Ethnographic Molalla Homelands in Historic Scholarship

The Molalla (Latiwi) tribes and bands, were native peoples who lived in Western Oregon within the Willamette Valley, and within the Umpqua valley. Historic studies of the Molalla have assigned them a land claim of nearly the whole of the Cascade Range of Oregon, from Mt. Hood in the north to Mt. McLaughlin in the north. Normally they are portrayed in maps and descriptions to have lived in the Cascades along a continuous claim that engulfs the Cascade range, however, ethnographic  evidence from the Molalla suggests that they did not live within the high Cascades but instead along the foothills of the western section of the range in at least three principal locations; the north-central Willamette Valley, the southern Willamette Valley, and the Umpqua valley.

The Molalla of the north Willamette Valley occupied Dickey Prairie, east of Molalla, as a principal village, another village at Crooked finger Prairie, and yet another on the Santiam between the north and south forks. They also claimed a large section of the Willamette Valley plains to include Silver Creek falls, Mt. Angel and the north-eastern bank of the Molalla River. Additional oral accounts suggest they had seasonal encampments for gathering, hunting, and fishing on the Willamette, at Lake Labiche, and in the Cascades for hunting and berry picking. These three bands composed the whole of the northern tribe, and sometimes lived and collaborated with each other. These bands are normally called the Northern Molalla, Crooked Finger Molalla, and Santiam Band Molalla. These bands signed the Willamette Valley treaty in 1855 and wholly moved to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856.

The second area for the Molalla was in the McKenzie river area with small encampments up the McKenzie. There was a band as well in the area above, east of, Pleasant Hill called the Tufti family. This band have very little information in ethnographic accounts Palmer may have encountered a band of this band. The Tufti family themselves are the main source of information of the band, and there was much intermarriage with Kalapuyans, Umpquas, Klamaths, and Wascos in this area. The Tuftis, at least one family, moved to The Warm Springs Reservation, while the majority of relatives were removed onto the Grand Ronde reservation.

The Southern Molalla of the Umpqua valley and south, are the least well known of all of the Molalla. They had their own treaty in late 1855 and  the majority moved to the first Umpqua Reservation. In January 1856 they were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation. At least one band of the southern Molalla, perhaps a family, moved onto the Klamath Reservation.

One source Calder and Calder (2004) states three areas for the Molalla; the Mukanti Band being the northern tribe, the Chimbuiha Band being the Santiam area tribe, and the Chakankni band being the Umpqua valley tribe. But the essay does not reference the origin of these names.

A linguistic map, based on Benson 1973’s essay. suggests the tribe occupied the whole of the Cascades in Oregon and portions of the Deschutes basin. creating further subdivisions of the tribe. These are Molalla (N. Molalla), Upper Santiam, Blue River, Chucksney-Tufti Band, Deschutes Headwaters, Mace Mountain, Southern Molalla. There is evidence to suggest the Tufti band lived in the Upper Mckenzie, but the bands Blue River and Mace Mountain I have yet to see evidence of.

Linguistic Map Based on Benson 1973

The Molalla were great friends of the Klamath Indians. They were likely kindred spirits and intermarried extensively, as the Klamath would travel north in the summers to stay with the Molalla in the Willamette Valley. The Klamath Trail in fact empties out of the McKenzie drainage into the Eugene area. But, the historic association of the Molalla homelands with the Cascade Range is a quandary. The Molalla ceded land-claim for the Willamette Valley does include parts of the northern Willamette Valley and east to the center of the western Cascade Range.

The Handbook of Indians North of Mexico for 1907 addresses the Molalla  territory,

When first met they resided in the Cascade Range between Mts Hood and Scott and on the W. Slope in Washington and Oregon. the Cayuse have a tradition that the Molala formerly dwelt with them s. of the Columbia r. and became segregated and driven westward in their wars with hostile tribes… a band of these Indians drove out the original inhabitants (along a creek in the Willamette Valley) and occupied their land. (Ferrand, Livingston, 1907 “Molala,” in Fredrick Webb Hodge, Handbook of Indians North of Mexico. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American ethnology. Bulletin 30, Page 930.)

Ferrand, who clearly does not known much of the Molala and likely got all his information from second-hand sources, still repeats a theory of the Molalla migration west. This theory persists today. There is no mention of the south tribe, and their association with Washington is inaccurate. His suggestion that they were living within the Cascades is also inaccurate according to all known sources.

Still, without direct evidence of the Molalla living within the Cascades, the theory continues to be repeated in source after source. Howard Berman uncritically repeats the idea.

Molala was formerly spoken in the Cascade Mountains in west Central Oregon… Molala was once thought to be closely related to the poorly attested Cayuse language of northeastern Oregon and southwestern Washington, Powell (1891) placed them together in a family which he called Waiilatpuan and this was the accepted position among linguists for over seventy years. … Rigsby (1966; 1969) reexamined the Cayuse and Molala data and concluded there was not enough evidence to support the relationship. (Berman, Howard, the Position of Molala in Plateau Penutian, IJAL vol. 62 no. 1 1996 p.1)

Berman is corrective of the relationship between Molala and Cayuse languages suggesting instead that there is more relationship between Molala and Klamath, an assertion which makes sense owing to the ethnographic relationship people of the two tribes enjoyed. But his suggestion that they occupied the Cascades is debatable because of the evidence presented in this essay.

Original Belden map from 1855 showing Northern Molalla ceded landclaim. The southern claims for the Southern Molalla are not extensive, with a odd appearing dogleg of a claim. The treaty with the Molalla of 1855 was very late in the year, Joel Palmer was suddenly notified of the existence of this tribe in October, and he completed the treaty with them in one month. They then moved onto the first Umpqua Reservation in early December 1855.

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

Perhaps Joel Berreman (1937) found the definitive origin of how the Molalla are associated with the Cascades. He wrote.

