Erroneous Tropes in Narratives of Removal to the Coast Indian Reservation

Digging through previously collected digitized documents, I found several accounts of removal of the tribes to the Siletz Reservation. These are worthy of commentary for the historical origins of many of the details emphasized. Its apparent that oral accounts are in many ways more accurate than written histories. A good number of early written histories were produced by non-native writers, who did not ask native people about their perspectives on their histories. This was quite common, and so most early histories and many recent histories who do not access more than one perspective tend to privilege a specific bias. Many are overly nationalistic, written for a white American audience and seeking to aggrandize and beatify the role of white Americans in the colonization of the West. Mostly what is emphasized are stereotypes of native peoples, which become powerful erroneous tropes in history and literature. There are numerous generations of the teachings of these stereotypes and it is a tough sell to convince people inculcated in this “knowledge” that what they were taught is simply wrong. The struggle is not just with non-natives but also native people as well, many of whom truly believe the erroneous narratives of historians, even though most also know that the promises of the government are not to be trusted. Many natives were separated from their culture through assimilation processes, and there has been little attempt to recover the missing histories beyind the immediate needs of their tribes for federal processes of restoration. The following is a sampling of narratives offered for comparison with the final essay, narrative #5. I have liberally edited and corrected misspellings, and offer a critical set of comments to accompany most of the issues noted.

Narrative #1- This essay by a native man, a member of the Coquelle tribe shows unique information about Siletz not found in other accounts. Most significant are the details of the ship journey, the feelings of the tribes, the accuracy of where the travels took place, how they were treated when they first arrived, they actions for self preservation, and the details about the name Siletz. The power and accuracy of the native oral history here is very apparent.

George Thompson,

February 5, 1950

A Story of Siletz

About the year 1855 there was a great unrest throughout a section of Southern Oregon where a number of Indian Tribes were living. Among the tribes were the Chetcos, To-to-to-neys, Coquelles, and other Rogue River bands. All of these Indians were going to be moved to a new home, and after a brief war among the Indians and white settlers and soldiers of the United States, a man by the name of Joel Palmer made treaties with various bands of Indians. In these treaties the Government agreed to give all the Indians land, a home made of lumber, horses, cattle, and machinery if they would move to the new location. Some Indians agreed, but many did not want to go, because they knew no other lands except their home where there was plenty of game and fish and acorns.

(This sentiment is important, the new reservation was a strange land to the tribes from the south and there were many concerns about moving from establish food sources. But many of the native food sources were being destroyed by settlement and development.)

When some Indians refused to go the soldiers were summoned and they were forced and, in many instances, killed in front of their loved ones to show that the Government meant business.

(This is true, many of the volunteers killed Natives as a way to pacify tribes.)

What was a poor Indians to do, but go. In the meantime the Congress of the United States failed to ratify those treaties made by Mr. Palmer, so now, today, the Indians who were forced to move by those treaties, have been allowed a recovery of 16 and one half million dollars for the wrong done to them by the unratified treaties of Joel Palmer, agent of the U.S. Government.

I am a Coquille Indian, my father is Coquelle, and his father was one of the original signers of the treaty. (There were two Coquelle Treaties, that of 1851, and the Coast treaty of 1855.) He had to sign because he was a tribal chief.

(This is likely in reference to the Coast Treaty, which went unratified, the other Palmer treaties for the tribes mentioned, were ratified.)

He was named after our first President, Washington, only the Indians called it Wah-shoe-toon-ya. So at my father’s passing I shall inherit the honor of being the Chief of the Coquelles, the title held at present by my father. I will tell you now the story of how my grandfather was moved up here to become one of the first Indians at Siletz about 95 years ago. I repeat his words:

“It was summer time, we all herded down to the edge of the ocean at Port Orford, Oregon by the Government. Some people were crying. Others were just quiet- nobody talked. Each person was allowed only one package or pack, generally made up in a basket. Naturally the Indians took mostly something to eat, as they did not know where they were going. The only clothes were that they wore; later on the Government did give us a blanket apiece. We left behind many fine canoes, homes, tanned hides and other belongings found in an Indian colony at that time. We are all heart sick, someone said they are going to shoot us and throw us into the ocean- but my father would speak to them and assure them that the whites meant no harm.

We were to camp at Port Orford for one night and during that night many Indians disappeared and were never heard of again. The next day about eleven o’clock we saw a large boat with many sails on it coming straight in from the ocean. It came to within 300 yards from the shore and anchored. Boats were let down and came ashore. Then began the task of loading all the Indians on this ship that had just landed. After several hours the Captain gave the word that the loading was completed and we were ready to sail. It was our first night at sea; many of the Indians got sea-sick – some tried even to jump overboard and swim back. It was an awful night many were sick and could not eat. As day broke we could not see land then all were afraid, we begged the Captain to turn around, and the sea was getting angry also and the boat seemed to almost capsize with each swell. This went on for five days and nights. Then one morning when daylight came we could see land- all were happy again, the water was smooth- we did not know it then but we were in the Columbia River. We sailed up the river to Portland Oregon, only a few large buildings at that time. Here we got off the boat, we were fed and transported to Dayton, Oregon for our last part of the trip.

