When the Southern Molallas Moved to the Umpqua Reservation

In October 1855, Joel Palmer, Indian Superintendent for Oregon established the Umpqua Reservation in the inland Umpqua Valley. The September 19, 1853 Treaty with the Cow Creek Band of Umpquas created a temporary reservation along Cow Creek (subject of future essay) until they could be removed to a permanent reservation. On Nov. 29,1854 a treaty was written with the Yoncalla Kalapuyans and Upper Umpqua tribes who also lived in the Umpqua valley. Then on December 21st,  1855, Palmer wrote the final treaty of his career with the Molalla tribe situated in the foothills of the Cascades Range also within the area of the Umpqua Valley. A portion of the Molallas or Southern Molalla band of Molalla Indians had been removed to the Umpqua Reservation in November 1855 where in December Palmer met with them and completed the treaty.

In October and November 1855, Indian Agents were working to remove the tribes of the Umpqua Valley to the Umpqua reservation to stem any violence between Natives and white settlers, violence like which was already erupting in the Rogue River valley just south of the Umpqua Valley. (That the tribes were not already on the Umpqua reservation suggests that the reservation may have been a response to the war on the Rogue River. Additional work on figuring out the origins of the Umpqua reservation need to occur.)

Macgruder writes on November 7th 1855:

I proceeded to work and have collected as many of the Umpquas as I can get. The number of which is two hundred and eighteen of all sexes and thirty five Molallas or Klamaths which live in this valley,…

The removal of the Molallas was not something that he was ordered to do by Palmer. Macgruder had taken this action without direction and so in his letter he then requests Palmer’s help with the legality of his actions.

I am very anxious to hear from you to learn as to the legality of my proceedings in regard to the Molallas or Klamaths, as there is a very great expense incurred every day in procuring provisions for them.

This letter is the first time Palmer had heard of a tribe of Molallas in the Umpqua Valley. Palmer hurries down to the Umpqua Reservation to write the final treaty of his career. Palmer’s letter of January 9 1856 reports on his journey, the extremely rough inclement weather which he braved to get this treaty completed. Palmer was delayed in his return due to high snow, but throughout his time in Oregon he proved to be cast of the mold of the mountain man as exhibited in his numerous travels through the mountains during any season.

The trip to the Umpqua reservation was performed through one of the severest storms that I have ever experienced in Oregon. We reached that point on the evening of the 17th (12/17/1855) where I found nearly three hundred Umpquas Calapooias Cow Creeks & Molallas, under the charge of Theophilus McGruder Sgr. (Palmer 1/9/1856)

Palmer found that the Natives were living in extreme weather conditions, with much sickness through the camps. Palmer’s analysis of the causes is extremely accurate.

The census of this camp gave 89 men, 133 women, 40 boys and 37 girls, many of whom were suffering from sickness, probably induced by a change of diet, being confined to flour and fresh beef, and exposure. They had been hurried upon the reservation as a means of safety and deprived of their usually comfortable lodges and variety of roots, berries and fish and were dying off rapidly. With a few exceptions they were destitute of shoes or moccasins and many nearly in a state of nudity. But few were comfortably clad. Their lodges were mere temporary structures hastily thrown together and entirely not suited to a winter camp.(Palmer 1/9/1856)

Palmer’s observation that their sickness is related to a change of diet, and to exposure,  suggests that federal employees and perhaps the settlers, knew what they were doing to the tribes when they were forced onto reservations without adequate funding or access to resources and services to keep them healthy. Macgruder writes that,

There has been much sickness with them mostly the flus with two children have died, (Macgruder 11/24/1855)

However, despite the conditions on the reservation, the tribes were willing to remains as it afforded some protection from the vengeful and murderous whites in the area. MacGruder describes several attacks, including,

Their conduct since they have been on the reserve had been such as would warrant the greatest Safty [sic] of the people on their part it speaks for them that they have been trespassed upon by the whites, as an action which took place in the Lookingglass prairie clearly illustrates there was camped near the house of Mr. Arrington a party of some seventy five friendly Indians of which there was twenty two men which it appears had pitched their tent there for the safty [sic] of themselves as Mr. Arrington had told them that in case they would come close to his house they would not be molested. They had not been camped their but a few days when a party of twenty five or thirty men made, on the 23rd of October [1855] an attack upon them killing three men and wounding one squaw which afterwards died from the wound, the party alleging that the Umpquas was harboring hostile Indians of which there is no evidence. (MacGruder 11/24/1855)

