The Umpqua River Indians Prepare for Removal

William Martin, the Sub-Indian Agent of the Umpqua and Coos Bay was appointed to the position by Joel Palmer in June 1853. He worked to understand the tribes of the Umpqua better, to follow Palmer’s orders and describe the tribes as best as he could. He did this for more than six months without even knowing what his salary was to be.

Estimated Tribal Territories, Central-Upper Umpqua, South-Cow Creek, East-Molala, North-Yoncalla, West-Coos and Lower Umpqua

The Umpqua Valley was exceedingly complex with at least four different tribes from different languages living in the valley. There were the Upper Umpqua, a somewhat scattered group of people speaking athapaskan language, perhaps the most northern of the athapaskans in the athapaskan region spanning Northern California and Southwestern Oregon. Then there were villages and bands of the Yoncalla Kalapuyans on the northern side of the valley. There were Cow Creek Umpqua peoples on the south side, mainly concentrated around Canyonville and the immediate valley to the east. The Cow Creek were Takelma speakers. Takelma is thought by linguists to be related to Kalapuyan, but it is a language centrally of the Rogue River Valley. Then there were some bands of a southern Molala tribes in the upper foothills near the beginning of the Umpqua and Rogue rivers. So four tribes lived in the Umpqua Valley, and another tribe, the Lower Umpqua lived on the lower Umpqua River and they had a distinctive language related to Siuslaw, and perhaps Coosan.

Martin was hard-pressed to gain control of the tribes. Settlement in the valley began to fill in all spaces and the tribes began to be squeezed out. The upper Umpquas had a culture much different from other tribes, as the bands seemed to claim land for their peoples. In this, they may have been more similar to the Kalapuyans. Martin states that by 1854 some of the leading men, namely Tom, wanted to claim land and go into agriculture. This is a radical change for the tribal people but represents what the tribes were learning in the first years of settlement in the valley when the settlers likely hired some Indians to help build farms and do farm work, teaching a number if them about the new culture. An example of how to do this from a Klickitat Indian Dick Johnson may have also helped other tribal people follow his example. Johnson took some 12 acres into farming and built up an extensive homestead, in many ways much better than his settler neighbors as Lindsey Applegate noted. Other letters note that the upper Umpqua peoples had by 1855 subdivided their lands and some of them were becoming farmers and ranchers. Notes from Indian agents after the removal of the tribes in 1856 suggest that the Chiefs had herds of cattle and horses, which they had to leave behind in the removal, suggesting a change in culture had already come to the tribes. The chiefs were not paid back for their property.

Johnson’s is a case of successful assimilation, where he developed into the type of farmer that the US wanted all Indians to become. Becoming such a farmer, he had to divorce himself from his Klickitat tribe, and when he did this he was not allowed to return. Because of his success and hard work in building his farm, the settlers claimed his land from under him, and as an Indian, he had no way to secure his property. Indians were not allowed to take Donation Land Claims. After years of harassment and beatings from the jealous neighbors, Johnson was shot and killed forcing his surviving family to move on.

But his early example of how to survive in the settlement era likely helped some tribal people move that direction too, many taking up farming.

The upper Umpqua confederated in 1854 with the Yoncalla Kalapuyans in a treaty and agreed to move to a reservation. The Treaty was ratified and they were first placed on the Umpqua reservation for less than a year.  The reservation proved to be a point of contention between the Umpqua and the settlers. The settlers petitioned to reduce the reservation and Palmer refused, stating they would be removed again soon anyway. But undeterred the settlers of the valley continued to take out their retributions on Indians in numerous documented murders and attacks. It was not enough that the settlers were gaining free land, in fact, the whole of the valley, they wanted everything the tribes had left, and were unwilling to compromise.

Martin’s job over the course of about two and half years seems relatively uneventful. One dust-up with the Coos, and some racist acts by settlers hardly caused an issue for Joel Palmer. Martin though had political enemies, as he called them, and they succeeded in getting him fired and replaced in 1855 by Edward Drew.  The seeming uneventfulness of the Umpqua Valley appears to have caused there to be less information available about the tribes and as such they have been relatively unexplored cultures for years.

General outline of the Umpqua Subagency within the Rogue River District, The Umpqua subagency is Oregon, the Port Orford subagency is yellow, and the remainder is Rogue River. DGLewis 4/4/2020


June 18th 1853

The Umpquas are peaceable and friendly towards the whites, and look to them for protection which justice seems to require should be afforded them. a Sub-agent located in this valley would be welcome without other measures to keep all the different tribes in quiet and harmony.

