Tribal Boys Thrown Off Census for Years

At the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation the Indian Agent in 1907, Andrew Kershaw (Kershaw was a long-term agent at the reservation, began omitting Tribal members from the annual BIA Census (which served as the tribal roll).  His reasoning was that the people omitted had gotten their fee simple titles and so their Allotments were no longer “Reservation property” and so the Native allottees were then not living “on the reservation.” He considered them to no longer be under the supervision of the Federal government. From 1907 to 1915, over 328 Natives were omitted from the Grand Ronde Census, such that in 1914, there were only 25 people remaining, while in 1906 there were 353 members on the census. Edwin Chalcraft took over as Indian Agent of the combined Grand Ronde-Siletz agency in 1915, and noted this situation in a short note when submitting the 1915 census. In 1916, he adds most of the Tribal members back onto the census, so that there are 324 people named.

There are many questions about why Agent Kershaw thought to omit names based on the status of their allotments. There does not appear to be a directive from the Indian Office to this effect (as yet one has not been found), and it does not appear that other agents of other reservations took similar actions. Chalcraft actions and letters suggest that this was a mistaken action by Kershaw, and letters from the Indian Office directing him to add the Tribal people back onto the Census, agree with him.

There are effects from the omission of Tribal people for some eight years from the Grand Ronde Census. I documented previously that a woman of the reservation was never added back onto the Census because she lived in Portland. The following story is another couple of cases where Tribal members were left off the Tribal Census well beyond the date of their birth, and may have lost out on benefits due tribal members. The story also documents how Congressmen from the Federal Government knew nothing about what happened, could not answer questions posed to a Congressional sub-committee assembled to document the Conditions of Reservations in the United States.

Clara and Adeline Robinson were tribal members born on the Grand Ronde Reservation, in 1893 and 1888 respectively. They are listed on every tribal census until 1907 when their names are dropped from the census by Agent Kershaw, presumedly because they are no longer living on reservation land.

Robinson Family from the 1906 Grand Ronde Census

Clara and Adeline reappear in 1916 on the Grand Ronde Census, Adeline is now married to Leon Reiback from Austria, and Clara is now married (Oct 30, 1912) to a “white” man named Chester O. White who may have lived in Eola. Clara and Chester had a son Orrin Orville White in 1913 in Portland, OR, and, Adeline had three sons by Leon, Harris Jerome, Vernon Alton and Westly Arnold. None of these children, all of whom have tribal heritage, are noted on the Grand Ronde Census in 1916 or for years afterwards. (another possible son of Clara White is listed as Oral Fryso born 1914 as listed on the 1923 census as a Step son of Sam Riggs. Its unclear what this is, perhaps an adoptive son of Clara’s or an affair? )

1916 Grand Ronde census sections, note Adeline’s birth year is wrong, it should be 1888..

Clara White is listed as a “wife’ in 1921 and listed in the off-reservation section of the census, living in Portland with her husband Chester. She returns to Grand Ronde with her son(s) in 1922 (unsure if divorce or estranged from Chester) as she is not longer listed in the off-reservation section of the census but her son is not mentioned. Her future second husband Samuel Riggs is still a widower as of 1922, having lost his wife Ida Wheeler in 1920. By 1923, Samuel and Clara are married and living together. (Incidentally, Clara and Adeline’s mother, Caroline, lived far past her husbands (she married twice, first to Daniel, then to , in the 1920s and 1930s she is listed as living alone as a widow. James Robinson, their brother, is also listed into the 1930s as a single man living alone.)

1924 Grand Ronde Census, Sam Riggs family, note Clara is not listed with the family, but she is listed with the family in the 1923 census.
1925 Grand Ronde Census, Sam Riggs family, note Clara is now listed with the family, and Orrin Orville is not, but note here that Oral Riggs is listed, in 1923 Oral is noted to be Clara’s son.

Clara Robinson/White Riggs still has her son with her when she joins the Sam Riggs family, but her son Orrin is not listed on the Grand Ronde Census until 1931. Orrin White is at least one quarter Rogue River and Chinook and yet is not listed on the Tribal census. There is no hint here about why Oral Fryso was listed as her son in 1923, and his name is changed on the census in 1925 to Riggs. (I suspect that Oral Fryso may be adopted by Clara and Sam.)

In May of 1931, Clara Riggs, or Mrs. Sam Riggs, advocated for her son, of 1913, to be a listed member of the tribe. Clara appeared before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs at Chemawa Indian School, Oregon and stated her case for including her son on the Tribal census, which served as the tribal roll.

Survey of Conditions of the Indians in the United States, Hearings before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Indian Affairs United States Senate, 71st Congress, 3rd session, Hearings at Chemawa, Oregon. May 30, 1931. Pp 11752-11753.

Mrs. Sam Riggs, Grand Ronde

I would like to ask a few questions. In 1913 I had a child, so did my sister have three children and I sent their names to be recorded. Well I never knew they were not recorded until the children started to get a little interest money and when I looked into it seen they were not recorded. So I like to know why they were not recorded.

Senator Frazier. Have you got a letter stating they were recorded?

Mrs. Riggs. I did have it until I came back to Grand Ronde. I was born and raised in Grand Ronde and left, you know, and the child I had was in Salem. I came back after the child was 8 years old and burned the letter cleaning up. I depended on him and I burned the letter. Come to find out about it he had not recorded my sister’s three boys and my own. They seem to be the only children denied off the pay roll and always did not feel right and I do not like it and we cannot talk to anybody.

Senator Frazier. Your children were born away from the reservation, is that the idea?

Mrs. Riggs, Yes, sir.

Senator Frazier.

How about that Mr. Scattergood?

Mr. Scattergood. I have no information about the case.