Umpqua reservation

The removal of the Molallas to the reservation caused a negotiation to occur between the Umpqua tribes already on the reservation and the Molallas. During this negotiation, of which we only have scanty notes, the Molallas agreed to confederate with the other tribes on the reservation. This negotiation suggests that the upper Umpqua and Calapooia peoples were somewhat different from the Molallas. The Indian Agent at the reservation, J.T. Macgruder helped by writing a treaty of agreement with the tribes and the United States.

Of this treaty, there is not a lot of information. Fortunately, Palmer did write a description of the negotiation of Molalla treaty of which the above treaty appears to have been an addendum too. Palmer wrote,

Among the number assembled were the head chief and twenty-eight of the Molallalas of Molelle Tribe of Indians inhabiting the country along the Western Slope of the Cascade Mountains, east of the Umpqua and Calapooia Purchase on the head waters of the North and South Forks of the Umpqua river. These Indians were desirous of being confederated with the Umpquas, but desired to reside in the Umpqua Valley. Mr. Walker who had been directed to proceed me with horses to aid in the removal, has submitted the question of removal to the Indians but no definite arrangement had been made, as some were averse to the measure. The young men desired to go, but a few of the old men were opposed, saying that they had but a few years to live. The 20th ult was set for a general talk, and the Indians directed to consult among themselves on the propriety of confederating with the Molallala, and all going to the Coast Reservation. The council met according to appointment but the head chief of the Umpquas not being present they were unwilling to give a positive answer. The head chief arrived in the evening, and the Indians reassembled in council on the 21st and a treaty which had been drawn up in accordance with the suggestions made them was fully explained. The head chief who understand and speaks English quite well spoke in its favor and urged his people and the Molallalas to accede to the terms declaring himself ready to go where he could have peace and safety. They then all consented, and the chief of the Molallalas and three of his principal men signed the treaty. With the exception of two of the Umpqua chiefs who were sick, all the chiefs of the bands embraced in the treaty of the 29th Nov. 1854 signed the treaty and those two chiefs were willing to remove in the spring or when the streams and roads might be in a favorable state.

The Chief of the Umpquas that could speak very good English is likely Louis Nepisank (note: he is the head chief “Louis Le Pe Cinque” (various spellings). Nepisank is an adopted chief of the Upper Umpquas who had been a French Canadian fur trader with Hudson’s Bay Company. Deep rumors suggest that Louis was a member of the Nipissing tribe of Canada. In fur trader records for Oregon the Nipissings are sometimes referred to as a group of fur traders, or hired Indian scouts and hunters in the employment of the fur traders.

As noted in previous essays, this is the only western Oregon treaty which specifies that the tribes are to remove to a reservation at the Yamhill Valley river.  This is because the idea of the reserve, which became Grand Ronde, was not fully formed until late in 1855, about the time that Palmer made an impromptu trip to the Umpqua to write this final treaty. The Molalla treaty was not ratified by Congress until 1859, likely because there was not a direction from the Indian Office in Washington, D.C. to make this treaty. The treaty boundaries are very strange, a dogleg structure within the Cascades and foothills, above the Umpqua valley.

Belden map (1855) section above the Umpqus Valley showing a dogleg claim for the southern Molalla in the Cascades

The Molallas that Palmer writes about, may not be all of the Molallas, as there is noted that there remains a band of them in the Cascades yet. It is unclear whether al of these southern Molallas are gathered up and taken to Grand Ronde, or if the rumors are true that some of the Molallas were removed to the Klamath reservation. Many tribes and bands went up into the Cascades to hide when war came to Southern Oregon. The white volunteer militias and settlers did not discriminate in their retribution for war-time aggression by other tribes.

Similar to the Molalla removal, some Klamaths are also removed to the reservation at the same time as the Molallas. The Klamaths were well known for camping out with the Molallas and were likely confused at times with one another.  The Klamaths are from the Klamath Lake area, yet they are taken onto the reservation as a way to protect them from the war to the south and to protect the settlers in the region. These same Klamaths are likely those who were sent to the Grand Ronde Reservation for a time.

