Dart’s Instructions of Colonization and Assimilation in 1850

In 1850, the United States passed The Oregon Donation Land-claim Act. This act gave American men 640 acres, one square mile of free land in Oregon, allowed other claims by wives (160 acres), and children, and proved up on the previous land claims of other Americans. A recent manuscript by Julius Wilm (2017) points out that the United States, previous to the Treaty of Oregon (1846), sidestepped the issue of claiming full ownership to Oregon, and risking the ire of Great Britain, and instead tried to pass an act to  “secure the persons and property of American Citizens”  which were in the Oregon territory, in order to encourage the colonization of the Oregon Country by Americans. This act fail to be passed in 1840, but the heart of the argument went into continued discussions in Congress throughout the 1840s. This may indeed be the heart of the Big Stick policy  (1901) used by Theodore Roosevelt, which extended the Monroe Doctrine (1823), where the United States would protect American interests and properties of Americans, first in the Americas, then throughout the world. In Oregon Territory, this meant that even if American settlers were illegally claiming land, that the United States was pledged to protect their claims and property. The extension of the Monroe Doctrine in this fashion gave the Congress a legal and political  framework to continue to extend its laws over the tribal lands.

In 1850 however, The American Government had assumed it had jurisdiction over the Oregon territory after signing  the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain, although neither the United States nor the any European powers had bought any land in the Pacific Northwest Territory.The Americans knew that Indian land title had to be cleared, and set about purchasing the land of the tribes, after passing the Oregon Donation Land-claim Act. In order to provide an order to their laws, and an orderly removal of the tribes, the US had to have administrators in Oregon, and so appointed Anson Dart to be the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, with some broad duties.

Dart receives his orders by letter of July 20, 1850, from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The Commissioner, Luke Lea admits that there is not much information or statistics about the tribes of Oregon. He also admits that they had already given General Lane orders, as Lane served as both Indian Superintendent and Governor of the Oregon Territory until 1850, but that they do not have enough information to make any modification of those orders and so advised Dart to seek out Lane for advise. The Commissioner did not seek to make the orders rigid because Washington, D.C. is very remote from Oregon and so he allowed Dart to be “left to your own discretion and better judgment, when your superior local knowledge will have enabled you to act more advisedly in the premises.” But, the orders stated repeatedly of the need to report constantly to the office of all occurrences and actions. But that also they were at “present embarrassing want of reliable statistical knowledge of Indian affairs in Oregon.” Dart was to advise the Indian office as to tribal “locations (of each agent), the limits of each agency, and the name strength, condition etc of each tribe, as early as possible.”

Three areas of the orders were communicated at length. The policy of the United States at this time towards tribes was that of a father to children as decided by three Marshall Supreme Court decisions, 1823-1832, which defined the relationship of tribes as that of a ward to its guardian. In Dart’s orders it is clear that the Commissioner is applying US law and moral codes to its interactions and administration of the tribes. The first major order is that Dart was to regulate the whiskey trade and keep such “evils” strictly away from the tribes. This suited the conservation protestant secures of American society well, as many of the Methodists, already well established in Oregon since 1832 (ex: Jason Lee’s Willamette Mission), sought temperance in the territory. Darts orders towards strict suppression of the whiskey trade are as follows,

“Regulations for the persecution and suppression of the whiskey trade among all Indians tribes. Gov. Lane speaks of this traffic as being carried on “by vessels coming into the Columbia and particularly at Baker’s Bay and Astoria.” It is doubtless introduced at other points, and as the country becomes more densely settled the evil it is apprehended will be greatly increased. The suppression of this traffic has always been considered by the government as one of the most important measures for the civilization of the Indians and every effort has been made throughout the whole Indian country to keep it beyond their reach. I beg leave, therefore, to call your particular attention to this branch of your duties and to urge upon you to enforce a strict compliance with the laws and regulations, and by every effort in your power, endeavor to put a stop to this deplorable evil. You will find in the Intercourse Law, a copy of which I enclose, full power to enable you to discharge this duty.”

The administration and suppression of the whiskey trade seems far beyond the duties of an Indian Superintendent. Dart quickly works to get his Sub-Indian agents, especially Robert Shortess, who is stationed in Astoria, to strictly regulate and suppress the trade among the Columbia River tribes.  When reservations are finally established, and the tribes removed in 1856, strict temperance was the federal Indian policy on the reservation for  almost 100 years. The State of Oregon even outlawed Indians possessing alcohol, a law which was repealed in 1952.