Mrs. Riggs. There were other children born away and came back just the same and they go on the Pay roll. They claim because my child had a white father. There are other people living on the reservation and their children had white people.

Senator Frazier. What tribe?

Mrs. Riggs. Rogue River from my father. My mother is a Chinook and Umpqua and my great grandfather was a chief. He was a chief out there. I can prove it to you because we have the picture.

Senator Frazier. Do you anything about this?

Mrs. Riggs. Mr. Larsen was not in at that time. If he had been in this would not have happened. It was before his time. He has always done wonderful things for us and has helped us in every way and I find him the best we have had since I have been here.

Mr. Scattergood. There were some proceeds from the sale of tribal lands. The proceeds were then distributed among the various parties who were registered as members of the Rogue River Tribe. She claims the children were never registered.

Mrs. Riggs. It was not our neglect. When the child was born we sent it in to be registered and he writes back and said they were recorded. Mr. Larsen was not there. If he was it would have been recorded.

Mr. Scattergood. How long ago did that happen?

Mrs. Riggs. That was in 1913.

Mr. Scattergood. Did you ever make any complaint to the Indian Office at that time?

Mrs. Riggs. I went to the superintendent; yes, sir. I have talked about it. I did not get any other chance to speak to anybody else.

Senator Frazier. Will you take that up and find out about that?

Mrs. Riggs. Charley was not in. If he was it would not have happened, because he has been very honest and I can say he has done wonderful things for us.

Senator Frazier. Something ought to be done.

Mrs. Riggs. I think our children are entitles to be on there. I do not see why they were denied admission when they were born on the reservation.

Senator Frazier. Where were you born?

Mrs. Riggs. Here in Chemawa and my sister took up training as a nurse in Chemawa here.

Senator Frazier. Is she nursing now?

Mrs. Riggs. Not now. She is not now. She is getting old. She has three big boys. Of course, her children were turned off but we were on the pay roll and did receive a little money; then our children were thrown off and I did not think that was justice at all.

Senator Frazier. Do you recollect how much money they would have received if they had been on?

Mrs. Riggs. Only $33 apiece. I say if they were thrown off then they would be thrown off again if anything should turn up and I am looking out for their interest. I think they have as much right as any other children because other children have more white blood than they.

Senator Frazier. Your husband is white?

Mrs. Riggs. Was a white man. My father is Rogue River Indian and my mother is a Chinook.

Senator Frazier. I do not know what can be done, but we will have Mr. Larsen look into it.

Mrs. Riggs. I have been speaking to Mr. Larsen. He has been very good. He said he would do what he can.

Senator Frazier. Any other statement you want to make?

Mrs. Riggs. No.

[Transcription by David Lewis]

So, it appears that Clara had sent her son’s name and that of her three nephews to the Indian Agent, likely Andrew Kershaw, to be included in the tribal roll. But since both families were living in Portland at the time, none of the four boys were added to the rolls. And, when Edwin Chalcraft took over the duties from Kershaw, he did not know about the four boys. So they were excluded from the Tribal rolls for as long as 18 years. Clara notes that they lost out on some money, probably the proceeds of the sale of some former reservation lands sold during the heirship sales in about 1918, and were not included as heirs of the Robinson family. Dan Robinson had an on-reservation Indian allotment.

The federal policies were even worse than this. For some reason, Adeline Robinson Riebach was left off the tribal rolls for a time in the 1920s likely because she living in Portland. The early 1920s censuses were divided up by on-reservation members and off-reservation members.

1921 Grand Ronde census. Off reservation section
1930 Adeline appears again, she is missing from the 1929 census, note her 3 sons are not listed and they are living in Portland.

Clara’s son is not listed as living with the blended family until 1932. This is one year after Clara Riggs states her son’s case and that of her nephews before the sub-committee.

1932 first appearance of Orrin Orville White on the Grand Ronde census

Similarly, Adeline’s sons are listed the same year.

1932 Adeline and 3 sons are now listed

The birth date listed for Adeline, on the 1932 census (and many others) appears incorrect as the early census records show she is born closer to 1888.

1890 Grand Ronde Census, showing Adeline is 2 years old. the son is James.

Its interesting that the federal officials did not know about the problems of Gfrand Ronde the census issues. They, during the hearing, turn the matter over to Charles Larsen to rectify. Its clear that Charles did his job appropiately, and that Clara’s trust in him was justified. Charles Larsen, was himself a Native, of the Siletz Tribe, who had a distinguished service at several Indian boarding schools in his carreer. His papers are at Willamette University Archives.

The impact of the removal of tribal people for some eight years is still to this day not well known. As more research occurs I will continue to reveal the facts of Grand Ronde history as best as possible. Its very clear in many examples that the federal uthorities were very bad at record keeping, imposed rules and policies imperfectly and this has likley affected the descendants of these Native peoples. While in Clara and Adeline’s cases, they solved the problem with minimal effects, I wonder how many other tribal members were caught up in the erasure of tribal mebership on the censuses and never returned and therefore may never return to the tribe in the present era.

BIA Indian Census records 1890 to 1932 are available on the Internet Archives,  For Grand Ronde they are reels 169, 458, 459, 505, 506. Reel 506 has a hidden set of Grand Ronde census records not listied in the description for the years 1916 t0 1925. internet site helped me find the first husband of Clara, Chester White. Chester’s son Orrin Orville is incorrectly listed as a Riggs in numerous census records and in the Living in the Great Circle book by Olson. Its understandable that this can be confusing because tribal families are incredibly confusing. It may be the case that Orrin was adopted by Sam Riggs, but I do not have records suggesting this. In addition sometimes the cnesus records liusted (White) next to Orrin’s name, which could be confused as a racial category.

Family site helped with some lookups.


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