A Short History of Oregon Tribes in the Contemporary Era

                        (Draft Modified 2018)

In,  Murphree, Daniel S. editor, Native America: A State-by-State History, Greenwood Publishing group, 2012.

 David G. Lewis, PhD


The state of Oregon begins its human history at approximately 15,000 B.C.E. Archaeological evidence suggests that native people first entered the eastern parts of the state. However, owing to the environmental differences between the eastern part (arid climate) and the western part of Oregon (acidic soils and degrading coastline), evidence of an early western Oregon entrance has either eroded into the ocean, has degraded, or has been buried by the Missoula Flood sediments. Large mammal remains, such as mammoths and giant sloth, are found in western Oregon suggesting that native people could have easily survived in the region perhaps earlier than any archaeological evidence suggests.

There is evidence suggesting that Chinese or other Asiatic people have continually been carried on Pacific oceanic currents to the coast of Oregon. Beeswax from 17th century Chinese shipwrecks was recovered in the Tillamook area of the north coast. The European history of the state of Oregon begins in 1775 with explorations on the west coast of the continent. The Spanish were first to explore the region, yet missed landing in Oregon. Spanish navigator Bruno De Heceta viewed the outflow of the Columbia River from his ship in 1775.  Captain Robert Gray made the first European discovery of the mouth of the Columbia on May 11, 1792. Captain George Vancouver’s lieutenant, Broughton, explored the Columbia River in November 1792.

The first overland exploration was made by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the Corps of Discovery (1804-1806). They entered Oregon via the Snake River on October 16, 1805 and wintered at Fort Clatsop on the Columbia River among the Clatsop Indians. In Oregon, the Corps of Discovery encountered many tribes living along the Columbia River, including the Kalapuyans, Yakamas, Wanapams, Walulas, Umatillas, Wishrams, Teninos, Watlalas, Multnomahs, Kathlamets, and Wahkiakums. Upon meeting with the tribes, the Captains were able to gather geographical information on the river ahead of them, and political information about the tribes they would encounter. Their guide, Sacagawea, aided them in communicating and trading with the tribes along the way. In March 23, 1806 the Corps of Discovery began traveling eastward on their return trip.

Following the Corps of Discovery came a era of fur trading.  American John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River as a fur-trading outpost in 1811. Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver on the north bank of the Columbia near present day Vancouver, WA in 1824. Additional explorations of discovery included naturalist David Douglas (1825-27, 1833), Jedediah Smith Expedition (1827-28), and Captain Benjamin Bonneville (1832). Missionaries arrived in Oregon beginning with Methodist Jason Lee (1834) who settled in the Willamette Valley, and Catholic ministers Henry H. Spalding and Marcus Whitman (1836) who established their mission on the Columbia River.

Each of the aforementioned early settlers, explorers, and missionaries had extensive contact and connections with Oregon tribes. Jedediah Smith’s party encountered widespread resistance from the tribes along his route through California to the Oregon Coast, ending with the massacre of his party by the Coquille Indians. Jason Lee established the first Methodist Mission in Oregon, at Champoeg in the Willamette Valley. Lee took in Kalapuya Indians from the Willamette plains and enlisted them in an extensive reeducation pedagogy, including giving them American names, cutting their hair, teaching them American style agriculture, and making them wear American clothing. Protestant and Catholic missionaries began their work on religious conversion by baptized tribal peoples throughout the region and translating their sermons and the bible into Chinook Wawa trade language. Their efforts were not fully successful.

The fur trading companies employed tribal people as guides and established extensive trade with all local tribes. Most of their employees were French-Canadians or French-Indians and many of these men were of Algonquian tribal origin. Hudson’s Bay Company also employed many Hawaiian men as laborers and watermen, and extensively relied on local Klickitat men as guides and trade intermediaries. Many of the Hawaiian laborers who traveled to Oregon married into neighboring tribes. The primary fur bearing animals were beaver, otter, and fox. Fur-trading expeditions occurred deep into Oregon, with Hudson’s Bay Company sending fur-trading parties to remote tribal villages. The fur trade changed the economic environment for the tribes. A small town grew up on the outskirts of Fort Vancouver consisting of mainly native people and fort laborers. John McLaughlin, Chief Factor of Fort Vancouver[i], helped many settlers and travelers to find their destination, including setting them up with supplies, and guides regardless of their nationality.

Beginning in 1843, information and maps of the routes to Oregon, as well as the fecundity of the Willamette Valley, created fervor for settlement in Oregon, with many pioneer groups traveling the Oregon Trail. The fur-trading forts and previous missionary establishments gave the region a supportive infrastructure to aid the settlers in traveling to and establishing their homesteads.

