Stagaush Tribes remove to Salmon River: Excerpts from a History of the Little Nestucca

The manuscript- a History of the Little Nestucca is a book-length essay at the Oregon Historical Society Library. It appears to be completely unpublished. The author Alexandra Ley Rock, was none too generous towards her characterizations of the tribes. Regardless, there are many interesting cultural tidbits in her narrative and some great information about the conditions at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. Her focus, on the travel routes and supplies to the Little Nestucca area, outlines on the amenities at the reservation and ignores munch of the situation and condition of the tribes. Dave Leno, whom she mentions several times, was an Umpqua Indian at Grand Ronde and is an important figure in the history of the tribe. Peter Petite is also an important person, a French-Iroquois fur trapper from the reservation.

Litchfield the store owner, was at one time a sub-Indian agent and worked at Grand Ronde for the Indian service. It seems confusing that he was able to establish a mercantile store on the reservation when the reservation was not a place that white men could settle or buy land. He was perhaps leasing his store from the federal government as the store appears to have been right near the military fort. There were some tracts of land in the reservation designated for agency use and the store may have occupied one of those plots.

The settler surnames mentioned, are interestingly enough and some of the same surnames as appear in the tribe today. Names like “Rock” have a large family at the tribe. We know there was extensive intermarriage between tribal people and their neighbors in surrounding towns. Because of this the history is another historical text of the tribe.

The narrative is presented in abridged form. I have preserved most of the references to Native peoples, unless they were repeated. I have omitted probably three quarters  of the “book”. There are interesting tidbits throughout that address the origin of various names, first settlers actions, and the early development of industries. The text is incomplete in its present form. For people wanting more details about various families, the original manuscript is available at OHS library in Portland.

The Little Nestucca country lies in the southern part of Tillamook County, Oregon, bounded on the south by Lincoln County, on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north and northeast by Nestucca Bay and the Little Nestucca River. It includes the section called Meda and the narrow valley of the Little Nestucca River northeasterly from the coast to Dolph.

Army Corps US Coast Survey Map 1874, Nestucca (Nestuck) bay


For generations it was inhabited by Indians whose tribal name was “Stagaush” meaning “people of Saga”. They consisted of 24 Nestuggas, 100 Tillamooks, a few Clatsops, and some Nehalims, numbering not far from 200 who had not been a party to any treaty. They lived by hunting and fishing, knew nothing of education, were cruel and vicious, extremely unsanitary, morally degraded, living according to the tradition of the Tribes to which they belonged. Men beat their squaws and children, traded squaws for other squaws or even fish; gathered wild berries and herbs, made bark tents and canoes fashioned from logs which they paddled with crudely made oars.

Staguash is the name of the tribe, while Nestucca is the placename. They are then from Ne-staguash, which becomes Nestucca. The placename identifier in this Salish Language is “Ne-” or “Na-“, meaning land of or place of….

About 1855 this section was set aside as an Indian Reservation and continued as such until 1876 when it was thrown open for settlement by the whites. This made removal of the Indians compulsory, yet they refused to leave it, claiming it as their own. Through the efforts of Special Commissioner Simpson, they reluctantly consented to move to the mouth of the Salmon River in Lincoln County on condition they be included under the Grand Ronde Agency.

As I have determined in other research, some of the details of the tribal history, as represented here, are incorrect. Ben Simpson was a sub-Indian agent, and yes, he arranged them to remove, but they eventually consented to remain under Siletz Agency jurisdiction. The tribe was party to the Coast Treaty when they visited the Umpqua river in the summer of 1855, and they are the furthest north of the tribes involved in the negotiations. Those tribes north of the Nestucca, the Tillamook, Nahalem, and Clatsop, were not part of the negotiations. Even though it had been said that removal was compulsory, it was not. There was not a law that made removal compulsory, they were convinced to remove after years of discussion. In fact the tribes, technically under US land law, still owned their lands, since it was not purchased. Indian peoples, had little or no legal recourse in Oregon to defend their right to remain on the land, and had few champions from among the White settlers who were willing to speak for any rights they may have had. Indian land claims lawsuit settlements did not conclude for most of the coast of Oregon until the 1950’s.

