Joel Palmer Returning Indians and Feeding Natives, Siletz 1871

Joel Palmer was the Indian Agent at the Siletz Agency in 1871 and had responsibilities, as emphasized in his 1871 journal, over continuing to removing Indians from the Southern Coast to the Coast Reservation, some of whom had run away from from the reservation earlier. 1871 removal of Tolowa and Chetco to the Coast Reservation. In November Palmer began to gather the necessary supplies together to remove some few Indian families from the coast. Palmer was also engaged in trying to figure out how to feed the people already on the reservation, these two responsibilities split his time significantly.

The 1871 Palmer Journal (all excerpts from the journal)

Memorandum of expenses incurred in collecting Indians who have run away from reservation… the total from several pages of expenses, including food, lodging, and ferriage was $653.59.

Palmer has with him five men and 8 horses from Siletz, L.H. Sawtell, Lorenzo Palmer -his son, and three Indians from the reservation John Howard, Depo Charly, and Chetco Charley. Palmer paid the Indians $37.50  each for their services. (it may be the Sawtell remained behind in Charge of Siletz while Lame Jim was instead the 6th man)  Lame Jim is mentioned as being with the party from the Umpqua to the Coquille, and serves as a guide for the party.  The party is in Crescent City on November 28, a Tuesday and stays overnight for several nights at Smith River where he incurs a $40 bill for room and board. While there Palmer takes stock of the number of Tolowa and other Indians in the area is a short census.                

Cresent City Indians 25

Lagoon Indians about 100

Yontocket south bank Smiths River about 75 (Yontocket is a Tolowa town south of Smith River, CA, the town was attacked numerous times by whites)

Smith Riv. Indians about 150

Clamaths (Yuroks) 25 miles below Crescent City number about 15.00 [could be 1500] no reservation

Palmer Does not initially note the number of Indians he gathers to return to Siletz, however his return ferriage costs reveal the number of people in his party.

At the Coquille, “for ferrying 18 head horses and seventeen persons,17.00, across Coquill River.”

At Coose Bay, “for ferrying 17 horses,18 persons and bagage, across Coose bay.” (they apparently pick up another person and lose a horse)

With the five initial men, plus Palmer, they gather 12 other people from the coast from various locations, mainly Tututni tribal locations. The party would travel up the coast and hire messengers to travel quickly inland to tell camped Indian families to come to the coast to return to the reservation. Several entries suggest that they at times had to find hidden people or chase them down.

On the return trip, the party gathers Indians at Mule Creek, at Mussel Creek (3 sisters), and at 4 Mile Creek. The biggest challenge occurred at 4 Mile Creek

“12th- Joshua John & wife lives at 4 Mile Creek, Sixes or Port Orford John with six women and several children live at Curlis & Emmitts 4 miles above Murrys up 4 mile creek. on Tuesday 12 went there but all had fled to the mountains returned & sent Mr Murry with letter to Curlis & Emmett setting forth a synopsis of the new pollicy in treatment of Indians and urge them to aid in inducing the Indians to return instead of advising them to flee to the mountains, stating that they or any others would be [prosecuted?]2 if they persisted in that folly, 13th- Murry did not return. started women and part of men on the Coquill with letter to postmaster to furnish quarters untill I came up… Murry returned at one PM bringing with him Curlis, Indians agreed to come up in the spring. Reached Coquill at dark.”

Palmer ends up leaving the Indians at the Alsea Agency on December 20th, and continues to Newport and Siletz without them.

On this trip, Palmer successfully returns 12 Indians to the Alsea Agency, but he also takes stock of the other Indian families that remain living on the coast outside of the reservation.  Palmer notes about the families suggest that he gave them all permission to remain off the reservation. This was the policy of the time, that Indians could not be off-reservation without a pass. (We have found a passbook for Grand Ronde, but I have not seen a similar ledger for Siletz.) Palmer notes clearly denotes a pass or “leave”, which is permission by him to remain off-reservation. Palmer for some reason is also concerned enough about Indian-white marriage to capture a few of these relationships.

Jenne or Charley Davis boy is at Whales Head at Smiths, Jenne is living with Rev. Tichner at Big Bend. Jenne is also claimed by Miservy living at same place by whom she has 2 boys one 9 y old named George one Elisha about 7

Thomas Moore has 3 children by woman from sailor diggins in Josephine who is dead one boy 10 y old at Wm Southerlands at scoocumhouse  (head mans house) one, 6 yrs old, at darky Jo Lewis on Smith river a girl 13 years old at Crescent City Charles Strands

George Watson, moved, lives at big bend has an Illinois woman a Chasta has 3 children 1 girl 2 boys. (non-Native with Native wife? and children)

McMullin has one of (Harney’s) Rogue River women no children lives at John Mule Creek. (non-Native with Native wife)

Port Orford John with seven women & 2 children leave to remain on four Mile Creek untill spring

brother to Osker, for home, who will put in on Dick a Chetco and wife have pass to remain on Smith River untill 4th July 1872

Bradford Charley and family leave to remain on Smith River on account of sickness

 Billey & wife – Jo & wife and Jack leave to remain at Chetco untill spring Baby sick

Charley, wife, and mother leave to remain at Chetco untill spring – wife sick

Finally, now that some Indians are returned to the Coast reservation, Palmer must keep his word (which he is famous for doing) and pay the leaders what they have asked to peacefully return to the reservation. The last pages of the journal documents additional payments, gifts, to the Indian men who joined him on the trip, and the leaders, head men likely, who returned. Ironically most of the tribal people likely left the reservation because they were starving and not given supplies and provisions that were originally promised.  It was common for the agents to give provisions to head men who would then divvy it up among their tribal people on the reservation.  But, as I address later, the agency has a food shortage problem.

