War on the Umpqua Tribes and Removal to the Umpqua Reserves

Much has been written and published of the Rogue River, Modoc, and Yakima Wars in the Oregon Territory. These wars were, by-and-large, reactions of the tribes to extreme attacks on their land, and their survival.  There were a number of other such conflicts that did not reach the status of war for historians. In the Umpqua Valley there is such a history of attacks on the tribes.

Area of the Umpqua Reservation

In 1855, within the Umpqua Valley was the Umpqua Reservation, at the forks of Calapooia Creek and the Umpqua. The reserve was thought to be created in the Treaty of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, to hold the tribes of the valley temporarily until they should get a permanent reservation. But the Cow Creek treaty created they own temporary reservation in their valley. The Umpqua Reservation in Coles Valley was created by the Treaty with the Umpqua and Yoncalla of 1854. In the valley there were three treaties, the Cow Creek (1853), the Umpqua and Kalapuya (1854), and the Molalla (1855) treaties. The Indians that signed the 1854 and 1855 treaties noted were all moved to the Umpqua reserve in 1854 to 1855, where they remained, until they left the reservation in late January and arrived at  the Grand Ronde Reserve in February 1856. The Cow Creeks only were removed to the Umpqua Reservation when they were gathered up min late January to join the removal from the Valley.

Since late 1855, the Indian agents were provisioning the tribes in the Umpqua District with food, especially flour and potatoes. The expenses for the third quarter 1855 equaled $1,700, which was acquired under the signature of the Indian agent, or credit (it was common practice in these days, and when Palmer resigns in 1856, he leaves a lot of credit accounts in the region, because of the slowness of the government in approving funds for treaties and Indian affairs), as they waited for the ratification of the Coast Treaty, which would make funds available. In Coos Bay and the Umpqua there were two encampments of tribes, the Kal-a-wat-set Encampment at Umpqua and the Mil-luc-quah Encampment near Empire City (Letter of Dec 18 1855, Drew to Palmer, M2 R13).

But, removal to the encampments and reserves did not mean the tribes were not subject to continued attacks from the white settlers. Volunteer militias traveled around attacking the tribes indiscriminately. The attacks at Table Rock are well documented in books by Stephen Dow Beckham, E.A. Schwartz, and Nathan Dowthit, as well as on this blog. 

The attacks on the Umpqua, and Kalapuya Indians of the Upper Umpqua valley were documented by Theophilus R. McGruder, Sub-Indian Agent of the Umpqua Reserve, in a remarkable report of November 24, 1855.

So it is with much gratification that I see a great willingness of submission with the Indians on this reserve. They are nearly all on the reserve  that belongs to this district  all with the exception of some three or five men and eight or ten squaws which the Indians report to have been run off in the various attacks made upon them in this valley. Those on the reserve are comfortable ??? as they have constructed huts after their own mode of building which affords ample protection from the inclemencies of the weather though there is cause of complaint. There has been much sickness with them, mostly the flus with which two children have died. Together with the desertions of one Umpqua and one Klamath reducing their numbers four. Their conduct since they have been on the reserve he been such as would warrant the greatest safety of the people on their part. It speaks for them that they have been trespassed upon by the whites, as an action which took place in the Lookingglass Prairie clearly illustrates. There was camped near the house of Mr. Arrington a party of some seventy-five friendly Indians of which  there was twenty-two men, which it appears had their tent there for the safety of themselves, as Mr. Arrington had told them that in case they would come close to his house they would not be molested. They had been camped there but a few days, when a party of twenty-five or thirty men made on the 23rd of October an attack upon them killing three men and wounding one squaw which afterward dies from the wound. The party alleging that the Umpquas was harboring hostile Indians of which there is no evidence.

And after that action some three or four days a party of men made an attack upon a defenseless camp of Umpqua Indians killing one man. There was also the case of an Indian who was at the time and has been for time past living with a Mr. Pierce who accompanied Mrs. Pierce on her way to one of the near neighbors on a visit immediately upon arriving with Mrs. Piece at Mr. Gages, Mr. Gage spoke of the danger of the Indians being killed and it was thought best for the Indian to return home as it would be a place of less publicity and consequently much safer- so the Indian started and had not gone far when three persons met him. One of the party placing himself behind a tree fire at him.

