The tribes of the western Oregon were quite numerous, previous to contact with traders and explorers to the North West Coast. Outsiders, brought numerous diseases which were the greatest factor in eliminating their large populations. The first diseases were likely small pox and influenza. Lewis and Clark’s expedition (1805-1806) encountered victims of small pox in 1805 on the Columbia. By 1830, malaria was a factor in Oregon, with epidemics happening as early as 1829. Malaria was likely the most destructive of all of the diseases and caused some 90% decline in populations, such that by 1850, the tribes of the Oregon Territory were a remnant of their former numbers (Boyd 1999). Interestingly, malaria might not have been a factor along the southern Oregon coast but reserved for the Willamette Valley, due to climate and the barriers of the mountain ranges, especially the Calapooia Range. Other reports suggest that other diseases, like small pox, visited the ports, like at Coos Bay. Different climates and more direct access to international trade contacts, changed the epidemiological profile for different parts of Oregon. The Anopheles mosquito (the vector for malaria) was thought to have come into Oregon in the hull of a fur trading ship, which likely stopped into the Columbia (Oregon City, Fort Vancouver) as the major trading river of the region.
The Lewis and Clark maps, created in the field in 1805-1806, depict a great number of native villages (13-15) along the Columbia River near the junction of the Willamette (Multnomah) River.
There are few comparison maps of this same area as the expedition did not venture far into the Willamette Valley and did not encounter the Kalapuyans, but they did hear stories of them.
“I provaled on an old Indian to mark the Multnomah R down on the sand which[he did] and perfectly corisponded with the sketch given me by sundry others, with the addition of a circular mountain which passes this river at the falls and which connects with the mountains of the Seacoast. He also laid down the Clackamos passing a high conical mountain near its mouth on the lower side and heads in Mount Jefferson which he laid down by raising the Sand as a very high mountain and covered with eternal snow. The high mountain which this Indian laid down near the enterance of Clarkamos river, we have not seen as the hills in it’s direction from this valley is high and obscures the sight of it from us. . . This Indian also informed me that Multnomah above the falls was crouded with rapids and thickly inhabited by Indians of the Cal-leh-po-e-wah Nation” M. Lewis, 1806.
Lewis and Clark did also estimate the number of Native peoples they encountered. Most of their estimates are low, as they did not personally encounter all of these tribes in their estimates. For example they estimate 2,000 for the Kalapuyans (Cal-lah-po-e-wah), which they never encountered, but most scholars today suggest 20,000 was more accurate for this time period.
The 1851 Gibbs and Starling Map of the upper Willamette provide the context for the Kalapuyans. Their map notes very few Kalapuyan villages for the upper Willamette. Conema, noted, was a Clackamas village above Willamette Falls, while Chehalem, Chempoeg, Chemaway, Chemekitty, and Chehalpen, were all Kalapuyan villages. The lack of a greater number of villages, compared to the Lewis and Clark maps, especially near Willamette Falls, a major salmon fishery, suggests a much smaller population of Native people.
The other major villages at the fishery, on both sides of the falls on the West Linn and Oregon City sides, occupied by the Tumwaters and Clowewallahs, were by the 1850s severely depopulated by the effects of malaria, as well as conflicted relations with the newcomer colonists to the valley, many of whom settled in and around Oregon City. The Clackamas village on the Clackamas River is not listed but was still extant in 1855 as a temporary reservation.