When James B. Upton from Oregon City tried to take possession of the cabin on the claim he had selected, Chief Nestugga Bill refused to leave it, claiming it as his. After considerable pow-wowing, Joe Woods, who was present and could speak Jargon, persuaded Chief Nestugga Bill to leave if Upton would pay him $30.00 cash. This sum Upton did not have. It was finally settled upon by Upton giving Joe Woods $15.00 cash and Joe Woods gave the Indian a cayuse. (assume this is a Cayuse breed horse) Joe Woods filed a claim on what is now the town of Woods on the Big Nestucca River. Although the Government had allotted the Indians lands of Salmon River in exchange for the Reservation they were forced to give up. They refused to depart until the tides were right to move by water. In June, 1876, they, with all their possessions in their canoes, paddled out over the bar into the Ocean and made a landing at the mouth of the Salmon River.

This is a remarkable account of the removal of these people from Salmon River. The manner in which they did this is very traditional and they took their possessions with them, including canoes. Note that here Chief Nestugga Bill is paid for his land, The payment had to be very informal, as American citizens were not allowed to officially negotiate land transfers with tribes. As some of the stories do not align well, do not agree on the dates of removal, it’s possible that Chief Nestugga held out for some sort of payment before he would leave.  Federal BIA reports suggest these people removed to Salmon River in December of 1877. There may very well have been several removals at different times.

To reach the Little Nestucca Country from the Willamette Valley and Sheridan, the wagon road left the present highway east of what is now Valley Junction, turned to the right and ascended a rough corduroy road up a very steep hill to the residence of General Phil Sheridan. Descending to the lower level, the road from there to the Agency was often belly deep mud for the horses. Often settlers had to throw down the rail fences to travel across the fields. This condition continued until 1900.

About 1868, the former residence of General Sheridan was occupied by Cass Sargent and family who catered to the travelling public. When the house (none too large) was filled, others slept in the hay in the barn across the road from the home and had meals in the house.

This hill section is directly in the center of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation; Phil Sheridan’s house is still standing and is now part of Fort Yamhill State Park. The wagon trail does go up a steep grade to the house and still exists alongside the state park trail. A barn was torn down some 20 years ago when the Grand Ronde Tribe bought the land at the base of the state park, which may have been the same barn.

The first homesteaders experienced many hardships reaching their claims. At the Agency, they were often delayed for days- the guests of Pat Sinnett (Indian Agent) [His name was Sinnott] until the swollen waters of the Yamhill River subsided.

Proceeding as far as Dave Leno’s Place (2 1/2 miles) through deep mud in winter they left the wagons and teams, secured cayuses [horses] from the Indians to ride over the old Indian trail and on the Old Baldy Trail over the high points of Coast Range emerging east or southeast of what is now Meda.

The name of the Indian trail is in dispute. Some claim it was Baldy, others claim Galdy-Hardy Rock, one of the earliest of the homesteaders called it Galdy.

Dave Leno’s house was a half way stopping place. He was a hospitable host supplying beds and eats for all travellers.

En route, the settlers encountered fallen logs or other obstructions, camping nights beside a big log, gathering long strips of bark fallen from high firs to build a shelter large enough to crawl under out of the rain. Later on their travelled the same route to the general merchandise store of Gilbert Litchfield, (located close to the Phil Sheridan house) and packed supplies on pack saddles to their homes. Steep hills, swift and dangerous fords, and swamps of mud were all overcome by the sturdy pioneers.


Peter Petite, who lived near old Grand Ronde was the best fiddler obtainable and he could keep feet tapping lively all night. Square dances were the most enjoyable; dancers worked hard on these; The “Fiddler” increased time until toward the end it would be a race by the dancers to keep up with him. Men and women often sang lustily amid screams of delight. Many men could “call” and a few women were experts at it.