This essay points to a number of inconsistencies in the historical record as has been commonly understood. The tribes in the Umpqua valley were not immediately removed to the Umpqua Reservation, and that the reservation and the removals occurred at the same times as war is erupting on the Rogue River. The Umpqua reservation then may be a response by the government to keep the Indians safe and the whites safe. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, were not “Umpqua Indians, ” but in fact Takelman speaking peoples who lived in the Cow Creek Drainage of the Umpqua. They very well may have had more in common with the Takelmans- the original “Rogue River” tribe than the other peoples along the Umpqua or in the valley. That also the Klamaths and Molallas in this valley may be seen by the Indian agents interchangeably. That the Molallas and Klamaths were removed to a reservation by federal Indian Agents before they had a treaty may have been highly illegal. Certainly the United States had no legal jurisdiction over the tribes that did not have treaties (however mach they claim they did)  and as there was not a state of war between these tribes and the U.S. it does seem highly illegal.

Letters are found in the M234 and M2 Federal Indian correspondence records


What did Omission from the Annual Tribal Census Mean to Grand Ronde?

In 1907, the Indian agent at Grand Ronde began redacting, or not listing, native peoples at Grand Ronde from the annual tribal census. The agent was treating the census as if it was a tribal roll, because their reasoning was that those individuals that had proved up on their Indian allotments, and applied to get them turned into fee simple titles. Once the land was freed from federal jurisdiction, the individual tribal members were then living on fee-simple titled lands. This was interpreted by Andrew Kershaw, the Indian Superintendent, as if the individuals were no longer tribal as they no longer lived on the “reservation” lands and therefore Kershaw did not list them on the annual census. What is odd is the same action did not occur at the Siletz reservation. Comparing the censuses, year-by-year we find that there is not a drop in names on the Siletz reservation like there is from 1906 to 1907 at Grand Ronde. In addition, there is not the same notes in the census about omitting names from the census.

Lets take a look at this dramatic change in Indian policy, a policy which appears to have been localized at Grand Ronde only.

1906 Frank and Flora Menard
1906 last names, Peter and Elizabeth Menard family

At the end of the 1906 census for Grand Ronde there are 353 people, the last family noted is the Peter and Elizabeth Menard family. In these early years, Indian agents did not usually alphabetize the names on the census and so they are organically listed based on the manner in which the Indian agents collected the names and data.

1907 last names

This fragment from the 1907 census at Grand Ronde shows the last family, the Yamhills, Joseph and Mary, who we can assume were of Yamhill Kalapuya heritage. They number 148 & 149. This constitutes a drop of 204 people from the census. As the census is treated as the roll of the tribe as well, that means 204 people have been omitted from the tribal roll by the Federal government. The federal Indian agents kept the rolls of the tribe and would add and take off members based on their own decisions. Sometimes tribal leaders would advocate for a change, but until 1936, when the tribe adopts a constitution and takes control of the tribal rolls (Indian Reorganization act), the federal government had near complete control over the tribal rolls.

1907 Frank and Flora Menard family

The Menard Family in 1907 is only 3 people on the tribal census. The Francis & Flora Menard family may have not gotten an Indian allotment. Since Francis is 26, he would have been 5 or 6 when the allotments were being assigned (1887) and so he may have missed out. Or perhaps he was just late in applying for a fee-simple title. The Peter & Elizabeth Menard family completely disappears from the 1907 census, They apparently had Indian allotments and turned them into fee-simple titles.

1907 Kershaw letter

There is a note attached to the 1907 Grand Ronde census. Andrew Kershaw, the Indian Agent states he “omits the names of all those Indian who have asked for and received patents in fee for lands allotted them on this reservation, for the reason that they no longer considered as wards of the Government.” The statement by Kershaw is startling. If they are no longer wards, then do they become citizens of the United States? I do not recall this question being asked previously. Did Kershaw get an order from the Indian office instructing him to make this change? Do the 204 Indians omitted have full rights as American citizens? What does this all mean? Citizenship was not preferred on Native Americans as an ethnic group until the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. So until 1924, Native people had no citizens rights within the United States. They were supposed to stay on the federal reservations and states would not offer them services. So all of their rights derived from their treaties, as inheritors of the rights of the ratified treaties, and whatever services they could get at the reservations. If Native people are omitted from the census, are they also omitted from the tribal rolls? Are these two separate things? How were they treated by the federal government and the states after begin omitted from the census, and Kershaw considered them no longer one of his wards? The questions about this change are many.

