In the 1860’s the western Oregon reservations were still struggling with feeding all the Indians despite promises by Indian agents, and the treaties, that when they removed, there would be plenty of food. This was a persistent problem that was not solved until at least the 1870’s.
As mentioned in other essays, Grand Ronde likely had a little bit better situation, as they had secured treaty payments from 7 ratified treaties. While at the Siletz Reservation, the tribes removed there did not have claims to all of these treaties, as suggested in annual allocations of funding. Regarding one large part of the population at Siletz, the Rogue River people who perhaps could have claimed the southern Oregon treaties, many, went to war against the U.S. settlers (for good reasons, which were ignored) and as such they were disallowed from treaty payments (I have not found the exact statement that is is so, but annual appropriations suggest this.). Regardless whether this is a perfectly legitimate statement, without yet the federal policy statement to back it up, the amount of funding for the large reservation was not enough for the over 2,000 people spread over 1.1 million acres.
While another large population at the Coast Reservation, those occupying Coastal estuaries or at the Siletz valley, and party to the Coast Treaty, in 1862 were still awaiting its ratification. So for 7 years the coastal tribes had waited to be paid for their lands, and some were never paid. As such, each year, the majority of the federal funding was appropriated based on the will of Congress to keep them on the reservation, with as little supplies as they could get away with.
Then, there was another problem, the dishonesty of certain Indian Agents. In 1862, Mr. Biddle the Indian agent at Siletz Agency was under a series of allegations that he had sold supplies to make money for himself. In the process of doing this, Biddle was starving the tribal people, by severely rationing the food allocated, and giving out sub-standard food, like the rotten potatoes mentioned in the letter. Before William Rector, the Indian Superintendent for Oregon, was able to assemble enough evidence to fire Biddle, the damage had been done. As the chiefs state below, there was a bad winter in 1861-1862 where, many people died of starvation and cold, because of Biddle.
But Biddle is not the full cause of the ills at the reservation. Several federal Indian policies worked to make it impossible for the Native people to help themselves. They could not possess guns since 1856, when they were removed to the Coast Reservation, and it was feared that the former warriors who were in the Chief John’s confederacy would attack the whites on the reservation, or the local settlements of the whites. So they could not hunt for their food. They also could not leave the reservation for work. The policy of complete separation, of Indians from whites, applied to everyone, regardless of their personal history, and so they could not even take a job to get money to buy their own food and supplies.
The conditions then at Siletz Agency appeared to have been closer to a prison camp, where they were made to work for their food, could not leave and had to rights. The Chiefs below ask then, rightly, whether they should not return to their lands, because the Coast treaty was un-ratified and as such they still would own their lands, and there was no lawful mechanism to keep the Coastal tribes on the reservation. In fact, this is exactly the reason that Chief John is imprisoned at the Presidio in San Francisco with his son Adam. For speaking out against their conditions on the reservation and advocating for the tribes to return to southern Oregon. Under Chief John’s leadership, such a return might have happened, but instead he and his son are imprisoned. He literally is imprisoned for what he says, demonstrating that the tribes did not have freedom of speech in the reservation.
Office Supt Indian Affairs
June 10th 1862
Enclosed please find the remarks of some of the Indian Chiefs now on the Siletz Reservation. This I do at their request and in compliance with my promise to them. They will expect a reply from you in relation to their treaty. I hope you will write something to them, it would be gratifying and give me much assistance in restoring their shaken confidence in the government.
Should the appropriation for their benefit be made in accordance with my recommendation I can make it all satisfactory to them that it was done in compliance with the treaty. It has been very difficult to keep them from going back to their old homes.
I am sir very truly your obedient servant
Wm. H. Rector. Supt Indian Affairs
Hon. Wm P. Cole. Commissioner of Ind. Affairs
Report of the speeches made by the chiefs and headmen of the different Indian tribes before Wm H. Rector Supt Indian Affairs Oregon on the 24- 27 days of May while on a visit to the Siletz Agency.
Sixes George addressed the Superintendent as follow.
We look upon you as our leader and friend. We are glad to see you and talk with you. I do not wish to offend you, but I must talk straight (truth). Palmer was the first “Tyee” (Supt Ind Affairs) I ever saw. He gave me good advice and I have obeyed it. Our country was on the Sixes River. We were in three tribes and each tribe had their own chief. Our country bordered on the Coquille River. We made a treaty with Palmer and sold our country to the white people, and came here. Since then we are told that the President had to approve the treaty, and that he has not done so yet. I want to know what you have to say about it. If the President does not approve our treaty, then we have not sold our country, and wish to go back to it again. Your people have got the gold of our Country. Will they pay us for it? We have never been at war with the whites and never killed anybody. The Indians that have killed the whites, have had their treaty ratified and ours is not.
I think our people have improved some, and would become like white people if they had any help. Palmer told me that I would be a white man in two years. I have been here five years and am not a white man yet. I don’t know but I will soon be a horse, as I am eating oats.
Do you know of any country where white people eat oats like horses? Our people have had to eat frozen potatoes, that are rotten, and the carcasses of dead horses. They are dying very fast, and my heart is sick. I think rotten potatoes are not good for any people. I can eat oats but don’t like them.
