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Commissioner Brunot Lectures Tribal Chiefs on Moral Living, 1871

In 1871, the BIA had just gotten some direction from President Ulysses S. Grant, in fact, a  change in national Indian policy, to go ahead and train the Indians to be civilized so that they may earn their way to citizenship. The reservation at Grand Ronde had just been surveyed in preparation for land allotment, and the school system was not working well. for about a decade the protestants in Oregon had been operating a manual Labor school, the on-reservation boarding school and children had been dying. So the Indians were discouraged and were not sending their children to die in the school. In addition, since they had no land, they were not learning to become farmers, and so the only thing they were learning is how to be good Christians.

The transcript reveals that Brunot needed the tribes to demonstrate their “civilization” and worthiness by becoming moral people, no gambling and not drinking. But the chief’s pushed back, citing that they had been taught to drink by whites and everyone seemed to be drinking and gambling anyway so why stop. Then the chiefs were on a tear laying out how poor everything was on the reservation, really trying to lay our for Brunot that they had no resources, the promises of land sales and treaty-making had not worked. They were still poor while the whites got rich. The picture of extreme poverty and lack of treaty annuities, they describe, is ignored by Brunot’s follow up comments, that they had not fairly gotten their treaty promises and if they did they would be better people.

Bruno’s follow up is not well done, seeming disingenuous, and structured to avoid the harsh issues. He ignored their minority status and just advises that they essentially “suck it up” and work harder. But in this period there were no opportunities for natives, they were not citizens and still could not legally leave the reservation. So there would be little ability to compete with the white-men in the region.

Still, the transcript of this meeting is remarkable, a window into the lifeways of the people at Grand Ronde for a few decades as they relate history, culture, promises and social situations.


Appendix A d, No.27

Minutes of a Council with Grande Ronde Indians at their reservation, Oregon, by Commissioner Felix R. Brunot

Grande Ronde Reservation, Oregon, September 14, 1871

This reservation is situated near the celebrated Willamette Valley, is a fair piece of land, and in a good state of cultivation. There is not a wigwam on the reservation. Every Indian lives in a comfortable house. All, men and women, dress as the whites, and are generally dressed with neatness and care. Many speak English, and almost all are engaged in farming. They are just about completing a mill-race, all the labor on which was done by the Indians, without any pay, and all the expense incurred was with their consent deducted from their annuity money. The funds for the employment of most of the employees had been exhausted, and the Indians evinced a great anxiety that an opportunity should be given them to acquire knowledge of the trades.

A council was held at the agency buildings with the Indians of this reservation at 2p.m. to-day. There were in attendance Hon. Felix R. Brunot and his clerk, T.K. Cree; Hon. A.B. Meacham, superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon; Rev. Mr. Parrish, of Salem, and most of the Indians on the Reservation.

Mr. Meacham opened the council by saying: We begin a new kind of talking to Indians to-day. Mr. Brunot comes from Washington. He is a good man and believes God sees and hears him, and he always asks God to bless him when he talks.

Mr. Brunot. When the white men have a council they always pray before beginning it. The Indians must be taught the same, or they will not know that it is right. He then asked Rev. Mr. Parrish to lead the prayer.