Cultural Environment

The diversity of tribal cultures in Oregon is attributed in part to the great diversity of environments, from semi-arid desert, to high mountains, to near tropical rainforest. The Cascade Range creates a natural divide of the state between the semi-arid plateau and the lush western Oregon environments. Pre-settlement, tribal zones in Oregon can be roughly divided by five zones: the Columbia River, the Plateau, the Willamette Valley, southwestern Oregon, and the Coastal zone.

Tribal cultures in Oregon generally follow the northwest culture type as complex hunter-gatherers. Most tribes followed an annual cultural pattern of the seasonal round. The seasonal round consisted of seasonal migrations of tribes and tribal families to a variety of locations where resources were known to be ready for harvesting, hunting or fishing during specific times of the year. Tribes followed salmon migration cycles. During the summer, tribes traveled into the mountains to harvest berries, and roots, herbs, medicines, mushrooms and weaving materials for basketry. Along their annual routes, tribes established temporary encampments, where at the end of the fall season, they would return to permanent villages to live throughout the winter. Rivers formed a network of water highways for the tribes to transport their seasonal harvests back to the main villages for processing and storage. Families had their traditional gathering areas and would pass the rights to hunt, fish, and gather to their descendants. These rights could be sold or leased to other tribes who desired to utilize the resources.

Many of the permanent villages served as primary trading centers for the area, the most well known in the region being The Dalles at Celilo Falls. Trade between tribes was common, with hundreds to many thousands of tribal people gathering at specific times of the year to trade in the regional centers. The need for regular trade and the diversity of languages and cultures created a need for a way to communicate between tribes. The trading language Chinook Jargon (renamed Chinook Wawa) became one of the mediums of communication, along with Indian sign language. Chinook Wawa was widely adopted by the early Euro-American fur traders and words from many European s and Hawaiian languages were readily adopted into the language. At the Grand Ronde Reservation Chinook Wawa became a pidgin, a first language in many households. Chinook Wawa survives into the present era in a vast region, from Alaska to California, and from the Pacific Coast to Montana.

Columbia River

Tribes along the Columbia River in Oregon were mainly Chinookan language speakers. The tribes are divided into three main groups: Lower, Middle and Upper Chinook tribes. The Chinookan tribes controlled the Columbia River resources and formed complex regional kinship relationships. The Wasco trading site of The Dalles was the most significant trading center on the Columbia River. Many tribes from a wide region traveled to The Dalles to trade for the valuable salmon.

People of the Columbia River valley adopted a distinctive style of net fishing at the falls of The Dalles from constructed fishing platforms. Salmon is a staple of all tribes along the Columbia and its many tributaries. The rivers that flow into the Columbia River are vast enough to host annual Ooligan smelt spawning. In addition, sturgeon is a well-known and prized fish in the river.

The Chinook people are well known boatmen with a distinctive ocean-going canoe style. The canoes are made from cedar logs, highly valued, and traded throughout the region.

The Nez Perce tribal homelands extended from Oregon to the Great Plains. The tribe would make annual journeys between the salmon regions of the Columbia River to the Bison hunting grounds of the plains. When the horse came into the region, the Nez Perce took advantage of this new resource for their travels and established a new American breed, the Appaloosa. The Nez Perce tribe is well known for their horsemanship.

The Willamette Valley

The region was principally the territory of the Kalapuyan tribes. The neighboring Molalla had some territory in the valley along the Cascade Range foothills. The Kalapuyan tribes were a group of about 19 tribes roughly divided into three regions: upper, middle, and southern. The valley was wide and clear of dense forest. Kalapuyan tribes were in the practice of semi-annually burning sections of the valley. This kept it clear of most pines and firs and became a perfect location for development of oak savannas. Camas and acorns were principal foods of the Kalapuya. Camas was very plentiful throughout the valley, likely being the main trade commodity with other tribes. Kalapuyans built stone ovens to cook the camas where it was then stored away for the winter. Marriages outside of the tribe were common, and the Kalapuya tribes sought marriages with Chinookan people to help secure trading rights.

Southwestern Oregon

This region had a few main tribal groups: the Athapaskans, the Shastas, Umpquas, and the Takelmas. These tribes lived in deep river valleys having a variety of environments from camas bearing valleys to oak savanna, to dense mountain forests. Tolowa stories have the Athapaskans arriving in the region perhaps 700-900 years ago from the north. This region was very culturally diverse with some Athapaskan band territories completely enclosed by the Takelma territory. Headmen of the villages enjoyed political autonomy from the larger Athapaskan tribe and possessed diverse territories with all of the resources they needed for the year. Annually, the Athapaskan tribes would gather in a centralized dance house (a Plankhouse) to celebrate “Nee-dash,” or their World Renewal ceremony. The celebration involves a semi-circular line dance with men and young women taking part in the dance. The style is called a feather dance due to the prevalence of feathered headdresses that used yellow Flicker feathers and red Pileated Woodpecker feathers. In addition, large obsidian blades, or “wealth blades,” are a common dance item.

