The 1867 Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde

In the 1860s the issue of education was at the fore of the duties of the Indian agents at Grand Ronde. Years of letters complained about irregular federal funding and support for this service to the tribes, a service supported by provisions in most of the ratified treaties. Still further Indian Agents were working to find ways to assimilate their Native charges, as this was the federal Indian policy of the time, but the agents did not have the federal support to have a sustained effort to get the natives converting to American culture. The school at Grand Ronde was operated by the Catholic Priest, Rev. Adrien Croquet, who surpervised an order of Sisters. They taught a mixture of regular subjects of reading and arithmatic, while also imposing upon the impressionable minds Catholic religious teachings. Education then was conceived of and operated as a two prong system of assimilation, educating the young people to become white Americans and devaluing Native culture.

The transription that follows suggests that the mission of assimilation and conversion to Catholicism was largely successful at Grand Ronde. John W. Wells, the Special Indian Agent encountered a population of some 300 people at the Saturday Council meeting, who did not like the Protestant teachers at the school and so would not send their children there. Walls asks for regular Catholic teachers so that the children may be educated faster.

The Manual Labor School at Grand Ronde is hinted at in numerous letters. Wells' account suggests that the school is in the Grand Ronde community, within Old Grand Ronde, likely situated somewhat close to St. Michaels Church, due to the education services provided by the Sisters. The school house described below which earlier letters state is of the "manual labor plan" is clearly that of a boarding school, with two lines of military bunks. The other type of school, a Day School, is operated much like public schools today with the students arriving in the morning and leaving at the end of the school day, but living at home. The "manual Labor plan" is really an immersion plan to quickly turn young Native students into civilized Americans. The sparcity of the building and its furnishings suggest that the students spent their time during the day, perhaps all day, grouped around the one large table listening to instruction and doing their work. At night all of the students slept in the same room. much to the consternation of Wells.

The conditions of the schoolhouse are particularly grim. A small unventilated space with little light.The space has a fireplace. The conditions suggest that the students would be suseptible to resperatory illnesses, perhaps flus, and pneumonia and perhaps molds, which can help grow resperatory problems, which in this period would have easily killed young people.

Wells seems particularly entranced by Homer, likely the 13 year old Homer Hoffer, an old tribal family. Homer was the best student of both reservations. His father was one of the original chiefs of the Oregon City Clackamas Clowewalla tribes.

"I found the school located in a small room, unventilated; dark; and humid; a stove in it without fire which the closeness of the room rendered unnecessary. A desk of the capacity in length to seat the scholars, stove at the end of the line or row of bunks like those used in barracks; opposite to which stood another row of bunks of like kind with room to pass between. This was all the accommodation for sleeping which I saw, and if it be all I should judge it an unfit place for the male sex alone. And if, the girls have sleeping apartments elsewhere, the eye rests nowhere upon these, or partitions, to convey the idea of an observance of the rule for the separation of the sexes; at least, in the daytime, before and after school hours. The narrow school room (with its bunks) appears located at the back of the sitting room of the family; these are at the side of a room of the length of both devoted to washing and cooking; this long room and the school room have the same damp, cheerless air; and from the location of these three rooms, it is impossible for the long room and the school room to receive that healthful ventilation in a sanitary point of view.

The repellant tone of the school-room was brought forcibly to my mind, on Saturday during the council I held with the chiefs. They told me that apart from their repugnance to the school which they had on account of their religion (they being Catholics) they, that is those of them who had children, would not send them to this school because they sickened and died after being there a few months. The reason for this mortality was patent to my mind while the chiefs were speaking; and I felt that what otherwise might be deemed their superstition, was alas a truth which physiological causes demonstrated!

The children did well in their exercises in spelling, reading and the first four rules of arithmetic; or, I should say the arithmetical branch of the exercises was engrossed by a small boy about 13 years of age, a son of the Chief of the Oregon City Tribe, named Homer (Homer Hoffer). They were not so proficient in singing as the scholars of “Siletz;” they sang no hymns at all, but on the contrary, a rude song called “Johnny” of low metrical character indeed the terms of which were not indelicate, but rather unrefined for youth. (the song could be "When Johnny Comes Marching


," a popular Civil war song)

These children evince remarkable aptitude to learn; but, as a whole, they are not I should think so proficient as those at “Siletz”; while I believe Homer to be the aptest and best scholar of all in both schools To show you their susceptibility to learn, and the progress which they have made, I herewith enclose the books of Homer after two years

Hooker, after odd spells of a year

Lincoln, the same

Susan Clarke, after 5 month tuition

George Washington, after 3 days

Geslie, the same

(these appear to be study books of the students, they would have kept them so they can study for tests. The books are not with the letter)

Which afford a practical test of the sufficiency of the system of the education of the Indian youth so happily founded by your Department and which you and your efficient coadjutors Mr. Mix and Mr. Watson have so much at heart.

