Stories of Change Among the Clackamas at Grand Ronde


The Clackamas Come to Grand Ronde Reservation

Preparing to Leave

The Clackamas are addressed in letters as living in small encampments near Oregon City. They likely had a small site at Wilamet village on the Clackamas, and a small reserve on the west side of the river at the falls. Victoria Howard’s family appear to have lived away from Oregon City as when they are removed, they first go to Oregon City. From there they would walk up the portage to Canemah and catch a steamer, or in this story a barge, to Dayton. They had to leave most of their large possessions, losing these things. Tribal peoples had no rights, and so did not have rights to keep possessions, nor could they sue for the value of their possessions. Horses and houses were valuable possessions, but Indian people were severely discriminated against by the Americans, who would immediately take the things they left behind and occupy their houses.

When she [grandmother] went … to her Boston (American) woman (friend), she told her, “They are going to take you (Indian) people somewhere pretty soon now.” She (also) told her, “Do not leave anything (here). Take along all your things with you. Put your canoe away somewhere. Someone will take care of it (for you). You know the time when such things as eels come. You may then return, you may come and smoke-dry your foods. Then you must go back home (to your new abodes at Grand Ronde Reservation). That is the way you will do. At the place there (at Grand Ronde) where they will take you, they will give land to you. They will construct a house for you, they will give you various things,” she told her.

Now I do not know how long after that, they took the (Indian) people away (to Grand Ronde Reservation). She went to see the (American) woman (friend, just before departure time), she said to her, “Now they are already taking the people from various places.” She went back home, she got to there. Her old man (her husband Watcheeno) had already broken up their canoe. She tied up everything (of their personal possessions), and then on the following day they took them (south on the Willamette River) in a steamboat. One that was just flat (a barge) they put some of them on it (to transport them as far as Dayton, on the Yamhill River).

My mother’s mother used to say that they did not comprehend it (its meaning for them and its significance to the whites). She had put packs on one horse, she rode another one. She went to Tumwater (to Oregon City), she got there, she came to give her relatives food. Then the very next day they took the people away, and they took her along too.

She left her two horses right here (at Oregon City, because they forced her to join the others who were taken along by steamboat). They reached the place (Dayton) where they were assembling the (Indian) people (whom they were bringing to new homes in Grand Ronde).

The Dayton Encampment

Melville Jacobs, the collector of these stories, likely did not know about the Indian encampments in the valley. There is documented now over a dozen Indian encampments where bands of the tribes were placed on farmer’s lands for about 10 months before they were removed to Grand Ronde. This is a documentation of the Dayton Encampment. The encampment was likely on Joel Palmer’s land claim, where he collected several tribes, housed, and cared for them until they were removed to Grand Ronde. Normally the encampments were close to the original Native villages. This encampment likely had tribal people from areas that were heavily settled by Americans, so Palmer had to remove them to another location so there would not be conflict between the tribes and the Americans. At this encampment then were bands of the Clackamas, northern Molales (Mollala or Molalla), and perhaps a few other tribes. There may have been Cascades people as there had just recently been a war on the Columbia and there was continued a hostile environment towards tribes there. At the encampment the tribes were given canvas tents to live in and American foods, which many tribal people had trouble adjusting to.

They kept her there all by herself for quite some time (because she could not speak English or even Chinook Jargon, and she could not make the whites understand her), before they then (also) brought my mother’s father (her husband and )my mother’s brother who was still little more than a child. They (also) brought all the Molales. We had gone there, they had brought us to the place there where they had gathered (most of) the (Northwestern Oregon Indian) people. It was full of them (at the temporary camp at Dayton). On the following day they killed cattle, they killed hogs, they took them (the slaughtered animals) to them(to the Indians). In the same way also sugar, grease (lard), potatoes, wheat flour and all sorts of things they came and gave us. Some of the old people would not eat it. They just cried, and the days following that they were still crying. That is what they (some of the older Indians) did.

They took some one person from the place where his people were, he was the one whom they made a chief. He was to take care of his (own group of) people.

Some of them would not have as their food the meat of cattle, even worse was pig which they would not eat. But when I (Mrs. Howard’s mother-in-law) got to there I ate everything. My Boston (American)  woman (friend) had taught me everything (about the American’s foods). I fried pig. I put away (stored) all of its grease. Where they had thrown whole pieces (of pork) away (because they would not eat the foods distributed to them), I took them. I smoke-dried the meat (beef from cattle). I put the sugar in a sack. I used everything (that was distributed to the Indians by the whites).