The Coast Zone

The coastal region has the greatest tribal diversity of any region. Some of the individual tribes were the Tututni, Euchre Creek, Coos, and Coquilles. In the middle coast were the Alsea, Siuslaw, Yaquina, and Siletz, and in the north coast were the Tillamook tribes of the Nestucca, Nehalem. At the far northwestern region were the Clatsop Chinook. Fishing, sea mammal, and elk hunting are common for the region. Distinctive are the plank houses, built from redwoods on the south coast to western red cedar on the central and upper coasts. The coastal tribes adhered to seasonal hunting, fishing and gathering patterns throughout their traditional homelands. The coastal tribes would travel inland to trade with the Kalapuyans or Athapaskans. Tribes like the Tolowa or Tillamook, with large canoes, would travel up the coast to trade with tribes on the Columbia River or even further north for the valuable dentallium mollusk shells. All regional tribes valued dentallium as “Indian Money” and tribes strung together arm length strands of the mollusks to trade with other tribes. Dentallium continues to hold its value today.

The Plateau  

The Modoc, Klamath, and Paiute tribes lived in the Plateau region of Oregon . The region is a semi-arid desert with the tribes established around the river and streams of the region. The Klamath River flows southward through California to the Pacific Ocean but most other rivers of the region flow roughly northward to the Columbia.   The Paiute peoples maintained territories from the eastern foothills of the Cascade Range eastward to the plateau region occupied by Nevada.

Oregon Tribal History

Oregon tribes, like all other North American tribes, were subject to similar histories of colonization and imperialism by European and American governments. For Oregon, the tribes experienced colonization perhaps 100-300 years after the tribes in eastern North America. Oregon tribes share parallel histories with other indigenous peoples colonized in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Asia.

The tribes of Oregon have experienced some unique histories not found elsewhere. Many national historic events, such as the western migration of Americans on the Oregon Trail, and the harnessing of Oregon’s river systems for electric power, have added unique historical elements to Oregon tribal histories. Other historical trends, like the Termination policy, were national, but are unique in the Oregon context.

Oregon Treaties & Indian Management

The United States assumed ownership of all of the Oregon Territory through “Right of Discovery.” The region was in some contention for several decades (1800-1840s), while the Americans and the Canadians proceeded to encourage explorers and settlers to travel to Oregon territorial lands to formally claim the region. There were “battlefields” drawn along religious and economic lines. One of the most significant involved the acquisition of Indian converts to either Protestantism or Catholicism. The French Canadian Catholics were equated as siding nationally with British Canada, while the Protestant-Methodists with the United States. The various sects sought to enumerate their converts and reported the conversions to their authorities. Eventually the numbers of American Protestant settlers overwhelmed the British settlers and fur traders. In the rush to claim land ahead of other European powers the U.S. rarely considered the original indigenous peoples of the region.

The Oregon Territorial government, seeking to attract the U.S. military to Oregon to remove the tribes from valuable farmlands, established the appearance of constant threats from the tribes. There have been several important conflicts, the Whitman Massacre, The massacre of the Jedediah Smith expedition, and small conflicts and skirmishes throughout the region. It is in the frontier areas of Oregon where nearly all of the problems occurred.

 Treaties for Western Oregon

In 1851 and 1852, after American explorers discovered gold in southern Oregon and the United States Congress passed the Oregon Homestead Act (1850), the federal government realized they had not extinguished aboriginal title to the valuable Oregon lands. Anson Dart was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon and negotiated nineteen treaties with most of the tribes in Oregon Territory. The original philosophy behind those treaties was to move the Indians from western Oregon into eastern Oregon, away from the prime agricultural lands of the Willamette Valley.

On June 1, 1851, Dart traveled east to the Umatilla, Waiilatpu, and Lapwai areas to meet with the tribes there. The eastern tribes expressed disapproval over the potential removal of the unfamiliar western tribes within their region. Dart instead established the short-lived Umatilla Indian Agency. The U.S. signed five   in April and May 1851 with the Kalapuya tribes and Molalla tribes of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Range. The Clackamas Tribe at Oregon City signed an additional treaty in November 1851. Dart’s next visit was to the mouth of the Columbia River to treat with the Chinook tribes. From August to September 1851, Dart negotiated treaties with Chinook tribes on the Columbia River, the Tillamook tribes of the northern Oregon Coast and the Rogue River tribes and Coquilles at Port Orford. By November, Dart and his Indian agents negotiated nineteen treaties with Oregon tribes, encompassing six million acres at a cost to the federal government of about three cents per acre. In 1852, Secretary of the Interior Alexander H.H. Stuart opposed the 1851 treaties because they failed to remove the Indians to the east. Congress tabled the treaties forever, never to be ratified.