Mr. Brunot. Mr. Meacham has told you I came from Washington. I will tell you why I came. The President is interested in all classes of all his people and wants to know how all of them are getting along. He hears many things about you, and he sent me to hear what you have to say, and to carry your words back to him. I am glad to find here, not Indians with paint and blankets, but men like white men, living in houses, with fields of grain about them, and working like white men. If I had not heard to the contrary from others I would think that bin everything you were like white men. Some things I hear make me sorry. Among some of the Indians there is much whisky-drinking. When I see that I know they are poor and miserable, and their children must starve or beg. Some places Indians are gamblers. Where whites or Indians are gamblers they can never amount to anything. There is one thing I want you to take into your hearts. The white man thinks unless land is cultivated it is a waste of the soil. They think if the Indians don’t cultivate it the whites ought to have the land. The way to get rid of them is to cultivate it yourselves. Mr. Meacham is arranging to give each man his own place. You are getting the saw-mill so that you will have plenty of lumber to build houses, and I hope every one of you will get a good house before the treaty runs out. When I go to Washington I will tell the white people what kind of Indians I saw. I will tell them of your fields and houses, and of your roads, that are better than the white man’s roads. I will tell that I saw Indians running a threshing-machine, and I will tell them that in three years from now the Indians will have given up the habits that are keeping them back. They will send their children to school. That you have learned that temaninus [Tamanawas- Chinook wawa for a sacred sometimes bad place] is bad, and that you are going to quit it. That you are going to do steady work as the white man does. That you will quit gambling and drinking. That you will take the white man’s laws instead of the Indians’ laws, and then you can vote, and some day some of your children will be sent to Washington to make laws. You have had many agents here. I don’t know any of them. Some may have been bad, but it is not the President’s fault. He means to send good men and I think you will have a good man. I do not know who it will be, but whoever it is I want you to try him and do your part. You must listen to his advice. I might talk till the sun goes down and tell you something good, but I want to hear your words and carry them to Washington.

Mr. Meacham. You have heard me often. You know my heart. I told Mr. Brunot you were not Indians, but men. I want you to talk like men.

Peter Connoyer. I have not much to say. For four or five years I have wanted my lands surveyed. It is now being done, and I want to settle down on it and live and die on it. Our saw-mill is almost done. Now we want a grist-mill. We need it, and we ought to have perhaps $10,000 to build it.  I want Mr. Brunot to know when he sees us dressed up that we bought the clothes ourselves. We get no blankets. We ought to have some, for the Indians who are poor. We need harness and we need teams. I take money to buy them. I hope my people will all take lands. They get from forty to one hundred acres each family. The treaty was to give each man twenty-five acres. We need cradles, scythes, and forks, and it will take money to buy all these. It will take $30,000 to buy all of them. Gambling- I don’t know what the Indians will say about it. I don’t gamble myself, and don’t believe in it. About religion- I am a Catholic; so are all my family. All the children are Catholics. We want the sisters to come and teach the girls. The boys, I don’t care whether Catholics or Protestants have them. The priest lives here. He does not get any pay. He teaches us to pray night and morning. We must teach the little girls. I am getting old, but I am easily led astray; I may got to a race, bet a little, but I don’t want my children to learn it. It is bad. I ought not to do it myself. We get off the side of the road, where no good men sees us, and we gamble, but when a good man comes along we are ashamed of it. So it is with the white man when he does what he knows is wrong. We do to a temanimus doctor, and do many things that we ought not, but we do not teach our children these things. Our lands we want to get as soon as possible. We need a carpenter, blacksmith, and miller, so that our children can learn.  (Peter spoke in English, though a full-blooded Indian)

Joe Hutchings. (Speaks English fluently, but talked in Chinook) I am glad to see Mr. Brunot We are not wild Indians; we are like white people. We cultivate our own farms; we work like white people. The treaty is gone. I think I am a good man. Meacham is a good man. He told us Mr. Brunot would come. I have my land. In a short time I will be like a white man. Mt children will be like white men. The Indians made a treaty before they came here. Then there were no half-breeds among us. When I was wild like and Indians they said they would make a good white man of me, and I made up my mind to be like a white man. Five years ago many were Indians; now they are white men. They promised to show me how to plow, but the agents came and did not teach me. When Meacham came we looked for him to do right. Mr. Meacham promised a school-house for our children to go to school. I have seen the agents here for sixteen years: they have taught us nothing. You see our houses; we worked outside and made money and bought them. When the treaty was made many things were promised us. We never got any of them. That is wrong. The superintendent here now knows what is needed. I won’t ask for a horse or cow, or anything; he knows what is needed. Suppose one town had only one set of harness, how would they get along? Our people go outside and get horses, and they get harness, and plow with them. There were oxen and cows here, but I don’t know what has become of them. You see these chiefs, (Indians) they know all about these things. If we do not work we will be very poor. Mr. Meacham said there was no money for a saw-mil or a flour-mill, so we agreed to help the work, and have done so. I think I am a good Indian. I am a chief. Mr. Brunot said good words to us. We ought to work. We need the grist-mill now. When we first made the treaty it was not said whether a priest would teach us or somebody else. I know what was promised us. I was promised eighty acres of land, others less. If we had had a good agent we would have been better off. The agents wanted only the money; they did not want to help the Indian. The blankets and shoes and goods for Indians- the house was full of them. I did not know who got them; perhaps a rat tyee (rat chief) got them; but I am an Indian, and think it all right. Outside belongs to the whites. Indians sold it, but I never saw the money. If I had it I would buy plows and wagons. Some of my people are in the penitentiary. I don’t know why they were put in. I want to know what they did to put them there.

