Two Schools at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, 1863

There are a few reports that open the windows wide to a vision of the reservation, its changes, its struggles, and its peoples.

In the 1863 Grand Ronde reports from the employees at the reservation there are great details about the two schools at the reservation. The schools were originally funded through treaty annuities, provisions guaranteed to provide services to the tribes on the reservations should they agree to sell their lands and remove to a permanent reservation. As I have noted in other essays, funding for all services was inconsistent and most services then were given for limited durations any year directly following the money reaching the Indian Agents. Congress was very slow to approve appropriations and building new facilities, maintenance on the old facilities and funding of basic needs of the tribes turned out to be much more expensive that was originally planned. Still Grand Ronde Indian reservation was well supported by treaty annuities, being the recipient of at least seven ratified treaties. The annuities were not doled out directly by the agent, but normally through the Chiefs of the respective tribes. This traditional Chief leadership political structure continued through the remainder of the 19th century, being formalized in the 1870s with a formal Indian Legislature who passed at least 26 laws. At the termination of the treaty annuities in about 1875, some 20 years after the tribal treaties were ratified, as stipulated in the treaties, the political structure likely suffered, as all funds then were given at the whim of Congress.

However, in 1863, the tribes at the reservation were struggling to survive under inconsistent funding and support by the federal government. In 1861, after a Special Indian Agent visited the reservation, the tribes gave testimony that they did not have the equipment, the seeds, nor good soils to effectly grow food at Grand Ronde. By 1863, Indian Agent James Condon had somewhat dealt with this problem by installing a general agency farm of 300 acres for growing wheat, oats, and hay with Indian labor (even today hay is the most common crop in the valley). He struggled to do this became of the extremely poor nature of the soil in the Grand Ronde Prairie.

“I found it difficult to operate successfully, as most of the soil is of a heavy, clayey nature, hard to break and prepare for the crops, and it requires constant care and attention to keep it in good condition. The appropriation for the pay of farmer for the Willamette Tribes having been exhausted during the first few years of their stay here, I found it necessary to adopt some method of instructing these Indians in agricultural pursuits; accordingly I laid out the commenced the cultivation of a farm comprising about 300 acres, for the general good and benefit of the tribes, employing the Indians, and paying them a per diem for their labor out of the annuities. I learning how to farm they have made good advancement, and the money thus expended has been well laid out, the object being as much to educate them as the benefit from their labor. …The Indians have also shown a commendable and praiseworthy spirit in conducting their own farms. A majority of them have permanent homes, and have small farms or enclosures of their own under cultivation. They have raised a large quantity of wheat and oats this season…. The amount of grains raised upon the department or home farm under this system this year were 3,057 bushels of wheat and 268 bushels of oats, also 20 tons of hay. (Condon 1863 annual report)

Condon’s efforts were likely compelled by the extremely poor report he received in 1861, prompting him to adopt new methods, including educating the Natives in farm techniques and directly overseeing the farm with a Farmer staff position. The issue emphasized here is that of needing to have enough funding to hire a farmer and to buy the appropriate equipment and supplies. The facilities for processing grains, grist mill and sawmill, were not yet fully operational in 1863, and this remained an issue into the 1870s. This image of the food problems suggests that the Native peoples at Grand Ronde had to struggle hard to find food to survive, that there were likely many people who had malnutrition and subsequently died of the effects of long untreated illnesses. That there was little help for elderly people who were partially or totally dependent upon the help of others to feed them. It might also have been the case that tribal people welcomed the initiation of the manual training school in October of 1862, because when their children were there, they would not have to feed them, and the agency would then have that responsibility instead. This was the case in the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl caused the collapse of agriculture in the midwest, then native people would intentionally place their children into Indian boarding schools so they would not starve.

