Indian Affairs 1856: Joel Palmer’s Diary

Joel Palmer was an extremely busy man in 1856. In the midst of traveling back and forth across Oregon, he was ordering supplies, directing employees, and negotiating with tribes engaged in war. His reach was incredibly broad, he was at the Dalles working with the Wasco and Deschutes people to get them to agree to remove to the Warm Springs Reservation, and a month or so later he was down on the Rogue River trying to get the tribes to surrender to stop the war. In the meantime he visits his office at Dayton and was managing the tribes being removed to Grand Ronde, supplying them dinners and arranging for transportation to the new reservation at Grand Ronde. His Diary of the year is remarkable. There is barely a day he is not traveling by horse or steamboat somewhere.

In the meanwhile political and racist forces in Oregon are working behind the scenes to apply pressure on him to resign. Palmer had accused Governor Curry of fomenting violence and causing the Indian wars in the north and south by loosing his volunteers on the tribes. The volunteers were made up of settlers who had little training and were organized in companies directed by politicians to attack the tribes. There was little control of the volunteers who indiscriminately murdered all of the Indian man and captured and imprisoned the women and children. They refused to abide by US federal laws and Palmer notes in the diary they refuse to turn over to him their prisoners, even though managing the tribes is his job.

An abridged version of the Diary is presented below, with some comments added.

Palmer Pocket diary for 1856, Palmer papers

Palmer here is completing the negotiation of the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855- Palmer had not gotten the signatures of some five tribes and in January of 1856 he is completing the negotiations with the Clatskanie and perhaps the other tribes “Ne-pe-chuck, Mountain and of Molalla, Chiwean Band of Santiam, Santiam Forks Band of Molalla”- see the Missing Pages essay.

1/29, Remained in office. Mr. Jennings and Smith having arrived with the Claskanine Indians, who have been sent for for the purpose of treating with.

1/30, Today we had a talk with the Clatskanines, several of the Clackamus, ten Twaltine Indians were present, as also the —- Bands. Continued council until one at night.

1/31, This morning the Indian again assembled and the treaty consummated and signed, and the goods given to the Indians. The Clackimus Indians returned home.

Were the Ne-pe-check being called Clackamas here- like they are a band of the Clackamas tribe? Its unclear what additionally is being negotiated as the Clackamas signatures went to Washington DC in January 1855.

Palmer now turns to the new encampments at the new Grand Ronde Indian reservation. The Umpqua Reservation tribes (S, Molalla, Upper Umpqua, Yoncalla Kalapuya, Cow Creek Umpqua) are some of the first to arrive.

2/2, went to Grand Ronde

2/3, Remained at Grand Ronde. Visited Indian encampment. Quite a number are sick.

2/4, returned from Grand Ronde

2/5, Spent the day in settling accounts with persons engaged in removing Indians from Umpqua, and answering letters. Sent two loads goods to Grand Ronde.

In the midst of the removal of the Umpqua Indians- the Mohawk and Spores band of Kalapuya arrives- it is unclear where they arrive to, maybe Palmer’s office in Dayton which was the main receiving station.

2/6, In the evening the Mohawk and Spores band of Indians arrived on the Steamer Enterprise from Corvallis, about 90 in number.

Palmer is settling affairs for the removal of the Umpqua Reservation tribes who arrived on February 2nd, and now moving on the the removal of the Table Rock Reservation tribes, the Rogue Rivers and others.

2/12, spent the day in writing letters and settling with Metcalf and other employees. W.W. Raymond remaining at the office so as to convey message and funds to G.H. Ambrose to defray expenses in removal of Rogue River Indians.

2/20, today distributed goods to Indians.

Palmer notes when the tribes gathered at Dayton are being transported to Grand Ronde.

2/22, Today the Indians started for the Grand Ronde in six wagons and 2 carts and about 80 horses belonging to the Indians.

Palmer is still at his office at Dayton, and receives the Northern Molalla, some Klamath, and the Ahantchuyuk Kalapuyans from the Abiqua reserve- which had been located at Crooked Finger Prairie.

2/23, today 17 Indians from Abiqua came. Issued 4 day’s rations of flour, 68 lbs. Pork, 68 lbs. sugar, 17 tea, 100 lbs. Potatoes, & 3 lbs. salt.

3/4, started home from Grand Ronde.

