Henry Brainard Nichols, was a school teacher and state legislator from Benton County, Oregon. He was born 1821 in Lyme, Connecticut, and attended Wesleyan University at Middletown. In 1847 he started for Oregon, arrived in 1852, and settled in Benton County. He began teaching in the Belknap Settlement and took 319.75 acres as a donation land claim. Later, his lands increased to 1,200 acres, situated four miles west of Monroe. He served in the Constitutional Convention (1858) and several terms in the Territorial and State legislatures. He was a clerk in School district No. 26 for over thirty years.
In 1903, Nichols wrote to George H. Hines at the Oregon Historical Society, a short history of his experiences with the Calapooians in his area.
The names of the Indians of the Calapooia tribe best known to me were probably given them by the early settlers & were “Tom” who claimed to be chief, “Sam”, “Jo. Jack” and “Masatche William”, a bad lot, (the last names killed by the Indians in the Alsea Valley), and “Ben” -a gentle old man- not to say gentleman who was often employed by me. I had engaged him to make rails on a hill above my house, when he came to me hurriedly one day, apparently under great excitement, and exclaimed “Hyack Clattawa copa Chuck.” He had chopped off a “rail cut” and it had traveled inconsiderately down the hill into the stream at its base. Another day he came along the lane in front of my house, & espying a squirrel upon a tall oak that still stands where it grew, drew up his gun, took aim & was upon the point of firing when the animal tumbled dead at his feet. That old Ben was amazed is to put it mildly. Apparently he had excelled the celebrated feat of Daniel Boon. The animal had taken poison, & death overtook it ere the bullet of old Ben could reach it. On another occasion , I noticed the old Indian slip noislessly into my schoolroom where I was teaching some forty or fifty pupils, well advanced in years, if not knowledge. He took a “backseat” & scrutinized intently the proceedings as I called up one class after another for recitation. He remained an hour or so, immovable as a stone upon his seat, when having apparently satisfied his curiosity, he quietly withdrew. It was a problem in my mind what the old Indian thought of the proceedings- Alas! “Lo, the poor Indian” is fading from the land. As a race he seems doomed to extinction. Soon the places that once knew him will know him no more! With these reminiscences I will close my long story.
-Respectfully yours, Henry B. Nichols
(Nichols to Hines, Jan 22 1903, MSS 1500 OHS Library)
The prevailing social theory of the tribes, in this time period, was that they were a dying race and would soon disappear. It was very common for tribal people to hire onto homesteads and become the laborers for farmers in this time. Its likely that Ben, was a Chelamela Kalapuyan, and lived off-reservation, and was hosted by Nichols to remain in the area, as he was useful for getting work done around the homestead. There were a number of these situations.
It was also common for the tribal people to take American names. Sometimes they were given the use of a name by a homesteader, some got their names during Catholic confirmation, and others were given names by the doctors at the time. Some were named after US presidents, and some were given names by the Indian Agents at the reservations. Tribal people usually had one name, and as US Indian Affairs records required a first and last name for the family name, agents would just assign them a last name, sometimes based on their tribal affiliation.
This area of Benton County, west of Monroe, originally had a native village and hosted a tribe of the Chelamela, near Alpine. They signed the Willamette Valley treaty, and were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856. Many chose not to remain at the reservation and would leave to return home. Those who proved useful to farmers, and peaceful (gentle), were then sponsored or hosted by the settlers in the area.
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.