The Grand Ronde Reservation Fence

In the final 10 months of Joel Palmer’s residency as superintendent of Indian affairs of Oregon, he was under a microscope by citizens of the territory for his actions saving Native people. Palmer was arguing with Governor Curry in a serious of letters about whether the volunteers were responsible for Indians Wars, and he was beginning to move the tribes north into the Grand Ronde Valley to save their lives from further repression. Palmer and General John E. Wool were of the same opinion, that the militia were essentially lawless troublemakers, indiscriminately killing Natives, which was causing the tribes to band together and go to war against white settlers, for their survival. Governor Curry and the Oregon Legislature did not appreciate this public opinion. In addition, Palmer was faced with not just tough talk but actual bands of brigands in numerous areas of Oregon who were attacking Native villages, indiscriminately killing individual or small groups of native people. Palmer took his job seriously and began to address the need to remove tribes from these centers of conflict. His plans for removal were well known as they were published in the local newspapers, and so settlers who disagreed began taking repressive actions. The Umpqua basin was one area were settlers were repressing tribal people. The settlers, stationed at Roseburg hated the existence of the Umpqua Reservation and would attack native people whenever they were unprotected. The following report from January 1856 shows how the settlers began telling rumors to the Tribes who were set to remove north to the Grand Ronde Reservation, about their planned murder if the ventured on the roads.

..[Palmer] Proceeded to Elk Creek… when by the mischievous interference of whites, the Indians had become alarmed and portions of them had . refused to go farther… he doubted whether he would be able to succeed in keeping together the camp unless aided by a military force. This interference is undoubtedly the result of the action of the legislative assembly n determining a policy of colonizing and evincing a determination to resist by force any attempt (to move) the Indians upon the reservation designated. As the Indians were told by persons strolling about camp that the supt would be removed and shot if they proceeded to the reservation the whites would shoot them. The Indians being naturally superstitious and timid believed those reports and all appearing desirous to proceed were deterred by an apprehension of premeditated desire to annihilate them. A messenger was immediately sent to Vancouver to request that 25 to 30 dragoons or 50 . infantry might be dispatched to aid the agent. (Palmer 1 26 1856)

Palmer’s request for military escort was not satisfied. The U.S. military was thinly spread in Oregon, one company on the Columbia, another chasing the Rogue River Confederacy around SW Oregon, a detachment at Port Orford, and those at Fort Vancouver. Palmer had to convince the Umpqua valley peoples to removed without military escort which was successful. Along their month long journey there were situations where the party had to go around particularly threatening settlements. Still several people died due to age, sickness, and exposure.

Palmer continued moving tribes north to Grand Ronde. The tribes of the Willamette Valley arrived from their temporary reservations between February and May, and the Rogue Rivers arrived from Table Rock in March. In the meantime Oregon politicians got busy and produced a petition to get Palmer replaced, because of him supposed getting treaties signed by handpicked leaders, which “caused the wars,” and moving the tribes it a valley within the Willamette Valley. It did not matter to the politicians that this was the original land of the tribal people, they said they felt threatened for their “defenseless inhabitants.” The racism displayed in this petition was very extreme against the “savages” who had lived peacefully for thousands of years in the same location.

We the democratic members of the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory… [Palmer] bring upon the defenseless inhabitants of this frontier the combined power and hostility of a horde of savages… engaged in efforts to purchase the land claims of citizens residing on the west side of the Willamette Valley… with the avowed intention of bringing thousands of Indians from remote parts of the country and of colonizing them in the heart of the Willamette Valley… despite the remonstrates of the the legislative assembly and our constituents the men women and children of the territory…(Petition to replace Palmer to President Franklin Pierce 4 8 1856)

To Palmer these threats were real, he had seen and had reports of numerous murders of Native people people in this year. Therefore at Grand Ronde Palmer hires 30 guards and has them and the tribes build a fence to keep out the murderous white settlers. There are no maps showing the fence but it would have been across the egress to the reservation. The work crew is also tasked with building the Salmon River Wagon road. This trail had to be expanded to host shipments of supplies to the Coast reservation because numerous tribes were already being moved through Grand Ronde to the Coast Reservation to resettle around the Yaquina and the Salmon River encampment of the Nechesne community. The Grand Ronde reservation also require another food source and the Nechesne was a good salmon stream.

In An April 3 1856 letter, he directs the Commander of the Grand Ronde Guards, Capt. J. S. Rinearson, to begin making the aforementioned improvements and gives detailed orders for establishing a blockhouse and a well fortified fence that the Indians cannot destroy easily.

