Traditional Sharing of the Cascades Range by Tribes

The assignment by anthropologists, historians, and linguists of the whole of the Oregon Cascades to the Molalla peoples since 1846 (Hale 1846) needs to be critically rethought. I began this argument in the recent article on the Ethnographic land claims of the Molallas. My recent presentation at the Clark County Historical Society (11/11/2018), and the questions that followed, suggest this is an important subject to cover more fully.

Three examples of the assignment of the whole of the Oregon Cascades to the Molalla peoples, there are probably 50 maps just like this

So what were the Cascades, of not the homelands of the Molallans? Ethnographically they were a common use area for all tribes to visit, pass through, set camps for hunting (Elk, deer, etc), berry picking (lots if berries), fishing (salmon, trout, & eel), quarrying (Obsidian) and trading for all tribes in the region. The tribes had specific trails that traveled north-south and east-west that were used by all peoples for walking or riding horses for their activities.

Travel through the Cascades by a few tribes, Brown- Klamath, Black- Kalapuya and Molalla, Blue-Wasco, Green- Paiute

A few examples:

Kalapuyans and Molallans – they lived in the valleys of Willamette and Umpqua and traveled  west to east into the Cascades to trade with other tribes, to go berry picking, for hunting, and fishing. There are specific huckleberry sites, large elk browsing meadows and trails lined with berry bushes into the Cascades. There are also spiritual and ceremonial sites in many locations. Some of the Caves and rock shelters hosted ceremonial activities, such as Cascadia Caves. Tribes knew when to plan their trips into the Cascades to avoid harsh weather and knew where to go to find a variety of resource they could bring back to the valley villages. Encampments would be about two week or more in the midst of the summer. When horses came, travel through the Cascades was faster and easier in bad weather but winter travel was avoided. Molallans lived in the foothills, to the east of the Kalapuyan villages, but heavily interacted with the Kalapuyans, with much intermarriage. Molalla Chief Crooked Finger is said in one source to have a winter village at Mt. Angel. So there was no permanent settlement of these tribes in the Cascades at any time. There were season circuits into the Cascades to regular camp sites to harvest and gather, but these were temporary, if not annual, temporary hunting camps, fishing camps, root camps, or berry picking camps.

In 1854, Joel Palmer was in preparations for negotiating the Umpqua and Calapooia treaty and received a report from the Martin the sub-Indian agent in the Umpqua valley,  The letter illustrates a further example of shared territories.  W. J. Martin. Martin writes,

Of The Indians of the Umpqua valley, “the size and quantity of country claimed by them” … “will not exceed twelve hundred full sections.” ” I have tried to ascertain of the Indians the amount of land claimed by each band, but was not able, as they have some conflicting lines with each other. There seems to have never been any dividing line between them.” Therefore, I think the best course to pursue would be to make all purchases from the entire Umpqua Tribe at once, as it would be an end less task treating with each band separately.” (7/9/1854 Martin to Palmer, M2 R4)

Martin here confederated all of the “Umpqua” tribes and bands into one Umpqua tribe, when they were really bands of the Upper Umpqua and Yoncalla Kalapuya. The Cow Creek had already gotten a treaty in 1853, and the southern Molalla were an unknown at this time.

Even today, there are few towns in the Cascades. Few people live there or want to be snowed in during the winters. Most permanent establishments are for forest management, or forest, water, and snow recreation. Some people have 2nd homes, summer cabins in the Cascades, which they use occasionally for winter sports,  or camping, but they do not live there year-round. It does not seem reasonable to assume the Molallans were living within the Cascades year-round.

the two known Molalla house types, neither suggests they would survive mountainous and snowy conditions.

