The Gateway on the Central Oregon Coast, Fort Umpqua and the Umpqua Sub Indian Agency

The southern and central Coast of Oregon is a relatively unknown area in Native American history. As the area is not well researched it is generally assumed to have been vacated during the Indian removals of 1856. However, federal records show us that this is not the case at all. That there were tribes and bands living on the central coast, even below the southern border of the Coast Reservation, and there was quite a lot of traffic of Native groups moving up and down the coast as they were either forced into the reservation and its encampments, or tried to escape the enforced poverty, starvation, and oppression of the reservation.

In 1856, tribes from the Table Rock, Umpqua and other temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley and along the Columbia were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian reservation, and to habitable parts of the Coast Reservation. The Grand Ronde Reservation was conceived of, in the beginning, as being another encampment of the executive order Coast Reservation (1855), much like the encampments along the Coast at Salmon River (Nechesne River), Siletz estuary, Yachats, Yaquina, Alsea, Siuslaw, and at the Umpqua River. Those encampments on the southern section of the Coast Reservation, by and large held signatory tribes of the Coast Treaty, and many of the encampments were hastily chosen camps where the tribes could wait until the day when their Coast Treaty was ratified.

The Coast Treaty, however, was never ratified by Congress. The lack of ratification of this treaty intensified the burgeoning Indian Affairs problems in Western Oregon. In 1856, Joel Palmer was forced to remove the tribes from conflict areas to separate the combatants and end wars, and eliminate future conflicts. Many of these tribes, their removals and foods, services, and pay for Indian agents was fully paid for by their treaties, what became the seven ratified treaties of western Oregon. Agencies like Grand Ronde and later Siletz were able to hire doctors, teachers, and farmers to help develop the reservations, as well as purchase food and supplies, and provide housing. Many of these benefits and services took a while to implement because Congress was slow to approve funding, and supply routes from the east coast were always subject to be lost at sea, causing the early years to be extremely difficult for the tribes.

The population of Tribes  that fell under the Coast Treaty, did not have a ratified treaty, and their removal and upkeep were not funded at all, except through appropriations from some of the ratified treaty annuities, and the will of Congress to do the right thing and allocate money even without a treaty. In fact, none of the tribes along Oregon’s Coast had a ratified treaty and so their removal, resettlement, and food, clothing, housing, and services were not guaranteed in any way.

Expecting the Coast Treaty to be ratified, in 1856, the signatory Coast tribes had “willingly”- or unwillingly- been convinced to remove from their lands and move onto reservations and to encampments in river estuaries. Congress did take a bit of time to ratify some treaties, for example, the Molala Treaty of 1855, was not ratified until 1859. But some of the tribes, like the Rogue Rivers, and Coquilles, had been through the treaty process before. In 1851, Anson Dart had had treaties signed with three tribes at Port Orford, treaties that were never ratified. For the coastal tribes, there was not a lot of trust for the Federal Government, and its paper agreements.

Yet, these tribes still signed the next treaty and agreed to move. Perhaps they wanted a safer environment for their people and so were willing to take the chance and move, because if they remained they were sure to have many of their people die in continued attacks on their settlements from the volunteers. Or perhaps it was the sterling reputation and character of Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer who made promises in person to the tribes, that they would be cared for, have plenty of food, and the chiefs would have houses built for them and special stipends. Its more likely the former, it was simply a need to survive the onslaught of the Americans, who were in the midst of their fever for gold, land and riches, and the tribes and their previous “rights” stood in the way of the assumed rights of every American to practice their version of “manifest destiny.” Yes, this is more likely what the tribes faced, and so they chose to move to a safer place so that their families would have a chance at the next generation. Many tribes had nearly gone extinct already, and if the tribes remained, extinction by genocide was assured.

At the Umpqua Reservation on the coast, Sub-Indian Agent E. P. Drew took charge of tribes from the Alsea to the Umpqua, and the Coos People brought from encampments in Coos Bay, and waited for orders from a succession of Oregon Indian Superintendents, for the removal of individual tribes north to an encampment on the Coast Reservation proper. At the same time, because Fort Umpqua was located in 1856 in the same location at the Umpqua Estuary, the nascent Umpqua City (an investment by Amos Rogers), a detachment of the 3rd Artillery company could help manage and secure this gateway at the southern end of the Coast Reservation.