Billy Williamson. I think it is good for Mr. Brunot to come. This summer we see things as we never did before. Since Mr. Meecham came this summer our eyes have been opened. Our saw-moll is almost done, and we expect to have a grist-mill soon. Mr. Brunot comes from Washington, and I want to know whether what I said before, and that now, was put on paper- did my words go to Washington? Then the Indians were all separated: now there are all here. If you go to see their homes you will find many things they have made themselves. They learned it from the whites outside. The men on the reservation did not learn about what was needed. Do they know in Washington? Some white men say we will only get twenty acres. Where I came from I had not only twenty acres, but a hundred. Everybody knows we are poor. I has a cow and a yoke of oxen long ago; that is all I have now. I don’t want to lie to God. I don’t think I am a very good man. I may tell a lie: I am an Indian. I speak the truth. I don’t drink. I don’t do as Indians did in old times. I have quit that. We can’t so everything in a day. If we get out land we need cows and horses and plows and wagons. Then we won’t go outside; we will stay here. There are a few half-breeds here. I think nothing about that; they have families here. I want to know if money was sent here for us. Now we are like white men. You know about God; so do these Indians. I speak no bad words. White men and Indians are all alike. Some Indians here have been shot and whipped by the white men for nothing. Two of our people are in Salem Penitentiary. We want to get them out; they did nothing. White men give them whisky and got them drunk, and now they get them into the penitentiary.

Solomon Riggs. I am glad to see Mr. Brunot here. I want him to take my words to the President.  I am going to speak true. It has been promised that our land should be surveyed; I am glad to see it is done. We are promised a saw-mill; I see it too; I am glad of it; I want Lumber. When I get my land it is mine, and while I live I will stay on it. Three of four years ago I was like as if I had been asleep; now I am awake. Agents five of six years ago never said to raise anything. When Mr. Meacham came he said we must raise grain as the whites do, and all of the Indians have done so. Now we want a grist-mill. There are plenty of old peoples about me, they are poor; I am young and can take my wheat outside. Many old people ask me to talk about the mill for them. Some agents here have made us poor. We can’t help the old people. We need plows and harness, and when we have them we will be like white people, and make out living in the same way. You have promised to take care of the Indians as a man does of his children. Now we can take care of ourselves. I will be very glad to have a school. We want our children to go to it; that is where they learn sense. Mr. Brunot’s father sent him to school, and now he is a man; so we want to send out children to school, and they will learn.

Joe Hutchings. ( a fine looking, well dressed man, wore a white shirt, buck gauntlets and spoke English well; a very intelligent, sensible man). The people had hid in their hearts the truth about the half-breeds. They have been employed about the mills and shops. We want our children to learn and be employed instead of the half-breeds and whites. We don’t want the half-breeds here to interfere with us. They are getting the good things instead of the Indians: they are getting cows and horses. I don’t know where they came from or who gave them to them.  We want a white man in the mill, and we want our Indian boys taken there, and kept there until they learn, and they will be able after a while to run it themselves. As at the mills, so at the blacksmith-shop. A white man works at the wagon-shop, and a young Indian works with him. They will learn, and soon they can make wagons themselves. The Indians will soon learn themselves and can do without the white men.