Oregon “Indian Wars” and Volunteer Militias

As the population of white settlers increased and made more demands for land and resources, the Indian tribes began to defend their rights to remain in their traditional lands. Intrusions on Indian land by settlers, gold miners, and explorers caused many conflicts, including the Rogue River, Columbia River, and Modoc Indian wars (1850-1873). American settlers considered the Indian tribes the aggressors when the tribes committed acts of violence attempting to protect their right to their lands. Beginning in the early 1850s, private citizens and the territorial governments participated in organizing volunteer militias to retaliate against the perceived “Indian depredations.” However, these militias went far beyond retaliation and committed outright murder and acts of genocide against Indians.

Before 1850, the United States had not made any agreements with the tribes to gain Indian land from aboriginal ownership. Beginning with the Oregon Trail immigrations into Oregon (1840s), land conflicts became more common.

The Jedediah Smith expedition (1828) caused conflicts with the California and Oregon Indians over the expedition’s intrusion on tribal lands and the party’s violent actions toward the tribes. Driving a herd of 330 horses and mules, Smith’s group entered coastal southwestern Oregon where they trapped and hunted as they moved through the land, never asking permission of the local tribes.

The party’s reputation spread through tribal communications networks and by the time that the party reached the Oregon coast, the tribes already knew of the Smith party’s reputation as violent, thieving, selfish rogues. Many tribes fled to avoid the party, while members of the Coquille tribe chose to attack. The attack decimated Smith’s expedition with only four men surviving, including Smith.

In a different conflict, the Whitman Massacre (1847), tribes on the Columbia River held Dr. Whitman responsible for the deaths of their tribesmen from measles. During this time, there was a tense environment in the region, with new settlers and traders arriving daily. Catholic and Methodist ministers argued over the religious conversion of natives. Many of the new arrivals carried diseases. The Cayuse Indians became very ill with cholera and measles, and more than half of their population died by 1847.

Despite the efforts of Dr. Whitman, the Cayuse began dying of measles, and the Cayuse took retribution against the mission. There was an initial outbreak of violence and the Mission inhabitants were captured. Captured were fifty-three settlers, men, women, and children, while fourteen members of the Whitman Mission, including many members of the Whitman family were killed in the attack. The Cayuse and Umatilla Indians held the remaining missionaries for ransom for one month until they were paid about $400 in trade items by Peter Skene Ogden, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver.

A few years later, in 1850, the territorial militia captured the Cayuse chiefs who had been present at the Whitman Massacre, placed them on trial in Oregon City, and found them guilty. On June 3, 1850, five Indians were publicly hanged.

A few years later (1854-1857) in southwestern Oregon, the Rogue River Tribes, spurred on by mass exterminations and territorial encroachments, mounted several years of guerrilla-type warfare. The Rogue River tribes (Takelman and Athapaskan tribes) fought a series of battles in southwestern Oregon and northern California against constant encroachment on their lands. Generally, Indian ownership of the land was not well understood by the regional settlers, who were of the opinion that the Rogue River Indians were thieves and undeserving of continued land claims.[ii]

Part of the blame for the Rogue River Indian War is in the actions and inactions of the United States Congress. The Congress never ratified the nineteen Oregon treaties or the eighteen California treaties negotiated in 1851. Native leaders had expected the federal government to follow through with the treaties. When no word reached the tribes that the treaties had been enacted, and continued attacks and encroachments commenced, the tribes got restless and, banded together for mutual protection against constant volunteer militia attacks.

To aid in the extermination campaign, the territorial legislatures of Oregon and California passed legislative bills allowing financial claims by Americans to offset the costs of fighting Indians. Many gold miners, who did not strike it rich in the gold fields of California and Oregon, chose instead to fight Indians and bill the territorial government for their expenses. The territorial legislatures would then reimburse them for their hardships and those supplies used in the battles. The Oregon Territorial Government initiated its own volunteer militias of prominent citizenry who participated in campaigns in southern Oregon. Many of their actions harassing Indians contributed to the general Indian unrest in the southern Oregon-northern California region.

Prompted by the need to end the conflicts, Superintendent Palmer negotiated a second round of treaties in 1853-1855. While the treaties were being negotiated and deliberated by Congress, volunteer militia continued to apply pressure to the Indians by attacking their villages. Many tribes sought refuge at the temporary reservation at Table Rock and around American strongholds like Port Orford.