On Saturday the 19th, I held a council with the chief at the office of the Agent;

… They say the school is repugnant to them for the reasons heretofore stated; and they wish their daughters placed in the charge of the Sisters, and their sons in that of a Teacher or Priest of their persuasion, being Catholic converts; and that this is a reason insuperable to them why they have never acknowledged the school.

They say they have no objection nor have they ever raised any, to the children of Protestant Indians being educated there; but have been subjected as Catholics in not having the benefit of the religious ministration and culture to which they are attached.

This subject is so easily solved under the 1st article of the Amendment to the Constitution, that it does not need the school and its paucity of numbers (with an education fund of 2200 dollars a year, assigned to the Grande Ronde Agency, productive of so trifling an amount of good with so much harm) to elucidate it.

… an appropriation be asked of Congress for this employee (teacher) at an annual salary of $1000.00.

With reference to the school system for Indian children as applicable to the Grand Ronde Reserve, I would respectfully recommend that a contract be entered into with the Rev. F.N. Blanchet, Archbishop of Oregon,… and that the usual facilities for the erection of a Mission and school houses, and buildings for the accommodation of the Sisters & teachers (common to those according to or enjoyed by the Protestant Societies) for the religious and mental training of the Children of Catholic Indian converts.

This done, apart from the unquestioned right under the Constitution to worship God, according to the dictates of their consciences, the Indians will no longer complain that in a few month after entering the school at Grand Ronde, their children die or have to leave with broken constitutions occasioned by maladies contracted there; a terrible truth unhesitatingly imparted to me by Mr. Clark the present Teacher of the Grand Ronde School; and new, plain, but commodious and well ventilated buildings, will prevent it." (Report of John W. Wells Indian Agent to The Superintendent of Indians Affairs 1/21/ 1867 RG75 m234 r615)

Another issue is mentioned at the near conclusion of the letter, that of the freedom of religion. Wells is most concerned that the Natives at Grand Ronde be free to have instruction in Catholicism, that they worship Gods based on their "Conscence". His definition of religious freedom appears to only concern Christian religions.  Ironically this conversion is a very recent phenomenon as the majority of the tribe resisted conversion from their native religions. In fact, many tribal leaders continued their tribal spirituality well into the 20th century despite all of the effort to convert them. It actually appears that the people at the reservation were still practicing their culture while they professed to be Catholic. Their protestations against the Protestants may actually be a protestation they had learned from their Catholic priest as there were minor political conflicts in this period between the Catholics and Protestants over access to Native peoples at reservations and control of the schools, which are the main conversion facilities.

The council meeting mentioned above has additional notes in Wells' report. He notes the leaders present and they are presented as the leaders of their respective tribes. They where,

Tom- Chief of the Rogue River band  (Likely Tyee Tom)
John- Chief of the Oregon City tribe (Homer's Father?)
Jake- Chief of the Cow Creek band  (Cow Creek Band of Umpquas)
Lewis- Chief of the Umpquas & Calapooias   (Upper Umpqua and Yoncalla Calapooias)
Billy- Chief of the Calapooias       (Willamette Valley Calapooias- could be southern tribes)
Peter- Chief of the Umpquas       (another Umpqua tribe? or same as above, tribes normally have more than one chief)
Joseph Hutchins Chief of the Saint Ams    (Santiam Band of Calapooias)
Joseph Sangareto- Chief of the Marysvilles  (Marys River or Chapinafu)
Quackety- Chief of the Molels       (likely Southern Band of Molalas)
Tom, Sub chief of the Calapooias     (Willametet Valley Calapooias)
Peter the Yamhill Chief            (Peter Kenoyer- here the Acount could be mistaken at Peter is Tualatin)
Exceptions being Dave, Jake, Kilkie, and Wacheno (not being present) (John Wacheno- Oregon City Chief)

January 21, 1867 Report on Grand Ronde, John W. Wells to Superintendent of Indian Affairs, RG75 M234, r615
Report on Indian Affairs 1863, Oregon Superintendency report

Redskins Etc. as Racial Stereotypes

Native peoples of the America were thought of in early philosophy as being Red Indians, fitting perfectly into a color wheel of peoples of the earth, White people being from Europe, Black people being from Africa, Brown peoples being from the Mediterranean and surrounding regions, Yellow people being from Asia, and Red people being the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. This was common thought in European philosophy that predated the creation of anthropology and most other social sciences (I don’t have the references, just go with this for now). Anthropology was not really borne until the 1850s with Anthropologists like Lewis Henry Morgan writing books about Indians. Morgan developed a version of Social Darwinism by placing different civilizations into a top down model of development. Native peoples were barbarians, at the lower level of Morgan’s model, while Europeans, i.e.: Western Civilization was of course at the highest level of “civilization.” Because of this, I have taken to writing about the Kalapuyan civilization in several of my essays, a prod at Morgan and his ilk, and a way to caste the Kalapuyans in a new light which helps enable rethinking much of what we know about Kalapuyan peoples’ culture and lifeways. Many anthropologists today accept that there is no such thing as a hierarchy of human civilizations, that these notions were created well before scientists or really anyone have a universal vision of the different cultures of humanity, and that they are severely biased towards the culture, society, and context of the creator of the paradigms. As such there are simply different cultures of humans in the world, none better that any others, some have advantages over others, privileges that are hard to defeat for those who do not have privileges. White privilege, male privilege, wealth is privilege, religion can be a privilege, and culture itself can be a privilege.

