Anson Dart’s Report on the Tribes and Treaties of Oregon, 1851


Here begins the report from Anson Dart of the treaties he has negotiated with the tribes. This report intends to introduce the treaties and the tribes to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. This letter precedes Dart’s travel with the treaties to Washington, D.C. where he personally introduces the 13 treaties to the Commissioner. The number is increase to 18 treaties later.

Office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs Oregon City, O.T. November 7th 1851

Hon L. Lea

Commissioner of Indian Affairs


You have herewith, thirteen Indian treaties; which cede to the United States more than six millions acres of land, lying upon both sides of the Columbia River, upon the Willamette River, and upon the Pacific Coast –  west of the Cascade Range of Mountains in Oregon.

This acreage is likely quite a bit more than Dart mentions here, more likely in the range of 19+ million acres, and contained lands in Oregon Territory as well as in the future Washington Territory.

The treaties concluded at Tansey-point (near the mouth of the Columbia) Cover a tract of over one hundred miles on the Pacific, running back along the Columbia about sixty miles; numbering in all, about three hundred and twenty souls. The Clatsops, who were the first treated with; interposed many objections to parting with their country upon any terms: they made many long and loud complaints, at the injustice done them by the Government; who they said had taken possession of their lands without paying the, – had allowed the white people – many years since – to occupy and buy and sell their country for which they had received no equivalent; pointing to instances where farms had been sold for from two to six thousand dollars, upon which lands the whites were making “much money”. Their first demands of the government notwithstanding their anxiety to get their pay- were very unreasonable. They assured me that they would not “talk” until I would stop the ships from coming into the Columbia, and destroy two saw-mills in the southern part of their country; which by their noise had frightened the fish away!,” Being assured of the impossibility of having their demands complied with; and after much talk in council; they concluded to waive these demands provided they could be permitted to have two reservations of about ten miles square each: this being objected to in like emphatic manner:

Settlement and land claims on Indian lands was quite common. The Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850 allowed Americans to lay claim up to a mile square for their Donation land Claim and certified the land-claims previously occupied by Americans. Such an action was illegal according to land laws in the United States, and the Northwest Ordinance that promised that Indian tribes would not be disturbed,  as Tribes has previous aboriginal land rights. But tribes in Oregon did not have lawyers or large armies to defend their rights in this time period. No apparent challenge to the US law took place and the DLCs that were taken before the tribal lands were sold by the tribes are illegitimate. Tribes were not compensated by the American government for their loss of the use of their lands, in some instances decades before the lands were ceded by treaties. The first American settlements begin with Fort Astoria in 1811, and with the French Prairie settlements in 1828. The first Oregon treaties that ended in ratification were signed in 1853, Rogue River and Umpqua treaties.

the Indians held a consultation with neighboring tribes which lasted two days, and finally agreed to one reservation, which should cover their burying grounds and lodges at Point Adams- making a tract three and a half miles in length- two miles wide at the north end, and one mile at the lower, or south end. As this tract had three claimants or settlers upon it, large offers were made the Indians to place the title to all in the United States, this they steadily declined leaving no alternative, but to allow this Reservation or not treat with them for the balance of their lands, being about five hundred thousand acres. That part of their lands known as “Clatsop Plains” is an open level country with a very rich soil nearly or quite every acre of which is claimed and occupied by white people; The balance of the purchase is timbered land, chiefly of the heaviest kind. (although it is called “timbered land” there are some prairies of small extent on both sides of the Columbia) The soil is of excellent quality for farming purposes and from its very advantageous situation upon the Columbia River, and Pacific Ocean affording superior facilities for exporting its timber and the products of the farmers, it cannot but prove of immense value to the United States. This too at a day I think, by no means far distant. The timber alluded to is mostly a species of fir, growing immensely large and tall. There are upon this purchase two never-failing mill-streams sufficiently large for any mill or manufacturing purposes, Besides these are large springs and spring-brooks in every part of the country west of the Cascade Mountains.

