Yamhill Dogs Chase Comegys’ Hogs

A letter was delivered in person to Joel Palmer, Indian Superintendent of Oregon, in 1855 of a complaint of Jacob Comegys about his pigs being chased and killed by Yamhill Kalapuyans and their dogs. Jacob had sold his lands in Missouri and moved his whole family to Yamhill Oregon where he took up a land claim in 1847.

The claim was certified by the Land office in 1851 after the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act was passed. This was part of the purpose of the Act, to certify the previous claims of settlers even though the previous claims were not legal according to US land laws and policies regarding tribes. Tribal people owned all of their lands under the aboriginal title and that could only be extinguished by war or treaty to the United States federal government. In addition, the Oregon Organic acts had incorporated the Northwest Ordinance, which held that the Native peoples were not to be disturbed in their lands. Settler land claims previous to any treaty, without the conquest of the area by war, were disturbing the tribes in numerous ways. The Oregon Donation Land claims act was a way to “legally” help the settler “squatters” get a legal title to their land. Therefore passing that act was itself an illegal act, because aboriginal tribes still owned their titles and there had yet to be any lands sales, treaties were not even begun to be negotiated or ratified until 1853, but because the law was never challenged in court the United States got away with it.  In this manner, the tribes lost their lands and the resources on the lands for decades, 1830-1855, without any compensation for their losses.

Comegys remained in Oregon until 1859 when he sold part of his land and moved to San Jose. He died in 1870 in San Jose CA. In Oregon, his claim was near Amity, between Salt Creek and the South Yamhill River.  after he sold out his older children remained in Oregon and continued living near amity. Some descendants later moved to Eugene and Salem. His Grandson Felix is noted as living near Amity in 1912 and raising horses. Felix Comegys won numerous first-place ribbons for his horses at the Oregon State Fair.  But Jacob Comegys raised hogs.

Hogs were noted early in the settlement of Oregon among the livestock being raised by the settlers. They are also noted to be responsible for destroying many of the native food plants in the prairies because of their practice of digging and rooting out bulbs and tubers. These roots and tubers were necessary foods of the Kalapuyans tribes of the valley. They would annually dig camas, wapato, and other roots for food. Much of their work in seasonal encampments “roots camps” was done in the field and then prepared and cooked roots would be returned to their permanent houses for winter storage. This was a common practice to preserve and store foods for winter foods. But when settlers came, they began fencing off a large area of prairie and plowing the prairies, and planting their own crops, wheat, rye, corn, and vegetables. The plowing destroyed natural roots growing areas and therefore the food of the Kalapuyans. Then livestock also impacted the native plants. as mentioned pigs rooted out roots, and cattle and sheep trampled or ate other native foods.

The effect of all of these changes to the Kalapuyans was that they had to find new fields for gathering their foods, but by 1851 all of the land on the valley floor was claimed by settlers and there was then not enough native foods to feed the people any longs. The tribes began to suffer from not being able to put away food for the winter. Even hunting was heavily impacted because now the Kalapuyans had to compete with the settlers who also liked to hunt and eat game.  in the 1850s there were numerous complaints that the tribes of the valley were thieves and that settlers had to deal with, that cattle and horses were being stolen. I believe this is a symptom of the starvation of the tribes, they began to take the animals and what foods they could steal from settler farms, to feed themselves. I believe it was also a form of resistance on the part of the tribes, resistance to the continued taking of land without fair payment by settlers. This is a cultural phenomenon for the tribes in the region. It was always appropriate to pay the resident tribes for the use of their land, to respect their sovereignty, and to act in a neighborly way when people are in need. It was common for tribes to host and feed anyone who comes with respect to their villages when they clearly were in need. The tribes did this when the settlers first came, helped feed them, and even aided them in the development of their farms, but the ethics of the settlers did not allow for such treatment to the tribes when they were in need. Many tribal people began taking food because settlers refused to give handouts when the tribes were starving, or leave them any space to live.

This is a partial explanation of the content of the complaint of Jacob Comegys. He like other settlers did not appreciate the Yamhill Kalapuyans hunting his hogs and yet was not looking for a reason this was happening. The Kalapuyans were thought of beneath the settlers and this is why Palmer got this letter, so he could deal with the Indians at fault. The letter also details a small piece of the culture of the tribes, that they used dogs for hunting. This is not well detailed in other sources but is quite interesting here. I wonder if the hunting with dogs was brought on by settlement, to intimidate and make it easier to hunt the animals of the settlers. The tribes already had varieties of Native dogs, some were used as food, but some must have had uses for activities like hunting too.

March 3, 1855, George Billings… is acquainted with… Jacob Comeygs and with the situation of his land claim and is acquainted with the number of hoggs [sic] usually kept by said Comegys. He also knows that the Yam Hill band of Calapooia Indians have resides on said land claim continuously since the fall of 1851, up to the present date and that they have constantly kept around them a pack of dogs and without providing any visible means of subsisting them that he has noticed these dogs attack the hogs and pigs of said Comeygs with the apparent intention of killing them, and have driven them away, and that at one time I saw the Indians running after the hogs with clubs evidently designing to kill a hog and that seeing him they desisted. He further states that in his opinion the said Comegys has lost within the time mentioned by the hands of those Indians and their dogs, hogs, and piggs [sic] amounting in value to four hundred dollars. George Billings to Joel Palmer on behalf of Comegys (Correspondence of the Oregon Superintendency, M2, R28)

A remarkable account suggesting that the Yamhill Kalapuyans had a village in the property and were in the habit of hunting the hogs and may have used their dogs to do so. There are some good places to have a Kalapuyan village on this property as it was next to Salt Creek.

GLO 5, 5, note Jacob Comegys DLC 1855, the claim likely crosses over to 6, 5 as well.

 

The story clearly addresses all of the points raised and shows why it is important to place these accounts into the context of what the tribes were experiencing to make them take hogs from a settler when they knew it would not be appreciated. Tribal experience and perceptions are normally ignored in settler accounts.

 

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