The First Grand Ronde Indian Legislature and Laws, Beginning in 1873

The following documents are part of the Siletz Reservation Collection at the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland. They were found in around 2010 by myself, and copies recovered for the Grand Ronde tribe. They were digitized for the library about a year later  through a loan to the Oregon State University Archives, with all digital copies completed by myself. The document is part of a a larger collection which was likely the Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency records that were left in Siletz, where the Agency area office was in the 1950s. For some reason about half of the collection at OHS is original records of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. In this time period, the connected reservations were readying for termination and the office was closed and moved to Portland. These records remained in Siletz and were collected by a Siletz member, whose family later donated them to the Oregon Historical Society. Therefore the collection at OHS is erroneously marked to be Siletz Indian reservation records and should be renamed to be the Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency records, as the combined agency was labeled in this time period. They are actually federal records which rightly are integrally related to the Agency Desk Files of the Portland Area office in the National Archives in Seattle. With this collection was the original allotment book for Grand Ronde, the other legal case files, correspondence, birth and death records, the agency cemetery book, as well as other financial files.

The content of these legal documents is amazing. In this document we have the first Indian Legislature. The Legislature would have limited rights to criminal jurisdiction, and so these are solely civil laws. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would have had federal jurisdiction of criminal cases. The legislature may have had a large influence in the goings-on of the reservation, re-namings, fines for minor issues, enrollments, allotments etc. but would have been mainly advisory to the Indian Agents. The Indian agents could reverse any actions by the legislature as all Natives, until the early 20th century were not American citizens, and therefore how almost no rights.



At a session of the Grand Ronde Indian Agency, Legislature held at the office of the Agency, commencing Jany 1/73. The following tribes were represented


James Durbin, Jacob Wheeler


Peter Selkirk


Polk Scott, Wm Williamson


Jn Hutchins, Frank Machell, Peter Carey


Peter McKay, Solomon Riggs, Jas. Rose

Rogue River

Robt Riley, Jack Sang. Jo Pierre?, Jn. Edmonchoey


Foster Wachano, Jas. Winslow

Oregon City

Jo Apperson, Chas. Petite


H Kilkie

Marys River

Jo Sangaretta, Wm Barlow


Jim Shiloquy, Geo. Sutton

Wm. Wichigan, P. Kenoyer

The division of the tribes and naming of political leaders suggests the tribe kept the cultural identities of the tribes together more than 20 years after the start of the reservation.

This list of representatives, are all listed under tribal designation, later we see districts are formed instead.


The division of the tribes and naming of political leaders suggests the tribe kept the cultural identities of the tribes together more than 20 years after the start of the reservation.

This body was organized by the election of George Sutton as President and C.D. Folger as Secretary. The following laws were then enacted for the government of the Indians to preserve order to maintain the laws and to qualify them for the position which they will have to fill as citizens of the state of Oregon before many years.

According to all records known, George Sutton was the first president of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, a Wapato Indian, likely Tualatin.

1st In case of the death of the head of a family, the property left by him after the payment of his just debts, is to be held by his widow, and all debts then may be owing him are to be paid to her. In event of the widow dying and there being a family of children [the] property then left is to be given to [the] children.

2nd In case of a man dying without family and leaving no will, the property left by him is to be sold at public auction and after the payment of his debts to be applied to the poor and sick Indians of the reservation.

3rd All the dead shall be buried in the graveyard belonging to the reservation.

Law 3, suggesting an organized graveyard by 1873

4th The persons elected to carry out the preceding laws no’s 1,2,3 and act as Administrators in all cases of debt are Joseph Sangaretta & Jas. Durben their term of office shall be one ye. [year] and for their services shall be paid one dollar each for every case.

5th If any person shall take down of break the fence of the field or pasture the property of another, they shall be subject to a fine of $5.00 & cost of court for each and every offence.

6th If any person shall break into or forcibly enter the house or barn of another the penalty for such offence shall be $10.00 & cost of court.

7th If any person shall commit an assault upon another with his fist or any wepon [sic], such person shall be subject to a fine of $10.00 & cost of court.

8th If any person shall take a horse belonging to another without the consent of the owner, such person shall be subject to a fine of $5.00 & cost of court.

9th Any person swearing falsely in court shall pay a penalty of $2.00 and one weeks labor or imprisonment. The money so paid for shall be paid for board of prisoner. (written on left side Repeled)

10th Any Indian forceing or committing w. rape upon a woman upon trial and conviction shall pay a penalty of $25.00 and cost of court.

11th Any Indian who shall cohabit with or seduce a woman and she has a child by him, he shall be obligated to pay $10.00 pr month for the support of both woman & child, or if by consent of both parties they shall be married. (Repealed in left margin)

Law 11, apparently cohabitation and/or prostitution was common due to the number of laws directing these activities, this law was repealed later.

12th Any Indian who shall commit the crime of Adultry with the wife of another shall be fined $20.00 for the first offence. If repeated the same penalty and the wife of the man shall be granted a divorce from him, and the husband shall be granted a divorce from the woman who is guilty.

