Some letters from the Natives at Grand Ronde are remarkable in the details they reveal of how the people are being treated by the Indian Agents. Shilequa’s (Selquia) letter of 1888 is one such letter, describing in great detail, and with awareness of the likelihood that the Agent is breaking the rules, of many of the acts the agent is taking to enrich himself and take advantage of Indian labor on the reservation. The letter’s frank character also suggests that Selquia is not afraid of consequences of his letter, should the agent get wind of it. Selquia was a leader of the Wapato Lake tribe at the reservation, also called the Tualatin Kalapuyans.
Coversheet: Makes certain complaints against Agent McClane.
Grand Ronde. Polk Co. Oregon
April 5th 1888
To the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
I will now take pain as to write to you these few lines in order to ask you a few questions about our Agent’s duties to do here. That is something I want to know. Now I will tell you he has sold one yoke of oxens which belongs to the department for which he got the value of about ninety dollars. And it was one of the very best pair of oxens we had on this reservation and that this could be proved. And also I want to know about this wagon timbers that layed (sic) out all winter in the rain and during the snow. We had here the snow [that] last four weeks and most of this timber [has] been destroyed. That could be proven also by [a] good many citizens. And another thing also. I want to know [is] about him raiseing (sic) a great lots of potatoes here and sell it. He has sold the amounts of 30 bushels for sure. That could be proven also. And again I want to know weather (sic) he has the right to have his work done here. He has bought him a buggy wheeles (sic) and axles and tires and make these employees to go to work and put it up for him and use some irons that belongs to the goverment (sic) and leave the poor Indians work [to] one side.
And I have to do his work first and we be left behind weather (sic) we need our work done right off [or not]. But still he makes us wait untill (sic) he has his buggy put up and after the wheeles (sic) is fitted on. Well now next is to have it painted. Well he goes and tell[s] the Miller Barton Trollinger to paint his buggy and that could be proven also. And another thing I would like to ask you [is] weather (sic) he has [the] right to do such thing like he has done. Well he had his soninlaw (son-in-law) here stoping (sic) with him for sometime doing kind of a work half done around the Agency. This man was from Salem. Well the time he went to Salem J.B. Maclane orders up one of the employees to take his soninlaw (sic) back to Salem with the goverment (sic) teem (sic) while he had his horses in the stable all winter doing nothing. Well so this poor employee had to go. It took him 3 ½ days to go [there] and back while this [same] man had all the work he could do here without him sending this man out side. It [is] because he is an Agent he makes these employees do what he pleases.
And also I want to know weather (sic) he has [the] right to make the school boys plow and plant his potatoes. He is doing the same thing that could be proved today. And also, about him geting (sic) milk from the school. He has been geting (sic) ever since he was here. That could be proved also. Another thing I will tell you some boys have done mischief here lately. Our Agent seem not to care for this matter. There was a young man [who] made a complaint to him one day about another man getting a way with his wife. This young man came before him [the agent] to make his report to do something to the man [who] got his wife. Maclane refuse to take the complaint and so this young man could not get help from nobody, so he give it up. I think myself that this is very wrong for not helping us. I should think that our Agent was here to correct every one of us weather (sic) wright (sic) or wrong. When a little trouble is to be decided it depends a good deal on him how he feeles (sic).
It seems that he does not care for us no more than dogs. Some people will think a good deal of their dogs but him he says what Indians knows. Indians do not know nothing. I know you will not receive my word but still I’ll let you know what I think is we are here mistreated under J.B. Maclane. While the Inspector Gardiner was her presented he told us what ever is not right here with our Agent for us to write over W.D.C (to Washington DC). Some of us young man that can write and so we are doing. And also I will tell you with the honest[to] God fact about this.
Those Indians policemen that you have here are not fit to keep office no more than [the] one writing this paper. It is a shameful for them to do the way the (they) have been doing all the time. They have been drinking very heavy this year. Captain Frank Qunell [Quinell], Henry Winslow, William Sims [could be Simmons], John Wacheno. Captain Qunell [Quinell] had a good excuse last year. [He] stated that he took some wine which he made himself out of elderberries but this year he change his mind. He thought [it would] be better [to] take strait (sic) whiskey. J.B. Maclane knows very well about this but still he let it rip. He is a good friend with Captain [Qunell]. We are all sick of this business. We wish you would make a change to thing. Lots [of] young men that can read and write can keep law book[s] as well as any of those drunkard. That is the way one of these police broke his legs. John Wacheno. By being drunk.
I hope you will take confidents (sic) in us as to step forward and see to us in our need and please give us a reply some way or give our Agent a little lesson so we will try to get [a]long a little better. I will be much thankful to you if you try and see to us on what we are imposed on. This few lines send by one of your poor Indian suffering soul. We all hope to succeed in our request.
From your very respectully Indian
note The following seemed to have been added as a postscript to the above letter:
Also attention on this charges I have against our Agent Sir I will now tell you again about those cattles (sic) that belong out side. The (they) have been runing (running) here for [a[ long time. I have told my Agent to tell these mens that own these to keep them out from this reservation but still he dont (sic) seem to care for and also I have lost one heafer (heifer) on account [of] him not doing his duty and also I will tell you about these cattles (sic) done lots of damages here all the time but still he dont (sic) care and also when inspector gardiner was here[he] told our agent to see about these cattles business but after inspector gardiner lift (left) here he said I dont (sic) have to do what he says. I can do my pleases. He is not runing (sic) my business. I runing my own business just what he always say. So we cant do nothing with him. I [want] to know also weather (sic) he has [the] right to sell some gardens seed here. He has sold [a] good many that I can prove by the parties that bought the seed. Also I will now state that [I] have made report once before to the U.S. offices in portland (sic) about these cattles here runing (sic) in this reservation. The (they) told me if I can get the agent to sign it before the (they) can take the complaint but he wouldnt (sic) so I cant do nothing. Well, Commissioner I desire you would send inspector to see about these charges that I have to tell you now.
From Yours respectfully
The lack of respect of the agent toward the resources of the agency is a serious problem. The Natives have learned to be careful with their resources because not much was going to be provided them by the federal government. McClane appears to be monetarily benefitting from the position, selling off a good team of oxen, and selling potatoes, and this too is wrong. The Natives were completely under the power of Agent and some 3000 miles form Washington, D.C. so there was no effective oversite of the reservation. Then, by allowing the police to get away with bad behavior the agent then engages them in his illegal actions and they are more apt to look the other way. Liquors were specifically outlawed on reservations and was one of the only ways people could make money at the same time. Many tribal people would make wines, ales, and liquors on their farms and sell it in neighboring towns just to be able to buy basic necessities, as well as aid in the reservation alcoholists’ tendancies. Since state police could not come into the reservation, there was no one to stop the Indian police from doing what they wanted.
Its remarkable in 1888 for a Native person to communicate in this manner, a very brave and selfless act, where he could have and very likely did face retribution and retaliation.
Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter # 10028/88
Indian Letter. Written at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation on April 5, 1888 by Mr. Jim Shilequa.