In 1856, all of the tribes from the interior of western Oregon removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. This was a plan created by Oregon Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer after the outbreak of new hostilities in southern Oregon in 1855. Faced with the prospect of a huge war in southern Oregon, and the probable extermination of many tribes, Palmer worked with the US Army to find another temporary valley, away from American settlers, where he could temporarily settle over 2000 Indians until the planned Coast Indian reservation was developed and built-up enough to house the tribes. The Rogue River tribes, and several others, went to Grand Ronde in 1856, and then many of these people were removed again to Siletz Agency in 1857. The Rogue River tribes were then split between Grand Ronde and Siletz, thereafter.
From 1853 to 1855 nine treaties were negotiated with the tribes of western Oregon and seven of them were ratified by Congress. These treaties transferred the ownership of over 19 million acres of lands from Indian tribes to the United States. In all of these treaties was the promise of a permanent reservation they can call home, away from the Americans, where they would get annual annuities and services from the federal government.
Palmer’s Plan was to remove all tribes to the Coast Indian Reservation, a 100 mile long strip of land on the Oregon Coast, from the Nehalem River to just south of Florence, Oregon, and 20 miles inland. The character of this area was of an intractable wilderness, the coast range was only lightly explored and inaccessible in many areas. Some tribes refused to enter the Coast range as they feared monsters and demons lurking there. As well the Coast of Oregon did not have many deep water ports or much in the way of raw resources and so there was not a lot of settlement by Americans there. So obviously, it was the best place to remove some 60 tribes to. Palmer set his plan into motion and got the area of the Coast Indian Reservation created by Presidential Executive Order in 1855. However, war broke out in southwestern Oregon, forcing Palmer to alter his plans.
In the Summer of 1855 Palmer walked up the Oregon Coast, ending in Coos Bay negotiating the Coast Treaty. This treaty was never ratified, but sometime previous to this he worked with the army to purchase the Donation land claims of a number of American settlers in the Grand Ronde Valley at the foot of the Coast range, a small offshoot of the Willamette Valley. There he began planning for the removal, temporarily, of the western Oregon tribes to this new reservation. The only treaty to specifically mention the Yamhill Valley reservation ( Grand Ronde) was the Molalla Treaty negotiated at the end of 1855.
In January of 1856, Palmer brought the Kalapuya chiefs to Grand Ronde to have them approve of the reservation so they could urge their people to come willingly to the reserve. The area was the original homelands of the Yamel Kalapuya tribes, a tribe related to the Tualatin to the north. In late January, Palmer began ordering Indian agents and Special Indian agents to make plans for travel to Grand Ronde. The Rogue Rivers and other tribes were at Table Rock Reservation in southwestern Oregon.
The Table Rock reservation was in the midst of the Rogue River Valley. The Reservation engulfed a huge expanse within included most of the land around the two buttes, Upper and Lower Table rocks, and the valley between, Sam’s Valley, and the buttes and hills to the north.
The Rogue River Tribes, (their common name) were actually tribes and bands of three tribes. The northern Shasta, the Athapaskan speaking tribes around Illinois River and, and the Takelmans, the original Rogue Rivers, who lived in and around the valley of the Rogue. As well, a few of the upper Umpqua peoples were part of this admixture. The various tribes banded together and formed very effective defense forces for their tribal homelands. They first had removed to Table Rock Reserve because they signed treaty’s in 1853 and 1854 after many battles with settlers ranchers and gold miners. Then when they remained at Table Rock, they became a target of continued acts of genocide by settlers in the region.
Not happy that they were vulnerable on the reserve, some of the Rogue Rivers chose to unite under Chief John, and leave. They attacked settlements and raided many in their path, and then fought a series of battles against the US Army, and ended up being removed in the summer of 1856. The Rogue River tribes that did not leave Table Rock Reservation and attack Americans, were moved northward by Joel Palmer in February of 1856. They marched overland along the Applegate Trail to Grand Ronde. The journey took 33 days and 7 people died. (There is a journal of this removal, yet to be transcribed by me).
Grand Ronde received over 2000 people during 1856. In April of 1857, the order was given to begin making plans for a number of the Rogue River Tribes to remove to the Siletz Agency. By April 21st, the tribes had not yet moved, but a health report from Grand Ronde from March 1856 shows that hundreds of Indians had left the reservation (there was perhaps a delay in the reports). In October 1856 the censused population at Grand Ronde is 1885 people, and in April of 1857 it is 1155 people, a reduction of 730. For Siletz Agency in March 1857 their census shows 1431 people, but in June their population is 2049, a growth of 618 people. The original population at the Coast Reservation was the result of those removed up the coast as part of the last removals from Port Orford, and the original inhabitants of the watersheds of that territory (Yaquina, Alsea, Siletz, Tillamookans). In addition, there is hinted in some reports that some of the people who went to Grand Ronde were actually taken over to the Coast to live at Salmon river, an encampment just eats of present day Lincoln City.