Samson. (An old Indian who speaks in English) How long will it be before the Indians learn it? They are jealous of the half-breeds. The boys will do and stay a while and then run away. It is too late now; the half-breeds stay and learn the trades, and are now employed.

Joe Hutchings. If a white man and an Indian were put in the mill, the Indian will soon learn and the white man can be done away with, and the Indian will run the mill. If the Indians work in the mill like white men, they ought to be paid like white men. Mr. Meacham says by and by the Indian will learn; they will never learn; we want them employed now. The white man said long ago the Indians ought to learn. I know the Indians have not learned. But now we have waked up and want to begin. If Mr. Meacham says these things will be done to-morrow, always to-morrow, they will never be done. I want it to-day. Mr. Meacham says we have no money, but a blacksmith ought to be put in the shop, and the Indian taught, and so in all of the shops. If the old men had been taught in the schools, they would have known these things. Now we want our boys taught. You employ the doctor; I am glad of it; if you did not, and we got sick, we would die; but the doctor comes and we get strong and able to work.

Jacob-Adam-Choit. I am glad to see Mr. Brunot. Our mills got bad and we said so to Meacham, and he told us we would have a mill, but we must work. We did work and soon it will be done, and we will get lumber; and we will have a flour-mill, he said, and now we need it. We need a blacksmith; a white man to teach the Indian, and the white man can quit helping us. Our boys will get like white men. And we want a school-house. We are to-day as if we knew nothing. I am like my father, I can’t read and write. Men say I am a white man, but I am only a little like a white man. Some time ago we said we were poor; we want to know if the President sent money here. I never saw any. Did the President send these culter [CW-cultus] (bad) blankets, worth about three dollars? And this culter (bad) calico? I don’t want such poor things. I see how many acres a white man has. I don’t want to sell my land to the whites. I want money for my land. I want a good coat and pants, a good house. In a year I want to have money in my hands. I don’t want these worthless things. White men would say they were cheated out of their lands, if you did so by them. If you send good blankets, plows, wagons, I would take that. We all want wagons and horses. The Government never gave us any of them. We went out and worked for them. Agents have never done right by us. They took our money away from us. The past year I saw nothing. Now I want to get something. You owe it to us. Long ago we did not wear pants. You want to see us like whites, so you must give us these things.

John Couchey. What did the chief come for? I now know he came to see the people. I now want to talk to the chief. We want the things given to us that were promised long ago. We are no more in want of a saw-mill, we have it. Long ago we were promised that our people would get bread. The chief said long ago we should have lands, and now we will get them. And we want word carried to the President that our hearts are glad for this. Besides the land, we need horses, plows, and harness. Long ago we gave our land to the whites, and now they own our land. Your talk is good, and what we say is from our hearts. I have never received a wagon, or plow, or harness. Some of the others have; that is why I tell of them. Our land outside we never received anything for. So all the old people talk. All the land which has been bought has been bought with a small amount; my land was as large as all the lands about here; it is as if I had given them away for nothing. In the past I have asked for the things that were promised, but they never came. You talk different to-day from what the white chief talked before.

Tom Shasta. Some time ago (Miepay) you came and talked to us, and told us good things. Now Mr. Brunot has come a long way; it is good. The Indian wants to be good, and he likes the whites. Long ago I had no coat, pants, or hat. Paper came from the States and said we will be like the whites. Now I am getting old. I understand what you say. You are getting tired talking to the Indians. We want them all to be good. On most of the reservations the Indians are not like the whites. The whites are all over the country. They make money, and plenty or it, everywhere. The Indians gets poorer every day. If you want us to be like whites, give us what we need. We have received many things, but not what we need. All we got is gone, and we don’t know anything. We have learned a little. All are good, and we know what we need. We understand better what you want of us. You see all have hats. Our women are dressed like the whites, and they all want things like whites. In the shops there are no Indians who understand how to make wagons. No Indian can run the mill. We want a white blacksmith and a miller. We can’t be like white men without somebody to learn us. After a while we want a school; but these things we must have now. The Indians never asked for them before; the whites said for them to have them, and now we want them. Our lands are surveyed. You must take care of us like you would of children. When you get a school the children will learn to read. You must tell the Indian what is true. You would be ashamed if the Indians could write the truth to Washington themselves. When the money and things arrive here they go into the storehouse and the Indian never sees them. So with all the agents. They never give us what is sent for us. If the agent tells us what is good we will keep it in our hearts. Plenty of money has come here; we don’t know how much.

