Beginnings of the Umpqua District, Agency, and Reservation

The Umpqua Reservation was located on the central Oregon Coast and was established as a reservation in May of 1856. Previously, there had been another Umpqua Reservation located in the Umpqua Valley, created to hold the Upper Umpqua, Yoncalla Kalapuya and southern Molalla peoples  of the valley, who had begun signing treaties selling their lands to the United States in 1854. In late January 1856, the Umpqua Reservation was the first temporary reservation vacated, and the tribes removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation by late February. A few bands of tribes yet remained in the Umpqua Valley, and they were also brought to Grand Ronde in subsequent months.

In the region and down the Umpqua River were additional tribes, those at Scottsburg, and those on the Lower Umpqua who had not been party to the 1854 treaties which were ratified. These tribes, along with their neighbors, the Siuslaw, Coos Bay, and Alseas were party to a different Treaty, the Coast Indian Treaty of 1855. The Coast Treaty was negotiated by Joel Palmer during the summer months of 1855, beginning with the Chetco Tribe at the south and ending at the Umpqua River at the northern where Palmer had several meetings with the coastal peoples who all agreed to sell their lands in exchange for a permanent reservation. The treaty included all coastal tribes from the California-Oregon border to the Nechesne (Salmon River). (It has been assumed by most scholars that the treaty was with the whole Oregon Coast but this is not the case at all.) In preparation for the Congressional ratification of the treaty the tribes from the coast to convinced to remove to the north, to the already approved Coast Indian Reservation (1855).

A good many tribes were delayed in their removal because of the Rogue River Indian war. This war erupting in the summer of 1855 carried on into the summer of 1856 and much of the attention of the Indian Office and the Military were focused on ending the war. Removals from the already organized temporary reservations commenced in January 1856 with the (interior) Umpqua Reservation, then in February 1856 the Table Rock Reservation was vacated. At the same time, Palmer worked to remove the tribes from the small temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley and on the Columbia River; such that by May 1856 the majority of tribal people in Western Oregon were resettled on the Grand Ronde Reservation, and along the central Oregon Coast between the Nechesne and the Siletz river, about 4000 people from some 27 to 45 tribes.

The Southern Coastal peoples then began being removed to the north toward the Coast Indian Reservation. This project proceeded slowly because there was not yet enough funds allocated for removal or civilization of the tribes due to their Coast Treaty not yet being ratified. In order to aid the removal, Joel Palmer started with the relatively easy task of removal of the Coos Bay, Scottsburg, and Lower Umpqua to the Umpqua River, in close proximity to the Umpqua District agency Office. This District was created in 1854, by Palmer, and manned by E.P. Drew as a sub-Indian Agent in charge of the tribes from Port Orford to the Siuslaw River. According to the Agent Drew’s letters, his Umpqua District was turned into another Reservation in May of 1856 to accommodate all of the tribes from his district.

May of 1856 was on the cusp of the last battles of the Rogue River Indian War. In this period, Joel Palmer, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, was working closely with the U.S. Army to end the war and get the Rogue River Confederacy tribes to surrender and come peacefully onto the Coast Reservation. Palmer actually took several trips to the Rogue River and began a process of parlaying with the confederacy and was able to gain the agreement of several bands in the Confederacy to surrender at Port Orford, and be removed to the reservation under U.S. Army protection. These assurances were necessary because for the extreme racist actions of the Volunteer Militia toward the tribes. They were known to take revenge on tribes for any slight, and had made numerous attempts to exterminate the Southwestern Oregon tribes forever.

One of the strategies pursued by the Indian Superintendents of both Oregon and California was the forced removal and even imprisonment of tribes that bordered on the Rogue River conflict area. The Tolowa Deeni peoples (from Smith River to Crescent City CA), some 150-300 of them were imprisoned at Battery Point in Crescent City until the succession of the war. The Coos Bay peoples were sequestered at first at a temporary reservation at Empire. The Coquelle Peoples were removed to Port Orford, and the Indian Agents from these districts kept close watch on all the tribes to make sure they were not influenced by the leaders of the Rogue River Confederacy to join the Confederacy, which would have made extreme problems for the American settlers, and the U.S. Army tasked with keeping the peace and ending the war.

