Yachats, today, is a tourist area on the Oregon Coast. The area is known for its amazingly beautiful coastline, for sea lions, and whale watching and weekend vacationing. That reputation is in stark contrast to the original use of the location in the mid-nineteenth century as an Indian reservation, a sub-agency of the larger Alsea Reservation within the Coast Reservation lands. The Yachats sub-agency was where Indian tribes from the Coos Bay, Lower Umpqua, Alsea, Coquille, and Siuslaw rivers were relocated temporarily in preparation for permanent removal. This action freed all of the lands around Coos Bay and many other river basins for white settlement. Through these actions the tribes involved lost all their lands and were not paid from them for about 150 years.
The history of what occurred on that sub-agency is not well known. The Alsea Reservation generally is also not well recorded historically, compared to Siletz and Grand Ronde. The Alsea Reservation existed from about 1860 to 1875 or 1876 when the majority of the Coast Indian reservation was terminated, leaving the Siletz Reservation as the last remaining piece of the original 1.1 million acre reservation that extended 100 miles along the Oregon Coast. The Alsea and its sub-agencies, Yaquina and Yahaats, these lands were opened to white settlement and the tribes were supposed to be removed to the Siletz Reservation and settled in the Siletz Valley.
Some of these Alsea reservation peoples were instead placed at the Salmon River Encampment with the Tillamook tribes, especially the Nachesne-Salmon River Indians. Correspondence reports from Indian agents suggest that the Alsea Reservation peoples were promised houses and they were started at Salmon River, but never completed.
The Coast Reservation (including Siletz Agency and the subagencies on the coast) were supposed to be fully supported by the Federal government but for a good number of years, there was only 10,000 to support the reservation each years, to be split up amount the various subagencies. The situation seems to have occurred because most of the tribes placed on the Coats reservation did not have ratified treaties, and as such did not have any guaranteed money to allocate to the 1.1 million acre Coast reservation. The Coast Reservation was wholly dependent on the good-will off Congress to appropriate the necessary funding. Then, it also appears, that the Indian Superintendents of Oregon may have reallocated some money which normally which have been allocated to Grand Ronde Reservation, where the tribes had seven ratified treaties, to the Coast Reservation instead.
Therefore,the poverty and lack of food and services described by the Coos Indians, below, is likely because of the very lean support they were receiving from the Federal Government. The main reservations (Siletz and Grand Ronde) got the money and the rest had to fend for themselves. In about 1858, the Federal government realized that they would not be able to purchase food and services for all 4,000 western Oregon Indians, and so instituted a policy of making them grow, hunt or fish for much of their sustenance. So the peoples at Yahaats were wholly dependent on fishing, shellfish gathering and hunting. Growing food was attempted in this area of the coast but wheat does not do well there, and so crops like potatoes would have done much better. Still it appears people simply starved to death, maybe as many as half of them, also many took ill from introduced diseases, or tried to escape.
The treatment of the tribes were really up to the discretion of the agents. Some appears to have been especially strict and violent, flogging the Indians who tried to escape. Then every two years or so there was likely a round up of escaped Indians from the local towns, like Marshfield, Coos Bay, Empire etc. The same sort of round-ups occurred in inland towns, Corvallis, Salem, Roseberg, Jacksonville for other tribal people who escaped from Grand Ronde or Siletz.
The transcription below is based on the 1931 Transcription of the Case of the Coos Indians Etc. vs The United States. The tribes collectively were trying to get paid for their lands, land that had been taken away, under promise of the Coast Indian treaty. This treaty was never ratified yet the tribes were still removed. This was an illegal act by the Federal Government, to remove all these people and not pay them for their lands for some 150 years. The treaty was found buried in federal archives in about 1913 by George Wasson Sr. (It also appears that some of the searching for this treaty may have been spurred by interactions with anthropologist Leo J. Frachtenberg, who in 1910, who was collecting Coos Oral traditions, and perhaps helped them with the research for the treaty.) This first case in 1931 failed, the tribes lost in federal court. The tribes never got their due until the 1980s when they were restored as The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw.
This story is so much more than this short essay. Additional narratives may be gotten from other ethnographic notes, including those of J.P Harrington, which are now online. The transcription below is abridged from the original to only include subjects related to the Yahaats sub-agency.
George W. Jackson
[the Coos Bay Indians] had rough shanties for homes, all one story; and they had their canoe for transportation, and a few horses, but as there were few roads in the country they did not have a great deal of use for the horses. As to food, they gathered clams, crabs, mussels, and fish. They dried the clams, mussels, and fish; and also they went into the interior in the season and got myrtle nuts, I suppose up the Coquille River and Coos River; and they got produce from the farmers where they were acquainted, such as potatoes and squash. They were great hands for squash and apples. And they dried a good many blackberries in the blackberry season; and their elk and deer meat they dried and different kinds of game.