Oregon’s Ratified Treaties

Between the 1850’s and the 1870’s, the United States federal government removed and concentrated most Oregon tribes into six regional reservations: Umatilla (1855), Warm Springs (1855), Coast (1855), Grand Ronde (1856), Klamath (1862), and Malheur (1879). Most of the reservations were initiated through treaties with the tribes who ceded their lands to the United States in exchange for safety and services of a permanent reservation. Final creation of the reservations came though executive orders from the president.

Early in 1853, Palmer recommended four policy points: a home remote from the settlements, laws guarding them from degraded whites, laws governing the Indians in their relations with one another, and the aid of schools, missionaries, and instruction in agriculture. For a short time, Palmer attempted to remove the tribes to a permanent reservation in the Klamath Lake area, but the Indians refused this move. Palmer settled instead on a reservation in the coastal region for all western Oregon tribes. Between 1853 and 1855, Superintendent Palmer and his Indian Agents negotiated seven treaties in western Oregon that were ratified by Congress and two that went unratified.

To remove the tribes from contact with the white settlers and therefore halt hostilities, Palmer first sought to create temporary reservations until a permanent reservation could be created. In western Oregon Palmer negotiated the treaties of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua (1853) and the Rogue River Tribes (1853), which created the first temporary reservations, the Table Rock Reservation (1853), and the Umpqua Reservation (1854). Even after the tribes were removed to the temporary reservations they continued to be attacked by settler militias, causing some tribes to leave the reservations to find security in the Coast Range as previously described. For Palmer, the temporary reservations offered some respite in the war until the Coast Reservation could be planned and instituted by a presidential executive order.

After southwestern Oregon, Palmer then negotiated treaties in the Willamette Valley, with tribes that covered the most populous regions of Oregon, the region inhabited by the Clackamas, Kalapuya, and Molalla tribes. These treaties were negotiated in 1854 and 1855, and the plan was to remove the tribes permanently to the Coast Reservation as well. Two additional treaties where negotiated by Palmer, the Coast Treaty (1855) and the Tualatin Treaty (1854) but Congress never ratified these treaties.

In November 1855, the Coast Reservation was created by presidential executive order. The reservation was to permanently contain all tribes from western Oregon. The Coast Reservation extended for one hundred miles on the central Oregon coast, from Florence to Nehalem and inland about twenty miles. However, despite the executive order, the region was very much a wild frontier with few roads or settlements. The Siletz Valley, meant to be the central agency of the reservation had no buildings and was not ready for resettlement by Indians.

Violence again erupted in 1855 between settlers and Indians in the Rogue River region. The sudden increase in hostilities caused Palmer to look for a solution for quick removal to the tribes from southwestern Oregon. Therefore, Palmer in collaboration with the U.S. Army chose to purchase the settled and developed farmlands of the Yamhill Valley, a small valley on the western edge of the Willamette Valley. The valley bordered the original boundary of the Coast Reservation on the northeast and had a good wagon supply road and so would serve as the entry point for supplies bound for the Coast Reservation. The new Yamhill River Reservation was initially intended to be temporary until the Siletz Agency was built, but in 1856 Palmer began making plans for the building of a blockhouse fort to oversee the mountain pass to the east. The agency became permanent when Palmer ordered the removal of the Willamette Valley tribes, the Chinook tribes, and the Molalla, as well as the southern Oregon tribes on the Table Rock and Umpqua reservations, to the Grand Ronde Agency that required the expense of building an agency and houses for the Indians and dragoons. Palmer then decided split up the tribes by keeping the peaceful Indians at Grand Ronde and once the Siletz Agency was built to remove the “warlike Indians” to that agency. In 1857, an executive order formally established the Grand Ronde Reservation as a separate and permanent reservation and the same year some two-thirds of the Rogue River Indians moved to the Siletz agency of the Coast Reservation.

By 1865, the Coast Reservation was physically subdivided into the Siletz Agency, Alsea sub-agency, and Salmon River sub-agency by the removal of two large land parcels. In 1875, the remaining two coastal area parcels were removed and the reservation was reduced to the Siletz Agency and some surrounding lands in the Siletz Valley and renamed the Siletz Reservation. Many of the tribes at the former Alsea sub-agency (Coos, Coquille, Alsea, and Siuslaw) were divided between the area around Coos Bay and the Siletz reservation while those from the Salmon River sub-agency (Nehalem, Nestucca Tillamook) were divided between Siletz and Grand Ronde. Thereafter, two reservations remained in western Oregon, Grand Ronde and Siletz, until federal termination in 1956.

Trails of Tears (Indian Removal)

In the summer of 1856, following the eruption of conflicts with the Rogue River Indians, U.S. soldiers began removing the Indians by schooners from Port Orford. Two schooners containing some 1400 Indians were removed from Port Orford to travel to Portland.  These tribes traveled by boat to the Yamhill Valley and then walked to the Grand Ronde Reservation.