The removal of the tribes from Coos Bay in May 1856, to the Umpqua District, was likely part of this same strategy, to keep the Coos Bay people from joining the Confederacy. Nearly at the same time, the Coquelle people were removed from Port Orford to the Coast Reservation to be resettled on the Alsea River, which was even further away from the battlefields than other tribes were removed. The Coquelles were deemed a bigger threat as they had actually attempted to join into several battles, like the Battlerock event (1851),  and had committed several acts against Indian Agents and their employees from 1851 to 1855, in part causing the establishment of the U.S. Army detachment at Fort Orford. For their actions, the Coquelles were punished several times by the U.S. Army, and were a tribe to be closely watched. This tactic of removal and sequesting of tribes in the vicinity, to create a relatively deserted area of potential support, was largely successful, because if Chief John. the leader of the Confederacy, had been able to gain fresh troops from other tribes, many just as angry and disgusted with the Americans as he, the war would have dragged on for quite a while.

Section of 1909 map of the Oregon and Western Colonization Company, showing Old Fort Umpqua.

The following series of letters, from Microfilm set 234, rolls 609 to 611 give a fairly good history of the early Umpqua Reservation from the time when it was created as an Indian district to becoming a full-fledged temporary reservation with upwards of 700 tribal peoples as semi-permanent residents. The Umpqua Reservation was not created by any executive order, or by treaty, but served as a barrier to tribal people wishing to escape the Coast Reservation  and moving south on the Coast, and a receiving station for tribes being removed north to the Coast Reservation. In about the same location as the Umpqua Agency Office, was Fort Umpqua (the first U.S. Military fort named thus) with a detachement of U.S. Army troops. In scholarship it has been stated that the Fort was in charge of the reservation, but this is not the case as numerous requests for help by the Umpqua Agents were nearly always met with denial from the Army headquarters at Fort Vancouver, as the command was always concerned that their men were too thinly placed on the coast and could not afford to send troops to remove Indians, unless there was direct threat to an American citizen.


[E.P. Drew] On November A.D. 1854 I was assigned to duty on this Umpqua District bounded as follows- The Coast from the mouth of the Coquille River north ward so far as to include the Siuslaw Band of Indians, thence eastward to the summit of the Coast Range of Mountains, thence southward so as to include all the bands of Indians below Umpqua Valley proper thence to the head waters of the Coquille river thence to the Coast, the place of beginning so as to include all the Bands of Indians residing along the waters of the Coquille. In the month of September following I was officially informed that hereafter the Coquelle Indians would be attached to the Port Orford District and placed under charge of Spec. Agt. Wright that this (Umpqua) District would be extended northward- how far I have not been informed. (RG75 M234 R 610 July 14, 1857 Drew to Nesmith)


By April 13, 1856, Joel Palmer was ordering the Coos Bay Indians to go to the “Umpqua River,” or “Umpqua.” The Coos Bay Indians arrived at the newly established Umpqua Reserve at the Umpqua estuary in late May 1856, a total of 285 people, and it was reported that 56 people still remained in Coos Bay (letter of June 14, 1856).


E.P. Drew- May 12, 1856: We the chiefs and head of families of the Kol-la-wot-sett tribe of Indians now encamped near the Umpqua sub-agency acknowledge the receipt of Four hundred and  twenty-nine dollars from Sub Indian Agent E. P. Drew in the sums and articles appended to our names in part payment of annuities according to provisions of the treaty of August A.D. 1855- with the Confederated Bands of Coast Indians in Oregon.

Partial recreation of original table of the report of this date.

[E.P. Drew, July 14, 1857] The Indians immediately under my charge at present are all of the Kal-la-wot-sett Tribe, divided into several Bands (vis) The Siuslaw and Alsea Bands located on the Siuslaw River numbering about two hundred and forty (240).  The Scottburg, Lower Umpquas, and Kows Bay Bands [Coos bay] located on the Umpqua river near this Agency numbering about four hundred and fifty, making an aggregate of six hundred and ninety (690).

They are at present and have been so far as my knowledge always friendly towards the whites many of them manifest a disposition and drive to cultivate the soil. Those located on the Siuslaw River have several rows of potatoes and some have vegetables now under cultivation. With slight encouragement from the Federal Government I assume that they would all apply themselves quite readily in agricultual pursuits. Yet they would rely for subsistence to great extent upon fish and abundant supply of which is easily obtained from the waters of the Siuslaw, Umpqua and Smith’s Rivers.

