Short Biographies of a Few of the Most Important Chiefs of Western Oregon

Tribes generally rename President’s day to Tribal Chief’s Day. Chiefs, headmen and leaders of the tribes have significant responsibilities to make decisions for the welfare of their tribes. In the past the Chiefs were the ultimate authority and their leadership was unquestioned. Here are some of those tribal chiefs in short biographies.

Rogue River John

Tecumtum (Rogue River John, Tyee John, Elk Killer)

Tecumtum whose name meant “Elk Killer” (Te-cum-tom, Chief John, Old John, and Tyee John, John Chamberlin), was the Principle Chief of the Etch-ka-taw-wah band of Athabaskan Indians, during the Rogue River War in the mid-1850s. Tecumtum signed three treaties with the United States as a chief of his tribe, The Treaty with the Rogue River of 1851[1]; the Treaty with the Rogue River of 1853[2] and the Treaty with the Rogue River of 1854[3] as the fourth chief. Indian Agents stated that Tecumtum lived on Deer creek in the Illinois Valley, near present day Selma, and had kinship relations with the Shasta tribes.[4] His military acumen and long-term refusal to submit to conquest place him at the forefront of Tribal leaders in Pacific Northwest history, yet his exploits are barely remembered in regional history. Tecumtum’s legend remains strong among the tribes in Oregon as a powerful leader who fought for the sovereign rights of the southwestern Oregon tribes.

Table Rock Reservation 1856
Table Rock Reservation 1856

He and his people formed part of a confederation of tribes that fought against the American miners, settlers, and militia from 1853 to 1856. Oregon Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer noted that Chief John and his confederation of tribes, namely George’s, Limpey’s, Sam’s and Tipsey’s bands, collectively held controlling influence over a broad cross section of tribes in the region, principally the Shasta, Chasta Costa, Dakubetede, and Takelma tribes.[5]

The full essay about this great tribal Chief is at the Oregon Encyclopedia, Tecumtum.

  1. Signed July 14 1851 with John P Gaines treaty commissioner, Te-cum-tom is signed as fifth tribal signature.

2. TREATY WITH THE ROGUE RIVER, 1853. Sept. 10, 1853. | 10 Stats., 1018. Ratified Apr. 12, 1854. | Proclaimed Feb. 5, 1855.

3. TREATY WITH THE ROGUE RIVER, 1854.Nov. 15, 1854. | 10 Stats., 1119. | Ratified Mar. 3, 1855. | Proclaimed Apr. 7, 1855.

4. Douthit, Uncertain Encounters, 137. Based on Hoxie Simmons Oral history.

5. Palmer, Joel, letter, September 11, 1854, Treaties of Certain Indian Tribes of Oregon, Letter from the Secretary of the Interior, 53D, 1st Sess., S.Ex. Doc. No. 25. P 25-26. Congressional Serial Set.

Chief Kiesno
Chief Kiesno

Chief Kiesno (Keasno, Cassino, Cassinov)

Chief Kiesno (his name has also been spelled Keasno, Casino, Kiyasnu, Q’iesnu, Ciasno, Cassino, and Cassinov) was an important Multnomah-Wakanasisi Chinookan leader in the Wapato Valley (Portland Basin). Throughout the fur trade era (1810-1840’s), he had the respect of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Pacific Fur Company, and the North West Company. Well connected through intertribal marriage to other groups on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, he was the highest profile leader west of the Cascades from 1830, when Chief Concomly (Chinook) died, until his death in 1848.

The Wapato Valley people occupied a large area at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, including the Multnomah and other villages on Wapato Island (today’s Sauvie Island) and Cathlapotle and its neighbors in present-day Clark County, Washington. Kiesno’s principal village was Gatlakmap (Cathlacumup, Wacomapp) in the vicinity of present-day St. Helens. He also had direct influence over Nayaguguwikh (Niakowkow, Nayakaukauwi) at the mouth of Multnomah Channel and Wakanasisi on the north bank of the Columbia, downriver from Fort Vancouver.

Wappato Island 1805-1806, Lewis and Clark Expedition Map
Wappato Island 1805-1806, Lewis and Clark Expedition Map

Kiesno maintained political influence over the Wapato (Chinook) people and had ties with neighboring groups—including the Clackamas Chinook near Willamette Falls, the Cascades Chinook at Cascade Rapids, and the Tualatin Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley—taking advantage of those connections when needed. In August 1813, for example, the Cathlacumups and “70 warriors from some of the neighboring tribes” fended off an attack by seven canoes of Clatsop-Nehalem. In April 1814, when an incursion of forty canoes of Cowlitz and their allies entered the Columbia River, Kiesno called for aid from “Indians at the Falls of the Willamette, [and] the Calleporeyours,” and the defense of the Wappato Chinook territory was successful.

