John Wacheno on Fishing Rights and Land Inheritance, 1931


In 1931, John Wacheno of Grand Ronde testified before a subcommittee from the Committee of Indian Affairs at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. The subcommittee is investigating conditions of the tribes and calls Wacheno late in the day. The two previous witnesses were Mrs. Sam Riggs from Grand Ronde and a witness from the Klamath tribe, a Mr. Meekham.

Wacheno’s first concern is that the Natives at the Grand Ronde Reservation are not allowed to fish on the reservation. At least one boy was arrested by the state officers but apparently was not charged. This situation is quite odd as since at least by 1856, the tribes at Grand Ronde were allowed to fish on the reservation, even in the neighboring reservation, the Salmon River on the Coast Reservation for subsistence. The fishery at Salmon River in present day Lincoln City helped feed the Grand Ronde peoples for decades when supplies and funds from Washington, D.C. were inconsistent and unreliable. From the 1920s to the 1950s there was some question as to whether Grand Ronde natives could fish legally in the Salmon River once the fishery was under the management of the state of Oregon. The misunderstandings regarding Grand Ronde fishing rights are addressed in a previous essay.  Remarkably, Lynn Frazier, the U.S. Senator involved in this subcommittee hearing, did not know really anything about the rights of the tribes. This is quite understandable because in the 20th century some 80 years after the treaties for Oregon were negotiated few people outside of the small circle of people in the Indian office knew tribal rights, and most times the field workers and staff assumed incorrectly the rights for the tribes. This bureaucratic ignorance more than really anything else is likely the most virulent cause of tribes losing rights. As we see below in the transcript, even the “expert” J. Henry Scattergood, Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs, must study and research the issues further.

1870’s Indian Allotment survey records for the Salmon River estuary

The second issue, which takes a bit more time in the hearing, is regarding John Wacheno losing out on the right to claim the title to an Indian allotment of his brother Foster Wacheno. Foster died in 1904 due to being murdered in an early morning argument at John Wacheno’s house by Louis Savage who shot him after a night of drinking and arguing. His death made it impossible for Foster to prove up on his Indian allotment, which required 20 years residence.

1891 Indian Allotment, Foster Wacheno, Grand Ronde Reservation

In 1887 the Dawes Act was passed by the U.S. Congress dividing the reservations into Indian allotments. The remaining lands at Grand Ronde were sold as surplus lands. in 1907 those allotments were proved up and people then applied for fee-simple titles. In about 1907  the remaining surplus lands were finally sold, mainly to logging companies. The sale of the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations’ surplus lands sparked a renewed period of logging in the old growth stands in the Coast Range.

In about 1911 the federal government began a series of heirship investigations in western Oregon. These hearings were meant to record the decendants of the original allottees, many who had passed on before their allotments were proved up on, and decide who would inherit funds from the sales of these lands. There did not appear to be any suggestion that the lands would be inherited and the heirship investigations simply divvied up the shares of the land among descendants.

The land in question below does not appear to be part of these investigations, but part of a legal process regarding Indian allotments. The allotment of Foster Wacheno was a little over 193 acres in 1891. Foster apparently had no living direct family and so his land was jointly claimed by his mother Charlotte, his nephew Charles (from Daniel Wacheno), and his living brother John Wacheno. Its unclear what happened to Foster’s family, as he was married with three children in 1896 (see Grand Ronde Indian Reservation Census records), a few years later he is listed as single with no sign of the family on the reservation, and still later he is living with his elderly mother Charlotte. Its possible that Foster’s family died in the influenza epidemic in the early 20th century.

Polk Co. Observer Oct. 8, 1912, Newspaper story headline

John Wacheno’s complaint below is based on a lack of transparency of why Foster’s land was given to his nephew Charles. From his testimony, there was no equal division of the land between the living family at all, which was normal at this time. Part of the issue at question may have been John Wacheno’s character and history of illegal actions. He at various times was charged with several serious crimes; he is caught illegally hunting off the reservation (fined); he goes through a trial related to the knifing death of Henry Kiki (Yelkus? ), perhaps in his house (he is found not guilty due to lack of evidence); and he is arrested and taken to court by his first wife Lucinda for whipping her, which ended up in a likely divorce (he takes another wife, Mary, in the 1920s).  He appears to have been involved with procuring moonshine from off the reservation, had used his house as a place to gamble and drink, a series of habitual issues which resulted in him being charged with numerous crimes related to the associated effects (possibly a subject for a future essay). Indians possessing alcohol was illegal by federal and state rules and laws at this time, yet many tribal people cooked home brews during prohibition to sell for basic necessities or to drink.

One situation which suggests that John Wacheno may not be telling the whole truth is a title transfer document, signed by Calvin Cooledge, which grants both John and Charlie the land in question.

