s  Indian agents how does that affect Indian tribal rolls in the present day? Indian tribes did not get control of their rolls until 1936 when many Tribes accepted the Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act 1935), and reconfigured their tribal governments to comply with the act.  In order for tribes to get a measure of self-determination, they had to create a constitution and accept a democratic form of government with elected officials. So from the earliest days of the reservations to the time their constitution was accepted by the Secretary of the Interior- for Grand Ronde 1856-1935- the tribal rolls were completely controlled by the Indian Agents. In 1936 is the first the Grand Ronde tribe creates its own tribal roll. I equate this situation  to if the United States allowed Great Britain to control the list of citizens of this country, which would result in a undesirable situation for the US.

In tribal history- the colonizing country -the United States – whose national policy towards tribes was to assimilate and eventually eliminate Indians- controlled the membership lists of the all tribal nations- (What could go wrong?).  The subject of enrollment and citizenship deserves more research to determine what happened in this period in tribal membership rolls.

The survey that was being conducted was for what is known as the “informal” allotments that occurred in about 1873 or so. Another survey takes place in the late 1880s in advance of the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) allotments in 1891.

The mill discussion is incredibly important to understanding the various changes on the land in the first twenty years of the reservation. There was a dam and at least two mills built down next to the river. The grist mill may not have been rebuilt, as the stone of this mill was found in the South Yamhill River some 20-30 years  ago and is now on display outside of the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas. The notion that the agricultural tradition being built at Grand Ronde is here directly tied by Meacham to the policy to civilize the Indians, the national policy of the government at this time. Keeping the grist and saw mills active was an important part of this policy.

Grist Mill Stone on exhibit next to the Polk County Courthouse, Dallas, OR, found in the South Yamhill River, Grand Ronde, Photo David Lewis
Grist Mill Stones on exhibit next to the Polk County Courthouse, Dallas, OR, found in the South Yamhill River, Grand Ronde, Photo David Lewis 2016

The saw and grist mills at Grand Ronde were begun in 1858-59 and completed in about 1860 according to the annual reports. Funding was taken from the treaty annuities to build the mills, over a three year period. In 1861, there remained uncompleted parts to the grist mill, they needed windows and the new agent Condon noted that both mills needed to be rebuilt in their mechanical apparatus. Nearly all annual reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs noted the worn out nature of the mills and the need for repair and replacement of parts. The dam was constructed at the mills as they were run by water power. The dam was constantly getting washed out in the winters and in need to be rebuilt every year to power the mills.

Detail Grist mill stone, the two disks would grind the wheat grain into flour
Detail Grist mill stone, the two disks would grind the wheat grain into flour, Photo  David Lewis 2016

The following letter and its accompanying Exhibit “A” document speak for themselves.

Office Supt. Ind. Affairs

Salem, OR May 23, 1871


After returning from an official visit to Grand Ronde Reservation, I desire to call your attention to a few items that are of importance.

First: The Indians have an unusual crop in prospect.

Second: They fully realize the advantage to result from having lands allotted in severalty and there from arises several questions which I propose to submit (see paper marked “A”)

Third: The mills built years since are totally unfit for service for the reason that they were not located with good judgement in this, that they were built in a low flat muddy piece of river bottom composed of alluvial deposit that washes away almost like sand or snow having neither “bed rock” or “hard pan” for foundation, constantly settling out if shape and damaging machinery besides threaten with destruction at every overflow.

The lower frame of both mills but more especially that for the saw mill are so rotten that it would not stand alone if the props and refuse slabs from the saw were removed.

The flour mill is a huge impared [sic] structure, supported on wooden blocks or stilts and double the proper dimensions with an old patched up wooden water wheel that has been a constant bill of expense for ten years: machinery all worn out, even the bolting apparatus rat eaten and worthless at present for several reasons, chief of which is want of water. The “dam” was originally built about ¼ of a mile above the mill- at an enormous expense to government- across a stream (four times as large as need be for such mill purposes) with flat soft alluvial porus [sic] banks and mud bottom.

The history of said dam is that it has broken twenty times in fourteen years, each time carrying away mud enough at the ends of the dam to make room for each successive freshet.

I believe that history- since inspecting the works- as evidence is in sight to show where thousands of days work has been done and many greenbacks “sunk”.

I called to my assistance Agent Lafollett and George Tillottson of Dallas, Polk County, a man acknowledged to be the most successful and practicable mill builder in our state, who stands unimpeachable as a gentleman of honesty and candor. The result of the conference was that it would require $5000. to build a dam that would be permanent: that all the lower frame work of both mills would require rebuilding as a cost of $2000, and that at least $1000 would be required to put machinery in good working condition and when all was done these people would have only tolerable good old mills patched up at a cost of $8000.

But mills are indispensable civilizers and must be had.  I am determined to start these Indians off on the new track in good shape.