The Handbook states that the Molalla drove some former inhabitants out of the valley of Molalla Creek to occupy their land, but when first known to the whites they occupied only the mountainous areas between Mount Hood and Mount Scott, and the west slopes of the Mountains. Hale, in 1841, mapped Molalla only in the high mountain slopes from Mount Hood to the Klamath Country. This is essentially the area assigned them by Powell, who had a number of early sources at his disposal. Boas has extended their territory west to Oregon City, but his map represents the distribution before 1800, and considerable westward movement had occurred before that date. Moreover had they occupied any of the lower Willamette Valley in 1805 we should expect some mention of the fact by Lewis and Clark, who obtained data concerning this region from native inhabitants along the Columbia. Accordingly it seems probable that their early habitat did not include more than the eastern mountain slopes prior to 1750, and that their chief occupation of the Willamette Valley area occurred only after that date…. accordingly it has been concluded that prior to 1750 the Molalla occupied the greater part of the Deschutes River region and the eastern mountain slopes.  (Berreman, J. , Tribal Distribution, 1937, 45-46)

Berreman here suggests that the earliest sources, with Horatio Hale of the Wilkes Expedition in 1841 assigned the Molalla to the Cascades. The Expedition in 1841 did not enter the Cascades nor meet many of the Molalla people. Much of the information Hale gathered from French-Canadian Fur Traders at Fort Vancouver. Powell appears to have adopted Hale’s information uncritically.  Berreman’s description of the Molalla in the Cascades was probable hunting and berry gathering camps of the summer months. Then it is very interesting that Berreman’s scholarly description suggests that the territory assigned to the Molalla is based on theoretical notions of prehistorical maps of their movements. So the Molalla-Cascades territory may include theories of how the Molalla are thought to have recently moved into the Cascades from the east, as recent as 1750, they occupied the Deschutes basin, in theory, and then moved westward into the Willamette, Umpqua and even Rogue river basins afterward. If this is true, the Molalla-Cascades territory is a relic of the early theories of Molalla migration, not an actual map of their actual territory in the 1900’s. This is the nature of (some) early anthropology theory which truly needs a critical update as we parse out the details of why they are assigned the Cascades.

Horatio Hale (1846) p 214. the sole description of the Molele territory which forms the basis of the Mapped territory of the Cascades. Hale was a member of the Wilkes Expedition and in 1841 was in Oregon. The expedition stuck to the Central valley routes and did not venture into the Cascades.

The ceded lands of the Molalla in two treaties establishes a legal claim for the Grand Ronde tribe to these sections of Oregon. These legal claims arranged by the federal Indian agents were intended to blanket the full extent of Oregon. The federal government did not want to leave any land not paid for and thus spawn land claims by tribes later. Many of the treaty description of ceded lands were based on making sure that the land payments were fully paid to some tribe. Therefore, areas of overlapping cultural claims, many that are now called “Usual and accustomed places” went unidentified and un-nuanced in treaties because this would have been too complicated. As well, under American land laws there were no claims for large areas with numerous owners, this would have been a nightmare for the land office, there always had to be a single owner.  The Indian agents were instructed to get not more than 10 cents an acre for payments to the tribes for their ceded lands. The Molalla did not even get even this much for their lands, the Willamette Valley sold for .024 cents an acre (about 2.4 cents an acre), while the southern Molalla received .0037 cents an acre (3 hundreds of the cents an acre.  It has yet proven that the Northern Molalla received any extra payments, like the $46,000 that was promised by Palmer, outside of the treaty, to get them to remove (see Molalla Oral histories). Palmer was fired before he could make good on these promises made in the last year.

The Molalla however did not live within the high Cascades above 2000 feet in elevation. That area of the high Cascades had no tribes living in villages for more than a few weeks for limited resource encampments. Instead, they lived in permanent villages in the foothills on the periphery of the Willamette and Umpqua valleys. The Cascades were a huge resource base for the Molalla and had Indian trails, trade routes to reach other tribes. In the Cascades could be found large amounts of berries, especially huckleberries, and good hunting for elk. There are some good forest clearings along forest trails, at 4000 feet in many locations, which have combinations of resources, elk, berries, roots, and weaving materials that would have attracted the Molalla in the summer months. Likely bands or families at a time would go out on the seasonal circuits to known established resource locations for their activities.

But there was no annual living villages of the Molalla in the Cascades. In fact, there are few such towns today due to the  overwhelming ferocity of the harsh winter months where any people without modern heating and housing would be hard-pressed to survive the cold temperatures and deep snows. Instead, the Molalla occupied winter villages in the periphery of the valleys. The Crooked Finger band, named for Chief Crooked Finger, normally wintered at Mt. Angel, likely because even the Crooked finger prairie, a few hundred feet higher than the valley floor, was too cold in the winter months.

Regardless, the historic association of the Molalla of living annually throughout the Cascades still exists in ethnographic, historical, and linguistic maps.  The maps give this impression because the authorities do not address the nuances of the Molalla lifeways. The nuances of tribal lifeways in the whole region surrounding the Cascades suggests that all tribes used the range as their common “supermarket”. There would not have been firm land claims ethnographically, as no one would be able to defend their territory in the Cascades. The area is too rugged and harsh to allow territorial defense. Tribes in fact would have acted more cooperatively, aiding others in getting through the Cascades, as travelers would have braved harsh conditions to bring exotic trade goods, north-south and east-west.

Despite this even Linguistic maps show the Molalla as occupying the whole of the Cascades.


Benson 1973 original

Some other contemporary maps show this same footprint for the Molalla

Zucker and Hogfoss map


The reality is that the whole of the Cascades is cris-crossed with Indian trails and there would have been dozens of languages spoken in the range. The most prominent language may have in fact been Chinuk wawa, a language which all tribal traders knew,  at least in part. Where did the idea for the Molalla occupying the whole of the Cascades? This is a clear theme in the majority of the historic maps of the territory before 1856. In fact many of the maps suggest the Molalla lived in the Plateau east of the Cascades, with only small claims in the Willamette Valley. These territories to the East seem to encroach on Deschutes, Klamath and Paiute claims.

1841 Wilkes


1848 Oregon (based on Wilkes 1841)


1853 Oregon counties

Still a few maps and scholars have attempted to correct the mis-association of the Molalla with the entire Cascades.

1852 Oregon- with western Willamette Valley being the claim of the Molalla

Clearly created before the Umpqua Molallas were discovered. Jesse Applegate’s Boyhood story, is actually is one of the best sources on the Umpqua Valley tribes. Palmer did not hear about this southern tribe until late in 1855.


Contemporary Language map, perhaps based on Rigsby 1965 with two small Molalla areas.