Fort Yamhill Blockhouse with students lined up in front

The remarkable substance of the 1863 annual report is the inclusion of two reports from two different schools at Grand Ronde. The first is the Manual Training school, officially named this, while later the school model would become popularly named a “boarding school.” The original manual training school for Oregon was that of Jason Lee and the Methodists at Willamette Mission and Chemeketa (1834-1850s). The model included the students living year-round in the school and learning regular school lessons as well as trade skills like farming, animal husbandry, carpentry, clothes washing, painting, sewing, and blacksmithy, among others. This model of school was extended beyond those schools ran by Methodists and Catholics to schools on the reservations. For a time the schools on the reservations were administered by and taught by members of a religious order until the Federal government took over reservation and off-reservation education in around 1880. The model offered an immersive environment where the students were kept away from their tribal culture and taught to be Americans in all ways, socially, religiously, culturally, etc. The model was brutal to tribal families and to children by forcing them to adopt American culture, and many children died in the schools of various illnesses and mistreatment by the staff.

“There are two schools in operation on this agency, the manual labor school and Umpqua day school. I would most respectfully request that I be instructed to consolidate the fund of these schools into one, to be conducted on the manual labor system; and that I be also instructed to erect a suitable building for that purpose, not to exceed in expense two thousand dollars, as the present building in which the manual labor school is taught would be totally inadequate.” (Annual report 1863, James B. Condon, United States Indian Agent to J. W. Perit Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Salem, Oregon)

Then the teacher at the Manual Training school helpfully provides a good description of the school, its mission and its history.

“Grand Ronde Agency School-house, August 1, 1863

The manual labor school at this place was organized on the 1st of October 1862. During the first two months we received twenty-three children, the most of whom we boarded and clothed through the winter. All but two were as wild as quails when we commenced with them, having had no previous instruction; and all were worse than naked, being clad in filthy cast-off garments. At first we found it no easy task persuading the Indians to give up the entire care of their children; but by a course of kind and gentle treatment we succeeded in taming the little fellows, and gaining the confidence of their parents. Herein, I think, lies the secret of success in conducting any school- win the affections of the pupils and the confidence of their parents, and you must succeed. They were all ignorant of the English language at first, and it was found necessary, on the part of teachers, to resort to Chinook, a jargon spoken here by all tribes, as a means of communicating ideas. We have now almost wholly dispensed with Chinook, as the children understand English very well. The Indians seemed pleased with the wonderful change in their children, and whites visiting the school express surprise at the progress they make in their studies. Reading, writing, and spelling interspersed with singing, constitute the principal exercises in the school-room at present. Mrs. Sawtelle has the general management of the housekeeping, and instructs the little girls in the useful domestic duties. The girls are found quite apt at sewing and knitting, and render some assistance in the culinary department. Some of them are bright, promising girls, and with careful training will make industrious, intelligent, virtuous women, worthy examples to their sex.”

There is a Sawtelle Road near Willamina, likely related to this teacher. We can see above that the female students are being tracked into traditional women’s training programs, related to household duties.

Metzker map image of the Claude E. Sawtell land claim near Wallace Bridge

“Mrs. George, an Indian woman, is employed as assistant teacher. Habits of industry, regularity, and cleanliness are cultivated, demonstrating the advantages of a civilized life over those of a savage.”

This is a clear reference to cultural change, suggesting that Native traditions are the opposite of “civilized.”

“There is little disposition among them to disobey rules, and instead of fighting, or even quarreling, they readily submit all questions of dispute to their teachers. They seem eager, especially the boys, to learn, and engage in their respective employments with pleasure. The health of the pupils has been comparatively good. Of twenty-seven, belonging to the school, only five have been seriously unwell. Three of these were attacked with fever while at their Indian homes, one fell from a horse, badly bruising himself, and one was sick at the school with the lung fever. All have now recovered. Their regular exercises, cleanliness, and out-of-door sports cannot but be conducive to good health. Since the commencement twenty have attended quite regularly. Four boys and three girls were in constant attendance, and as a consequence, they can read intelligibly, and write a legible hand. It had been feared that when the hot summer days should, come the children would desert the school, with its discipline, for the freedom of their old homes, where, unrestrained, they might roam with their parents through woods and over prairies in search of game and berries, lave their dusky hides in the limpid streams, mingle in the midnight dance, and lie in the shade and eat roots and olallies– in a word, be free in the fullest sense of the term. But we have been happily disappointed, for even these little one are beginning to learn that very essential lesson with which the whites have found it so hard to impress them- that indolence, like industry, brings it sure reward.”

