Agent McClane struggles with Native Culture, Grand Ronde 1886


Into the last decades of the 19th century, the Indian agents at Grand Ronde struggled with many aspects of assimilating the tribes to American culture. In fact, there was a meeting in 1871 in Salem, at the First Methodist Church with all the tribal leaders in Oregon to convince them to give up their Indian doctors and begin accepting white doctors. The tribal culture, however, was persistent, and when the federal government failed to help the tribes for more than 20 years, without funding and effective services, the tribes had really no reason to convert to white American culture. The other culture described is that of the Potlatch. It was common in the region for families to hold a giveaway when a member of the family dies. There is a cultural purpose to this, and a way of healing.

Hon. John H. Oberly
Indian School Superintendent
Washington DC

I herewith have the honor to submit my reply to yours of April 8 – 86 on Education.

1. Fifty-five (55) are at the present time accommodated at the school.

2. The probable average for the next fiscal year will be seventy (70) attendance.

Since writing the above have received authority from the Hon. Secretary of the Interior to make the necessary repairs of School building, which when done will accommodate the pupils with good healthy sleeping apartments. At present they are overcrowded and in my opinion detrimental to the laws of health. (yes this is the boarding school, with sleeping accommodations)

3. Twenty-five acres have been plowed, same being sewed down with timothy wheat and good oats. The Agency oxen has not heretofore been used for farming purposes and in consequence of their not being broke, an Indian was employed by me to drive and break them into the work, which was done for three (3) days. After this the School boys took them in hand and performed the work quite manfully. They are now engaged in planting from eight (8) to ten (10) acres of vegetables. Some of the boys complained that heretofore they were not worked while attending school but became reconciled when told it was ordered by the Government. When not in school they are employed in the garden or upon the farm or doing chores. There are three (3) boys learning trades, (two blacksmithing and one carpentry). Only two receive pay, namely one apprentice blacksmith, and one apprentice carpenter. The girls receive instructions from the Sisters of the order of St. Benedict (Catholic) in vocal and instrumental music, sewing, dressmaking, tailoring, cooking, washing, ironing and general housework.

4. From thirty-five (35) to forty (40) acres has been cultivated this year. And with the same kind of help I can increase this to one hundred acres this coming year. I propose to do this by school children. To improve this one hundred acres I will have to take land belonging to the Agency which has been used by the Indians for several years free, the Government receiving no rent for the same. The men using this land are in good condition and do not need it, having sufficient of their own to answer their present wants. If, however, it became necessary I could accommodate them with other land outside the Agency farm. I do not expect to work the Agency farm proper unless I am ordered to do so by you. I propose to [do] all the work for the school by employees and children.

5. The positions needed and the salary for each position are a principle lady teacher, Sister Placida, at a salary of four hundred and fifty ($450.00) dollars per year; assistant and industrial male teacher Paul Fundman at a salary of four hundred dollars per year, a matron and seamstress , Sister Sophia, at a salary of three hundred and twenty-five per year, a cook and laundress, Sister Girvasia (?) at a salary of three hundred and twenty-five ($325.00) per year. I hereby recommend the above named persons for the next fiscal year at the salary affixed [to] their names. I am well pleased with the manner in which the school is conducted and the good treatment of the children under the sisters care. (note Catholic sisters provide much of the instruction, so both educational and religious instruction in a boarding school)

I desire to state the worst thing I have to contend with is the Indian doctors in regard to the school – principally women doctors. They are very anxious to doctor the Indians and impress them with the belief that they (the “doctors”) are the only ones who can perfect a cure. When the Indian children are taken sick the Indian doctor who is employed make the statement that some other Indian “doctor” has made them sick at the school by performing the “Te-man-i-mus” [ceremonies, or sacred acts] while eating with the children at the table. This “Te-man-i-mus” which they propose to make is the same as what we understood as witchcraft long years ago. They pretend to have the power, by throwing their breath on any Indian man, woman or child, although that person may be ten feet from them, and can kill them on the spot, or make them sick for a period of weeks and then die.

You can perceive how absurd this doctrine is but notwithstanding, there are very few of the full blood or half breeds but what believe it to be a fact. They have carried this so far that the Indians have settled, and named one of the Indian women “doctors”.  And the statement is made that this woman sat down, at the same table to eat, by invitation and made the “Te-man-i-mus” at the time so that many girl pupils were taken sick with what appeared to be a contagious disease, so much so that I was obliged to close the school for a short time. Three of the girls taken sick have died and one is still sick. The other pupils are well. Since learning these statements I have conversed with the sisters on the subject and found that this woman “doctor” did eat at the table with these girls and they appeared to be afraid of her, and found further from the sisters they were annoyed considerably by Indian women coming there to eat and I concluded and did make a general order that none of the Indian women should eat there which has been carried out, and further still, ordered that certain Indian “doctors” shall not be allowed to enter the school building so as to satisfy the superstition of the Indians notwithstanding its so absurd.

There is another habit they have been accustomed to is to their down or burn up their house when one of the family die in the house. This I have effectually stopped through the vigilance of the Police, and think in time I can eradicate the other evil.

Another evil exists that has been practiced by Indians. When a member of the family die, of giving to their friends and allowing them to carry off everything they have got, even to their provisions, bedding, horses, in fact all their property, making themselves perfectly poor and miserable. They continued this after I came here at first, but as I learned of it I made them make the restoration of the property and ordered my Police to watch over the sick and prevent the practice, and I believe I have succeeded in doing so, and I believe the Indians like my course in that respect. I do not anticipate any great trouble in eradicating those evils by using a great deal of vigilance and watching [by] my Police.

J.B. McClane,
U.S. Indian Agent

Fault at not getting the tribes to trust white American ways is solely on the whites who failed for so long to live up to their promises. Then continued mistreatment for years built up lots of resistance to white culture. Many of these cultural practices today are making a revival in the community as the community learns to work with one another. Trust for other tribal families is still a big problem.

Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter 12695

Complete Transcript: Written at Grande Ronde Agency on April 28, 1886 by J.B. McClane, Agent

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