Lost Horses & Rights of Native Peoples in Salem, Oregon 1875

In 1875 a good number of letters were sent around to Indian agents about Indians who had “illegally” left the reservations and who were living in a settler community, about small minor crimes and disturbances by Indians from the Dalles to Roseburg. During this time the federal government was in the midst of taking several hundred thousand acres form the Coast reservation, many of the Native people were feeling insecure about their living situation, and the reservation culture was still extremely rugged.

Additionally, in 1875, the funding from the treaties of 1853-1855 ended. The 20 years of payments for education and other services was gone and whatever funds the reservations received in 1876 and later was based on the will of the Federal government to take responsibility for the tribes. In the future, in the 20th century all of this funding would be labelled “welfare” for the tribes. However, the levels of funding were so poor that Natives on reservations lived in extreme poverty, some have called “fourth world conditions,” well into the med-20th century, and for some reservations  it is this way to the present day.

In the 1870s, many of the native people had receive informal allotments from Indian agents and were growing wheat, hay and other products. But in places like Grand Ronde the soil is bad so not much food grew there. The Native farmers instead were forced to look outside of the reservations to make money and enough to feed their families and buy basic essentials. Very little support came from the federal government and most support came for salaries of the agents and staff, and fixing a few buildings. There were about six labor jobs on each reservation, and white men, by-and-large, got these positions, and would get paid twice the wage of the Native men doing the same jobs.

There was much distrust of the Federal government, the tribes still distrusted American doctors, and many tribes felt that the government had lied to them and did not care for their conditions. For many tribe, the distrust was completely righteous, as the Congress had failed to ratify numerous treaties and so their lands and rights were stolen from them.

A few tribal people did adapt well to the American culture and learned how to take part in the culture. Many of the Kalapuyans had early on, accepted the Americans into their lands and been trained in ranching and farming. They were extremely forgiving, and perhaps really had no choice because they did not have a large population could not have stopped the settlement of the Americans at all. Perhaps the advice from Chief Kiesno in 1812 had influenced Kalapuyan leadership. In 1812, a contingent of Kalapuyans had visited Astoria to see what the Pacific Fur Traders were all about and had tried to steal the stores of the Astorians when they were away on a hunting trip. Chief Kiesno counselled them that the Americans would not be treated in such a manner, that they would not be stolen from and instead the tribes would encourage a trade relationship and this would enrich the tribes, without conflict. Its like Chief Kiesno was thinking about the future and strategized a way they would survive the newcomers.

So, when Kalapuyans were faced with the treaties in 1851, 1854, and 1855, they chose to sell their lands and survive on the promised permanent reservation, instead of perish from the constant rough-grit sandpapering by American settlers on their people.

Back in 1875, three tribal leaders at the Grand Ronde Indian reservation had the trust of the Indian Agent. They had adopted a constitution and elected leaders of he reservation based on tribal affiliation. These leaders Jim Durbin, Jo Hudson, and John Hudson, all Kalapuyans, were “trustees” allowed to leave the reservation for business in Salem with the requisite passes.

These passes were a method the Indian agents chose to allow the tribal people tom travel off reservation without (much) harassment from Americans. It was not formally Illegal, but it was federal policy that the Native peoples must remain on the reservations and it was also a policy within the state as well. Natives without passes were subject to be jailed by local law enforcement who would notify the Indian superintendent, who would send the agents to fetch them and bring them back to their resident reservation. Native peoples, even though they had signed treaties and lived peacefully on a reservation, and called the President their “Great chief” where not U.S. citizens and did not enjoy the same privileges as citizens, including freedom to move about the land. The irony is that these tribes had lived on this same land for over 10,000 years, but in a few decades, through American colonization, they were disenfranchised from their lands, and they became aliens, in the own lands. (If this seems eerily similar to immigration “policy” today, you are right, it does seem that way, and in fact there are cases, today, were Native people have been labelled as illegal aliens!)

These three men Durbin and the two Hudsons apparently spent a bit of time in Salem and probably had business there. Their horses were stolen by an Indian Boy, who was off the reservation without a pass, as they point out in the letter. (Its interesting that even Native babies did not become US citizens, when they are technically born in the United States … I wonder if this was a law, or just policy? The Native American citizenship act is passed in 1924. A few Native people did become US citizens previous to this, usually by proving up on their Dawes act allotments, or by joining the military. A few others denounced their Indian culture to become Americans. (I am not sure how this was done but they apparently needed influential sponsors.)

Grand Ronde Ind. Agency Or. , Oct 23d 1875

J. Brown Esq. , Special Ind. Agent, Salem


Indians named Jim Durbin, Jo Hudson, & John Hudson state that they lost three horses on the night of the 15th inst.: they were pastured about 1/2 mile east of the R. R. Depot at Salem.

Salem RR Deport Previous to 1917, Willamette Heritage Center Image


The animal of Jim Durbin was a Black Mare, short tail- 15 1/2 hands, collar marked-

Black Horse

Jo Hudson’s was a ches[t]nut sorrel  mare (hobbled). 

Chestnut Sorrel Horse

John Hudson, a bay horse.

Bay Horse

The impression of Jim Durbin- who tells me about the case- is that the animals were stolen, and that a young Indian Boy named John Silas who belong here (but is out without a pass), knows something about it:

The two Hudsons are now at Salem or vicinity and I presume will see you about the matter.

If you get any information concerning the animals please send word. 

Yours Very Respy

C.D. Folger

Horse theft in the 19th century was a serious crime. In some areas punishable by death. Its unlikely they would have put an Indian Boy to death, but if he fell into the wrong crowd, many things could occur. Indians In Oregon were still in conflict with the settlers in Eastern Oregon and in the Klamath Basin. Settlers were more likely to shoot first and answer questions later. It would have been odd for any white people to have suffered any fines for actions against Native people in this time period. The tribes would have definitely dealt with the boy if and when they caught him.

It was common to have Native people in the local towns, even if it was against federal policy. Native people did a lot of odd jobs, helped farmers keep up their farms, would hunt and sell their take to settlers. Some Natives were very well known and became somewhat celebrities in various towns. Native men especially would cultivate a lot of friendships with local townspeople so that they would not complain and they could gain jobs. The railroad was a favored travel corridor for the Natives as there were not fences in their path, and they could travel outside of prying eyes. Many Natives camped alongside railroads while they stayed in the towns. The Oregon and California Lands, called O & C lands, were millions of acres of land donations given to the railroads for nothing, so they would build tracks connecting the urban centers throughout the west. There was little enforcement on their lands against people camping.

Sometime later that year, a settler by the name of Peter Cary, living in Albany, seems concerned about Jo Hudson and the horse thefts.

To One Arm Brown                 [maybe he only had one arm?]

Salem, Oregon

I want to know whether Jo Hutchins has found his horse, please send me word. If he hasn’t found then tell me and I will look around for them. Do you know where three boys Frank Uphi (?) Bill Harris & Johny Silas. If you know where they are let me know. Answer Tomorrow,

Pete Carey, Address Albany, Please direct to Mr. Thos Monteith. 

Jo Hutchins, apparently, was a well-known and respected Native to garner this attention.

Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins 1841


RG75 M234 R622 Microfilm records of the Oregon Superintendency.

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