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 Plamer makes with farmers in the Willamette Valley for their services as special agents to watch over the tribes). The Coast Reservation was created by executive order in 1855, yet was not fully open or intentionally occupied with removed Natives until  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, its a question of 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 n 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. 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 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. Its likely that the sudden change from maintaining the Cow Creek Reservation, to 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 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. But, this 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 the 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 range, 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

9 thoughts on “The Temporary Cow Creek Umpqua Reservation

  1. stephenwood4258

    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. stephenwood4258

    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. Umpqua-4 Freedom

    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. Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD

      I don’t mind. But there are so many erronious 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 eveb 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 habe found addition stories of the Cow Creeks that I plan to write up soon.


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