Kiesno was known served as a good host and business associate to help the fur traders, explorers, and settlers on their arrival in the Oregon Territory. It is theorized (by me) that he is the model of the character of Chief Multnomah in Balch’s book, “Bridge of the Gods” (1897). An example of his largess is written into Robert Shortess’ account of his travel to the Oregon territory, “with the assistance of Keasena, an Indian chief at Vancouver, crossed to the south side and remained in camp from Saturday till Monday, feasting on sturgeon and wapatoes.” (First Emigrants to Oregon, Transactions… Oregon Pioneer Assoc. 1896: 103)

The rest of this essay is on the Oregon Encyclopedia, Chief Kiesno.

Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins
Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins

Tiacan, First Chief & Alquema (Joseph Hutchins), Second Chief

These Chiefs of the Santiam Kalapuya tribe, were instrumental in negotiating with the federal government over the sale of their lands through at least two treaty periods, 1851 and 1855. They were one of the first tribes to refuse to remove from their homelands, sought to remain on a small reservation between the forks of the Santiam River and were powerful enough, that all of the other Willamette Valley Kalapuya tribes joined with them at the negotiations and chose to look to them for guidance. The Santiams were at this time the most powerful of the Kalapuya tribes because of their strength of character. They negotiated a week with the Federal agents before agreeing to sell their lands in 1851, then forced the agent, Anson Dart, to accept a small reservation within their homelands. The treaties failed because of this provision. In 1855 the chiefs agreed to remove to Yamhill Valley, and Joseph Hutchins becomes a chief and leader at the confederated tribe for several decades later. His children took the name Hudson.

Proposed Santiam Reservation 1851
Proposed Santiam Reservation 1851

April 11 and 12, 1851 at the Santiam Treaty Council in Champoeg, Oregon

Tiacan said, “they were friendly to the whites and had always been and that they were willing to do as their Great Father (President of the USA) wished and part with all of their lands, except a small portion, that they wished to reserve to live upon, feed their horses and cattle and cultivate.”

The Board asked if they would be willing to remove beyond the Cascade Mountains provided our Government would give them as good a piece of land there and pay all of their expenses in the removal. They all answered decidedly “No.”

Alquema said “they had once been a great people but now they had decreased to nothing, and in a short time the whites would have all their lands, without their removing.

(after a night of Consideration)

The Tribe appeared willing to make a Treaty, selling all their lands, except that between the forks of the Santiam, which they wished to reserve. Governor John P. Gaines (Oregon Territory) asked if a reserve could be made there without taking the claims occupied by white Settlers. It was said it could not be done.Gaines [stressed again removing beyond the Cascades for the good of the tribe]

Alquema objected to removing, said that “They could now see that they had thrown away their country; but that they wanted to keep this piece of land as their reserve.”

Tiacan, “their hearts were upon that piece of land, and they didn’t wish to leave it.”

[another night of consideration]

The Hanshoke [Ahantchuyuk] people, decided to unite with the main tribe… and acknowledge the chiefs as their chiefs…

Alquema, “they had thought over it and they had determined to reserve the country between the forks of the Santiam and that all the Indians would go together into this reserve.”

Alquema, “We don’t want any other piece of land as a reserve than that in the forks of the Santiam River. We do not wish to remove.”

This Treaty was never ratified, but the story and transcription tells us much of the character of these people. Later the Kalapuya tribes were on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and addressed other proposals without much trust for the Federal government.