There is much to be said about this section of the report. But the romanticist perspective is quite clear, with phrases like “dusky hides” and “midnight dance” (not sure what that is). Its also interesting that the teacher integrates some Chinook Jargon (Chinuk wawa) into the letter suggesting that the teachers were learning the language from their pupils. Olallies means berries.

“The school buildings are located on a beautiful stream of water, and the land around is very good. The garden furnishes an abundance of vegetables, and with fresh butter and milk, the children have a healthy, nutritious diet.”

This school is likely located in Old Grand Ronde near Agency Creek, perhaps quite near St. Michael’s church.

“A small pot of earth for a garden was allotted to each boy, who was left free to draw his ideas of husbandry from the examples set before him in the general garden, and it is truly interesting to notice the various display of taste and muscle in the arrangement and cultivation of the ground. Some of the more industrious have succeeded admirably, and their work would do credit to older and whiter boys. I would suggest the propriety of the larger boys assisting the blacksmith, miller, and carpenter, at such times as they might not be needed at the school. By so doing, these boys might, eventually become practical and useful men among their fellows.”

The Protestant upbringing of this teacher is very apparent, as they write of the male students being “industrious,” and being “practical and useful men.”

“If it should be thought advisable to increase the number of pupils, it can be done with little trouble, as a number have applied for admission, though it would be necessary to have more house-room in order to accommodate comfortably any more than we have at present.”

The need to apply for admission is very interesting. Education then is not given to all but only to all accepted for admission.

“A much larger amount of clothing has been used in the past than will be needed in the coming year. They are very well supplied now. All of the cloth and calico issued to us this summer has been made up, chiefly by the female pupils, and the children seem highly pleased with their tidy “Boston” costumes, and appear to appreciate your determination to elevate them.”

Socially children are sometimes more fashion conscience than adults. As well, there was a cultural admiration of wealthy people and the tribes saw Americans as being wealthy. To dress as wealthy Americans would be quite desirable.

The follow section are two lists of students, their attendance and their aptitude. The names are also quite interesting as there is no census of the Grand Ronde Tribe in the 1860s, so this list may be the only time these names appear on any list. This is especially true because the 1867 education report suggests that many children died in the Manual Training school because of its poor ventilation, suggesting respiratory illnesses may have been at fault. Therefore many of these children may have indeed died of a respiratory illness in the intervening three years.

Appended is a list of pupils, with their supposed ages, etc.

List of boys- Lincoln, Peter, ten years old, constant attendance; Homer, John, nine years old, constant attendance; Baker, Shik-shik, eleven years old, constant attendance; Osyna, Sugar, eight years old, constant attendance; Rolla, ten years old, missed a few weeks; Hooker, Jim, nine years old, missed a few weeks; Bony, Tsiyi, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Baptiste, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Joe Lane, fourteen years old, missed a few weeks; Butler, Kile-kile, eleven years old, missed a few weeks; Douglas, Bogus, eleven years old, attended bur few weeks; Lyon, Sampson, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Joseph Lewis, eight years old, attended but few weeks; John Long, ten years old, absent half the time.

Among the boys the most extraordinary is Homer, son of Tumwater, Chief. He is truthful, honest, energetic, ambitious, and well-disposed. Surely, nature had some aim in producing such a little prodigy. He is the only flat-head among the boys.

(Homer is likely Homer Hoffer who apparently has the traditional head flattening; Joe Lane is a name we relate to Siletz Reservation, perhaps the family originally came from Grand Ronde?; Sampson is a known Umpqua family; Bogus too is a known family, Kile Kile Butler is likely related to Henry Yelkus, a Molalla, also called Henry Kilkile)