My people complain of hunger and want to go back to the Sixes River again. I would rather have our treaty ratified and have the things we bargained for and stay on the reservation. Do you think you are paying us for our country by giving us one blanket to every four or five Indians, and giving us such things as oats and rotten potatoes to eat?
If I was allowed again I could kill some elk. I never did kill any white man. You should not be afraid of me. When we started to come here our guns were taken from us, and we have not seen them since. They promised to give them back when we got to the reservation. I don’t know that I will ever see you again, and I talk plain. As I would if the President was here. I have never [said] this to the agent, because I knew he had nothing to do with the treaty. I have told the truth & am not ashamed.
Old Bill of the Rogue Rivers
I have not much to say to you now and will talk after a while. I will say to you things and talk straight (truth). I will say that the Indians hare are used like slaves, and have been ever since Metcalf left. We have but little to eat, and sometimes nothing at all. Potatoes that are rotten, are not good for any people to eat. Many of our people have no clothes. We have suffered much, and many have died, if you will let us go back to our country we can do better. Metcalf gave us beef and flour, when we first came here, and we want it now, or if you cannot give it to us let us go home and provide for ourselves. We were promised by Major Buchanan that we could return after four years, and we want to go now or have better treatment. This is my mind.
William, chief of the Chetcoes
I say what old Bill has said. He is old and talks straight (truth). We are treated like slaves, and not as we were promised. We want to go home, or have what was promised. The goods you [promised] to us in the little ship was not given to us. I don’t know what became of them. We get one cup full of flour for one days work. We are slaves. Nine of my people have died last winter from hunger and cold. I do not like the agent to abuse my people. We are willing to stay here and believe we can make our own living if we are furnished with things to work with. We should have one wagon, and two yoke of cattle per each tribe. Our women are packed like mules. They have all the potatoes and pack all the wood. They packed most of the things the ship brought from the Depot to the agency (a distance of six miles), and get one cup of flour for a days work. We do not want to be slaves. We want to work for ourselves. This is my mind.
En-ches-sa Chief of the Sixes
I want you to write my words and send them to the President. I don’t want to offend you, but I want to talk straight to you. It may be the last chance that I will ever have. If the President was here, I would talk to him as I do to you. I am an old man and not ashamed to talk. Mr. Geary promised to write to the President, but that is the last I heard about it. I don’t want to be an Indian any longer. We were told that we would soon be like white men, ff we come to the Reservation. My people have lost all confidence in the white men, but I have not. I want you to give us all the help you can, I fear when I die my people will scatter like birds. I have no confidence in Mr. Biddle. I want another agent, that will give us what you send here for us, and not sell it, and starve us. I know that you sent the ship here with flour and clothes for the Indians. I know that some of my people have died from hunger and cold. Do you think one blanket is enough for four or five Indians, and that one shirt or pantaloons will last all year. If you want us to live like white men you must help us, as we want all the help we can get. We want carts to haul our potatoes and wood in. Our women pack everything now.
Is that the way white people do? I want a gun. If I had a gun I could kill some elk. I want my people to be permitted to go outside to work for clothes. I want something done with the whites. I have never received any good from them. My people want camp kettles, and other things to cook in, We want to live like white people, and we look to you for help. I hope that you will let me have a gun. I hope Mr. Magensen (this is the Farmer) will not leave us. We could not live without him. This is my mind. I am done.
Joe Lane, Chief Too too te nays
I have not much to say. I agree with all that has been said. I will ask you for some things to cook with camp kettles and frying pans. I fear that we will suffer next winter, because there is no grain growing on the farms. None sowed last fall and but little oats this spring. I want permission to go out with some of my people, and work for clothes. I am done.
I don’t know how it is that I am not payed for making fence around the Agents house. I think I sh0uld be payed for work that I have no use for. I knew some of my people killed them. (Indian doctors who work by charm) I killed a Doctor, and sorry for it now. And will not kill any more.
Note- Other speeches were made and noted down but very similar in sentiment and feeling. I have not deemed it necessary to transmit them.
(I wonder if a Rector collection still has these notes?)
Letter from RG 75 m234 R 613
5 thoughts on “We are Treated like Slaves and are Starving: Siletz Chiefs send their Remarks to the President 1862”
The Chiefs say that Old John was imprisoned only for speaking out and threatening to leave, but Agent Metcalfe’s letter (October 1857) tells of an incident at the Siletz Agency when John and his son (Culcus Jim) murdered a Siletz Indian, and Metcalfe, in his attempt to arrest Culcus Jim, had to kill Jim in self defense. In addition, an Army doctor, Dr. Rodney Glisan, writes in his journal of the incident and says that John threatened to attack the agency (although he did not, and was subsequently arrested anyway). Undoubtedly, the Rogue people would point to many mitigating circumstances, principally, the murder and mayhem inflicted upon their people on many fronts, the back and forth acts of revenge, mainly advantageous to Whites.
Thanks I have seen other versions of history to suggest that Adam may have killed Cultus Jim by himself. That John was only stating that he wanted to return to his homekanfs and was trying to get a lot of people to go with him.
Are these letters on file or being held by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians?
I don’t know, they are on federal microfilm, so everyone has access to them. I suggest talking with Robert Kentta at the tribe.