Tom Curl. All these chiefs have not fathers. If a man is good or bad, so he will talk. A long time ago I understood what was told me. When the treaty was made we understood it. Then I was young; now I am old. It would take ten days to tell all I know. If you would get these Indians all right you must stay and see to them. Some of the Indians are good’ some are bad. I have not seen what was promised us. At one time we got shoes, hats, tobacco, and everything, and we expected they would always come. We were promised food for the poor, and we thought it would be so. All that was told us then I throw away. You see us here. It looks all right; but you should go to the poor men’s houses, and see what they need. All do not work. Some are poor, sick, and old. I am glad you came. You ought to stay always. All that was promised us in the papers you might as well destroy. Some new folks ought to come and get new papers, and we would believe them. The first thing ought to have been the grist-mill; the saw-mill last. We need the mills to keep the poor from getting hungry and sick. Everybody has not money to buy food. When the mill is done we ought to have wheat put into it and ground, and given to the poor until they die, and then they quit wanting it. The old folks don’t care about the school; only the children need it. The old folks need only food to keep them from dying. We need a blacksmith, carpenter, and miller, and then we will be like the whites. There is too much work for one blacksmith. We ought to have three or four in different places. It is nothing to me. I may die to-day or to-morrow. I am talking for others. Every man ought to have a plow and harness like the whites. If a wagon comes to the shop here is has to wait two or three days before it is fixed. If a white man has a wagon broken he takes it and has it fixed at once. One mill and one saw-mill is enough. Some get a bushel and half to sow; some get two bushels; others three bushels. Those that don’t know how to plow they can’t get them. That’s is why the Indians go away. When they want oxen to plow they can’t get them. When they want potatoes to plant they can’t get them. The chiefs get them. They are not the only ones who sold their lands. The bad men have fathers, and all like to get something as well as the chiefs. We ought all to be treated alike. If a bad man comes, let him have things. If a good man sees a bad man packing off things he thinks that bad. I never got anything for my lands. The whites get rich on our lands that we sold. When the whites came to this country they had no shoes. They ate cammas just as we did; and now these same men treat the Indians like dogs and rats. If we had not whites in this country we would live as we did then. Their hogs and cattle eat the Indians’ food. We want to get good blankets, not paper blankets. I do not know what our boots are made of. If we hit anything they break in pieces. We did not want sugar and coffee and such things. When I got big I saw whisky. They told me to smell it; it made me sick. They told me to drink it; that is was good. I drank it. I know whites and Indians both drink it; it kills them. I think you ought to quit making whiskey, and wine, and beer. The whites say, “Why do you drink whisky?” We don’t make it; the whites make it, and give it to us, and they drink it, and it makes them brave. When they   are cold the white man says it makes them warm. When I have a bottle of whiskey, and a man says he is cold, I give him a drink. Everybody know the Indian don’t make it. If I had a handful of money, and went outside, the white man would take the whole of it, and go and get a bottle of whisky for four bits and give it to me. White men taught me to drink.

Henry Kilke. (Molally.) Long ago the chief said we would buy your lands. The calico and other things, they said, we give you. We want to know about out lands. I have a wagon; I bought it. My house I got the same way. My clothes I bought; the Government never gave me any of them. I got harness, and oxen, and a plow, some time ago. I guess that was all I got for my lands. Now we want to know what we will get for our lands. We need a grist-mill, harness and horses, plows and wagons, and that is all we want.

