Enforced Assimilation in Tribal Correspondence about the Grand Ronde Boarding School

The natives at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation underwent extreme hardships. Most of the early years they starved from lack of good effective administration by the federal employees and lack of funding from the federal government.  They had only one doctor and rare access to effective medicines. Many people died at an early age because of illnesses at the reservation. In 1872 the people got their first allotments, some 20 years after they had been removed to the reservation. These allotments of land were small, from 20 acres to 100 acres only. But by 1880 they had a grist mill, a saw mill, all operated by the people, and they were independent from government handouts, feeding themselves. This was possible because everyone helped each other out. Many families were small, missing a parent, yet since the whole community helped one another they were able to feed everyone and became self-sufficent. Farming itself was part of the assimilation efforts established by the Federal government to “civilize” the natives so they may gain full citizenship.

Still the federal authorities were pushing for further “civilizing” of the natives, and forced children, from a very young age into the on-reservation boarding school. The following is a description of the needs of Joe Apperson after the death of many men in the community. He is 16 and is apparently the head of his household in 1887 and does not have much land, and needs help. His neice is forced to  remain at the Grand Ronde Boarding school and he would like her help.

Apperson notes that the “sisters” were enforcing the children to attend the boarding school. From the 1860s to the 1890s at the least, the Grand Ronde Boarding school was operated by a Catholic order of Sisters, who were managed by the Catholic Priest at St. Michaels Church. For the first forty years this priest was Rev Adrien Croquet of Belgium. The order of sisters was from Marylhurst. The school then was operated not just for education but for religious conversion, impressing Catholicism on the children from a very young age, in fact immersing them in the Catholic Religion. This could be called Catholic immersion. This tactic was highly successful in growing Catholics at the reservation and eliminating Native cultural ways.

The most remarkable thing about this letter is that he writes it himself, so he has learned to read and write and can now express his needs in a coherent manner.

Grand Ronde, Yamhill County, Oregon
March 5, 1887
Hon. Commissioner

Well my friend I just to write to you a little. I am very shaim [sic] my friend for writing to you my friend. I let you know. One time I went and get my niece in the school house to do a little work for me I got permission from the Agent. Then I got her out then the Sister’s went and told the Agent. I took my niece out of school for good then after two days the Agent sent the Polismen [sic] after me and told me to take my niece back to school and the Agent wanted to see me. So when I got to the Agent we settled that together then he told me it is my order to sent the Polismen after the children. Then I told him long time ago when Mr. Sinnitt was here we never had to ask him to take our children home. We always had to see the teacher when we wanted to take our children home. And Mr. Sinnitt would not care if we would take them home for a week or two. And I want to know if you ordered the Agent not to let the children go home unless we get permission from him.
Well my friend I let you know I have bin [sic] here in the Reservation for thirty two years and besides I have been raised in this Reservation and I never had trouble with the Agent or with the Teacher or with anybody I always act a good man. I always sent my children my to School and all my children are well educated. I always force my children to go to School and now they are all well educated. The reason I act that way because my father he act the treaty his the chief in the tribe we are full of blood Indian we not no half-breed. Now I am a single man my wife died and my children died and my Father’s dead. One my Brother died in the Sylum [sic] [probably State Hospital in Salem] his name was Moses Apperson. I suppose you heard from him. Well my friend that the reason I want to get my niece out of school because I am a single man and I don’t want to work and do my own cookin and as soon has I am done ploughing [sic] and done with all my work then I will sent my niece back to school again. I got a fine place here my friend. I make my living and I make money in this place.
Well my friend I let you know we ain’t many here now there were many people died last summer before you sent this Doctor, nearly all the best mens died but now since you sent this Doctor he always gave us good Medson [sic] and we think he his the best Doctor we ever had. And we have got a pretty good Teacher now this last that you sent and we are very glad of that he always tend his business and my children told me that Mr. Carnie is the best Teacher. They say he is not like Mr. Paul, he never tends to them and he doesn’t care what they do and I am glad that you discharged him. Mr. Winslow is a very good Carpintor [sic] he always work steady and never miss a day but our black smith he don’t work steady, he mists [sic] about two or three days in a week but Mr. Winslow never mist a day and that’s the kind of men we want and we have got a pretty good Agent Mr. Mclain [sic] and all the employees are pretty good except the new blacksmith. Mr. Mclain does his business pretty good his not like Mr. Sinnitt [sic] [Sinnott].
Well my friend I let you know one thing we are nearly all well satisfied here in this reservation but only one thing warrant got enough land twenty acres is not enough we can’t get enough wheat and we cat[ sic] raise any stock. We just got enough to make our living.
Well my friend I let you know that we are hard up here. We are all out of feed and we are out of everything we haven’t got no seed to sow only the rich people and we are not the only people that are hard up evin [sic] the white people lose … round here and please help us all you can. The reason I tell you that because all the Indians were asking the Agent for the seed last fall and I don’t know if the Agent rote [sic] to you about that. Well that’s all I tell you my friend. There is my niece she want to say something to you Mary Ann Homer.
Please I want to ask you my uncle is single and I want to go home and do some cooking for him. I don’t want to see my Uncle work hard and do his own cooking and washing it make me feel sorry to see him do that. He always treat me good as long as I was with him that the reason I don’t want to see him do his own cooking while I am living. I am about sixteen years old now.