List of girls- Acarte George, seven years old, constant attendance; Zantippe Joe. Eight years old, constant attendance; Eliza Shik-shik, nine years old, constant attendance; Janette Kidno, nine years old, absent few weeks; Alice Sampson, nine years old, absent few weeks; Maggie Tom, nine years old, absent few weeks, Mary Louis, twelve years old, attended but few weeks; La Rose Louis, ten years old, attended few weeks; Lucy, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Mollie, fifteen years old, absent half time; Ellen Adam, fifteen years old, absent half time; Kate Lano, ten years old, absent half time; Lidia, eight years old, absent half time.(Annual report 1863, C.M. Sawtelle, Teacher, Grand Ronde Manual Labor School to J. B. Condon, Esq., Indian Agent, Grand Ronde Agency)

(Kate Lano, the surname later becomes Leno, a large well known family at the tribe, La Rose as a name was quite common even a fad at the time, the surname Tom is a well known Grand Ronde name, Ellen Adam could be related to the Tillamook family with the surname Adams.)

The Umpqua school is very interesting. This school would be funded by the Umpqua and Kalapuya annuities. Its clear from the description that the school is poorly supported. The teacher does a lot of work to make the school usable.

Letter No. 25

Umpqua School, Grand Ronde Agency, Oregon, August 1, 1863

The building originally assigned me for a school-house was defective in many respects; it contained neither benches, desks, tables, nor any of the appliances usually found in our modern school-house, with the exception of superior ventilation; in that respect it was much better supplied than any house I have ever occupied, either as a student or teacher. Since my last report I have made benches and desk, relaid floors, and made other improvements, so that I am enabled now to report the building in comparatively a comfortable condition. The attendance during the past summer has been very engaging; there have been from fifteen to thirty scholars in the school, many of whom have made good progress. Some eight of them can write a passable hand, but they appear to have an imperfect idea of its utility. In point of obedience while in school-rooms they will compare favorably with any white children I have ever taught. The irregularity with which they attend school forms a great drawback to their advancement. The material furnished by you for clothing the scholars has been all made up, and as far as it went, has had the desired effect- that of encouraging a more prompt attendance upon the school, and attention to the instructions of the teacher. There was not sufficient, however, to clothe them all, and in consequence many failed to come who otherwise would have attended.

William J. Bridgefarmer, Teacher, to James B, Condon, Esq., United States Indian Agent, Grand Ronde

The story of the schools of Grand Ronde is a difficult one to tell. The records are well scattered. Previous to the reservation there was a school in the valley that served the settler families. The next school was began in late 1856. From 1856 to the 1870s schooling was inconsistent best as the Federal government did not fully fund the school and funding from the treaties was divided between Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations. It appears that Siletz got the funding for their school from the Rogue River Treaty. There was some question after Siletz Agency was finally settled in 1857 whether Siletz could claim funds from the treaties, as the Rogue Rivers and Chasta moved to Siletz from Grand Ronde were those who had fought the Americans, and its possible that the federal government thought they had breeched the terms of their treaties (at the same time there was no determination or consideration that the American settlers had breeched the same treaties by committing acts of genocide, as the Indians were always seen to be the aggressors in accounts of the time). Then the Manual training school opens in 1862, and the Umpqua school is still in operation, albeit not well funded or supported. In 1867 there are still issues with the schools, the manual training school is in poor repair. In 1880 Chemawa Indian Boarding School, also called the Salem Indian Industrial School, and also called the Harrison Institute, opens in its first iteration in Forest Grove, Oregon as a multistory one building schoolhouse. In 1884 there is a fire at the Forest Grove Manual Training school, and the school is moved to Chemawa outside of Salem. The initial landgrant is smaller and the students work at farmers’ agricultural fields and the money they make is used to buy more land. Grand Ronde students attend then agency schools in Grand Ronde, run in a Day school model, Public schools in the area if they live outside of the reservation, and Chemawa Indian boarding school. Later some Grand Ronde students attend other Indian Boarding schools in California and Kansas and other locations.

2 thoughts on “Two Schools at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, 1863

    1. Good question, I think the Methodist’s Salem Manual Training Institute in Salem was the first for Oregon, and the previous iteration the Willamette Mission was the first of its type, in the area. I do know that there are older Indian Schools, many of the Ivy league schools are originally Native schools, Like Yale. I think education historians link everything back to the Military boarding schools of England as the origin of the model.

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