For more than 10,000 years the Takelma peoples lived in a vast area of southern Oregon encompassing Table Rocks. Their close neighbors were the Athapaskan, Molalla and Shasta tribes who they traded and had political relations with. The region of these tribes included the Table Rocks area (Rogue River Valley) which was the traditional homelands of the Takelma tribe. The Takelma were divided by the upland Takelma and valley Takelma. They were the original Rogue River Tribe who lived along the Rogue River and Illinois rivers. They became one of the “Rogue River tribes” along with the Athapaskan (Chasta Costa), and Shasta who joined together in a confederacy to defend their homelands from newcomer settlers and miners who did not respect the previous tribal claims to the land. From the late 1840s until about 1857, there were numerous conflicts and battles in the area between the Rogue River tribes and the newcomers. The culmination of the early conflicts were the treaties of 1853 and 1854 with some of the Rogue River tribes that ceded millions of acres of land to the United States in exchange for peace, safety, and a permanent reservation.
Before a permanent reservation was organized, the Rogue River tribes were temporarily removed to the Table Rock Reservation. The reservation encompassed Lower Table Rock, half of Upper Table Rock and a wide expanse of the valleys and canyons in between along the Rogue River. Settler militias chose to continue to attack the tribes on the reservation in an attempt to exterminate all Indians in southern Oregon. Some of the most powerful tribes chose to form a confederacy and leave the reservation to protect themselves, and fought a series of pitched battles through the Siskiyou Mountains where many people on both sides were killed.
In 1855, the United States Army under General John E. Wool (Commander of the Pacific) and the Indian Superintendent of Oregon, Joel Palmer, acted to separate the combatants permanently and the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation was opened in the western Willamette Valley in January of 1856. The first tribes to arrive were the local Kalapuyans, and the Umpqua tribes arrived in late February. The peaceful tribes who remained on the Table Rock Reservation were marched in the dead of winter, over 300 miles to the new encampment – the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation- between February and March 1856. The tribal story tells of how seven people died on the removal, while seven babies were born. The tribes were harassed by settlers all the way to the reservation, and while at the reservation they were settled along the South Yamhill River. These removals are known as the Grand Ronde “Trails of Tears.” In the summer of that year, the remaining tribes surrendered and were shipped to Grand Ronde and locations along the coast. In 1857, the Grand Ronde Reservation became a permanent reservation by presidential executive order.
In 1857, about 2/3rds of the Rogue Tribe were removed to the newly opened Siletz Agency on the Coast Reservation. To Grand Ronde remained some 27 other tribes from the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River, the Umpqua valley and the Cascade range. Many descendants of the western Oregon tribes are at two reservations, Grand Ronde and Siletz, and they possess native ancestral bloodlines from five or more of the tribes of Oregon.
Tecumtum (Chief John), was a Rogue River Indian leader in the mid-1800s who lived at nearby Deer Creek. Tecumtum was the Principle Chief of the Etch-ka-taw-wah band of Takelma. He was known to the area’s miners and settlers as “Chief John”, “Tyee John” and “Elk Killer”. Tecumtum signed two treaties with the United States as Principle Chief of his tribe, the Treaty with the Rogue River 1853 and the Treaty with the Rogue River 1854. Tecumtum, after a brief removal to the Table Rock Reservation was forced to defend his people and flee the reservation after attacks by area settlers. Tecumtum and his band remained in the Coast Range fighting pitched battles and was the last of the area’s Native headmen to surrender to the U. S. Army near the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois rivers in the spring of 1856. Tecumtum and his band were marched overland along the coast trail to the Coast Reservation in the summer of 1856.
After their removal, and some years had passed, Tecumtum found that many of his people were dying of white men’s diseases and the promises made by the Americans had not come to his people on the reservation. It appeared to be that the tribes responsible for leaving the reservation and fighting the Americans had been removed to Siletz, that the government believed they had breached the terms of the treaty, to remain peaceful, and therefore no longer were owed treaty payments. But if this is so, the Americans did not recognize the pressure the tribes were under at the Table Rock Reservation, when the volunteer militias continued to attack and kill the Rogue River people in a series of attempts at extermination. It remains to be determined which party violated the terms of the treaty first. However the tribes at Siletz did not have treaty funding and they had to depend on the annual appropriations of Congress for funding for the Reservation of over 2000 people. So, Tecumtum used powerful oratory to plead (unsuccessfully) to his fellow Tribal peoples to be allowed to return to his “Deer Creek home” by escaping in the night. His son killed a shaman and because of the agitation on the reservation by his family, he and his son were arrested to be sent to prison. In 1862, after a long imprisonment at The Presidio in San Francisco, Tecumtum returned to Oregon to live at the Grand Ronde Reservation with his daughters who had appealed for his release. Tecumtum died on June 6, 1864 at the Grand Ronde Reservation.
The tribes of the region signed three treaties significant to keeping peace. The 1853 Rogue River treaty separated the tribes from the settlers and created the Table Rock Indian Reservation. Chiefs received their own houses and began keeping herds of horses and cattle. They remained on the reservation in peace. The reservation was managed by Fort Lane, which included a blockhouse and a detachment of dragoons, mounted infantry. In 1854 another treaty was signed with the Rogue River tribes which allowed for other area tribes to come onto the reservation. In 1854 a treaty was signed with the Chasta Costa, and these Athapaskan tribes come onto the Table Rock Reservation. Finally, there were some Shasta tribes on the reservation, those gathered from their northern villages in the Ashland area. (Shasta and Chasta are two different tribes)
Table Rock Indian Reservation encompassed all of Lower Table Rock and half of Upper Table Rock and the valley between, the valley was called Sam’s Valley after Chief Sam. The Takelma tribes knew and utilized the Table Rocks regularly. When the 1853 treaty was being negotiated and signed, the location was at the base of Lower Table Rock, by the Rogue River across from the entrance of Bear Creek. The rest of the tribe was situated all along the top of Lower Table Rock watching the proceedings. Table Rock was a sacred place for the tribe. The tribes called Table Rock “Titanakh” or “Di’tani.”
Living with the Seasons
From time immemorial, the native peoples have live here and utilized the environment to live a good life. The Takelma of the Rogue valley lived within the acorn culture, where they would gather and process acorn mush every year. They also gathered camas, manzanita berries and huckleberries and weaving materials. The tribes were weavers and hunters and fishers and lived a very good life. They would utilize plankhouses and river canoes for travelling. They primarily hunted with a bow and were expert marksmen.
During summer, families traveled to the cooler, forested uplands and harvested berries, dug camas, hunted and fished. When autumn arrived, people returned to the winter plankhouses and begin harvesting acorns from the plentiful oaks. During winter, men hunted for deer and elk and fished for steelhead trout. The people lived off the dried and stored abundance of the summer’s harvest. Spring was a time for gathering, Weaving materials were ready for harvest and animals and fish were newly arriving for the season.
When the tribes were moved from their lands, they changed their lifeways forever.
These essays were written for another project with the Medford BLM. They have since been edited.
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.