The encroachment of other tribal claims into the Cascades is really a problem of the person making the map who appears to need to fill the spaces and has disregarded the treaties. However, the Molalla area are closer to accurate. The Yahuskin assignment is strange. Research suggests that the Yahuskin were not really a tribe, but a band of Paiutes who traveled throughout Paiute Country, and raided both native and non native settlements, and were assigned to Klamath by the army and Indian Agents. They may be the remnants of Chief Paulina’s band.


Rigsby 1965 showing two small areas for the Molalla- #9

Rigsby in 1865 seems to have gotten the claim for the Molallas correct, according to my own research. But then he assigns the Cascades to other tribes, Tenino-Sahaptin, and Yahuskin-Paiute. But is this really the territory of these other tribes? Why does there have to be complete coverage without gaps in the map for tribal land claims?

Part of the problem with the products of the early Non-native scholars is that many appear to have a problem associating land with co-use and co-habitation activities of many tribes. Activities like elk hunting, berry gathering, weaving materials gathering, and trade obsidian mining,  were likely co-habitation activities of many tribes in the Cascades. Many scholars are entrenched in their scholarship so far that they do not try to incorporate other concepts that come from other studies. Certainly for the first 100 years of anthropology, few native people were asked what they thought of the early theories.  Linguists rarely fully accessed historic accounts or even cultural anthropological ethnographic accounts. Similarly for archaeologists, who rarely accessed linguistic or cultural documents. There has been a change in scholarship but many of the descriptions and maps produced only present a limited scholarly vision of any one tribe. Linguists many-times did not understand tribal culture very well as they tried to decipher the languages. Contemporaneously this has changed and many scholars draw from multiple disciplines. But notions like the Molalla ethnographic territorial claims, which have been uncritically adopted by numerous contemporary texts, are a relic of early anthropological, and linguistic notions of tribal territory. What this short study suggests is that there needs to be more critical analysis applied to older notions of tribes, territorial claims and cultural characteristics. Contemporary scholars need to devote their attentions to a nuanced perspective of tribes such that we have greater understandings based on actual evidence, not simple rehashed anthropological mythologies and outdated theories.

The state of my scholarship on the Molalla has revealed much in local historical accounts of their history and character. Much had yet to be discovered as new archives are accessed nearly every month. Evidence may come to light which alters this image of the Molalla. But we will be hard-pressed to find a culture in Oregon which occupied the high Cascades in permanent villages year-round. There was not any peoples in Oregon who would live within such an environment when they had the choice to move into the temperate valleys for the winter months where it was warmer and there was more food available. As such, previous notions about the Molalla and the Cascades must change.

Nothing in this essay should be interpreted to impinge on any treaty claims, as this is not a legal discussion, only a cultural discussion.


William Slacum’s Chart of the Columbia River 1837

As a spy in the Oregon Territory, and a Navy man, William A. Slacum was tasked with documenting the possessions of the British, but he also worked extensively to learn where the tribes were located. A map, Chart of the Columbia River, was created from his field sketches and survey notes from 1837, which tracks some 90 miles of the Columbia River.

On the map is located a number of Native villages of the principal tribes of the Chinookan peoples.

Kasenow or Kiesno’s village and another Chinookan village, maybe Cathlapotle, north is left

Kiesno is now the conventional spelling of this chief’s name. His is reported to have a principal village near St. Helens on the south side, and had the allegiance of the peoples on Wapato Island (Sauvie Island) and those on the north side of the river, all now normally referred to as the Multnomah. By 1837 when Slacum was in Oregon, the tribes has just gone though a dramatic die-off from the 1829-35 malaria. So the number of villages would be much reduced in 1837. For comparison look at the number of villages noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805-1806 on their hand-drawn map.

Wappato Island 1805-1806, Lewis and Clark Expedition Map

Kiesno then likely moved to the north bank to be closer to his main source of income at Fort Vancouver, where he was the head chief of the native laborer’s camp, normally called now Kanaka village (Kanaka means Kanaka Maoli meaning Hawai’ian, owing to the numbers of Hawai’ians hired by HBC to be laborers in the fur trade.). Kiesno dies in 1848.

The word “Wilhamet” is an early version of Willamette, beginning to be applied to the Willamette River and Willamette Valley. The earliest name assigned the river by white explorers was “Multnomah” by William Clark in 1806, who traveled about 10 miles up the river. The tribes would normally call the river versions of “big water,” in Chinookan-proper Wimahl and in Sahaptin Nch’i-Wàna.

The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver was at this time the largest town in the Oregon Territory with some 800 people in all working in and around the fort, in the fur trade, and dairy farming, and agriculture. Wapato Island was a big dairy ranch for the HBC.

Oak Point Village

This is likely to be a Skillute (Skilloot) village of perhaps Cooniak on the south side of the river. Oak Point is also the most northwestern point on the western boundary of the Willamette Valley treaty of 1855. Cooniak would be the sole surviving Skillute village due to the diseases which may have not completely ended by 1835. The Skillute and their neighbors the Clatskanie, an athapaskan speaking tribe who occupied the hills and mountain of the inland areas between the Columbia and the Tillamook region, moved to the temporary Indian reservation at Milton-St. Helens in about 1855, to be again removed to the Grand Ronde Indian reservation in 1856.

Cathlamet area with numerous villages

Noted are the villages of “Scummaquea”, “Pillar Rock”, “Gray’s”  which were noted Central Chinookan villages, some associated with the Cathlamet peoples. These are the peoples today who are struggling to become re-recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, they were recognized in 2000, to be terminated again by Pres. G.W. Bush in 2001. They have led an effort, as the Chinook Nation, to be recognized, for some 40 years or more.

Clatsop area, entry to the Columbia, one of the most dangerous estuaries in the world

The Clatsop peoples, another Chinookan tribe, living in this area of the Columbia. They had villages north and south of the river. Chief Comcomley’s main village was a Point Adams. North is Chenamus village, a relative to Comcomley, and there is also the Chenook village. These are well-known villages of the Clatsop Chinook nation.

There is more to be said, but for now just enjoy this map from the Library of Congress. Now to find the original surveys of Slacum.

Americans the Victimized

The story of the settlement of Oregon is largely one of victimization. The pioneers, settlers in many stories are escaping taxes and lack of opportunities in the east. Some are even coming from Europe where they had little rights and no opportunity for advancement. The movement of these peoples west is a journey to find opportunity, freedom, liberty, from the oppressive structures to the east. Manifest Destiny, the assumption of American rights to the lands of the west, is an narrative intended to inspire colonization of the west coast so that Americans can compete with the European colonizers for access to Asian economies.