Then Dart was ordered to work on making the tribes loyal to the United States. In various wars of the past, the French and Indian War (1763), and the War of 1812, tribes had allied with French or British, and were a significant factor. In the Oregon territory, the British Hudson’s Bay Company were more powerful than all of the American settlers. The HBC had men and the loyalty of numerous tribes they traded with, as well as plenty of stores of supplies, in fact a whole military fort at Vancouver. This was a problem for the US which was trying to assert its claims on the territory after the Oregon Treaty.  A revolt by the tribes, allied with the British, would have likely beaten the Americans. So Dart was ordered to keep the tribes from trading with the HBC,

“It has been represented that most of the goods that have been given to the Indians of Oregon have been purchased of the Hudson’s Bay Company, thereby conveying to the Indians the false impression that they were conferred by persons belonging to a foreign government. It is to be hoped that this has not been done to an extent to produce as yet much bad effect, but as it is  adverse to the policy of our Indian relations, as well as injurious and insulting to our Government to cause these people to believe themselves the recipients of foreign gratuities, I would suggest that you make all your purchases from American citizens when practicable and embrace every opportunity to impress on the Indians that it is the American government and not the British that confers upon them these benefits. The Indians should also be prevented from crossing the line into the British possessions. The Hudsons Bay Company has so long elided an undue influence over all Indians within their reach that you may perhaps find it a difficult matter to carry out these views, but perseverance will no doubt finally effect it, or at least, go far towards correcting the present condition of affairs. Under no circumstances should the company be permitted to have trading establishments within the limits of our territory, and if any such establishments now exist, they should be promptly proceeded with in accordance with the requirements of the Intercourse Law.”

Finally, probably the most important duty was to colonize and assimilate the tribes. There were several ways that were suggested that could help colonization of the tribes. Allow the religious missionaries, regardless of sect, to continue to work within the tribes, as they were all working for the same goal, to assimilate the tribes to be Christians. There were some conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant missionaries in this period. Catholicism was considered to be British, while Protestantism was associated with Americans politically.  But Dart orders were just to allow them all to work as the ultimate result will be the complete colonization of the tribes.

“The agents under your supervision will find among the Indians Christian Missionaries of various sects and denominations, differing in some articles of form and faith, but all engaged in the great and good work of extending the blessings of Christianity to an ignorant and idolatrous people, and of civilizing and humanizing the wild and ferocious savage. The orthodoxy of any of these missionaries is not to be tested by the opinion of the Indian agent or any other officer of the Government. None of these can rightfully be the propagandist of any sect, or the official judge of any article of Christian faith. All, therefore, who are entrusted with the care of our Indian relations in Oregon are instructed to give the benevolent and self-sacrificing teachers of the Christian religion whom they may find there equal aid, countenance and encouragement, and theta they merit their good will by uniform kindness and concession to all leaving them free alike to use such means as are in their power to carry out the good work in which they are respectively engaged. The rapid increase of our population, its onward march from the Missouri Frontier westward, and from the Pacific east, steadily lessening and closing up the intervening space, renders it certain that there remains to the Red man but one alternative- early civilization or gradual extinction- The efforts of the Government will be earnestly directed to his civilization and preservation, and we confidently rely upon their Christian teachers that, in connexion with their spiritual mission, they will aid in carrying out this policy. That stationed as they are among the various Indian tribes, they will use all their influence in restraining their wild, roving and predatory disposition, and in teaching them the arts, and bringing them to the habits of civilized life. If this can be attained- if they can be taught to subsist, not by the chase merely, a resource which must soon be exhausted, but by the rearing of flocks and herds and by field cultivation, we may hope that the little remnant of this ill-fated race will not utterly perish from the earth but have a permanent resting place and home on some part of our broad domain once the land of their fathers. It is represented that the missionaries exercise great influence over the Indians of Oregon and no doubt could be made powerful auxiliaries in carrying out the policy of the United States; to this end it might not be amiss to let them know, in such manner as the delicate nature of the communication may suggest to you, that the Government whilst affording them every possible facility and protection, expects in return then aid and co-operation in executing its laws. The happiness of the Indians is the common aim of both, and the extension of our laws and regulations over them being for their own welfare, this class of philanthropists could not more effectually advance their own human intentions than by inculcating obedience on the part of their wards, at the same time instructing them that they are solely dependent on this and not on the British Government, and must adhere to it alone: and that with a sincere desire to protect and favor those who abide by its laws; it has also the strength and disposition to punish those who impinge them.”

Interestingly, Dart was also to encourage peace among the tribes, and between the tribes and the whites. This order disregards that tribes already lived in relative peace, and had cultures and systems of governance themselves. This also disregards that the conflicts mainly came from the newcomers, the Americans, most of whom completely disregarded the previous occupation of the tribes, and worked to exterminate many tribes in horrendous ways.

“Reconciling of all differences among the Indians themselves. The Agent should represent to the Indians that their Great Father, The President of the United States enjoins it upon them to live in peace and harmony, and that they must shake hands and live like brethren together. The best way to accomplish this is by inducing the bands hostile to each other, to enter into written treaties of peace and amity, stipulating to preserve friendship among themselves and towards the whites, and to refer all their misunderstandings and differences to the umpirage of the proper representative of the United States of America.”