Lets follow the progress of this new policy until it changes.

1908 last names

In 1908 there are 47 people on the Grand Ronde Census, a loss of another 102 people, for a two year total of 306 people omitted from the census.

1908 the Menard family is gone from the census

By 1908 the Menard family disappears from the census. Perhaps Francis Menard took an additional year to put his land into fee-simple title.

1909 Yamhill family

In 1909 there are 43 tribal members on the census.

1911 census

In 1910 there are 41 tribal members on the census. Joseph Yamhill has apparently passed.

1911 census recap

In 1911 there are 40 Tribal members on the Grand Ronde census. Interesting enough the majority of the listed members are women, likely because women did get Indian allotments but were less likely to get them than men.

1912 census recap

In 1912 there are 35 tribal members at Grand Ronde on the census. Again the majority are women.

The last two names on the 1913 Grand Ronde census. There are 32 tribal members at Grand Ronde. The note reiterates the policy that Kershaw began in 1907.

1913 census letter

Kurt Egbert is the new superintendent of Indian Affairs and he reiterates the policy began by Kershaw. Its unclear at this point why Egbert wrote this letter, but it will become clear in 1916.

1914 Grand Ronde Census, last two names

In 1914, the total number of tribal members on the census is 27 people. The true number is likely 26 due to Kitty Tom dying, probably after the census was taken. If that is her real birth date, Kitty was 110 or 111 years old!

1915 Grand Ronde Census recap

In 1915 there are 25 names on the Grand Ronde census. The Indian Superintendent is now Edwin L. Chalcraft, who also writes a note about how the names of other people were dropped because of fee patents.

1916 Grand Ronde Census recap

In 1916, suddenly, there are now 324 people on the Grand Ronde census, a growth of 199 people. The original population count in 1906 was 353, what happened to the other 29 people? Did they die in the last 8 years? This is a surprising development. What happened is explained in a letter exchange between Chalcraft and the Indian office.

1916 Chalcraft letter

In 1916 Chalcraft writes to clarify whether the Indian Office is in approval of the policy that Kershaw began in 1907, because he did not find an instruction from the Indian office about this policy in the office files.

1916 Meritt letter page 1
1916 Meritt letter page 2

Assistant Commissioner E.B. Meritt’s response seems to be with a note of surprise as the Indian office was apparently unaware of the Kershaw policy of omitting people from the Tribal census if they gained a fee-simple title. It was likely common that while reports and paperwork was collected by the Indian office as part of their regular annual administration, they may not have been reviewing many of the reports. Somewhere in their process of Indian administration, they missed the fact that hundreds fo Native people were being omitted from the Grand Ronde census for at least 8 years (1907-1915).

This situation brings up innumerable additional questions. How many people are now missing from the tribe because they were omitted from the census for 8 years? Are their people born within this period who have never been added to any tribal roll? Did some people move away because they lost their status at the reservation, and the associated benefits from the federal government? How are we to be sure that the 1916 census and those thereafter captured all of the tribal members? How can the tribe today trust these rolls of the federal Indian agents if they can make what appears to be ad-hoc policy decisions about tribal membership? This is not the only policy error, in looking through the censuses of the 1880s, there are many names of families which disappear from the censuses on specific years.

This questions suggest that a more detailed set of longitudinal studies of these federal Indian censuses needs to occur. The names of Tribal people on each census needs to be compared and tracked through all of the censuses to discover what potential errors occurred, which may change the tribal membership status of their descendants. To date this has not been done. In addition, there needs to be research about the Indian policies surrounding Indian censuses to understand fully what decisions were made about creating these censuses, whether Indian agents followed the policies appropriately.

1917 Grand Ronde Census recap

In 1917 there are 333 tribal members on the Grand Ronde census. In 1916 there were 324, a growth of 9 people. Are they all births or were additional people found that were not re-captured on the 1916 census?

