Pee-You Kalapuyans of the Southern Willamette Valley

In the 1850’s, settlers came to Oregon and renamed many valleys, features, and places. Many of them brought names from the eastern states, place-names like Portland, Springfield, and Albany. At least one of the Oregon tribes was also renamed by early settlers. The Mohawk Valley was named by Jacob Spores in about 1849, after an eastern U.S. Algonquian tribe the Mohawk people and their valley in upstate New York. Spores was one of the earliest settlers, and lived at the outlet of the valley, on the McKenzie River. The Kalapuyan Tribe from that valley was clearly named after the new valley name by settlers and treaty negotiators. It was quite common for tribes to be named after the placenames given the valleys by settlers (for example Rogue River Indians- after the Rogue River Valley, or in this example it could go the other way).

This has lead to some confusion as some local histories have assumed that Mohawk Indians, perhaps French-Indian fur traders (with Mohawk blood), settled in the Mohawk valley north east of Springfield. Others have accepted the name and not questioned its origin. I have asked the question, what was the original name of this band of Kalapuyans, as they are clearly unrelated to the Mohawk Indians of New York?

Many historians and anthropologists persist in calling the tribe the Mohawk Kalapuyans, even though they likely know its wrong. The name is utilized in at least one treaty, the Willamette Valley treaty of 1855, and so it has a legal and political designation that will never be outgrown. In addition, the name is copied into innumerable anthropology and history texts.

However, we know the name is given to them and incorrect. The most correct name has to be that written in 1812 by Alexander Ross, an early fur trade explorer.

The names of the different tribes, beginning at the mouth of the river and taking them in succession as we ascend, may be ranged in the following order: –Wa-come-app, Naw-moo-it, Chilly-Chan-dize, Shook-any, Coupé, She-hees, Long-tongue-buff, La-malle, and Pee-you tribes, but as a great nation they are known under the general name  of Col-lappoh-yea-ass, and are governed by four principal chiefs. The most eminent and  powerful goes by the name of Key-ass-no. (Alexander Ross, Adventures in Oregon, 1812)

In addition, I have seen another version of this name, Pe-u, but for now I have not found the textual reference. There is one other document which uses the name in its original form, the Gibbs-Starling Map of 1851. This map documented the first treaty cessions and reservations of the western Oregon tribes. On the map just north of the Eugene-Springfield settlement is a small river which has “Pe-u Branch” written above it. This clearly tells us where the Pe-u tribe was located.

Look closely and you can see the faint “Pe-u branch” written above the river.
Larger section of the map showing Spores DLC. and location of McKenzie river

In 1855, the Willamette Valley treaty includes its own map, the Belden Map showing treaty sessions, and change of name to Mohawk Kalapuyans

Original map with some more details, note: “Ceded by the Mohawk bands of Callapooyas Jan 16 1855” The tribes met with Joel Palmer over the course of about 2 weeks to finish signing by the 22nd.


Redrawn Belden map for Congressional use.

The Mohawk name for the tribe appears as early as 1855 in the Willamette Valley Treaty. Their chief is likely Me-quah or Dick when we compare the preamble and the signature pages of the treaty.


note: Me-quah half way up the list, without a 2nd chief.


Preamble to the Treaty of 1855

They had a small population in 1855 as evidenced by the first population counts at the Grand Ronde Reservation, November 1856.

Mohawk enumeration,  First Grand Ronde Reservation census p1856.

In the census above, the “Mohawk” band of Kalapuyans has 20 individuals (8 men, 7 women, 0 boys and 5 girls), and the Chief’s name is Baptiste. It may be that Mequah -“Dick” changed his name, or it was normal for many natives to die from various introduced diseases or violence in this frontier and lawless place. The chief would have been immediately replaced.  The Mohawk Indians spent about 10 months on a temporary reservation in the Mohawk Valley, from March 1855 to February 1856, when most of the tribes began coming to Grand Ronde.

