The Temporary Cow Creek Umpqua Reservation

The Cow Creek Umpquas were a Takelman speaking tribe of native peoples related to the Takelma peoples of the Rogue River Valley. The Cow Creek peoples resided in the Cow Creek watershed and parts of the southeastern Umpqua Valley.

In 1853, Joel Palmer wrote the first treaty of all Oregon tribal treaties to be eventually ratified by the United States Congress. Palmer, in 1853 was still attempting to get all of the western tribes to move to the Umatilla region of Eastern Oregon. However, the tribes were not accepting of such a drastic move and declined, forcing Palmer to arrange for temporary reservations throughout western Oregon to contain the tribes until he could arrange for a permanent reservation in an acceptable location.

As such, in 1853 there was yet to be chosen an acceptable location for the permanent reservation.  In 1854 there was chosen a location on the central coast of Oregon, which became the Coast Reservation. The plan was to remove all tribes to this location within 5 years (5 years is inferred due to the agreements Palmer makes with farmers in the Willamette Valley for their services as special agents to watch over the tribes). The Coast Reservation was created by (unnumbered) executive order in 1855, yet was not fully open or intentionally occupied with resettled Native peoples until the summer of 1856.

Stipulations of a treaty made and entered into on Cow Creek Umpqua Valley in the Territory of Oregon this 19th day of September A.D. 1853

Since the Cow Creek treaty was not ratified by Congress until 1855, it is a question whether the Cow Creeks were actually moved to the temporary reservation before February of 1855.  There are numerous cases of tribes removing to reservations, before their treaties are ratified, generally as a gesture of peace and goodwill on their part. It may also be that the temporary reservation was centered on their original villages and so they did not need to remove at all. Many tribes removed and lost out on the value of their lands for generations, some tribes for over 150 years before they were paid for their lands in a series of Indian Claims cases (note this is what happening in the Coast Treaty). However, in the earliest days of treaty-making in Oregon tribes generally trusted the words of Indian Agents and Joel Palmer seemed to be a gifted negotiator in this regard. But even Palmer’s promises of goodwill, payments, housing, peace, and safety did not last past his firing in mid- 1856, well before such verbal agreements could be honored, and so many tribes lost everything due to their miss-placed trust.

The early plans for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua reservation were tersely written into the 1853 letters of Joel Palmer and his Special Agent of the Umpqua District, W. T. Martin.

September 21st, 1853

“A treaty has already been concluded with the Cow Creek Band [of] Umpqua Indians by which that band have ceded to the United States all the land claimed by them, and a part of the purchase money is to be expended in the erection this winter of two log cabins the cost of which is not to exceed two hundred dollars each. the cabins should be built in a cheap manner and about twenty-five feet square on the ground, to be erected on a small piece of bottom land opposite Mr. R. Riddles upon the temporary reserve to which they have been assigned. a few articles of clothing is to be sent them, which will be forwarded to you for distribution among them as per assignment. As soon as you return from Coose Bay you will visit those Indians and cause the cabins to be erected. the expense of which will be paid so soon as funds are remitted.”

Joel Palmer

October 8th, 1853

The Treaty for the purchase of the country claimed by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians seemed to be demanded both as a matter of safety to this band and also as security for their good conduct. This Band is in no ways formidable consisting only of eighteen warriors, nineteen women and fifteen children. Nor are they warlike or unusually troublesome. But being in the vicinity of the Grave Creek Band, who have ever been regarded as the inveterate focus of the whites, thefts, roberies, and murders committed on travelers, and recently on settlers in the vicinity of the Cow Creeks, led many to believe them implicated in these acts, and this feeling was strengthed by the fact that their usual places of residence is along the road leading from the Willamette valley to Rogue river and California, the principal scene of these atrocities.

The occurrences among the Rogue River Indians and Grave Creeks, had so exasperated the whites, that wreckless persons traveling on the road, often committed acts of violence against the Cow Creeks, robbing them of their guns, blankets and whipping them; and in one instance attacking the lodge of an aged Indian who bore an excellent character, whom they killed together with a squaw, at the same time firing several shots at a small boy who made good his retreat to the mountain.

Driven from their homes and continually exposed to similar acts of violence, as they were confounded with the guilty, they were justly much alarmed. In this agitated state of feeling between whites and Indians, the most effectual means of securing the safety of this band, and maintaining peace, appeared to be, to purchase their country, and set aside a small district for their temporary residence, a little out of the line of travel, and near enough the settlements, to secure them from marauding parties, infesting that region.

They greatly complained that the whites had driven them from their homes, and deprived them of their usual means of subsistence; and said “if any thing was to be paid them as a remuneration for their losses, it should be now when they were in need- that in a few years they would all be dead- then the price of their country could profit them nothing.

A treaty of purchase was accordingly agreed on. The tract to which the Indian title was extinguished containing about eight hundred square miles, nearly one half being an excellent farming country, and the other portion mountainous, but of good soil, and well timbered. Gold is generally diffused, and at a few points mining has been successfully carried on.