1918 Grand Ronde census recap

In 1918 there is again 333 tribal members.

1919 Grand Ronde census recap

In 1919 there are 326 people at Grand Ronde.

1920 Grand Ronde Census recap

In 1920, there are 318 people at Grand Ronde, the population is clearly declining. Its very clear that this lack of records for 8 years of all of the tribal members at Grand Ronde probably had an effect on the tribal families. Did the policy dissuade people from being a part of the tribe? Did it force people to leave? Did it help in the program of assimilation still being pursued in this period? Did the reservation get less funds because they had less people on the record. Many times funding decisions for tribes are based on the number of members that are enrolled. Finally, what does this have to do with tribal membership? As I pursue my studies I will look for answers to these and other questions.

Other interesting items

1921 header Living on the reservation
1921 header Living off the reservation
1921 header All Living on Public Domain (land)

In 1921 the Indian agent began making separate lists of people living on the reservation, people living off the reservation and people living in the Public Domain, also called 4th sector Indians. The federal government is clearly trying to track where people are living, perhaps in preparation for the Indian Citizenship Act. It did take a few years for the law to pass in 1924.

1924 Roseburg Reservation

The Public Domain people, those living off reservation on off-reservation Indian allotments or who had gotten citizenship early, or who were in school at a boarding school, are here assigned to the “Roseburg Reservation.” There was never actually a Roseburg Reservation, but there were shifting Indian administration districts. There was a Roseburg district, which includes much of southern Oregon and northern California. In fact, here are, or may be, lRoseburg district files down in the San Bruno National Archives branch. Perhaps there are files for the Roseburg Reservation in San Bruno? I actually called the National Archives in San Bruno some years ago and they did not know what I was talking about. I had heard that there were files for the Roseburg District which were first gathered at Chico, then later moved to San Bruno, But it would take a whole project to figure out what is the truth of where those records are.

1922 header Grand Ronde Indian of Siletz Agency

Finally, the last interesting item to note is the fact that the Grand Ronde Reservation fell under the jurisdiction of the Siletz Agency for much of the early 20th century. It was actually called the Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency. Which is why there are many files related to Grande Ronde, and related to the off-reservation communities of the Coos, Coquille, and off-reservation Indian people in the Siletz records at the Oregon Historical Society, and in the desk files of the agency at the National Archives in Seattle.

Microfilm set 595, rolls 169 and 505 ( film is on the Internet Archive)

Surviving Indigenous Landscapes in the Willamette Valley: the Mid-Valley Buttes

In my short life, I have spent some 30 years traveling the Willamette Valley from north to south and east to west, and not really giving the buttes a second glance. I have imagined that many of these buttes appear to be people lying on their backs on the ground, cloud busting in the the middle of the prairie. And, many times when I drive past Brownsville, I have thought about finding some place in the valley where there are undisturbed lands, where the native and indigenous character of the land has survived 160 years of changes brought by settlers, all the while staring right at the buttes without realizing the answer may be right in front of me. In the past year, I have begun paying close attention to them, and even climbed one. Every time I drive near them now, I realize new possibilities that they may represent.

Ward Butte and Peterson Butte

Those buttes, as seen from I-5 are heavily disturbed by humans. Many have huge gravel mines on the side and have been severely eroded by gravel extraction. Many have settlements, houses encroaching up the side of the butte. There are roads now to the tops and sometimes houses, cabins or cell towers and other communications or radio towers at the tops. But those more internal to the valley, away from I-5 are less developed.

Pederson Butte

I also see a vestige of the original indigenous landscape holding on despite invasives. Oak groves are now in a fight to the death with Himalayan blackberry bushes and poison oak groves.

a small butte not sure the name, nearly all of the roads are called Gap Road, as in the Gaps between the buttes

Still the Oak groves, a portion of the original vast Oak savannas of the original Willamette Valley, survives, likely much as it was 200 years ago. This suggests some interesting possibilities.

a double butte, not sure the names

Its possible there remains signs of native peoples having used the buttes in some cultural manner. It also suggests that there may be surviving native plant and animal species on the buttes, where they hold on in a tenuous fashion to their final populations, the rest having been plowed under by early farmers establishing the all- encompassing agricultural landscape of the valley floor.