This is also the story of the first settlement of the North America. The Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth rock, sought freedom and liberty from their oppression in England. They were the victims, the oppressed, even if their fundamental form of Christianity was too conservative for the peoples of England.

The victimized oppressed story continues into the American Revolution. The 13 American colonizes were being oppressed by King George who levied oppressive taxation on them. The American federal government sought to become free of that oppression, and fought to be free  and democratic. The nation was born to be a free and democratic nation for the people.

The story of the Oregon trail then is a story of redemption from oppression in the east. The nine month Oregon Trail  journey itself was also a time when the pioneers were victimized by savage tribes who attacked them, and stole the women. This is a series of  American victimization narratives that is the central history taught in our schools.

The story of how Oregon became a United States Territory is also a victimization narrative. Hudson’s bay Company was unfairly treating the American settlers with high prices for goods. The Americans then drive cattle from California to get out from under this economic oppression and lobbied Congress to do something about the British oppressors. Once the US government got involved the Oregon Treaty was signed within a few years and the American settlers had a territory free from British oppression.

In the 1840’s and 1850’s the next oppressors were the tribes, who, it was rumored, would someday attack all of the American settlements, massacre all of this people in an attempt to drive the Americans from their lands. This narrative cast the settlers into a position of being possible victims of tribal oppression.

In the 1840’s, because of the acts of violence against pioneers and to eliminate the possibility of native oppression, the volunteer ranger militias were formed. The volunteers then attacked Native villages for any provocation. with the militias, numerous villages of tribal peoples were massacred because of small offenses so that the  native peoples could no longer oppress the Americans.

After the Rogue River Indian wars there were hundreds of depredation claims against Indian treaties for the loss of property by settlers. They were the victims of Indian depredation.

America was the victims of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and so the countries retaliation is total. This justified in the minds of the decision makers the use of two atomic bombs in Japan, because they were the oppressors, and the U.S. was the victim.

The victim narrative is strong in the United States. It castes Americans in the role of being victims of the actions of lawless, bloodthirsty, and savage acts by outsiders, whether they be British, Spanish, or American Indian tribes. It is an attractive narrative that pull on the hearts of people who hear the stories, students, patriots, anyone believes in the symbolic nature of America. American as the place of freedom, or liberty, of opportunity, of democracy, of many things that all people most want. America becomes then the safe haven for the victims of oppression.

This centralized American history narrative is just about the only American history taught to Americans today.

Not central to American history is histories of the other peoples. Native history is not central, and therefore is taught outside of American history, if at all. Native history does not follow the “correct” narrative which casts American pioneers as the victims. Native history allows other peoples to speak their own history, one which states unequivocally that all of these acts of the pilgrims, settlers, pioneers actually oppressed native peoples in the process. So in Native history, American become the oppressors, a status which most Americans do not want to own. If they know the history, there are attempts to mask it, to rewrite the history with a positive spin, and to completely exclude it from educational textbooks. The reasons are usually, there is not enough time to teach it, there is not enough money, they do not know how to teach it, or that native history is some sort of altered and therefore illegitimate history mainly told by biased people.

Oppression is perhaps unavoidable in the world. Our collective world history has lots of stories of conquest, resettlement and oppression. And parallel with these histories are attempts to write the story of the time as the story of how the oppressed victims are seeking freedom and do not want to be seen as the oppressors. Native historians then point out that the oppression of native peoples is not a thing of only 200 years ago, but continues into the present, with continuous threats of taking tribal lands, taking tribal rights, taking fishing rights, taking water rights, as well as innumerable other threats from the federal government whenever there is a regime change. Most Americans do not like to hear that the oppression continues to the present, that native peoples are still the victims and that the U.S. government is now the oppressor.

If America was supposed to be something different, a different form of government, a symbol and icon of freedom and liberty of all peoples, then perhaps there needs to be a change in how all peoples are treated. The central American history narratives need to change to reflect the realities for all peoples, not just the victim story of how America the country was founded. That victim narrative, while powerful, ignores the lands taken from tribes, the destruction of tribal populations, the racism against tribal peoples exhibited by the mainly white American peoples, and the invisibility of all of this holistic history to most of the population.

This is likely why 99% of my students state that they know nothing of Native peoples or their history.

Promise of Citizenship and Informal Allotment at the Grand Ronde Reservation

In 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant gave a short inaugural address as he entered his presidency. The address briefly mentioned that he would support a path to citizenship for Native American peoples.

“The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land–the Indians are deserving of careful study. I will favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.” (March 4, 1869)

This short statement caused a storm of policy changes in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The policy change enabled the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to direct his Superintendents to begin preparing the Indians on  reservations for citizenship through allotting the Indian people with land so that they may be inspired to help themselves gain progress towards civilization. Previous to this policy change, the tribes were living in poor conditions with few inducements to become like white people. The promises of the treaties, and of agents, of a better life in the reservations, had not materialized as starvation and illness was the tribal peoples’ primary experience at Grand Ronde. They lived in small clusters of tribal groups, likely those instituted in 1856, with families of many generations living in the same house, and had no land to call their own. While treaties promised allotments, for over 20 years (1856-1869) no allotments were given to the tribes, and they subsisted on what they could gather from the coastal forests, fish from the Salmon river, vegetables from small garden plots, and food subsidies from the agency. In the earliest days fo the reservation, in March 1856, Joel Palmer, the Indian Superintendent for Oregon reported that, “small Tracts of land are being designated and marked off for residence and cultivation by the respective members of the bands” (Report of the COIA 1856, No. 80). Later, the tribal people were in a habit of leaving the reservation in the summer months to work on Willamette Valley farms to make money, from which they had to buy their own supplies for survival.

1856 Hazen map section, note letters denoting clusters of individual tribes

In 1870 the Superintendent of Oregon T.B. Odeneal  made informal allotments on the Grand Ronde reservation to heads of the households, mainly men. These allotments apparently included an informal deed which is described as “non-binding” to the federal government.  The allotments’ sizes appear to have varied dramatically from 25 acres to 120 acres. The allotments appear to have been well spaced through the Grand Ronde valley and allowed some expansion of individual allotments over time. The  expansions were limited by the amount of land that could be handled by the farmer and his, or her, family. From the initial allotments, the people gradually expanded their claims. Other limiting factors included, the amount of wood that could be milled by the sawmill; the amount of grain that could be processed by the grist mill, the quality of the soil. the weather, and the level of farming expertise of the people.