Wasco-Wishram- they travel mostly north to south on the crest Indian trails. Most stories suggest huckleberry picking and hunting. The huckleberry sites at 4,000 feet show berry basket making activities from red cedar, yellow cedar trees. They were the recipients of many visits at Celilo by Molalla, Klamath and hundreds of other tribes who sought access to Columbia river trade, and dried salmon. In the historic period the tribes at Warm Springs are known to travel the mountain passes to get to Springfield (Lane Co.) to harvest agricultural crops, into the Brownsville (Linn County) area and, into the Portland basin for the same.

top left- Grand Ronde and Siletz playing stick game, bottom images and top right, Wasco Indians in Springfield harvest camp

Klamaths-  This tribe is a heavy trading tribe who likely operated as middle men between the Columbia river trade and Northern California. One route for dentalium trade was on the north south route. They are well known to have come into the Willamette Valley to camp for the summers and hunt elk and visit their friends and relatives the Molallas. They fought two battles with settlers in the valley, Battlecreek (South Salem Hills) and Abiqua (Dickie Prairie), as settlers drove them out of the valley. They maintained travel into the Eugene area on the Klamath Trail during the historic period, and today, likely caused in part by their federal termination (1954-1961) and restoration (1986), are well known presences around Eugene and Springfield. They may have participated in the slave trade between the Kalapuyans, whom they may have raided at times, and taken slaves into northern California. There is one recorded raid, by them and/or the Molallas on the Yoncalla Kalapuyans. There was very much interaction between the Klamaths and both the Northern and Southern Molallans. Some southern Molallas went to the Klamath Reservation, while a band of the Klamaths were sent to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856, but they did not stay.

Klamath Chief- Curtis image

Paiutes- This tribe has just a few reports of attacking Indian settlements on the edge of the Cascades and perhaps into the Willamette valley. In the historic period they certainly were attacking Wasco, Washram, and Deschutes villages just as they are beginning to be moved to the Warm Springs reservation. They would have visited the Cascades for berry picking and hunting, on the east side at least.

Paiute Chief Paulina participated in leading raids the tribes on the edge of the Cascades

The Cascades, then, are a common-use area, not “owned” in any ways by the tribes in the region. The ownership that we have today with the Molalla assigned to the Cascades, are all created by anthropologists and US government officials who did not understand tribal culture at all, nor did they care to understand. Therefore, it does not make any sense to assign the whole of the Cascades to the Molalla linguistically since multiple tribes were constantly cris-crossing the range using probably 20 to 50 different native languages from the region. The assignment of the territory today as the sole linguistic territory of the Molalla, is really an error, a relic of early anthropology, which needs to be fixed in common studies in anthropology and linguistics.

Politically, there is not much we can do in the United States government as the tribes are assigned such territories in the treaties, which are ratified and the law of the land. Tribes could do a lot informally to heal relationships by accepting and understanding the nature of their true ethnographic cultural land claims and adopt more cooperative and collaborative relationships with their Tribal neighbors regarding these types of land claims, as was traditional for thousand of years before colonization. Otherwise the United States is winning when tribes fight with each other over concepts like land ownership of large territories which where/are imposed on tribes.

This is not to say that tribes did not own some areas. High value resource areas were definitely owned by the villages at that location, and proper protocol was necessary to gain access to the fishing, gathering, hunting sites, whatever they were. Proper and traditional protocol needs to really be re-stored in the region, to reestablish respectful relationships, and to alleviate much of the stress between tribes.



Estuaries Saved the Coastal Tribes: Section 2- Removal and Exposure

Removal of the western Oregon tribes to the reservations was a tumultuous affair. Caravans from the Umpqua and Table Rock reservations to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation (also called Yamhill River Reservation) took place in the dead of winter with several people dying on the trip. These “Trails of Tears” removed tribal people from their homelands to strange areas, to them, north of their territories, where they did not know what foods were available, where to harvest them, and became completely dependent on the will of the government to care for them. The strength of Joel Palmer’s negotiations helped immensely to spur the removals, as the tribes tended to respect him and believe his verbal promises, promises made outside of the treaty process. Unfortunately, Palmer was fired before making good on all of his promises. His replacement, J. W. Nesmith had a similar spirit but was not completely aware of the promises and therefore could not follow through. Nesmith was also dealing with the aftermaths of the Rogue River Indian war and the Cascades-Columbia battles to a greater degree.

