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Ancient History of the Molala (La’tiwi)

The Molala (Mollala, Molalla, Molele, La’tiwi) are a tribe of Western Oregon. They lived on the eastern periphery of the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys. There were at least five concentrations of them: The Northern Molala were situated in Dickie Prairie on the other side of the ridge from the contemporary town of Molalla, their village called Mokanti; the Crooked Finger Molala, situated in Crooked Finger Prairie southeast of Scotts Mills; the Santiam Molala, situated on the southern side of the Santiam River near the town of Stayton; the Tufti Band of Molala, situated east of Springfield near the town of Oakridge; and the Southern Molalla, situated east of the Umpqua Valley, at the headwaters of the Rogue River. At each location, there may have been several bands.

Section of 1855 Belden Map showing ceded Molalla Lands as far west at Oregon City

In the 1850s it was noted on many occasions by settlers that the Santiam and Crooked Finger Molala bands would encamp at Dickie Prairie alongside the Northern Band. It may have been the case that these were, in fact, three bands of a larger Northern Molala tribe. In 1851 the Molala bands the Northern and the Santiam signed individual treaties with the United States as part of the Champoeg treaties in May. None of the nineteen 1851 treaties were ratified. In January of 1855, Joel Palmer negotiated one large treaty over the course of three weeks with the tribes of the Willamette Valley and middle Columbia. The Northern Molala signed onto this treaty, but there was not a Santiam band in this treaty. The 1851 Willamette Valley treaty was ratified in two months, by early March, and the Kalapuyans and Molalans were removed to small temporary reservations throughout the valley. The Northern Molalans went to the Crooked Finger prairie, to a small reservation there, and later they removed to Joel Palmer’s Donation Land Claim in Dayton, before going to Grand Ronde. Their removal from their reservation took a confrontation by Palmer and the army with additional promises of food, money, and housing.

Molalla Reservation in Crooked Finger’s Prairie east Marion County, outside of Scott’s Mills, GLO 7s 2w 1869.

The Southern Molala had a different trajectory. After signing the Molala treaty in early December 1855, the Southern Molala were gathered at the Umpqua reservation, that month, then they were removed to Grand Ronde Indian reservation by the end of February 1856. A few years later another southern Molala band was found in the southern Oregon Cascades and they were removed to the Klamath Reservation.

Belden map (1855) section east of the Umpqua Valley and in the upper Rogue River, showing a dogleg territorial claim for the southern Molalla in the Cascades

Where the Molala originally came from is a subject of much speculation and concerned scholars at the turn of the 20th century. Then, ethnographic research by anthropologists revealed a movement of peoples to the west in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington. This westward movement was assumed by many to have been a reaction of the tribes across North American to the press of colonization on tribes east of the Mississippi by European settlers forcing tribes to move west to make room for white immigrants. The westward press of the whites may clearly have had some effect on tribes of the western frontier, however more likely the demographic movements were an effect of the introduction of the horse.

Horses were thought to have been traded north from the Spanish colonized areas to the tribes on the margins of the Paiute nations. The horses would revolutionize travel and movement of peoples and products across great expanses of land. Raids by the Paiute tribes on the Columbia River and other Eastern Oregon tribes were made possible with the use of horses who could easily cross the high plateau regions in days, when previously such travel may take weeks or months. This would then enable quick raids from tribes far afield. Tribes in the region took to horses in a big way, developing new breeds of especially fleet and rugged “kiutin” or “cayuse”- Appaloosa horses which likely led to the extinction of western woodlands bison.

James Teit, an anthropologist, was assigned by Franz Boas to research the Salish tribes and Territories of the lands north of the Columbia River in 1910. He spoke with a few native people, informants on the Columbia and found that the tribes had stories of warfare and movements that date from before white men arrived. His accounts from his interpreter Peter Kalama and a Native informant was revealed remarkably stories about the Molala and the Tenino peoples. They initially lived on the eastern side of the Cascades and were forced, through warfare with the Tenino, to move into western Oregon (The Middle Columbia Salish).

Michel Revais (Kalispel. Pend d’Oreille, French)

“The Name Tenino was not used long ago; at least, not as a tribal name. Tyighpam also lived in the country south, about two days journey of a pack-train, back of the Wasco of Upper Chinook, from east of The Dalles to a considerable distance west of Hood River, and the Cascades. Some of them were also on the Deschutes, White, and Tygh rivers; but much of this country belonged to Molala long ago.”

“It is said that the latter once occupied all the Warm Springs and Deschutes country where the Tyighpam now live, but that they were driven out of there probably by Snake. Their country seems to have been on both sides of the mountains, south of French Prairies, and east and south of Oregon City. The boundary between them and the Kalapuya was considered to be on a live almost due south (perhaps a little south) of Oregon City. It was claimed that they extended along the mountains at one time, south to the Klamath. The Kalapuya and Ya’mhil occupied the country west of the Molala, from Willamette Falls south, including the Yamhill River, and practically all the upper Willamette to beyond the Kalapuya Mountains on the Umpqua. Immediately south of them were the A’mpekwa [Umpqua], on the southern parts of the upper Umpqua River.” [Michel Revais ethnography, in Teit, James, The Middle Columbia Salish, p 100, UW digital copy]

Tygh Valley, ancestral area of the Molala, who are assumed to have occupied the Tygh Valley and as far west as the headwaters of Hood River.

Peter Kalama (Hawaiian and Nisqually)

“According to tradition current on the Warm Springs Reservation, the Molala formerly occupied all the country where the Warm Springs reserve is now, and the remains of many of their old lodge-sites may still be seen on the western half of the reserve. These people were driven out of that country by the Snake [Shoshone Paiute], who drove them right into the mountains, and later drove them over the other side, until finally, they took refuge on the head of the Siletz River. Molala are said to have been on the upper Hood River also at one time. The Snake also attacked and drove out part of the Kalapuya from the upper Willamette. In early times they also had wars with the Klamath, Modoc, Nez Perce, probably the Walla walla, and the Wasco and Tyighpam.”

