A Policy of Forfeiture of Rights and Annuities under the Peace Treaty of 1853

In numerous essays on this blog I have noted that many of the tribes considered the most violent, and those who had participated in the wars in southwestern Oregon were placed on the Coast Reservation. This was not an arbitrary decision because in 1856 the tribes on the Oregon coast and from the Rogue River basin had participated in numerous conflicts and wars. The Rogue River Confederacy were considered one of the most violent groups of tribes, having participated in at least three wars in southern Oregon, in 1850-51, in 1853, and 1855-56. The Coquille tribes were also considered violent with attacks in 1850 and later on groups of whites, such as the attack on T’vault and company. The Chetco people were also considered violent, likely given that label because of the takeover and genocide attempt of their two villages at Chit, on the Chetco river and the fact that they would not agree to leave their lands and had to be rounded up and marched north. The Sixes tribe as well was given a label of violent because they resisted the taking of the area that was to become Port Orford in the Battle of Battlerock in 1851.

But most of these conflicts and wars occurred in the colonization era, previous to when the U.S. Army was in the territory and the United States had yet to purchase any land in the Oregon Territory from the tribes. Many of the conflicts were perpetrated by the actions of white men who sought to take tribal lands and remove the tribes as potential competitors for services to gold rushing prospectors. This is the case at the Chetco, when Miller sought to commit genocide on the Chetco tribe who was offering cheaper services, such as canoe trips across the Chetco river, than what Miller wanted to charge. The Chetco would not obey his orders so he hired what amounted to mercenaries to burn the tribe out of their houses and kill as many of them as possible.

These conflicts were endemic in the region of southern Oregon for more than a decade, especially following the California and Oregon gold rushes. Then, thousands of men can to the region and committed all manner of violent crimes against the tribes who stood in the way of their unencumbered quest for wealth.  The very existence of the tribes offended the gold prospectors who raped the women, destroyed whole villages and destroyed fishing areas of the tribes.  But again, there was no order, no police, no security, and until 1853 nothing to keep the peace in the region.

The second treaty of Peace with the Rogue River tribe, September 8th 1853, seemingly changed the direction of the tribes in the region. The Peace treaty not only worked to establish a peaceful co-existence but sought to pay for the destruction wrought by the Rogue River tribes on the settlers. When reexamining the stipulations, there are long-standing implications to many of the articles. Article 4 allows for the payment of the depredations committed by the tribes on white from their future treaty funds from the sale of their lands. But it is Article 5 which has even longer implications to the tribes party to the treaty.  Article 5 states:

It is further stipulated that in case the above named Indians shall hereafter make war upon the whites, they shall forfeit all right to the annuities or money to be paid for the right to their lands.

This article 4 is, I believe, the basis for the separation of the Grand Ronde and Coast Reservations into two different reservations. Joel Palmer, the Indian superintendent who wrote all the treaties and established the reservations, stipulated a plan that became the structure and organization of the tribes on the two reservations. Palmer knew that the Siletz Valley and the Coast Reservation was more remote from the Willamette Valley and by placing the violent tribes there, they could be more easily administered and thus protect the American settlements from any attacks. Grand Ronde Reservation was planned to be the reservation for the “peaceful” tribes who had never attacked the white settlers. This organization solved several problems but created more.

The Indian Office planning kept the violent and peaceful tribes in different places, in part to keep the violent Indians from influencing the peaceful Indians to join any potential confederation bent on war. Then as mentioned the more remote tribes on the coast could be more easily administered without any influences from “bad” white men. Many of the American settlers in the Willamette valley were very critical of the plan to move the tribes north closer to their villages, and so placing the more violent Indians further away, assuaged some of these critical remarks. Still, Palmer’s plan to save the tribes caused the loss of his position.

The plan caused even worse effects for the tribes on the reservations, especially those at the Coast. Since the “violent Indians” were mostly on the Coast Reservation by 1857, after several hundred of the Rogue Rivers were moved the Siletz Valley after it was opened for service. This left the vast majority of the tribal peoples at Grand Ronde from tribes who had never committed any act of war against the American settlers, Kalapuyans, Molallans, Clackamas, Multnomah, Umpqua, and other small bands and tribes.