Palmer had left the Oregon Indian Agency in great debt to local suppliers and merchants. Palmer, like the agents for years to come, was not given sufficient funding, by the federal government,  to travel and purchase supplies for removal, maintenance and subsistence for some 4000 Indians in western Oregon, on two temporary reservations and over a dozen small reservations in the Willamette Valley and on the Columbia river.  Federal funds went largely to pay his sub agents for their salaries, a few supplies of food, and depredations claims (claims against the tribes for having destroyed property, stolen cattle, etc. of American settlers). The rest of the needed supplies were bought on credit, from Joel Palmer’s personal word. Years after Palmer is let go from his position, suppliers, store owners, merchants, ranchers, farmers, and shippers would continue to submit claims for unpaid balances.

This continuous draw on the federal funding and the overall lack of sufficient planning made the removal of the tribes and their subsistence on the Coast reservation disastrous. Reports begin within the first years at the reservation, of numerous deaths from illnesses, likely caused by exposure to harsh climates in an unfamiliar land, without the normal traditional foods. Then the sudden concentration of some 30 tribes in close proximity to one another , with several white Americans, quickly introduced numerous diseases that the tribes had no natural defenses to. Hundreds of people died in these first years from these factors.

One place we do not see massive illnesses and a large died off, is in the coastal estuary sub-agency encampments. Tribes from the southern and central Oregon coast were not concentrated at Siletz Agency proper, but instead at one of six river estuary communities. Salmon River (Nechesne), Siletz River (from Salmon river to Siletz was really all one community), Alsea River, Siuslaw River, Yachats River, and the Umpqua river all hosted communities large and small. These sub-agencies were established for these tribes so they could fish and hunt in  their usual and accustomed ways while waiting for the Coast Treaty to be ratified and the money paid for the sale of their lands.

As such they were not dependent on the federal government. As well they were also not as exposed to the illnesses on the reservations as if they had lived there. Theirs was a gradual exposure without the added negatives of being dependent on federal food commodities (beef, pork, pork fat, flour) which are not as healthy as native foods, and not being able to move from their immediate lands to hunt and fish. Those tribes at the Indian agencies of Siletz and Grand Ronde could not leave without passes, and for a long time could not have weapons of any type, because many had participated in one of the Indian wars. Tribes at the coast were given more latitude on their movements and had weapons for hunting and ready access to fishing.

An added benefit of living on the coast is that the tribes then maintained their culture much longer and better, they did not have regular schools, were not forced to commit to agriculture (the coastal zone is not good for much farming) and therefore were not forced to assimilate as fast as those peoples at Grand Ronde and Siletz agencies. There are some examples of much harsher conditions on the coast, those tribes at Yachats, the Coos especially, were subjected to whipping and extreme abuses, starvation, based on the character of at least one Indian agent.

But the Coastal tribes were also forced, or chose to, remove north on the faith that their treaty was sure to be ratified. This never occurred. Indian agents, after a few years were reticent to force the tribes to remain at their encampments because they knew there was no legal basis for force-ably removing the tribes and keeping these people on the reservation without ratification of the sale of their lands. Still, they remained at their various estuaries until the lands were opened to settlement in chunks, in 1865 and 1875. They were really forced to remain under threats of being chased down and drug back the reservation, and being beaten with a whip if they did so. As well, the White Americans of southern Oregon were very tough on tribal people, many holding grudges and still seeking revenge for the series of wars and battles, fresh in their minds, that raged until 1856 on the coast and in the interior of southern Oregon. The last to leave the Coast reservation after its reduction in 1875, was the Coos from Yachats, in about 1878. After some 17 years, the Coos are apparently freely released, and they are then forced to go live with the Siuslaw, until they could find positions, jobs and homes, in Coos Bay again, because all of their lands and homes had been taken over by American settlers. The Siuslaw, of all of the coastal tribes, appear to have fared the best, they were largely never forced to remove and remained on their lands.