Louis Nip-Pe-Suck. We are glad to see you here from Washington. If we had a superintendent like Meacham we would have done much better. We are always glad to see him come. We know his heart. We wish Mr. Brunot could go around and see the houses; I don’t say to stay a couple of months, but to stop a day or two. You see all these Indians are not wild. They have clothes like whites. Some time ago some of the Indians had flat heads. The whites said it was bad, and they quit. The Superintendent before got here at night and left in the morning; never said anything to us. We understand what Mr. Meacham tells us. You hear what had been said. You may take these words, or may be not. We sent our words east before, but they never sent. Mr. Meacham promised us a mill. We have it. He said our lands should be surveyed, and it has been done. We need a grist-mill. Everybody has not a team to go away off a mill. You say we do now plow deep. We have not enough horses to plow deep. Some men have good horses, plow deep. And get good crops. You may think what we say is not true, but I think it is true. If we had had a good superintendent we would be all right. Some of our people are poor. That is why we talk about plows and wagons. String men can work and get them, but all cannot. Since I have bene here I think I have not done anything wrong. Everybody knows I am a chief. I think I am a good man and speak the truth. I have helped the Indians. I have asked the agent to help them. What have I done wrong? They have just gotten their eyes open. Long ago I told them to put a boy in the blacksmith-shop, and carpenter and tin-shop. None of them wanted to learn. One went into the tin-shop and learned; then he learned blacksmithing; then to be a carpenter. Joe also learned to be a blacksmith; now he is a carpenter. Now they cannot afford to have so much work done. Now the land is surveyed, who had it done? I talked to the agent and had it done. Some of the Indians say it was bad. I wanted to give each a home to stay on. If it was not surveyed outside somebody would jump the claim. So they would here. I think I helped the Government and helped the Indians. The horse Crawford gave me; it is nothing; it was lame; I don’t cate for it. Palmer, who was superintendent, was a good man. I had a good farm outside, at Umpqua. I had sixty head of cattle. I lost them all helping the Indians. I did not want to come here.

Mr. Brunot. Some of you men want six blacksmith-shops and three wagon-maker shops; some want a great many plows, clothes, and other things. If I had all the plows in the country, and all the blacksmith-shops in the country, I do not think I would give you so many, and this is the reason: If I wanted an Indians to be as the best white man in the country, would I set him on the fence, and bring him food, and clothes, and a bed? If I did that, we would never be able to do anything for himself. I want you to get things as white men do. You must work and get them yourselves. I do not promise you anything. My heart is for you to get everything you ought to have from Washington, but I don’t promise you anything, for I am not the President. I will carry your words to him, and tell him you are trying to do right. The treaty is almost over. I hope you will get all that is coming to you, but you must make the most of it. It is not yet too late to learn something. If you have no place here to teach them, Mr. Meacham can fix it so your boys can go to town and learn. Some one said they only got a little wheat to sow. How does the white man do? He saves as much of his crop as he needs for seed. I will take your words to the President, and he will be glad to hear that you are men.

Mr. Meacham. I am proud of you; you are not savages, but men. Sometimes the Government is slow, but it will do right in the end. The land is surveyed; every man shall get his land. All will be right. The saw-mill is almost done. You have made it yourselves. No white man owns any of it; it is yours. I asked you if you want a mill; you said yes: and so the money sent for blankets and calicoes goes to pay for your mill. Mr. Rhinehart says in ten days the saw-mill will be done. Now if you take the stones of the flour-mill. Build a little house beside the saw-mill, and move the grist-mill stone into it, use the same wheel, it will take but a little money and a little time. But it will take more money from your blankets and calico. I want to know what you want.

Mr. Brunot then spoke to them on polygamy, care for the old people, and other subjects tending to their welfare; after which Rev. Mr. Parrish talked to them in Chinook, contrasting their present social condition and appearance with the time when he first came among them; when they wore not clothes and ate grasshoppers, and pounded sunflower seeds. All the Indians then shook hands with them and bade goodbye to Mr. Brunot and the gentlemen who accompanied him.

Thomas R. Cree, Clerk


Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indians Affairs 1872, Appendix A d, No.27

Categories: General History Grand Ronde Reservation Native Issues Oregon indians treaties

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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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