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, October 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.




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