Issuances from Dec 24th 1871 to January 3rd 1872

Mustak (he may have a been a chief due to the provisions given him)

Gave Mustak one horse valued at $35.00, 1 ax – one fry pan, one bread pan

Mustak one half ax, one sissores

Mustak – 10 lbs salmon, 1 sack flour, 1½ B Potatoes 50 lbs Beef,

Mustak 1 sack flour

issued to Mustak 1½ B Potatoes

Mustaks wife

8 yds prints                                                 1.20

1 pair shoes                                                 2.50

1 “ stockings                                                .62½

2 wife 8 yds prints                                      1.20

1 pair shoes pr stocking                              3.12½

1 Blanket                                                     4.00


Gave Selchuck 2 sacks flour

Issued to Selchuck, one sack flour,  $3.00

Selchuck 1 fry pan, 1 tin pan, 1/4 tea

issued Selchuck 1½ B (bushel) potatoes

Gave to Selchuck one pony bought of Barrett  $25.00, in place of one lost on trip

Selchuck33 one Blanket                                $4.00

pair shoes pair socks                                 $3.12½


Charley  pony, 1 sack flour

to Charley 1½  B Potatoes

Charley poney, 1½ B Potatoes,  6 lbs fish

Charles Poney wife

8 yds prints                                                 1.20

1 pair shoes                                                 2.50

1 “ stockings                                                .62½

Charley 1 pair shoes                                    2.50

1 pr socks                                                       .62

1 Blanket                                                     4.00

John Murry

John Murry 1 sack flour

to John Murry 1½ B Potatoes


Tootoon Jack 1 sack flour                                             

James Biddle Indian,  to sack flour, by services of mule on trip to collect Indians forty days at .50 coin $20.00 (lease fee of a mule), Mule in place of his that died in the service

Barney, one sack flour, $2.50

Palmer visited the southern coast under orders to gather escaped Indians. Previous efforts like this in the 1860s were conducted by the Army and by contracted Indian catchers, whose fees exceeded $20,000 for only a few trips. Palmer was able to conduct the same service for less than $1000. The situation at Siletz in the Fall and early winter of 1871 was grim with Palmer predicting the failure of crops, and starvation on the reservation.

September 1871 Siletz Report, Joel Palmer Indian Agent

The Late planted Potatoe crop will be an entire failure on account of a severe front the sixth of this month, a few fields planted early & those in sheltered positions may possibly mature… There can be no longer any doubt that the crops produced upon the Reservation this season will fall far short of subsisting the Indians until another harvest, and we must look to other sources to supply the deficiency. Fish will constitute one of the chief articles, and many are now preparing to take the fall and winter run of salmon. We are also fitting out hunting parties to take elk and deer, with those two resources we hope to materially lessen the expenses of subsisting these Indians through coming winter. A few of the families will have an abundance of provisions and to spare, while many others will be destitute of food. (Palmer 9 9 1871 M2 Oregon Superintendency records)

January 1872 Siletz Report, Joel Palmer Indian Agent

Palmer’s next report in January 1872 tells us the results of his activities for much of the winter.

My absence from the Agency collecting fugitive Indians per your instructions prevented me from submitting my monthly report… Considerable sickness prevailed among the Indians during the month of November but no deaths occurred but in December a visible improvement in their sanitary (health)  condition was observed, Just at present however quite a number of chronic cases in the adults, and some few cases of complaints among children exists. .. I am granting passes to quite a number to go outside (of the reservation) & work for the whites during the winter season, also I have given employment to Indians upon the reservation, in farming, clearing brush, land etc. at the several farms, both for the improvements of the agency and as a means of subsisting themselves and families & as encouragement for them to remain upon the agency. .. We are now compelled to supply quite a number of the destitute Indian families with subsistence, as many of them are without any kind of food and are unable to obtain anything with which to subsist upon… I have during the winter slaughtered several head of the old and crippled cattle and issued them to the Indians, as they were unfit for service…(Palmer 1 3 1872 M2 Oregon Superintendency records)

In the midst of what was an annual problem, feeding Indians, Palmer is ordered to go south and gather up Indians, and so cannot work on the problems on the reservation as he is gone nearly two months. In his reports, the Native people are anxious to get parcels of land so they can grow their own crops and feed themselves. The Farms (upper and lower) addressed in the reservation records at this time are Agency farms ran exclusively by the Agency to common feed the Natives, the land is at this time not owned by Native people yet. It is not until 1872 that the reservations in Oregon are surveyed in preparation for allotment. Then the allotments are quite small, 20 to 125 acres at the most for most. It is not until 1889 that the Natives are issued 260 acres as part of the Dawes Act (1887). Land allotment was promised in the Indian treaties, and yet it took the federal government nearly 20 years to partially complete this treaty right of the tribes on all reservations in Oregon.

The Natives returned to the reservation were from the Chetco and other Tututni tribes of Indians of the southern Oregon Coast. These tribes signed the 1855 Coast Treaty and then over the course of about a decade were removed to the Coast Reservation to live on the estuaries in subagencies of the reservation. The treaty was never ratified and so these native people lost their lands without any compensation by the federal government. The tribes were partially paid after they sued the federal government in the 20th century, but much too late for the original signatory tribal people. As such the “returning” or even the “removal” of the tribes to the Coast Reservation may have been illegal, as there was no law (that I am aware of) that stated that it was illegal for tribal people, even non-US citizens to live off the reservations, it was only Federal Indian Policy.  (please let me know if I am wrong about this)

The 1871 Palmer Journal is a privately owned journal which I have gained permission to publish out of. The owner is a descendant of Joel Palmer.


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