We stayed there (at Dayton) for quite a while. The houses were sail houses(tents) which they constructed for us.

Choosing the Grand Ronde valley for the Reservation

The reasons for choosing Grand Ronde in literature is sparse. There are a few letters from Palmer inviting the Kalapuya and other chiefs to view the valley in January of 1856. Victoria Howard’s account below may very well be a documentation of the time in January when the chiefs went to the valley to approve their removal there. The suggestion that Ballston was also a potential site is interesting. In the long run Ballston would have been better for its agricultural potential. The reasons given here, that the chiefs approved the Grand Ronde valley because they recognized the food plants which grew there, is significant.

They took a number of (Indian) men, they went and showed them the country. First a place close by (at Ballston, about five miles southeast of Sheridan). They (the Indian men) did not want it. They took them further (some miles to the west of there), where we (most of us) are living now (at Grand Ronde Reservation). They (the Indian men) said, this is a good district here. The mountains are fine for hunting. They also saw camas, wild celery, (another type of) wild celery (that resembles rhubarb), lots of various things that were (familiar) for us to eat. So then they chose this place here where we (most of us) are living. The upper Umpquas, the Shastas, the Rogue River Indians, The Kalapuyas (from the Tualatins and Yamhills south to the Yonkallas), the Yonkallas, they brought all of them to this place here.

Early Conditions on the Reservation

This first year, as I have documented in other essays, was extremely stressful. Food, housing, and services were inadequate. The federal government really did not know how to take care of thousands of people, and supplies and money was inconsistently available. There were a few improvements in the valley established by the first settlers, who were bought out.  Roads, a few houses, barns, fences and apparently, according to Howard, apple trees. The chiefs in most situations rated better housing, so it is not surprising that Joe Hudson, or Chief Joseph Hudson/Hutchins of the Santiam, rated a large house.

At first they gave us just sail houses (tents). Speedily we lived in log houses (that were constructed for us) there.  They were full of people. Some houses were already there on the land allotted. Apple trees stood there. They (some of the more fortunate ones) lived there (forthwith). Others had no houses (already constructed on the land that was allotted to them), but later on they built small houses (for those Indians).

I myself (Mrs. Howard) saw their log houses ( in later years). They gave one to my mother’s father. Large apple trees stood there. They lived at that place. They gave one house to one man named du’sdaq, it was large and grey. Apple trees stood there. Across yonder one Kalapuya man (Joe Hudson, who was the grandfather of Mrs. Howard’s husband, Eustace) had one log house, a large house [likely because he was a chief]. They (he and his family) lived at that place. Over there also they gave one (unnamed) man one house. Apple trees stood there the same way too. These (trees) are still standing now, the apple trees (there) are getting to be old ones now.

Temporary Land allotments were likely given out in the 1860’s. The tribes were supposed to be growing their own foods, so they needed assignments. There are still not a lot of records about these temporary land assignments. It may be the case, that for most of these assignments, the 1891 Dawes Indian allotments were based on the previous temporary allotments. This would have greatly helped the tribes as doing this would not disrupt their residences or farms, which were large investments of time and money.

It was quite some time before they assigned land to us.

The separation of the tribes to different areas of the valley is well documented in the Hazen map of the reservation

They moved some of them (the Shastas, Rogue River Indians, and Upper Umpquas) across there (to new Grand Ronde) where they are now living. Then they constructed houses for us (the Molales, Chinooks, Kalapuyas, and Klamaths) here on this side (at Old Grand Ronde), some houses were (already) standing there. They lived at that place. At first our house was yonder up above where one house stood.

Original plan for the Grand Ronde Reservation, Note the locations of the camps for the Rogue rivers and Umpquas south of the river (lower left) in the area then called New Grand Ronde.

Now they brought soldiers, they took care of (guarded) us. Where ever we went, they gave us a paper (a two-week leave permit). They (two soldiers on guard) stood on each side of the road, they held guns. Some (Indians) ran away (from Grand Ronde Reservation), they went back to where their home village was. Such persons got no land.