Dart here reveals the thrust of this report, Like Lewis and Clark’s reports before him, the value of the resources is what is important here. He is emphasizing the value of the lands that his treaties are purchasing.  Dart points out the value of the timber, of the agricultural lands, or vast plains of level land for farming. Dart whole intent is to conceptualize the environment not as Indian homelands, but as resources for the extraction of wealth for Americans. These are not just streams, but “Mill Streams” meaning suitable to situate a Lumber mill on them. These details seem a bit out of place for this report, as then the report is not about the Tribes and their treaties but about wealth extraction and exploitation of the environment, the major reason that Oregon was settled by Americans in the first place. Tribes in this model are barriers to full exploitation of the environment and their value systems are not desired. They are to be removed to reservations to end their connection with their homelands.

In relation to the conditions of the treaties made it is necessary first to inform you, that the habits and customs of these fishing Indians are unlike those of any other part of our domain. It is characteristic with them to be industrious. Almost without exception, I have found them anxious to get employed at Common labour and willing too, to work at prices, much below that demanded by the whites: The Indians make all the rails used in fencing, and at this time do the greater part of the labour in framing. They also do all the boating upon the rivers. In consideration therefore of their usefulness as labourers in the settlements, it was believed to be far better for the country that they should not be removed from the settled portion of Oregon if it were possible to do so, as alluded to in the Act of Congress of June 5th 1850. Let me here remark that the Treaty Commissioners, appointed under this act, used their best exertions to persuade all or either of the bands of the valley of the Willamette, to remove east of the mountains: but without success.

Indians in this section are conceptualized as laborers for the Americans. The key to exploiting the wealth of the region with only a few Americans yet settled, is to find laborers to help with the extraction of resources. Indians will work for next to nothing in wages so that will increase the profits of the American farmers and capitalists. And as Indians are not American citizens they would have few rights in society and few ways to defend themselves from exploitation.

The poor Indians are fully aware of the rapidity with which, as a people, they are wasting away, on this account they could not be persuaded to fix a time, beyond ten years to receive all of their money and pay for their lands, saying that they should not live beyond that period. They are fully sensible of the power of the government, admit that they can be killed and exterminated, but say they cannot be driven far from the homes and graves of their fathers. They further told me that if compensation for their lands was much longer withheld, the whites would have the lands for nothing.

Colonization of the Indian homelands, conflicts and the effects of disease were having an effect on the tribes, and then knew it. They were not passive participants in their history, but at one level they knew that selling their lands offered the best chance of survival of their people.

Believing as I do, that the food used by these Indians (being almost entirely of fish) tends much towards shortening their lives. I cannot but admit that there is great probability that only a very few years will pass ere they will all lie side by side with their Fathers and Braves, – the tribe or tribes extinct. When an Indian is sick, his only food is Salmon, which he must eat, or “nothing.” And I have observed that few- very few, ever recover from sickness. Owing to their wretched food in such cases, I was to include in their annuities, flour and bread: and to protect them from storms & inclement weather. I stipulated to furnish clothing sufficient for every adult, male and female in all of the several tribes treated with.

These notions of Dart seem more like urban legends. He knew nothing of nutrition or disease, or very dated knowledge of these things, and like so many of his kind that come out of a western civilization tradition, they assumed that their culture and foods were far superior to the Indian cultures and foods

You will observe that besides furnishing each band with provisions, which will go far towards their yearly subsistence. There are many useful farming tools and cooking utensils.

I am convinced that money or goods given to the Indians of the Pacific, beyond what is absolutely necessary for their subsistence from year to year- is worse than thrown away. It would however here remark, that in every case with the bands treated with, they are well satisfied with all the conditions and stipulations of their several treaties.

Again some odd statements by Dart. It appears that he has an assumption that Natives have no use for money or other goods, or would waste them, which is part of the assumption of the superiority of western civilization and the assumption that these crude savages could not conceptualize of the value of money or tools. Researching further, and the order to not give the Natives money is a direct order from The Commission or Indian affairs (letter of July 1850). Dart was ordered not to offer money to the tribes, and told that he could only offer supplies for subsistence.

