The closure of the 1853-1855 treaty annuities in 1875 was a time of hardship for some Oregon reservations. For 20 years the reservations of Oregon were fully or partially supported by annual payments based on the annuities of these treaties. But when the annuities ended, the federal government had made no plans for support of the reservations, and this left some 3,000 Indians without their annual funding. Self-determination and self-sufficiency were not yet thought of as a part of National Indian policies. The federal Indian policy in 1875 was much the same as in 1855, to assimilate the Indians into the United States. But this goal was not at all achieved by 1875 and so it would take a full decade for the Federal government to decide what they are going to do to eliminate Indians by assimilation and by gradual elimination of their rights as sovereign peoples. The Dawes Act would be the next big policy step to work to separate the tribes, remove more of their lands and eliminate all Indian peoples of less that one half Indian blood from the government’s care.
In 1876, we can see the beginning of the stress of the loss of the treaty funds on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, which had been fully funded by annuities from 6 treaties for 20 years. They are allocated only $4,500 for a full year’s finding for all expenses on the reservation, where before their funding was well over $25,000. Out of that amount $1,000 was reserved for the Molel school, because the Molel treaty had not been ratified until 1859, so there were three years remaining of school funds until the termination was reached. The following letter from Agent P.B. Sinnott is a call for help to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Grand Ronde Indian Agency OR
Feby 15, 1876
In communication from your office of date Aug 2d 1876, it is stated that $4,500 will be left to cover all expenses of this agency for the balance of the fiscal year. As $1,500 is appropriate for treaty stipulation for school, it leaves but $3,000 to use for pay of employees and general incidental expenses. Exercising the strictest economy and having reduced the force of employees to the lowest possible limit the amount will be insufficient. I enclose herewith estimate for balance of fiscal year absolutely required. I beg to invite your careful consideration to the item of $1,000 for the purchase of wheat oats & potatoes for seed this spring. The Indians numbering upwards of 700 are now, in consequence of the long & severe winter, entirely out of seed for sowing this spring, $1,000 invested now for their benefit will yield a return of $20,000 to them and in all probability save the department any further expenditure for them. I sincerely hope it will be within your power to comply with this estimate.
The estimate for $1000 for repair of old & erection of new buildings, is greatly needed.
The estimate of $600 for the purchase of oxen & horses is required. One good span of horses us needed for agency purposes & 3 yoke of oxen, those on hand are all old & unfit for service.
Your Obt Svt
- B. Sinnott
U.S. Ind Agent
Estimate of funds required for the Indians service at Grand Ronde Ind Agency OR for 1st and 2rd Qrs if 1876.
Pay of employees & genl Inc expenses 3,000
[pay of] support of Molel school for treatys stipulation 1,500
For Purchase of see wheat oats & 250
potatoes for Indians 1,000
For repair of old erection of old & new buildings 1,000
For purchase of 1 Cpr Horses &
3 yoke of Oxen for Agency 600
U.S. Ind Agent
In August of 1876, the Commissioner of Indian affairs did send a bank draft of $8,000 to San Francisco, but, word about the availability of the funds did not reach Agent Sinnott until November. By August Agent Sinnott is writing letters every few weeks expressing the need for funds and about the likely starvation of old Indian people at the reservation. There had never been enough funding to help the tribes grow their wealth.
Their farms did not produce much food due to poor valley soils, and Indians were not allowed to develop an Industry and sell products beyond the tribal boundaries, legally. Federal laws about Interstate trade forbid such activities. So the tribes were left completely at the mercy of the federal government for all of their food, their rights, and all funding for expenses. Tribal peoples until 1924 did not even have American citizenship so they would be limited in what jobs they could get off reservation if they left. This is why for some 100 years the tribal people would leave the reservations in the summer and harvest food in the Willamette Valley, as it was one of the few jobs they could get without American citizenship.
Later in 1876 there is a discussion about consolidating all of the western Oregon reservations, moving all Indians onto one reservation, but this solution, likely related to the funding crisis, appears to have been only a conversation and was never taken further. It is later that the two reservation Indian agents are eliminated and the agencies combined with both Grand Ronde and Siletz managed by one agent, either located in Portland, Salem, or Siletz for the next 75 years. In 1954 when the western Oregon reservations are terminated, the Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency is eliminated
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.