There is every indication that this 17 years of “incarceration” on the Coast Reservation without cause, which included some 6-7 years at the Umpqua Coast reservation (it was understood that it was illegal for Indians to be off the reservation in the period, without federal approval, mainly because they were not US citizens and were instead federal dependents), where the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw spent so much time together, that they forged organically a confederated tribal community, that became the Confederated Tribes of the Coos Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw. This confederated community of interrelated families was restored as a federally recognized tribe in 1984. Their association is likely much deeper than the historic period, because they were neighbors on the coast for perhaps 10,000 years with high likelihood of much intermarriage.

For a deeper look at the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw History see the tribal website.

Also, for information direct from Patty Whereat Phillips, a Coos researcher, see her blog site, Shichil’s Blog.

The textual resources list I compiled, can also be helpful.

The basic data of the western Oregon reservation is recorded in letters and federal Indian reports. This information included population counts, sometimes largely estimates, and names of tribes. Their early disposition, place of resettlement, names, and numbers for the first two years of permanent reservations, is recorded in the following table.

Table and research by David Lewis

The population counts and movements in this period are revealing. Metcalf’s report in 1857 of 2603 Indians at the Coast Reservation is likely the total of all Indians at Siletz and on the coastal sub agencies. While the 1857 annual report only lists 2049 for an Inland Prairie, likely Siletz valley, or Siletz Indian Agency. The lack of mention of some tribes in the inland prairie, for example Flores Creek people, suggests that these people were on the coast, one tribe of the 554 people on the coast. The counts for the Umpqua reservation at this time are completely separate.

The Umpqua Reservation was created as an Indian Management District which extended from the lower boundary of the Coast Reservation to Port Orford. The agency office on the Umpqua acted in complete separation from the Soldiers stationed at Fort Umpqua in the same town. Other histories of Fort Umpqua suggested that the Soldiers took more direction management of the Indians in the area. But in correspondence between the Fort commanders, commanders at Fort Vancouver, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, and the Indian agents at the Umpqua Reservation, the Army was reticent to help the agents in their work, unless there was a direct threat to Americans. The Fort was there to be a line of defense, and a fence, to keep Indians from leaving the Coast reservation and to keep Whites from going onto the Coast Reservation. From most accounts the soldiers were not too successful with either goal.  In 1857, this district was reduced to the Umpqua River and north to the Coast Reservation. It is technically outside of the Coast Reservation but was discussed numerous times as an extension of the Coast Reservation. The Agents at the Umpqua Reservation worked with the Agents at Siletz Indian Agency to decide where the tribes of the lower coast would be resettled on the Coast Reservation. The original plans for removal of all tribes from the Umpqua reservation and closure of this expensive third reservation (which had no treaty funding), was delayed for years, until 1863, while waiting for funding to be appropriated by Congress or allocated by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for removal.

The change from 1856 to 1857 in the populations of Grand Ronde and Siletz Agency are in where the Rogue River, Umpqua and Shasta tribes are to remain. Some two thirds of these tribes, first resettled at Grand Ronde are again resettled at Siletz Agency, once the facilities of the Siletz Agency are completed. The 1857 annual report suggests that the tribes willingly removed to Siletz, perhaps seeking to join with Chief John, who had never settled at Grand Ronde (not until his release from the Presidio in the 1860’s). Chief John was a figure of some power at Siletz, he had united several tribes at Table Rock to become a Rogue River Confederacy, and they fought a war to make the whites leave their lands in southern Oregon. The confederacy was defeated in the summer of 1856 and all of his people turned in their arms and surrendered at Fort Orford and were walked up the coast to be resettled in the zone between Salmon River and Newport Bay. Chief John, Tyee John at the reservation, continues to be a leader making speeches to get his people to return to their lands. For this, he is arrested and sent, with his son, to the Presidio until 1863.Tribal people in this era, not being American citizens, had no rights to freedom of speech on the reservations.