Within this reality, our American culture (also a privilege) continues to use pejorative terms for Native peoples without pause. The most egregious word is Redskins, but words like squaw, Indian, metis, siwash, redmen, brave, chief, tipi and even Rez or reservation can be racial slurs depending on how they are used, and who uses them. The racial slur of any of these words is in how it is used, the context, which is normally in conjunction with a racial stereotype. There are perfectly acceptable ways to use most of these words, without using them as a racial slur. But the use of many racial stereotypes about Native people is part of the privilege of otherAmericanss, most of whom know nothing about Native people, take no responsibility for the use of the terms, think that they are somehow honoring Native peoples, and would not accept similar racial stereotypes about Blacks, Asians, or Latinx peoples because they are considered racist.

An example of the use of Rez as a slur, is when people ask how far you have to travel from the rez? They are assuming that you like all other Natives live on a reservation, rather than living in an American town. Many people have these assumptions, even though close to 70 percent of all Native peoples do not live on their reservation, if they have one. But most people, American know nothing of Native peoples, only what they have seen on TV, in the Movies, or read in a history book. The “Rez” word is even used quite a bit in movies and on TV. I have been hearing the phrase “off the rez” in numerous Hollywood produced shows as a common phrase. It means that someone is outside of where they are supposed to be, like Native peoples are supposed to be living on a Rez, and not living In American society like “regular Americans.” I take it back; the word should never be used by non-native people.

The words “Indian” and “Indians” is another stereotype of Native peoples. I think we are all clear now that Columbus created the term in reference to “los Indios” (Spanish for Native people) he encountered in the Caribbean. Many scholars and students now decry the use of “Indian” and “Indians” because it is a non-descriptive generalization of who we are as Native peoples. There are some 1000 or more tribes, cultures of Native peoples in the Americas and there is nothing in common except what land masses we live on. We all have unique names for ourselves. So, there is no “Indian culture” there are not “Indian people.” There are people native to their lands, or Native peoples, Indigenous peoples, First Nations, American Indian, and Native American peoples are most acceptable generalizations. Some people have problems with these phrasings too. There are proper ways to address Native peoples in context as well. Legal and political contexts use Native Americans, as parts of laws. Older scholarly programs and use American Indians, but the trend is now turning to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous Peoples. Historians really must use the word “Indians” in context of the historic era they write about so that they do not alter history. Altering or washing history of the word “Indian” would do a disservice to all peoples who need to understand the racial and political contexts of Native peoples of all eras. By the way I am Kalapuyan, Chinook and Takelman, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and not simply an “Indian.”

There are many terms that are based on poor knowledge of Native cultures. Many people still assume that Native people grow up in Tipis, and are not aware that not all tribes had a tipi, but it’s a housing structure for peoples of the plains and Plateau and Great Basin but not the Northwest Coast or many other Native culture regions. Similarly, the word chief is a serious problem. I have been called “Chief” by people I have known for several years. They do not even know what they are doing. A chief is a well-respected leader of a tribe that’s is chosen by the people and normally maintains they status their whole life. The casual use of “Chief” in public is really shocking, and I have heard it a lot. I have seen in used in movies and TV and at those times it is shocking. My best retort is now, “How did you know?”

Redskin is a term with direct reference to genocide. The context of its use, was in the American West, when colonization and settlement was occurring, the white Americans wanted to remove the tribes from the lands and resources they wanted as their own. The tribes were not too happy with an invasion of the White men, some called literally “Whitemen” who disregarded the previous long-term presence of the tribes, ignored tribal laws, denigrated tribes as savages and heaths, and indiscriminately killed any Native people, men, women, and children simply because they were in the way of settlement or gold mining. Tribes upset that all of their lands and resources were being taken away, or plowed under, began seeking retribution, by stealing from the settlers, and sometimes killing them in an attempt to maintain their sovereignty and/or drive these newcomers away. Some ten years into settlement in Oregon and all of the best lands were claimed in the Willamette Valley leaving nothing for the tribes. Settlement and creating farms on former tribal lands plowed under root crops and fenced off whole prairies so that the tribes lost valuable food sources.