After 1855, the name Pe-u/Pee-you becomes invisible in only a few rare records as Native culture was suppressed and Americans sought to rewrite the place-names on the land in their own image. This is what conquest and colonization has done to tribal stories which lasted some 10,000 years in western Oregon.

The most famous of the Pee-you Kalapuyans was Eliza, or Indian Eliza. Eliza is reported to have been born in the Mohawk Valley and grown up at the Spores farm. On one story her father is suggested to be Tekopa Kalapuyan and mother Pee-you.  She settled in Brownsville, never removing to the reservation. Eliza becomes one of the most famous basket weavers in western Oregon.

Indian Eliza, died in about 1921, a blind weaver who made iconic purses

The Kalapuyans remain members of the Confederated tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon today.



6 thoughts on “Pee-You Kalapuyans of the Southern Willamette Valley

  1. Hi Dr. Lewis.
    In the book “The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811 to 1911” by Joseph Gaston (1912) (a free PDF is on Google Books). On page 67 it mentions the “Pee-you” as well as another group. He describes a people called the Lap-tam-bif, saying they “lived on the Mohawk River, Lane County, Oregon.” He also described the Pee-you as just living along the Willamette River with no other descriptions.
    I thought it was interesting because the name Long-tongue-buff came up as another tribe that Alexander Ross described in 1812. These are the two closest sounding names described between the two sources.

    I couldn’t tell what Gaston’s sources are for this statement but I then googled the name “Lap-tam-bif” and came up with another book (Also has a free PDF) “Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico” Edited by Frederick Webb Hodge (1907) and got a small description of the Laptambif (pg. 760): “Probably a band of Calapooya proper. In 1877 the name was borne by “Old Ben,” at Grande Ronde res., Oreg., who came from Mohawk r., Lane co.” Hodge says the name was recorded by an Atfalati Gatschet MS., B. A. E., 368, 1877. (Who I am guessing is the Ethnographer working for the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1877). I searched for “Pee-You” in the same book and the name was mentioned but they didn’t know much about them (pg. 646).

    I did a search for Old Ben on your blog and his name comes up a couple times.

    I hope this is helpful information.

    Bryce Danner

      1. Sorry for my previously rambling email with no questions (I pressed send and realized I didn’t ask what I wanted to). This question may be more relevant to the article on the Mohawk Reservation.

        I was wondering if Laptambif or Long-tongue-buff was also a Mohawk River tribe?

        After I sent the message yesterday, I saw a Wikipedia article on the Long Tom River suggesting the river may have been named after this group: “The Native American name of this Kalapuyan group is [lámpʰtumpif]”. But when I looked on the Handbook of North American Indians it names two groups the Chemapho, and Chelamela who lived along the Long Tom. So now I am wondering, based on what I found in the previous message, that the Pe-U shared a close territory with the Laptambif and maybe were placed in the same reservation together.

  2. I documented 9 Kalapuyan temporary reservations in the valley, not one was on the Long Tom, the closest maybe was Chemapho TR at Alpine. I don’t have a record for one with the Long Tom or Chelamela people, but that does not mean there was not one. Even closer than the Mohawk TR up in the Mohawk valley was the Chafin TR at the Spores ranch. So it’s an interesting problem, there may have been a Long Tom TR I just don’t have a record yet. I have not taken the time to initiate a search through Lane County HS records, mainly because their policy establishes a steep paywall for any research there.

  3. Note the census table above there is a notation of Long Tom and 16 people- quite a small number- These people may have easily been on a temporary reservation but we do not have a record of that reservation yet. The records for the temporary reservations are very scattered and there is not much information. Only one has a true report, that for the St Helens reservation, with a census, the rest have either no reports, or perhaps one letter asking for help or additional funds. Some of the records may have easily gotten lost, as Palmer was fired in the midst of 1856, after the first removals, and so letters may have gotten lost during the changeover.

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