It may not be uninteresting to inform you, that during each treaty concluded with the thirteen tribes, the entire band was present, men, women and children, and all were made to fully understand the importance and the conditions of the contract entered into. In most cases they were extremely anxious one and all to sign their names (make their mark) upon the treaty: In several cases every man living of the band did sign make his mark. I mention this to show you that a difficulty often arising in Indian Treaties, may not be looked for here. I allude to the many cases that have occurred, where loud complaints arose after a treaty was concluded- that the greater part of the tribe, were not parties to, or consulted during the negotiation.

Very interesting situation, to have all individuals of the tribes present at the treaty negotiations. Also somewhat disheartening as many tribes were down to a handful of individuals. This does suggest that Dart lead a bit more of an open dialogue.

The Lower band of Chinook Indians, which is the largest largest [sic] of that tribe; have their head-quarters at what is called Chinook point on the Columbia: and occupy at present, the country on the north side of that river directly opposite that of the Clatsops: As late as the year 1820, this point was the rendezvous of the most powerful nation upon the Pacific Coast; now wasted to a few over three hundred souls.

In going to council with this band, a difficulty arose which they assured me must be settled, before they were ready to “talk.” They stated that one Washington Hall, a white man, had laid claim to the ground covering their whole village, he had degraded himself by marrying one of their slaves: – was very obnoxious to al, the band; sought every means to drive them from their possessions, and had particularly annoyed them by fencing up all he fresh water and entirely excluding them from it, in short had done many acts, which compelled them to demand his removal as a first consideration; and we were obliged to agree to this requirement or abandon negotiations with them.

In continuing this subject I would here remark, that the removal of Hall, and the Clatsop reservation, seem to be the only grounds for objections raised against the ratification of the treaties: I should be sorry then, if a whiskey trader upon one side of the river and the influence of two or three settlers on the point of land which the Indians refused to sell, upon the other, – should interfere with their ratification.

Many of the American settlers would simply take land that the tribes depended on. This man Hill appears to have really worked to make the tribes angry. It was common for the early white male settlers to take Indian wives. See the essay about Robert Shortess for more about this.

The next treaty I would speak of in detail, is the one concluded the remnant bands of Wheelappas and Quillequeoquas. The only makes living of which tribes, are the two signers to the treaty: there are however several females – women and children yet living.

The tract of country purchased of them is situated on what is known as “shoal-water bay” upon the Pacific, having about twenty miles of coast and running back inland about forty miles – bounded on the north by the country owned by the Chehales Indians – on the east by the lands of the Cowlitz band, – and on the south by the lower band of Chinook’s.  This purchase is known to embrace a tract equal in fertility of soil, and quality of timber; to any portion of Oregon. It has extensive and beautiful groves of the Fir and Cedar, with small small [sic] Prairies interspersed; there are also large tracts of what is called “hard wood bottoms.” The surface is gently undulating and mill streams and fine brooks abound throughout the purchase.

You will perceive that this tract is set apart as an Indian Country or Reserve Provided all the neighbouring bands shall, within one year consent to occupy it, and give up their temporary rights of possession: This was not done at the suggestion of the Indians, but to gratify a large number of our own people, who believed these small bands on, and adjacent to the coast (should suitable provisions be made) could be persuaded to live together as one band or tribe. But in my opinion, there is not the least prospect that a single band will leave their present homes: in which case the country will be open for settlement within one year: – at the present time there is not a white man residing upon the purchase.

Dart mentions reservations throughout the report but its interesting that he avoids stating that the tribes insisted on reservations within their lands. He does state earlier that the tribes refused to move east. These reservations within the original tribal homelands, a part of all of the treaties from 1851, cause all of these treaties to fail in Congress. See the essay about Dart’s Letter to the Commissioner for more about this.

“Wallooska” is the only male survivor of a tribe, once of some note. The tract purchased of him, joining the Clatsops on the east is mainly valuable for its immense forests of and variety of choice timber. The Southern part is very hilly almost mountainous – yet every where covered with the timber described. Lewis and Clark’s river, (where these travellers wintered) is a superior mill-stream, there are others – smaller streams in different parts all valuable for milling or agricultural purposes. It is equally true of this, as of the other purchases, that the soil is good and has every indication of being susceptible of high cultivation.