Table: Found Population counts for multiple years, Grand Ronde and Siletz and other agencies
|both||Astoria Agency||Umpqua||Yaquina||Alsea||Salmon River||source|
|August 1856||1940||GR Health report|
|September 1856||1950||GR Health report|
|October 1856||1900||GR Health report|
|November 1856||GR Health Report|
|March 1857||1431||S Health report|
|April 1857||1155||GR Health report|
|May 1857||1275||GR Health report|
|June 1857||1195||GR Health report|
|June 1857||2049||S Health Report|
|August 1857||1239||GR Health report|
|Sept 1857||2042||S Health Report|
|1857||1895||2049||3939 Nesmith||251||690||Annual reports|
|1863 (1861 #s)||2025||528||300||Annual Report|
|1866||About Equal deaths with births||533||Annual Report|
|1867||1407||2188||525||300 (inc in GR #s)||Annual Report|
The difference in population, was not accounted for in the reports. The apparent 112 missing people (if the count was accurate at all), can be explained several ways. First, there was a good number of deaths each month recorded for each reservation. The highest death count (for months that we have records) is 33 people at Grand Ronde in December of 1856. This count appears to be an anomaly, perhaps a symptom of living in canvas tents, as in most reports it was about 5 deaths on average each month.
Table: Sick and Death counts for Grand Ronde and Siletz
|Sick in hospital||Sick in camp||Death in hospital||Death in Camp||births|
|August 1 1856||37||172||1||12|
|September 1 1856||46||567||1||8|
GR Physician Fired
|February to August 1870||700||11||22+|
The deaths alone will not account for the discrepancy in the populations counts from Grand Ronde and Siletz. We know from a number of Indian agent letters and reports that many tribes were working to escape the reservation and return to their homelands. The Rogue River tribes and the Coquille tribes in particular are noted as making plans to return. Some percentage of the bands of these tribes did escape and slip around the soldiers and forts and made it back to their homelands. Additionally, there were a good many Indians settled along the coast and its unclear how much access the Indian Agent at Siletz Agency had to the coastline, and as such could not effectively prevent the Indians from leaving. Siletz did not have a road to Salmon River encampment until well into the 1880’s. So the inaccuracies are likely attributed to a variety of reasons.
The reasons for removal of the tribes are very simple. The Siletz agency is in a very remote valley and it was thought that the agents could control the Indians who were more aggressive and who had taken part in fighting if they were at Siletz. (In fact there are lists of tribal people who took part in the fighting, likely gathered to determine if that would get annuities or not.) While in Grand Ronde, the more peaceful Indians remained. Many of the northern tribes were looked on as being more peaceful, tribes like the Kalapuyans had never attacked the American settlers or settlements. In addition, agent reports suggested that the tribes at Siletz were concentrated there because the Indian Superintendent thought they had not embraced the treaties. This suggests that when some of the Rogue River tribes attacked the Americans and the settlements, that they were reneging on their treaty.
The suggestion that the Rogue River Tribes had lost their treaty rights, was carried for years in federal policy. In the following years’ treaty annuities, the annual payments promised to the tribes for 20 years, were sent to Grand Ronde, and every year the Siletz Indian Agents had to beg for money to manage the Coast Indian reservations, because Siletz had gotten most of the “war participants.”
A 1950 report from the BIA even suggested that Siletz had no claims to any treaties, an example of how the Rogue Tribes and others were blamed for the Rogue River Indian War some one hundred years later. In addition, the vast majority of the non-treaty tribes were on the Oregon Coast, and most of them went to Siletz, and so they also would not have annual annuity payments.
A good argument could be made that the tribes in Rogue River were defending themselves from American aggression and it was actually the Americans who had reneged on the treaty, by attacking the Table Rock Reservation Indian settlements. Regardless, it is unclear is this issue has been addressed historically, politically, or legally.
The arrangement we see here is one reservation, Grand Ronde, well funded from at least six treaties, because the majority of the people were deemed peaceful. While the other reservation Siletz were impoverished because of an apparent internal administrative decision not to fund the reservation annual needs through the treaties. As such, as written about previously, there are some 5-10 years of starvation, malnutrition and neglect on the part of the Federal Government at Siletz.
Interestingly, these same problems existed at Grand Ronde. So the amount of funding may not have been the actual problem.
In these early years the agents at Siletz note that the Rogue Rivers constantly are working to leave the reservation move back to the Rogue river, and they are dying at such a rate that the agents fear they will cease to exist soon, thereby eliminating any problems they exhibited. They did not have funding to remove other tribes to Siletz, and many promises of houses and services did not come true.
The agents at the reservation complained that the Rogue River tribes were lazy and would not work. There may be a cultural explanation of this problem. Many of the tribal chiefs lived in a political system where chiefs did not work in their tribes. The average people worked for them. It would have taken a generation or so for this to change.
In this early era of the reservations, we see that the Rogue River tribes declined. The major factor is likely environmental as the Siletz and Grand Ronde valleys are wetter environment than they were used to in around the Rogue Valley. Neglect by the agents are also a factor as we discussed above. In addition, many of the Rogue Rivers were successful escaping and returning to their homes, to be returned by the army a few years later. But a major factor that has yet to be fully investigated is the access of the tribes to effective medical care. There are indications for multiple years that the tribal people would not go to see the American doctor and there was a huge effort on the part of several agents to convince them to use the medical doctors. This is a major problem of the time as the tribes had no effective cures for the introduced diseases.
One question that has occurred to me is whether the Rogue River tribes were somewhat protected from the new introduced diseases in their original environments. If this is true then they may have fully encountered diseases like malaria only when they entered the reservations in the north. In the north the tribes had already gone through their epidemics in the 1830’s and 40’s and saw losses of about 95% of their populations. This and the fact that many of the northern tribal people were already integrated with the settler populations, meant they already had some immunity.
This research continues.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.