There are three several branches coming in above the old mills, any one of which has abundant motive power. On one of these creeks a fall of thirty feet can be obtained by cutting a race at the bend of a rocky cascade, taking the water away from the danger of freshets and building the mills on good solid foundations convenient of access by farmers and to unlimited forests of timber.

Mr. Tillottson estimates the total cost of removing the old mills and such parts as are useful and rebuilding on the new site a first rate no. 1 double circular saw mill with Laffelle Turbine water wheel, all the modern improvements attached- same kind of water wheel for flour mill with new bolting aperatus [sic]  etc- at about $4000 exclusive of Indian labor.

I submitted, in full council to the agents and Indians, the proposition to apply funds already appropriated for the repair of agency buildings: apportion of the Umpqua and Calapooia School fund that has accumulated to upwards of $5000. and so much of annuity fund as may be necessary to this enterprise on the condition that the Indians were to do all but the mechanical work.

The matter was fully explained and without a dissenting voice they voted to have the mills if furnished tools, beef and flour.

The agent has now on hand a considerable amount of flour, and beef. I propose to use a number of old worn out work oxen as they are now fifteen or twenty years old, worthless for work and dying off with old age.

To sum up, I have out this enterprise in motion, and propose to have the new saw mill grinding in ninety days.

I now ask permission to apply the funds I have named to this object, fully satisfied in my own mind that it is for the benefit of these people. If it cannot be granted, then I will insist on funds that may be so applied to furnish from the general funds of the department. These Indians must have a mill, besides it would effect on the present administration of Indian affairs to turn them over to the world without that indispensable appurtenance of civilization.

Klamath mill is a monument of pride and has done much to redeem the reputation of our department and I propose when I retire to leave every reservation supplied with substantial improvements of like character.

Klamath flour mill is how [illegible] way and will grind the growing crops.

Going out of the ordinary grove and wishing you to be fully posted about such transactions is my apology for inflicting this long communication.

Very respectfully

You obt Sevt

A.B. Meacham

Supt Ind. Affairs in Ogn

Hon. E.A. Parker

Commissioner etc

Washington, DC

[exhibit]       “A”

I respectfully ask for instructions in regard to Indian lands and as the time for allotment is near at hand, it is necessary that some points be settled for instance:

1st Where there is more land suitable for settlement in a reservation than is required to fulfill treaty stipulations, shall more than the said stipulated number of acres be set apart for the Individual Indian?

Some of the reservations will have an excess and others will fall short of the amount required to comply with treaty stipulations. In some instances, when the excess is small It would seem proper to divide prorata. It does not appear that any of these tribes are on the increase hence no necessity exists for lands to be held in reserve to any considerable amount for future allotment. When possible I would favor giving them more than treaty calls for.

2nd When less land is necessary to comply with treaty is found, must the number of acres be cut down so that a proportional allotment can be made? Or may unoccupied government lands outside be allotted to Indians belonging to reservation?

A few instances will occur of this kind as at warm Springs where insufficient lands can be found and a few families who are well advanced and capable of taking care of themselves could be located outside. I favor that plan and suggest if approved some instructions be given land officers so that said location can be legaly [sic] made.

3rd May Indians not on reservation be allotted lands on reservation, and may they be allotted government lands not on reservations?

There are Indians in this state that have never yet been brought in that can be induced to locate on reservations under the system of allotment. And when all parties consent they should be allowed to do so. Again some of these people have advanced sufficiently by being among the white persons to locate and appreciate a home. And there are a few instances where the whites would not object to their being located among them.

They must have homes allotted them somewhere and the sooner it is done the better for the Indians.

4th Are not Indians who have never been on reservations citizens under the late amendments to the Constitution, and have they not the right – without further legislation- to locate lands and do all other acts that other citizens may rightfully do?

I am fully aware of the political magnitude of the question but while I am superintendent for the Indians in Oregon, they shall have all their rights if in my power to secure them whether on or off reservations.

5th Are white men or half breeds who are husbands of Indian women who do now or have belonged to any reservation considered as Indians- by virtue of their marriage to said Indian women- in making the allotment of lands?

I understand that all half-breed men living with Indians on reservations are considered Indians (but always allowed herewith to vote at all white men’s elections) but there are several Indian women on various parts of the country who are married to white and half breed men, and the question is asked whether they are not entitled to land. Again, there are Indian women living with white men but not married who have children that should have some provision made for them.

6th May the allotment be made immediately in completion of survey without waiting for survey to be approved?

For many reasons it is desirable that the allotment be made as early as possible so that the people may prepare for winter. They are very impatient and I hope no unnecessary delay will be made.

7th Is a record to be made by and in local land office of surveys and several allotments? Is record of allotment to be made in county records, and if so how is the expense to be met?

These people are soon to be as other citizens and stand in equal footing. I have no doubt about the propriety and necessity for making these records but so as to close up all the gaps, I want to be instructed to have it done

  1. B. Meacham

Supt. Ind. Affairs In Ogn


M234, Roll 10


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