The remaining Rogue River tribes, some 600 Indians, that had chosen to hold out in the Coast Range, subsequently surrendered and were taken to Port Orford. They were made to endure an overland coastal journey to the Siletz Agency in summer 1856. Along the trail, settlers harassed and killed several Indians without repercussions. Earlier that year, the tribes located on the Table Rock and Umpqua reservations were removed to the Grand Ronde reservation by March 1856. The tribes walked the Applegate trail for over month and seven people died and seven babies were born. During the same period the Kalapuya, Molalla, and Clackamas tribes living on small temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley were moved to Grand Ronde Reservation.

In eastern Oregon, another removal involved the Paiute tribes of the Malheur Reservation. In 1878, following the Bannock Indian war, the Paiute tribes were force-marched to the Yakima reservation, 350 miles away. These removals are known collectively as the Oregon “Trails of Tears.”

Concentration of the Tribes

From their beginnings, all reservations in Oregon contained various and diverse numbers of tribes, from a high of twenty-seven at Grand Ronde and Siletz to three at Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Klamath. Despite the wide-scale removal of tribes to Oregon Indian reservations, there remained pockets of tribes and tribal families that stayed on their lands, or later returned to their lands. Following the Bannock War there remained a concentration of Paiute families in eastern Oregon who gained off-reservation allotments in 1897. On the Columbia River, the Clatsop and other Chinookan tribes did not possess ratified treaties, and many family members chose to remain in their traditional villages. In southwestern Oregon, there remained a tribal community of Umpqua, Coquille, Siuslaw, and Coos families centered at Empire, Oregon and at South Slough of Coos Bay.  In addition there were many Tolowa and Tututni off-reservation allotments on the south Oregon coast, mainly people who resisted removal or escaped the reservations to return to their homelands.

Eastern Oregon Treaties

In late May 1855, Governor Isaac Stevens of Washington Territory, and the territorial Indian agents negotiated with a group of eastern Oregon and Washington tribes, among them Yakimas, Walla Wallas, Nez Perces, Cayuses and others the Walla Walla valley.  Chief Kamiakin of the Yakimas organized the meeting. Negotiations began on May 30th and most tribes took the stance that they did not want to sell their lands. But Chief Looking Glass of the Nez Perce had previously promised that the Nez Perce would sell. This promise did not sit well with most of the tribal delegates who opposed removal. Yet, despite the early opposition to selling their lands, all of the chiefs signed the treaties on June 11th. The treaties gave considerable sums for the tribal lands and allowed for permanent reservations within their home territories, and services for the tribes. The Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla agreed to remain concentrated on one reservation. In addition, most of these treaties affirmed hunting and fishing rights for the tribes.

Later in July, Superintendent Palmer went to negotiate with the John Day, Wascopan, and Des Chutes tribes just east of the Cascade Range. The tribes similarly ceded their lands for a permanent reservation and services for members. This treaty established the Warm Springs Reservation in the Tygh Valley.

The Nez Perce tribe signed a treaty with the federal government in 1855. The treaty led to the establishment of the Nez Perce Reservation in 1863, which encompassed the Wallowa valley in northwestern Oregon, and significant lands of Idaho. Settlers in the Wallowa valley refused to recognize the tribal reservation and caused a series of skirmishes from 1875-1877. The U.S. Army chased the Nez Perce from Oregon during the Nez Perce Indian War (1877). The fleeing Nez Perce tribe included men, women, and children and the conflict included 13 battles and extended for 1600 miles. Chief Joseph surrendered within 20 miles of the Canadian border.

The majority of the remainder of the Nez Perce tribe was incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1885, the tribe was allowed to return to the northwest and was divided between the Colville Reservation in Washington State and the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho. The tribe has never been allowed to return to their homelands in northwestern Oregon.

Between in 1864 and 1868, the Snake War occurred between settlers and Indians in eastern Oregon and featured attacks by Shoshone raiding parties were under the command of their leader Panina. Oregon and California volunteer militia subsequently took the field to gain control of the region from the Shoshone tribes. General George Crook, commander of the militia, effectively led many campaigns to conquer Indian encampments in the region, killing some Indians and capturing many others. The conflicts ended in 1868 with the Shoshone-Bannock treaty.

In 1852, the Modoc Indians attacked and murdered sixty-five people from a wagon train and the volunteer militia responded by killing forty-one Modocs. Hostilities continued until 1864 when they were party to the treaty establishing the Klamath Reservation. However, the Modoc Indians were traditionally hostile with the Klamaths and at the reservation; the most populous Klamaths mistreated them. In 1870, they left the reservation in to return to their traditional lands.