13th Any person guilty of stealing or swindle the property of another, shall pay the owner of the property the value of such article stolen. If the guilty person is unable to pay in money, he shall work for the person whose property  he has stolen to the am’t of value of such property, and as a further penalty he shall work one month on the Agency and pay cost of court.

14th Any person owning a breechy horse and said horse shall break or get into the field of another person whose fence is of the lawful height of 5 feet- the owner of such animal shall be notified and if he fails to get and keep the animal away he shall pay to the owner of such guilty $5.00 and all damages that may result and cost court.

15th Any Indian belonging to this reservation who shall when outside of the reservation, let or hire out his wife or any woman over whom he has control, for the purpose of prostitution shall upon trial and conviction be subject to a penalty of $50.000 & cost of court.

16th Any person chopping wood upon the land of another shall after he has been notified of such trespass, be subject to a fine of $2.50 for the first offence, for the second $5.00.

17th There shall be elected by the legislature one attorney whose duty shall be to assist such persons requiring the services of our attorney and are unable to pay. For his pay such attorney shall receive $1.00 for each case where the penalty is $5 and $3.00 for each case where the penalty exceeds $5.00. (Repealed in left margin)

Solomon Riggs is hereby elected to the position of Attorney under [this] act for the period of one year.

18th All complaints for violation of the laws passed by the Legislature shall be made to the clerk of the Court and entered upon the records – all cases shall be settled in open Court – no case shall be settled by any officer outside of the Courthouse. Any officer who shall be guilty of violating this law shall be tried by a jury and if convicted shall be removed from office and his successor shall be appointed by the Agent to serve until the next general election.

19th the time of holding general court shall be first Monday of every month continuing until all business before it is disposed of. Cases demanding immediate action shall be held on Saturday of each week.

20th For the encouragement of the people of Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in farming stock raising and general improvements it is adopted that an annual fair be held commencing on or about the 15th of September of each year. The following Committee are appointed for this year. John Smith, Jas. Shiloquay, David Lano [Leno], Foster Wachino, Wm. Hubbard, Peter McKay. Whose duty it shall be to make all necessary arrangements for the same, the selection of grounds, making of rules & regulations, selection of such officers they may think necessary, and all other matters required to make the fair a success.

The tribe has one Photo of an early fair, this could be the start of that fair.

21st The pay of the Justice shall be $1.00 for each case tried, the pay of sheriff shall be $1.25 for each day attendance at court, the witness fees shall be .50[cents] the Jury fees .75 [cents]

22nd The pay of the legislature shall be $ the same to be collected in amt’s. of .25 [cents] each from all voters belonging to the reservation and shall be paid to the Secretary and by him disbursed pro rata to the members.

We hereby certify that the foregoing is a true record of the Laws enacted by the Grand Ronde Indian Legislature in convention assembled at the Office of the Agency January 17th & 18th A.D. 1873

George X Sutton, President, His mark

Witness C.D. Folger [signed]

Frank Quenel Interpreter

C.D. Folger Secty [transcribed by]


[Recording of Cases]

Laws for the Year 1899

  1. If any persons fight or quarrel

20th if any of persons ows [owes] another.

21st if any person employ a lawyer

13th Administrators duty is to see to the property

14th if any person and got only one

15th if any person is sick and not respected

22th if the justice of the peace desides

  1. if any person steal any thing of value
  2. All officers of this court meet.

28th if any man commit a rape or force.

29th if the dead person got a teem his.

30th if any person kill or do damage.

31th if any man siring a child by a woman.

32th if any person moves a fence and takes.

33th ore if any who go ovr to another mans lands

[Cases before 1899]