Section of Teit’s handmarked Map 5 from the American Philosophical Society

“The last named, who appear to have at one time lived somewhere east of southeast of the Molala, were driven north to and within the confines of the Wasco. Some of them settled right among the Wasco, on and near Columbia River, while others spread westerly back of the Upper Chinook as far as Oregon City. The Tyighpam, or Tai’xpam, are the Indians generally called Warm Springs or Simnasho at the present day. The latter name is that of a place and means hawthorn-bushes. The place name Taix or Tai’x is derived from a legend or myth. A younger brother ascended to the sky at this place, and as he ascended he called, “Tai’x, Tai’x!” No Indians ever made their home in the Tygh valley, as it is a bad country, full of canyons. The language of the Tyighpam is almost like that of the Klickitat, and the two tribes are said to have been originally one people who lived together, or adjoining each other. Probably the Klickitat moved north before the Tyighpam. In the Snake wars the Snake sometimes attacked in very large parties, and killed many Molala, Tyighpam, and Wasco. Latterly the last two tribes combined, and defeated the Snake in several engagements, killing numbers of them.” [Teit, James, The Middle Columbia Salish, UW digital copy, 107]

Section of Teit’s Map 8, the Oregon Map of previously occupied lands based on his theories, note the Molala and Kalapuya areas, The yellow crosses denote locations in his oral histories American Philosophical Society

The evidence presented by Teit’s informants caused the historic theory by anthropologist Livingston Ferrand, of the definitive relationship of the Molala to the Tygh Valley.

When first met they resided in the Cascade Range between Mts Hood and Scott and on the W. Slope in Washington and Oregon. the Cayuse have a tradition that the Molala formerly dwelt with them s. of the Columbia r. and became segregated and driven westward in their wars with hostile tribes… a band of these Indians drove out the original inhabitants (along a creek in the Willamette Valley) and occupied their land. (Ferrand, Livingston, 1907 “Molala,” in Fredrick Webb Hodge, Handbook of Indians North of Mexico. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American ethnology. Bulletin 30, Page 930.)

Teit’s description of the Tenino warfare in his “Middle Columbia Salish” book, however, is in opposition with his field description of the forced movement of the Molala. Other scholars have suggested that Franz Boas’ editing of the “Middle Salish” book may have created the inconsistency in his theories of how the Molala may have been forced westward. In Teit’s “Notes Accompanying Maps” located in digital form in the American Philosophical Society, his description from informants is thus,

“…all the country of the Warm Springs formerly occupied by the Molala [Teit also mentions Tygh valley in notes p. 24]. This would place the Molala and Cayuse much closer together than they afterwards were, and strengthen the possibility of their having lived as neighbors at one time. If they were together they probably formed a belt between the Sahaptin tribes on the south, and the Wasco and Columbia north of the Columbia River. As the Molala are said to have been originally on the eastern slopes of the Cascades extending all the way from the Klamath to Mount Hood, they must have occupied a large part of the Des chutes River Region possibly all the head and western tributaries. Tradition does not state where their eastern boundaries were. Whether all the tribe arguably lived east of the Cascades is not clear. Some of them (certainly at a much later date) lived on the western side of the Cascades north as far as near Oregon City, then across them to the west side and hunted down even there until at last the majority of them took refuge in the Mountains around the head of Siletz River.  The Kalapuyas are said to have occupied the Willamette country and to have extended all along the Molalas on the West from Oregon City to the head of the Willamette. The Umpquas were immediately south of them on the upper part of the river of that name, and the Modocs just south of the Klamath.  After the displacement of the Cayuse, Western Sahaptin & Molala the Snakes are said to have permanently occupied all the headwaters of the John Day & Deschutes rivers, the Cascade Mountains from a little south of Mount Jefferson to the Klamath, and west to the head of the Willamette.” (p13)

Section of Teit’s map 5 hand-marked to show Cayuse and possible Sahaptin areas, American Philosophical Society

” (10)It is claimed many sites of Molala camps can still be seen on the Warm Springs Reservation particularly in the western part. Most of these are remains of winter underground lodges.”

The above suggests a lot about the displacement and movement of tribes. Teit is more concerned with the Salish tribes in his research but he does note a significant Sahaptin invasion of the region which causes movements by nearly all tribes. He repeats his Molala notes from page 13 on page 24 somewhat restated.

It’s also important to note that Teit spent very little time in the region doing this research. While he did have some Native informants, there is a lot of “unknown” area on his map, areas which any scholar of tribal people immersed in the subjects would know enough to assign tribal territories on a map. Teit’s inexperience with the Columbia regional tribal subjects makes some of his migration research suspect. Even though he understood tribal culture well, that is not a substitute for living with the information for years and understanding more deeply the context of his research.

As noted on the blog previously, this history has been used by U.S. agents and anthropologists to assign the Molala people the southern Cascades and large sections of eastern Oregon as their territory. However, during the contact and settlement period 1775-1880s, there were no Molala living in eastern Oregon and no evidence that they lived in the Cascades or used the range as their sole territory. The pre-settlement histories, however, reveal that there were changes and demographic movements happening in the Oregon territory to tribes well before contact, and some of these changes may be related to the introduction of the horse traded from the Spanish empire and the press of civilization on tribes in eastern North America.

Categories: Anthropology eastern oregon General History Native Issues Oregon indians Willamette Valley

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Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD

PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.

I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.

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