The price of purchase is $12,000, the building of two cabins costing about $200, and the fencing and ploughing of a field of five acres, and the furnishing of proper seeds- all costing about $225.

No presents were made, but clothing, and blankets were to be furnished immediately, the cost of purchase to be on account of first payment for their lands.

It is proper to state that all articles purchased for… Cow creek Bands are to be delivered on or near their…. reserves. the cost of transportation to be paid by the United States. This though not embodied in the treaties was fully understood by the parties.

Joel Palmer, Superintendent Indian Affairs O.T.

October 14th, 1853

“I have just let out the building of those two houses for the Cow Creek Indians to J.B. Nichols for the sum of three hundred and fifty dollars.”

W. T. Martin, Special Agent

November 4, 1853

The goods purchased for the Cow Creeks as per agreement at this time of holding Treaty with them on the 19th Sept. has been forwarded to him (Agent Martin) to distribute.

[RG 75 M5, r 3]

November 7, 1853

The article furnished you for distribution to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians shall be delivered by you in person, and you will make them understand that they are delivered as part payment for the purchase of their country. You will see that the three chiefs each are furnished with an entire suit of clothes and one blanket; the remaining male adults to receive each one pair pants- one shirt- one hat and pair of shoes, and one blanket. The Calico and brown sheeting you will distribute to the females according to the number of women and children in each family. The handkerchiefs also will be given to the women. I send you one box tobacco, 102 lbs, for gratuitous distribution among the Indians in your special Agency.

Joel Palmer to Wm. J. Martin, Special Agent Umpqua

[RG75 m2 R3]

January 16 1854

…The Ox team (see vouchers 8 &16)  was purchased to convey goods to the Cow Creek & Rogue River Indians according to agreement at the time of treating with them at the close of the late hostilities. the goods being account of the first payment of annuities… owing to the highwaters it was impossible to take the ox team farther than the Umpqua valley where it will remain in charge of Special Agent Martin till spring (and then sent to Rogue river). From this point the goods were packed to their destination.

Joel Palmer to George MannyPenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs

[RG75 M2 R4]

January 23 1854

According to your request, I herewith transmit a statement of the number, location, and condition of the Indian tribes in the Oregon territory west of the Cascade Mountains.


This tribe is divided into numerous bands called Lower and Upper Umpquas, Yoncallas, Myrtle Creek, Cow Creek and others not known to me. They probably number in all three hundred and fifty. A great part of the country occupied is portioned off to families, each family having exclusive control over that portion of country claimed by them. many of them are industrious and a few have commenced the culture of the soil. The country claimed by the Cow Creek Band, amounting to some eighteen square miles was purchased in September last for the sum of Twelve thousand dollars. A temporary reserve was assigned them until a more suitable selection should be made. This band numbers fifty-two. I confidently anticipate the Treaty will be ratified.

Joel Palmer to George Mannypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs

[Rg75 m2 R4]

The temporary Cow Creek Reservation was fully within the boundary of their ceded lands, or lands that the tribe sold, as suggested in article 2 of the treaty. It is likely that the sudden change from maintaining the Cow Creek Reservation, to the removal of all tribes to the Umpqua Reservation was prompted by the outbreak of the Rogue River Indian War in 1855, just south of these localities. There were natural affinities between the Cow Creeks and the Rogue River tribes, and kinship relationships. In addition, the constant harassment of the Cow Creeks and other tribes in the Umpqua valley, with murders, attacks, rapes of women by local settlers and roaming settler militias, like what caused the Rogue Rivers to leave Table Rock Reservation, was likely to eventually end up in a war. So all of the tribes had to removed quickly to the Umpqua Reservation to manage any further violence. There was also a strategy being implemented by the US Military, in conjunction with the various Superintendents of Indian Affairs for California and Oregon, to remove tribes from the vicinity of the Rogue River War in order to eliminate the possibility of the Rogue River recruiting additional tribes to their cause. The strategy was implemented in January 1856 with the removal first of the tribes on the Umpqua Reservation who were moved north to the Yamhill River Reserve which later became known as Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. But, removal would not be enough, as written about in other essays.

Drawing of Cow Creek reservation drawn by David Lewis from treaty description in article 2. there is some question where Canon Mountain, at the end of Council Creek, was/is today as its been renamed.

Article 2 of the Cow Creek treaty suggests the boundaries of the Reservation.

