The Significance of Salmon River Encampment in 1875

In 1875, the United States Congress passed an act, March 3, 1875, to reduce the Coast Reservation. This act, terminated the Alsea Reservation, that section on the south, and opened that section to white settlement. The previous act in 1865 (President Andrew Johnson signing the Executive Order of December 21, 1865) had eliminated a section in the north and a section in the center, in part because of the Yaquina Bay oyster rush. This last southern section held the encampments at Alsea and Yachats. The tribes here were the Alsea, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw and Coos Bay peoples. Federal records had many of these peoples on the Umpqua reservation, on the coast just south of the Coast Reservation, for 6 or 7 years until they were all removed to the Alsea Sub-Agency in about 1861. In 1865, when the Coast reservation was divided in half by opening lands for settlement, the Alsea sub-Agency was then called the Alsea Reservation.

The 1875 act by Congress, closed the administrative structure known as the Coast Reservation, and left Indians in the former Alsea section and the Tillamookan tribes north of the Salmon River (Nechesne) estuary without a claim to their lands. The Indian agents were then ordered o remove all of the Indians from these newly non-reservation lands to the newly named Siletz Reservation, the last large parcel of land on the coast, that was a reservation and closed to white settlement. The original Coast Reservation began with 1.1 million acres and in 1876 was reduced then to 225,000 acres.

Grand Ronde Reservation was another parcel of land, just over the Coast Range that bordered upon the Siletz Reservation. The tribes at Grand Ronde were related to but separated from those on the former Coast Reservation. The jurisdictions of the two main reservations Grand Ronde and Siletz were intermingled in some respects. Because of the difficulty of travel from the Siletz Valley to the Salmon River, the agent at Grand Ronde took over responsibility of administering to the northern section of the Coast Reservation from nearly its inception until about 1886. A salmon fishery was located for the Indians at Grand Ronde on the Salmon River and serviceable roads were constructed from the Grand Ronde agency to both the Salmon River and to Tillamook and the Nestucca just so the agent and the Indians could access these additional resources on the coast to feed the Indians at Grand Ronde. As well the Agents at and Catholic minister Rev. Adrien Joseph Croquet at Grand Ronde visited the small Indians encampments at Tillamook, Nesctucca and Salmon River which was reciprocated by the Tillamookans who visited the store, physician, and church at Grand Ronde regularly.  There became a firm relationship between the coastal communities and Grand Ronde in these nearly three decades of interaction, with much intermarriage.

The crux of the matter in 1875 was the community encampment at Salmon River. This was a developing community of mainly Tillamookans, the original people were the band of Nechesne or Salmon River Indians. Their main subsistence was the fish from the river and what they gathered from the coastal zone or hunted and gathered in the local coast range. The land at Salmon River was not good for farming. But because by 1875 there was a good road from Grand Ronde to Salmon River, it was seen as the next best place to settle more tribes on the Siletz Reservation, behind the Siletz Valley and the Siletz Estuary. The Siletz Valley and estuary was already well settled by Indians, Rogue River, Tututni, Shasta, Siletz and others, and had already been allotted farmlands in an informal process, by 1875, and so those tribes on the former Alsea Reservation were seen as best to remove to the Salmon River encampment.

Map from Letter of April 29 1876

Between June and August 1875 councils were conducted with the tribes at Alsea and Salmon River, and Tillamook to convince these Indians to comply with the orders from Washington, D.C. These orders were to remove the tribes to the Siletz Reservation, as it was a federal policy that Indians could not live off of the reservations and among white communities, even though many individuals and families did. During the council at Alsea, the tribal chiefs and leaders told the Indian Agents that they would not move again, that they had lost their lands, and the government had never paid them, and that they had already removed, not once but twice, and they no longer trusted the word of the government. They said that the President was not listening to them, and they were rather just remain here, on the Alsea Reservation, because they had built a life here and wanted now to die here. They admitted that life was hard but that the government now owed them something, for all the land they had given up. They did not owe the government anything, they had built their own houses and found their own food, and would not remove again. They were very firm in these thoughts for all of the tribes.

