The Original 1855 Belden Map, Compared to the Redrafted Version

In 1855, the United States was on a campaign to purchase all of the land from the Oregon Tribes and remove them to reservations. Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, was working hard to make all arrangements for the removal of the tribes. In January of 1855, he met with the Kalapuya, Molalla and Cascades chiefs and they signed onto the Willamette Valley Treaty. By January 22nd, all of the tribes were signed for the Willamette Valley,  the Cascades foothills, and the central section of the lower Columbia River. The treaty was sent to Congress and was ratified in early March 1855. So, after, Palmer began removing all of the tribes to temporary reservations in preparation for a move to a permanent reservation on the Oregon Coast. These details are now well recorded in numerous essays on this blog and in history books about the time period.

Some important facts still raise questions. What is the exact ceded area of the tribes? When did they remove? What happened to them on these temporary reservations? This blog has tried to answer these important questions in many essays. One of the resources scholars have looked at to find the description of the ceded lands, or the traditional territory of the tribes are several maps drawn by members, usually, of the treaty commission. One of the most important maps, the Belden Map of 1855, shows the territorial outlines of the ceded territories of the tribes for all tribes of Oregon. The map also states the name of the tribes, and the date of their signing of their respective treaties. The map goes further to outline the early reservations for the Rogue River Indian reservation (Table Rock), and the Umpqua reservation. In 1855, it was still unclear where the other reservations were to be placed, but there are notations and even outlines for the  Walla-Walla Reservation (later Warm Springs), and the proposed Coast Reservation.

The limiting problem has been, for scholars, of finding the original maps, as many have been lost in federal archives for over a century. We have used redrawn and copied maps from later dates that sometimes have elements added after the maps were originally produced. In regards to the Belden Map, for years this has been a problem because there are obvious incomplete details on the map. Knowing this, sometime in about 2010, I led a day project to acquire better images of the Belden map from the Congressional serial set. I had found that it was included in a congressional report, in about 1897 (or so?), and so I went to the Oregon State Archives to find that map, in their collections,  in its original reprinted form. I was able to get a good number of high definition photos of the map that day (thanks Michelle Alaimo!), and have used them ever since.

Recently (12/15/2017), I was looking around at maps on the National Archives website, and found what appears to be the original Belden Map. Now, I am looking to compare the two versions I have, and, I generally find that the original has more detail.

Redrafted version of the Belden Map, 1855

The Molalla section of their ceded lands  (southern Molalla) was clearly added later, after the original map was drawn, probably in March 1855. On the original Belden map (below), the Molalla ceded area is drawn in a blue-ish pencil, and the name and date are also in this same different blue pencil.

(assumed) Original Belden Map 1855

The Walla Walla and Wascos signed one of the treaties of Middle Oregon, June 25, 1855 and their area is also drawn in blue pencil

Its clear that the Walla Walla and Wasco purchase was also later, after the map was originally drawn.  The lines have faded with time. (Tom Connelly, in comments elsewhere, pointed out that in the original map, (below) there is a straight line at willow creek (right side of this section), that cuts the turn in the creek, which does not appear in the redrafted version (above), instead the ceded territory line is shown to follow the creek.

Interesting that there is a section of the Walla Walla and Wasco ceded landclaim, that clearly overlaps with the Kalapuya and Molalla claims, from the Willamette Valley treaty.

section of original map showing clear overlap, on the left, of  the Kalapuya,  and Walla Walla and Wasco claims
redrawn map of same section, but the detail is less distinct, leading perhaps to some confusion over these land claims between the present day tribes. What does it mean to have an overlapping land claim?

Umpqua reservation, below,  is perhaps more pronounced in the redrawn version, but it appears that the versions are essentially the same.

The Rogue River Indian Reservation (Table Rock reservation) (below) also is more pronounced, and the original version shows the reserve as a little bit wider. The detail is better in the original version.

The Willamette Valley is perhaps the busiest part of the map. This area is clearly more detailed in the original version. The dividing lines in some sections are also more complete.

The Coast Reservation also make an appearance. This reservation was ratified in November 1855, and yet it was unusable for resettlement by the 4,000+ tribal people of western Oregon until 1857.




















Finally, the biggest error between the maps, noted thus far, is the Cascades Ceded Land area. In the redrawn map, the area as drawn is incomplete. This has made scholars guess where the area should be. Now, we have the exact outlines of the ceded area for the Cascades Watlala tribe. The Cascades area extends from an island in the Columbia River near Fort Vancouver (noted in ethnographic literature as Image Canoe Island/Haydn Island, their winter village), to the crest of Mt. Hood.

It can clearly be seen that the Cascades ceded territory at Fort Vancouver extends down the middle of the river. The section above them would likely be Multnomah tribal territory. The section below would be Clackamas territory. There is a blue X downriver of the Cascade rapids, what does that represent?

As is clearly presented, parts of the border area of the Cascades territory (the red line) is missing in the redrawn version at Fort Vancouver, and between the Cascades and Mt. Hood. The blue X is not on this later redrafted map.

There are likely may missing details, facts, bits of information, that we have not seen for over 100 years, on the original map. If people can point those out in the blog, we can compile the errors and information here. The map may be freely downloaded at the link below.

thanks/ Qa’pai.



Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793 – 1999

Sketch Map of Oregon Territory

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