From Dayton we traveled by ox-team to Grand Ronde, Oregon. Some people stayed at Grand Ronde and the rest of us went on to Salmon River. The Government had provided stations along the way so food was quite plentiful and we could always get soldier’s hardtack. When we reached Salmon River it must have been September because there was an abundance of fish in the river, some men killed deer, while others got mussels from the rocks. Winter was beginning to draw near and my father was anxious to get shelter for his people. When he inquired about the houses for his people the Captain only laughed and said, “You Indians don’t know how to live in houses, what do you want with a house.” This made my father angry and he gathered followers and started south, hoping that maybe we could find some place to build a longhouse so we could withstand the rain and cold wind.

Then came the measles. It killed many of our people, when spring came we only had a handful of people left, 16 in all. We started up the Siletz River (at that time is was called Se-La-Gees) and finally stopped at Euchre Creek and built a longhouse and other small huts so that another winter would find us prepared. There was plenty of camas, fish and deer, and my father said, “We will stay here.” In the meantime the Government was opening up more territory west of Fort Hoskins and it wasn’t but a little while until they came as far west as the Siletz River at about where the town of Siletz now is.

They found some Indians on the Siletz River – as near as I can remember my father told me they did not come with us, but were here all the time. When the soldiers found this nice valley and river with Indians already here they merely presumed that the Indians were some that were brought from southern Oregon. However, this is not true because my father understood what they were always here. When the agent wanted to know their name they told him SE-LA-GEEs – so the agent just called it Siletz after his own pronunciation. Consequently, the birth of a name, a tribe and an Indian Reservation all at the same time. Siletz now stands as an old Indian Agency town, with many stories connected with its name. Now the white man has made it a town for a city with laws and a city council and everything that goes to make up a modern city.”

(George Thompson, February 5, 1950, OHS Library, MS 1531

Narrative #2 -This narrative from the Harrington Microfilm records is quite brief. The story of the rumor about being thrown into the sea is a common notion in narrative 1 & 2. The information about Kings Valley, the the northeast of Siletz Valley, is unique and does follow a few other accounts. There may have been an encampment for the Coquelles at Kings Valley that was short-lived.

JA (John Albert?): They embarked the Rogue River war Inds. at Port Orford (=Sixes) & the woman carried on something horrible when the whites started to embark the people saying we will all be thrown into the sea. The whites forced them aboard, saying: We are g. (going) to take you to Astoria. The Inds. had never heard of Astoria. They took them in thru the Col. mouth to Oregon City, but the Inds. did not like it there, cd (could) catch no salmon. So they moved them from there to Kings Valley, an out of the way place NW of Corvallis. The Inds. liked it there. Later they moved them to Siletz.Harrington (21:48)

Narrative #3 – This narrative from Hoxie Simmons addresses Klamath Indians and their possible contribution to the Rogue River Indian War. Some few details are accurate, include battle details and treatment by soldiers, and removal through Grand Ronde.

Hoxie Simmons: The Inds. were working for the whites in the mining work, the Kl. [Klamath?] were chased down RRiver down the RR at Big Bend. There was a post of Am. soldiers. The soldiers in this every log house- every night the soldiers – coming out & get water- they sent 2 Shasty boys out to get water& the besieged Inds. killed them. Then these Inds. mourned over Inds. killed. Then it was that Hoxie’s mother’s uncle… How we got to get away, instead of killing all these Kl. Inds. … lets just quit- The next morning they hoisted white flag & threw the guns all out & that happened to be just what the gvt. soldiers wanted, & at once the soldiers issued them rations, & took them in a boat in 1857 [1856] to Dayton near Portland, and the Jacksonville res. Inds. [Table Rock Reservation] they brought by wagon by inland route to Grand Ronde. [February to March 1856] After 1 year there were so many Inds. at Gr. Ronde overpopulated & shifted some over here to Siletz putting a fort here at Siletz. [Fort Hoskins] (Harrington Microfilm, 28: 3-4)

Narrative #4 – unknown author of this story. The removal of the Coos to Yachats took 8 years to accomplish, they were first removed to the Umpqua Reservation in 1856, then remained there until 1863, they were forced to remove north to the Yachats sub-agency. They were treated very poorly while there, as I have noted in other essays.

