Starving the Deschutes tribe into submission, 1856

Every day of research I stumble upon another action of federal officials meant to disempower and destroy the tribes. Here is a letter documenting the intentions of an Indian Agent to starve out the Deschutes people to gain their full submission. The actions of this Indian Agent are likely illegal even in his day, and highly immoral. But these actions and those like it happened regularly in the U.S. takeover of the region to tribes who were simply seeking to live in peace by all accounts. Their condition of starvation was likely brought upon them by the settlements of the whites who took over key resource areas and plowed under many of their wild root sources. Then, conditions of war caused the inability of the tribe to stock up on many foods as they had to move around quite frequently.

Agency Office, Dalles, Oct. 8th, 1856

In addition to the information given in my letter of the 24th ultimo I would inform you of the arrival of Sym-tes-tus, head chief of the Tiach band of the Deshutts [sic], his followers who came with him will number about eighty souls. Stoke-ote-ly, chief of the Lower Band of Deshutts [sic] in on his way to this place, being tired of the war. Wen-nem-snoot, chief of the Umatillas is also reported coming in.

All those Indians who have been hostile are now surrendering themselves are in a very destitute condition, being nearly naked and without provisions of any description and will have to be fed during the winter or their necessities will drive them to commit acts of depredation on the property of the whites. My course of policy with them would be as follows: to feed them as little as possible and thusly compel them to part with the horses they now possess this would secure their good conduct beyond all done as they would thusly be entirely dependent on the whites. (emphasis added) This object would be accomplished in six or eight weeks from this time.

In event of the absolute necessity for issuing a large amount of subsistence during the coming winter as also the difficulties and risks attending the transportation of freight during the winter around the Cascades I would suggest the propriety of shipping at as early a day as possible all such articles as must come from the Willamette and in this connection I would remark that in my opinion the best way to supply the Indians of this district with flour is to purchase it in the market in the Willamette and ship to the agent at this place. Beef will be required but not much at present. The price of beef on foot at this place has ranged from ten to fourteen cents per pound. …

R.R. Thompson, Indian Agent, to A.F. Hedges, Supt. Ind. Affairs, Oregon

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