Sixteen Years in the Dark Night at Grand Ronde

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Ronde Police


Grand Ronde Agency, Oregon Jan 7th 1872

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

Mr. President

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

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

A.B. Meacham

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis Nipesank- Head Chief of Grand Ronde

Jo Winchester- Chief of Umpquas

Jo Hutchins- Chief of Santiams

Dave Yatakeous- Chief of Wapatoos

Jim Bruce- Chief of Rogue Rivers

Jim Pierce- Leading Man

Jo Apperson- Chief of Oregon Citys

Peter McKay- Leading Man

Peter Sulkey – Chief of Yamhills

Henry Kelkie- Chief of Molalls

Jim Ross- Umpua

James Kinney- Wapatoo

Sam Patch – Umpqua

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

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


Oregon Tribal History Videos

*8 videos*

Standing Strong the Tribal Nations of Western Oregon, 2009

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

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

Discussion with David Liberty (Umatilla) about native issues.

David Lewis Expanding Voices Presentation, 1/29/15

My analysis of a Kalapuyan story.

Marion County 175: David Lewis

A short intro to the commission meeting.

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

Some TEK work for the Long Tom Watershed

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

This was standing room only.

History Pub—“Stories From Our Native Ancestors”

Oral histories from western tribes.

Modocs, Klamaths, Native Voting and Sovereignty, KYAC Radio Broadcast 10/23/2018

David Lewis and Ken Cartwright, KYAC, Bridge to the Past, 10/23/2018

Native Voting Rights, Oral Histories, KYAC Radio Broadcast

David Lewis with Ken Cartwright at KYAC radio from Mill City, Bridge to the Past show, 11/13/2018

Pre-Anthropologists and Colonization

Anthropology as a science grew out of needs of colonizing countries to gain more information about the frontier. The United States in the early 19th century needed to have more information about the North American frontier for the purpose of claiming and colonizing the area for the expansion of the nation. The earliest beginnings of Anthropology, collections of the oddities of natural history, the gathering of native languages and unique material cultural artifacts, was part of the colonization of the world by European powers as well. The impetus of exploration, of finding new lands, new animals and plants, new things in the natural and cultural worlds really is part and parcel of colonization. Discovery, of new lands, new peoples, new resources, is not a benign activity, but always is in the service of some world colonizing power.

Naturalists, collectors of the natural world, perhaps in part the precursor to archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, really grew from the examples set by early explorers, of finding new and interesting things to name, claim, and collect.  Conservationists, like Theodore Roosevelt, is a branch of naturalism, the desire to collect as many mounted carcasses of unique animals as a hunter can collect. These statements will not be surprising to most scientists, and there has now grown a tradition recognizing these things for what they are. Native peoples especially have been at the forefront of identifying aspects of science that are colonial and colonizing influences on the cultures, societies, and peoples. Perhaps the best academic work to document the compliance of Anthropology with Colonization is that of Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwi Smith, her book Decolonizing Anthropology, is a necessary read for any social scientist.

Many of the early explorers who began forms of early anthropology or pre-anthropologists are heroes to the contemporary peoples and culture they helped spawn. They tended to conduct themselves heroically to help the nations they are a part of to become large and better. Many of these pre-anthropologists were truly interested in the new world around them. Still, their actions led to such destruction of native peoples that some may never recover. The following are some of the most prevalent for the Oregon territory.

Lewis and Clark and their “Corps of Discovery,” as it has been termed, was a military expedition to find the route to the Pacific, a part of the search for the vaunted Northwest Passage. But their goals went far beyond just this discovery, to documenting the peoples and wealth of the region, so that the American President, their boss, Thomas Jefferson, could make an informed decision to expand the burgeoning new nation to the furthest western border of the continent. This impetus was not about the discovery at all, but about expanding and extending the United States political, military, and economic influence to the Pacific Coast. This expansionism is a necessary action to grow the nation and reach the markets of Asia, as well as keep other colonizers from claiming the region.