In 1869 Jo Hutchins, Chief of Santiams- said, “I am watching your eye. I am Watching your tongue. I am thinking all the time. Perhaps you are making fools of us. We don’t want to be made fools. I have heard tyees talk like you do now. They go back home and send u something the white man don’t want. We are not dogs. We have hearts. We may be blind. We do not see the things the treaty promised. Maybe they got lost on the way. The President is a long way off. He can’t hear us. Our words get lost in the wind before they get there. Maybe his ear is small. Maybe your ears are small. They look big. Our ears are large. We hear everything. Some things we don’t like. We have been a long time in the mud. Sometimes we sink down. Some white men help us up. Sometimes we sink down. Some white men help us up. Some white men stand on our heads. We want a school-house built on the ground of the Santiam people. Then our children can have some sense. We want an Indian to work in the blacksmith shop. We don’t like half-breeds. They are not Injuns. They are not white men. Their hearts are divided. We want some harness. We want some ploughs. We want a sawmill. What is a mill good for that has no dam? That old mill is not good; It won’t saw boards. We want a church. Some of these people are Catholics. Some of them are like Mr. Parish, a Methodist. Some got no religion. Maybe we don’t need religion. Some people think Indians got no sense. We don’t want any blankets. We have a heap of blankets. Some of them have been like sail-cloth muslin. The old people have got no sense; they want blankets. The treaty said we, every man, have his land. He have a paper for his land. We don’t see the paper. We see the land. We want it divided. When we have land all in one place, some Injun put his horses in the field; another Injun turn them out. Then they go to law. One man says another got the best ground. They go to law about that. We want the land marked out. Every man builds his own house. We want some apples. Mark out the land, then we plant some trees, by-and-by we have some apples.”

Maybe you don’t like my talk. I talk straight. I am not a coward. I am chief of the Santiams. You hear me now. We see your eyes; look straight. Maybe you are a good man. We will find out. Sochala-Tyee, God sees you. He sees us. All these people hear me talk. Some of them are scared. I am not afraid. Alta-kup-et, I am done.” – (Wigwam and Warpath, Meacham).


Henry Yelkus
Henry Yelkus

Henry Yelkus

Chief Henry Yelkus (Yelkas) was a Chief of the Molalla tribes at Dickie Prairie, outside of Molalla. Yelkus was a young leader at the time of the treaties and took over as Chief after Chief Coast-no died. Yelkus led the people to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856 under orders from General Joel Palmer, Indian Superintendent of Oregon. Palmer wanted to save the tribe from further problems with the settlers in Oregon. Yelkus stayed at GRIR for about five years then returned to Dickie Prairie with many of his people after Palmer’s promises failed to come true. They remained in the area for several years until many of the Molalla went to live in Oregon City to find work.

Henry Yelkus in Full regalia 1913
Henry Yelkus in Full regalia 1913

Yelkus served as a representative of the tribe at Molalla events and attended the commemoration of the first train to reach Molalla in full regalia, September 20, 1913.  He was murdered that evening through unknown circumstances on the road back to his house.

Plankhouse at Dickie Prairie
Plankhouse at Dickie Prairie

These are several chiefs of the Western Oregon tribes. All tribes have past and present chiefs, headmen and leaders. These people deserved to by honored for all they did for the people.

For a longer list of the chiefs from this era and region see my previous essay.





Pride for the True Americans

As I re-discover the early history of athletics in Oregon, and found out that these early years were full of native people participating in the early rules and policies of numerous intramural sports, and contributing to the early successes of college athletics. I also found that native athletes were very prominent in sports. Men like Reuben Sanders, Jim Thorpe, and other early athletes,  local heroes and native. Many of the teams they were part of were named after tribal words, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, etc. There was a lot of pride by Americans with Native athletes like Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox) who represented the American nation in the Olympics (1912). He was a “true American” and for some reason this was very important at the time.  I wonder if the mascot team names today are not based on that early history, and that this fact has been forgotten in the veils of time.

Chemawa Baseball team 1910, Sanders is to the left of center in the front row

Reuben Sanders career (1895-1944) was forgotten in Oregon, yet he was widely celebrated, people knew him, knew his reputation and followed his career. In his time, he and a few of his fellow native athletes were part of a cadre of athletes in the Willamette Valley that contributed to the development of sports. They would be hired to play for numerous sporting organizations because they played with such spirit. They represented a spirit that inspired Americans to want the same as part of their school teams. Names like Braves, Indians, Chiefs, and Warriors may have been adopted because of the inspirational stories of the Indian athletes who persevered despite their personal  histories of colonization, loos, poverty, and living on reservations.

Billy Mills,  (Oglala Sioux), Olympic gold medal 10,000 meter run (6.2 mi) at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics,

Sanders’ mother walked up the coast to the Siletz Reservation, and he survived an abusive childhood and left home early to enroll in Chemawa Indian school, and despite his poor upbringing, he became the greatest athlete in Oregon history. That is an inspiring story.

