This is an article meant to clear up some mistaken histories. In the past historians have mixed up the two treaties and the meetings between Joseph Lane and Chief Jo. At times historians have attributed the 1850 events as taking place in 1853. The history of Oregon Indians is not a neat and clean history with clean divisions. There are multiple overlapping events with the same individuals. There is also a diversity of tribes, some 60 in western Oregon alone. In S.W. Oregon there were several Chief Johns. Even the notion of the Rogue River tribes is confusing, as early on, that meant the Takelman tribes, while later that term meant the confederation of tribes, the Rogue River Confederacy (Athaqaskan, Shastan, Takelman and some Umpqua) that fought against American imperialism. In short, there are many confusing events in this history. This essay is meant to distinguish between the two events. There is much more detail to the events than I show here. I suggest checking histories written by Beckham, Schwartz, Lalande, Douthit and others, to find those fine-grained histories of the war and its many battles.
In the 1850s, conflicts between the Oregon volunteer Ranger militia and the “Rogue River” tribes intensified. The tribes were upset with the Americans because of encroachment into their lands, and because gold miners were pushing them away from their river resources. In addition, treaties and agreements signed in 1850 and 1851 were never ratified by the United States. The tribes had waited at least two years with no word of their agreements. The Americans appeared to be taking their lands without paying the tribes as they said they would.
Many in the militia were farmers from the Willamette Valley who desired the extermination of all Indians in the Oregon Territory. In addition, the gold miners wanted the tribes gone. The tribes were an impediment to the miners, stealing their cattle, horses and metal tools, and this was an unforgivable issue. The tribes complained about abuses from the Americans. Indian women were subject to rape by Americans and the Americans did not care if a tribe lived in a location for thousands of years, if they were in the way of gold mining they would be attacked. Numerous murders of tribal people went unreported, mainly because the Americans did not care about them. Additionally, if a criminal act was known, authorities would not allow the tribal people to testify in court so that many eyewitness accounts were ignored.
The first meeting between Chief Apserkahar and General Joseph Lane occurred in 1850. In June 1850, General Lane was determined to bring peace to the Rogue River region. He set about hiring Klickitat mercenaries under Chief Quatley to help him during the negotiations. The Klickitats were fierce warriors, mounted infantry who were feared by many Indian tribes. They lived on the east side of the Cascades in Washington Territory, and bands of them would travel over the Columbia and into the Willamette Valley to hunt elk. The period from the 1820s and 1850 the Klickitats are well documented as coming into Oregon in bands of up to 700 men women and children and seasonally settling in the Umpqua Valley. Settlers would complain about them hunting out all the elk. They would be hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to be hunters and laborers in Kanaka village (native workers village) at Fort Vancouver. Therefore in June 1850, Lane hired the Klickitat as mounted infantry mercenaries to help him negotiate with the Rogue River tribes.
The negotiation in June began in Sam’s Valley between the Table Rocks. The first day went well with speeches given on both sides. The Klickitats always attended the proceedings and listened in as most of the tribal people knew Chinook Jargon or at least a good number of the words in the language. Negotiating was slow as speeches had to be translated from English to Chinook Jargon and back.
As the conference began, a second band of Rogue River Indians appeared. Rumors of a plot by the Rogue Rivers caused Lane to order the Chief of the tribe, Chief Apserkahar, to be taken captive. The Klickitat immediately complied and took the principal chief captive. The negotiations continued with Chief Apserkahar captive and were concluded in a few days.
The outcome was an agreement with the Rogue Rivers to live in peace. Chief Apserkahar came to respect General Jo Lane, and Lane gifted him his name, a great honor among the tribes. Thereafter Chief Apserkahar was called Chief Jo.
A series of small conflicts or skirmishes had been occurring in the area since the 1840s. Settlers would kill and abuse tribal people and travelers would be massacred by the tribes. When the ranger militia arrived they set about a policy of extermination that took these conflicts to a whole new level. On the California Coast, exterminations of whole tribes were occurring. Their Athapaskan friends and relatives in the Siskiyou Mountains heard these reports and were not going to give in to the terror of the militias. The Rogue River tribes (Takelmans) banded with the Athapaskans, Shastans, and Cow Creek Umpquas and formed a resistance to the terror being spread. Exterminations and attempts to genocide the whole race of Indians in Northern California and Southern Oregon continued into the later 1850s.
In 1853, the militia commanded by General Joseph Lane was fighting a series of battles in the Rogue River valley, the main battle at Evans Creek. They were fighting the bands of Chief Jo (Apserkahar) and the bands of Chiefs Sam (Toquahear), and Jim (Anachaarah) and other headmen for the Rogue River. During the battle, many men on both sides were killed and wounded. In a couple days both sides were exhausted and Chief Jo called for a cease-fire and parlay with General Lane, because of his respect for the man. General Lane responded and walked, into Chief Jo’s camp unarmed, even though wounded in his shoulder. There was an agreement for a cease-fire, which was followed on both sides, with another short negotiation the following morning. Negotiations took place later that day in the shadow of Lower Table Rock.
The Rogue Indians were watching from the top of Table Rock, which served as a natural fortress of defense. Negotiations continued as they had before in 1850, with translations from English to Chinook Jargon and back. The treaty was agreed to by all on September 8, 1853. The result was the prompting Joel Palmer to quickly follow, within 2 days (Sept. 10, 1853), with a treaty initiating a sale of the Rogue River lands and the formation of the Table Rock Reservation. The Joel Palmer Treaty of 1853 the first treaty that in this valley that would be ratified by the U.S. Congress. The treaty established that the tribes would remove to a permanent reservation where they would no longer be disturbed and set up the temporary reservation, the Table Rock Reservation, the first of its kind in Oregon.
The following is the preamble to the treaty of 1853,
Whereas a treaty was made and entered into at Table Rock, near Rogue River, in the Territory of Oregon, this 10th day of September, A. D. 1853, by and between Joel Palmer, superintendent of Indian affairs, and Samuel H. Culver, Indian agent, on the part of the United States; and Jo-aps-er-ka-har, principal chief, Sam To-qua-he-ar, and Jim Ana-cha-a-rah, subordinate chiefs, and others, head-men of the bands of the Rogue River tribe of Indians, on the part of said tribe.
Generally I research on Google books for most of the histories of Oregon Indians. Reading through several sources can help ferret out the major details. Treaty information is gained from the University Of Oklahoma digital collections which has transcriptions of all Oregon Treaties. Otherwise, I use my previous research and general knowledge of the subject. Maps have been previously found or created by me.
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.