1875 Council at Alsea: Jack Rogers- Chief of Coos Indians- I did not at first understand what Mr. Fairchild said. (He was sick and not present at the beginning of the Council) My people told me though I knew before they were talking about this country. My people do not want to leave here neither do I. I think if my people do right they will improve and become like the whites. When the whites first saw us they gave us a few things. Afterwards they said “let [us] have your land.” They talked one year and we then gave it up. Then we went to Umpqua. Today I am not like them. I am not hungry for blankets shirts etc. This country looks good to me now. I would like to have the Washington Chief help us to become like the whites. I have been absent at Coos Bay and return to find a good school in operation, and my people’s children learning like the whites. Today I do not want you to push us on a bad road. If my people are hungry there are plenty of fish close at hand. It is a good country for fish and game. My people are very much afraid of the idea of moving. It seems as if since we left our old country we had no friends, Today we want our agent to write a strong paper to Washington and help us. Several have said today they did not want any money. How can they get along unless they are helped? My people the Coos and Umpquas are very much like the whites now. We only have a few houses. The Great Chief did not give them to us. We are like the whites in this, we do not wish to give up our country. The whites live at Yaquina and Umpqua 25 miles distant. I think that is right. I think when we gave up the Country between Yaquina and Alsea it was enough. Don’t drive or haul us. It will be useless for any more agents to come and talk with us on the matter. We never will give up our country. We have a great variety of food which is produced here and that is the reason we do not wish to leave. Neither whites nor Indians made this country. God made it. We do not want to give it up. (Transcription Version 1, RG75, M234, R621)

[Interestingly, the tribes at this point saw themselves as being loyal to the President of the United States. They spoke about him as their great chief, and yet legally none of these tribal people were citizens of the United States. As well, since their treaty was never ratified, there was no signed and ratified agreement which would make them fall under United States administration. To many Americans, they were now alien outsiders to the nation, even if they still lived on or near their original homelands.]

The plan to remove the Alsea tribes to Salmon River, while it was ordered, had not yet been funded in 1875. Even the council meetings were not funded by the government. The Commissioner of Indians affairs simply ordered the councils and removals to happen but without support, making this an unfunded mandate. Numerous letters from Indian Agents, most notably Ben Simpson, requested funding to make the removal happen. Simpson and later sub agent Bagley then wrote that they would not follow the order, because they had no funding.

The Tillamook peoples were somewhat different. They had no treaty or promise of a treaty and so they requested a treaty and then stated they would rather go to Grand Ronde because they already knew that community and liked the prospect of getting the services at Grand Ronde. Simpson then met with them and did negotiate a treaty with the Tillamooks, [a document which I have yet to find] and they made a number of demands for their removal.

The meeting notes with the Salmon River and other Tillamookans follows,

June 4 1875:

…requesting them to meet me at the mouth of the Siletz River, on the 1st of June. … I met at that place

representatives of the Tillamook and three men from the band of Nestucka Indians, though, without authority to speak for the tribe. The Chief of the Nestuckas refused to come, declaring that he would die before he would leave his country, and that Agent Sinnott of Grand Ronde Agency had told him no one had the right to remove him, and that he had better refuse to appear at any council, or pay any attention to my requests. This was undoubtedly a falsehood, though, I had no doubt but someone has been tampering with him. The Nestuckas number 24 all told, the Tillamooks 33 men and 29 women total 62 besides children. There are also two families of Clatsop Indians living near Clatsop Plains at the mouth of the Columbia River, so that the number of Indians living north of the boundaries of the Reservation is not far from 130.