The Indian immediately put spur to his horse and was pursued by the man whereupon arriving on the bank of the South Umpqua River, the Indian leeped from his horse and jumped into the river, making his escape with a heavy flesh wound. There has been one other incidence in which there was one Indian killed by a small party of men the particulars of which is simply that they fell in with the Indian and shot him down because he happened to be an Indian.

As I remarked in the first place and warrants show in the second place that the Indians in this valley  have a great cause for complaint, which shows their forbearance. As there has been no tribe of Indians known that would not have rebelled with the half of this malicious treatment received by the Umpqua Indians.

There has been provided so far plenty of beef and flour which they draw every thing on a fourth day to the amount of one pound of each per day, to all are the age if twelve years, and a half that amt [amount] to those under twelve years of age there has been purchased for those that were the most destitute a few articles of clothing.

Your most Obt Servt, T. R. Mcgruder, Special Sub Indian Agent

(McGruder to Palmer, November 24, 1855, M2, R13)

Mcgruder’s amazing report suggests that the fault for the attacks is squarely with the white settlers. The tribes of the valley have very few incidences of attacks on the whites at all.

The Umpqua reservation continued to be the subject of contention with white settlers. The new towns of the area, like Roseburg, were centers where volunteer militia formed to drive the Indians to extinction. Settlers wanted the rich forest lands that were included in the reservation. Settlers would come onto the reserve to cut the wood illegally so they could build their houses and farms.  This situation may seem odd today, because the region has good forest reserves, but in the 1850s, the valley floors were nearly completely clear of timber, the tribes having practiced anthropogenic burning of the land to stimulate the growth of camas and acorns.

Previous to the reserve there were many tribal villages in the area, Camas Swale, Olalla, Camas Valley, Lookingglass, Kellogg, Winchester, Glenbrough, Yoncalla, Cow Creek, Illahee, and Roseburg, the most well known. A village on the Umpqua River, about a half mile from the Hudson’s Bay Fort Umpqua, was drawn in the 1850s.

Umpqua Plankhouse

In the valley, the Umpqua Indians get the most attention. A good portion of the valley and area was occupied by Yoncalla Kalapuyans, and the uplands had Molalla bands. The upper Umpqua people were athapaskan speakers, while the Yoncalla were penutian speakers. (Sapir in 1907 gets this wrong, he notes the ‘Ya gala’ ie: Yoncalla are athapaskan speakers but they did probably know several language as was very common.)

The Yoncalla Indians and Umpquas were intermarried and tribal association was based on the village they inhabited. In the area there were also many tribes that traveled in for resource gathering or trade. The Coquille and Coos Bay Indians would come into the uplands for salmon and eel fishing, and acorn gathering.

Belden Map 1855, Umpqua Reservation section, NARA

The Umpqua reservation was within the Umpqua [Indian management] District managed by the sub-Indian agents. The district included the Coos Bay, Coquille, Alsea, Siuslaw  and Umpqua rivers, as well as the upland regions of the Umpqua Valley and surrounding smaller prairies and valleys. Within the district the Indian agents maintained a number of Indian encampments before and after the treaties and removal of the majorities of the tribes to Grand Ronde. Of note, are the Scottsburg Band of Umpquas, which is likely the tribe at the village image above. Many of these Scottsburg Umpqua Indian people remained in their village for many years. In January 1856 Drew states that the “Scottsburg band of Indians… at Umpqua.. a part of them belong on the “Calapooah Reservation”” (letter of 1/21/1856). [This could mean Grand Ronde.]

After the Cow Creek band of Umpquas (this band is likely to be a Takelman speaking tribe on the Umpqua, and not directly related to the Upper Umpquas), Kalapuya, and Molalla Indians were removed to Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, where they marched between January and February 1856, the reservation was vacant a short time. There were some other bands living in the Umpqua District who needed tending to, for one, the Halo band of Kalapuyans refused to remove, so they remained. Then there were many tribes still living along the coastline in encampments. The tribes at these encampments were under continuous threat of attack by militias.

By April 13, 1856, Joel Palmer was ordering the Coos Bay Indians to go to the “Umpqua River,” or “Umpqua.” The Coos Bay Indians arrived at the newly established Umpqua Reserve at the Umpqua estuary in late May 1856, a total of 285 people, and it was reported that 56 people still remained in Coos Bay (letter of June 14, 1856).