Fort Yamhill Blockhouse

Watcheeno and Horse Racing

Ki’lipasda asked her (my grandmother, one day), “do you know how many good horses he Watcheeno had?” “I do not know. I did not see them.” They said that they raced (horses). He himself (Watcheeno) had his own horses (in the races). I (Mrs. Howard) never went, I never sat still. They would merely tell about it, I would overhear them say, “Watcheeno won (the horse race).” That is what they said. Ki’lipasda said, “I did not see how many horses he had.” Perhaps he just borrowed them anyway. They used to say that when people came from somewhere or other, they would come for horse racing. Then the next day or some day or other, then they would have horse racing. We were not here (because we cared little about horse racing), we were in the mountains. “They must be having horse races.” “Yes,” said my grandmother, “That is the way I also have been indeed. I (too) have merely heard about them from people ( but I never cared to go and watch them).”

[all accounts this section Melville Jacobs Clackamas Texts volume 2 #131]


Grand Ronde police 1893

Developing Services at the Reservation

The Indian police were housed in the Fort Yamhill Blockhouse. In the 1870’s or so, it was moved from the hill, Fort Hill to the flatlands at Old Grand Ronde. There is was the reservation jail. The grist mill stone is today on display outside of the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas, Oregon. It was found in the South Yamhill river.

Then the agent had five policemen on this reservation and by then they were building a big school house and they build a carpenter’s shop and a blacksmith shop right here at the Agency and at Rock Creek they built a waterpower sawmill and part of it was a grist mill. That’s where the Indians used to take their wheat to be grinded into flour. It was Mr. Bart Trelinger that operated that saw mill. Those that wanted to learn the trade, he tried to teach them. Only two boys learned the trade, Levey Tayler and Joseph Michelle. I am writing this because feel so sorry to think about all the people that signed the Treaty haven’t even got a descendant living. Oh, its other things that happened, but its no use to talk about it. So I am writing this because I am getting old and feeble. I don’t see very good any more and can’t hear very good. When I go to a meeting can’t hear what its about. I have been a government ward ever since 1876 or 7. My children don’t have the chance. That’s why I am writing this, so my children, grandchildren and great grand children will know where they belong.

[Phillip Drucker Clackamas Notes]

Grist Mill Stone on exhibit next to the Polk County Courthouse, Dallas, OR, found in the South Yamhill River, Grand Ronde, Photo David Lewis

Naming Conventions of the Tribes

Recalling an earlier essay, all of these chiefs were the sons of, or grandsons of Cascades chiefs.

...Here is something else. Oregon City John and his three sons were all named by white people. When John’s first son was born it was curiosity to white people. They had to see the Indian baby (Waschams) and the man by the name of Joseph Apperson asked John if he could give his name to the baby, John accepted. When the second son was born, the white people had to see the baby (Tamaquin). This time a man, Hommer Hoffer. And when the third son (Wannexke) was born, the whites were back there again. This time Joseph Apperson’s brother Moses Apperson gave the baby his name. That’s what made it look so odd. Homer and Moses were full brothers. Joseph was their half brother, Joseph’s mother was Cowlitz and Homer and Mose’s mother was Wishram tribe and Kwyshyawhesuschk, this is Oregon City John’s name, he was named after his father. None of them ever used the right name. They just went by the names the white people named them and thats the names they go in the Tribal rolls. It makes it so odd…

[Phillip Drucker Clackamas Notes]


Clackamas Doctors at Grand Ronde

I (Mrs. Victoria Howard) do not recall much of myself as a child. My father died (when I was a child). My mother and I (thereupon) went to my mother’s mother’s place (also at Grand Ronde), we lived there. I was still small. I do not know how long after, but after quite a while my mother married  (again, to Foster Watcheeno). So then I alone lived with my mother’s mother.

They would come to fetch her (to go very early  in the morning) where she would warm them (practice shamanistic curing upon the sick people). She would get up very early in the morning, she would go there where there was a certain house, (or) perhaps two or three houses (in each of which was some sick person)  she would go through (and doctor them). She would go to the first of the houses, she would warm the (sick) person (who lived there).

When she got done, she would move along to another house. There too she would warm a (sick) person. When she got through she would go on to still another house there, she would warm the (sick) person (at that house). She would get back.