Then, another way that the tribes were encouraged to assimilate is through agriculture. Engagement in agriculture was seen as a very Protestant American lifestyle and to get the tribes engage thus would mean they would become respectable. In fact, many tribes were already adopting farming and ranching as a lifestyle. The Kalapuyans, many of them, were working in agriculture, helping build the farms of all the early settlers, and learning animal husbandry. Upper Umpqua peoples were similarly beginning to work farms of their own. Tribes like the Umatillas already had herds of horses and cattle, similar to the Rogue River tribes, where many chiefs had horses and cattle already, so this was already occurring without inducement.

“Great efforts should also be made among the Indians to induce them to engage in agricultural pursuits, to raise grain, vegetables, and stock of all kinds. It would not be amiss to encourage them by the promise of small premiums, to be awarded to those who raised the greatest quantity of produce horses, oxen, cows, hogs, etc. the presents which may be given to them from time to time might be applied to this object.”

Finally, Dart was to not offer the tribes money, but instead supplies for their lands. This was potentially a large problem as the tribal cultures required gifts be exchanged for such serious negotiations as would take place, as a matter of diplomacy.

“It is the policy of the government. As far as possible, to avoid the payment of money, by way of presents or otherwise, to Indians; they are wasteful and improvident and but rarely expend money for any useful object; they should receive nothing but what will tend to their happiness and comfort.”

Then, Dart was to begin to establish the Indian administrative districts of Oregon,

“The President has appointed two agents,… Anson G. Henry, and Henry H. Spalding. It is presumed you will find it best to place one of them East and the other West of the Cascade Mountains.”

The final matter is the budget for the year. Dart is given $20,000 for all expenses for that year. This money is advanced with some hesitation, but as there are not banks in Oregon yet, there is little opportunity to dole out the money in smaller installments. After Dart resigns in 1852, he continues to bill the government for his expenses, as this amount is limiting to the job of negotiating for the purchase of all of western Oregon from the tribes, even though his nineteen treaties failed. It is very clear that the Federal government had no idea the distances that Indian agents would have to travel and the expenses of transporting goods, and we see in budgets for decades shortfalls in funding, which is eaten up by transportation costs.

There is another set of orders for the Willamette Treaty Commission (WTC) which may clarify Dart’s responsibilities, but in further research, the WTC is separate from the duties of the Indian Superintendency and has its own budget. Dart successfully argued that the Commissioners are not “agents” of the Federal government and therefore cannot legitimately negotiate a treaty on behalf of the US. He then acquires the treaty-making duties in June 1851 and negotiates the treaties at Tansey Point (Clatskanie, Chinook, and Tillamook treaties) Port Orford, and Oregon City. Dart then follows the treaties to Washington DC where he finds out that promised reservations will not work due to previous settler claims and recommends they be tabled.  He resigns and Joel Palmer takes over in 1853. Palmer notes there is no money or other public property that comes to him when he takes the appointment, and notes that the office in Milwaukie, which Dart has built, has furniture not worth the cost on the invoices. Allegations of fraud follow Dart for years following his resignation in 1853.

Spalding has a career in Oregon Indian affairs, but of Anson Henry, there is not much information. The tenor of Dart’s orders is to encourage colonization of the tribes and to disregard their rights or cultures.  The orders are a bit uneven, and incomplete, almost as if the Commissioner is not yet ready to have an Indian Superintendent in Oregon. Dart is not even from Oregon, but from Wisconsin, so he has little personal context to draw from. This job would have been much better placed with someone who had already been in Oregon for some time, was familiar with the politics of the territory,  and knew about the tribes (ex: George Gibbs). This is likely why the Willamette Treaty Commission is formed, as the commissioners, Governor John T. Gaines, Alonzo A. Skinner, and Beverly S. Allen, are already seasoned settlers. (The Commission however appears to have a separate set of responsibilities.)

Much of the social theory we see in practice with the tribes here is that of 1850s anthropology. The tribes are seen as  and treated like savages, they are not seen as legitimate tribal nations. Assimilation here is meant to change the tribal people to moral Christian people and its clear that all aspects of their cultures are being disregarded in order to colonize them. The process of colonization takes 100 years to complete for the United States. Each generation of Congress changes their policies regarding the tribes. The combination of forced education and making resources limited on the reservations causes the tribal members to seek ways to survive in society, and forces them to adopt Americanized lifestyles.


Wilm, Julius, Enlisting Settlers as Conquerors.  2017 (Unpublished Manuscript)

Territorial Papers of the United States: for the Territory of Oregon, 1848-1859, NARA M1049, Reel 8, Microfilm in the Oregon State Library, Salem, Oregon


2 thoughts on “Dart’s Instructions of Colonization and Assimilation in 1850

Leave a Reply

The Quartux Journal