By 1850 the tribes in the most settled regions were starving as they were unable to put up enough winter stores of preserved and dried foods, and most settlers refused to share their food with savages, so many tribal people began to steal to survive. Then settlers upset that their “property” was being stolen passed laws which allowed voluntary militias to take retribution on tribes for bad behaviors and recoup their losses of supplies and expenses for their campaigns from state and territorial funds. In this manner, hundreds of tribes were attacked and nearly or completely wiped out because a horse was stolen or a cow was taken to feed the tribe. There was not a trial, there were no authorities issuing warrants to bring thieves to justice in a court system, the militias simply killed whole villages, men, women, and children. And if there were captives taken, many would not survive to be taken to a fort. This was genocide of entire populations of tribes. Tribal peoples had no standing in the American court system and many judges would not allow them to testify so there was never a way to hold the militias accountable for murders.

Several states and territories allow the members of militias and regular Americans to collect bounties on Redskin scalps as proof of their work. California and Oregon are famous for this. But the federal government also allowed “depredation” claims from Americans who would claim that they had lost property to Indians, and so they could get paid for their losses to tribes. There was no similar process for tribes. Tribes could not claim that Americans had taken their lands and resources and get paid back for encroachments and squatting by Americans on tribal lands. They could not take murder or rape charges to an American court for the actions of gold miners against their people. The context of the Redskin phrase then is deep within the United States history of Manifest Destiny, and state-sponsored colonization, and genocide of tribal land and peoples. Redskins today most people only know as a NFL football team, but for Native peoples it represents genocide of our people, and the colonization of our lands and our loss then of sovereignty and the resulting history of losses and federally sponsored mistreatment which has gone on for some 180 years.

The rules for using these terms shift when tribal people use them. Words like “Indian” and “skin” are common on reservations and in native communities. Native people have essentially owned the terms and use them for their own purposes. In most Native communities among community members there are no outlawed terms, and these are not even issues. Academically educated Native peoples and allies though have studied and know the origin of the terms and are generally more conscious and pickier about the use of such pejorative terms.

The Trials of Tom Gilbert, Convicted of Murdering Wapato Dave and Ponomapa.

On November 28th, 1882, Tom Gilbert, a native man enrolled in the Grand Ronde tribe allegedly murdered fellow Grand Ronde Reservation inhabitants Wapato Dave Yatskawa and his wife Ponomapa on their allotment on the Grand Ronde Reservation. Gilbert was reportedly drunk and had traveled from Willamina, and reportedly attacked the two with a hatchet, nearly severing their heads. He also attacked their son Indian Dave cutting him in the hand, but he escaped, Testimony from Indian Dave indicated that after Wapato Dave was mortally wounded he told his son to leave the house and go get help.

Tom Gilbert was then arrested by the Grand Ronde police, who had him jailed in suspicion for the crime. He was indicted on December 8, 1882. He was then taken to the Polk County Jail in Dallas and remained there for three trials in the Circuit Court and one in the Oregon Supeme Court (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908).

Wapato Dave was Dave Yatchekawa (various spellings), a leader, a chief of the Wapato Lake, or Tualatin Kalapuya tribe. He had signed treaties for his people and was a well-respected leader at the reservation. Tom Gilbert was the half-brother to Stephen Savage, part of a clan of native people who had lived in the Upper McKenzie River area of the southern Willamette Valley. The family included relations with the Halo family of Yoncalla Kalapuyans, the Hudson family of Santiam Kalapuyans, and the Tufti family of Molallan peoples. The family was of mixed tribal heritage, Kalapuya, Umpqua, Molalla and likely Wasco who had been split up and removed to two different reservations, Grand Ronde and Warm Springs. The family genealogy has an essay on this site.

Witnesses were native people from the Grand Ronde Reservation who were summoned by the court to testify. They were H. C. Rowell, David Yatskawa, John Schallor, Jake Wheeler, E. F. Hussey, Jo Apperson, Susan Wheeler, Jim Foster, George Sutton, Gov. Woods, Cowles, Baltice Jaundra, and Dan Watchena,

On January 12th Gilbert was found guilty of murder in the first degree. There were five jury ballots were taken, the first four the vote was 11 guilty to 1 not guilty. The fifth ballot was unanimously guilty. Gilbert had been defended by Messrs. Daly & Butler. Indian Dave, the son, was the only eyewitness to the testify against Gilbert and he had been wounded by Gilbert (Polk Co Itemizer 1/13/1883). The article went on to describe Gilbert as a well-to-do Indian who could speak English well.

Gilbert, at his sentencing, is quoted stating, “I am going to hang. I did not kill Dave and his wife. If I had killed them, now I am going to hang, anyhow, I would not tell a lie about it. God knows whether I killed them. The boy killed them, and they swear against me to save the boy from hanging. The boy killed another boy once… It will be found out who killed Dave and his wife, but I hang for it. It will do me no good then.” He spoke very earnestly and gestured with his left hand, occasionally placing it on his breast. During the delivery, there was a deep hush, and the audience was standing. The prisoner’s earnest manner made an impression on the hearers and caused some persons to express a doubt as to his guilt. The judge pronounced that he would be hung on March 1st, 1883 (Polk County Itemizer 1/20/1883).

