The year 1876 appears to have been a key year to discuss further reductions of the Siletz Reservation. The original Coast reservation was a 1.1 million acre expand from near the Nestucca to just south of Florence, a 100 mile stretch of land, extending 20 miles inland to the east. In 1865 the removal of the Yaquina tract was done to appease white Americans wanting to harvest oysters in the coastal bays. In 1875 a further reduction of the southern Alsea Reservation, and the area north of the Salmon River caused a retraction of the reservation to only that tract between the Salmon River and south to Newport. The Coast Reservation was administratively closed and renamed as the Siletz Reservation. But the greed of the White Americans was yet to be appeased. Whites wanted all of the land, and so there was much talk in the region that they would have all the land soon.
Petitions, some fake, were sent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stating that the tribes wished to give up their lands and become Americans. One such fake petition was perpetrated by an real estate salesman from Dallas, naming all of the Grand Ronde men as signatories to the petition. One month later, the another petition, this one real, was sent from the same men at Grand Ronde stating that the earlier petition was not signed by them.
The pressure on the Federal Government at this time was immense to continue opening new lands to white settlement. This same year, 1876, saw military action in the Klamath Reservation over Klamath Claims to the Sprague Valley, and military action in the Wallowa Basin of eastern Oregon, over the encroachment of white gold miners into the Nez Perce reservation lands. Similarly, the Malheur Reservation of the Paiutes was still being created and the survey had to be halted because of the close proximity of white land claims. Then tribes of eastern Washington had to continually defend their rights to grazing areas for their horses, over the encroachment of Cattle from white ranchers, causing additional military actions. There appeared to be no safe place for the tribes in the Pacific Northwest any longer as White encroachment began to crowd them from their promised permanent reservations.
In 1876, a conversation emerged about the possibility of confederating of the Siletz and Grand Ronde Peoples together in the same reservation. Indian Agent P.B. Sinnott at Grand Ronde was in favor of such an amalgamation, envisioning that the Native peoples at the Siletz valley would move to Grand Ronde and the Salmon river encampment. In this arrangement, Sinnott stated there would be plenty of food and there would be a savings of funds from the Government in the only funding one set of agents and agency staff. This plan would also solve the issue of whether the Tillamooks and Nestuccas were to be overseen by Siletz or Grand Ronde. But the Native peoples at both Grand Ronde and Siletz stated unequivocally that they wanted to remain in their lands. The Siletz peoples in particular were strong in telling the President that they did not want to remove, yet again.
The following is a partial transcription from a Tribal Council meeting at the Siletz Reservation in 1876. During this meeting George Harney is the presiding Chief of the tribe, and he sets the tone. Its quite clear that the goal here is to prove to the President that they are advancing in civilization and Christianity and as such they are being “good Indians” and should be allowed to remain. There are also some hints of future Indian policies. The request for a paper for their lands, is significant because at this time, the Native peoples have informal claims to tracts of land assigned them by the Indian agent. In 1887 the Federal Indian Policy changes and the Dawes Act is passed, creating a path for the Natives to gain Indian Allotments, which they can prove up in 20 years and gain a fee-simple [paper] title to their allotment.
In addition, we see that their church at Siletz, the Methodist Evangelical Church is being used as a tool to help them keep the reservation. The conversion of the peoples to Christianity and therefore to civilization, along with their display of appropriate work ethics in making prosperous farms, is exactly the tone they need to convince the President to allow them to remain. This does not mean they were faking their conversion, its likely that most of the younger generations were fully converted to Christianity, but we known from other accounts that many of these people, really were able to operate in two religious religions nearly seamlessly. As elders today explain it, these people accepted Christianity, and still practiced their Native belief system, “just in case.”
Regardless, the statements from these chiefs of the tribe likely were what was needed for them to remain at Siletz. The statements individually present a supreme knowledge of whats going on around them, the pressures of White settlement, and where they all came from, what they gave up to accept this permanent reservation, and how they knew they had to make a stand or they would not have a future for their children.
Indians on Siletz Resn. Oregon in council, remonstrate against their removal from their present home etc.
July 10, 1876
By request of the Chiefs of the various tribes of Indians on Siletz Reservation a Council was held at the Agency; the object of which being to give an expression of the feelings of the Tribes in regard to their lands. After opening of Council the first to speak was George Harney, Chief of the Rogue Rivers and Head chief of all the Indians on their reservation. He spoke as follows;
To the Commissioner Ind. Affairs, and to the President of the U.S. Our Fathers in Washington. We are now happily enjoying the homes you gave us on this Reservation when some of us laid down our arms in our native country and by your request came here. We gave up the land of our natural fathers in exchange for this. Now we desire to keep this. Here, most of our people who were once enemies of the white man, have died and are buried. We have given up our old ways of getting our living and many have their teams, plows, wagons & tools. We do not want our old homes and hunting grounds that are now occupied by whites. Our people know how to work, and all they ask is that they may have their papers for their lands and some of them will want such to sow and some tools, harness, teams etc. and then we can live. We are glad, you are making our mills, so that we can have flour to eat all the time. We want schools for our children and we want them all to learn the ways of the White people, and, become Christians. We want you to help us in this.
