Indifference to the Needs of the Tribes: Testimony of William Miller, Physician at Grand Ronde, 1862

In 1862, there remained many problems at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. Problems of food and shelter, medicine and education where not solved yet. The seven treaties of western Oregon were ratified by 1856 (Molalla treaty is an outlier at 1859), and they all promised services for the tribes who removed, including education, food, shelter, and other services. In fact, the ratification of the treaties provided directed funds for just these purposes. Education had its own line item in the annual budgets for each treaty. Yet the Agents at the reservation were unable to get a school or adequate medical facilities operating for at least 6 years. While staff were hired, a doctor, bookkeeper, farmer, miller, interpreter, and others, their equipment suffered greatly. Much of the problem revolved around the Indian agents and their commitment to help the Indian people. In most cases that commitment was not apparent or realized.

The follow testimony is given by William Miller, a doctor hired in 1861 for the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. In this testimony its clear that he has a low opinion of the Indian Agent James B. Condon. Condon appears to have not cared for the tribes or their health and his behavior as described here, is negligent. However, even after this investigation, Condon continues as Indian agent and wields some power. In October of 1862 he relieves Agent Biddle of his position at Siletz agency for mismanagement of the affairs of that agency. Condon continues his career as an agent until at least 1864, writing a number of annual reports.

I have many questions about the answers given below by Miller. How long did this treatment of the tribes continue? How many people died because of this neglect by the federal government? How many got sick from diseased meat? Why could they not keep the school operating?  Were funds misappropriated for a false school? These are questions that may never see a complete answer but begin to fill in the image we have of early conditions on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. This blog-site has many essays that address this subject.

Grand Ronde Apr 7th 1862

Evidence of Dr. Wm. Miller, Physician and Surgeon

Q. When did you come to this agency?

A. About 2 & 1/2 quarters [quarter years]

Q. Did you find the Indians in a bad condition?

A. I did, many of them

Q. Has the Agent furnished you with necessary facilities for treating the Indians?

A. He has furnished the medicines but has not furnished a proper place nor suitable vessels to keep the medicines and some of them have damaged for want of stove to keep the office dry or warm. The shelving I made myself, the Agent would not have it done.

Q. Have you the necessary hospital stores on hand and furnished you by the Agent to meet the demand in your department?

A. I have not on hand the necessary hospital supplies and my department suffers for the want of them.

Q. I sent a bill by the agent for the supplies. I wanted some time in the fore part of March. He brought a bill of supplies  purchased which I have copied in to my report as purchased in the last quarter, ….. as stock on hand. But the supplies are not yet here and the agent is now in route to Eugene on a location… tour or at least he said he was going there. The bill shows the purchases to have been made on the 19th of March.

Q. Has the agent manifested a habitual indifference as to wants of your department?

A. He does.

Q. Will you mention some facts which to your mind establish the fact of indifference or carelessness.

A. When I came here I found the medicines in boxes many articles for want of glassware damaging by evaporation and moisture such as camphor, citric acid & the Alkalies. The room assigned me is …. No stove or furniture of any description with … roof. I notified the agent, he took no action until some time in February. He furnished a stove (though frequently urged) with this exception this matter has been totally neglected by him.

Q. Have your sick the food necessary in order to secure health?

A. No.

Q. Have you ever told the agent they need more food?

A. I have told him they were suffering for healthy nourishment.

Q. What has been his reply?

A. He said he had been down among the Rogue Rivers and was surprised to see so much dried meat.

Q. About what time did you know anything about the Rogue Rivers having a good supply of meat?

A. There were several of the Rogue Rivers sick about that time and they complained to me that they had no meat but that of cattle that died of starvation and it looked to me on examination as if it was such. They had very little else.

Q.  Have you known him to encourage them in the use of such meat?

A. I never heard him tell them to do so, but the once I hear him till the Indians to go skin an use an ox that was raw with disease, one that was sick and had been for a long time and was nearly dead in the morning and so stiff & could not raise his head.

Q. Did Mr. Condon tell you he expected Mr. Rector here to examine the affairs of the agency at any particular time?

A. He told me he expected Mr. Rector but I did not understand him that he expected him at any particular time.  I told him of the employees knew that Mr. Rector was expected they would not leave. There were four of going out on the morning of the 4th.

Q. Do you think it was his intention to deceive you as to the time of Mr. Rector’s visit?

A. I think it was.
Q. Have you confidence in his statement and dealing with those connected with the agency.

A. His course has been such that I neither believe not disbelieve till I have other evidence.

Q. Are you an employee under him.

A. Yes I am.

Q. Has he increased your salary?

A. He has.

Q. Does not such statements endanger your position?

A. It does, I expect, but I hold myself ready to tell the truth at all times salary or no salary.

Q. Do you know anything of Molelle manual labor? [school]

A. I never know of the existence of one. I heard that it was the intention of the agent to establish such a school.

Q. Did not they have a school here that was call by that name?

A. There was a school for a few days in the Clerk’s Office for a few days while the Clerk was sick and is now claimed that it was a manual labor school.

Q. Do you think it could be constrewed to be a manual labor school in any sense of the term?

A. If calling a few children together for a few days in the Clerk’s office and giving them a little something to eat constitutes a manual labor school. I am out, They gave them a lunch at noon and said the object of the lunch was to call the children together.

Q. Was there any school taught at all after the first of Jan?

A. No, and if my recollection serves me, not for a month previous.

Q. Has he had the necessary convenience for doing the business of the office?

A. He has not the office through the winter has been unsuitable for any man to occupy.

Q. Has me been faithful in the attempt to discharge his duty?

A. He has, he has been faithful all day and done a good deal at night in his own house.

Q. Has he been interfered with by the other departments of the agency?

A. He has, he has been called to act as interpreter.

Q. Is his interpreter incompetent?

A. I think he is not a good interpreter.

Q. Does he do the principal part of the interpreting?

A. No not to my knowledge.

Q. What does he do?

A. He has interpreted a few times. He has acted in the capacity of expressman [?] spent considerable time in packing … and many chores, and some of his time in supplying the place of Mr. Magoon the Miller.

Q. If the agent had kept a competent man in the place of interpreter and kept him in his place would it not assist the clerk in his duties and enable him to … & the requirements of his office.

A. I think he would, he might not have been able to have… under the circumstances, but if the office had been in order and the interpreter done his duty and the agent made no unnecessary work, the work would now be up.

Q. Do you think the clerk a competent man?

A. I do, I think him not only competent man but a good one.

Q. Do you think the agent competent?

A. I don’t think he is, he lacks pretty near all the qualities for the place.

I certify that I will qualify to the above, Wm Miller.


M2 microfilm collection, Federal Indian correspondence records from Oregon



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