Between 1872 and 1873, the Modoc War occurred in south-central Oregon and northern California between the Modoc tribe and the United States Army and local volunteer militias. In 1872, the Modoc Indians under the leadership of Captain Jack and Old Chief Schonchin refused to move back to the Klamath reservation because of their previous mistreatment. The militia, under the Command of General Canby, was ordered to forcibly remove the Modocs to the reservation, which caused the Modocs to again refuse. When the militia arrived to force the Modocs to remove to the reservation, an altercation occurred resulting in the flight of the Modocs, including women and children, to the Lava fields at Tule Lake. At the lava fields, the Modocs were able to fortify themselves against the stronger and larger force of the militia.

The stronghold was found to be effective as many militiamen died in the attacks, while no Modocs were killed. The Americans then assembled a Peace Commission. During the negotiations, the Modocs chose to attack the commissioners, resulting in the death of General Canby. Following this, the militia continued attacks on the stronghold resulting in many losses. The Modocs held off the militia from January to May 1873. Captain Jack was captured in May after being tricked by a faction of the Modocs who had been given amnesty by the militia. Captain Jack and his three leaders were held at Fort Klamath, and tried and executed on October 3, 1873. The remainders of the Modoc Indians were removed to the Quapaw Agency in Oklahoma. The Modoc Nation remains in Oklahoma today.

Boarding schools

The federal government instituted programs to assimilate Indian children so that they could become productive citizens in American society. Missionaries ran the first schools from the 1850s to the 1880s. The programs later expanded to off-reservation boarding schools and came under the full control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

When established in 1880, the Forest Grove School was the second off-reservation boarding school in the United States. In 1885, the federal government moved the school to Salem, Oregon and renamed it Chemawa Indian School. At Chemawa, students were forced to not speak their native language, to wear American clothing and to learn an American trade. Most trades were laborer trades like blacksmithing, farming, or sewing. A few Oregon natives went to Chemawa, but more commonly, they would be sent further away to schools like Haskell in Oklahoma, so that they would not escape and make their way back to their home reservations.  Chemawa had a large concentration of native students from the southwestern, Plains, and Alaska regions.

In addition, each of the reservations had on-reservation day schools. Day schools were established at Umatilla, Grand Ronde, Siletz, Warm Springs, and at Klamath. A few, like Grand Ronde and Siletz, were also boarding schools, where students had to live at the schools throughout the year. Many tribal people complained about the treatment of native children in boarding schools as teachers would use corporal punishment often. Many native children died due to adverse treatment in boarding schools.

Reservation Life-ways

The first reservations laid out by the federal government were expansive. Yet policy changes, changing administrations, and increased demand for land by white settlers caused the removal of supposedly permanent reservation lands throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The government moved and removed Indian groups and each change often left the Indians with fewer resources and little aid.

The government was slow to follow through with funding and resources for the reservations and the tribes lived in a state of poverty from the 1850s to the 1950s. Without the promised support from the federal government and inability to procure their own resources on many reservations, native populations declined. Poverty, disease, and mistreatment by government agents were the norm.

Jobs were tough to come by and those reservation jobs that existed paid tribal people one-half of the regular wages their white neighbors made. Many Indians moved away from the reservations to find work. When the people were allotted land in 1891 due to the Dawes Act (1887), many people would plant fields and then leave the reservation with their families for the summer. Family groups of natives became migrant agricultural farm workers, loggers, or salmon cannery laborers throughout Oregon. Along the Columbia River, many native people labored in canneries while in the Willamette Valley, especially in Eugene, Independence, and around Salem, native people lived at temporary shantytowns while picking hops, beans, and berries. Summer agricultural labor became a cultural tradition with Warm Springs, Klamath, Grand Ronde, and Siletz natives working side-by-side at Willamette Valley farms.

In the 1930s, the BIA created economic self-sufficiency programs under the Works Progress Administration called Rehabilitation Programs. Tribal Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established and native carpenters were put to work on rehabilitation projects on the reservations. Houses and canneries were built at Chemawa Indian School, Grand Ronde, Siletz, and Empire, Oregon. Agriculture and canning programs, reservation agriculture, 4H programs and the Civilian Conservation Corps were all implemented in western Oregon.

By the late 1940s, the federal government changed its policy to liquidation and termination, as the economic circumstances of the Indians on reservations had improved little. In 1947, after an investigation, the House of Representatives blamed the BIA for impoverishing tribal peoples and their education efforts were declared a failure. Political efforts began to free Indians from further oppression by the federal government.


In 1954, two congressional bills terminated 63 tribes in Oregon from three reservations and other rural groups, by severing their federal services and abrogating many of their treaty rights. The federal government terminated more tribes in Oregon than any other state, sixty-three within two bills. An estimated 13,000 Indians were terminated nationally, roughly 4,000 of them from Oregon. Of the reservations terminated, 2,500,000 acres of land was removed from trust status. In Oregon, over 4000 Indians were subjected to termination.