[RG 75 m2 r 3]

October 14th 1853

On my way up from the Co-ose I saw the Lower Umpqua Indians those at the mouth of the Umpqua River and some at the great fishery near Scottsburg. They are all willing to sell their lands to the United States and make a small reserve. They claim to the Umpqua and always have been willing for the whites to have all their land, except a small piece covering their fishery. The Indians here in the valley say that the Indians below the Hudson’s Bay Fort [Fort Umpqua at Elkton] are a different people from them, but I have no doubt but they are all the same people. Those here in the valley say they do not want to sell their lands, but,  want the whites to have it to take and settle on all of it as they have no use for the land and only wish to live among the whites. I told them that the President did not want to cultus iscum their lands, but wanted to pay them for it which preased them very much. All the Umpqua Indians live by fishing and digging roots.

I have not been able to find out their number as they are scattered all over the country in small bands. from all I could gather from both whites and Indians I will set the Co-ose Indians down at 200. the Lower Umquas from the H.B. Fort down at 200, and from the Fort up on the waters of the Umpqua 150, supposing them in all to amount to 550.

It would be well to have some presents to give all of these people, they are anxious to have some goods, as the winter is now approaching and take them in part pay for their lands. It will be no trouble to call all of them together at about three or four places.

W.T. Martin, Special Agent

November 4th 1853

…those Indians (Coos) are friendly disposed towards whites and that he does not apprehend any serious difficulty in maintaining friendly relations with them. I have also directed him to visit the Indians in Umpqua and keep them quiet… In my annual report I have recommended the location of an additional Sub-agency to include the valleys of Umpqua and Co-oose….

Joel Palmer to Samuel Culver, Rogue River Indian Agent

July 19th 1854

You will find enclosed a list of the tribe of Umpqua Indians [no list is included in this record]; also the number of the men women and children of the same, all of them settled in small bands, as you may see by the list; all over the country, each band claiming a tract of land; which tracts of land I have not made an estimate of- the size and quantity of each tract claimed by each band -but I will give you a minute sketch of the amount of country claimed by them- which exceed twelve hundred full sections, of which about one fourth of the amount may be arable land.

I have tried to ascertain of the Indians the amount of land claimed by each band, but was not able, as they have some conflicting lines with each other. There seems to have never been any dividing line between them.

Therefore I think the best course to pursue, would be to make all purchases from the entire Umpqua tribe at once, as it would be an endless task treating with each band separately.

Martin to Palmer

September 1854

The goods purchased of Bradley and distributed among the Coquille Indians during the difficulties which occurred last summer, and the ammunition, some of which still remains on hand, has been given to the Umpqua Indians to enable them to hunt. Misters Wilson and Applegate have each, according to your instructions, raised a crop for the use of the Indians of this valley, as specified in the abstract of disbursements, which is now stored for them and will be distributed from time to time…. the Indians of this district are still quiet and disposed to sell their land.

Martin to Palmer

November 16th 1854

I received your note in which you mention about “Toms” wanting to cultivate some land, and you desire that I should send some to the government for his benefit. Having the proper enclosure I have set “Tom” to business, calculating to let him have about as much land as the tribe had last year.

“Tom” is the almost the only one of his tribe that is desirous of cultivating land, consequently he will no doubt have all the work to do; if so he undoubtedly ought to have the proceeds exclusively.

Lindsey Applegate to Palmer

M2, Roll 5


The Upper Umpquas, were placed on the Umpqua reservation in 1855 and remained there with Yoncallas for about a year. They were joined by the Molallas for about a month, and shortly before removal, the Cow Creeks came to the reservation from their reserve to the south.  Formally removal to the Grand Ronde Reservation in February 1856 began in late January. Their populations remained relatively high compared to many other tribes in the region and as such, they are a significant part of the present Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

3 thoughts on “The Umpqua River Indians Prepare for Removal

  1. Quuiich (Lower Umpqua) spoke a dialect of the Siuslaw language (at least how linguist Frachtenberg labelled it, he wanted to avoid confusion w/ Upper Umpqua). The two communities had no problem understanding each other. They had some distinct words like dog (Siuslaw: sqaxch, Quuiich: kwyuus) and in some words Siuslaw had an l where Quuiich had an n like the word for bone (tslawii/tsnawii) and doctor (palqa/panqa)

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