1879 +35 if any person give bad name to another person

1876, &, 7 any person having a case in court for pure trial

1873 & 8 if any person shall take a horse belong another

1879 & 16 if any person fight or quarrel Vare stoped

[partial line] fine of $2.00

1877, 2  [partial] officers

1877 S 10 violate law of Agence

1877 S 15 arested by Sheriff list of witness

1877 S 29 Lawyers disrespect full decession [decision] Justice

1875 S 36 Nusance gambling house or dance

1875 S 39 gambling on promise fined $5 & cost of court

1875 S 38 Officers violate law

1876 S 4 Officers to preform duty

1876 S 5 Sheriff making arrest call on any one

1873 S 18 Officers removed from office, Agent.

1876 S 27 to sleep with a married woman fined $30.00-10

1873 S 18 violate law complaint made in open court

1876 S 30 laying slanding faltstories is fined $10 [lying slandering false stories]

1873 S 15 hiring his wife fined $50

1873 9 Witness swear falts [false] in court fine $2

1873 L 7 for striking another person $5 to 10 dollars

1874 L 13 bad name Sonsbitch fined $60

1876 L 28 any lawyer speaking ill

74 3 Properity left by a diseased person’s

1876 S 18 if any man talk Sacney and abuse

1878 S 20 the treasure or clerk shall keep a book

1878 S 20 any doctor who doctors any person

1878 S 21 if any person make complaint at the court

1878 S 22 the justice can give a divorce

1878 S 23 they shell [shall] be three precincts

1878 S 25 all people belong to Salmon River

1878 S 24 and when any person force another person

1875 S 19 if any woman shall promise to married a man

1877 S 20 If a man shall refuse to married a woman

1873 S 16 Any person chopping wood upon another

1873 S 19 the time of holding general court shall

1877 S 2 The officers must mind their own business

1875 S 18 Any man & woman living together

1875 S 30 Any Indians belong to another Agency

1876 S 27 any married man who shall be guilty adultery

1876 S 26 Any person got a daughter under age

1876 S 25 any person got a boy under age

1875 S 28 if any person bring suit for damage

1878 S 8 if a jury meet after desiding a case

1878 S 9 when hogs belonging to any person

1878 S 10 how the money remaining on hand in the

1878 S 11 When the amount of money

1873 S 13 Any person guilty of stealing the property

1873 S 14 any person owning a breech horse and

1875 S 26 any man who has not his land fence

1875 S 25 When two man own land a joining

1875 S 27 any man who shall take a horse

1875 S 28 Any witness when giving testimonies who

1875 S 29 During a trial in court should

1874 S 10 if any woman shall leave her husband

1874 S 11 When a man and wife don’t get along

1878 S 12 if any person is old sick & blind

1878 S 13 All Complaints made to the clerk

1878 S Any person who shall stop County

1876 S 7 any person having a case in court for justice

1877 S 22 Any person shall have rich lote

1875 S 29 During a trial a court show

[resume laws, its unclear where #’s 23-34 are?]

35 any person dying whom people are away shall be buried by the Administration for which service they shall receive $2.00 each from the Treasury

36th No officer of the Court shall practice as an Indian Doctor, if they do so, they shall be removed from office.

37th The parents of a married woman shall have no control over her, if they keep or entice her away from her husband, they shall be fined $10, and cost court

38   Any promis made to the parents of a girl by the man who marries her shall be fulfilled under a penalty of $10, and cost court.


The pages of this journal have some scribbling on them. In the back ALEX DAY is inscribed in large letters. and there is this small map in one margin.  Its either a map or just a placename identifier of some sort.


These laws were likely replaced and changed and we have yet to find the replacements. By 1891 everything would change when over 260 people got allotments. This would significantly change everything. By 1911, once the allotments were held for 20 years, everyone living would get fee simple titles to their lands and much land was sold in this manner. By the 1930s maybe 1000 acres remained of the original 60,000 acre reservation. In 1935 the tribe writes a constitution under the Tribal Reorganization Act, and seats a 4 member business council to be the administrators.  In 1936 the Grand Ronde Constitution is approved by the BIA and thereafter the tribe pretty much runs its own affairs, until termination in 1954.


12 thoughts on “The First Grand Ronde Indian Legislature and Laws, Beginning in 1873

  1. Hi David, Could you tell me if this collection you found had a Cow Creek Constitution dated 1982? We have had all copies ‘lost’ by our Tribe, and they changed our constitution in 1992 to remove all our member rights except one, conferring all powers on themselves. We need a copy of our old constitution, the one that our Elders all worked together on creating, to show a Tribal Rights Attorney what we have lost. Can you see if it is there, please?

    Thank you so much! Dawn

    On Sat, Jun 24, 2017 at 8:19 PM, NDNHISTORYRESEARCH | Critical & Indigenous Anthropology wrote:

    > David G. Lewis’ Ethnohistory Research, LLC posted: “The following > documents are part of the Siletz Reservation Collection at the Oregon > Historical Society Library in Portland. They were found in around 2010 by > myself, and copies recovered for the Grand Ronde tribe. They were digitized > for the library about” >

    1. In a short search i am not finding reference to a 1982 constitution. there is a 1982 restoration act. here is what I found;
      The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians is organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984); the provisions of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians Recognition Act of December 29, 1982 (P.L. 97-391), as amended by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians Distribution of Judgement Funds Act of October 26, 1987 (P.L. 100-139); and the Cow Creek Tribal Constitution, duly adopted pursuant to a federally supervised constitutional ballot, on July 8, 1991.

  2. This is Fascinating, David! What is amazing to me is that our Ancestors were able to ‘assimilate’ into such a modern society so soon after being rounded up and marched north. That must have been so hard, especially the laws forbidding the practice of Indian medicine and other cultural ways they had before. What resilient people they were. I am so very thankful for you, for your committment to finding Oregon Indian history and making it available to us all. I hope you have found a way to survive financially here in Oregon and can continue this valuable work you do for us all!!

  3. Yes, they were highly resilient people, that is evident! And adaptable. In the space of what, maybe 10 years, they did adapt to life as White’s. What does that say about current immigrants and refugees, hm? Well, thanks for the tips on where to look for our constitution. The BIA was requested by someone else in my Tribe and got sent on a wild goose chase and the Siltez and other Librarys aren’t open to me, I’m pretty sure. If you happen to run across a copy of our first Constitution in your research work, please let me know, thanks!

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