This is a letter from Beel Fern, son of Chief Halo, who was of the Yoncalla Kalapuyans, a tribe of the Umpqua Valley. He may have as well been of the upper Umpqua tribe due to intermarriage between tribes that was common in Oregon. It was common on the reservation to simplify tribal ancestry to the river valley where they originated from. (Interestingly, if he stated his name as “Beel”, would the scribe compose B.L., or did he write the letter and write the abbreviation of his name as B.L.?) Beel and his family lived for decades on the Applegate family DLC. They hosted the tribe until their people gained off-reservation Indian allotments in the area. Some of the Halo family did live at the Grand Ronde Reservation for a limited time period, but there is no record of them gaining allotments there. There remains a long-standing generational friendship between the Applegate and Halo descendants.
Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter #1941 (1882)
Drain, Oregon Jan’y 13/82
B.L. Fern (Umpqua Indian)
Relative to payment for their lands (illegible) &c
Answered Jan’y 31/82
[Begin Transcription of letter]
Drain Douglas Co. Oregon
Jan 13, 1882
To the Department of Interior
Washington City D.C.
I am an Indian of the Umpqua tribe. I was born and raised here. My father was a chief died here about four years ago at the ago of 70 years. He never signed any treaty never sold his land nor never received any pay for his land. Our land has been taken from us by Donation land claims premptions (?) homesteads and purchase until our territory is all gone that is of any value. General Palmer told us about 1857 that we would get pay for our land then Superintendent Huntington told us the same thing until the day of his death. White people have continually told [us] that appropriations were made for the Umpqua Indians yet none of our tribe ever received anything. One appropriation in particular made in 1870 for the amount of $10,000. What became of it? Who got the money?
Our tribe owned a strip of 20 X 60 miles square of the best land in Douglas County. If it was ever signed away from us it was a forgery. Our land extended from Oakland Oregon to the top of the Calapooia Mountains a distance of 20 miles and from the top of the Cascade Mountains to the sea shore a distance of 60 miles.
Our tribe are now all very poor. 20 years I have been trying to get pay for our land but those in authority have always told one by and by.
There is now-but- about 30 of our tribe left. We need the amount due us badly. This is the first time I have even been able to get a white man to write for me. I can furnish the best proof that this is all true and by the best citizens of Douglas Co. Oregon. Please write to me the proper method to proceed to get what justly belongs to us. If we had what is reasonably ours we could live but as it is we have suffered for over twenty years and many of us died from want.
I hope you will not turn a deaf ear to us now but send one the proper papers and I will furnish you the proof that our land has been taken without paying us one cent for it. There are many farms on it that are worth about $5,000 t0 $50,000 that the white people have grown rich on our land and I’ve got not one dollar in return for our land unless it was by begging for it and then only enough to fill our stomachs once at a time.
We are weak and poor not able to fight nor willing if we were able. We only ask the U.S. government for justice or at least to pay us something for thousands of acres of the best of land. I have not employed any lawyer nor thief to write for one nor to steal the money if you pay our tribe but have got a farmer to write this for me. I prefer to deal with you direct. Please answer one and much oblige.
Your humble Servant,
At Drain, Douglas Co. Oregon.
The description above suggests they had a land claim of over 1600 square miles that they were never paid for. Their payment may have never gotten to them because they lived off-reservation and all payments went to the reservations.
The tribes would not be reimbursed for their lands until the 1950s after a series of Indian Claims Lawsuits. In fact, the case, ROGUE RIVER TRIBE OF INDIANS et al. v. UNITED STATES. (89 F.Supp. 798 (1950), United States Court of Claims, April 3, 1950), won by the tribes in 1950, decided their compensation for their land.
“A further hearing has been held and the case is now before us to determine the extent of the lands actually occupied by the Confederate Bands of Umpquas and Calapooia Indians of the Umpqua Valley and the amount of compensation to which they are entitled, measured by the value of the lands taken on December 21, 1855, plus an additional amount measured by a reasonable rate of interest to make just compensation.”
In short, the tribes won compensation in this case. To date, I am unsure if the facts, findings and awards in this case have ever been analyzed by the tribes of Oregon, and it may yet be proven that the government did not fully compensate the parties to the lawsuit appropriately.
This letter, combined with the 20th century case, is an example of the power of the tribe to recall their histories, which translated in the 20th century in winning lawsuits and payment for their lands.
SWORP collection, University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.
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.