In 1857, when the Rogue River War broke out [1855 actually] the United States government, acting in self-defense, removed the Coos Indians to Port Umpqua. Four years later they were again transferred to the Yahatc reservation [Yachats]. Where they remained until 1876. Yahatc [Harrington here offers a linguistic spelling of the word] was thrown open to white settlers and the Indians of that reservation were asked to move to Siletz; but the Coos Indians, tired of the tutelage of the United States agents refused to conform with the Order, and emigrated in a body to the mouth of the Siuslaw River, where the majority of them are still living. ( Harrington Microfilm 22:89-90, copied from Frachtenberg, Coos, in Bul, 40 2, Introduction 305)

Narrative #5 – This essay by Helen Cherry, appears to be a poorly researched essay from Eugene, Oregon. Many details are inaccurate as evidenced by the many notes I make in-text. The author seems to have relied upon written accounts, all of which were produced by non-native peoples.The essay is full of the stereotypical tropes mentioned above.

The Siletz Indian Reservation

The Siletz Indian Reservation was opened in the year 1856, at the close of the Rogue River War in Southern Oregon. After the last battle in which the Indians lost, the government immediately took charge of the prisoners. The group included twenty tribes making some three thousand Indian in all. Among the most important tribes and their chiefs were those of the Shastas and the Great war chief John; the Galice Creek (Tyee Jim); Klamath (Tyee Joe); Tototini (Oheati); Chetco (Tyee Charlie); Mickanootini (Bensel); Euchre (Tyee Jessie); Alsea (Albert); Siletz (Tyee Johnson); and the Salmon river, William. (Unclear about Klamaths with the war prisoners, they may have come with other removals.)

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs at this time was General Joel Palmer. He was in charge of transporting the Indians up north to the new reservation. Then Indians were taken up through the valley; although it is said that a few came up by water on the boat, Columbia, from Port Orford to Oregon City. (Most actually came by boat on this route.)

Those coming by land went up to Dayton, which was the home of General Palmer, from here they went to Fort Hoskins, located on the Luckiamute river some twenty miles northwest from what … is Corvallis.

(The overland route from Dayton was through two boatloads of people, about 1400 people, who were shipped north from Port Orford, into the Columbia and then by steamer to Dayton, mentioned previously. This route brought the people from Dayton through Grand Ronde, and down the Salmon River Wagon road to the coast. Fort Hoskins was not yet built by the 1856 removals. The other overland route to the Coast Reservation was of Natives walked straight up the coast to the Coastline between Newport and Salmon River.)

Stationed at the fort was Lt. Phil Sheridan. He took charge of supervising the Indians in constructing a wagon road from Hoskins to Siletz. A distance of approximately thirty miles. Sheridan also built three blockhouses, one at Newport, one at the Reservation, and one east of the Agency.

(The east blockhouse is Fort Hoskins, I do not have records of the two others mentioned, this may be a mistaken statement. There were other blockhouses, Fort Umpqua, Fort Yamhill, and no blockhouse at Fort Lane, none of which match the description here.)

The reservation had an area of approximately one thousand square miles, and embraced the Siletz, Yaquina, and Alsea rivers as well as the bays by the same names. It was an isolated spot, Siletz, but the valley was fertile and there was an abundance of fish in the bays and rivers. It is said that General Palmer chose the spot because of this. Its isolation helped to separate the whites from the Indians.

The agency proper was centrally located between what is known as the upper farm, east of the agency buildings, and those west. The government buildings were located on a high hill overlooking a narrow valley that spread west towards the ocean. It was a well chosen spot for its beauty alone but also for protection. (Protection from what?)

Robert Metcalf was the first agent. He was shrewd and clever. His tactics in handling the Indians were cruel and militaristic. This was also true of those following him.

There were, it is true, far too many Indians at Siletz. The Department of the Interior admits that in their reports on Indian affairs.

(The reports do address the lack of funding for some 3000 natives at Siletz, but the landbase was huge for the first 10 years, 1.1 million acres at the Coast reservation, and there were people settled in the Siletz Valley and on the Coast in at least five other sub-agencies, Agencies, and encampments. The problem was lack of federal resources for the agents to effectively feed and provision the native people.)

The tribes were also inferior both physically and mentally. Also, for years these tribes had been at war with each other. But above all they were like little children being led by the great Tyee at Washington.

(There is much to be noted here about the prevailing stereotypes and misinformation about the tribes by Americans. It was not the case that the tribes were constantly at war, and all of the suggestions of inferiority were perpetrated by settlers and white people seeking to degrade the tribe’s peoples and culture and substantiate their forced land dispossession and assimilation by missionaries and schools. The notion that tribal people were “like children” was a common thought in 19th century romanticist literature, which is carried forward in movies, cartoons, and mascots in the 20th century. This notion is also perpetuated by the Marshall decision that suggests that tribes are wards of the United States.)

(portion of essay by Helen M. Cherry manuscript, ND, at OHS Archives, MS 1531)

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