Previous to November 1855, there were a number of settlers in the Grand Ronde Valley, and Palmer and the military at Fort Vancouver negotiated to purchase their lands. All but two claims were purchased.

3/11, Appointed A.E. Wright agent to procure title to lands…. In Grand Ronde. Gave him six thousand dollars to take to Bla…

Palmer is now at The Dalles and elicits details of the arrangements for the removal of tribes to Warm Springs Reservation.

3/15, Thompson and Olney with chiefs had visited Warm Springs Reservation

3/16, Recieved a deputation from Deshoots Indians.

3/17, This Morning called on Col. Wright. Received order for 20 troops from Vancouver to meet and escort Indians to reservation. Held a council with all Indians in the vicinity. Made arrangements to remove them. Informed Col. Wright that one company would be stationed on reservation.

Palmer returns west and visits the bands at Oregon City. He likely answers questions about their removal which is to be soon.

3/21, Oregon City. In the evening had a council with Indians.

Palmer sets out to meet the tribes from the Table Rock Reservation, as they enter the Willamette Valley and proceed past a number of white settlements. Many of the settlers are not friendly to the tribes and Palmer wants to be there to ease the tensions and stresses.

3/23, This morning started to meet the immigrating party of Indians from Rogue River. Traveled to North Luckimauke, 38 miles.

3/24, This morning started and soon met the train. Returned with them to Dallas. Total no. 391 souls. Went from there to Salem, reaching it a 2 ½ pm.

3/25, remained in office writing letters. Indians remained to accompany me to the Grand Ronde. Obtained a surveyor to define boundaries of claims. Rogue River Indians reached the Reservation.

Palmer begins the process of assigning lands. Numerous entries note this but it is unclear if the tribes were really assigned land for farming or simply their encampment locations. The Hazen map of 1857 notes locations assigned to the tribes at the Reservation.

3/26, Started to Grand Ronde with Henry Sawyer and 5 Indian chiefs to examine reservation, and assigned tracts of land to Indians.

Palmer spends a good amount of time buying farming supplies, including milling supplies which his white staff begin assembling.

3/27, Bought 4 yokes oxen, 5 chains of Wm. Cosper for 450$. One wagon for 150$. Traveled over to Reservation. Some difficulty in arranging choice farms for chiefs and men.

3/28, Spent the day in traveling over & assigning farms to Indians.

An Emergency on the Columbia, The Cascades Massacre occurs and Palmer now must act quickly to save the rest of the tribes as settlers are bent on extermination of the remainder, regardless of their involvement.

3/29, Accompanied by Rogue River Chiefs, I returned home. Received telegraphic dispatch urging the immediate removal of all Indians at and around Oregon City. Sent in Jennings directing the same be done.

3/30, Started to Portland. Intense excitement caused by the massacre at Cascades. Resolutions had been posted by citizens to kill all Indians found about the place.

3/31, At Portland, threats made to kill any Indian seen. Lodged a complaint. Obtained warrant, but it could not be enforced. Public meeting… made explanations. Loud … talk existed. Went to Oregon City and held council. Indians agreed to go.

4/1, today returned to Portland.

4/3, Started from Portland…Left Oregon City… went to Canema

Palmer is purchasing supplies, his mention of a Ball alley is interesting, what might this be?

4/4, Came from Canema on Enterprise. Reached home at dark. Franklin arrived at 8 ½ pm with 317 Indians. Heavy Rain. Obtained the ball alley for use of Indians to lodge in.

4/7, Distributed materials for tents to Indians.

4/12, started for Portland to obtain coin for drafts and secure set mill irons for Reservation.

4/14, started on Enterprise from Canema. Reached home at ten A.M. Wrote letters to Genl. Wool asking for troops. Wrote letter to R. Newell & R.R. Thompson. Sent messenger to Vancouver with letters. Went to Grand Ronde. Arrived after dark. Find over 60 men in Rinearson’s company. Heavy Rains. Visited various Indian encampments— but few have land assigned to them.

Palmer hires a force of 60 white men to secure the boundaries of the Grand Ronde Reservation, to build a fence, and keep the whites from trying to exterminate the tribes on the reservation. The Grand Ronde Guard is only employed for about 1 month for most of the men, a few men continue for another couple months.

Mention of a School house on the reservation is new information. It was likely built for white children, now purchased, but there is no record of it being used for the Indian children? unless it is the Willamette school?