The Grand Ronde Reservation in numerous records for many years was always well funded because they had tribal people from at least six ratified treaties that allocated funds annually for their care and upkeep. There never seemed to be a worry by Indian Agents that they would not be funded by the treaties. They were still impoverished, mainly due to slow actions by the Congress, or poor administration from Indian agents. There are numerous letters from the agents asking for the money they are owed in their six treaties. The only tribes at Grand Ronde who may have been considered violent, were some of the Rogue River people who remained at Grand Ronde and some of the Cascades people. The Cascades were thought to have participated in the Cascades Massacre of March 1856 on the Columbia River, and so because of this Palmer did not move the main tribe to Grand Ronde. Instead some individuals of the Cascades tribe did move to Grand Ronde, likely those related to the Clackamas or Multnomah tribes through marriage, while others remained on the Columbia or were moved to Yakima or Warm Springs Reservations.

The Coast Reservation is another issue altogether. Many of the tribes on the reservation did not have a ratified treaty, and therefore no promised funds for annual services. These were all coastal tribes who had signed the Coast treaty in 1855, a treaty that was forgotten and never ratified. These tribes were all removed to coastal estuary-based subagencies, encampments and agencies. They subsisted mainly on food they gathered, hunted, or fished themselves, and were only barely funded by Congress for any expenses. In about 1876, these peoples were released from the successor to the Coast Reservation, the Siletz Reservation, and many did leave, while some remained associated with Siletz. There was no legal mechanism to make these tribes remain on the reservation because their treaty was forever unratified. (Therefore they still owned their original lands, many tribes even today have never received payment for their lands.) One benefit of living on the coast without much aid from the federal government was that many of the tribal people retained their traditional culture and skills more-so than people on the reservations well funded and subjected to assimilation pressures.

The other tribes on the Coast Reservation, most of them settled in the Siletz Valley or along the coast south of the Nechesne river (Salmon River), at what was called the Salmon River Encampment. These tribes were parties to one of the treaties of  southwestern Oregon, the Rogue River Treaty if 1853, or Chasta Costa treaty of 1854. There were few or no people at Siletz from the Umpqua and Kalapuya treaty of 1854, or the Cow Creek treaty of 1853, or the Molalla treaty and Willamette Valley treaty of 1855.  (There were plenty of intermarriages and other movements between the two reservations since the initial removals in 1856 and 1857, and so some people at Siletz today do have a relationship to all six cession treaties of western Oregon.)

From the Federal Government’s perspective, those tribes who had signed any agreements to remain at peace and later violated those agreements by participating in a war were no longer able to received treaty annuities. Therefore by placing the most violent natives at the Coast Reservation this left the Indian agents with almost no dedicated funds to pay for services on the reservation. The Indian Agents were reduced to writing numerous letters to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, on a monthly basis, pointing out their vast needs for funding, for food and blankets, housing and medical care. They reminded the Commissioner over and over again that they needed to keep the Indians on the reservation, so to keep the peace in Oregon, and if they did not fund the reservation, the Indians would begin starving and leaving. This argument was made nearly every funding cycle for some 15 years by Indian agents and the Superintendents alike on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis.

The conditions on the Coast Reservation were quite poor, with most people starving and many dying due to malnutrition or exposure to the environment and/or diseases of the whites. The tribal people clearly did not get the care or attention they deserved. in some cases the Indian superintendents of Oregon did some creative funding with the treaty annuities and used money allocated from Grand Ronde to fund projects at Siletz. This is the case with the funding for the Molalla school, because one or more years the funding was moved over to pay for a school at Siletz Instead, even though none of the Molallas were originally moved to Siletz. Some few Molalla people later on moved to Siletz, Molalla Kate married a Siletz man, and her son John Williams did settle in Siletz later in the 19th century. Molalla Kate was also originally at Grand Ronde as well. There were many movements and intermarriages between the two reservations over the more than 150 years. In addition in numerous reports, the two reservations appeared to be linked administratively, as if they were two districts of the same reservation, which may have allowed funding from the treaties to broadly serve both populations.