1925 Title Transfer document to John and Charles, the Thompson survey was that conducted in 1865.

Charles Larson, the other participant in the hearings, was a clerk at the Chemawa Indian School. In 1931, Chemawa was the head office of a Indian management district which included Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations and the Fourth district Indians, those not living on a reservation. Larson, it turns out, was a descendant of the Chinook peoples on the lower Columbia River. He knew the tribal peoples well and helped them to manage their affairs as much as he could with his other duties at Chemawa. Larson states that the situation with the land is unfortunate and nothing can be done.  The situation is suspicious enough that it rates further research. It has already been discovered that the results of the 1865 Thompson surveys of the reservation were part of the lands allotted in the Dawes Act allotments. John Wacheno in fact had a series of small allotments, at least one of which he originally recieved unofficially in the 1870s, the subject of a previous essay.



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 11755

John Wacheno was thereupon called as a witness and, after being first duly sworn, testified as follows:

Senator Frazier. What is your name?

Mr. Wacheno. John Wacheno

Senator Frazier. Where are your from?

Mr. Wacheno. Clackamas.

Senator Frazier. What tribe do you belong to?

Mr. Wacheno. The Clackamas.

Senator Frazier. Where is that?

Mr. Wacheno. Just north of Oregon City. It is about 30 or 40 miles from Oregon City, where I was born.

Senator Frazier. Have you a statement?

Mr. Wacheno. I was the man that met commissioner eight years ago when we were having trouble about the land, I am glad to see you, of course. I can not talk very good English. I am old. I am doing the best I can. We are glad to meet you, sir. I wish you would see my country. We have a fine country. They stop us from fishing. My treaty calls for fishing and hunting grounds.

Senator Frazier. Who stopped you from fishing?

Mr. Wacheno. There is Washington. One of our men were arrested for fishing trout in the creek.

Senator Frazier. Whereabouts were you fishing?

Mr. Wacheno. I live in Grande Ronde, They took me away from Clackamas when I was about 7 years old. Now, I am over at Grande Ronde.

Senator Frazier. Have you land at Grande Ronde?

Mr. Wacheno. Yes.

Senator Frazier. This man that was arrested for fishing, was he on his own land or on Indian land?

Mr. Wacheno. He was in the reservation creek. Not the creek in the agency. We used to have an agency there. We told him we thought we were entitled to fish, our treaty calls for fishing and hunting.

Senator Frazier. Did they fine him for fishing?

Mr. Wacheno. No. They let him go. But there is a warden hanging around there and all the boys are scared to fish.

Mr. Scattergood. You write that in to the Indian Office and we will have it looked up. We will see if we can not give you a letter that will help out the situation because if it is on a reservation the Indian have a right to fish on the reservation without interference from any State authority.

Mr. Wacheno. Over at Oregon City I went there once and saw Judge Campbell. He said he was going to write to Washington and find out, and he never do it.

Mr. Scattergood. He never found out?

Mr. Wacheno. He is here in Salem and another fellow took his place. Another thing I want to ask you. I have been troubled for about three or four years, maybe five years. My brother he died. He had 193 acres of land and I want to get patent one time. I have gone spoken about it. When he died I bought his casket, his clothes and everything. Then I had timberland and Mr. Joe he told me he will buy that timberland and get deed for that timberland. So I took Mr. Hudson down with me to McMinnville and I had given him a blank to fill out. I told him I couldn’t write. I can not read and write myself because I never was in school since they brought me there. I had a chance to go to school but I had to take care of my father and didn’t go. So I give it to Mr. Hudson and he couldn’t do it. We went to see an attorney at McMinnville. He filled up the blank and sent it to the Indian Office. It has been gone quite awhile. Finally it came back, The agent stopped it. He said they could not issue no patents. I say all right. I am satisfied I get it. All at once about three years ago I get notified, they say they send the patent. Well I came over here and asked the superintendent, Mr. McGregor, and he stated the form it is down at Portland or maybe over at Siletz, so I went over at Siletz and I asked him and he says it is not here.

Senator Frazier. Did you not get the Patent?

Mr. Wacheno. It went along and they sent it to my nephew. They sent it on his name. I got the patent. It is 100 acres. I ask him if he made application for that. He said no. We made application in McMinnville by the attorney and they turned us down. Finally, they sent it in his name and he mortgaged that land the same day.

Senator Frazier. That was the end of it?

Mr. Wacheno. Yes. I wanted to find out. I came here and Charley could not understand about it. The Sheriff sold it on him.

Senator Frazier. What about that?

Mr. Larsen. If I remember rightly, the application was made by the heirs for this piece of property. It was their intention to reserve a small portion, but somehow or other the application went through for the whole allotment. He did not understand it that way and when the taxes came due and they notified him why he was, of course surprised. That is as far as I know about it. It was sold for taxes.

Mr. Wacheno. It was sold for a mortgage.

Senator Frazier. Is there anything else you can do about it?

Mr. Larsen. No, not now. It is one of those unfortunate cases.

(Witness excused)


John Wacheno gets little information in this meeting. Larson is looking into the fishing issue. A search of Larson’s records at Willamette University did not reveal a report or further actions on his part.

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