Surprise dances were popular and hastily arranged; word passed from house to house by neighbors or by someone on horseback. Without any announcement to the unsuspecting host, they would gather in bringing one or two fiddles along, Eats and coffee must be served at midnight, One winter evening, Oscar Faulconer (son of pioneers, Marcellus Faulconer) and his wife (Ida Bower Faulconer), welcomed such a crowd in their small cabin home, finding them totally unprepared with food, Ida put on to boil, a large black old fashioned kettle of winter beans which, with a huge pot of black coffee, were laughingly and eagerly enjoyed by all. Daylight approaching, the old fiddle range out that familiar tune, “We won’t go Home Until Morning.” All joining in the singing and preparations for a hasty exit.

The Little Nestucca river forms a junction with Big Nestucca River becoming a Bay opening into the Pacific Ocean. The one continuous beach south of the mouth of the bay to the Rocky Point south of Slab Creek belongs to the Little Section. It is possible at very low tide, by being alert, to go afoot around the high rocky bluff and get into the Bay Beach beyond; thence to the Salmon Cannery built on the Bay in 1887, but which is almost entirely obliterated.

Army Corps US Coast Survey Map 1874, Slab Creek (Nascowen) origin of Neskowin

Many settlers from Slab Creek section took this route to secure a rowboat on the Bay and continue a trip to Ocean Park, (Now Pacific City) or to the town of Woods for provisions. There was no store nearer in the earlier days. When tides prevented the Beach route, they left the Beach at north end of Lake, followed the road to a trail (from near the house of Hardy Rock), around the hillside up to the crest of the hill; thence northward to the farm of Chris Christensen and to the Bay.  

Some distance south of the mouth of the Bay stands a large rock on the Beach. In earlier years, it was much higher and larger. It is crumbling away gradually. Children enjoyed climbing it, and young couples found it a quiet retreat under a few trees upon its top. Some persons called it Refusal, to offset Proposal Rock at Slab Creek.

Some distance south of Refusal Rock is a picturesque lake known as Fletcher Lake because A.W. Fletcher at one time owned the farm which included part of the lake. Earlier pioneers called it Shortridge Lake because Lewis Shortridge homesteaded it. Here was a rendezvous of great flocks of ducks and geese; hunting was excellent until game laws became effective. The strip of beachland between the lake and the Ocean made an excellent camping ground, free for many years to the public. Shortridge built a wooden flue (supported by stakes) across the lake to supply fresh spring water. This, in time, blew down.

At the Lake’s southern end was a very lovely natural water lily pond which has completely disappeared. At the mouth of the Lake Stream, large fresh salmon were caught with pitchforks, as many as 16 or 20 on a single tide. A few dead whales have been thrown up on the beach and once a large dead octopus came ashore.

Army Corps US Coast Survey Map 1874: Haystack Rock and Cape Kinawanda


The wild berries are salmonberry, (red and yellow) thimbleberry, salal, elderberry, (red and blue) wild current, huckleberry, (red, blue and black), and wild gooseberry. These grew abundantly in pioneer days and all along low swamps grew the wild crabapple which made excellent jams and Jellies. The wild salal berry was also used for pies. Earliest settlers believed cultivated fruits and berries would not grow on the coast; yet fruit trees do well in some places and berries grow abundantly. The tame blackberry went wild and spread abundantly. The blackberry has spread rapidly making profitable income for women and children and some men. They have been purchased by companies, packed in barrels and shipped east. In 1912-13, a company set out (north of the Neskowin resort) cranberries at great expense; this proved a failure. A Berry used by the Indians for medicinal purposes is still found on high hills and rocky ground where it has not been killed out by the stock. Kinnikinic was used for tobacco, and is also eaten by Indians who dropped the berries in hot whale oil. These were dipped with clam shells.

Early Days of the Nestuggas

It was the custom of the Nestuggas (Indians) to put their brave dead in his canoe and swing the canoe between two trees. The earliest settlers needing canoes dumped the bones out and took the canoes for their own. Some of the Nestuggas had fine big canoes which they had hewn from cedar logs found washed in on the beach.