You will take measures to erect a blockhouse at some convenient point near the road and contiguous to the line of reservation to be of suitable dimensions for storing supplies and quartering the men on guard duty, and the retentive [sic] of such persons as you may find it requisite to retain in custody. This line of fence will be so constructed as to require the passway by a gate near this blockhouse, and a quarters there kept up that all persons going to and from will be passed through this gate. The Indians are in the habit of throwing down the fences when in their way of travel, and the stock are liable to break it down in many places. To avoid the occurrence of this, it is necessary that in its construction you secure these fences by setting stakes and placing on the top long and heavy poles extending over as many panels as the length of a tree may reach, so that to remove one of them would require the combined efforts of several men. The company will be divided into messes of guard and workmen as may suit convenience and promote the service. The subsistence, camp equipage &c. will be furnished by John Fleming Esq., who has been appointed commissary, and who will deliver the messes upon your requisition.
    Mr. Edward Cluff has been appointed orderly sergeant. Should you require additional aid in the direction of this business giving efficiency to the service, you will select such persons from the ranks of the company as you may deem proper. After examining this line upon which the fence is to be constructed, it may probably be deemed proper to divide it into sections, putting the force upon that portion likely to cut off the communication first; in this manner the lines would not be so greatly extended, a few points only requiring a guard.

Very respectfully &c.
    [Joel Palmer]

    Capt. J. S. Rinearson
        Comd. Co. Armed Citizens on
            Guard at G. Ronde Reservation
                now at Dayton O.T.
NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, pages 99-101. (

By May there is order and calm on the reservation, and within the settler communities, in part due to the measures taken by Palmer, his agents and the “Grand Ronde Company of Armed Citizens.”

There appears a calm among our citizens at this time in relation to the Grand Ronde Reservation. One half of the sixty men raised as citizen guards have been discharged, the remaining force is now engaged in the construction of the line of fence at the entrance of the Reserve. The unusual amount of rainy weather this past month has retarded materially the progress of that, and of other work on the Reservation, as also opening of the road to the coast, but it is now going forward… We are now filling out a party of Indians, with their families, under the charge of a Local agent, to proceed to the Coast, on a hunting and fishing excursion, portions of whom will be engaged in opening the road from Grand Ronde purchase to the Coast, and thence to Siletz River. (5/10/1856)

In addition the U.S. Military began assigning detachments to the Grand Ronde and Coast reservations to help defend the Native people from any encroachments by white settlers. By July 1856 there were detachments of troops assigned to area. Natives continued arriving on the reservation and this was causing a burden to feed and care for these people.

 … we are continually getting accessions to the number of indians on the reservation. Their aggregate by a statement of the subagent in charge reached 1557 on the 1st instant. (5/10/1856)

May 13th 1856, most of the Guards are released from service by order of Palmer.

I have instructed Captain Rinearson at once to dismiss the men under his charge, retaining Mr. Fleming, Mr. Cluff and three others of the men of his selection to aid him in taking the horses to Port Orford. NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, pages 138-140.

Office Superintendent Indian Affairs
Dayton O.T. May 13th 1856

By directions of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, you will at once discharge from service the remainder of the men now constituting the guard company under your command at the Grand Ronde Reservation. On the same being done you will render to the office a complete muster roll of the said company, duly certified. The public property remaining in the hands of Mr. John Fleming as quartermaster and commissary of the company will be transferred to the sub-agent at the Grand Ronde, taking dup. receipts therefor in the name of the Supt.
    The oxen, wagons, chains &c. received of Mr. Lamson will be brought down to this Superintendency:
    The instructions of the Superintendent, which were this evening read to you in detail, touching the necessary preparations to be made in going to Port Orford District with a party of men and animals, will be embodied in another communication. It is necessary however to remark herein that the Superintendent has designated Mr. Fleming, Mr. Cluff and Mr. Smith to accompany you, with three others of your own selection of the men in your company.

Very respectfully
Your obt. servt.
C. D. Blanchard
in chg. Suptcy.

Captain J. S. Rinearson
Commanding Company Armed Citizens
Grand Ronde Reservation
now at Dayton
NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, pages 143-144.

They need for a fence and 30-60 guards speaks volumes to the racism that was publicly being practiced in Oregon in the 1850s. Settlers wanted to commit genocide on the tribes, eliminate them in retribution for fighting for their rights and lives. For these protectionist measures Joel Palmer is made to resign his post on August 16 1856. Protectionism is needs for several decades in Oregon. The Military does shutter their posts at Fort Yamhill and Fort Hoskins because of the Civil War, but tribal people were still made to stay on the reservations by policy and had to ask for a pass to travel beyond the borders. It continued to be federal policy well into the 20th century to only allow people on the reservations if they were previously approved under government contracts. Similarly, native people were disallowed for possessing or purchasing alcohol until 1952.

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