Champinefu Temporary Reservation at Corvallis

In about March 1855 there was formed a temporary reservation, or encampment, for the Champinefu Kalapuyans at Corvallis. This was one of over a dozen such temporary reservations, sometimes called encampments for the Kalapuyans, Molallans, and Chinookans created at this time to hold about 1000 native peoples who were party to the Willamette Valley Treaty. The Champinefu, also called Mary River Kalapuyans, were held in the care of Dr. Thomas J. Wright (1799-1875), a Benton County physician (some records list his birth date as 1808, including his headstone, but this does not match his census records). Dr. Wright (many times spelled Right in records and newspapers) arrived in Oregon sometime before 1850, was censused in Yamhill County in 1850 as a single man, and then married May 25th,1855 to Melcena Maupin (Mulsensia Maupin on marriage record), his second marriage, and moved to Corvallis City. He and his expanding family (7 children by 1870) are censused in 1860 and 1870 in Corvallis. He is elected about 1858 to be the county coroner and then held this office several times until his death in 1875. He is sheriff for a few years, until 1855, in Benton County.  There does not appear to be a land claim associated with him in Benton County, but he is living in Corvallis and is a active member of the Democratic party in the precinct. Wright does have an office in the Corvallis downtown and invests in property there. In later appointments to Indian affairs, he serves as the doctor to the Yaquina subagency, and takes positions under contract on the Coast Reservation and Grand Ronde.

As the appointed Special agent over the Champinefu he would have cared for them in around Corvallis. He appears to have been working with Nathan Lane to coordinate movement of the tribes. It is unclear where they lived for the encampment period but normally tribal peoples would live in a small encampment on the edge of settler town. If Dr. Wright did not have land he may have just allowed them to remain in their traditional village up Marys River until it was time to move the tribe. Letters and records of these encampments are very slim, but Corvallis is mentioned among the many encampments in the valley in several reports.

In January 1856, Joel Palmer began actively working to get all of the tribes moved to the two reservations Grand Ronde and the Coast. In November 1855, Palmer established the Grand Ronde reservation and decided that this is where the Willamette Treaty tribes would be removed. In early January Palmer hosted a sightseeing visit of Kalapuyan chiefs to the new reservation, and got their agreement that it will be a good place to remove. They then return to the encampments and passed on the news to their people of where they would be removing to.

Palmer meanwhile is marshaling funds and special agents to organize removals throughout western Oregon. Sub. Ind. Agent Robert Metcalfe gets the most strenuous assignments, to move the Umpqua and Rogue River peoples to Grand Ronde. In the Willamette Valley Sub. Ind. Agents Benjamin Jennings, Nathan Lane, and Secretary to the Superintendent, Edward Geary and assistant John Flett, all work to coordinate removing bands of the Willamette Valley tribes to Grand Ronde. Lot Whitcomb appears to be the overseer of the tribes of the lower Willamette and lower Columbia River.

Canemah Sidewheeler at Aubichon Landing, Oregon Historical Society image

Corvallis has an encampment but it is also a central transportation point in the Willamette Valley. Corvallis at this time is at the head of steamship travel in the valley, meaning it is the furthest upriver the steamships travel on a regular route.  In the letters transcribed below it is clear that Nathan Lane was working to remove several bands of the Kalapuyans for the southern valley encampments to Corvallis, to gather them all there in a single group, before they are to be transported by steamer downriver. There is mention of the other encampments where there are collections of bands, Spores, and Chemapho (Muddy or Maddy River), are noted as well as the Kalapuyans already at Corvallis. The estimate from Lane is some 250 Kalapuyans, but the Captain of the steamer Canemah, Wygant, finds that there are less than 100 when he arrives in Corvallis to collect them, and he refuses to transport them until the rest are assembled. This causes a delay of several weeks before the Kalapuyans, still about 100 people, are transported downriver to Weston, a small landing near Dayton and the Joel Palmer claim.

 Map of removal route by steamer, it likely that all southern encampments were emptied at the same time, including Mohawk, and Tekopa. Map Drawn by David Lewis
Map of removal route by steamer, it likely that all southern encampments were emptied at the same time, including Mohawk, and Tekopa. Map Drawn by David Lewis

The above map shows the route of removal. Corvallis serves as a collection point, a hub, and from there the bands are removed north to Weston. It is likely Weston where there is a good wagon road, and it is also close to the Indian office in Dayton, where Geary, Flett, and Palmer can arrange and oversee their route to the reservation.

Census of the Kalapuyan bands and tribes, First Grand Ronde Reservation census September 1856.