The Corps then collected all manner of intelligence about the regions they encountered, drew maps, estimated tribal population counts, and documented resources, frontier wealth opportunities. Most of their baseline data is and has been the foundational data in innumerable anthropological and historical studies of native peoples. In fact, their collections predate the foundation of Anthropology as a science,  and so their studies are similar to early ethnographic studies of tribes. This may not be a surprise to most people, because Thomas Jefferson himself is thought to have begun the American anthropological traditions by conducting his own studies of Native societies, languages, and even archaeology by investigating  Indian mounds. Thomas Jefferson gave orders directly to the expeditionary leaders Lewis and Clark.

“Portland Area” tribal villages on the Columbia River 1805-1806, Lewis and Clark maps, documenting extensive villages and populations of the Chinook peoples, as well as natural resources of the surrounding hills and forests. Beinecke Digital collections

These exploratory studies become part of the colonizing project of the United States of the frontier areas. A succession of explorers to the Oregon territory increased the available information about the tribes of the region and the wealth of the region. Information is also gathered from American settlers and agents in Oregon who form a provisional government in support of the US claim to what is to become the Oregon Territory and later the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The settlers initiate a constant stream of correspondence with their friends and political leaders in Congress. This information, in the form of journals, reports, and correspondence are sent to Congress and to the American presidents to use to make decisions about whether they will take the Oregon Territory, and how much they need to claim from the British, who they held a joint claim since 1818. U.S. military officer William Slacum’s trip to the Oregon Territory (1837), is seen by many as the actions of a U.S. spy, aids the United States  by connecting with the American settlers, having meetings with them, and helping them to gain greater economic power in Oregon through the cattle they drive to Oregon from Sacramento. Slacum’s reports and maps help the federal government to gain additional leverage against the British claims. Slacum also documents many of his interactions with tribes and become another source of ethnographic information to anthropologists.

Map created from Slacum’s Information

Charles Wilkes commanded the military survey of the Oregon region in 1841 and added greatly to the overall knowledge of the region, including detailed surveys of the best ports and waterways, key information to take possession of the region. Horatio Hale, an ethnographer, and philologist on the expedition is the “anthropologist” whose book in 1846 (the United States Exploring Expedition Volume 6), documents the cultures of the tribes from the Pacific and the continent. He documents many languages and tribal territories, much of which is captured on the Wilkes expeditionary map of the region. The map attempts to assign tribal territories, and as such become the foundational map of tribal territories that is accessed by generations of anthropologists thereafter. The map is a colonial vision of tribal territory, really based on poorly collected information about the tribes

Section of the Wilkes Map found in Horatio Hale’s Ethnography and Philology (1846 (1968 reprint), 196-197) showing tribal territories as suggested by Hale from his visit to Oregon in 1841. (This took a few days to find, the original from 1846 appears to have color boundaries, but I have not found that map in any digital format available, and there are no readily available first edition volumes. This scan is from the 1968 reprint of the book.)

Hale did not spend much time with tribal people, certainly not with the Molalla. Much of his information he got from fur traders working for Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. The value of this information then is questionable. However, his map a very short description of the Molalla from the book Ethnography and Philology (1846) becomes the standard which is then referenced to the present. The Molalla portion if the map shows a clear bias towards the theory that the Cayuse split in the recent past and their western branch became the Molalla. In addition, the Molalla territory is shown to be a small piece of the Willamette Valley, the whole of the Cascades, and a good portion of the Deschutes Basin. The full extent of this claim is staggering, especially when we note that the claim extends from a very arid desert environment, into the high Cascades, and then into the lush Willamette Valley, an environmental diversity not matched by many tribes anywhere. most tribes are bounded by their adaptation to a specific environment, a river valley, or along an extensive riverine system like the Chinookan tribes of the Columbia. The association of the Molalla with the Cayuse is based on a tribal story, but there remains not much other evidence of the truth of the tribal split.

The extent of Hale’s  ethnographic description of the Molalla,

“The residence of the Molele is (or was) in the broken and wooded country about Mounts Hood and Vancouver, They were never very numerous, and have suffered much of late from various diseases, particularly the ague-fever [malaria]. in 1841 they numbered but twenty individuals; several deaths took place while we were in the country, and the tribe is probably, at present, nearly or quite extinct.” (214).