[At first. I thought that this was the Umpqua Reservation in Coles Valley, but reading the letters again, and Drew is not very specific. He mentions the “Umpqua River” and “Umpqua” and he has his Indian agent office in Umpqua City. This suggests that he meant the newly established Umpqua encampment, which was addressed generally as the Umpqua Reserve. This makes his meaning very confusing  because there are no- or few- notations of an Umpqua encampment in scholarly sources, or on maps. and what does appear on maps is the Umpqua reservation at Coles Valley, and both of these reserves exist at the same time in history.  It appears to exist in only federal correspondence spread across two different Microfilm sets, M2 and M234.]

Mystery of the two Umpqua reserves, solved?  [Patti Whereat-Phillips referred me to this letter]

The following letter was written to explain to Special Agent Mott the history and arrangement of the Umpqua Reserve. Mott was an investigator that came through Oregon every few years to write lengthy reports about the reservations and explain their advantages and deficiencies.

Fort Umpqua, November 10, 1858

The treaty was formally signed by the chiefs and leading men in this district on the 11th of August 1855, and it was then agreed that they should return to their several homes, and remain as formerly until the ratification of said treaty, and until houses were built, farms prepared on the reserve, and other general improvements made as stipulated by the treaty. Two months subsequently- in October- general and protracted hostilities commenced with the Rogue Rivers, Shasta and other tribes on the Coast. For the protection of the whites and to prevent the Indians in this district from being excited of forced into hostilities, I collected them all, by order of Superintendent Palmer, into two encampments, one at Coose Bay, and one at Umpqua near this agency. In June following orders were received, to concentrate them all in one encampment at this point, preparing to removing them farther North. After they were collected at this agency, it was ordered that they should remain here, inasmuch as subsistence could be procured at much cheaper rates at this point, than at the more central portions of the Reserve…

E. P. Drew   (M234 R611)

The letter above solves the mystery of the two Umpqua reserves for now.

It is clear that hostilities in the Rogue River Region had an effect on the way other neighboring tribes were treated, and attacks by white setters continued in Coles valley, in part because, over the winter, and just a few rivers to the south, Chief John’s Rogue River Confederation was making its way through the Siskiyou Range killing settlers in an attempt to drive the whites from their lands. It would not have been prudent to have the reservation in Coles Valley any longer.

On June 4th 1856 the Lt. Col. R.C. Buchanan was ordering the remainder of the Rogue River Confederacy, who had surrendered at Fort Orford, to be escorted to the Coast Reservation, and that the southern Oregon Coastal tribes, Pistol Rivers, Chetcos, etc. be escorted to the Coast Reservation. This march up the coast becomes the famed Oregon Coast Trail of Tears.  The Rogue River War being largely over, Buchanan ordered a detachment of troops to Siuslaw River, to serve the needs of safety in the Umpqua District.

On July 12, 1856, a citizen, Amos E. Rogers (he later became an Indian agent) wrote a letter to Drew in answer to a question of extending the Umpqua Reservation to, “embrace the mouth of the Umpqua River as far up as its junction with Smith’s River and thence along the latter to the point where the Southern boundary of the reserve as it is now located crosses said stream.”  Rogers answered in the affirmative to such a plan. He wrote,

“The Indians who formerly inhabited this region (Coos Bay I. also the Coast tribes of the Umpqua and Siuslaw), have always obtained a large portion of their Salmon from the falls on upper Smith’s River. They also hunt extensively during certain seasons of the year for bear and elk in the region contiguous to this stream. The small neck of land running down to the mouth of the Umpqua, which is proposed to be taken into this reserve by the addition can never be of much value to white settlers while the extension of the reserve will give to the Indians their old fisheries at the mouth of the Umpqua [and] also the natural communication by water to their best hunting and fishing ground on Smith’s river.” (7/12/1856) (note that Drew’s letter of 1858 repeats much of this almost verbatim)

By August 1856 the plan for the tribes in the Umpqua District had changed. They were removed to another “Umpqua Reserve” located at the mouth of the Umpqua River. This was a military reserve, and a Lighthouse, and there was a detachment of dragoons nearby. The Indian agents begin to put this plan for the new Umpqua Reserve into effect for the safety and security of the tribes, who were under constant threat from settlers in the Umpqua Valley. Normally after a war, like that of the Rogue River, or that at the Cascades (March 1856),  Americans tried to take revenge on any local tribes, which necessitated removal of the tribes by Indian agents (note: there is apparently no option to remove the encroaching Americans). A few months after, Head Chief Louis of the Cow Creek Umpquas was sent out from Grand Ronde to collect the remainder of his people from the Umpqua valley.