The new Indian agency and its Umpqua District became the gatekeeper of the coast. The Indian policy at this time was that Indians could not be off a reservation without passes. Fort Umpqua was there to keep Indians on the reservation, chase down escapees and return them, keep the peace, and do the bidding of the Indian Superintendent. Because the Umpqua Sub-Indian office and Fort Umpqua were relatively close together, they worked together to manage the tribes on a daily basis. The soldiers at the fort did participate in some removals of tribes, they helped shepherd a few removals of Captain Tichenor, but many times when asked for help by the agent, the army would refuse, stating that they were not a strong enough presence on the coast to split their little detachment too thin.

Section of 1909 map of the Oregon and Western Colonization Company, showing Old Fort Umpqua.

The Umpqua Reserve, was not part of the Coast Reservation, but was an extra large encampment where the tribes there would be able to access resources from a broad range of environments for their sustenance. Drew did proposed to make the Umpqua reserve part of the Coast Reservation but it appears that there was no attempt to do so by the Superintendents Palmer, or his successors Hedges and Nesmith. 

It is very engaging to know, based of the reports and letters of the Indian agents, and military personnel, that there were actually a lot of Native people that were not removed to the Coast Reservation in 1856. In fact, there appeared to be hundreds of Natives of several tribes living on the south coast, many hiding in various river valleys. Knowing this, Oregon Indian Superintendent Absalom F. Hedges appointed Captain William Tichenor as a Special Indian Agent in 1857. Tichenor, based in Port Orford (the same Tichenor who was responsible for Battle Rock, in 1851 and founded Port Orford), was contracted to collect together all of the remaining Indians on the southern Coast and remove them force-ably to the Coast Reservation. In January 1857, complaints from Americans on the southern Coast spurred Tichenor to action.

The following excerpted letters describe the depth of feeling on the part of the Americans, and the privileges they expressed, against tribal people who really had every right to remain on their lands, because, the treaty was not ratified, they had not been paid, and as peoples of their own sovereign governments they had every right to insist on remaining in their own lands unmolested by the Americans. But as you can see, the Americans insisted in the removal of the tribes, and exerted military power to force the tribes to remove to the Coast Reservation, because it was their manifest destiny.

Sketch Map by David G. Lewis 2018

Mouth Rogue River, O.T., January 29, 1857

That since the declaration of Peace in Southern Oregon the route from this point to Crescent City cannot be passed in safety in consequence of numbers of Indians being suffered to remain in the vicinity of “Whaleshead” and Chetco, that to this time have not been subdued or removed-

In the month of October last Capt. Wm. E. Tichenor (being duly authorized by you) came to this place and took some fifty men, women & children which we had by our efforts through threats and negociation [sic]collected together- with the most positive assurance on his part that he would return with a sufficient military force to compel the Indians at Whaleshead & Chetco to come in and go to the reservation.

We do not come before you as supplicants but demand as a right to ask you to adopt and execute such measures as will ensure peace and security to us for the future and throw around us the shield our Country Cheerfully guarantees to all “American Citizens.

Port Orford April 5, 1857

I have ascertained that there is about thirty bucks and about the same number of squaws and children at Chetco River and 6 bucks and 5 squaws at Pistol River. The farmers in Chetco valley want the Indians taken away from there if they can be. The Pistol River Indians are in the mountains and would be very hard to get at until summer fairly sets in the others could be got without any trouble.

Oliver Cantrell

By August 1857, Sub Indian Agent Drew had apparently given up on the ratification of the Coast Treaty. The tribes in various encampments on the Coast were literally starving. There was not the funds necessary to pay for their food, clothing, or any other supplies they were promised if they would remove to the Coast Reservation. Winters were especially harsh on the tribes. Since they had been made to move around nearly every year or so, they no longer had permanent villages with all the long term accoutrements. Normally when tribes lived off the land, accessing various food by their seasonal readiness, they would store a good quantity for the winters. This sort of activity was less likely to occur in the reservation encampments. Yes, people gathered, fished and hunted on the reservation, but they were not allowed to range far enough to get enough food. So starvation as the rule in the winters on the reservation, and the agents struggled to get funds from the federal government for these tribes who did not possess a ratified treaty.

By 1857, Sub Indian Agent Drew had seen Indians starving for many years, under federal care, and realized that he could no longer keep them, legally, on the reservation. The following exchange from the Fort Umpqua commander presents the image that Drew and the Army were now somewhat at odds. Drew appeared to be going against orders of the Indian Office, and the Army operated solely on orders. Drew here exhibits a good knowledge of the laws of the nation, and knew that he really had no legal authority to keep the Indians on the reservation, despite what his superiors said.