The Kathlamet band of Chinooks, cede a valuable body of land to the United States – extending from the Ah-pin-pin point forty miles along the south side of the Columbia- running back (south) about twenty miles. Astoria and Fort George are upon this tract. Dense forests of various kinds of valuable timber with some small prairies, and many mill-streams- are the principal features of the country. The great growth of timber and underbrush here, rendered it extremely difficult for me to examine as much of the tract as I desired, but I informed myself very particularly from those who had made personal inspection of it- this band reserves from sale two small islands in the Columbia.

Many tribes in on the Columbia valued their islands, some for their rich resources, for fishing or summer villages, and many because islands were burial locations.

The Treaty with the Tillamooks secures a valuable country resembling the Clatsop Plains- and is directly south of that tract, it is very even and regular along the Coast, but approaching the Mountains it is uneven and hilly. Tillamook Bay affords a fine harbor with sufficient depth of water on the bar for vessels drawing twelve feet of water; there are no less than five considerable streams putting into the bay; the valley of one of which extends fifty miles along the stream, making richest of bottom land. Much of this purchase is open country and as far as known, without settlers. Travellers all concur in representing it as offering equal inducements to settlers with any portion of Oregon.

Dart’s message here is the Tillamook area is perfect for settlement and can sustain maritime trade.

The lands ceded by the Naukikam and Konniack bands of Chinooks is every where densely covered with timber, and has many very valuable mill powers upon it; that part lying upon and for two or three miles back from the Columbia, is very hilly with many bluffs and deep ravines. The balance is moderately rolling, and susceptible of cultivation. The Cowlitz river near the east side of the tract is sufficiently large for steamboats To the rapids fifteen miles up from the Columbia, at the rapids it is a series of falls suitable for milling purposes which extend many miles up [sic] interior.

The country ceded by the Konniack’s [sic] upon the south side of the Columbia is composed of flat lands adjacent to this river, with deep, rich soil, then gradually rolling, but good framing land extends to the bounds of the Klatskania’s above mentioned, and as an instance to show the rapidity with which the Indian upon these shores is passing away. I will relate, that this tribe was, at the first settlement of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Oregon; so warlike and formidable that the Company’s men dare not pass their possessions along the river, in less numbers than sixty armed men; and then often at considerable loss of life and always at great hazard. The Indians were in the habit of enforcing tribute upon all the neighboring tribes who passed in the river, and disputed the right of any persons to pass them except upon these conditions. The tribe is now reduced to three men and five women.- The face and character of their country is similar to that previously purchased along the river, (of the Konniack’s).

Nice description of the “warlike” Konniack, likely also later called the Skilloot (Skillute) Indians whose main village was at Konniack. This description is rare as the Skilloot were normally written about as intermediary traders on the Columbia. By 1855 the Skilloot population was  only a couple dozen individuals.

The two treaties made at Port Orford upon the Pacific embrace a valuable tract of country, not only on account of the great value of its timber, but having two good harbours upon the Pacific, viz. at Port Orford and mouth of the Coquille River, – in addition to the harbor at Coquille that river is navigable for large steamboats seventy miles interior. The bottom-lands along this stream are from ten to twenty miles in width, and I think in fertility of soil are not surpassed in the United States: the whole tract will be rapidly settled first, on account of its proximity to the gold-mines, again its inducements in an agricultural point of view, and thirdly on account of the easy access to its almost interminable forests of cedar. The total number of Indians living upon this tract is ascertained to be about five hundred souls, have had little intercourse with the whites, and live in an almost entirely denuded state: they have no idea whatever of the value of money or many articles of use and value among other tribes; yet it is believed that they will in every particular, scrupulously adhere to the contract which they have entered into with the Government.

The Coquille Indians, of whom so much has been said connected with the murder of T’Vault’s party – have not been as yet treated with, their country lies adjacent on the north, beyond the river bearing their name.