The Indians often took trips in these canoes to Haystack Rock, (several miles out from Nestucca Bay Mouth) for bird eggs and young birds to eat for food. These Nestuggas were scavengers doing little or no work. The early settlers had often seen the Klootchmen (squaws) cut up dead whales washed up on the beach, slice the blubber into thick chunks, pile them in a canoe, dry it out by piling hot rocks on top to extract the grease which they dipped up with clam shells and drank.

Stopping Places

A popular stopping place was at old Grand Ronde on top of a hill overlooking the present site of Valley Junction and of the rolling reservation. At the time the only road passed the house built for General Sheridan while stationed there to control the Indians included to make trouble

Sheridan was a Lieutenant while at Grand Ronde, and for a time in charge of the military affairs of Fort Yamhill, there was little or no “trouble” made by the tribes, besides a few drunken brawls and some escaped people, which the military would return to the reservation. Sheridan became a General during the Civil War, in fact The hero of the war for the North. Sheridan did return in about 1867 or 68 to Oregon, to Salem, to a heroes welcome, and arranged to sell his remaining lands in Oregon, at that time.

Another stopping place which served as a hotel, was the Indian home of Dave Leno, two and one-half miles from Agency. Most of the years the road was almost impassible and travelers were glad to put up at Leno’s. Good meals were provided and a good fire to dry out wet clothes, boots and socks. The Leno family were hospitable hosts. In the spring of 1984, Hardy Rock, his wife and three small children (one a baby) were glad to spend the night there although the family of five had to rest in a three quarter bed because the house had been earlier filled to capacity.


A few of the original cabins of the Indians were very good. The one on the homestead acquired by Chris Christensen for $30.00 was made of heavy planks which had washed ashore at the mouth of Slab Creek off a wrecked vessel. The cabin on the homestead of James B. Upton was a very well built log cabin. It was in this cabin Chris Christensen had the first post office and here Will Christensen (the first white child) was born previous to the date James B. Upton moved his family there. For the first year, Mrs. Anna Hardman Christensen cook on the Indian fireplace. The flue and firebox were made of wood with rocks in the center. Her baking was done in a homemade Dutch oven which was a round iron box set in a bed of hot coals.


Before the arrival of the whites, the native Indians had a passion for horse racing and their race track was on what is now the Redberg farm. Between 1870 and 1875, Chris Christensen, with great difficulty, brought three fleet ponies from Netarts to participate in the races; these easily won over the Indian ponies. “Indian Chris”, the Chief, a big, fine looking Indian with two squaws and a host of children coveted the ponies which Christensen refused to sell. He bargained, however, with the Chief to give the ponies to the Indians in exchange for the labor of the Indians culling oysters through the spring season at Netarts where Christensen was engaged in oyster culture. This Christensen’s ingenuity solved a difficult problem confronting him.

Neskowin Port Office was so named by Sarah Page, wife of Henry Page, who was the first Postmaster. She named it Neskowin, an Indian name, meaning “plenty fish.”

Its unclear this is the correct meaning of Neskowin.


The first store to supply the earliest settlers was at old Grand Ronde on top of the hill beside the Phil Sheridan House. The owner John Gilbert Litchfield, was kind hearted man who would stake most the settlers for the first five years, the time required for them to live on their homesteads to prove up on them. Provisions were packed on pack oxen and mules over the Old Indian Trail requiring six days to make the trip to Grand Ronde and back.

The author called this area on the hill old Grand Ronde, but that is normally associated with the junction of highway 22 and Grand Ronde Road. The hill area is the fort normally. Perhaps the association of old Grand Ronde changed with time.


Excerpts from: Short history of the Little Nestucca River Valley and its early pioneers : Tillamook County, Tillamook, Oregon / written by Mrs. Hardy Rock (Alexandria Iey); edited by Mrs. George R. Goodrich, Tillamook Oregon 1967, Oregon Historical Society Library.

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