Oak Savanna on Pederson butte

However, I hardly know the butte names, and there is almost no information about the buttes anywhere. Speaking with local folks in Brownsville, I found everyone knows the names of the buttes, which are usually named after a settler family. The large butte with two tops which dominated the center of the valley and forms a perimeter of Lebanon is called Peterson Butte.

Ward Butte from top of Pederson Butte, another butte in background

A smaller Butte to the south of Peterson Butte is Ward Butte. This is the extend of the butte names I know, besides Knox Butte outside of Albany, which has a signpost on the highway. I think Knox Butte is a public park with a drive to the top.

west side of Pederson Butte

Most of the buttes are privately owned, so this is probably a factor of why there has been little research about them. They are mostly owned by old settler families and maintained by them.

Hawthorne on top of Pederson Butte

I have asked professionals about what research has been done. There appears to be nearly nothing known about them. No environmental studies, no archaeology, no geological studies. I cannot find one contemporary study of the buttes.

Interesting rock formation, likely Raptor roost on west side of Pederson Butte

We do know that geologists have thought that these buttes are volcanic cones, the result of hot spots under the North American plate. The plate is moving to the west and the Pacific plate is moving to the east under the north American plate, causing at their juncture, under the Cascade Range, a series of hot spots. The hot spots flare up every so many million years and create a butte. The Willamette Valley is actually created by a long period of very little volcanic activity, millions and billions of years between the formation of the Coast Range and the Cascade Range, which is largely a volcanic range full of active volcanoes.

An amazing vista from Pederson Butte

My experience climbing Pederson Butte, with a number of local people, inspired me to think of the possibilities of finding undisturbed environments on the buttes. They may be the last remaining indigenous landscapes, full of rare species, in the Willamette Valley. I have heard that there may be unique micro-environments in the foothills of the Cascades, and if so, there may also be some on the buttes. If we could study them what would we find out about their unique environments or the culture of the Kalapuyan peoples. The buttes are even high enough to have been refuge for people and animals during the Missoula floods, which are estimated to have risen to 400 ft in the valley. Most buttes are well over that height, Peterson is 1,439 ft, and Ward is 856 ft. The soils and perhaps landscape on the buttes, then, would predate the floods which happened some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.


An Oak savanna in a draw, Pederson butte

This past fall a fire engulfed Ward Butte, but because there was no structures to damage, so the farmers just let it burn. I saw it burning from the top of Pederson Butte. In the next year, the vegetation which was burned, will recover and be reborn. Later, driving past the butte, I noted that the oaks survived just fine, because they are fire resistant, likely a trait bred into them, a result of the Kalapuyans setting fires to the valley prairies every year for thousands of years. Those oaks who survived carried on the fire survival traits.

Ward Butte one month after fires

There is now a unique opportunity to watch the rebirth or the Ward butte landscape, and as a nearly indigenous landscape, it would be like watching the rebirth of the Willamette Prairies after the Kalapuyans set them afire each fall.

Ward Butte east side, showing fire results, one month after

If I get the chance, I will try to get up onto Ward butte and record the rebirth of the land, just like my ancestors experienced it before they were invaded and removed to a reservation.

Buttes and Hills as possible Missoula flood refuge sites in the mid-valley, Peterson Butte 1,439 ft, and Ward 856 ft, Lone Pine 1,621 ft, Washburn 1,345 ft, Cedar 1,585 ft, Powell hills 499 ft, Saddle 617 ft, Bond 446 ft,  Knox 646 ft, Hungry Hill 686 ft, Franklin 889 ft,  Salem Hills-Prospect hill 1,129 ft& Ankeny Hill 778 ft, Waldo Hills 741 ft, Rodgers Mt. 1,447 ft, Ridgeway 1,198 ft, Bineger 1,017 ft,  Indian Head 1,230 ft, Diamond Hill 581 ft, West Point Hill 945 ft, Rock hill 833 ft, Centennial Butte 541 ft, Lenon Hill 614 ft, Coberg Ridge 2,096 ft, Spores point 1,194 ft, Spencer 2,041 ft, Skinner (Ya-po-ah) 673 ft, Mt. Pisgah (Springfield) 1,526 ft, Sellers 1,093 ft, Rattlesnake 1,266 ft, Short Mt 1.106 ft, Moon Mt. 1037 ft., Cantrell hill 689 ft., Fisher 443 ft, Richardson 873 ft, Cox 594 ft, Winkle 456 ft, Bald Hill (Philomath) 751 ft, Coffin 738 ft, Johnson Hill (Independence) 482 ft, Mt. Pisgah (Dallas) 840 ft, Eola Hills 823 ft.

