Anson Dart and the Willamette Treaty Commission

Many scholars of Oregon tribal history have assumed, as have I, that Anson Dart, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon from 1850 to 1852 was responsible for negotiating treaties with the western Oregon tribes. In fact, numerous histories of this time intimately describe these responsibilities, but this may not have been originally Dart’s responsibility at all. I recently wrote an essay about Dart’s orders. His orders were to manage whiskey trade, aid in the assimilation of the tribes, set up tribal jurisdictions, maintain the peace, and undermine Hudson’s Bay Company among the tribes. In fact, there is no mention of the treaties, or the Treaty Commission in his orders of July 1850. The budget of $20,000 sent to him, also makes no mention of treaties or the Commission.

In comparison, there is a separate set of orders sent to the Willamette Treaty Commission; Governor John T. Gaines, Alonzo A. Skinner, and Beverly S. Allen, on October 25, 1850. Their orders are to buy the land by writing, negotiate treaties with the western Oregon tribes, and clear the title of the Indian lands for white settlement. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs explains the problem thus,

The inhabitants [settlers] complain that they have been there for several years & have been obliged to make settlements, improvements etc etc, & yet not one of them can claim a perfect title to any portion of the soil they occupy. It is indispensible that this  question be settled in some form or other. The object of the Government is to extinguish the title of the Indians to all the lands lying west of the Cascade Mountains; and if possible to provide for the removal of the whole from the west to the east of the mountains: but should you fail in inducing the whole to remove, you will then induce as many as you can procure acquisitions of territory from, but no effort should be untried to procure the removal of the whole, thereby leaving the country free for settlement by the whites.

Specifically, they are told to use their own recognizance when offering payment for lands, but it is suggested that they offer a set amount of 10 cents per acre, at the most, and to treat with the tribes in the white settlements first.

It will probably be best for you to treat first with the Indians in the white settlements, particularly in the Willamette Valley- and to treat separately with each tribe: but of this you will be best able to judge. As to the quality of land to be acquired and the price, per acre, to be paid for it, it is impossible for this office to form even a conjecture. The Quality must of course depend on the number of treaties made, upon estimates of the rights of the Indians to the soil ceded by them. As to the price to be paid that will depend on the locality of the land with reference to its value to the United States, if it be possible to make such distinctions, but if not you will be governed by your own discretion. It is presumed the land to be ceded will not be found to be of any very great value, and in many cases it is presumed the consideration will be merely nominal, but in others where the land is of more value of course a greater sum will be allowed. The maximum price given for Indian lands has been ten cents per acre.

The orders above assume much. The land value of this time period is based on the value for agricultural usage. The Willamette Valley has very rich soils, some of the best in the world, plenty of water, and the commissioner likely knew this from reports of the early settlers. In the 1830s, Jason Lee, the Methodist minister, toured the east coast to attract settlers to Oregon, based on the richness of the land in the Willamette Valley. In addition, those in the US government had the benefit of reports from the Lewis and Clark expedition (1805-1806, published in 1810), from the William Slacum spy mission (1839), and from the Wilkes Expedition (1841), which revealed the wealth of the land, the richness of the resources, and the perfect climate of the Willamette Valley for farming.  It is disingenuous for the US Government to have offered so little a price for the lands of Oregon. Even though these treaties failed, the ratified treaties of 1853-55, follow a similar set of orders, and after averaging the acres purchased with the money given, the tribes of Oregon are given about one cent an acre.

As well, the Commission suggests that in the terms of the treaties, that the annuities (annual amount paid to the tribes for selling their lands and their continued upkeep) be 5 percent per year, and that the whole of the annuity be paid in objects beneficial to the tribes, and not paid to them in money.

The objects provided for should be agricultural assistance, employment of blacksmiths & mechanics,  and farmers to teach them how to cultivate the land, physicians; and above all ample provision for the purposes of education. After providing for these objects if any portion of the money remains it should be stipulated that it be paid in goods to be delivered to them annually, in there own country.

For their removal, they are all to be removed to an area east of the Cascade Range.

In effecting the removal of the Indians from the west it will be necessary to provide a new home for them, among their brethren on the East of the mountains. This of course must be done, and it is hoped it may be effected peaceably and at little cost to the United States.