Fort Umpqua, August 25 1857

Last Thursday it was reported to me that a party of sixty or seventy Indians from the vicinity of Port Orford formerly, were coming down the beach to pay a visit to the Umpqua Indians. Knowing that they did not belong to the district pertaining to this sub agency, I immediately call on Dr. Drew, the sub agent, and proposed that they should be sent back immediately. He however thought that they should be allowed to remain that night to rest, saying that he would send them back early in the morning. One of the chiefs had come on in advance to notify Dr. Drew that they were coming, informing him also that they had no pass from their agent, Mr. Metcalf stating that they had had a pass from Mr. Metcalf, but that it had been destroyed by a white man on the reservation, who told them that it only authorized them to go to the Siuslaw. I was informed from another quarter however that the Indians had destroyed the pass themselves. At all events they came here five miles below the lower line of the reservation- without a pass and remained, As I supposed they would, for several days; not taking them until the following Sunday- and telling the Indians here that they were coming down again the next moon.

Yesterday Dr. Drew received a letter from Mr. Metcalf stating that some Indians had left and gone to the Coquille River and that others were expressing their determination to leave. He particularly requested Dr. Drew to arrest and send back Washington and Jackson, Two chiefs who had told him boldly that they did not intend to remain on the reservation. These two chiefs were of the party above referred to. In a conversation with Doct. Drew yesterday he informed me that whilst that party was down here he learned that they had come down with the interest of crossing (the Umpqua River) and going below if they got a fair chance- yet this information was withheld from me during the whole of their stay and for more than week after their departure. Dr. Drew admitted that a small party crossed about last Tuesday night and he admits that it is quite likely that they were put over by some of the Umpqua Indians. I think it very probable that they were a portion of the same party that left the Sunday before to go up the Coast.

It is evident that this policy will afford the Indians every facility for getting away in small parties, or for making arrangements to get away in a body. A Proper degree of firmness would, I think, keep the Indian quiet, and were some embarrassed by the presence of the Sub-agency at this point I would apprehend no danger whatever of the Indians going below. Dr. Drew contends that there is no reservation- that certain treaties with the Indians not having been ratified by the Senate, they have a perfect right to go anywhere in the territory. The Indians under his own immediate charge are to be found down the coast below this and up the river many miles above Scottsburg. One of the Chiefs belonging to this encampment was not long since offering ten dollars a canister for powder [gunpowder?] in Scottsburg

Under these circumstances I respectfully request instructions as to what cause I shall pursue.

Stewart Capt. 3rd Art., Command (to Machall at Pacific Command)

While Drew seemed to let the Indians do as they wanted, Captain William Tichenor did not have any problems with continuing to force-ably remove the tribes.  A veteran of several early Indian conflicts, including seeing what happened at Battlerock, at the Nasomah Coquille village, and with T’Vault party, and witnessed the Rogue River War, its not surprising he had little patience for the tribes in the vicinity of his town of Port Orford. He focused on the far southern Coast and on the Chetcoes and Pistol Rivers which were some of the remaining significant tribes on the coast. The Chetcoes would be a handful, as not too long ago, in 1853, their two villages on the Chetco River had been decimated by genocidal exterminators from California.

Office Sub Ind. Agency, Umpqua City, O.T., December 2, 1857

The Indians (Chetcoes) have agreed to remove to the reserve & are now being collected for that purpose the last of the month has been agreed upon by the parties as the time of leaving (for Tichner). I will by the 20th of this month send a detachment of troops from this post as an escort & to prevent the escape of any of them on the way.

The Indians (on Umpqua Reservation) built their own houses- no expense to the department- The Indians are now subsisting themselves & if it any… kin of the Chetco’s are in the Klamath Reserve (at the Klamath Estuary) [referring to the removal of the Tolowas to the Klamath River Reservation] & I sent an order to Tichnor to get them from the Agent in charge & bring them with their people- a few are now in Illinois Valley. Capt. Tichnor is in pursuit of them. Mr. Flannagan says they all expressed a willingness to come to the reserve- I apprehend no difficulty in removing the whole of them in a few weeks.

E.P. Drew  (to Nesmith)

Office Sub Ind. Agent, Umpqua City O.T., March 3, 1858

The Chetco Indians have not yet arrived the weather is so inclement that they can move but a few miles per day.

