The Grand Ronde Indian reservation was a sudden change in plans for Joel Palmer in 1855. The original plan was to concentrate all tribes on the Coast Reservation within four years, or by 1859. The Coast Reservation, established in 1855 by presidential executive order, was completely undeveloped, with few or no roads, an intractable wilderness with few settlers and a few Indian tribes on the coast. It was not prepared to serve some 4,000 Indians removed from their homelands and under the administration of the federal Indian agents. So, when the Rogue River war began later in 1855, and other conflicts with tribes north of the Columbia were warming up, Palmer had to initiate a faster removal to save the lives of the remaining tribal peoples, rather than wait for the Coast Reservation to be ready. Palmer worked with the Army to buy the Grand Ronde Valley and move all of the tribes there. The valley had a developed infrastructure of roads, fields, barns and houses, and was readily in reach of supplies from the Willamette Valley. By November 1855, Palmer was set on moving all of the tribes to Grand Ronde as a temporary measure, a later move them all again to the Coast Reservation. The Grand Ronde Indian Reservation became permanent by executive order in 1857 when it was apparent that two reservations were necessary to separate the tribes based on those who were peaceful, and those who were not, and provide enough natural food resources to sustain them all. This plan was changed again when in 1856 the lower Coastal tribes were being moved north to the Coast reservation, and another temporary reservation, the (lower) Umpqua Reservation was established along the Umpqua River and estuary to hold the Umpqua, Coos, and a few other tribes until they could be moved further north.
When the removals to Grand Ronde occurred in 1856, people were marched up to Grand Ronde from the (upper) Umpqua reservation and Table Rock reservations from January to March 1856. At the some time, until May 1856, tribes from the Columbia and Willamette valley temporary reservations, began in March 1855, were removed to Grand Ronde. The Rogue River Confederacy surrendered by July 1856 and began being shipped from Port Orford to Portland on at least three schooner trips. These tribes were ferried on steamboats to Oregon City, portaged the falls, and then were ferried further on steamboats and barges from Canemah to Dayton. From Dayton the tribes walked overland to Grand Ronde.
The tribes who arrived from southern Oregon were concentrated in the south and west areas of the valley floor. The tribes of the Willamette Valley, Columbia and Cascades foothills were in the central valley and in the eastern areas. In rare reports there are suggestions that some of the Rogue River peoples were walked further overland to the coast to be settled at the Salmon river encampments. The encampments stretched from the Salmon river (Nechesne) to the Siletz river, including some nine miles of coastline. In addition, at least one other removal from Port Orford involved walking the last of the Rogue River tribes up the coast to settle at the Siletz river and surrounding lands. These removals from southern Oregon have been termed the “Oregon Trails of Tears.”
But the removals did not end in 1856. There were still many tribes along the Oregon coast south of and north of the lands set aside for the Coast reservation. The tribes to the south were parties to the Coast Treaty negotiated in the summer of 1855. The furthest north the treaty reached was to the Nechesne people at Salmon River. In 1856 no word of the treaty’s ratification was forthcoming from Congress, and yet the Indian Agents in Oregon had to remove the tribes from the southern coast to get them away from the militant American settlers and gold prospectors. Attacks on the tribes on the coast were frequent. The Chetcos alone had numerous attacks from settlers intent on either killing them all or driving them away from the Chetco River where they had two villages. Many tribes went into hiding in the Coast and Siskiyou ranges.
In 1856 the remaining tribes in the southern coast were placed in temporary reservations under the direct supervision of Indian agents of their districts. William Tichenor at Port Orford managed the tribes in his region, and another district was established at the Umpqua river near the new Fort Umpqua. The Coos Bay tribes were placed on a temporary reservation at Empire, and the Lower Umpqua tribes on their own temporary reservation on the Umpqua. Many tribes were just made to remain in their villages until they were to be removed.
The Umpqua reservation (or Lower Umpqua Reservation- There was a previous Umpqua Reservation in the interior Umpqua valley that was abandoned after tribal removal in February 1856) was created in 1856 on the southern border of the Coast Reservation and extending along the Umpqua river. Plans were made to begin moving all of the southern coastal tribes to the Coast reservation, with a temporary stay at the (lower) Umpqua reservation. The Reservation along with Fort Umpqua became the southern border of the Coast Reservation in order to dissuade tribes from leaving the Coast reservation and manage the tribes being moved north to the Coast Reservation.
By January 1857, complaints were coming from the Americans in the southern coast that there were still Indians hiding in the forests near the new American settlements, which were bothering the Americans intent on making their fortunes in gold mining or supplying the gold miners. Tichenor by this time was on a contractor of the government and took contracts to round up southern Indians and move them north. The rounding up of the tribes was at times brutal, on at least one instance Tichenor and his men killed all of the male natives in the party because they planned to escape.