The Commission is assigned a budget of $20,000. The budget given is separate from that given Anson Dart and is solely about treaty-making expenses. Governor Gaines is assigned to be the accountant for the Commission. They are to hire a secretary, interpreters, and use up to $5,000 for presents to the tribes.

The two sets of orders, those of Dart, and those of the Commission, have many overlapping areas. Dart is to keep the peace, while the Commission is to remove the tribes. Removal of the tribes later became the strategy for keeping the peace in Oregon.

Sometime in 1851, the duties of the Commission are assumed by Anson Dart as well. Dart’s central purpose is to prepare for the administration of the tribes, before and after they are removed. Dart does not appear at the treaty negotiations of the Willamette Valley, but does attend the treaties of Tansey Point and Port Orford. Dart also is at the negotiations with the Clackamas tribe. He then personally takes the treaties to Washington, D.C., and we have assumed, he was shepherding them through Congress. But in March 1852 Dart writes a letter which severely undermines the legitimacy of the treaties, and blames the Commission for granting tribal demands for reservations in the Willamette Valley, in areas are already fully claimed (illegally) by settlers.

Without further information, at this time we can make a few assumptions as to why Dart took responsibility for the treaties.

One is monetary, that if he took the responsibility for treaties, he immediately has a budget of not $20K, but $40K, for his time in Oregon.

By taking the treaties and shepherding them through Congress, he gets the credit if they succeed. He was a political actor and wanted more assignments, and this would boost his career. This backfired on him because they fail, and he tries to blame the Commission, but instead, he bore the brunt of the blame politically and historically.

Perhaps the treaties were a mechanism for him to get out of Oregon and back to the East Coast? Some people did not like the frontier and worked to return to the comforts of civilization.

Finally, was he ordered to take responsibility for the treaties by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs?

Its clear from the two sets of orders that originally Anson Dart and the Willamette Treaty Commission were separately empowered by the United States in Oregon. That the Commissioners were not employees of Dart, nor subject to his orders. That Dart, at some point in 1851 takes the Treaties under his wing. — Further research has revealed that he did make the argument for his superiors in Washington, DC,  that since the Commissioners were not official federal representatives,  they cannot represent the nation in treaties. He wins that argument and gain the treaty making responsibilities in June 1851.

In September 1851, Anson Dart writes a report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that details his activities. In this report, he gives us a clue as to how he got the treaty-making duties.

It may perhaps be unnecessary to add, that owing to unavoidable causes I have been left almost alone to perform the duties and labors intended to have been divided amongst efficient agents and sub-agents, At the same time it should be remembered that very great additional labors have been added to the duties of my office by the provisions of the act of Congress of 27th February last (1851) which transfers to this department the authority to make treaties with the Indians Tribes west of the Cascade Mountains. (Anson Dart Letter of September 1851, RG75 M2 R11)

The above act referred to is interpreted as,

Thereafter by the act of February 27, 1851 (9 Stat. L., 586), the office of the commissioners referred to in the preceding finding were abrogated, and it was therein provided that all treaties with Indian tribes should thereafter be negotiated by officers and agents of the Indian department. Under the latter act the superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Oregon and two Indian agents were appointed for that purpose, and a copy of the instruction which had theretofore been furnished to the commissioners appointed under the prior act was furnished to them for their guidance and action in negotiating such treaties.  (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 5071 p 3)

(answered in further research above) There are still questions as to why this occurred. The appointment follows the six treaties with the Kalapuyans and Molallans by the Willamette Treaty Commission.  It may have been more legal to have Dart, an agent of the United States,  in charge of the Willamette Treaty Commission, than the Commissioners. Dart here is a bit dramatic, as his son is working with him as his assistant, and he has at least five sub-agents positioned in the various districts,  so not all duties are his alone

But, it is clear that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs learned the lesson of the divided responsibilities in Oregon, and when Joel Palmer is hired to replace Dart, he has the responsibilities laid out in both sets of orders. That formula worked better from 1853-1856.



A.S. Loughery Correspondence of 10 25 1850, in, 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

The Quartux Journal