Joel Palmer’s final correspondence in his job as superintendent, suggests that the arrangement for Siletz and Grand Ronde was that the tribes resettled at Siletz Agency were to be “more warlike” and those at Grand Ronde “more peaceful.” This plan appears to have been followed by Nesmith. Unfortunately the peaceful tribes had ratified treaties, while the majority of tribes who had gone to war, did not. This difference means that the tribes at Grand Ronde had dedicated treaty find for 20 years, while the majority of people at the Coast reservation did not. It remains to be proven if the tribes had treaties and who went to war were treated by the federal government as having breached their treaties, that therefore excluded from treaty funding. Still, the federal government had a need to keep the Indians on the reservations, away from their former homelands, so to keep the peace in the region, and so this translated into reduced and basic subsistence level federal funding at the Coast Reservation for many years.

Considering these factors, the tribes on the Coast, even if they were never payed fairly for their lands, may have been better off being able to practice their culture and secure their own foods away from the administration at Siletz Agency.

(all suppositions are my own)

Clearing the Land and Making all Indians Good: The Massacre at Bear River, Utah


William F. Drennan

In 1863, the California Volunteers under Colonel Patrick E. Connor (3rd Volunteer Regiment, California Cavalry), massacred either 300 or three thousand Ute (Shoshone) Indians in Cash Valley (Cache Valley-Battle of Bear River, February 20, 1863), Utah. The first account, a book written by William F. Drennan addresses over 30 years of his experiences in the West. William F. Drennan, a seeming mercenary-for-hire and mountain man in the mid-19th century, who traveled throughout the west. Beginning when he was 15 years of age, he traveled from California and Oregon to the Dakotas, joining many battles against numerous tribes, including the Modoc and Paiute of Oregon (Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains).

Fort Douglas 1866

Drennan wrote that he arrived at Fort Douglas where he joined the military. He was appointed to scout out the Native fortifications as the military was making plans to “clean out the Indians in the area”, and make them all “good Indians” or in other words, kill them all. The military wanted to put an end to the depredations happening against settlers and wagon trains which were invading the Native lands, taking their lands and resources without compensation, or the basic respect of honoring their previous occupation of the land. In addition, General Connor had a personal grudge against the Mormons, with many uncomplimentary descriptions of these people as savage as that of the tribes.

Drennan reported that he scouted the positions of the Ute Indians in the Cash Valley, and found them fortified behind recently cut timber logs, in a style he never had seen before. He states “they had cut logs and rolled them down the hill, piling them on each side of the canyon, several feet high and having intermingled them with brush. This is the first fortification I had ever seen built by Indians” (360).

General Patrick E. Connor

Drennan reports back to General Connor who sends another captain to scout the fortifications for a strategy to overcome the Ute tribe. The strategy they devised was to situate a cannon at the head of the canyon, blast away at the fortifications while two divisions of the army where situated on either side of the canyon. When the Indians tried to escape from their blasted ruined fortifications they would shoot them all down with overlapping fields of fire, as there was no escape from the canyon.

In this manner the attack commenced, and all Indians they saw were killed by the overlapping fire from the two divisions. None of the soldiers were hurt at all. Once counted they had killed 3,000 Indians. “Men, women, and children were found tangled in heaps” as none that ran escaped the massacre. Drennan reported that “never in his life had he saw such a mangled-up mass as was this” (362).

Drennan comments that the Indians had learned from the Mormons that if they created a fortification and believed in the Lord, that the guns of the soldiers could not hurt them. The Mormon where also hunted in a manner much like the Indians in this time. Drennen then comments that the Mormon did the Gentiles (Christians) a favor, they had inadvertently caused the Indians to make this mistake in their strategy. Thereafter, there were very few Utes and there were few or no problems with depredations on the wagon trains and settlers in the region.

Shoshone 1860s

Another account of the battle is quite a bit different from that of Drennan,

“As the infantry moved in, the battle began on a small tributary of Bear River called Bear Creek. About an hour later the cavalry went into action, passing the plodding infantry just south of the river. At that point, Chief Bear Hunter rode out in front of his lines and challenged the soldiers to fight. Some Indian braves openly taunted the soldiers by loudly singing, ‘Fours right, fours left, come on you California SOBs.’