Sixteen Years in the Dark Night at Grand Ronde

The tribes at Grand Ronde trusted the words of the American agents and the agents did nothing to help them, all promises of the treaties, of services, land, farms, education, and safety went unrealized, for the first sixteen years, as Louis Nipesank comments below.  This is where is born the expression of our Indian peoples, that the federal government has broken all treaties, because the government cast them down into extreme poverty and hopelessness for generations. The following letter from Louis Nipesank is extremely poignant, as he appeals to the president to keep the agents they like so that they may prosper and live. His statements of thefts by the agents rings true, as numerous agents were fired for criminal activity, yet never convicted. While at the same time, the Indians on the reservation suffered continuous unrelenting poverty, starvation, diseases, and early deaths from the mismanagement and neglect of the government.

This letter is composed on the eve of major changes to National Indian Policy in the United States. Present Grant changed Indian policy in 1869,  by stating that he was in favor of an avenue to citizenship for Indian peoples who proved they were civilized. In1873, surveys were made of the reservation in support of allotting  land to Indians for farming. The Native people look on allotment as an opportunity to become self-sufficient and no longer depend on the federal government for their food and prosperity. By 1880’s, the agent at Grand Ronde states the Indians have become self-sufficient and were running the farming business of the reservation, including the grist and saw mills.

Original plan for the Grand Ronde Reservation, 1856, showing farming areas

Still, this period of sixteen years, 1856-1870, of suffering is inexcusable, costing untold lives of the people of Grand Ronde. Louis Nepisank is a very interesting figure here. His statement of prosperity in the Umpqua valley are illuminating. In many areas of Oregon before removal to reservations, chiefs of tribes were gathering great wealth and adopting the economies of the Americans. The eastern Oregon tribes had great herds of horses and cattle, the Kalapuyans were laborers in the early settler farms, Klickitats and other tribes were fur traders and mercenaries for hire, while apparently the Umpquas were gaining horse and cattle herds. But, because they were “Indians” they were not then true white Americans and the right of settlement of the best lands was to be reserved for the white Americans. So then any threats to the prosperity of the white Americans, including competitors in farming and ranching were removed to make space for their settlement.

Once removed, the tribes had no legal recourse to recover the wealth they had left behind. As not-Americans they could not go to court, could not testify in court and no court would hold white men responsible for crimes against the tribes. So in 1856, Nipesank loses his herds, house, and property without any way to regain his wealth. This sort of information helps fill in the images of the culture and life-ways of the tribes as they learned to adjust to the culture imposed upon them.

Grand Ronde Police


Grand Ronde Agency, Oregon Jan 7th 1872

Gen U.S. Grant, President of the U.S.A.

Mr. President

I have something to say to you concerning my people. I was the head chief of the Umpqua tribe and as such I made a treaty with Supt, Palmer sixteen years ago, and in agreement with that treaty, I brought my people here, and have kept my part of that treat good up to this day. I lived on a good farm in the Umpqua Valley, had a good house and barn; I also had ten good horses and one fine stallion and sixty head of cattle. I gave up all my property with the agreement that the government would pay me for it all; up to this day I have never received so much as one “bit” for that property. I have now been on this reservation sixteen years and during that time I have seen poor white men come here as officers of and stay a few years and go away rich- while I and all my people have always been growing poorer. We at first had a great deal of money come here in agreement with the terms of our treaty. But my people have never got much benefit from that money. Our superintendents and agents have got all of it, whole I have seen my people die for the want of food just as our horses die in the winter when they have nothing to eat.

The men you have sent here for our officers have not only stolen our money but they have violated our women, and scattered diseases among us which have reduced our numbers from thousands to hundreds. Our school have done us but little good. Our children have not learned to read and write; our young men and women have not learned to work because the persons you have appointed to attend to these things have not cared for anything but to get our money and then leave us in a worse condition than they found us. It seems like we have been a long time in the dark night; we can’t see anything – a heavy cloud has settled down upon us and we seem to be lost.