The new Umpqua Reserve at the mouth of the Umpqua had 234 Coos Bay Indians in the northern section, and 123 Lower Umpqua Indians at the southern end of the reserve. The dimensions of this new reserve were, “Connected to the military reserve (Coast reservation) on the north & is bounded on the east by the Umpqua River a distance of seven miles thence from that point by a line running due north to the Indian Reserve” (letter of 9/24/1856). And then located on the Siuslaw river there were 85 other Indians, likely Siuslaw Indians, who “had never been removed from their own lands.” The dimensions of this new section of the Umpqua Reserve suggest that the Coast Reservation was actually expanded, for a few years.

Umpqua reserves, The Coastal Umpqua reservation, from the bare description, may have been like this. The North Fork of the Umpqua River is about 7 miles from the Coast Reservation in this polygon. The southern section of the reservation is not well described, but likely included the whole of the estuary of the Umpqua, The Lighthouse is on the south side and Military reservation is on the north side (north spit) of the inlet, so this was also likely a piece of the reservation, The exact borders are not correct in this map, this is an estimation only.

Fort Umpqua was established on the north side of the Umpqua estuary in 1856, likely as a part of the need to command and control access to the Coast Reservation. With many Indian tribes and bands being held on the Umpqua Coast Reserve, the possibility of escape was great. As well the army had to control egress for White Americans who wished ill on the tribes and wished to trade alcohol with them, an illegal practice at this time, and for 100 years afterward.  A military statement of the need for Fort Umpqua was made in 1861,

First, Fort Umpqua commands the southerly and only point of egress in that direction. The Rogue River and Coast Indians, the only ones on this reservation who have ever proven troublesome to the whites, could find their way back only by this route along the coast without great difficulty. I am quite satisfied that it is the only one they would  attempt. Second, I am well informed that the Indians are as anxious to return to their old haunts as ever, but about this I cannot speak so certainly, but from personal conversations with a few of them I am inclined to think it true. R.E. Stratton (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 3583, p 571)

On the morning of September 24, 1856,  Sub-agent Drew reported,  fifty-two (52) Coquille Indians arrived onto the Umpqua Reserve. Sub-agent Drew also reported that 19 Coos Bay Indians remained in the headwaters of the Coos River. The total number at the encampment, the reserve at the mouth of the Umpqua River, was 440 Indians of various tribes. Then Sub-agent Drew reported that the Coquille Indians are to be sent to the Yaquina Sub-agency of the Coast Reservation with a short stop-over at the Siuslaw while Agent Drew organized for funds to come for this removal (letter of 9/24/1856).

In scholarly sources, there is the statement that the Umpqua Reserve was vacated or closed in 1859. In the records of the Indian Bureau, there is a continuation of Indians at the new Umpqua Reserve, presumably, at the Indian encampments along the coast, and not the first Umpqua reserve In the Umpqua Valley, that continued into the 1860s.

January 1860, a census of the Indians of the Umpqua District is taken by J.B. Sykes the Sub-Indian agent of the district. He personally counts 460 Indians in the district, of the Umpqua,  Coos Bay, Siuslaw, and Alcea Indian tribes. He also notes a few families of Umpqua Indians at Scottsburgh, and “five or six lodges of the Coose Tribe at Coose Bay,” which are part of the enumeration (letter of 2/19/1860). The number show 279 at the “mouth of the Umpqua.” Beckham’s 1969 book, “Lonely Outpost” does address the establishment of the American Army’s Fort Umpqua in detail, and its role as gatekeeper to the Coast Reservation, but does not address the idea that there were a good number of tribal people at the Umpqua Reserve, and that the Umpqua District really managed a good portion of the area between the Umpqua and Alsea rivers. Presumably, the detachment of dragoons at Fort Umpqua was at the disposal of the Indian agents, similar to the roles of the dragoon detachments at Fort Yamhill and at For Hoskins, the other two “gatekeeping” forts guarding the Coast and Grand Ronde Reservations.