As buildings have yet been erected for them- many now reside in low cabins which they have constructed of lumber furnished them in part by the Department. It will be absolutely necessary to erect a few houses for them before the rainy season, and a small supply of clothing and blankets would be very desirable. (RG75 M234 R 610 July 14, 1857 Drew to Nesmith)


[E.P. Drew November 10, 1858] In the encampment at this point we have about five hundred Indians Constantly residing, where fifty or sixty only were accustomed to reside, and these during the winter months alone. Two hundred more located at the Siuslaw River – making a aggregate of seven hundred now under the immediate supervision of this office; comprising all of the Kal-la-wat-set Tribe of Coast Indians (lower Umpqua). Since the negotiation of the treaty in 1855, there has been an increase of about two hundred in this tribe, arising in part from Indians of the other bands, south, voluntarily joining this band, and in part from actual purchase. [RG 75 M234 R611]

 


[Full text of 1857 Letter, The original from microfilm is quite tough to read. The letter was found in the Montana Memory project digital collections.]

July 1, 1857, Office Umpqua Sub Ind. Agency

On November A.D. 1854 I was assigned to duty on this Umpqua District bounded as follows- The Coast from the mouth of the Coquille River north ward so far as to include the Siuslaw Band of Indians, thence eastward to the summit of the Coast Range of Mountains, thence southward so as to include all the bands of Indians below Umpqua Valley proper thence to the head waters of the Coquille river thence to the Coast, the place of beginning so as to include all the Bands of Indians residing along the waters of the Coquille.

In the month of September following I was officially informed that hereafter the Coquelle Indians would be attached to the Port Orford District and placed under charge of Spec. Agt. Wright that this (Umpqua) District would be extended northward- how far I have not been informed.

The Indians immediately under my charge at present are all of the Kal-la-wot-sett Tribe, divided into several Bands (vis) The Siuslaw and Alsea Bands located on the Siuslaw River numbering about two hundred and forty (240).  The Scottburg, Lower Umpquas, and Kows Bay Bands [Coos bay] located on the Umpqua river near this Agency numbering about four hundred and fifty, making an aggregate of six hundred and ninety (690).

They are at present and have been so far as my knowledge always friendly towards the whites many of them manifest a disposition and drive to cultivate the soil. Those located on the Siuslaw River have several rows of potatoes and some have vegetables now under cultivation. With slight encouragement from the Federal Government I assume that they would all apply themselves quite readily in agricultural pursuits. Yet they would rely for subsistence to great extent upon fish and abundant supply of which is easily obtained from the waters of the Siuslaw, Umpqua and Smith's Rivers.

As buildings have yet been erected for them- many now reside in low cabins which they have constructed of lumber furnished them in part by the Department. It will be absolutely necessary to erect a few houses for them before the rainy season, and a small supply of clothing and blankets would be very desirable.

For a few months a school was in operation, but from the uncertainty of receiving funds applicable to that purpose  (it having been established without special order) it was deemed expedient to suspend the same for the present. During the few months it was operating there was a constant average attendance of from forty-five to fifty scholars, they all seemed anxious to improve and did so much more rapidly than could have been anticipated under the circumstances. Should the school again be established much good would result from it.

No treaty having yet been ratified with this tribe (to my knowledge) I would most respectfully suggest that immediate steps be taken (if possible) to locate them permanently and I know of no country so well adapted to their wants and desires as the Country south of Cape Perpetua, extending southward so far as to include the extensive fisheries on the Siuslaw, Umpqua and Smiths Rivers. The country between Umpqua and Siuslaw is generally level and lightly timbered and would offer sufficient agricultural lands- while the lakes of which there are several abound in fish and wild fowl in the fall and winter months, while the surrounding mountains furnish an abundance of their, deer, elk  and other small game.

Should the Southern boundary of this reserve as originally designed be brought south some eight (8) miles making Umpqua and Smiths Rivers the southern boundary the object desired is obtained and sufficient country is embraced for these Indians who have ever been friendly towards the Whites (south of Cape Perpetua.) separated by said cape from those Indians who have from time to time become hostile.

After they shall have been thus located and the General Giovernment have rendered them proper assistance toward engaging in agricultural pursuits etc, they will be enabled to a great extent to provide for themselves. Until this shall be accomplished they must have aid from the General Government - or be permitted to return to their former homes and pursue their original mode of life- hunting the forest for game, and following the rivers to their source in the summer months for fish, and returning to the Coast again during the winter.

Appended to this you will please find an estimate of funds necessary for the present year, as required by your order.

I am Sir, very respectfully your Obt. Servt

E.P. Drew, sub. Ind. Agt.

To Gen. J. W. Nesmith

Supt. Ind. Affrs.

Salem

O.T.

(RG75 M234 R 610 July 14, 1857 Drew to Nesmith)
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