Article 2: It is agreed on the part of the United States that the aforesaid Tribe shall be allowed to occupy temporarily that portion of the above described tract of territory bounded as follows, to wit; commencing on the south side of Cow Creek at the mouth of Council Creek opposite Wm H. Riddle’s land claim thence up said creek to the summit of Canon Mountain thence northerly to Cow Creek at a point on the same one mile above the falls; thence down said creek to place of beginning. It being understood that this last described tract of land shall be deemed and considered an Indian reserve until a suitable selection shall be made by the direction of the President of the United States, for their permanent residence; and buildings erected thereon and other improvements made of equal value of those upon the above reserve at the time of removal. (Sept. 19, 1853 Treaty with the Umpqua Tribe: Cow Creek Band, Ratified April 12, 1854)

estimated location of the temporary Cow Creek reservation, overlay graphics by David Lewis over original Belden treaty map, 1855

There remain a few questions about the temporary reservation boundary which may be cleared up by those more familiar with Cow Creek area. I am still unsure where Canon Mountain is for the southeast corner, and where the falls on Cow Creek are to determine the northwest corner. In an inspection of Cow Creek on Google Earth I did find a falls-like rapids nearly directly north of the southwestern corner.

Falls or rapids, on Cow Creek, Google Earth image

The Riddle land claim was very easy to find, to define the northeast corner. There is today a town named Riddle just downriver, east of the Riddle land claim. This image below of the land claim is from the General Land Office survey map of 1855. I looked to see if there was a temporary Indian reservation noted, and there is no such notation on the map, but there may be more in the survey notes.

Riddle Land claim, 1855

The Cow Creeks did not have to travel far in October-November 1855, only over one ridge, past Lookingglass creek and valley, and into the Umpqua plains to get to the reservation.

Note Umpquas reservation and Cow Creek ceded territory, redrawn Belden map 1894
Umpqua Reservation within the Umpqua Plains, graphic overlay by David Lewis, on the original Belden map 1855

The early Cow Creek Temporary Reservation appears to have existed from just after September 19, 1853 (assuming that the tribes began to remove voluntarily), to about early November 1855. The correspondence of Macgruder of November 7th, 1855, suggests that the tribes are already newly moved onto the new temporary Umpqua reservation at the date of his writing. As well the Cow Creeks men are enumerated in the 1855 Umpqua census roll which Macgruder collected about November 15th, 1855.

This is likely what they saw in this hilly canon area.

South Umpqua River, Emmons 1841, Wilkes expedition, thanks to Ginny Mapes for finding this image

[RG 75 M234, R 608]

11 thoughts on “The Temporary Cow Creek Umpqua Reservation

  1. This article is extremely interesting to me. I have lived in the area and worked in the forest here for over 20 years. I think I know about as much as any about the area. The reservations for the Cow Creek Indians are shown accurately on maps of the time but the first reservation (1853) description of boundaries is wrong. Too much to go into here. The second reservation (1855) on upper Garden Valley/ Coles Valley has the boundaries correct but no description of these boundaries. Of course both reservation are placed primarily on steep useless land! Still I am excited to find this
    historical web page or site and want to share my years of studying the pioneers as well as the natives in my “back yard”. Stephen Wood

  2. The picture included in the article is probably not Cow Creek. It looks allot like the main stem of the Umpqua. Also no falls now exist on Cow Creek and Riddles land in Riddle does not coincide with the confluence of Council Creek and Cow Creek. This is my second comment. Stephen Wood

  3. Just read the article and the comments. Why does this guy Wood, care where the boundaries really are, enough to challenge YOU, a Native Historian with a degree, for Pete’s sake?? Makes me wonder WHO he is or WHO he is connected to at our Tribe. I never trust our Tribe anymore, they are as corrupt as it gets. If they have their eye on a certain piece of land for some reason, and your estimation of where the original reservation was affects their plans in negative way…they will HIRE someone to disgrace you. Trust me, that is how they work!!
    Anyway, hope you can find out who this guy is and why he cares so much to challenge you like that! Dawn
    On Sat, Dec 15, 2018 at 5:26 PM NDNHISTORY RESEARCH : Indigenous, Public & Critical Essays wrote:
    > Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD posted: “The Cow Creek > Umpquas were a Takelman speaking tribes of native peoples related to the > Takelma peoples of the Rogue river valley. The Cow Creek peoples resided in > the Cow Creek watershed and parts of the southeastern Umpqua Valley. In > 1853, Joel Palmer” >

    1. I don’t mind. But there are so many erroneous stories out there about the history. That all accounts that are not verified I usually try to verify before just accepting them. There is usually a grain of truth. And so much if even the federal story is simply wrong that we cannot even trust the descriptions in the treaties. What they plan to do and what they did are usually different. I have found additional stories of the Cow Creeks that I plan to write up soon.

      1. Stephen, I would like to encourage you to continue with your opinions. Mr. Lewis seems to be open to those in the know. But we know that many are ingrained in fearfulness, so we should just make the case, and all for the trial of studied consideration. I know this is long after your post, but I’m hoping that you will still reconsider. Some should wait until the fact are ALL in, rather than jump to conclusions. Blessings.

  4. Why is Umpqua-4 Over Sensitivity offended over an opinion, I guess this is his virtual signaling gone amok I was looking forward to hearing what Stephen had to say. But I guess they don’t observe Free speech on the Cow Creek Nation, or at least a small contingent don’t. Seems very fearful to me. Let’s not be fearful that we might have accepted some mis-truths and it needs to be corrected. “…chips fall where they may?”

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