The Umpqua District remains viable as a distinct district until January 18, 1861. This is the date of the last report by Sykes the Indian Agent. On January 24th, a contractor (of food?) at the district, Abel Fryer, writes that Sykes had simply walked away from the job, was some 60 miles up the coast, and had left no orders or vouchers to pay bills. Thereafter, letters from the district are rare, most are bills for services and goods. The likely outcome is that the Umpqua District is subsumed by the Coast Reservation, as part of the Alsea Reservation, a southern section of the Coast Reservation. The Indians in several encampments are abandoned in 1875-1876, when the Alsea Reservation is closed, along with the closure of the Coast Reservation.  The remaining lands of the Coast Reservation are renamed the Siletz Reservation by Congress in 1875.

The Coos Bay Indians have stories, from several persons, of the closure of the Yachats Sub-agency where they were relocated after the Umpqua Reserve. The record suggests that removal to Yachats likely occurred between 1856 and 1861 and when the Umpqua reserve is subsumed under the Alsea Reservation. The facts of all these movements to Yachats still needs to be confirmed.

The first Umpqua reserve, that in the Umpqua Valley hosted the treaty tribes of the Umpqua Valley. The Coos Bay and Other coastal tribes were removed to the new Umpqua reserve to keep them away from the Rogue River Indian War and to wait for the ratification of their treaty (this removal and imprisonment happened for other tribes in the region, for this exact reason, most notably the Tolowas of Crescent City were imprisoned at the Battery Point Lighthouse).  When the Coast treaty went unratified, this left the coastal tribes at the whim of the Federal Government. The Indian agents were still charged with their care, but resources for the southern section of the Coast reservation, the Umpqua and Alcea reserves was slim. The tribes were removed to areas where they could feed themselves, but this was not enough. Oral histories of the Yachats Sub-agency suggest they were made to live extremely meagerly, and most starved in the winter period. This suggests that since the tribes could not move around to find more food sources, and because they did not develop food stores, because of multiple relocations, that starvation was the rule not the exception. If they tried to move back to their lands, they were under constant threat of attack from settlers, and if they remained on the reservation they may starve to death, or die by disease.

When the tribes were released from Yachats, (because the federal government had not ratified their treaty and did not want to paid for them any longer, and besides had no legal jurisdiction over them), they tried to return t Coos Bay, but they no longer had rights to their old village sites and had to subsist in less desirable localities. This is likely why many of the Indian allotments (Dawes Act 1887) were made in former resource encampment areas (like Jordan Cove), because these were known encampments, and they were less desirable for permanent habitations, and white people had yet to find, and/or, claim these localities. For the tribes, they knew where to find food at these encampments and could live fairly well traveling about the bay and fishing, gathering, and hunting, seasonally, in the various sloughs. Regardless of whether this was called a war in the Umpqua District, the results of these acts of aggression by white settlers and militia, multiple removals, and finally partial dislocation from their traditional lands, was no less destructive to the peoples of the region. The final outrage, is that for all the tribes have gone through, they have yet to get payment for their traditional lands from the Federal Government.

There is more to be said…

For more reading


Primarily the letters of the NARA M2 microfilm collection, rolls 13 and 14

David Beck’s book on the Restoration of the Confederation of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes

Stephen Dow Beckham’s pamphlet on Fort Umpqua: Lonely outpost: The Army’s Fort Umpqua 1969

8 thoughts on “War on the Umpqua Tribes and Removal to the Umpqua Reserves

  1. That’s interesting as Indians recalled the time people were locked up at Fort Umpqua, but no one recalled the inland Umpqua reserve. I wonder if that is because some were there for so short a time and the rest never wound up later in Yachats or back on the lower Umqpua and Coos Bay – but instead were sent early on to Grand Ronde or Siletz?

  2. This is an important, original essay, with “in-filling” of major-league holes in W. Oregon history now linked up through your research w many original document, to create a compelling reconstruction. I had no idea there ever was an Alsea Reservation” for instance. Also quite balanced, judicious in running commentary and conclusions.

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