In the philology section, Hale writes of the Molele language that it was collected from a single individual and therefore may have errors (561). It may be that this single individual is the only informant Hale had for the Molele/Molalla and his description suggests it was collected by someone else. The vocabulary is the letter “P” in the vocabulary list (570-).

When anthropologists and Linguists adhere to these early assumptions about tribal migration and territory, based on little or no evidence, then it is a problem. Each generation of scientists needs to critically reevaluate the theories of the past to determine whether they are still valid. This really become an issue when tribal peoples, those who have been heavily colonized and have found the political space to recover as a tribal government, simply accept the erroneous assumptions of the past. They then become colonized and colonizing regarding the former tribal territories of the tribe. Newly restored tribal governments really need to be heavily critical of the assumptions of those who worked on behalf of the United States federal government to determine “why” such decisions were made, “who” made them, and “for what purpose”. Besides the fact that many early anthropologists really did not know much about the tribes, many early research methods were biased and inexact.

In addition, most early scientists did not access native perspectives, and so tribal culture and knowledge is then a new perspective that can add significant depth of understanding to the original fieldwork of many past projects. Reanalysis in a critical perspective, as well as adding new ideas, no theories from people with new or traditional perspectives can yield new understandings about the tribal cultures of the past.

This is far from a definitive study. I encourage others to take this short investigation and expand it. The more we identify the problem areas of the science the more useful it will be to us to solve future problems.

The bibliography or part of that I used for my Ph.D. studies contains many critical studies of anthropology.

Althusser, L. and E. Balibar. Reading ‘Capital’. London, NLB, 1977.

Bieder, R. E. Science encounters the Indian, 1820-1880: the early years of American Ethnology. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

Biolsi, T. and L. J. Zimmerman. Indians and Anthropologists : Vine Deloria, Jr., and the critique of anthropology. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Biolsi, T. and L. J. Zimmerman. Indians and Anthropologists : Vine Deloria, Jr., and the critique of anthropology. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Blaut, J. M. The colonizer’s model of the world: geographical diffusionism and Eurocentric history. New York, Guilford Press, 1993.

Churchill, W. Struggle for the land: indigenous resistance to genocide, ecocide, and expropriation in contemporary North America. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1993.

Churchill, W. Indians are us? : culture and genocide in native North America. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1994.

Churchill, W. From a native son: selected essays in indigenism, 1985-1995. Boston, Mass., South End Press, 1996.

Churchill, W. A little matter of genocide: holocaust and denial in the Americas, 1492 to the present. Winnipeg, Arbeiter Ring Pub., 1998.

Churchill, W. and M. A. Jaimes. Fantasies of the master race: literature, cinema and the colonization of American Indians. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1992.

Clayton, D. W. Islands of Truth: The Imperial Fashioning of Vancouver Island. Vancouver, UBC Press, 2000.

Clifford, J. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1988.

Cornell, S. E. The return of the native: American Indian political resurgence. New York, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Cornell, S. E., J. P. Kalt, et al. What can tribes do? : strategies and institutions in American Indian economic development. Los Angeles, American Indian Studies Center University of California Los Angeles, 1992.

Costo, R. and J. H. Costo. The Missions of California: a legacy of genocide. San Francisco, Published by The Indian Historian Press for the American Indian Historical Society, 1987.

Costo, R. and J. H. Costo. Natives of the Golden State, the California Indians. San Francisco, Indian Historian Press, 1995.

Deloria, J., Vine. Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. New York, Macmillan, 1969.

Deloria, J., Vine. God is Red: a Native View of Religion. Golden, CO, Fulcrum, 1994.

Deloria, J., Vine. Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. New York, Scribner, 1995.

Duran, E. and B. Duran. Native American postcolonial psychology. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1995.

Fixico, D. L. Rethinking American Indian history. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Fixico, D. L. The invasion of Indian country in the twentieth century: American capitalism and tribal natural resources. Niwot, Colo., University Press of Colorado, 1998.

Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York, Pantheon, 1965.

Foucault, M. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York, Pantheon, 1972.

Foucault, M. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York, Vintage, 1973.

Foucault, M. The history of sexuality. New York, Pantheon Books, 1978.

