Records of the Cascades Watlala Removal to Grand Ronde

Joel Palmer’s letters during his superintendency lend themselves to a timeline for the removal of most tribes. Palmer penned orders and received reports from his Indian agents, sub Indian agents, local agents and special agents in a timely manner. Work that some may think would take months would be accomplished in a few weeks. There was an inexplicable high level of cooperation among many of these men. I have searched for reasons why they seemed to be able to accomplish so much with relatively little disagreement, no complete failures to speak of, and with great efficiency. The efficiency and ease in which the management of the Indians occurred may be related to the business and social relationships they enjoyed with one another.

Several of the agents were invested in the Steamboat business operated by Berryman Jennings and Lot Whitcomb. Palmer and several other agents are noted to be among the investors in the building of new steamboats and operating them. This may also be why the Indian tribes were mainly removed by steamboat, as opposed to walking them overland to the reservations. In one example, the distance from Corvallis to the Grand Ronde reservation is not much further than the distance from Dayton to the reservation, yet the Kalapuyans who are gathered at Corvallis in April 1856 were first shipped downriver to a landing near Dayton, then marched overland to Palmer’s claim in Dayton. They spend a few days there, then are marched or carried in wagons overland to Grand Ronde to arrive by April 6th 1856. Therefore the investments in the steamboat company rendered profits to the investors in addition to their pay as agents.

In addition several of these men were party to the founding and operating of the first Mason’s lodge in Oregon, The Multnomah Lodge. The lodge members would have had regular meetings and perhaps made some agreements for hiring agents from among their brethren. Unfortunately, records of this first Mason’s lodge, were accidentally burned and so reconstructing these relationships would be difficult.

Regardless, within a month of Palmer’s pronouncement and appointment of special agents to collect Indians and visit points on the Columbia, steamship operator and builder Lot Whitcomb is sending back reports of his activities, suggesting he was ready for the appointment.

October 13, 1855

“It is hereby ordered that the Indians in the Willamette Valley, parties to the Treaty of 10th January 1855, shall be forthwith collected upon the temporary reservations heretofore, or now to be assigned them, there to remain under the direction of such persons as may be appointed to act for the time being as their local agents. The names of all adult males, and boys over 12 years of age shall be enrolled and the roll called daily. When anyone shall be absent at roll call, the fact shall be noted, and unless a satisfactory reason be rendered, the absentee shall be regarded as a person dangerous to the peace of the country, and dealt with accordingly…”

Joel Palmer for publication

October 19, 1855

“You are appointed a special Sub Ind Agent in conjunction with Berryman Jennings and local agent for the tribes residing along the south bank of the Columbia River between the Cascade Falls and mouth of the Willamette River, and as such you will proceed without delay to carry out these regulations and orders from this office, given under date of the 13th instant a copy of which is herewith enclosed. After conferring with Col. Jennings as to the point of locating the encampment for the Indians in your district and those on Clackamas and its vicinity of Oregon City. You will proceed to the Indian Village on the bank of the Columbia River a few miles above Switzler’s and direct those Indians to repair at once to the designated encampment in accordance with these instructions…”

Joel Palmer to Lot Whitcomb

(A similar set of orders were sent to Berryman Jennings the same day)

November 9, 1855

“I have collected all the Indians on the south side of Columbia River, between the mouth of Sandy and the Willamette River together encamptment three miles above Mr. Switzers nearly 100. All quiet and friendly no fears of outbreaks entertained on the part of the whites. They are providing for themselves. No expense for provisions as yet…”

Lot Whitcomb to Joel Palmer

John Switzer began his ferry in 1846 and ran it from the southern bank (Oregon Territory) to Hayden Island where he had land, to the north bank Fort Vancouver landing. He appears to have been the first regular ferry service in the Portland area. John Switzer Jr. took over his father’s ferry business in about 1855. They also had a lumberyard operation too.

“In 1846, John Switzler and his family settled here. He supplied Fort Vancouver with cattle, which he pastured where Columbia Edgewater members now play golf. He also ran a post office and the first Portland-Vancouver ferry. The fare was 50 cents for a pedestrian and one dollar for a horse and rider.” “In 1888 the Portland and Vancouver Railroad reached Switzler’s ferry landing.” (

Section of GLO map north 1, range 2 east, “J. Switzlers” is Joseph Switzler (left), the brother of John Switzler whose allotment shows up near center on the Columbia bank (Jno Switzlers) and who ran a ferry for many years there. The character of the land in the GLO map suggests they had plenty of water.
John Switzler’s land is now Columbia Edgewater Country Club, and the undeveloped riverbank, Joseph Switzler’s land is the Edgewater Park development, began in about 1910, to the west. Interestingly, there are no placenames today in Portland that document the Switzlers, their early occupation (1845), operation of the first ferry across the Columbia at Portland, began in about 1846, and continued operation of the ferry for decades, only to be replaced by the interstate bridge in the early 20th century. Google Maps image