The maps here are offered for context because the tribes in the early 19th century were far more populous than those fifty years later. Various forces worked to sandpaper away the populations, with diseases, conflict, and cultural change the most significant factors. Most populations of tribes from northern Oregon were reduced to about 90% of their pre-contact numbers. The tribes in southern Oregon were also reduced but their reduction was different. The disease was less a factor before the reservations. Once on the reservations, we see that Rogue River Indians, newly exposed to diseases they had not yet fully encountered, and undergoing severe environmental and cultural change, were dying in large numbers at Siletz. One factor may have been the relative remoteness of the Southern Oregon mountains. This may have provided a disease barrier. Sometimes high mountain ranges can function in this manner, as diseases and their vectors, infected animals, insects, and people, must travel through multiple ecozones to get over the mountains. But also the southern Oregon region was less heavily settled by American and others and so there was less opportunity for infections to occur. As well the Rogue River Indians were very opposed to the settlers and gold miners and did not work with them as much as the northern tribes. When they all came to Grand Ronde and a year later Siletz, the Rogue River Tribes were suddenly exposed to over 2000 other tribal people and worked alongside several Americans. Then their food was different, the climate was moister, and habitations were tents for the first couple of years for many.
Regular population counts would begin when the United States began taking an interest in claiming the Oregon Territory, making room for other white Americans, and removing the tribes. The first population counts are estimated numbers. The earliest informed census counts come from early Oregon territorial settlers, many who are missionaries to the territory. The missionaries were one of the first people to visit with, spend time with, and take detailed accounts of the various tribes as they sought to convert them all to Christianity and therefore save the tribes from their traditional cultural lifestyles. Other censuses are created by government employees working to figure out the extent of supervision, and the cost estimates for managing several thousand Indians once they are removed from their homelands to reservations.
Joseph Lane was simultaneously Governor of the Oregon Territory (1849-1850) and Oregon Indian Superintendent (1849-1850) previous to Anson Dart (1850-1852).
It is unknown who created this census. An examination of the handwriting may reveal the person, but the composition reminds me of the work of Rev. J. L. Parrish, who completed similar censuses on the southern Oregon Coast. The census was likely created for Anson Dart who had been appointed Indian Superintendent for the Oregon territory late in 1850, and who began requesting information before he arrived in Oregon.
Robert Shortess was appointed by Anson Dart to help arrange for the Treaties on the Columbia, but tended to side with the tribes over land conflicts with the settlers and so was fired. Shortess had a Chinook native wife from the community.
Anson Dart was assigned the duties of taking to first official census count of the tribes when appointed to be the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon in 1850. By January 1851 he was getting reports for his sub-agents. In September 1851 Dart sends his compiled report of the census counts to Washington D.C. The counts in the following two tables preceded his visit to Port Orford.
Reverend Spalding lived in Brownsville and served as Indian Agent and treaty negotiator several times due to his skills and experience.
Agent Raymond is perhaps the least known of the Indian Agents. the Astoria District was less active, and many of the tribes were never removed to a reservation. Here we begin to see how far the decline of the Chinookans went.
Samuel Culver is Indian Agent at Table Rock for almost two years and then is fired by Palmer in a contentious removal.
Joel Palmer was appointed Indian Superintendent of the Oregon Territory in 1853. He had to quickly negotiate some treaties in Southern Oregon to eliminate some conflicts, moved some tribes to temporary reservations (Table Rock & Umpqua) and by 1854 he was working in plans for removal of the tribes to a permanent situation. He personally visited with most all the tribes, and received information from Indian Agents as to the numbers of each of the tribes. The estimates below are some of the most detailed accounts for this year, 1854, and describe the territory of each tribe.
Palmer’s estimated total in 1854, of 8,400 Indians in western Oregon, is intriguing compared to the numbers of Tribal people who removed to reservations in western Oregon. The totals are given in 1856 in Palmer’s annual reports near 4,000 people altogether. Its likely at least 2 thousand Indians were not on reservations, either on the Columbia, Like the Cascades tribes, or refused to remove, like the Chief Halo family in Yoncalla, or were living in the deep forests of Oregon, unknown or not captured yet.
Agent Thompson’s report of The Dalles District with some early numbers of the peoples of the lower and middle Columbia.
Parrish consistently surprises in his detail and consistency of reports. He was very good at interactions with the tribes in the rugged southern Oregon coast.