Foucault, M. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York, Vintage, 1979.

Foucault, M. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1988.

Foucault, M. and L. D. Kritzman. Politics, philosophy, culture: interviews and other writings 1977-1984. New York, Routledge, 1988.

Harjo, J., P. Hilden, et al. (1997). Ethnicity and the problem of multicultural identity Where do you come from? Where do you go? : a native American literature conference. Eugene, OR, Knight Library IMC-ITV  Recording of the presentations at the University of Oregon’s 1997 conference on Native American literature.

Horne, D. A. Contemporary American Indian writing: unsettling literature. New York, Peter Lang, 1999.

Hoxie, F. E., P. C. Mancall, et al. American nations: encounters in Indian country, 1850 to the present. New York, Routledge, 2001.

Huhndorf, S. M. Going Native: Indians in the American cultural imagination. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2001.

Johnson, T. R. Contemporary Native American political issues. Walnut Creek Calif., AltaMira Press, 1999.

Johnson, T. R. and California State University Long Beach. American Indian Studies Program. (2000). American Indian history and related issues. Long Beach, Calif., Troy Johnson.

Krupat, A. Ethno-Criticism: Ethnography, History, Literature. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992.

Kuper, A. The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion. London, Routledge, 1988.

Lomawaima, K. T. They called it prairie light : the story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Mancall, P. C. and J. H. Merrell. American encounters : natives and newcomers from European contact to Indian removal, 1500-1850. New York, Routledge, 2000.

Marcus, G. E. a. M. M. J. F. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999.

McNickle, D. A. The Indian tribes of the United States: ethnic and cultural survival. London; New York, Oxford University Press, 1962.

McNickle, D. A. Native American tribalism; Indian survivals and renewals. New York,, Published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford University Press, 1973.

Medicine, B. and S.-E. Jacobs. Learning to be an anthropologist and remaining “Native” : selected writings. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Memmi, A. The Colonizer and the Colonized. New York, Orion Press, 1965.

Menchaca, M. Recovering history, constructing race: the Indian, Black, and white roots of Mexican Americans. Austin, University of Texas Press, 2001.

Mihesuah, D. A. Repatriation reader: who owns American Indian remains? Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Mihesuah, D. A. E. Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Nabokov, P. A forest of time : American Indian ways of history. Cambridge, U.K.; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Nandy, A. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism. London, Oxford University Press, 1983.

Phillips, G. H. Chiefs, and challengers: Indian resistance and cooperation in Southern California. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975.

Phillips, G. H. Indians, and intruders in central California, 1769-1849. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Phillips, G. H. Indians, and Indian agents: the origins of the reservation system in California, 1849-1852. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Phillips, R. B. and C. B. Steiner. Unpacking culture: art and commodity in colonial and postcolonial worlds. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999.

Prucha, F. P. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Rose, D. B. Hidden histories : black stories from Victoria River Downs, Humbert River, and Wave Hill Stations. Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991.

Rose, D. B. Dingo makes us human : life and land in an aboriginal Australian culture. Cambridge ; New York, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Rose, D. B. (2001). “Settler Colonialism and the transformation of anthropology.” Postcolonial Studies 4(2): 251-261.

Ross, L. Inventing the savage : the social construction of Native American criminality. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1998.

Roy, P. Indian traffic : identities in question in colonial and postcolonial India. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998.

Ruoff, A. L. B. and J. W. Ward. Redefining American literary history. New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1990.

Smith, L. T. Decolonizing methodologies : research and indigenous peoples. London ; New York Dunedin, N.Z. New York, Zed Books ; University of Otago Press ; Distributed in the USA exclusively by St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Strickland, R. Tonto’s revenge : reflections on American Indian culture and policy. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Thornton, R. and Social Science Research Council (U.S.). Studying native America : problems and prospects. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Velie, A. R. Native American perspectives on literature and history. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Vizenor, G. R. Manifest manners : postindian warriors of survivance. Hanover, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

Walker, C. Indian nation : Native American literature and nineteenth-century nationalisms. Durham N.C., Duke University Press, 1997.

Weaver, J. That the people might live : Native American literatures and Native American community. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.



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