E.P.Drew (to Nesmith)

The Tribes are clearly starving in this short description of the tribes remaining in the Umpqua District. Starvation would make any people harass their neighbors for food. Drew is forced to buy the cheapest food he can, with few funds available. he has been buying food on credit and now has outstanding balances, this practice began with Palmer, because Congress was slow to approve funding for the Oregon tribes and the Christian and moral Indian agents were unable to just let the Natives starve to death.  Recall, all of this is happening to the rightful owners of all of this land, because no treaty was ever ratified for the Coastal lands.

Office Sub Ind. Agent, Umpqua City O.T., March 8 1858

The Indians of this district a part of which are off of the reserve are making some disturbance their own supplies are exhausted & they say they must have subsistence if some kind- constant complaints are being made by the whites & they with me to take them in  the Reserve- I am making arrangements to collect them all this week & subsist them on potatoes- Flour cannot be purchased in the credit of the Indian department here until the back liabilities are paid off. The potato market is over stocked & a limited supply can be purchased in the old credit system… The Chetco Indians under charge of Agt Tichnor arrived yesterday- Capt Tichnor will proceed at once to your office with his accounts-

E.P. Drew

This letter from Drew clearly shows us that Tichenor was in this enterprise of removing the tribes for the money. $22,000 is a lot of money at this time, more than was originally allocated to the whole Umpqua District for a year. Normal annual funds appropriated to the reservations at Grand Ronde and the Coast Reservation were $10,000 for “civilizing and removing” the tribes.

Office Sub Ind. Agent, Umpqua City O.T., Apr 14, 1858

Tichnor arrived at this office on the 31st by way of the Silets Reserve having left the Chetco & Pistol River Indians who were under his charge at that place. Since his arrival I have been engaged in making up his accounts they will amount in all to about twenty two thousand ($22,000) dollars…

E.P. Drew

The following event unveiled in two letters, is perpetrated by Tichenor, which really reveals his character. He was willing to kill all the Indians if they tried to escape. The incidence of Indian men dying at this time was quite high. I wonder if part of this is retribution for the Rogue River Indian Wars. But again recall, the Natives are still the rightful owners of the land, being murdered because they do not want to remove, which is really their right at this point.

Office Sub Ind Agent, Umpqua City, OT, June 16, 1858

I learn that Wm Tichnor formerly Spec Ind Agent is a few miles below this station with 67, sixty seven Indians, squaws & children of the Chetcoes and Pistol River bands, beside the squaws & children which he now has with him, he had when he left Chetco fifteen 15 men, all of which were shot by Tichnor’s party…

Drew, Sub Indian Agent

Head Quarters, Fort Umpqua, OT, June 17th 1858

I hardly know how to report certain circumstances in relation to a party of Indians-mostly Chetcoes- from below, who arrived here yesterday and will, I am told, remain on this reserve, until sent for by the agent on the Siletz Reservation- They consist entirely, of women and children, with two wounded, half grown boys. Mr. W. Tichnor, who has them in charge, called at my office last evening- He stated, that he gathered in this party, on his own responsibility: [he was acting as a subagent, under authority , in Jany. and Feby. last, when the party of Indians, for which Lieut. Lorain’s command was sent, were assembled on the Chetco river; and brought through their reservation to the Siletz]: that the Indian men in the party-say 15 in number- tried several times to effect an escape, and return to their old haunts; and he was convinced from the report of some of the squaws, that at a certain place on the route, they would make another attempt; and that in consequence, he so disposed of the men in his employ, that when the point was reached, they fell upon these Indians, killing fourteen of them, and wounding the two boys- one Indian man, a squaw & some few children escaped- What authority, if any Mr. Tichnor had to act in the premises, I do not know, I infer from his own statement, that he had none, directly- Doctor E.P. Drew , subagent for the Umpqua Indians, resides on the reservation adjoining this Port; He left here yesterday for Salem, O.T., where the Superintendant of Indian Affairs resides- I am told he sent a letter to Mr. Metcalf, the Agent on the Siletz Reservation;- where their Indians are to be located- informing him of their arrival here, and requesting him to send for them. I further hear that neither Mr. Tichnor, nor any of his employees, will go farther with these Indians- I am at no little loss what to do- These poor creatures are in a sad condition, and must not be permitted to starve, neither here, or in their journey of at least some fourteen days travel- Doctor Drew, I learn from one of his employees, intends sending some supplies for them from Scottburgh- The regulations permit the sale of provisions, to Indian agents, but for cash only- and they have not a dollar- also Indians visiting military ports, can be furnished a moderation. I shall feel obliged, on the score of humanity if these women and children a cannot be subsisted  otherwise, to issue provisions to them, and charge the amount, on returns, to the Indians Department- This is a case that can hardly happen again, and I sincerely hope never will. I beg to have the sanction of the general commanding the Department, for whatever I may feel it my duty to do- I may be advisable and even necessary, to send these people to their reservation, without escort and a small number of Govt mules for packing etc.