I represented to the Indians the great advantages they would derive from a removal to a reservation where the Govt would assist them, giving each one enough land to make a good farm, and helping them to ploughs etc. They replied that they had formerly made a treaty with Supt. Dart (a copy of which dated in 1851 they produced) by which their right to a tract of land at Tillamook was secured and that it was the unanimous desire of all their people to live, and die, in their own country. I told them that would have the right to settle on Grand Ronde Reservation if they preferred. If they were determined to remain in this country they could do so by renouncing their tribal relations and securing homestead claims. This they declared they all desired to do, and I gave them a letter to Maj. W.H. Boyle of Portland Oregon (Inspector of Indian Supplies) requesting him to inform them just what steps were necessary to take to secure their homesteads according to law.

I also told them, that if after a full consultation with the members of their tribe, they should conclude to embrace my offer of land at Siletz or Grand Ronde, they could visit me at the Agency.

Between the mouth of the Salmon and Siletz Rivers, is a considerable tract of excellent land, adapted to cultivation or grazing. The rivers teem with fish, and it is much to be regretted that these Indians did not conclude to settle there. A road could be constructed with comparatively little expense from the Agency to Tidewater on the Siletz, making a safe a rapid means of communication between the Agency and this part of the Reservation.

At present the journey has to be made in canoes, and from tide-water to the present landing are many rapids difficult to be surmounted in coming from the Coast.

During the summer many of the Siletz Indians reside at the Mouth of Siletz engaged in drying their winter supply of fish- some are located there permanently.

Fairchild, U.S. Indian Agent to Hon. E. P. Smith, Commissioner of Indian Affairs

[June 4, 1875 RG75, M234, R621]

Fairchild’s summary admits to many of the logistical problems of the Coast Reservation. The chief of the Tillamooks had his own way of stating what he wanted.

Joseph Duncan, Chief of the Tillamooks said there are only seven of us come from the Tillamooks. Those other Indians do not belong to our tribe, but are Nestuckas and others. We seven know the mind of our people and have been commissioned to speak for them. We all want to stay in our own country and take up land like the whites. Our people all think alike on this subject.

At this point General Joel Palmer, who was present, spoke at length to try to convince them to remove to a reservation, and away from whites. Palmer applies a bit of scare tactics to his speech telling the chief that they would be like slaves to the whites and their women prostituted if they remained off reservation. Palmer also stated that the Indians on the reservations are living rich lives, having everything they need. This is a huge lie from Palmer, as the conditions on the reservations were very rough on the Indian peoples, from their beginnings. As well, poor working conditions and the prostitution of women happened on the reservations as well.

Joseph Duncan answers: We have heard all you have said and will faithfully report to our people. If they conclude to accept the propositions you have made we will send a deputation to visit you. We were only authorized to say what we have said ie; that our people prefer taking land in their own country by homestead entry. We understand that to do so we must renounce our tribal relations and become like the whites. It may be that when our people hear what you have said they will change their minds and conclude to come to the mouth of Salmon River. We will look more closely at the land as we return to our homes. [Minutes of Council held with the Tillamook and other bands of Indians residing north of Siletz Reservation June 1st 1875, RG 75 M234, R621]

In September Indian Agent Ben Wright met again with the Tillamook tribes, and negotiated a treaty with them for their removal to Salmon River. Wright, along with Grand Ronde Indian Agent Sinnott and Special Agent Brown met and convinced them it would be the best for them to remove to south of the river. The treaty has proven difficult to find but one provision is described in the Wright’s report on the meeting.  They want a White employee will be allotted to them to assist in the building of houses, bringing land under cultivation. Fairchild suggests that this will necessitate the building of a road from Siletz to the coast and the hiring of at least two employees, a teacher and an agent in charge of farming and the labor of the encampment.  [September 30 1875, RG75 M234, R621]

Immediately upon the conclusion of the treaty, within the next month, the Tillamooks moved to Salmon River and were then expecting the government to help them build houses, but the treaty remained in a limbo, with no word coming from Washington D.C. This unsanctioned treaty was never ratified. Reports from later years, well into the 1890’s suggest that no money was ever allocated for building houses. That a few houses were begun, but never completed.