The Umpqua reservation became a resting and organizing area for the forced removal of the Coastal tribes. Indian catchers like Tichenor, would drop off their “catches” at the Umpqua Agency and the agent there would arrange for their transport to one of the coastal river estuaries within the Coast reservation. Sometimes other tribes on the Coast reservation would help, and would come down to the Umpqua to guide the tribes north. In this manner the tribes from the southern coast were settled at the Salmon River (Nechesne River), Siletz, Yachats, Yaquina, Alsea, and Siuslaw estuaries. These locations became subagencies of the larger Coast reservation. Plans to close the Umpqua Reservation took many years to materialize because funding for removal was unsecure. It was not until 1862 that the Coos Tribes began moving from their temporary habitations om the Umpqua to Yachats subagency.
It was not until 1875 that plans begin to move all of the tribes on the coast to the main agency in the Siletz valley. Between 1857 and 1875, the coastal tribes that remained at the subagencies lived a brutal life. There was almost no money for their upkeep, and little or no money for building houses, or providing basic essentials. The reason for their removal to the estuaries is clear, within an estuary there are plentiful resources to feed many people for a long time. The tribes were to settle peacefully and fend for themselves until the Coast Treaty was ratified by Congress. When the Coast Treaty was ratified, then money would be released, large payments for the land, and annual annuities for the upkeep of the tribes for some 20 years. This would have allowed the tribes to be moved to the Siletz Agency. But this never occurred, the Coast Treaty was never ratified and so people waited for this to happen for a long time, in vain.
In the earliest plans for the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, it was to be a temporary reservation. The tribes were to be removed to the Coast Reservation in just a few years. Yet when the Coast Treaty was not ratified, it was clear that money from the treaty was not coming to the tribes to help build the infrastructure of the Coast Reservation. So by 1857, when the ratification of the Coast Treaty was increasingly doubtful, Indian agents acted to secure and make permanent the reservation at Grand Ronde. The tribes that were to remain at Grand Ronde had not breached their treaties, and so they were to stay with assured payments for annual annuities. The Rogue River tribes who had joined the war in southern Oregon were mostly removed to Siletz agency in 1857. These tribes, many, had breached the terms of their treaties and went to war against the Americans, irregardless that the Americans had continued to attack them with extreme prejudice and violence on the reservations.
The money for the peaceful tribes at Grand Ronde was then used to help support the tribes on the Salmon River Encampment and the other Tillamook tribes on the north Oregon coast. Even though many of these tribes technically fell under the jurisdiction of the agent at Siletz Agent, the Grand Ronde agents took charge of the settlements on the northern section of the Coast reservation. This helped the Indian people at Grand Ronde as there was a fishery established on the Salmon river, with a good wagon road, the Salmon river wagon road, that served as a transportation link between the two settlements. There was no such transportation link from the Siletz Valley to the Salmon river-Siletz plains until much later.
In a real sense, the assured money from the treaties of the Grand Ronde tribes buttressed the encampments on the coast that were impoverished from the non-ratification of the Coast Treaty. Or in other words, the lack of ratification of the Coast Treaty caused the Indian Superintendent of Oregon to liberally move money around his jurisdiction, and reassign oversight to his Indian agents to help provide necessary resources to support the coastal encampments.
in 1875 the Coast reservation was terminated, and the Siletz Reservation took its place. The remainder reservation lands were what is now Lincoln County and the Siletz valley and surrounding forests. The other coastal tribes on the former subagencies and the Alsea Reservation (named so in 1865), were to remove again to Siletz Reservation. Most of these people actually moved not to the Siletz Valley proper, but to the Salmon River Encampment, that nine mile stretch of coastline. Some tribes, like most of the Coos, Umpqua and Siuslaw, either remained in their lands and never removed, or moved back to their original lands. The Coos, ensconced at Yachats for 17 years, in brutal, terrible, conditions, moved back to Coos Bay. Without there being a ratified treaty for the Coastal Tribes, there was really no legal device to keep the tribes on the reservation. In fact, their whole removal, and imprisonment at Yachats, without a ratified agreement (treaty) was illegal, a form of kidnapping, and all of their lands were stolen, most of which have never to this day been paid for.
The resources of the Grand Ronde reservation then becomes an permanent anchor to help the tribes on the coast survive through their imprisonment without dedicated annuities. The resources that came to the Coast reservation were not enough for all of the tribes at the Siletz valley and the tribes on the various coastal subagencies. Any money they received was at the whim of the Congressional appropriations acts. Siletz Reservation did get some money from the southern Oregon treaties, but the lion’s share of the money came through the Grand Ronde reservation as the tribes there had firm and peaceful claims to all seven ratified treaties.
There remain many questions. How was it decided to divide the annual appropriations to the Oregon superintendency? How much of the funds coming to Grand Ronde were diverted to other tribes not on the reservation? Why do several federal reports of the 18th and 19th centuries state that Siletz Reservation peoples have no claims to a treaty? How were such decisions made and what did this mean?
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.