The Coos Indians… for a short time at intervals… they were removed from their homes by Indian agents. The agent would come down, collect them, take them up there (to Yahaats) and I suppose, count to report to the Government at Washington and not furnish them any food stuffs and the Indians would run away, as they called it, and return to Coos Bay having a hard time as they had very little food stuffs, principally mussels and clams that that gathered along the beach enroute.
[The Coos Bay Indians] removal from this country was on account of the Rogue River war south of here. [They were removed to] fort Umpqua, the Indian name Chilaquedge. They were treated fairly well by an Indian Agent named Dr. Drew. [They remained] about 4 years. [After they went] up to Yahaats, … south of Alsea and north of Siuslaw…. Some were there about 15 years… They were held at Yahaats and supposed to be under the authority of the United States Government… We were treated very poorly, We were penned up same as a pen of hogs… I was with them [at Yahaats] all the time… They obtained their livelihood from hunting, fishing, and gathering shell fish, such as mussels, off the Ocean rocks… We were compelled to work.
[After we left we went] to Siuslaw… Some remained at Siuslaw, some journeyed to Umpqua, and some to Coos Bay. [The Government] they did not give them any money,… they did not give them any money or anything [land].
[The Coos Indians at Yahaats] were fenced in like chickens… The agent was there. He did not help them. He just watched them and kept them together.
[Was any punishment administered to the Coos Indians while at Yahaats?] Only one person. They beat him up like a dog when he ran away. [Any other incidents of Ill treatment?] The Ill treatment he knows is that they were starving…. Only half of them died [while at Yahaats].
[What promises, if any, were made by the Government to the Indians when they were taken away from Coos Bay and removed to Fort Umpqua or when they were taken from Fort Umpqua and removed to Yahaats?] The promise was made to them that they were removing from Empire to Fort Umpqua that the Government would pay for their land… Coos county. [The Government] never paid anything,… [the Coos Lands were never given back to them.] … General Palmer told them that the Government would pay for their land that was taken… I have heard him say that. [He was at] Cowiledge [Coos Bay town, now called] Winchester Bay. [What do you mean by Coos Lands?] The thing that I meant is that the Government has never offered to give the land back to the Indians. It is the home that belongs to us.
[When the Coos Bay Indians were taken to Yahaats were they kept inside of a stockade or fence?] He says that he did not know that only they were corralled up same as cattle- had no house. [I ask you again what you mean when you say corralled, that the Indians were kept inside a fence of what might be called a corral or fence?] The thing I mean was ‘cause we were corralled up by the Indian agent and not allowed to go and work for our livelihood. [Then the corral you spoke of was not a corral built of logs and poles, but you meant by the corral the orders of the agent. What that it?] Yes, the corral is an illustration of how we were corralled up by Government officials. [Then when you used the expression “penned up like hogs” you didn’t mean to imply that you were penned in a pen like hogs are penned up, did you?] I make the explanation that the people were filthy and could not keep clean from filth. Therefore I used that expression of “hog corral”. … We were permitted to get fish and get mussels off the rocks. That was the only food we got. [Did the Indians have any elk meat or deer meat that they killed themselves while they were at Yahaats?] Yes, they had dried elk meat and dried deer meat…. There was a large stream at Yahaats. We were permitted to go there and bathe but it did not do much good because we did not have any laundry soap.
Prior to taking possession of our country we were happy and there was no trouble between us and the white residents and I feel sorry to think that we are in most destitute circumstances; that the white people have come and reaped the golden harvest of our country while a number of us are not today living from hand to mouth. At the time when the country was taken away from us we believed within our own hearts that the promises of the whites were fully as good as the promises of the Indians. Through the promises we moved away and gave up everything. I think under the terms of the treaty what it would a wise thing if the Government of the United States would reconsider the situation of these destitute Indians. We have waited in vain for the period of seventy-six long years and we would like to have a settlement of some kind from our Government. (p. 37)
[Do you know how old you were when you were taken to Yahaats?] No I was small. I don’t think I was more than a couple years old, near as I could remember. [How old were you when you left Yahaats?] I must be about 15 years, something like that, maybe more…. [Did the Government give your people any land or money when you left Yahaats?] They never offered anything. I didn’t know what was wrong. We just simply quit working.