Mr. Joe Apperson

Apperson is a member of the Clackamas people from around the Willamette Falls.


Even in 1893, Indian Agents were pushing for children in Grand Ronde Boarding school to remain at the school all the times. The policy of assimilation at all costs was very strong at this time. Grand Ronde had several schools, most of which were built with treaty funds. Studies of Indian Boarding Schools for Oregon are normally about Chemewa and have rarely address the boarding schools at the reservations.

Grand Ronde Oreg Agency
Oct 7 1893
Hon Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Washington, D.C.


The Indians on this Agency state that in the past they have been allowed to take their children home from school every Friday evening and return them on the succeeding Monday. This they wish to continue doing and I do not consider that it is permissible. I moreover consider that it is a bad policy to let them go home, excepting at X-mas and for the regular vacation. I write this at the request of the parent of these children: but must ass that a strict rule requiring children to_ remain _ at school the whole week, is the _ only _ way to make this school a success.

Very Truly Yours,
John FFB Brentano,
U.S. Indian Agent

Here, the students of the Grand Ronde Boarding school use their ability to communicate through letters to petition on behalf of a fired employee of the reservation and to dispell a rumor.

Grand Ronde Agency, Feb. 1 1887


We the under signed pupils of Grand Ronde Indian Boarding School desire to call your attention to the reasons for which our farmer teacher Mr. Fundman has been discharged:
Mr. P. Fundman has been teaching here for the last three years and we are his oldest pupils; all the scholars liked him very much. We do not think that we could get a better teacher than him. The one we have got now does not teach us as well as Mr. Fundman. When the Inspector; Mr. Parson was here he did not ask us any questions about our teacher. Two boys not belonging to the school any more made complaints against Mr. P. Fundman to the Inspector. It was all spite work, they wanted to revenge themselves on Mr. Fundman for one of them was put in jail once as a punishment for his misconduct. We think it was not fair of the Inspector to report to you as true what is false. We can say that what was said against our farmer teacher is not true we never had a better teacher than him. We respectfully ask you Sir to give Mr. Fundman the position back he has filled so well and we consider it only justice to do so.

Hoping that you will give due attention to our petition we are
Very respectfully
Joseph Michael
Joe Michael
… Sport
Frank Wheeler
Larry Taylor
Moses Hudson

The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs,
Washington, D.C.
Grand Ronde Agency
Polk Co.

[and they got an answer to their petition]

Joseph Michael, Esq.
Grand Ronde Indian School
Grand Ronde Agency, Oregon

Dear Sir,

The letter signed by yourself and five other pupils in the school has just been received, and in reply thereto, I have to say Inst. Mr. Fundman was removed from the position of Industrial Teacher and another man appointed in his place because it was believed by myself and your friends here that it was for the good of the school, that such a change should be made. I am glad to see the interest you take in the affairs of the school, and hope that you will continue to learn everything that will be useful in making you all grow up to be good men.

There were three strategies for “civilizing” the western Oregon natives as part of the colonization of the Grand Ronde tribes, enforced farming, education, and religion, all represented in the letters above.  The formula was largely successful, but never completely eliminated Native culture.

One thought on “Enforced Assimilation in Tribal Correspondence about the Grand Ronde Boarding School

  1. Joseph, Moses & MaryAnn were Uncles & Aunt by my maternal heritage. Moses remains were never retrieved, or his families remains, from Salem hospital, asylum. Ardy & her kids went there moons ago trying to bring them home, but the place states they don’t know where the remains are, after they removed the circle of urns from the property.

    Thank you for posting this David…..

Leave a Reply

The Quartux Journal