Coquille Charlie, spoke as follows;
Harney has told you what he thinks and I think the same as he has told. I have my own team, wagon, plows, harrow and plenty of wheat, oats, apples, potatoes etc. I want but little from you as a gift but would like for you to give me a paper for my farm so I will not be afraid the Whites will get it away from me. And I would be glad if you would send clothing, and such food as I cannot raise, so that I could work for it, or buy it with wheat and oats. I want all my people to work and get independent so that they will not have to beg for anything.
Aleck Ross Chief of the Naltenatnas said,
I will say but little. I am glad you are writing it down to send to the great Chief. The Whites at Yaquina, say some of our people want to leave Siletz. (Addressing his people) How many of you want to go to another country? Is there one man, woman or child? If so, tell us, I want to say to the President that I have not two hearts or two tongues so as to talk two ways. I want to keep my home here and don’t want any other home while I live, and my people are all alike. I do not believe you want us to to give up our homes. You have given us our saw mill & the grist mill is now in Corvallis, and I think they are intended for us. I beg you do not grant the petition of those who would drive us from our homes. I am trying to be a Christian and I believe God will take care of us and let us keep our homes.
Old Arjesse Chief of the Eucres,
It is hard for me to hear any of my people talk of such things as this you are talking about. Most of my people are dead, and buried here, and here I want to die and be buried. I am now on old man and do not expect to live long. There are but few of my people now, but we will try to do all the work we can, and want our papers for our homes.
Old John Chief of the Chasta Costas
Who says I or my people want to leave our homes? I want you to write to President I want to live and died here. Our younger men are raising hay, grain and gardens, and we have houses, barns and some of us good Orchards. Why should we be asked to leave them? I am happy to see the mills being built here so we will soon be able to get all our subsistence here and not go outside to work. We are happy when we can live at home all the time.
Jack, Chief of the Macanotnas,
When I first came to this country, it was not a good country, there were no houses, barns, orchards, fields, or other improvements. We have helped to make this change, and now we want to keep them. Why has the mill been built? It is for the Whites? I think not. No I once left my home and came here, and now I want to stay here while I live and when I die, I want my children to have my home.
I go outside to work for subsistence clothing, horses, wagons etc. not to quit my home. I do not want to be driven away from my home.
William Strong Chief of the Tootootnas,
I have just arrived from the funeral of another of my people. We have been burying them here for 20 yrs past and want to continue to do so. When we are all dead we want our children to live here. I exchanged the home of my father for this when we quit fighting the White Soldiers. I am now glad I did so. I cannot go outside and but land of the White man. I am glad Government has given me my home. I want to improve it. But white men are always trying to get our land away from us. I wish they would quit going so, it makes our people unhappy. What our Agent is trying to do for us is right, and I hope the President will help him. Our children want to go to school and we want them to go. We want to be Christians all the time. When I was out side some White men wanted me to give up Siletz and some outside and be a citizen. I don’t want to do so. I want to educate my children here, and let them be citizens when they can get homes like the whites. Now we have a good schoolhouse, and hope we may soon have it made larger and filled with our children with Brother Royal as our teacher. We have many good Christians and I hope soon all our people will become such. And now I want to say to our High Chief in Washington, we do not want to give up our lands.
Joe Chief of the Klamaths
White men want to take our homes from us. I told Mr. Fairchilds I did not want them to talk that way. The white people of Oregon did not give the lands to us. We exchanged our Father’s lands with the Great Chief of the whitemen for this home, and now we have lived here more than twenty years. I am ready to do what the Great Chief tells me, but I don’t want to leave my home. My people all want to live and die here, I don’t care what the Oregon whites say about getting our land and driving us to another place if the Great Chief will not hear them.
He was followed by Coquille Jim, Evans Bill, Naltnoting Captain, Ben Harding, Old Klamath John, Long Prairie Charley, Mister Charley, Jim Meacham, Jerry Cass & others, when George Harney Head Chief arose and very eloquently urged his people to work to improve their places, and thus convince the President of their determination to be civilized.
He reviewed the past, showing them how different their circumstances are now from what they were when they were dressed in skins and many of them were entirely naked. Now they were clothed most of them were in their right mind and he hoped they would all soon see that it was best to send their children to school and church where they might improve faster than they had ever done before. His speech is too long to copy.
The Council then discussed the best plans for the completion of the mills, harvesting the crops, improving the road etc etc.
RG75 M234, Oregon Superintendency, R623
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.
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