It is in early March that the tribes are removed and within a few days are on the Grand Ronde Reservation. If it is the case that the Corvallis collection includes all southern valley encampments then we should see their numbers in the first full tribal census. The October 1856 census indicates that there are 21 Muddy (Chemapho), 20 Mohawk (Pe-u, and probably part of the Spores and Mohawk encampments, collected at same time), 23 Winnfilla (people from Pleasant Valley?), 16 Long Tom (south of Muddy), 22 Marysville (Champinefu). This equals 102 people altogether. If we consider that some bands and family groups arrived later, then the numbers do appear to be about or perhaps less than 100 people as described by Wygant. In addition, several tribal people left Grand Ronde after their removal to return to their old lands. Jacob Spores wrote to Palmer on May 24th 1856 that the tribes were returning to the area of his land, and mentions Old Tom and Jim as their leaders. Spores said they feared the Shasti (Shastas) and Rogue Rivers would kill them at Grand Ronde. There had to be lots of confusion and fear among the tribes removed and forced to live amongst upwards of 35 other tribes on the reservation. The removed tribes were essentially strangers to one another and it would take some five years for them to get comfortable living among so many strangers.

It remains a mystery of where the tribes were encamped in or near Corvallis. Thomas J. Wright’s in-laws owned land near town on a bend of the river. It was common for tribal encampments to be established on the edge of the settler towns, therefore this may have been the case in Corvallis.

Dayton O.T. Jany. 8th 1856

Dear Sir
I have to request that you will come over here prepared to go to the Molalla, Santiam, Spores & Corvallis Indian encampments and inform the chiefs that I desire to see them at my office. Upon their arrival the chiefs of the Tualatin band will also come and we will then all go and examine the Grand Ronde together. None need come but the chiefs, as when congregated we will be unable to accommodate so many. They [can] come over as soon as convenient for I contemplate trying to induce the various bands to go in the encampment before paying them the goods. The Wapatos however need not go until spring, but you will say nothing about this matter to anyone, white or Indian.

Joel Palmer
    Supt. Ind. Affairs

John Flett Esq.
Local Agent



You will proceed to the encampment of the Luckiamute at Corvallis, Spores and the Abiqua, and direct the Indians that if they desire to be supplied with provisions and receive their share of annuity payments for this winter, they must remove to the encampment in the Grand Ronde on the headwaters of Yamhill River.
The great expense attending the maintenance of so many encampments precludes the possibility of keeping them up through the winter, and unless they report to the point designated they must subsist themselves.
You are further directed to inform the local agents at each of the above encampments that it is my desire that they will take immediate steps to remove such of the above bands under their charge as wish to avail themselves of the opportunity. But in the event of the bands decline to remove, that their [the agents’] services will no longer be needed and that the Indians will be thrown upon their own resources for subsistence.
It is my wish that Dr. Wright of Corvallis should accompany the Indians and act for a time as physician to the encampment. You will inform him of this wish and say to him that other arrangements may be made after his arrival.
The Indians at Spores, Corvallis and Santiam may have a passage secured on board of one of the steamers to Werton, whence they can reach my office in 2½ miles and proceed thence in wagons to the encampment.
The goods and chattel belonging to the members of the respective bands may also be transported on the steamer.
The Indians of the Luckiamute encampment under the charge of Mr. Simpson may be taken on wagons from that point direct to the Grand Ronde.
At Corvallis you will call upon Nat Lane Esq. and solicit his aid in inducing the Indians to account them provisions, and request him to secure a passage on the steamer for such as choose to come down.
No further supplies of provisions or clothing can be furnished the Indians this winter unless they remove to the encampment designated.
You are acquainted with the reasons for this action and the necessity of the location and will explain as fully as possible, so that the Indians may have full knowledge of the matter.
Should they desire decline to avail themselves of the proposition we are still friends and I shall do as I can to protect them so long as their conduct merits it. But I feel satisfied that a compliance would tend to promote peace and advance their interests materially, and I am desirous they should accept of it.

Yours respectfully &c.
    Joel Palmer
        Superintendent Ind. Affrs.

John Flett Esq.
Interpreter &c.


January 12 1856, Corvallis

I came to Mr. Simpson and he told me that I could not get the Indians then to leave- but I got their consent cheerfully to leave in five ? day hired Simpson two yolk of oxen and the Indians ? and he was to furnish a good man to take them to the Grand Ronde for the sum of twenty five dollars. Came this morning to Corvallis seen all the headmen and got all their consent to start about eight days or there about I was sorry that Doct. Wright was gone but I assured the Indians that the Doct. would not bring any goods for them. I brought George, Atwan, Tom of maddy to McLean and they told him in my ? that they were ready in eight days. I have heard that Mr. Metcalf seen at the Calapooia Mountains. I do not know how that is, I think that the people of Polk county will not rebel against the Indians of Umpqua. The Polk county folks meet at Dallas one hundred in number & only one man voted in your favor Lyed by name, but they are cooling off now. I stayed at John Waymeers first night Dayton have great a time there. I start for Spores right off either to get them all too.

John Flett to Palmer

January 20th 1856, Corvallis

The Indians here are all willing to leave and will be ready in a few days. I have concluded to wait until those from the Umpqua have arrived which will be in a few days and then all will come together. Shall start down the river one week from today.