From the 1840’s people of several tribes, Kalapuyans and Molallans, had worked on farms in the Willamette Valley for settlers. They learned agriculture and animal husbandry. But in 1856 when the tribes were removed to the Grand Ronde reservation, they were not given land, did not have equipment, did not have seed, did not have teams of oxen or horses, and essentially starved for 20 years. The few gardens they had were made from necessity because of their starvation and lack of subsistence from the government. They complained numerous times but their situation did not improve.

The Indians still saw promise in assimilating to be more white in their culture and many began the slow change of their culture. Their progress was more out if the necessities of survival than from their own free will. They were a people dispossessed of all rights, where not citizens of the United States and had few rights under U.S. law. They could not leave the reservation except with a pass, and when crimes were committed against them, the whites were rarely prosecuted. As described by Indian agents, they lived a miserable life with little hope.

With Grant’s suggestion of citizenship, the idea of becoming civilized enough to be citizens took hold. Once given informal allotments in 1870, they began to work toward improving their situations, becoming self-sufficient, and assimilating to the wealthy white culture around them. The first indicators of their rapid progress towards civilization was when they stopped depending on the federal government for food subsidies. By 1879 the majority of the Indian farmers were subsisting on their own foods they grew on their farms. They had gardens of up to an acre and a half, cattle, horses, hogs, and chickens, as well as wheat, oats, and hay fields of up to 100 acres fenced. Most farmers had plows and harrows, wagons, and hacks, as well as at least one good house and barn.


Along with their farms, the Indian agents lauded their mechanical expertise. The Indians operated the saw and grist mills and maintained them with few expenses incurred by the agency. Parts could be made at the backsmiths, tinners and leathercrafters, and, wood was sawed at the agency sawmill, and so the reservation was self-contained for the first time . Every few years the sawmill and grist mill had to be repaired and this was all accomplished by the Indians. They even hand dug the 600 foot millrace to run the sawmill and helped relocate the grist mill machinery to operate off of the same machinery as the saw mill. Probably the biggest indicator of their mechanical level, was when it was noted that they could operate a ten-horse power thrashing machine and were being hired by white farmers to operate reapers and mowers off the reservation.

10 horse Threasher, Washington Historical Society archives

In the 1880’s, P.B. Sinnott, Indian agent since 1871, noted that the farms were working year round with no break in their summer plantings. He called their lands foul, because without a fallow period, the land was becoming depleted of nutrients and the yields were becoming inconsistent. He noted that they complained that they could not allow a fallow period, because they were still very poor and could not go a season without food production. The problem noted by Sinnott was that their farms were too small to allow large areas of fallow fields. This is one of the main problems with small subsistence farms.


In 1886 and 1888, the annual census of the reservation revealed the size of each family’s allotment. This information comes at the time that the Dawes act was just passed in 1887, and so the Dawes Act allotments were not yet given out; they were not to be allotted until 1891. Unfortunately we do not yet have the records of the ultimate size of the 1870 informal allotments, nor where they were located. It seems reasonable to assume that the Indian agents in 1891, when allotting the Indians their formal allotments would choose to not interrupt all of the progress already made on the reservation by making people move from their 1870 allotment location. These Indians had built houses, barns and large amounts of fencing. So its highly likely that the Dawes allotments were mostly placed over the 1870 allotments so that very few people had to move their whole farms elsewhere. The Dawes act appears to have a number of new allottees, so new allotments were made, but they were likely pushed to the areas not previously occupied.

1904 image of Grand Ronde Reservation, with Spirit Mountain in background, note fencing and farm equipment, Oregon Historical Society image

The character of the allotments can, however, be found in the annual census records of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. In 1886 and 1888 the census recorded not just the people and their status but their property holdings. (The census records of 1886 miss a number of significant large households suggesting the census is not at all accurate.) These records include the number of acres they have fenced, the numbers of houses and barns and machinery, and how much yield their farms are producing. The following allotment records are likely some of the most wealthy of families on the reservation, many others had much less property. Mostly it was men who were heads of household and gained the informal allotments. Between 1886 and 1888 some of the men and women hadpassed, and by 1888 a number of women are listed as “widows” and have their own property. The women’s properties were normal dramatically less robust than those held by the men, unless they still had children or relatives living with them.

David Holmes, Luckimuite, 1888 Informal allotment

1 house 2 barns 1 granary 95 acres fenced 7 acres wheat 75 bus. 15 acres oats 450 bus. 1 ½ acres potatoes 300 bus. Garden 8 horses 60 cattle 4 hogs 1 doz chickens 1 wagon harness 2 plows 1 harrow 1 scythe 1 cradle 19 tons hay (1888 BIA Census)

Robert Metcalf, Shasta, 1888 Informal allotment

2 houses 2 barns 60 acres fenced 7 acres wheat 175 bus. 4 acres oats 120 bush. 4 ton hay ½ acre garden 3 cattle 3 horses 1 wagon harness 1 plow 1 harrow 20 hogs 2 doz chickens (1888 BIA Census)

Jo Apperson, Oregon City,  1888 Informal Allotment

3 houses 2 barns 139 acres fenced 6 acres wheat 150 bus. 15 acres oats 400 bus 22 ton hay 11 horses 8 cattle 15 hogs 2 plows 1 harrow 2 wagons 1 hack 3 set harness garden 100 bus. potatoes (1888 BIA Census)

Jo Hudson, Santiam, 1888 Informal Allotment

1 house 1 barn 100 acres fenced 10 acres oats 300 bus. 20 ton hay 6 turkeys 1 doz chickens 1 wagon 1 hack harness 2 plows 1 harrow (1888 BIA Census)

Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins/Hudson 1841

John Wacheno, Clackamas, 1888 Informal Allotment

1 house 1 barn 80 acres fenced 18 acres wheat 360 bus. 24 acres oats 720 bus. 3 horses 4 cattle 1 hog 1 doz chickens 1 plow 1 harrow 1 threshing machine 1 mower 1 reaper 12 ton hay 1 wagon harness 150 bus potatoes garden