In 1954, Congress passed the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, Public Law 588, (P.L. 588), which terminated the western Oregon Indians, including Grand Ronde, Siletz, and the tribes in southwestern Oregon that did not reside on reservations. Of the sixty tribes named, the bill mentioned several tribes that had traditional territory within Oregon, but who resided in either Washington or California. P.L. 588 gave the reservation tribes two years to put their affairs in order and correct their membership rolls. Final termination took place in 1956. All federal services ended in 1956 and members received their share of the community land sales soon after.

In 1954, Congress passed the Klamath Termination Act, Public Law 587, terminating the three tribes of the Klamath Reservation. Initially, the BIA meant the termination protocol to end by 1956, however, the Klamath Reservation held almost a million acres of forestlands that required sale. The BIA did not dispose of the Klamath reservation lands until 1961, when much of the forestlands became the Winema National Forest, and immediately afterward Congress finalized Klamath termination.

In preparation for termination and as part of the long-term national policy of assimilation of Indians, the federal government offered two programs to entice Indians to leave the reservations. The programs, Relocation (1952) and Indian Education (1956), involved few tribal members from Oregon, with about 100 taking advantage of the programs.


In the 1970s and 1980s, three reservations were restored, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation (1977), the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (1983), and the Klamath Indian Tribe (1986). Three other reservations were newly recognized, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians (1982), the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw (1984), and the Coquille Indian Tribe (1989). In 1972, descendants of the Paiute people of the Malheur Reservation were restored as the Burns Paiute Indian Reservation. Indian activists involved in the restoration efforts, said that they were able to convince politicians that the decline of tribal cultures, poverty, mental health and social issues were directly related to termination. Restoration was agreed to by state and federal legislators because it was the right thing to do for the tribes to be able to save their cultures, heal their peoples and begin reversing the effects of termination.

Today there are nine federally recognized Oregon tribes. The restored tribes are: The Confederated tribes of Grand Ronde, The Confederated Tribes of Siletz, The Coquille Indian Tribe, The Klamath tribe, The Confederated tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw, The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, and the Burns Paiute tribe. There are two tribes that were never terminated: the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. Two additional tribes from Oregon are the Nez Perce on the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho, and the Modoc Nation of Oklahoma.

Contemporary Context

Today, the Oregon tribes enjoy economic progress primarily based on their natural resource and gaming revenues. All tribes in Oregon have one casino, by compact with the state governor. The casinos are: Spirit Mountain Casino, Chinook Winds Casino, Three Rivers Casino, The Mill Casino, Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino, Wildhorse Casino, Old Camp Casino, Kla-Mo-Ya Casino, Seven Feathers Casino Resort. Since 1992, Oregon tribes have developed their economic bases such that in most cases they are the leaders in employment in their areas. Gaming revenues have helped the tribes to develop their governmental infrastructures and support increases in social, educational and health services for their members. In addition, each tribe has a community granting organization making the tribes leaders in community granting in Oregon.

Most of the tribes have extensive natural resource programs and manage their own forestlands. Logging, salmon management, lamprey recovery and huckleberry management and recovery are essential projects and programs for the tribes. Tribes are working to restore significant native plant resources used for making basketry and other weavings. Camas and other tuber food plants management are a significant part of the natural resources recovery programs. Many of the tribes work with state and federal parks to develop their natural resources. Tribes are aggressively pursuing the protection and ongoing management of their cultural resources.

The tribes work politically in the Northwest through the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and nationally through the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Oregon tribes enjoy a unique relationship with the state in their government-to-government relationship through the implementation of Senate Bill 770 (2001). SB 770 directs all state agencies to form working relationships with the nine federally recognized tribes. The tribes and the state of Oregon carry on discussions through annual “Cluster groups” in areas of Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, and Education, Social Services, Health Services, and Government relations.

In addition, the tribes are legislatively represented through the Oregon Commission on Indian Services. Education services for natives in the state for the tribes and for Title 9 education programs (1972) are coordinated through the Oregon Indian Education Association and city public education programs.

[i] An agent of the company empowered to govern the territory.

[ii] The Rogue River tribes were a loose characterization of several different tribal groups lumped together because of their common history and common regional context. They are Athapaskan and Takelman speaking peoples, as well as some association with the Chasta or Shasta peoples. There may also be associations with Tolowa-Tututni, Klamath and Umpqua in some histories. American settlers were not too specific when characterizing these “rogues” in the popular media and the name stuck. “The Rogue River Indians ceded to the United States a large amount of territory to which they had no title, and over which they had no control, except the right of the robber to collect toll from the passing immigrants” (Evans 1889:420)


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