J. B. Scott, Major 3rd arty, Commanding

This is one of the few times I have seen a army officer support clear murder. Normally the officers under General Wool were more protective of the tribes

Fort Umpqua, OT, June 19, 1858

It affords me much gratification and pleasure to bear testimony to the efficient and ceaseless and judicious efforts of Mr. Wm. Tichenor of Port Orford, O.T., in securing and safely conducting to the Grand Ronde Reservation the families of several bands of Indians, the warriors of which, two years ago, were in open hostilities to the whites, and the unpunished perpetrators of numerous murders and depredations. Apart from the reimbursement of necessary and unavoidable expenditures, a liberal, prompt compensation for his most valuable services would be but a simple act of Justice.

George P. Ihrie, 1st Lt. 3rd, arty, Commanding Co.” B”, 3rd Arty

July 1 1858

Estimate of Funds at the Umpqua Sub Indian Agency [summary]

1857 total required Dec. 31- 24,272.23

1858 Total required July 1- 34,333.23

E. P. Drew

Captain Tichenor escaped any charges for his killing of some 15 Indians, this was normally the case for all white men. He continues to work on Indian removal. The appearance of the Yaquina people is surprising. Perhaps they feared for the safety of the Pistol River people in the hands of Tichenor.

Fort Umpqua, O.T., July 26th 1858

On the 19th inst. Sixteen Indians- all women and children- arrived at this reservation, from Pistol River, on their way to the Siletz Reservation. Mr. Tichnor Spec Agent, arrived the same day from Salem, and took charge of them. As they were destitute of supplies, Mr. Tichnor applied to me for provisions and I have issued what he required. He sent at once to the agent above to send you these Indians, and left, himself, on the 21st for Pistol River, to collect as he stated the few remaining Indians in that neighborhood. Four Indians came here this morning from the Yaquina, to take charge of these Indians, and all have left for that place.

 J. B Scott Major 3rd Arty Commanding (to Nesmith, Supt of Indian Affairs)

I am sure few Indians were anxious to go to the reservation by this time. There were already a lot of escapement from the Reservation, and so news of the lack of food and resources on the Reservation would have already been spread broadly among remaining Indian communities.

Office Sub Ind. Agent. Fort Umpqua O.T. Sept. 15 1858

Since my arrival I learn that several of the Chetco Indian women remain in that country anxious to go to the reservation.

E.P. Drew Sub Ind. Agent (to Nesmith)

Drew has a brainstorm late in the year, and figures out how some treaty funds could apply to the Coastal peoples. The removal and and assistance funds however were a small part of the overall budget, $10,000 to $20,000 in most budgets. Perhaps that would be enough for food for the winter.

Umpqua Sub Indian Agency, Fort Umpqua O.T. Nov. 1, 1858

The Indians of this agency receiving no annuities, it occurred to me that they were justly entitled to a fair proportion of the appropriation for removal and subsistence a small amount of blankets and clothing is absolutely necessary for their comfort during the present winter, and I have a desire to disburse $1200 or $1500 worth of goods to them if thought advisable. A remittance of $1,000 would relieve this agency and place the means in hand to effect the purpose.

E.P. Drew (to Nesmith)

The image we get for the federal letters regarding the Umpqua District is that it was an area intimately involved in Indian removal activities well after the initial removal of the treaty and non-treaty tribes. The Sub Indian Agent Drew, was a smart and knowledgeable person who was willing to ignore orders when he had no legal authority.  The encampments were horrible prison camps for many tribes. Stories from the Coos Bay tribe about Yachats suggest that Indian people were starved, and beaten by the sub Indian Agent there. Lack of funds was a big problem. And while the tribes waited for the Coast treaty to be ratified, they agreed to remove to the encampments, but in doing so they lost their original homelands. Their villages became colonial towns of the Americans in the frontier. We also see that all of these various treatments of the tribes, their removal, killing of many, starvation, exposure to harsh Oregon winters, was all illegal and immoral. Today, these would be called Human rights abuses and Crimes against humanity,  and they would match up well with the treatments of other refugees that are being forced out of their lands and badly treated in resettlement camps. This too is the story of Oregon.


RG 75 M2 Correspondence series Indian affairs for Oregon, rolls 14, 15, 16.

for further reading

The Quartux Journal