Martha Jane Sands, Rogue River (Takelma), 1888 Informal Allotment

2 houses 1 barn 60 acres fenced 6 acres oats 180 bus. 2 head horses 2 hogs 1 wagon harness ½ acre garden 6 ton hay

Gertrude Mercier and Martha Jane Sands (left to right) 

Unfortunately for the tribes, the policy change began by U.S. Grant toward citizenship for natives,  did not become a reality for Native Americans until 1924 when the American Indian Citizenship act was passed by Congress. The Dawes Act of 1887 began a formal process of land allotment, but even this was taken away by termination in 1954. Never was there any description of what actually constituted a “civilized person” eligible for citizenship. This ethereal notion appeared to be a political ploy to eventually get more land from the tribes and relieve the federal government from responsibility. Even Indian agents noted that the the ultimate goal was complete assimilation by dispensing with Government aid altogether. This goal is laudable, but too late for hundreds of natives that died in the 24 years after removal, from starvation, diseases, and environmental stresses brought by sudden changes to their lifeways. The overwhelming impact of federal neglect and mismanagement of the tribes has yet to be fully measured or recognized by any federal agency.

Excerpts of Federal Reports of the COIA

1869: They are rapidly assuming the habits and manners of the white race, they evince great progress in their anxiety to have their land allotted and set apart to each family, in building good substantial houses and barns and planting orchards; some of them cultivating flower gardens, raising domesticated animals and doing things in American style.

1870: The eagerness with which they embrace the idea of citizenship…

Many of them have abandoned Indian laws in the settlement of their affairs, proposing to make their chiefs by election; marriage by American law; to abandon the custom of selling their daughters for wives; by accepting medical treatment of resident physicians; burial of the dead; the adoption of American Names; breaking up of bands; the establishment of family relations; separate households; eagerness to have lands and homes allotted; and, in many other ways, making progress in the great work of civilization.

Charles Lafollett Grand Ronde agent- These people are successful farmers they are clamorous for the fulfillment of treaty stipulations, especially that they may have their lands surveyed and allotted in severalty….an order be issued to survey and set apart these lands immediately…

1871: The long prayed for allotment of land to Indians in severalty will be made as soon as the surveys are approved by the Department at Washington.

They are now anxious for a flouring mill… and are willing that the necessary fund may be diverted from their annuity. I have ordered such parts of the old flouring mill as are available together with such other new machinery as may be necessary to be transferred to a building attached to the new saw mill and put in running order without delay… The Indians faithfully performed their part of the agreement cutting a race of sufficient capacity a distance of 600 yards. The proposition was made and fully explained to build a saw mill on an eligible site near an abundant supply of timber with the understanding that  all machinery and mechanical labor was to be paid for out of annuity and repair funds, the Indians to perform all such labor on the mill and contingencies as they were capable of and the department to furnish subsistence.

November 20 1871 Felix R. Brunot Report: All on the reservation now live in houses, wear civilized costume and have adopted many of the habits of the whites. They plant about 800 acres of wheat and oats, about 50 to 100 bushels of potatoes, besides peas, onions, cabbage, and grass. In addition to this work upon their own farms, they furnish a large amount of acceptable labor to the white farmers in the Willamette Valley, for which they receive the same wages as whites. They are anxious to learn mechanical employments and complain that some of them have not been taught in the agency shops. As to their capability, I saw them running an eighteen-horse threshing machine, all the work, attendance, and superintendence being done without any white or half-breed aid. As to their “willingness” and ability to “work” I saw them just completing a mill-race about 300 yards long, in some places 8 feet deep, in hard soil, as their voluntary contribution to the new saw-mill.

1873: in order to give them a proper start in the right direction, as they now enter upon this new era, (getting deed to their lands) and place them upon a self-sustaining basis it is very important that they at once be supplied with the means necessary to enable them to build, move, and repair houses, barns and fences, and get such farming implements as they now need. For this purpose, I would respectfully recommend that a appropriations of $8,000 be made. To aid them now in building and finishing houses suitable for the habitation of civilized people will prove a stimulus of inestimable value, and hasten the time when they can dispense with the Government aid and become self-supporting.

At least one half, and perhaps two thirds of the lots of land which will be assigned in accordance with the survey have no buildings upon them. Most of the houses, which have been built in clusters, will have to be moved, and in order to do so many of them will have to be torn down and rebuilt. Quite a large number will have to build new houses and all of them will have to do more or less fencing. This will of course cost them much labor and some money; the labor they can perform, and are willing to do it, but the money they have not; and without it their labor is nearly useless.

1874: The year past has been quite a prosperous one to the Indians. The large crops harvested last year enabled them to live comfortably during the winter and since they have secured deeds to their respective parcels of land, and feel secure in thee possession of their homes, they have made great improvements to their houses, so that they live better, are less exposed, and the result is an improved sanitary condition.

The habits and disposition of the majority of the Indians are gradually but surely approaching that standard of civilized life which will entitle them to be recognized as citizens…. The question as to whether the Indian is capable of civilization is fully answered affirmatively for the Indians of this agency.

1875: They have cultivated their land to its fullest extent. The average yield of crops has been very good, and the prices twice as much as last year. They are now entirely an agricultural people, and understand that they have to depend mostly upon their own exertions: the aid extended by the Government being very little. … the improvements made during the year comprise many good houses, barns, and fencing, and public road through the reserve. A smut-machine and separator has been purchased and attached to the grist mill, which now turns out as fine a quality of flour as any mill in the country. A Mower and reaper has been purchases and run, cutting most of the hay and grain their season’ also a ten horse power thrashing machine, which is now in successful operation.

1877: The Indians…. Have been more successful in the production of the ordinary crops, such as wheat, oats, hay, etc. They began by plowing their fields early and well and carefully harrowing and sowing =. The tillable land of the agency is susceptible of a high state of cultivation, being rolling . It can be plowed at almost any season of the year, and the Indians have in a measure availed themselves of this advantage, and got all their grain-crops in the ground early, and before many of their white neighbors, who were delayed by the flat and consequent wetness of their farms; and resulting from this method of farming, their crops at present are looking fine, and from every present indication a good yield may be expected.