[What was your age when you left Yahaats?] About 10 years old. [Where did you go from there?] To the Siuslaw country. [ Tell us what you saw during your life at Yahaats in regard to the treatment of the Indians by the Government employees.] I tell you I could not have remembered very much of what happened during my lifetime at Yahaats… I remember that we had very poor treatment in the hands of the cruel Indian Agent… My people were compelled to go out and work, both in pleasant or in the severest kind of weather for the Government and in return they received nothing for their labor. There was an Indian Agent by the name of George Collins who was very cruel to the Indians. He would compel the Indians to work for him without allowing them any rations to live on while they were working for him. Under George Litchfield’s administration we were fairly well treated. The school was taught under his terms. However, the Indians did not get any rations form the Government all while we attended school. We had no such things as bread and butter or bacon for our lunch. Our lunch was chiefly of mussels, smoked salmon, and elk meat. [provided by] my own people.
[What provision was made for the Indians at Yahaats in the way of habitations or dwellings?] Very poor- there were none. [Were there dwelling houses provided for the Indians?] Yes, there was such as they would split out of timber, clapboards, or shakes, or whatever you might call it. [Who split the timbers, shakes, or clapboards?] The men folks and the women packed it out of the woods…. Indians.
[Do you remember the time when the Indians were released from Yahaats?] Yes. [What did the Government give the Indians at that time?] The Government gave at that time just what the boy shot at- nothing. [Where did the Indians that had been at Yahaats go after leaving there?] They emigrated to Siuslaw and some to Umpqua and some to Coos bay. [Were the lands they had left at Coos Bay and on the Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw restore to them at that time?] No sir, not to my knowledge. [Did you yourself, after leaving Yahaats and becoming of age acquire any lands in either the Siuslaw, the Lower Umpqua, or the Coos Bay country?] I had a homestead up Siuslaw… I took up 120 acres under the General Land Laws. [Dawes Act Indian Allotments, 1887]
Well I can frankly say that the country that is now occupied by the white people it once belonged to my people many years ago and the white people under Mr. Joel Palmer that entered the treaty with the Coos Bay Indians in the year 1855 made promises to the Indians that the Government would pay them for their lands and that the Government would also furnish them houses and erect sawmills for them and furnish live stock and build schools and churches and according to this convention the Indians were moved on the North Bank of the Coos Bay and they remained at the north bank until their removal to Fort Umpqua. They were held at Fort Umpqua for some length of time, I don’t know just how long, and they were removed again, as I have been informed, contrary to their wishes, to the Yahaats country and there they have toiled for a number of years and they have no school that was promised to them; they have never seen it. I oftentimes wonder why the Government did not fulfill their part of the contract while they carried out their part in good faith and for all the good spirit they have towards their white fellowman they receive in return cruelty. That is all I got to say.
I was born at Yaquina Bay. [How old were you when the Indians left Yahaats?] I don’t know maybe 10 years old. [When did you come to Coos Bay to live?] Soon as they turned the Indians off Yahaats we left there; then staid at Siuslaw about a year, then we came here… [How long did you live with your mother at the place where you were born?] I didn’t live there. My father fishing there on the Yaquina.
We resided there (Willanch, Coos Bay Town) only one month and then they moved us up to Yahaats. [How long did you remain at Yahaats?] Been there all the time until they discontinued the Yahaats Reservation… [Tell us what you can remember of your life while you were kept at Yahaats.] I can remember that we were in very needy circumstances. [What tribe do you belong to?] Coos tribe. [Where did you go from Yahaats?] To Siuslaw. [ How long did you stay at Siuslaw?] I don’t know how long I have staid there. Have no way of knowing it. [Where do you go from Siuslaw?] Coos country. [What place in the Coos Country did you come to?] Hanasitch.
[Tell us who provided a living, if anyone, for the Indians at Yahaats while you lived there.] No one provided food for us only what we secured for ourselves. [Tell us what you know, if anything, about the Indians running away from Yahaats and being brought back by Government authority.] The reason why they do run away from Yahaats because of them being on the point of starvation. [Tell us what you know, if anything, about punishment being administered to those that ran away and were brought back.] They have posts and to these posts they would tie them and flog them. That might seem unreasonable but that is just what they did. [You may give any cases or instances that you may remember of punishment being administered by the Government officials to the Indians that ran away and were brought back.] I don’t care to dwell any longer on the treatment that was given to them.
