Planning the Reserve on the Sea Coast

The following letters detail one side of the conversation with Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon, and John Wool, commander of the Pacific Department. (I don’t yet have Palmer’s letters.) Wool’s assistant Townsend, when Wool was visiting Puget Sound, sent orders to help Palmer move the tribes from Southern Oregon, at the Table Rock Reservation, with troops from Fort Vancouver. There was a shortage of troops at this time because at the same time several companies were deploying into Washington State to encounter the Yakimas and Klickitats who were being hostile. The Yakimas and Klickitats had already forced one company, under Major Hall to retreat in the beginning of this Yakima War.

The answers to Palmer’s request are very interesting as Townsend here calls the future Grand Ronde Indian reservation, the “reserve on the Sea Coast.” Apparently, Palmer had not yet given the area a name in his earlier letter and simply described it as by the Sea Coast some 200 miles from Rogue River and 60 miles from Fort Vancouver, where Townsend was visiting as he was normally stationed at Benecia, CA. The real distance is over 300 miles from Table Rock which is where the tribes were living that Palmer wanted to remove from that area. The reasons for removal, and fast, was that a number of tribes at Table Rock had been attacked by local and California militia and they decided to confederate together to drive the whites from their lands, a conflict which was heating up and called the Rogue River Indian War.

The first mention of this new reserve on the Sea Coast is made in late November in a series of letters from Palmer as he is in the midst of putting together a plan of removal of the tribes from the war zones. The Molalla Treaty (December 21, 1855) is the first and only treaty to mention the Yamhill Valley or Yamhill River reserve as the place that the tribes are to be removed too. In the letter transferring the treaty, Palmer writes,

“The farms purchased & to be purchased for this object were on the extreme limits of the Grand Round
Valley which extends into a recess of the Coast range of mountains and is walled on the North by an
elevated and extremely broken Ridge, and on the south by a lofty and almost precipitous Spur entirely preventing ingress in that direction. The only practice-able route for a road from the Willamette Valley in
to this Grand Round, is [is] by a narrow opening between the hills through which flows the south
fork of the Yam Hill River. This valley is nearly equally divided by a partially timbered ridge ex-
tending from the Ridge on the north in a South-westerly direction and terminating in an abrupt
precipice on the bank of the Yam Hill River, The farms purchased and to be purchased lie west of
this ridge and extend into the opening of the Coast Range, by which the ocean is reached, by following
the course of the Nechesne or Salmon River. This is the only and nearest point approach-
able from the coast, adapted to the production of wheat in sufficient quantities to supply the Indians to be
located on the Northern portion of the Reservation. Situated as I have stated at the extreme verge
of the settlement, remote from populated portions of the Willamette Valley, its occupancy for the objects
designed, will in the least possible degree interfere with the white settlements.” (Copy Supt. Palmer’s letter of Jany 12, 56 Transmitting treaty with the Molallas of Oregon of Dec 21, 55 Office Supt Ind Affairs Dayton, OT. Jan 12th 1856)

Dec. 3 1855, Fort Vancouver

General Palmer, Superintendent Indian Affairs for Oregon has expressed a determination if possible to remove the friendly Indians at and near Fort Lane, to a reserve on the Sea Coast about 200 miles from Rogue River, and 60 miles from this place. To do this, provided the Indians can be persuaded to move, General Palmer thinks an escort of 20 men will be necessary to protect and restrain the Indians on the road and at the new reserve. The Commanding General accordingly directs that you detail a Commissioned officer (if possible) a trusty Sargent a Corporal and 18 men for this purpose of the Indians do consent to move, and provided also in your opinion you can spare the men from your command. An additional regiment is expected to arrive in this Department in the course of two or three months, and your detachment at the New reserve would be relieved but in the meantime, there will be no troops available for that purpose.

E.D. Townsend, Asst. Adj. General

Then in January, there is another letter from Townsend detailing that he was at Fort Vancouver and witnessed Palmer planning to remove the tribes to the Yamhill Reserve. This suggests that he worked with officers at Fort Vancouver to come up with the plans for removal. We know that the army helped buy the properties in the Grand Ronde valley and that Lt. Hazen made the first reservation map which plans out where the tribes are to be placed in the valley. But Palmer was not able to secure aid from Fort Vancouver to remove the tribes. The first southern reservation to be removed was the tribes at the Umpqua and Cow Creek reserves between January and February 1856, and the second was the Tribes at the Table Rock Reserve between February and March 1856. Townsend’s comment about building mills suggests an early notion of permanence to the reserve which is revealing because the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation has always been thought to have been a temporary reserve initially, and it is as yet unknown when it was decided by anyone when it would become permanent. The reserve does become permanent through an executive order in 1857.

January 10, 1856

I saw General Palmer at Fort Vancouver, when he was forming the plan to move the Indians to the Yamhill reserve. There was some doubt expressed at the time whether they would consent, but the Superintendent was very anxious to have them on the Reserve at once, to commence building mills, etc. Doubtless you received the General’s instructions on the subject.

The General is much gratified at the entering energy displayed by yourself and Captain Judah; and the Troops under your command, in the pursuit of the Hostile Indians, through so many obstacles.

E.D. Townsend Asst. Adj. General

Hazen Planning Map for the G.R.I.R., O.T. 1856, Umpqua Encampment section outlined

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