Most if not all of the young and middle aged Indians are now living upon their small farms allotted to them by deeds given them by the superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, some four years ago, and are yearly becoming more contented with their now method of life and reconciled to the pursuit of a quiet farmer, every year indicating a marked improvement in their manner of life. They seem to be gradually but surely conquering their roving restless disposition, formerly so universally prevalent among them. They now seldom seek to go off from the agency…. This season the Indians will raise more grain and of better quality than during any previous year for the past six years and I doubt if they have ever before done so well.

I have observed during the past year a marked improvement in the Indian’s work-animals. They are continually improving the grade of their horses, usually by making purchases from the whites, or trading their small ponies and giving the difference in value in cash or work; and some few are also raising superior horses, and quite a number of them now have teams worth two or three hundred dollars.

The Indians here at present are running four reapers of their own and one department reaper cutting grain on the agency. There are also five of our Indians in charge of five reapers, owned by white men outside the agency, cutting grain. They are also running thrashing machines, both inside and outside the agency.

The Indian have built 48 frame houses, with four rooms in each, one and half stories high, to replace old houses, dressed lumber inside and outside. They are all neatly furnished with comfortable furniture, chairs beds, bedsteads, tables, and table ware, clocks cooking with heating stoves. The Indians have built 5,397 rods of fence, all of which was performed without any assistance from the department.

1878: The Indians of the agency are now living upon their farms and cultivating their lands and following the avocation of farmers, much the same as white farmers, on a small scale, the average number of acres cultivated by a single Indian family being from 25 to 50 acres, while quote a number of them cultivate as high as 50 to 100 acres. Those having the necessary teams and implements to farm, after putting into grain their individual lands, rent from other Indians who are not prepared to conduct their farming operations, and put in grain upon shares, paying for the use of the lands about one-third of the grain cropped from the land, and by this method many who are disqualified from farming upon their own account from sickness or inability to procure teams, farming implements, etc, derive considerable revenue from their land, while the renters are enabled to profit by their industries, and from year to year increase their farming operations. The cereals raised upon the agency consist almost wholly of wheat and oats… all of the Indians cure and put away timothy hay for their work animals in winter.

Almost every tribe upon the agency (except the Rogue Rivers) are as a rule becoming industrious and striving to emulate the white in their farming operations, and are accumulating a fair grade of horses, cattle and swine while some few have sheep; and such useful animals are rapidly taking the place of the worthless Indian ponies which formerly constituted the wealth of the Indians.

1879: The Indians of this agency are, as a rule, living upon the small farms allotted to them by former superintendent of Indian affairs in Oregon T.B. Odeneal. I am confident that no single act of the department has done so much to encourage the Indians in agricultural pursuits and to induce them to emulate the better class of whites and strive to become more self-sustaining than this allotment of lands to the Indians in severalty, and while it cannot be said that this allotment if lands is legally binding upon our government, yet it must be admitted that the government is morally obligated to protect the Indians in possession of their homes, or, if their removal becomes absolutely necessary, to give them adequate remuneration for their lands and labor.

The mill-dam upon the agency have been built mainly of brush, and by age having become rotted and weakened, was completely carried away by a sudden rise of the Yamhill river last spring…. It will be impossible to saw any considerable amount of lumber. Yet by utilizing a small stream of water near the mill we are able to continue to grind wheat in sufficient quantities to supply the Indians demands for flour; but the dam will have to be rebuilt …

1880: One great difficulty in the way of their producing good crops of grain is the foul condition of their land, caused by constant seeding with the same kinds of grain and the indifferent mode of carrying on farm work in former years. I experience great difficulty in my endeavors to induce them to summer fallow their land, their excuse (which is a good one) being that they are too poor to lose use of their land, for a year, and their farms being so small they have not sufficiently large in area to produce the necessary year’s subsistence. And for several years past no rations have been issued to any Indians on this agency except in cases of sickness for a few days only. The great majority of the Indians of this agency are now earning their own support by farming and stock raising the department furnishing in some instances seed and agricultural implements and keeping their farming tools in good repair, and manufacturing such of them as can be made in the agency workshops by the regular Indian mechanics.

1881: Upon the first coming into charge of this agency (1871) I found the Indians living huddled together in families of from ten to fifty in filth, idleness, and ignorance, in poor houses or shanties, old and young, married and single, occupying the same apartments, with no restraints upon their actions and no incentives to purer lives, without ambition, and apparently without hope of bettering their then deplorable condition; the policy at that time pursued towards them being to employ a sufficient force of white men to raise grain and vegetables for their food, depending upon the government appropriations to furnish the main bulk of  the necessaries of life, besides purchasing innumerable trinkets, which were of no value in fact to them in idleness and increased their facilities for gambling, a habit so strong among heathen tribes.

Today these same Indians are all, or nearly all, living upon their individual lands held by allotment in single families, and are industriously working their small farms and a great majority of them are earning a living without any material aid from the government other than an occasional issue of clean seed grain. This improvement has been accomplished by the informal allotment of land in severalty to the Indians, by moving them upon their respective tracts, and assisting them to improve them…

They desire to go off the agency and work for whites as soon as their crops are sown.

1882: The Indians of this agency for the past year have been peaceable, quiet, and as a rule, industrious, cultivating their small farms, and fencing and clearing their lands. They are now living in small houses upon their separate tracts of land, each family having a tract of land fenced in, a barn and other buildings, and each cultivating more or less land and the able-bodied Indians of this agency are almost wholly making their own and their families support without other assistance…

1884: many of them are experts in the management of farm machinery and frequently get jobs through harvest from whites outside the reserve. A few of them own threshers, reapers and mowers, which they run at their own expense and for their own benefit. These Indians are purely an agricultural and stock raising people. There are a few head of young horses on the reserve, owned by Indians that are as good as any int eh country. Their small bands of cattle are of such quality that they are sought by the Portland and Salem Markets.

1885: They have increased the area of their farms by fencing some new land, which they have plowed and sown to grain, either wheat or oats. Many of them have built new houses, barns, and sheds, which will render themselves and their families more comfortable through the winter… I would urge the speedy surveying of the land embraced in this reservation and the allotting the same to the Indians of this agency in lots of 160 acres to heads of families and 8- acres to single men….

