Encroachment of Americans into Brush Creek Valley

The following contains sections of an essay in the 1903 Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, that lays out some important narratives of the Santiam and Calapooia Indians in the late 1840s. Since 1843, American pioneers were coming into western Oregon on wagon trains to settled in the Willamette Valley. These settlers took advantage of the previous decade’s horrendous illnesses, likely malaria, that caused the death of some 90-97% of most tribes. The Kalapuya tribes were much reduced by the epidemics and could no longer protect their territorial rights from encroaching settlers or other tribes. Like the Americans, and French Canadians, Klickitats and other tribes began coming into the valley and moved unopposed through the rich camas and wapato fields, and hunted indiscriminately for elk.

Similarly, we have American settlers acting the same, settling and  hunting indiscriminately, but also fencing in fields for their growing herds of cattle. Later there was an expansion into sheep, horses and pigs.   But the domesticated stock of these farmers trampled areas in which camas was harvested in great quantities by the Kalapuyans, and the Calapooia River and Brush Creek Valley area was prime Camas growing area, as some patches of the plant continues to grow there today. The farmers also jealously guarded their fenced-in areas and would not allow the tribes to cross through their fields. To build these farms, many Natives were actually  hired as day laborers to cut wood, make fence posts, and learn to practice agriculture and animal husbandry, in trade for food and other items.

The Kalapuya tribes noted were likely the Tekopa, and these tribes were being being encroached upon in their homelands, and so they demanded payment. But as you will read, payment was tough to come by, as in time their demands lessened due to extreme pressures from the settlers to just go away. Many Native were shot outright when they sought to take payment, by stealing from the farmers, when the agreed upon payments did not happen. Native people lost their seasonal food supplies and the stock of game was being hunted out by the more efficient firearms of the settlers and so thefts became a necessity for survival, as many were starving.

The following is a rare account from the 1840s. Through some research I have verified that most of these men were settled in the Brush Creek Valley and along the Calapooia River until at least 1853. In 1850 the Oregon Donation Landclaim act was passed by the US Congress and the law certified the Americans’ land claims if they had occurred before the act was passed. In a strict legal interpretation of the US Land laws of the time, all land claims before the lands were sold under treaty with the tribes were illegal. But this was quite common, and there were by 1850 thousands of illegal land claims in the Oregon Territory. It was not until 1853 that the first treaties were ratified, and not until 1855 that the Treaty with the Willamette Valley tribes was ratified. In the meantime, the tribes simply lost all rights to their lands and all legal recourse to defend their rights and perhaps collect rents from the illegal American immigrant squatters.


“No serious Indian troubles ever came upon the settlers on the Calapooia. T.A. Riggs tells how the Indians used to steal from the whites, and describes a little difficulty he and a neighbor had with them over stealing of an ox, but the Indians of this section never attempted to make war on the whites.

The Indians in those early days were in the habit of stealing horses and cattle from the settlers and butchering them, and the settlers would trail them up and  if able to catch them would flog them severely, but the Indians seemed to care about as much as a cur for such treatment and would laugh about it  as if it was all a huge joke. Some time during the summer of 1847 Isaac B. Courtney was hunting in Brush Creek Valley, being above the settlement at that time, when he met with a few Indians, who took his gun and ammunition and allowed him to go home. During the fall and winter of 1847 the Indians annoyed Mr. Fields so much that he finally move down to my place on Brush Creek and stayed until the spring of 1848.”

“In the fall of 1847 when I and Mr. Moore came into Brush Creek Valley we were not aware that there were any Indians near there and selected a place to build a cabin in which to spend the winter, we being single men, were going to batch through the winter, when I intended to bring my mother to live with me, my father having dies soon after starting for Oregon. When we commenced cutting logs for our cabin two or three Indians appeared on the scene and inquired what we were doing there, and on being told we were going to settle there they demanded pay for the land, and we finally made a bargain with them agreeing to pay them in wheat and pease [sic] after the next harvest, this being the way in which many of the early settlers bargained with them….”

“During the fall and early winter when an Indian happened to be present at mealtime we gave him something to eat, but it soon became apparent that if we kept this up we would run out of provisions before spring, as there were one or more Indians there nearly every meal, so we were obliged to quit feeding them, when they demanded pay for their land again we told them, however, that we would pay them according to contract. Soon after this they moved away, and we saw no more of them on Brush Creek ….”

“Soon after the Indians left the ox disappeared also. When  we missed him from the other cattle Mr. Finley and I took a circuit around the range of cattle and struck his trail going toward the Santiam, and after tracking him a mile or two we came across the same Indians, where they were camped and drying the beef, having killed the ox. When we turned toward the camp Mr. Finley said if that Indian runs I’ll shoot him. When they saw us coming they broke for the brush and Mr. Finley fired at one of them, they in their hurry leaving everything in camp including the only gun they had.

After selecting such things as we could carry that would be of any value we made a bonfire of the rest, burning everything they had. When we started away I saw an Indian head come up by the side of a log in the timber and took a shot at him, it was a long shot, and I think the ball struck the log, but the head disappeared suddenly. Another Indian started to run from behind a tree when Mr. Finley fired aiming, as he said, to break a leg, wounding the Indian above the knee, but not disabling him. This caused quite an excitement in the settlement, the Indians and many of the settlers fearing it would cause an outbreak among the Indians, arguing that we ought not have shot at them but should have treated them as others had done. However, Mr. Finley and I told them that if they didn’t want to be shot at they must not steal from us, as we would shoot every time and that to kill. This put a stop to their stealing in this part of the country and we were not annoyed after that by the natives, and they never called for the pay for their land.”  (Letter of T.A. Riggs in Upper Calapooia by George O. Goodall, QOHS vol. 14, no 1 1903 p 70-77)


The following map notes the relative closeness of the various land claims mentioned in the narrative letter above. The story suggests that the Indians who stole and killed the ox traveled northward toward the Santiam which is not very far away. The Kalapuya tribe mentioned was likely the Calapooia Band of Calapooias which are thought to have been associated with the Santiam Kalapuya Tribes. The main Santiam tribal area was between the forks of the Santiam river, and close to the site of Scio, OR. The town of Calapooia, the largest in this area, was renamed Brownsville sometime later, and is just to the west of this map, while the Town of Sweet Home is northeast of the map on the Santiam River.

Brush Creek Valley with Narrative placenames and persons labelled, GLO maps 1853

Reverend Spaulding is added to the map because he was a well known and respected reverend who served as an Indian Agent for the number of years. He also served as a treaty commissioner in 1851.



Goodall, George O., Upper Calapooia, QOHS vol. 14, no 1 1903 p 70-77

Leave a Reply

The Quartux Journal