Port Orford and the Coquille area became famous with the Conflict at Battle Rock and the events surrounding the settlement of Port Orford. Jedediah Smith also had a famous journey up into the Coquille area in the 1820s, when his whole party was killed, except four men.

I will now speak of the Clackamas treaty; the last, and decidedly the most important one concluded among the thirteen bands or tribes of Indians. It embraces a country more thickly settled than any portion of Oregon. The flourishing town of Milwaukee on the Willamette River, is upon the purchase; and immediately on its southern border adjoining, is Oregon City, the largest town in the Territory. Woodland and Prairie; conveniently situated for farm make up, the western portion of the tract, and upon the North, or Columbia side of the country –  as well as adjoining the Willamette on the West, are extensive and rich river bottoms, there is much of this kind of land also on a considerable stream, washing the base of the Cascade range of the Mountains called “Sandy River” (which joins the Columbia near the north east part of the purchase).

The Clackamas river, which empties into the Willamette just below Oregon City, is a dashing never failing stream, upon which are many mills, affording besides their power for many more: there  are now in operation about twenty mills in different parts of the tract. I will mention that instances have occurred when farming lands have been sold for fifty dollars per acre: this was of course upon the western or best settled portion of the purchase.

The whole eastern side of the Clackamas lands is covered with a dense growth of Fir and Cedar timber, and has not been much explored; at least not sufficiently for me to give a minute description in these papers.

I was induced to negotiate this treaty, although there was an informality connected with it, but which I hope will not prove a serious obstacle to its ratification. I allude to the fact of there having been no one associated with me on the part of the United States. In conformity to the Act of February last, you did associate with me Henry H. Spaulding and Beverly S. Allen but the first named having been removed and his successor not having conferred upon him the power to act with me- and Mr.­ Allen declining the office –  left me the responsibility of acting alone on the part of the Government.

At first many unsuccessful efforts were made to negotiate with them, owing to demands made [by] them, which were unreasonable, and even impossible to comply with; at several of our meetings, they refused to sell the most valuable part of their lands, but at length, came and expressed their willingness to be governed in their sale, entirely by my readiness to do them justice; and would submit the matter entirely to me as to the reservations, and other preliminaries connected with the sale. The same terms as contained in the treaty were then submitted to them upon which they deliberated a few days – then they met [with every] male person in the tribe and desired the treaty to be drawn up accordingly. To conclude, I would say, that I found so many persons anxious and deeply interested in the result, that I assume the responsibility before mentioned, of acting alone.

The Clackamas proved tough, Dart had to return to them some 8 months after the original negotiations. They likely did not like the thought of giving up their place at the falls, likely the most important traditional cultural resource in western Oregon. This final treaty is the only treaty that included fishing rights, which sadly are never ratified. They sign onto the Willamette valley treaty in 1855.

In concluding this Report I would say, that I have sought to embrace the principal and important features connected with the treaties herewith submitted; without great care as to the manner of arrangement.

I desire time to become more thoroughly acquainted with each and every band of Indians in this important and interesting section; as well as to examine personally tracts of country occupied by them; (portions of which have been but little explored -) before I can enlarge upon many subjects but briefly alluded to in their Report.

I have the honor to be your Obt. Servt.

Anson Dart

Superintendent of Indian Affairs

Oregon T.


Dart was a relative newcomer to Oregon, as he was hired and sent from his home in the east to be the superintendent. He did not have much previous knowledge of Oregon and this shows in his report as he makes many uninformed statements from short meetings with the tribes. His successor Joel Palmer, who is appointed in 1853, had already been in Oregon for at least 9-10 years. Palmer already knew the tribes and had served roles in the territorial government and as a general (of supplies) in the Oregon Territorial Ranger militia.



Microcopy no. T-494, Documents Relating to the Negotiating of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Tribes of Indians, 1801-69(Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs), Roll 8, Unratified Treaties, 1821-65, The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, Washington: 1960, [Begin page 333]

Transcription by David G. Lewis


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