Remarkably Good Health … except for the deaths; Siletz Health report 1863

Reservation Health Reports previous to the 1870’s are fairly rare. there are about two reports a year for each reservation. The annual reports also have some health information, but its generally very brief. The best indicator for the first two decades of the reservations are the census reports. there as a dramatic decline in population for about 15 years.

In other essays on this blog I have noted that its likely that some tribes, those from southern Oregon, were insulated from some diseases, being remotely located in the mountains, and only when they removed to the reservations, and began regularly interacting in close proximity with whites and other tribes that they began getting ill and dying of common diseases.  tribes for the Columbia and Willamette valley would get many diseases early in settlement because they were the first encountered and first areas settled. Tribes on the coast had much more maritime visitation and interaction and so they too caught illnesses in greater numbers.

The Indian people removed to Siletz Agency were many of the tribes from Grand Ronde, the Rogue rivers and Shastas, as well as many of the other coastal tribes in the vicinity of Port Orford and Coquille  areas, the first locations to see outposts developed by enterprising whites. These tribes also were the first to get attacked and it is the constant conflict that caused them to fight for their lands and the safety. They surrendered at Port orford and were shipped to the Coast reservation. They are the first to be removed in 1856, the second wave of removals to the Coast reservation began in 1857 and continued until 1863 when additional removals of tribes came through the Umpqua reservation to sub agencies located on the river estuaries on the coast. These included the Alsea, Yaquina, Yachats, Siuslaw, Siletz, and Salmon River. These people in the second wave of removals are not part of this report in 1863. They are still on the coast in remote locations, some too remote for easy travel. In fact there was only irregular access to doctors and medicines on the coast.

This 1863 report then is the first wave of removal, the Trail of Tears people, who settled for a time in Grand Ronde, and some along the coast between Salmon river and depot Bay. Many likely helped build the Siletz agency and then they moved to this interior valley, along the Siletz river in about 1857. Siletz Indian agents seemed to have been a  bit more diligent in producing reports on a month basis.

The Health report from the second quarter of 1863 is very complete and gives us a very good view of the rate of illness at the reservation. The physician writing reports somewhat contradicts the severity of the situation at the reservation in the report. he states that the illnesses are not to severe then addressed how people are dying, a contradiction. Then the physician downplays the value of medicines and suggest that they need to be more consistent with their habits. he may be right, but good medicines could have also helped immensely. The Indian at the Coast reservation did not have a lot of extra funds for medicines, many did not have ratified treaties and may have had their rights under treaty revoked because they had participates in the Rogue River war. So its no wonder that they did not have a hospital, they likely did not have adequate medical supplies or medicines also. At Grand Ronde there was a tent hospital built in the first summer at the reservation, in 1856.

The actual report has much greater details than is listed here, I have grouped the counts in the same manner as the doctor did. I have not yet uncovered why his numbers do not add up correctly.

Total Population county for 1861 was 2025.
This is only a quarterly report, if the numbers are accurate, about 1/4 of the population was sick in this quarter.

The tribal list above suggests that only these tribes were in the Siletz valley as part of the Siletz Agency. The population count for Siletz reservation was 2025 in 1861. Number of births during the quarter- 23, suggesting a net increase, but the doctor suggests in his report that the death rate will dramatically rise in the winter. The summer months would have been the mildest for illnesses, the tribes likely did not have the supplies to keep warm, and as I have suggested in other essays, many were starving with rotten food. 


June 30th 1863

I have the honor to transmit herewith to your office the customary reports and abstracts for the end of the year 1862-63. The health of the Indians during the past quarter has been remarkably good, and is even now improving as I find by comparison with the reports of my predecessors. The two great classes of sickness amongst them at present, are, Venereal diseases and diseases of the chest. The weather being now warm and dry most of the Indians suffering from the first class, and they are many are doing well, But I am afraid that when the rainy season sets in, the mortality among them will be enormous. The principal cause of this mortality will be the want of a suitable hospital where those Indians who have been suffering from this fell disease any length of time can be … kept under a regular course of medicine, and where those who have just contracted the infection can be confined, and prevented from spreading the curse of this race amongst the few remaining that are free from the taint. It is not by administering a few doses of medicines here and there, and by leaving these miserable being exposed to the filth of their dwellings and to the extremes of cold and hunger which they so often suffer that cures can be affected or even relief given. Therefore I cannot to strongly urge you to call the attention of the department to this want, and to the fact that to be of use the building must be erected soon, so as to be completed and ready for use before the coming winter. The other class of diseases especially … and diarrhea were all of a mild form, and the deaths that have taken place, very few in number were caused either by chronic diseases of long standing or were amongst infants debilitated from having inherited from either one of both parents scrofula and syphilis.

J.B. Lee, Physician Siletz agency



This letter is in the RG 75 M234 Roll 613 correspondence.

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