Annual federal records of the Siletz Reservation from the 19th century into the 1950s show that they had no claims to any treaties. This is unlikely to be the case in truth, but it appears that the federal government decided that the descendants of the tribes also could not claim any of the treaties. The origin of this, I believe, is within the Treaty of Peace of 1853, a treaty that was never ratified by Congress, and is referenced in the Rogue River cession treaty of September 10, 1853, but not considered directly as a part of the treaty. Since the peace treaty was never ratified by Congress and not referenced in the Senate Advice statement of April 12, 1854 (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/176302303), it then is debatable whether the article 4 stipulation is truly law, or is a policy decision by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Still the Rogue River tribes signed the treaty of Peace Sept. 8, 1853, then signed away their lands, Sept. 10, 1853. The ratification of this treaty did not happen until February 5, 1855, but by that time the tribes were very upset at their treatment on the Table Rock Reservation. Some five tribes organized behind Chief John to form the Rogue River Confederacy. They left the reservation after acts of violence by white militias killed many of their people, and destroyed the village at Deer Creek. The Confederacy again fought to drive the whites from their lands, likely thinking the treaties were just worthless paper since they kept getting attacked by whites, and were eventually stopped at the battle of Big Bend. They then surrendered at Fort Orford and were removed north to the Coast and Grand Ronde reservations in the summer of 1856. This last Rogue River war from 1855 to 1856, violated the Treaty of Peace of 1853, and therefore all participants in the war were ineligible to receive treaty annuities. In 1856 lists of the participants were made at the Siletz Reservation.

First section of the “Census of Indians engaged in the late war: now under my charge, December 21 1856” by Robert Metcalfe; note Shasta John second to bottom is Chief John/Old John/ Tyee John, who lived normally at Siletz but was at Grand Ronde (Grand Round). Its likely he was visiting his daughter who lived at Grand Ronde. This further confirms he is Shasta, something of a question in some literature. Note also the Shasta Costa (Chasta Costa) were in Kings valley- The encampment of which there is not much known. There is 931 persons which this census identifies as engaged in the war. One question here is about which of these tribes are represented in the Treaty of Peace. the treaty was with only the Rogue River tribes, yet listed here are numerous tribes who were completely autonomous from the Rogue Rivers and their allies, notably the Tootootanas, Joshuas, Yukas (Euchres), Chitco (Chetco) and others, mainly on the coast. It remains to be determined what is the true number and how is this a legitimate list if there was no independent tribunal/ hearing/ committee/ or court determining the truth. If the Coastal tribal counts are removed the total is probably less that 400 Indians remaining who  participated in the war and signed the peace treaty.


Second “census of those remaining at peace” who were on the Coast Reservation. Although it does state that the Coquille were “some engaged in war” still the Coquille did not sign the peace treaty so could not be held accountable. 468 total, making the percentage about 1/3 of the Coast Reservation Indians engaged in the war.

It is unclear how the Indian agent would have singled out specific families to not receive services from the reservation or annuities. Therefore it appears that the federal government just decided to declare that the people at Siletz had no claim to the treaties. There was no trial, no hearings, no court appearances or affidavits from tribal people, but instead the government made an internal policy decision, to not allow them to receive treaty funds forever (I have not found a legal foundation for this yet) (probably influenced by politicians who did not want to fund violent savage Indians). (It would be good to gather federal joint committee hearings where these issues may have been discussed to understand more the foundations of this political policy decision.) There seems to never have been a legal challenge to this policy.  This policy then served to impoverish the tribes at Siletz for generations.

Treaty Between the United States and the Rogue River Indians Signed at Even’s Creek on the Table Rock Reserve, Oregon Territory, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/169820682

Senate Advice statement of April 12, 1854 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/176302303



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