4/16, Received of R.B. Metcalf 32 lbs of tobacco and distributed the same to the Indians in Council help in school house on reservation. Visited Mr. Babcock and …. To purchase his claim but failed.

Babcock is one of the settlers who would not sell his claim.

4/17, today we defined the boundary line of Babcock’s claim and directed Capt. Rinearson to erect fence so as to leave it out of the reservation. Assigned land to Indians etc.

The Santiam tribes arrive, at Dayton, a small band led by Skookum John.

4/22, Schookem John and his band, consisting of 3 men and 5 women, 4 children, arrived from Santaam.

McKay was a well known Klikitat chief who lived off-reservation at St. Helens and even later at Dallas.

4/23, Tenas Mcky— 3 men, 5 women, 3 children, Clickitats, came from Shoholum. (Shoyolum with y typed over)

4/24, Remained in office. The Indians went to the Reservation in charge of C.M. Walker. Lt. Sheridan, with 9 Dragoons left here today for the Reservation.

Palmer’s meetings with General Wool continue. He asked for troop escorts but is generally refused.

4/26, Went to Portland on Jennie Clark. Walked to Vancouver. Saw Genl. Wool… could not obtain an escort for Warm Springs Reservation.

Palmer now begins to turn to Rogue River, he has several meetings with General Wool and eventually follows Wool to Port Orford to negotiate the end of the Rogue River Indian war.

4/27, Gen’l Wool informed me that it is a favorable time to negotiate a treaty of peace with Indians … Port Orford. Wishes my to go with him. I informed by letter that I could not go till next….

Most of the Grand Ronde Guard are released on May 7th or May 10th.

5/7, Paid Rinearson for advance to men under his charge 100.00

Palmer how travels to Port Orford and enters the war zone. There are a great many more details of his travels for a couple weeks but I have not transcribed everything. 

5/16, arrived in Port Orford… Nothing has been heard from Col. Buchanan for several days. All persons have abandoned the country from this place to Smith’s River. Found according to Olney’s reports 365 Indians on reservation.

5/17, Learned that John’s band at the mouth of Rogue River did not wish to fight and were willing to come in. … Today I held a council with the Indians at this place. The Chief Whiskus, says he did not suppose that he had to leave his country. That now he knows it, it makes his heart sick.

5/20, Cpt. Ord… report having seen George with 75 warriors.

5/24-5/26- travel to Rogue River (extensive detailed notes)

5/27, (Buchanan’s camp on Rogue River) all the bands with the exception of Old John’s had agreed to come in.

5/29, two squaws started for George’s camp, which they said was ten miles up the river. I desired for them to say to George… and their people that if they wanted peace, they must come and see me…

5/30, two messengers again sent to George… in the evening these messengers returned to camp and informed us that George and his people were coming in. I… met them one mile from camp and accompanied them in. They were w=then requested to give up their arms as an assurance of friendship. They cheerfully complied and brought forward 14 rifles and 6 revolvers.

Palmer details many problems with the Volunteers.

5/31, (indians encounter volunteers)

6/1,  I went out…soon came upon a party of volunteers hunting Indians…letter to  Majr Latshaw requesting him to turn over to me the Indian women and children retained by them as prisoners.

6/2, This morning an Indian came opposite our camp and commenced harangueing the village inside the sentinels. It proved to be Regota, who desired to come in, with his people, but had held back by the constant firing of volunteers. The Indian afterwards swam the river. Approached a party of squaws hunting roots, and then returning for his people. These men from the Cow Creek band came in this morning. Two of them were sent back after the chief and his people, promising to return tomorrow. Mr. Olney visited the volunteer camp and brought back a negative answer to my request asking the delivery of prisoners.

6/3-6/11, traveling, Indians coming in (good details), in camp 206 souls, 55% are warriors.

6/12, a census shows 431 Indians at Cpt Augur’s camp. The command was ordered to join Col. B’s camp, which was dome, and there had over 700 Indians, together.

6/14, reached Port Orford.

Palmer now turns to making transportation arrangements for the bands who have surrenders. Palmer accompanies the first 600 or so people transported to Grand Ronde.

6/15, (agreements to go to reservation by steamer)

6/16, I held a council with the Port Orford Indians…

The rumor mill is working overtime, but Palmer deals with it. A similar plan to arrest the chiefs was displayed by Joe Lane in 1850 when negotiating with the Rogue River people near Table Rock.

