Indian Implements acquired by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1873

Contemporaneous with the now famed Summers Collection, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was also collecting traditional implements from the tribes on reservations in the 1870s.

The Summers Collection is today a collection of some 600 articles from the tribes of Oregon. At least 300 of the articles are directly from the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. Reverend Robert Summers, an Anglican minister was located in the 1870s in Mcminnville Oregon and extended his reach into the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. There, Summers spend many days becoming friends with the Grand Ronde tribal people and purchasing traditional objects that they had and were using. Many of the artifacts that Summers collected dated from before the reservation began, meaning that they came to the reservation with the tribes in 1856. Many of them are trade items, acquired through trade with other tribes in the region. Summers kept very good notes about each object he acquired, rare for this time period, about their use, materials, the persons he acquired them from and their tribal culture. Summer was likely helped greatly by his wife who was a practicing naturalist. In the 1890s the collection was given to Reverend Freer, who transported the collection to Great Britain. The collection was then acquired by the British museum in 1900, and has remained there ever since. In 2018, the Grand Ronde Tribe was able to borrow, for about a year, 15 objects from the collection. The objects were on display at the Chachalu Museum at Grand Ronde in a exhibit, The Rise of the Collectors. During the year at Grand Ronde the objects were studied  by tribal cultural experts wishing to understand them better and to perhaps restore the technologies of the past.  In May 2019 the 15 objects were returned to the British Museum, as per the agreement. See my other article about the Summers.

Columbia River wooden spoon

The Summers collection was created in a time scholars have termed Salvage Anthropology. Anthropologists and other scholars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were predicting that tribal peoples would someday go extinct because their populations were collapsing on the reservations. Anthropologists thought that if the tribal people were gone that their studies of tribal culture would also end.  Many anthropologists began to collect cultural objects from the tribes so that if the tribes disappeared they would have some record of their existance and something to study. These collections came to fill natural history museums throughout the world with millions of artifacts of tribal cultures. The vast majority of these collections have never had any meaningful studies done on them. Some objects were acquired through legal means, while many others were stolen or dug from the ground and taken from gravesites.

Iron pipe with lead inlay

Scholars today have severely criticised the notion of salvage anthropology because the anthropologists did nothing to aid the tribal peoples, the subjects of their research, who were trying to survive in the extremely corrosive  United States Reservation system, while they instead only “saved” cultural objects made by the tribes. This situation continued for some 100 years and it was not until the 1950s that anthropologists began to attend to the needs of the tribes for survival. In the 1970s, after a series of critical analyses of Anthropology by tribal scholars, Vine Deloria Jr. foremost among them, Anthropology as a science turned toward developing practices and methodologies which aided tribes, helped preserve culture and languages, and worked to help solve the problems tribal peoples experienced within the United States Political system. Today most anthropologists have aspects of their practices which develop longterm collaborative relationships with subject tribal peoples, and tribes now in many ways direct the activities of a vast number of researchers to solve issues in culture and society.

Columbia River bowl

The Salvage Anthropology period, inspired wider collection of native artifacts from grave sites and archaeological sites across the continent by Americans seeking to sell their acquisitions and enrich themselves. The United States federal government responded to problems presented by the “collectors”  by passing a series of laws protecting tribal gravesites and archaeological sites.

Columbia River Spoon

Before these laws began being passed in the early 20th century, the federal officials themselves became participating in the collections activities.  A letter uncovered in the Letters Sent by the Offices of Indian Affairs, the M234 microfilm set (reel 618) from 1873 suggests that the the Bureau of Indian Affairs was acquiring objects from the Indian offices on numerous reservations across the country. The letter addresses a circular sent out by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs directing the collection of “drinking and smoking” articles from the tribes. The objects sent back to the Commissioner, appear to be more than a dozen such drinking and smoking articles as directed. The following is a transcription of the letter of return.

Office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs

Salem, Oregon March 25th 1873

Sir, In compliance with instructions from Hon. Commissioner Indian Affairs, dated January 25th 1873, to Agent Sinnott of Grand Ronde Agency, desiring “a collection of Indian implements used in drinking, smoking etc”., he has forwarded for transmission to your office the articles enumerated in the enclosed list all of which were duly mailed to you this day.

Very Respectfully

Your Obt. Servt.

J. B. Odeneal, Supt. Ind. Affairs in Oregon

By R.P. Earhart, clerk

Hon Commissioner Indian Affairs, Washington D.C.

List of articles forwarded from Grand Ronde Agency to Office of Superintendent for transmittal to Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

No 1  Drinking cup made from the horn of the Mountain Goat, and by the “Clackamas Indians”  as long as that tribe has existed, supposed to be upwards of 100 years. [some of these cups are actually spoons]

No 2  Drinking cup made of wood and by the “Santiam Tribe” of Oregon Indians.[Santiam Kalapuyan]

No 3  Pipe made of iron and lead smoked for forty years by “Wapato Dave”, Chief of Wapato Lake Indians of Oregon. [Dave Yachikawa- Tualatin]

No 4  Council Pipe of the “Wapato Indians” of Oregon, formerly and in all important occasions  from the best date obtainable seventy five years old. [likely Wapato Island or Multnomah]

No 5  Pipe in general use by one of the “Luckamute” tribe of Indians of Oregon. [Luckamiute Kalapuyan]

No 6  Spoon made of bone and by “Umpqua Indians” of Oregon.[this could be any one of several Umpqua tribes]

No 7  Sundry cups, spoons etc. from different tribes of the Willamette Valley. [mostly Kalapuyan, but possibly Molallan too]

The foregoing embraces all that can at present be obtained: all Indians on this Reservation now use the same kinds of pipes, spoons and cups as the whites.

The implications of the letter are startling. At about the same time as Summers was acquiring similar implements, a set of implements was also collected and sent to Washington, D.C. from Grand Ronde. The question is then, where did they end up? We can normally assume that most such ethnographic field collections would end up in the Smithsonian and perhaps are a part of the Museum of Natural History collections. This may very well be the case. A search of the NARA database online has not turned up any objects labelled Grand Ronde. There are numerous Oregon items and its possible that all of the objects sent were mis-filed, their information and context striped from them in the processes of the nearly 150 years of federal management. But another search of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has turned up another possibility.

The BIA has a museum, of several million objects. The BIA museum website is very limited and there does not appear to be any type of finding aid or collection which may be accessible in the internet. But there is another revelation, the Department of the Interior also has a Museum, of some 24 million objects which is similarly inaccessible. It is quite possible that these objects from Grand Ronde could have ended up in the DOI museum. The two museums, the BIA and DOI museums, are revelations which few people known much about. The scope of their collections appear to rival that of Museum of Natural History but without the public access that the Smithsonian allows.

Wood and Horn spoons at the Dept. of Anthropology, Smithsonian, 2014 David Lewis

Research continues on the BIA museum, and requests have been forwarded to those who may have more information. The images presented above are representative images of what these items may look like.


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