[When the Indians left Yahaats did the Government give them any land or any money or provisions?] No, never gave us no provisions or no money. [Did the Government restore to you the use and occupation of the lands that you were taken from when you were removed to Yahaats?] The Government don’t restore no land to us. [Who supported the Indians after they left Yahaats?] The Siuslaw Indians have given us provisions after we left Yahaats. [After that time, did the Government supply the necessities of the Indians?] No, after that time the Government did not give us anything. [How did the Indians make their living?] Fishing. [Tell us whether or not the Indians, when they got back to their homes, worked for the white people in the country.] Yes, they worked out for the white people to earn money to buy provisions and clothing.
[I don’t like to distress the witness with question concerning the punishment that she says occurred at Yahaats, but I want to ask just one or two questions. How many persons did you yourself see who were tied to a post and flogged?] It is several of them who have been an eye witness. [I ask you how many you yourself had seen.] I don’t remember by there was many of them who the agent would gather them together to see the performance carried on. The object of the spectators at this place is to teach the lesson to the other Indians that they may not run again from the agency without consent of the agent. [I must ask you again: What is your best recollection of the number of persons who you saw tied to a post and flogged?] At that time I could not tell ’cause I did not count them. But I saw the performance. [If you can give the name of any of the Indians what were punished in the way you mention please do so.] I know the names of their villages. Their names go by the villages that they belong to. Those who were punished were: Milokwitch, Hanasitch- would be about two or three from Hanasitch, and about the same amount from Intesedge. That is as much as I remember.
Long years ago my parents were living happy in their own homes. They have abundance of food of all kinds such as fish and game from the forest of the Coos Bay country. Immediately after the whites came to our country we then right away experience hardships and we have no way of remedying condition that we once enjoyed. That is all.
[Do you remember the time when the Indians were removed from the Coos country to Yahaats?] I remember when they was taken- a few of them that ran away. [Tell us what you know the run-away Indians being taken back to Yahaats.] I know one run- away was my mother’s uncle. He was one that was tied to a post and licked. [What was his name?] The Indian called him Jahagh. They tried to call him George. He has an Indians name but I couldn’t think of it. [Do you remember when the Indians came back from Yahaats to their old homes?] No. I don’t remember when. [Do you know whether their lands were given back to them in the Coos country when they came back from Yahaats.] No, I have always heard them say they did not give them back their lands.
[Were you yourself ever taken to Yahaats?] No sir. [When you spoke of your uncle being tied to a post and licked, you did not see that yourself?] No, I did not. My mother used to tell about it. They talked about it so much I remember it. [How many times, if you know, did your uncle run away from Yahaats?] I don’t think he ran away any more.
[Tell us what you remember, if anything, Mrs. Codding, about the Indians who had been taken to Yahaats escaping and returning to Coos Bay.] I don’t remember very much about that only just what I heard them talking about. [Who were some of the old members of the Coos Bay tribe that you can now recall?] Jackson, his Indian name was Deloos; Bob, they called him Indian Bob, and Emily, his wife; Ned- I don’t know what his Indian name was, they called him Indian Ned. There were a number of other Indians but I can’t recall whether they were Cos Indians or Coquille Indians. Quite a number of them settled here after the whites came in.
[Was your mother or grandmother or any other member of your family taken by the soldiers to Yahaats?] I guess my mother was taken there when she was a little girl.
Mrs. Wm Waters
[Tell us what you now about the Coos Bay Indians being removed from their homes here by the soldiers in 1869.] I was nine years old when I see them go with the big row boats. [Were any of your father’s family removed to Yahaats by the soldiers?] Lots of times. [Was your mother removed to Yahaats?] One time she did. She come back again. [Were you removed to Yahaats?] No. [Were any of your brothers or sisters taken to Yahaats?] Yes, my uncles and cousins and aunties. [Tell us what you know about any of the Indians running away from Yahaats and coming back to Coos Bay.] Some used to come back. My father had a home across the bay. [Who came to take them back to Yahaats?] Soldiers. [Did you ever see them being taken back?] Yes, I see them go by…. Yes, every two years I used to see them going back.
My uncle he like white people, he loved white people. He didn’t care what they did- burn his baskets and his Indian house but still he loves white people. He was a good Indian. He never drink. That was only Indian who didn’t drink. That was ‘cause he was old-fashioned, I guess.
Well all I know about this is what the Indians told me. If they told me once they told me a hundred times that the Government stole the land from them and they always stuck to it. They claimed they never got a cent. Only trouble with this claim now is that it is coming so long after, they got to take it as they can get it. There is nobody alive now knows the history of Oregon as it is. The treaty with the Indians was made by Joel Palmer in 1855 and he promised to pay them for their land. I don’t know of anything else I can think of.
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.