Truth of History

This title is nearly an oxymoron. There are historic truths, but what we known of history is an invention of mostly people who did not personally experience that history. In truth, historians write histories all the time where they assume that what they are writing is true, based on the preponderance of evidence. Mostly historians get clues as to what is history from a number of sources, and they have to assign values to those sources. Some sources are reliable, some are not based on a number of factors. These factors can include the reliability of the source, the source’s closeness to the events of history, the sources’ political, religious and cultural leanings. Then many historians, the actual researchers and writers have a good number of personal biases they must work through. Many historians admire the subject of their histories, many want to prove a theory, and many desire to get noticed in their publications. Faculty at universities are usually trying to get noticed and to fill in a resume so they can get tenure. Others are trying to make some money. If they become prolific and are good writers, they may sell numerous manuscripts to bug publishers and make a lot of money in publishing and perhaps even movie rights.  These sorts of biases can alter histories to fit the needs of the scholar, and in so doing can warp history itself.

Minority peoples noticed these issues decades ago and noticed that their contributions to lived history are ignored, veiled and invisible in written histories. Vine Deloria, Jr. in my personal studies was instrumental in noticing the bias  of academics regarding research on Native peoples.  His chapters in Custer Died for Your Sins, Anthropologists and other friends (1969) is arguably the spark that lit the fuse for Native Studies and changed anthropology are people knew it forever. It should be voted in as the most influential essay of the 20th century by far.  What I learned from that essay is that unless Native people take control of their own studies we will continue to be ignored and at a disadvantage in studies about Native people. That all scientific studies and scholars have bias, even those assumed to not have bias, and that scientists need to admit their bias in their studies.

In our society we place huge value on scientists, people with PhD’s who we all assume work in an unbiased way to produce truth in their chosen science. But this is not the real truth is it? So many scientists, scholars and doctors have proved to be bias and unreliable in the last few generations. Scientists who decided that to much salt was bad for us in the 1980s, were proven to be incorrect just a few years ago. There are many issues like this in nutrition and health, caffeine is dehydrating, fats are bad, lowfat foods are good,  egg yolks are bad,  tobacco is good, and others.

Similarly, Pluto is now no longer a planet, or is it? Is there a 10th planet outside of the visual range of the solar system? In history we were taught for generations that terminated tribes chose to be terminated, that once tribes went to reservations they were taken care of by the government, that tribes on reservations are freeloaders,  that many tribes went extinct, that tribes chose freely to sell their lands, that Indian wars were the sole fault of the tribes. There are so many errors of history, much of it originating from historians with their own “agendas,” a euphemism for biases.

I focus mainly on historians, but this applies to all scientists, because science is a system of figuring out the the most reliable evidence for truth. It really grew out of some people’s realization that the phenomenon of the universe could not be explained by a belief in religious system. That the  mysteries of the universe could perhaps be figured out by experimentation and the collection of information that helps people to understand something better. Notice I did not write, “the truth,” because no theory in science is actually 100% truth. We are so trapped in our own physical reality that we can really never know truth.

So the process of writing history is actually a fictional process. I know  we call it non-fiction, but its fictional, because all historians insert into their histories, biases, limits of available evidence, limits of validity of evidence, and the way in which their history is interpreted by their audience. The truth of the history that we write today can and will change in time when more sources are discovered, when more techniques are discovered, when we understand more about the world, when people realize the bias behind the histories that are written.

I have written now a good number of histories. Those I wrote 10 years ago are completely inaccurate today because I know more about the subjects today than I knew 10 years ago.  This is the dilemma of history. To control for this dilemma, I try to admit to my  biases. I write histories from a native perspective. I do not worry about the non-native perspectives, because there are tons of other sources that only access non-native perspectives. So when I can I privilege the native perspectives. I think this can balance history as we know it. There many be projects where i use numerous sources and perspectives but for now I don’t worry about that. I really try hard to find the veiled and invisible histories that should be written. So my histories are really a series of experiments with managing new information that has rarely been accessed before. In my experimentation, I do not worry about being completely 100 percent accurate, that is a project of futility, I just try to get the impression of what may be going on from my research from the available information I have. That to me is a process of creation, just as fictional as any other process of writing history is, and has been.

Recently, I had a conversation with a scientist who asked about my supposition that the Missoula floods were experienced by the Kalapuyans. When questioned about the possibility that Kalapuyans could have passed two stories of the Missoula floods down 12,000 years, I wrote,

There have been studies of native oral history for tsunami’s and geological events which have proven that the tribe maintained accurate stories of such events for hundreds and thousands of years. Robert Losey has done a lot of work with tsunami stories from tribes in Oregon and Washington, and I can get you references if you need them. Then there are studies of the Creation of Crater lake in Oregon where its been proven that the Klamath people have an eyewitness accounts of the explosion which created Crater lake out of Mt . Mazama. Clearly our region has extensive history of 20 yr, 50 yr, and 100 yr floods. These floods did not fill up the basin to the extent that is mentioned in two Kalapuyan stories, one of them significant enough to become a origin story. Then tribes located on the Columbia to the east each have their own stories of flooding and earth moving, so-called maker stories of mythological figures like beaver who carved the Columbia Gorge. These figures, are metaphors for the floods which created the gorge, the floods being the Missoula floods. Its not enough just to disbelieve native people kept stories for 12,000 years or more, but with all of the mounting evidence that native peoples did keep stories of how their world was created and explained it in metaphors. You will really have to show me at this point how you have proven that these flood stories are not the Missoula flood stories.  We are now just learning to understand these stories, because for generations native oral history has been simply disbelieved as not history at all, but there has been no proof presented that it is not actual history. You might say as a scientist that this is an impossible thing to proven, well its also nearly impossible to disprove. Perhaps we just need to think deeply about this and find a way to test the hypothesis rather than simply throw it out as not possible.”

This conversation reminds me that some sciences, and scientists, have a long way to go to accepting that Native peoples’ perspectives on their own history and culture are as valid as any others, and perhaps more so. This conversation did turn in a positive directions as I was able to lead this scientist to some facts from other scientific studies that he could base his understanding on. However, we native scholars and scientists are still struggling with getting validity in experience, a validity questioned for over 100 years in anthropology and other sciences main under that assumption that we were too biased. But we are making advancements in recent decades and we can thank Deloria for raising the issues and prodding the conversation through some 35 years of scholarship.

Ironically, tackling this issue with scientists is relatively easy, compared to addressing this with the people of one’s own tribe, and that is a truth.

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