6/19, counciling with the Indians… rumor … that a plan was on foot to murder all my men, then soldiers, and then attack the town. I deemed it best to take charge of the Chiefs and keep them in custody till morning.

6/20, Chiefs were liberated early this morning, and I went with them to their camp. Their whole deportment indicated that the reports were groundless. I spent the greater part of the day in their camps. Great excitement among the people. It appears the business of many persons to cause alarm in order to retain the people in town.

Transportation of the people begin. This must have been a logistical nightmare and then the tribes clearly were not used to ocean travel.

6/21, The last night the steamer Columbia arrived at about 12 or 1. I visited the Indian camps so as to have them in readiness, and by 9 AM about 600 were on board. A convoy of troops were sent down, which delayed us until eleven oc. The Indians comprise portions of nearly all the tribes in South Oregon, but chiefly those friendly ones who have been, during the war, campt at Port Orford. Many are sick. They are very much crowded in the forward deck.

6/22, Today we crossed the bar [of the Columbia] at about 6 PM. The passage has been rather rough. The Indians suffered on account of sea sickness and being crowded up, and for want of proper covering and diet.

6/23, This morning at about 9 AM we reached … where we were detained about 2 hours. Paid for transferring baggage at Portland 1.00. Paid Blanchard 200$. He pays Chamberlin. Paid Blanchard 100.

6/26, paid Sambo an Indian 5.00.

Palmer here appears to be going directly to Grand Ronde. Comegy was a figure well known to the Yamhill tribes and his claim was south and west of Dayton

7/7, This morning the arrangements being ready, the Indian camp took up the line of march to the … (Grand Ronde?) Directions were given to take the road by Niseboa (?) Mill, and a person sent ahead as guide. But by design of teamsters and conductors, or some other cause, the train got separated. Twelve wagons taking the Cummeges (Comegys?) road, as also about one third of the Indians. The result was that most of the Indians were without blankets and cooking fixtures, not could we obtain beef for supper, but used flour alone.

7/8, This morning beef was slaughtered. 700 lbs distributed to Indians at 8 AM the train started on. The day was warm. We made crossing of Willamina.

7/15, Today goods designed for the coast band of Indians arrived, but not in time to do anything towards giving them out. We commenced separating them.

7/16, Today we commenced the distribution of goods, but did not complete it. A desire to obtain an accurate enumeration of the different bands, rendered it slow and tedious paying out the goods. One object was to ascertain the relative strength of the bands compared to the last census.

It remains to be determined if we have these census counts amount the Palmer papers?

7/17, Today we completed the distribution of goods, but not in time to start the train, although several teams were in readiness.

7/18, This day the entire encampment started for Grand Ronde. The teams reached & encamp at Mr. Comegus (Comegys) I passed on to Grand Ronde, reaching it at dark.

7/19, the day was spent in traveling over the farms, giving instructions what to do & settling difficulties with Indians, examining Mill frame, point of erecting mill dam, saw mill, etc.

It must have been slow going with the 600 or so Rogue Rivers, because they may be sick or injured due to the war, and they trauma of leaving their land and country had to be stressful. But they arrive at Grand Ronde.

7/20, Today the Indians arrived at Grand Ronde. Having trained during the night and nearly all day, and they mostly without tents, they suffered a good deal. All however, appeared cheerful. One birth and one death on the road.

Palmer begins his first reconnoiter to find a suitable location for the Agency headquarters of the Coast Reservation. He travels with Phil Sheridan who is the assigned officer to help with arrangements for the forts. 

7/21, all matters being in readiness, with Lieut. Sheridan, John Flett, and 12 Indians, I started for the coast over the … (wagon?) road (elk or Salmon river trail), designing to travel down the coast as far as Yo-quo-nah, and then across the mountain to the head of Celetz River, and thence to King’s Valley and Home. We left Grand Ronde 11 ½ AM, and reached the coast at 6 PM. Rained all day. Met returning teams from coast.

This Salmon River location is already occupied by the Nechesne Tillamook people, they are the tribe occupying the lodges found on the coast on this tribe. Later the Salmon River Encampment become a significant removal point for many tribes from the south and north. In the 20th century the location is renamed Lincoln City.