Bear River, Cache Valley 1860s

The cocky Connor, angry at Bear Hunter’s arrogance and the taunting, ordered his men to charge–a colossal mistake. His troops were easily thrown back by the Indians in their strong position. As he retreated, Connor devised another stratagem by dividing his troops into three parts, with the infantry attacking from the front and the cavalry units striking from the flanks.

‘Being exposed on a level and open plain, while the Indians were under cover [gave them] the advantage, fighting with the ferocity of demons,’ said Connor. ‘My men fell thick and fast around me, but after flanking them we had the advantage and made good use of it. I ordered a flanking party to advance down the ravine on either side, which gave us the advantage of gunfire directed from either flank and caused some of the Indians to give way and run toward the mouth of the ravine.

‘I had a company stationed who shot them as they ran out…. Few tried to escape but continued fighting with unyielding obstinacy, frequently engaging hand to hand with the troops.’

After about four hours of bloody battling on a bitter cold day, the soldiers, many of whom had been killed, wounded or frozen themselves, had almost completely annihilated the Indian encampment.

A San Francisco Bulletin reporter described the battle scene: ‘The carnage presented in the ravine was horrible. Warrior piled on warrior, horses mangled and wounded in every conceivable form, with here and there a squaw and papoose, who had been accidentally killed.’

The howitzers, which might have shortened the battle considerably, never arrived (Drennan’s account does not agree with this). The smoothbore cannon could fire a variety of shells, the standard being a steel ball filled with explosives, but the guns had been too heavy to transport in the deep snow. The infantry used the 1861 rifle, a muzzle-loaded, percussion .58 caliber; the cavalry had two weapons, the saber and a .44-caliber revolver. The Indians used black powder rifles, knives and bows and arrows.

Connor’s force killed between 250 and 300 Indians (Connor’s estimate), including Chiefs Bear Hunter and Lehi. Chiefs Sandpitch, Sagwitch and Pocatello escaped, along with about 50 warriors. Soldier casualties were 21 dead and 46 wounded.” (

Yet another account,

The infantry, one company, about seventy strong, have got across the river and are coming up on the opposite side and upper end of the gulch. Now there is a rush from all hands, and in five minutes the Indians are in a perfect panic and are trying to get away; but there is only one way to escape, and that is to take the river, but that is just as destructive as to rush up to a battery, for they no sooner get fairly in the water than they are shot, and float off like dead hogs. At the mouth of the gulch, a few rods before reaching the river, forty-one dead Indians were counted in a pile, just as they fell. We killed at a low estimate, 300; and left of squaws and children about fifty-five.”


“we came near totally annihilating the tribe.” B.E. Simmons (Oregon sentinel., April 18, 1863, Image 2, Historic Oregon Newspapers).

California Senate

General Patrick Connors got his general’s star because of the Massacre of Bear River, and he and his command are honorably recognized by the California State assembly (The state Republican, March 07, 1863, Image 2)

Other estimates suggest as many as 490 Shoshone were killed in this massacre. (

This battle, at the same time as the Civil war is raging in the east, suggests that in the west there was free-reign for the volunteer militia to kill Native indiscriminately, almost as if they had declared war on the tribes. Native peoples were considered to be a virulence on the landscape and they needed to be “cleaned-out” so that white Americans could freely settle tribal lands without impediment.

The estimates of dead likely are very low. Drennan’s account of 3,000 dead seems exorbitant, and Connor’s estimate of 300 is admitted to be low by Simmons in his newspaper account. But, when we consider what both Drennan and Simmons state, that they had nearly wiped out all of the Shoshone, in this one massacre, to the point of near-extinction with only fifty-five women and children left, perhaps the number is closer to 3,000? Of this we may never know, but the fact that the state of California honored the company which committed the massacre, even making a general of Connor, suggests that there is much to be atoned for by California.

This massacre is lauded historically as the having the highest death count of any in US history. That may be, but there are many other accounts of tribal massacres, especially those on the northern California coast involving the Tolowas which rival this. Regardless, there was a war of extermination of all tribes in the west, where collectively tens of thousand of native people died at the hands of volunteer militia, and settlers, simply for wanting to defend their lands and people from invaders, the white Americans.


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.

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