T.J. Right to Palmer

Office Superintendent Ind. Affairs
Dayton, O.T. January 22nd 1856

Your letter of yesterday informing me that you had decided upon awaiting the arrival of the Umpqua Indians has been received. In answer I have to say that I disapprove such a course, and that it is expected that all persons engaged in the service will comply with instructions.
Arrangements had been made for these Indians to come down at a designated time, and other arrangements made in accordance with that understanding. A departure from those plans tends to frustrate our whole business, besides the longer the matter is delayed the greater opposition is brought to bear, and this delay may defeat the entire policy.
Should Mr. Spores arrive with the Indians under his charge he will take charge of those heretofore at your camp and proceed at the earliest moment by steamer to this place. And I have to request that you will proceed and meet the Umpqua camp and tender such medical aid to the sick in that camp as may be requisite in their march. At the last advises–16th inst.–they were on Elk Creek, south of the Calapooya Mountains, but would cross in two days from that date. They are now probably on Long Tom.

Respectfully yours
Joel Palmer
Supt. Ind. Affrs.

Dr. T. J. Right

NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, page 22. (

January 28th 1856

For transportation of Indians from Corvallis to Weston- $400.00 Received Pay

Dear sir, I made a contract some time since with Nat. M. Lane, he saying he had authority from you , to carry 250 Indians from Corvallis to Weston, at $2.50 per head. The Indians to be on hand at Corvallis on the 19th inst. At the time appointed I was there, and but 150 or thereabouts of the Indians were on hand. I declined taking them until the whole 250 were at Corvallis which he and Doct. Wright assured me would be the case on the 26th inst. without fail. On the 24th I left Canemah for Corvallis and on the way up declined engaging freights for the down trip at the different way points saying as a reason that I wished to put the 250 Indians through without delay. Arrived at Corvallis on 26th inst. and find out 100 Indians instead of 250. Now comes up the matter of compensation. I hold that I am entitled to the $625.00 which the trip would have amounted to under the original contract. I refused down freight and made all other arrangements with a view to realizing that amount of $625 from the Indians. I have made out the bill however at four hundred dollars which, I think will be satisfactory. Should like to obtain the amount as soon as convenient.

Theodore Wygant Captain of Canemah to Palmer.

Office Superintendent Ind. Affairs
Dayton, O.T. February 20th 1856

I herewith enclose you a copy of an account and letter received by me in relation to the transportation of the Corvallis Indians from your place to Westin. The bill presented is for a much greater sum than I feel myself authorized to pay inasmuch as the aggregate number of Indians transported was only 78–including children.
The claim is based by the captain of the steamer, it seems, upon a contract (whether verbal or written, it is not stated) made by you for the transportation of 250 Indians. Of such contract, if one was made, I am as yet totally ignorant and desire you will inform me of all the facts in connection with the matter.
My instructions to Mr. Flett (who was directed to show them to you) were to the direct point that transportation should be provided for those that choose to come and that he would apply to you to make the arrangements.
In order that a just and equitable settlement of the matter may be effected, I would be pleased if you would see the captain of the steamer and make with him such an issue as will be just and satisfactory to all. I have no disposition to evade the payment of a just claim, but it appears to me if an allowance of this kind should be made the accounting officers would disallow the voucher, and unless I am legally bound by specific contract I shall feel warranted in protesting against such a charge, the amount of which would undoubtedly be thrown back upon this office.

Very respectfully &c.
Joel Palmer, Supt. &c.

Nat H. Lane, Esq.
Corvallis, O.T.
NARA Series M2, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 6; Letter Books E:10, page 46. (

March 1st 1856, Corvallis

Yours of Feby 20th with a copy of Cap Wygants letter is before me. In reply I have to say that Mr. Flett told me to contract for the transportation of two hundred or two hundred and fifty Indians, that the Indians would be ready to go in about ten days from the time he was here. On your instructions to him and his word for the number to be taken, I contracted (verbally) with Capt. Wygant to take them at $2.30 per head, a much smaller rate than I could have contracted for only 100 head. On Theodore’s finding that there was but 100 or less he refused to take them unless myself and Doc. Wright would agree to use our endeavors to procure the payment of $400 for the trip. I told him I would write to you advising you of the circumstances which I did but suppose the letter was miscarried as you say you have read nothing on the subject. Now I think under the circumstances that the $400 should be paid as I know he refused freight supposing the full number of Indians would be on hand, and also the Indians could not at that time been taken by land for less money. I hope you will think in your judgement that a settlement with Capt. Wygant will be best. I don’t wish to be compromised in the matter. I did what I thought for the best, and my word in a contract I hold more sacred than a deed. I hope you and him will be able to come to a settlement.

Nat. H. Lane to Palmer

Received March 5, 1856

March 5 1856, Special Sub Ind. Agency

Dear sir, The Indian encampments in the Willamette Valley are all (some time since) broken up, and those who have not gone to the farms at the Grand Ronde has returned to their old possessions, and thrown upon their own resources. It is very difficult for them to subsist themselves, after the indulgence through the winter, and the inducements held out to them by imprudent citizens in giving them bad advice, and furnishing them with ardent spirits. They have been repeatedly advised by me to repair from rumoring about, and am sorry to say, the advice is unheeded…

Jennings to Palmer

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