When correspondence fails to reveal the actions of the agents, Palmer’s invoice and abstract papers in the manuscripts collections of the University of Oregon and Oregon Historical society, online, reveal actions taken to purchase supplies for the tribes that are now encamped at Switzler’s Ferry. The transcribed record below notes contributions by Joseph Switzler to the Indian Encampment near the ferry, his brother John’s property. The brothers appear to have teamed up to help administer the tribes gathered at their donation land claims. The tribes were collected in October and November from the south bank of the river between the Cascades Rapids and the Willamette River to this location for their safety. The first estimate is given as 100 Indians on November 9, 1855. This number would increase.

Lot Whitcomb as well had expenses, and we see another invoice appear paid on January 16th 1856 by Joel Palmer

Later invoicing from Lot Whitcomb documents his activities between January and March 1856. Whitcomb clearly states the removal of the Tumwater, the Cascades Watlala and the Clackamas Tumwater to one or more camps. Clearly this collection would have included the peoples at Blue Lake, or the Neerchikoo peoples, likely a band of the larger Cascades Watlala Tumwater tribe who were noted by Lewis and Clark to move into this area of the Columbia in October to collect wapato, and remain until April, to remove back to Cascade Rapids for spring Chinook runs. The other tribes at Milton were the Nepechuck, and Klatskanie, and he even went as far as Astoria to help collect the tribes there. One record suggests that the tribes near Astoria were to be collected to Tillamook, which may have become the native town outside of Tillamook later called Hobsonville. The town had Tillamook and Clatsop natives who lived there and so could have been the remnant population of the original Indian encampment created by Whitcomb in 1855-1856. There was not an attempt to removed the Tillamook tribes to a permanent reservation until the mid 1870s.

December 12, 1855,

… I desire the exact list of the Clackamas Indians as the census lists will be the basis of annuity payments to all the bands throughout the valley. The goods having arrives, I am desirous to have the lists perfected so as to distribute them on my return.” Joel Palmer to Berryman Jennings

Lot Whitcomb also took time to make a census of the tribal people he removed. He first performs this duty in October 1855. His census is undated but it makes sense to assume this is the October 1855 census. There are at least two other censuses for the tribes. January 1855 they are censused when they visit Dayton and sign the Willamette Valley treaty, and March-April 1856 when they are being removed to Grand Ronde. The census list as written is somewhat disorganized and messy suggesting it was completed quickly and by persons who were not used to collecting such information. The chiefs noted below, Obanahah, Tumwalth, were chiefs of the Cascades Watlala, but were hung in March 1856 because of the Cascades massacre. Therefore they would not have been alive to be counted and named on the census of removal and so this census list has to have been earlier. Watchano/Wacheno was the head chief of the tribes at Oregon City. The assumed October 1855 census is partially transcribed below, it is being analyzed linguistically now.

March 31, 1856

“Since the attack upon the Cascades by the hostile Indians, the citizens have become alarmed and manifest fears of the Indians in our midst committing acts of violence, or rendering aid to the hostile Tribes. Such conclusions are somewhat justified so far as the Clackamas Chief is concerned- he has been absent from his people some four or five weeks, and most of the time with Wa-pa-na-ha (Obanaha) (his brother in law) who has been suspected of aiding the enemy.”

Berryman Jennings to Joel Palmer

Cascades Tumwater men executed in March and April 1856

Tumwulth, [Chief] Chenowith, Chenowith Jim, Tecomoc, Captain Joe, Tsy, Sim Sasselas, Old Skein, Four Fingered Johnny, Obanaha- Jailed at Fort Vancouver, and Kanewake sentenced but reprieved.

April 11, 1856

“Active operations were on foot to gather in the scattering bands upon the Grand Ronde and Coast Reservation, but this unexpected outburst of popular phrenzy came well nigh upsetting and defeating the whole project.” Joel Palmer to Manypenny, Superintendent of Indian Affairs

The tribes removed constituted the Cascades Tumwater, the Clackamas Tumwater and the Clowewalla. Within the count of the Cascades Tumwater with be a few individuals of some small villages among the south shore of the Columbia, including the Neerchekoo people, probably very few individuals. Also among the tribes removed were quite a few Klamath peoples, 141, gathered at Oregon City, a settlement that they had a habit of camping near.