In fact, Indian Dave had been charged with killing a boy in 1879. Indian Dave and another from Grand Ronde went hunting and a couple days later the dead body of the companion was found in the forest. Indian Dave was arrested and spent some time in the Grand Ronde jail but claimed that the other boy had shot himself. The police stated that circumstances indicate a premeditated murder and that he be held for trial (Corvallis Gazette 2/21/1879). It is clear that he was not held long in jail, and was out in 1882. The next newspaper account is a case review in 1885, which does not reveal any details (Indian Dave V State, Curry Co. Circuit Court Calendar, Coast Mail 6/4/1885 (this may be a different Indian Dave)).

The Polk County itemizer (1/20/1883) also described Gilbert’s appearance. He was “exceedingly ill-favored, his forehead being very narrow across the top, caused from Compression which it received when an infant” (skull deformation). “His eyelids droop over his eyes, giving him a sinister expression, Yet when he was making his speech the emotion caused by the imminence and horror of his fate, humanized his face.” Clearly, the cultural skull deformation Gilbert had, caused some racist feelings on behalf of the white Americans, so much so that he was de-humanized to them by his appearance.

After sentencing, Gilbert’s attorney took the case to the Oregon Supreme Court due to confusion about which crime he was charged with. He won the challenge and on May 14th the Supreme Court declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial. The new trial in May ended with a hung jury. The next chapter of his case ended in December 1883 when he pleaded guilty to Manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in jail and a fine of $100 (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908).

The intrigue continued in the Polk Itemizer newspaper, likely because this was a fairly large case for such a small town. On January 27th the story of Tom Gilbert “The Doomed Indian” included a visit to the jail of an Indian from Grand Ronde. They “”told him that an Indian, Jimmy John, had said to the latter’s father that Gilbert was going to hang for nothing and that he (John) knew who committed the murder. John has left the reservation and cannot be found. Gilbert says his friends are hunting for him. He was asked: “Are you afraid to die!” He smiled, and said he could not tell yet; it was more than thirty days yet till the day of execution; he couldn’t say whether he would be afraid or not. “I am going to hang,” he continued, and I can’t help it.” “Do you get lonesome here?” he was asked. “Oh yes,” he replied, with a sigh that expressed more than his words. The prisoner said he was thirty-eight years old, and, from a boy, had never done any mischief. He earnestly protested his innocence of the crime for which he is to suffer the dearest penalty” (Polk Co. Itemizer 1/27/1883).

The following letter from the Indian Agent at Grand Ronde, P.B. Sinnott, states many of the details of the case.

United States Indian Service
Grand Ronde Agency
29th January, 1884
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter C – 4041-4839– 1883 – 18787 – 1882 dated March 15th 1883.

Replying thereto you are informed that in the Case of the State of Oregon vs. Tom Gilbert an Indian belonging to Grand Ronde Reservation who was indicted by the Grand Jury at the November term of the Circuit Court for the County of Polk State of Oregon, charging him, Gilbert, with the crime of murder and by the malicious killing of Wapato Dave and his, Dave’s, wife Indians belonging to this Agency – and further charged that the crime was committed on Grand Ronde Reserve. The Grand Jury found two separate indictments one for the killing of Dave and one for the killing of Dave’s wife. The Defendant was duly —, and the Attorney for Gilbert filed a Motion to Dismiss the indictment for want of jurisdiction. Upon submitting the question of jurisdiction the court overruled the Motion  To Dismiss, and held that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction.

The Defendant Gilbert was then placed upon his trial. The result of the trial was a verdict by the jury of guilty of murder in the first degree. Upon this verdict the Court sentenced Gilbert to be hanged on March 1st, 1883.

The attorneys for Gilbert now made the discovery that the Records fail to disclose which of the two indictments the defendant was tried and convicted under. They succeed in getting a stay of judgment and carried the case on appeal to the Supreme Court, upon both the question of jurisdiction and upon the error of the Records. Whether Gilbert’s attorneys pressed the question of jurisdiction before the Supreme Court so as to secure a ruling of that court upon the question I do not know, but the Supreme Court sustained them on the question of error in the Records and remanded the Case to the Circuit Court for a new trial.

Gilbert’s Attorneys now abandon all legal technicalities and made a powerful effort to save this man by a verdict of acquittal by the jury. The result of the second trial was a disagreed jury; 11 for conviction 1 for acquittal. The case went over till the last term of Court – (December last) when the Defendant was by the agreement of counsel allowed to plead guilty to Manslaughter and was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and be confined at hard labor in the State Penitentiary one year.