Raymond was the Indian Agent of the Astoria district for a few years, he was not a very active Indian Agent and did not report regularly, at times for months. his annual report here suggests that the Chinookans in the Astoria District had stabilized as a population, with the exact same numbers as the previous year census report (see above).
George Ambrose was newly appointed to Table Rock in 1855 after Palmer fired Culver for disreputable business practices. Ambrose supervised the removal of the tribes from Table Rock Reservation to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation from February to March 1856.
In 1855 Palmer moved most of the tribes from the Willamette Valley treaty to temporary reservations. He asked for a regular census, the following is one of two of these censuses that are available. The Census is one of the only censuses that lists tribal names. These are the men’s names with their family counts. The location was on the Milton Reservation, on the Columbia River (near St. Helens) for the Ne-pe-chuck and Klatsania (Clatskanie) Indians.
In January of 1856, Joel Palmer orders to tribes to remove to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation
On February 2nd Robert Metcalf arrived at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation with about 289 people from the Molalla, Umpqua, and Kalapuyan tribes. There is no enumeration offered so we have to use the next figures that we find for these peoples, the Hazel Map. That year, 1856, population counts are written on the planning map for the reservation.
On March 25th George Ambrose arrived at Grand Ronde with 395 people from Table Rock Reservation
25th Tuesday, clear & pleasant we got an early start this morning and after driving hard all day reach the reservation about four o’clock in the evening after driving a distance of sixteen miles, so ends my journey & journal after a period of thirty three days in which time we traveled a distance of two hundred & sixty miles started with three hundred and ninety five Indians. Eight deaths and eight births leaving the number the same as when we started.
The Hazen Map may be the first population count for the reservation. Its unclear when the numbers were written down, but they are relatively close to the numbers in the November 1856 count in correspondence reports.
The next population counts are perhaps the first total count for the reservation. In November 1856 when the count was taken, Joel Palmer has been fired, Edward Geary is now in charge of Indian Affairs and the reservation is full of sick people.
The September 1856 Health report for Grand Ronde also provides a raw population count which may be the first such for the reservation. In the following report, it is stated that there are 1950 people in the camp, with 613 who had been sick in camp, 9 deaths, and 145 remaining sick in either the hospital or in their tents (camp). The totals of sick people suggest some 31 percent of the people were sick in the last month. Comparing the census numbers of 1885 for November, with the 1950 count of September and it suggests that either many people died, of sickness, in a month, or some people left the reservation.
Beginning in June of 1856, there began additional removals from southwestern Oregon. Many tribal people were shipped to Portland from P0rt Orford, some to settle at Grand Ronde, and others to settle on the coast at the Nechesne River (Salmon River) and down to Newport. Other people were walked up the coast from Port Orford to settle on the coastline. Still, other peoples, the Coos, Coquille, Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua, and Yaquina were moved to the Yachats (Yahaats) and Yaquina sub-agencies, and the Alsea Agency on the southern section of the Coast Reservation. The Umpqua reservation was never fully vacated until the 1860s and remained active with lower Umpqua tribes. The Table Rock Reservation was vacated.
One of the last census accounts of this early era is the Barnhardt census of 1857, which is from the National Anthropological Archives (Barnhardt 2360 SWORP Collection, UO).
For years afterward, Native peoples were found and removed to the reservations. The Tillamook tribes were not forced to remove until 1876 or later, while the Cascades tribes were split up by the various agencies and some allowed to remain on the river. Other Cascades (Dog River-Hood Rover) moved to Warm Springs as the treaty had been left open to them. The Cascades on the north bank of the Columbia, many remained in place, and a few removed to White Salmon Reservation, and then to Yakima Reservation.
Population counts for all tribes continued to fall for a few decades, due to diseases, government neglect, malnutrition, and then by 1900 began to rise again.
All correspondence from RG 75 M2 Oregon Territorial Documents
Boyd Robert, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence. 1999
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.