April 11, 1856

Sir, I sent up yesterday Five Teams with Indians, and their effects. They are the Mollalas, and a part of the Wallalah, Band sometimes called the Wascoes. I would suggest that they be allowed to go into the building, originally built for the Umpquas, or upon that side of the River. The enumeration of this band and those here awaiting transportation stand: Men 132; Women 180; Boys 68; Girls 60; total 440. All of whom have been paid their goods. The teams transporting the bands sent up yesterday, and as many others as can be spared from the Reservation; will be required to transport those remaining here, as they have a large amount of baggage; I desire you will send them back immediately. Several of those teams have not been branded; it will be well to have that attended to. Joel Palmer to Robert Metcalfe (at Grand Ronde)

Palmer’s letter above of April 11th, 1856, suggests that the Wallalah and some Molallas would be placed south of the south Yamhill in an area of the valley which was planned for the Umpquas and Rogue Rivers.

Areas J,K,L,M,N,O were set aside originally for the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers, the building was likely a farmhouse near there, Hazen map GRIR 1856

April 11, 1856

“I have taken steps to collect all scattering bands in this valley, And in addition to the one thousand now upon the tract recently purchased, there is at Dayton, waiting means of transportation to the Reservation; four hundred and forty Indians; one hundred of whom starts today. I have been compelled, in hurrying from their houses, many who had not expected to be called upon so soon to remove, and often in a destitute condition; to distribute a much larger supply of merchandise, than had been anticipated. We have among these friendly bands, quite a number from remote parts of the territory;… the upper Klamaths one hundred and forty one souls, who have for several years past been in the habit of residing in this valley, during the winter season. We have a number of Spokans, Klickitats, and others from Washington Territory, and a few from California… With the exception of a few families scattered along the Columbia River below the Mouth of the Willamette River all the Bands of this valley are now here and upon the Grand Ronde purchase…” Palmer to Manypenny

The final invoices related to the Watlala Tumwater are a few returns, which offer counts of rations and meals given to the tribes while encamped at the Palmer Donation Land Claim in Dayton. John Flett, the secretary to Palmer, and a local agent, shows two counts. In comparing the tribes noted from the first to second returns (18th and 30th) we can see the process of simplifying the tribal names from “Clackamas, Clowwewalla, Wallalah (Tumwater) bands” to “Clackamas etc,” a significant and understandable generalization, but its clear they are the same population because the population count is the same. But this is how the Watlala and Clowwewalla peoples disappear in the future population counts and are referred to as just Clackamas. By October 1856 there is still an attempt to segregate the populations, but the Clowwewalla and Watlala have disappeared as named tribes and everyone is included under a tribal chief. The Cascades-Watlala Tumwater would have been suffering for leadership due to the execution of so many of their leaders in March and April and so the remaining people, may have joined with their close in-law relatives in the Clackamas and Oregon City (Clowwewalla) tribes who had chiefs still living. Even stating Oregon City as a general category is confusing due to the division of the tribes on the West Bank (Linn City) and east bank (Oregon City) because each of these villages had different chiefs.

And finally there are attestations of the facts of the returns and of the removal of the tribes to the Grand Ronde Reservation from employees and wagon operators who were settlers from the surrounding community who had taken assignments of a few days work helping move the tribes and their possessions to the reservation.

“I certify that the above return is correct and that the provisions were issued by me to the above Indians, under my charge as conductor from Dayton to the Reservation. Dated Dayton O.T. April 30th 1856, W.D. Woodcock, Conductor

We hereby certify that we were present and witnessed the issue of the above provisions to the Indians on the road from Dayton to the Reservation by Mr. Woodcock; David Hamilton, Porter Holdredge”

Without these records from the Palmer Papers, for some years, many scholars had assumed that the Cascades may not have been removed at all after their chiefs were hung. There were few records that they ever came to Grand Ronde. It was assumed by many that they stayed on the Columbia, and perhaps some few individuals came to Grand Ronde. The Cascades on the north bank were known to have been removed to White Salmon Reservation, and then to Yakima. Later many of the Cascades chose to give up on-reservation allotments at Yakima to take off-reservation allotments on the Columbia, back in their homelands by the 1870s. While the original Dog River Cascades at Hood River, at first refused to sign the treaty of middle Oregon and remove to Warm Springs. But they eventually did so, with some few individuals evidently refusing to remove or returning later. The divisions that occurred in the Cascades people in 1855 and 1856 were caused by the newly created federal Indian administrative districts in the 1850s which divided Washington from Oregon along the Columbia, and Western Oregon from Eastern Oregon along the Cascades range. These districts and boundaries change several times in the 1850s. The clumsy and uninformed federal administrative footprint then created the divisions and differential rights within related tribes and hence the present day political divisiveness between the inheritors of the heritage and legacy of the Cascades tribes and bands whose descendants are now located at about four contemporary reservations.

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