In November 1875, Agent Fairchild wrote a report to the Commissioner which appears to have gotten him fired, Fairchild suggested that the government had ordered the removal of the tribes to Siletz and many were willing to remove, but that Agent Litchfield had stood in the way. The implication is that no approval to move was given and no funding was allocated for the move of these Indians from Alsea to Salmon River. The Tillamooks had already moved to the land between Siletz and Salmon rivers. Fairchild was adamant that it would be a perfect reservation for these Indians with plenty of fish and other resources, including flat lands suitable for agriculture.

Fairchild’s final report for the year presents some important details about the removal of the tribes in 1856 and later.

[the removed tribes] soon learned to depend for subsistence to a great measure on the produce of the soil. A large proportion of which they expected the agent to supply. They built their houses, and cultivated their little patches of land at the Agency. There was their homes, and they were unwilling to abandon them to live at the Fishing Stations. Under the operation of this change of diet, the Indians died by scores and hundreds, till from a census of about 3500 they have dwindled to 1000.


There is no doubt but the Alsea Indians would remove immediately, the Siletz Chiefs have informed me that the Alsea Chiefs had so informed them… all the Indians at Siletz Agency, who have not large farms would soon remove to the Salmon River Station… [December 16, 1875 RG 75, M234, R621]

Then Agent Sinnott at Grand Ronde added to the conversation. The Tillamooks had removed without reimbursement and Sinnott was under the impression that they wanted to remain under Grand Ronde. Sinnott’s letter appears to present the case that the Tillamooks get reimbursed and he relates some new events regarding the Alseas,

The[re] were three Alsea Indians here (Grand Ronde) last week. I went with them to Salmon River Country which is only a few hours ride over a good road and showed them the country and the advantage it would be to them to remove there. The[y] talked with me and the Indians who were removed. The[y] gave their consent to remove to Salmon River, and started for Alsea to greet B. Simpson there. So I think when he returns to Alsea he won’t have much trouble to remove the majority of the Indians of Alsea to Salmon River. [September 27th 1875, received December 29, 1875, RG75, M234, R621]

Sinnott here may have been pushing for more responsibilities and for a greater parcel of land for Grand Ronde, but its unclear how much competition there was between the agencies at Grand Ronde and Siletz. The Road had been built by Grand Ronde Indians, and the Salmon River fishery developed by them as well.

At the end of 1875, there was no movement on the part of the tribes at Alsea. The Tillamooks were apparently voluntarily removed to Salmon River, but without the prospect for help building their houses for the winter, the agents suggested they would simply go back to their homelands. Once they left the homes, the agents said their cabins were immediately taken over by whites.

The Salmon River Encampment emerges in 1875 as a major location of much debate. Its location appears preferable to all tribes, because of the variety of resource options. Then while many historic accounts suggest that the Alseas from the terminated Alsea Reservation moved to the Siletz reservation, they did so, but not to the Siletz Valley but instead to Salmon River. The Annual reports of the Commission of Indian affairs suggest this move was not made until at least 1878, likely because of the need for funding to remove the tribes.  And many of the Tillamooks did leave Salmon River, they moved back to their homelands and there they remained. Some Tillamooks came to Grand Ronde when they married tribal members there. In the 1890’s this area  of the coast is also taken from the Siletz Reservation and is thrown open to white settlement. The town of Lincoln City takes over the 7 miles stretch of coastline between Salmon River and Siletz river. It very well may be that the proposal to remove all of the tribes to Salmon river was refused because the government knew that the rest of the coast would be one day opens to white settlement and the Siletz Reservation further reduced. In other discussions about Federal Indian policies can be found the ultimate plans and policies of complete assimilation of all tribal peoples, and the eventual elimination of reservations.

The fine details of all these events remains to be found by this researcher.

additional resources


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