This is the first case on this North West Coast where one Indian was tried in the State Courts for the killing of another Indian on an Indian Reservation.
Most Respectfully
Your Most Obedient Servant
P.B. Sinnott
U.S. Ind. Agent


In early December 1908, Tom Gilbert died by falling drunk from his horse into the Yamhill River. The newspaper description is very strange with deep details. ” His clothing caught on a snag, and he was unable to extricate himself. When found his head and feet were out of the water but this is accounted for as happening after rigor mortis set in” (Polk Co. Itemizer 12/3/1908). He did not drown but instead died of the exposure in the icy river. “There was no water in his lungs so his death could not be attributed to drowning, and there were no marks of violence on his body. The clay bank in front of him was scratched and torn where his fingernails had slipped through the moist earth in a vain effort to hold, as the limber branches dragged him back into the water after each fruitless effort to climb out… He had repeatedly attempted to clear himself from the entangled vines until his strength became exhausted and he was dragged back and held irresistibly in the icy water and slowly chilled to death.” Two of his nephews at the inquest attributed his death to foul play. (Polk Co. Itemizer 2/1/1908).

Tom Gilbert was 65 at the time of his death and he left a wife, Lucinda, and several children.


Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter #2572,  Written Jan. 29, 1884 at Grand Ronde Agency by P. B. Sinnott, Agent. Transcript by Heather Ulrich.

Trial and Case information from the Polk County Circuit Court (case # 479) and Oregon Supreme Court files (#1463) is archived at the Oregon State Archives in  Salem. Thanks to the OSA staff for their help finding the case files.

Agent McClane struggles with Native Culture, Grand Ronde 1886


Into the last decades of the 19th century the Indian agents at Grand Ronde struggled with many aspects of assimilating the tribes to American culture. In fact, there was a meeting in 1871 in Salem, at the First Methodist Church with all the tribal leaders in Oregon to convince them to given up their Indian doctors and begin accepting white doctors. The tribal culture, however was persistant, and when the federal government fail to help the tribes for more than 20 years, without funding and effective services, the tribes had really no reason to convert to white American culture. The other culture described is that of the Potlatch. It common in the region for families to hold a giveway when a member of the family dies. There is a cultural purpose to this, and a way of healing.

Hon. John H. Oberly
Indian School Superintendent
Washington DC

I herewith have the honor to submit my reply to yours of April 8 – 86 on Education.

1. Fifty-five (55) are at the present time accommodated at the school.

2. The probable average for the next fiscal year will be seventy (70) attendance.

Since writing the above have received authority from the Hon. Secretary of the Interior to make the necessary repairs of School building, which when done will accommodate the pupils with good healthy sleeping apartments. At present they are overcrowded and in my opinion detrimental to the laws of health. (yes this is the boarding school, with sleeping accommodations)

3. Twenty-five acres have been plowed, same being sewed down with timothy wheat and good oats. The Agency oxen has not heretofore been used for farming purposes and in consequence of their not being broke, an Indian was employed by me to drive and break them into the work, which was done for three (3) days. After this the School boys took them in hand and performed the work quite manfully. They are now engaged in planting from eight (8) to ten (10) acres of vegetables. Some of the boys complained that heretofore they were not worked while attending school but became reconciled when told it was ordered by the Government. When not in school they are employed in the garden or upon the farm or doing chores. There are three (3) boys learning trades, (two blacksmithing and one carpentry). Only two receive pay, namely one apprentice blacksmith, and one apprentice carpenter. The girls receive instructions from the Sisters of the order of St. Benedict (Catholic) in vocal and instrumental music, sewing, dressmaking, tailoring, cooking, washing, ironing and general housework.

4. From thirty-five (35) to forty (40) acres has been cultivated this year. And with the same kind of help I can increase this to one hundred acres this coming year. I propose to do this by school children. To improve this one hundred acres I will have to take land belonging to the Agency which has been used by the Indians for several years free, the Government receiving no rent for the same. The men using this land are in good condition and do not need it, having sufficient of their own to answer their present wants. If, however, it became necessary I could accommodate them with other land outside the Agency farm. I do not expect to work the Agency farm proper unless I am ordered to do so by you. I propose to [do] all the work for the school by employees and children.

5. The positions needed and the salary for each position are a principle lady teacher, Sister Placida, at a salary of four hundred and fifty ($450.00) dollars per year; assistant and industrial male teacher Paul Fundman at a salary of four hundred dollars per year, a matron and seamstress , Sister Sophia, at a salary of three hundred and twenty-five per year, a cook and laundress, Sister Girvasia (?) at a salary of three hundred and twenty-five ($325.00) per year. I hereby recommend the above named persons for the next fiscal year at the salary affixed [to] their names. I am well pleased with the manner in which the school is conducted and the good treatment of the children under the sisters care. (note Catholic sisters provide much of the instruction, so both educational and religious instruction in a boarding school)

I desire to state the worst thing I have to contend with is the Indian doctors in regard to the school – principally women doctors. They are very anxious to doctor the Indians and impress them with the belief that they (the “doctors”) are the only ones who can perfect a cure. When the Indian children are taken sick the Indian doctor who is employed make the statement that some other Indian “doctor” has made them sick at the school by performing the “Te-man-i-mus” [ceremonies, or sacred acts] while eating with the children at the table. This “Te-man-i-mus” which they propose to make is the same as what we understood as witchcraft long years ago. They pretend to have the power, by throwing their breath on any Indian man, woman or child, although that person may be ten feet from them, and can kill then on the spot, or make them sick for a period of weeks and then die.