Then (when she had gotten back) in the evening, she would tell me, “Make a fire now! Go fetch water!” That is what I would do. Then she would cook various things, and we would eat. We would finish eating, all through, we stopped (eating). Then she would recount something or other. My mother’s father would ask he “How is the sick person now?” She would reply to him, “He is getting better and finished with it now. Maybe he will slowly get well.” She never spoke (disparagingly) about anything (or anybody). Once in a while she would just speak very little (critically) about something or other. I do not recollect anything about some person whom she slandered or criticized. She would merely say. “They are all (these Indians) our kindred, even the people (here at Grand Ronde, Oregon) who are strangers (non-relatives) and not from our Clackamas group.” That is the way that she spoke.

[Melville Jacobs Clackamas Texts volume 2 #129]


Growing Food at the Reservation in 1862

In 1862, there was a special investigation of reservations conditions. The Chiefs from Grand Ronde went to Siletz to give testimony as to the agricultural conditions they were experiencing. Generally, the Indian agent was poorly managing the tribe, and the federal government was poorly funding the reservation.

John Tumwater Chief

10 in the tribe. Each family has land. Can’t raise enough food could raise enough if had team. has no seed has asked many times for seed. The agent promised seed when it comes. Has nothing to eat and can’t raise anything has nothing to do with. My people are well, am well satisfied with the medical treatment of my family. Thinks the employees have done as well as they could have had nothing to do with.

Watcheno Clackamas Chief

My people all here about 30 adults men & all. Some have no land. One ox to the tribe. No seed. Get their food outside [of the reservation or in the forest]. one wagon. Tribe healthy thinks the employee have done the best they could except the Blacksmith, he has some times postponed their work.

[RG 75 M2, Rec. of the Oregon Superintendency, 1862, Grand Ronde April 17th 1862]


Finding Food on the Reservation

In the earliest years 1856-1858) the tribal people were starving on the reservation. Food was not consistently brought to the reservation, and agriculture was not working, with insufficient tools, no seed, and poor soils. By 1858, Indian agents began allowing the tribes to again hunt and fish and gather foods in their traditional way. Fishing became important to the tribes.

My Mother’s mother would be recounting a myth (about the Grizzly woman and their fish reservoir), and she would speak about my mother’s father (her Molale husband). “perhaps that is where the two Grizzly Women kept all of them (all the water beings) in the mountains (in that water hole in the hills near Grand Ronde). They used to say that at a (water) hole there at a small creek, there were a few rocks. That was the place where they went to spear fish. Our son (Mrs. Howard’s brother) used to go to that place there. He would bring back all sorts of things (fish of various kinds).

[Melville Jacobs Clackamas Texts volume 2 #144]


Rations Day 

They used to say that long ago on rations day (Saturday, at Grand Ronde Reservation) was the time when they (federal employees) rationed food. They gave them something of each thing. Now this is the way they spoke. “Now let us be going, let us go get our ration. Today is rations day.” Then they went to the place there where they obtained rations.

[Melville Jacobs Clackamas Texts volume 2 #146]


The Hilarity of Colonization

Melville Jacobs makes some keen observations about the nature of Native humor, as a stress relief from all the change, hardship, and stress they are experiencing. Some people consider this humor inappropriate, or in poor taste, but their stresses were so extreme, with many of these people experiencing genocide, racism, and the loss of all of their lands, losses of all they were and all of their wealth, rights and possessions,  and so to most of the people, that humor was the only relief. [Sometimes I feel this way too after reading and writing these stories, and my inappropriate humor likely reflects this.]

Note 549- This text suggests that Grand Ronde Reservation Indians reacted overtly to many of the changes in their way of life with amusement rather than gratitude, grief, or even some bitterness. For example, they laughed hilariously when they commented upon their new habit of sitting on chairs around a table for meals, Mrs. Howard went on to describe how the federal employees at the reservation, during the 1850’s and later, perhaps each Saturday gave Indians sugar, shoes, dresses, and the like. Recipients would go outside, try on the shoes, stumble and fall down, while other Indians roared with amusement. Some managed to walk in the new footwear, but they waddled like ducks, said some of the native observers, Others at once put on the new white garments which the government issued to them. Old Indians stood by and laughed at the absurd new things. The question arises as to how much of hostility and ambivalence was present in such laughter. Doubtless much of the discomfiture and humiliation felt by the Indians was covered up by means of slapstick, clowning, and joking. 

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One Comment on “Stories of Change Among the Clackamas at Grand Ronde

  1. Pingback: History in the Vouchers: Joel Palmer’s Expense Journal – NDNHISTORYRESEARCH

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