7/22, Spent the early part of the day in exploring a road and examining the entrance to Salmon River. On the afternoon started for and reached Celetz River. We were joined by 3 Indians and one squaw. Could not cross. Camped for the night, and as it is difficult crossing, we will be compelled to remain until tomorrow at 10 AM, low water.

Newport area.

7/23, The morning is pleasant. The time turned at sunrise, and when going out is very ….. We find here 3 lodges of Indians, 6 men 5 women and 7 children. At 7 AM accompanied by Lieut. Sheridan, I found a canoe and 2 Indians and traveled about 4 miles up the Celetz River. Bottoms low and too wet to cultivate, as far as we went. …. For grazing in summer. Returning to upper end of bay, we left canoe and crossed the sand ridge to the beach, and traveled down the coast 4 miles, where we overtook the party and traveled within 4 miles of Yoquna Bay and campt. At this point headlands make small bays, suitable for anchorage and discharge of freight from vessels.

Tribes encountered are likely the Yaquina and Siletz Indians.

7/24, This morning we packed up and proceeded to the bay, where we found one lodge of Indians. Saw others on the opposite side. We learned that an agent had been… several days on the opposite side of the bay, but had gone. Supposed to be E. P. Drew. I left here with Indian Jake a fine sein for the use of those Indians and packing parties, and also a letter for packers and then proceeded top Seletz River, which we reached at a distance of about 15 miles over a brushy but very good trail.

Palmer finds the location of the Siletz Valley and notes conditions.

7/25, today we swum our horses across Celetz river and with punchens from an Indian lodge, we constructed a raft and crossed. On the north side of this river is a brush prairie of about 1500 acres: several prairies passed along the trail. We went up the river for about 9 miles. A … of prairies, surrounded by mountains, well adapted for settling. Here will doubtless be a military post.

7/26, After examining the prairie which extend up the river over 2 miles, Lieut. and myself were on the trail at half past 8 AM. Having been preceded by the balance of the party, we rode until half past 5 PM quite steadily, making, we suppose, about 18 miles. The Trail now runs a part of the way over a high ridge, but may, I think, be opened up the … fork of the river. We followed to nearly the head of this fork, then passed over the divide to Yaquona and thence up a hill and struck the waters of Marys River. Our course has been nearly east. This route may be made a good wagon road.

They travel over the mountains to the northeast. Some historic information suggests Kings Valley may have been a removal point for some tribes.

7/27, This morning we started early. 6 miles we reached King’s Valley, on the south fork of the Luckemuke. Here we met Capt. Augur & Company, remaining 2 hours, then left. Proceeded to Dallas, where the party encamped, and I went home, reaching Dayton at one oc at night.

John Wachino- Clowewwalla

7/29, Paid Warchino

7/31, In this month there has been given to Indian 75 meals. Given to employees, teamsters, interpreters, etc. 62 meals.

8/14, There has been given to Indians this month 68 meals & to employees 27 meals.

Palmer begins the process of resignation from his office, he has a lot of unresolved issues to deal with taking days to address.

8/15, Having received notice by mail on the 11th by letter of Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the appointment of A. Hedges to the office of Supt. Ind. Affairs, this day I close my official duties and turn over to Mr. Hedges the public property.

8/16, Today Mr. Hedges assumed the duties of Superintendent Ind. Affairs desiring me to accompany him to Grand Ronde. I left home to introduce him to his new field of labor.

8/17, Today we were at the camp, visiting Indians in their lodges. Had an interview with Old John. In the afternoon preaching at the school house.

8/18, Today we held a council with the Rogue Rivers, So…s, Ca…tos, etc. They express a decided disapproval of the changes in affairs, and determination to move to other locations.

8/19, Today we returned to Dayton, reaching it at night. Mr. Hedges wishes me to settle with Mr. Flett & Wright and charge him the amount.

8/20, Settled with Mr. Flett. Was in office attending to unsettled business of which there is very much to do yet.

8/21, in office

8/22, in office

8/23, Having a quantity of articles belonging to the Superintendent at … and Portland , and a few unsettled accounts at Oregon City and Portland, I started down today to turn property over to hedges and close up accounts…

Hedges takes over the reign of the office. Palmer remains in the region and takes contracts and gives advice as he is a resource. He returns as an Indian agent at Siletz in about 1869 to 1871 or so.

Joel Palmer Papers, University of Oregon. (05 Jul 2023). Diary, 1856 Retrieved from

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