You can perceive how absurd this doctrine is but not withstanding, there are very few of the full blood or half breeds but what believe it to be a fact. They have carried this so far that the Indians have settled, and named one of the Indian women “doctors”.  And the statement is made that this woman sat down, at the same table to eat, by invitation and made the “Te-man-i-mus” at the time so that many girl pupils were taken sick with what appeared to be a contagious disease, so much so that I was obliged to close the school for a short time. Three of the girls taken sick have died and one is still sick. The other pupils are well. Since learning these statements I have conversed with the sisters on the subject and found that this woman “doctor” did eat at the table with these girls and they appeared to be afraid of her, and found further from the sisters they were annoyed considerably by Indian women coming there to eat and I concluded and did make a general order that none of the Indian women should eat there which has been carried out, and further still, ordered that certain Indian “doctors” shall not be allowed to enter the school building so as to satisfy the superstition of the Indians not withstanding its so absurd.

There is another habit they have been accustomed to is to their down or burn up their house when one of the family die in the house. This I have effectually stopped through the vigilance of the Police, and think in time I can eradicate the other evil.

Another evil exists that has been practiced by Indians. When a member of the family die, of giving to their friends and allowing them to carry off everything they have got, even to their provisions, bedding, horses, in fact all their property, making themselves perfectly poor and miserable. They continued this after I came here at first, but as I learned of it I made them make restoration of the property and ordered my Police to watch over the sick and prevent the practice, and I believe I have succeeded in doing so, and I believe the Indians like my course in that respect. I do not anticipate any great trouble in eradicating those evils by using a great deal of vigilance and watching [by] my Police.

J.B. McClane,
U.S. Indian Agent

Fault at not getting the tribes to trust white American ways is solely on the whites who failed for so long to live up to their promises. Then continued mistreatment for years built up lots of resistance to white culture. Many of these cultural proactices today are making a revival in the community as the community learns to work with one another. Trust for other tribal families is still a big problem.

Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter 12695

Complete Transcript: Written at Grande Ronde Agency on April 28, 1886 by J.B. McClane, Agent

Selquia’s Charges Against Indian Agent McClane At Grand Ronde


Some letters from the Natives at Grand Ronde are remarkable in the details they reveal of how the people are being treated by the Indian Agents. Shilequa’s (Selquia) letter of 1888 is one such letter, describing in great detail, and with awareness of the likelihood that the Agent is breaking the rules, of many of the acts the agent is taking to enrich himself and take advantage of Indian labor on the reservation. The letter’s frank character also suggests that Selquia is not afraid of consequences of his letter, should the agent get wind of it. Selquia was a leader of the Wapato Lake tribe at the reservation, also called the Tualatin Kalapuyans.

Coversheet: Makes certain complaints against Agent McClane.

Grand Ronde. Polk Co. Oregon
April 5th 1888
To the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Washington. D.C.

Dear Sir,

I will now take pain as to write to you these few lines in order to ask you a few questions about our Agent’s duties to do here. That is something I want to know. Now I will tell you he has sold one yoke of oxens which belongs to the department for which he got the value of about ninety dollars. And it was one of the very best pair of oxens we had on this reservation and that this could be proved. And also I want to know about this wagon timbers that layed (sic) out all winter in the rain and during the snow. We had here the snow [that] last four weeks and most of this timber [has] been destroyed. That could be proven also by [a] good many citizens. And another thing also. I want to know [is] about him raiseing (sic) a great lots of potatoes here and sell it. He has sold the amounts of 30 bushels for sure. That could be proven also. And again I want to know weather (sic) he has the right to have his work done here. He has bought him a buggy wheeles (sic) and axles and tires and make these employees to go to work and put it up for him and use some irons that belongs to the goverment (sic) and leave the poor Indians work [to]  one side.

And I have to do his work first and we be left behind weather (sic) we need our work done right off [or not]. But still he makes us wait untill (sic) he has his buggy put up and after the wheeles (sic) is fitted on. Well now next is to have it painted. Well he goes and tell[s] the Miller Barton Trollinger to paint his buggy and that could be proven also. And another thing I would like to ask you [is] weather (sic) he has [the] right to do such thing like he has done. Well he had his soninlaw (son-in-law) here stoping (sic) with him for sometime doing kind of a work half done around the Agency. This man was from Salem. Well the time he went to Salem J.B. Maclane orders up one of the employees to take his soninlaw (sic) back to Salem with the goverment (sic) teem (sic) while he had his horses in the stable all winter doing nothing. Well so this poor employee had to go. It took him 3 ½ days to go [there] and back while this [same] man had all the work he could do here without him sending this man out side. It [is] because he is an Agent he makes these employees do what he pleases.