A.B. Meacham

A few years ago we received a superintendent Mr. Meacham- and he came among us- and we thought he was just like all the rest. But he called a meeting of the Indians and gave us a good talk. This was something new. When we all gathered around the council house he came out an gave us his hand and talked good to us and that made us feel like he was our friend. He stayed with us two days and when he went away, all my people talked about him and called him a good man.

He has made us several visits and has promised us many things- and everything he has promised he has fulfilled. He promised us a mill, and now we have as god a mill as anybody. Our lands have all been surveyed- our annuities are being issued; we have the promise of a good school for our boys & girls- and we think we will soon see a good school going on if our present superintendent and agent can be allowed to remain with us.

We have a new agent Mr. Dyar [Dyer? ]; he makes a good impression on our hearts and we want him left alone. With Mr. Meacham as Supt. And Mr. Dyar as agent we think we will have some one to show us a good road to travel. Our hearts have grown warm with the prospect which opens before us with these officers to guide us., and we want them to remain with us until our treaties expire. And then we think we shall be able to manage our own affairs. But now just as we see a bright day downing upon us, we are informed that we are to have a new Sup’t & agent, and this brings back all our former darkness. Our hearts die within us and we feel sick. We don’t want any change- we want our officers that we have now to remain with us. We want to see our children educated and living like men and women, and we know that our present officers have done more for us than all our former Superintendents and agents combined.

This then is our constant prayer, that Mr. Meacham be left with us to the end of our treaty. If you will not grant us this request, the only one we ever made then take the balance of our money and give it to whom you please, but don’t send us any more officers as agents to suck out what little life we have , but just let us alone to die in the woods like the wolf with no friend to put a blanket around our cold bodies. We don’t want any new men to come among us- Keep hem away, and if you will not let us have those we know and love, don’t give us any.

We feel as if all hope is gone when our present Sup’t is gone; and if you take him away, grant us this one request. Keep what little money is due us from the government and pay it to your “cultus”[bad] men to stay away from us, and in a few years more your cruel treatment will have laid under the sod the last blood of our race. But in the great spirit world we will see you with your unjust deed against us.

I will say no more. If I could write I would say a good many things, but this is enough if it gives Mr. Meacham back to us as our Sup’t, and if not it is no use to write. But I am the head chief of this reservation and I speak the feeling of all my people and that is give us Sup’t Meacham or don’t give us anybody.

Louis Nipesank- Head Chief of Grand Ronde

Jo Winchester- Chief of Umpquas

Jo Hutchins- Chief of Santiams

Dave Yatakeous- Chief of Wapatoos

Jim Bruce- Chief of Rogue Rivers

Jim Pierce- Leading Man

Jo Apperson- Chief of Oregon Citys

Peter McKay- Leading Man

Peter Sulkey – Chief of Yamhills

Henry Kelkie- Chief of Molalls

Jim Ross- Umpua

James Kinney- Wapatoo

Sam Patch – Umpqua

I, C.H. Hall Resident Physician at Grand Ronde do solemnly swear that the contents of this paper are the free and voluntary expressions of the persons whose names are thereto annexed.

RG75, M234, roll 617, letter of January 7, 1872 by Louis Nepisank

Oregon Tribal History Videos

*8 videos*

Standing Strong the Tribal Nations of Western Oregon, 2009

I worked on the narrative and was on the committee to produce the video, worked on revisions, edits and helped with the overall production.

Native Nations: An interview with Dr. David G. Lewis

Discussion with David Liberty (Umatilla) about native issues.

David Lewis Expanding Voices Presentation, 1/29/15

My analysis of a Kalapuyan story.

Marion County 175: David Lewis

A short intro to the commission meeting.

Anthropologist David Lewis Describes Traditional Cultural & Ecological Practices in the Long Tom

Some TEK work for the Long Tom Watershed

Oregon History 101 – “Two Hundred Years of Changes to Native Peoples of Western Oregon”

This was standing room only.

History Pub—“Stories From Our Native Ancestors”

Oral histories from western tribes.

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