And also I want to know weather (sic) he has [the] right to make the school boys plow and plant his potatoes. He is doing the same thing that could be proved today. And also, about him geting (sic) milk from the school. He has been geting (sic) ever since he was here. That could be proved also. Another thing I will tell you some boys have done mischief here lately. Our Agent seem not to care for this matter. There was a young man [who] made a complaint to him one day about another man getting a way with his wife. This young man came before him [the agent] to make his report to do something to the man [who] got his wife. Maclane refuse to take the complaint and so this young man could not get help from nobody, so he give it up. I think myself that this is very wrong for not helping us. I should think that our Agent was here to correct every one of us weather (sic) wright (sic) or wrong. When a little trouble is to be decided it depends a good deal on him how he feeles (sic).

It seems that he does not care for us no more than dogs. Some people will think a good deal of their dogs but him he says what Indians knows. Indians do not know nothing. I know you will not receive my word but still I’ll let you know what I think is we are here mistreated under J.B. Maclane. While the Inspector Gardiner was her presented he told us what ever is not right here with our Agent for us to write over W.D.C (to Washington DC). Some of us young man that can write and so we are doing. And also I will tell you with the honest[to] God fact about this.

Those Indians policemen that you have here are not fit to keep office no more than [the] one writing this paper. It is a shameful for them to do the way the (they) have been doing all the time. They have been drinking very heavy this year. Captain Frank Qunell [Quinell], Henry Winslow, William Sims [could be Simmons], John Wacheno. Captain Qunell [Quinell] had a good excuse last year. [He] stated that he took some wine which he made himself out of elderberries but this year he change his mind. He thought [it would] be better [to] take strait (sic) whiskey. J.B. Maclane knows very well about this but still he let it rip. He is a good friend with Captain [Qunell]. We are all sick of this business. We wish you would make a change to thing. Lots [of] young men that can read and write can keep law book[s] as well as any of those drunkard. That is the way one of these police broke his legs. John Wacheno. By being drunk.

I hope you will take confidents (sic) in us as to step forward and see to us in our need and please give us a reply some way or give our Agent a little lesson so we will try to get [a]long a little better. I will be much thankful to you if you try and see to us on what we are imposed on. This few lines send by one of your poor Indian suffering soul. We all hope to succeed in our request.

From your very respectully Indian

Jim Shilequa

note The following seemed to have been added as a postscript to the above letter:

Also attention on this charges I have against our Agent Sir I will now tell you again about those cattles (sic) that belong out side. The (they) have been runing (running) here for [a[ long time. I have told my Agent to tell these mens that own these to keep them out from this reservation but still he dont (sic) seem to care for and also I have lost one heafer (heifer) on account [of] him not doing his duty and also I will tell you about these cattles (sic) done lots of damages here all the time but still he dont (sic) care and also when inspector gardiner was here[he]  told our agent to see about these cattles business but after inspector gardiner lift (left) here he said I dont (sic) have to do what he says. I can do my pleases. He is not runing (sic) my business. I runing my own business just what he always say. So we cant do nothing with him. I [want] to know also weather (sic) he has [the] right to sell some gardens seed here. He has sold [a] good many that I can prove by the parties that bought the seed. Also I will now state that [I] have made report once before to the U.S. offices in portland (sic) about these cattles here runing (sic) in this reservation. The (they) told me if I can get the agent to sign it before the (they) can take the complaint but he wouldnt (sic) so I cant do nothing. Well, Commissioner I desire you would send inspector to see about these charges that I have to tell you now.

From Yours respectfully

Jim Shilequa

The lack of respect of the agent toward the resources of the agency is a serious problem. The Natives have learned to be careful with their resources because not much was going to be provided them by the federal government. McClane appears to be monetarily benefitting from the position, selling off a good team of oxen, and selling potatoes, and this too is wrong. The Natives were completely under the power of Agent and some 3000 miles form Washington, D.C. so there was no effective oversite of the reservation. Then, by allowing the police to get away with bad behavior the agent then engages them in his illegal actions and they are more apt to look the other way. Liquors were specifically outlawed on reservations and was one of the only ways people could make money at the same time. Many tribal people would make wines, ales, and liquors on their farms and sell it in neighboring towns just to be able to buy basic necessities, as well as aid in the reservation alcoholists’ tendancies. Since state police could not come into the reservation, there was no  one to stop the Indian police from doing what they wanted.

Its remarkable in 1888 for a Native person to communicate in this manner, a very brave and selfless act, where he could have and very likely did face retribution and retaliation.

Southwest Oregon Research Project Letter # 10028/88

Indian Letter. Written at Grand Ronde Indian Reservation on April 5, 1888 by Mr. Jim Shilequa.



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