But what is that pride?  Is It the same pride that alumni feel when they say they have pride of their mascot and that the mascots honor the natives in some way? Maybe the pride they feel has been carried forward, through their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, from those who experienced the Indian wars and witnessing native people dying from starvation and neglect. Maybe their ancestors took part in the colonization of this land and took it from the tribes. Its very possible that those stories are passed down with feelings that something was very wrong with colonization, that the actions of taking land  was not completely ethical or moral, that it is a shame that this all occurred the way it did, that Indian people ended up with nothing. They also used their Christianity to justify their actions and when assimilating the tribes they further justified their actions with the bible.

Sanders as Coach of the Girls basketball Team at Chemawa
Sanders as Coach of the 1913 Girls basketball Team at Chemawa

Then later the greed went further, and Americans took more land under the Dawes Act (1887), which gave individual allotment. But the Dawes Act was a time bomb. In 20 years Indian allotment holders got their land title and had to sell it to pay their bills and buy food. Nothing had been improved on reservations, the tribes remained impoverished, and millions more acres were sold from the reservations, or stole. Colonization continued, and yet it was called by many a shame that it all occurred. In the 1890s, when all the land had been taken and tribes lived to poor repressed reservations and tribal children forced into boarding schools, these settlers and settler descendants saw Indian children becoming great at American sports. This was an indication that the actions of the settlers in assimilating the tribes was the right direction, that it was working and now these “true Americans” were rising up to represent the great nation.

UO, first football game 1893, UO Special Collections
UO, first football game 1893, UO Special Collections

Jim Thorpe representing the United States in the Olympic Games is maybe the pentacle of this feeling that “everything is alright now”. What happened in the earlier century was now all better because of the success of native people in sports in the 20th century. Jim Thorpe had so much success in several sports that he is now named the Best Athlete in the History of the World. That is a point of American pride. But it disguises the genocidal attempts of the past century, it disguises the loss of land, loss of culture, and loss of human rights of so many native people.


That pride makes Americans, mainly white Americans, righteously proud, and Native Americans justifiably proud. So proud were White Americans that in these early days of forming and nurturing American sports, very many team names were of Indian terms, and mascots became caricatures of Indians because White Americans did not really know what Indians were like, they only learned of them from movies, cartoons, and newspapers. The caricatures in such media are highly stereotypical, and now carried forward to today and criticized as highly inappropriate by Native people who are now rising up and finding their voices. Again, that pride is perhaps a misplaced feeling of everything being alright with the tribes in the 20th century, so the colonization of tribal land in the 18th and 19th centuries is then not so bad, and assimilation worked.


Chemawa Chief Annual Yearbook
Chemawa entrance

The pride in these Indian team names with their mascots of Indian caricatures, is in the model of cultural appropriation. The assumed character of the Indian people was taken and used and abused, while Native people were left behind. In Oregon, in the early 20th century, Chemawa Indian school was not invited into the early Willamette Valley league which included the University of Oregon and city league sporting organizations and a few high schools. While the first two decades of valley sports  Chemawa had been directly involved at all levels of intramural play, they would play the University of Oregon  and Oregon Agricultural College and Willamette University, in track, football, baseball and basketball. Chemawa took a trip to play UC Berkeley and Stanford in football in 1904. Yet after the early formation of the amateur sporting franchises, the Indians had given of their words, Chiefs, Warriors, Indians, Braves and even Redskins, their spirit and pride and they were no longer needed. By the 1950s we see very few native people in any amateur or professional sports, which coincides with changes in national Indian policy, termination, liquidation of reservations, and further destruction of native economies.

Chemawa Chief Annual Yearbook, Holmes Collection, Willamette University

Someone asked me once, why are there not a lot of native athletes in college or professional sports. I never had the answer. But part of the answer may be in the cultural appropriation that occurred in the early 20th century. American society literally stole the “Indian” culture and spirit that they wanted, only the part they wanted, and left the native people behind. (Almost no recruiting on Indian reservation occurs today) It is cultural appropriation at its finest. That pride, that false feeling of honoring native peoples through Indian mascots, is really a disguise for the generational passing of ethical and moral guilt of taking nearly everything from the true Americans of this land.


Related article How American Indians Saved the Sport of Football


People of the Mammoth Steaks and Giant Sloth Flanks

It is a fact that the majority of archaeologists have been male. The fact is that their work has worked to bias much of our society’s understandings of the peoples of the past. Men lean on their interests in the direction they are most interested, which has biased our collective understanding of the past.  I offer some editorial perspectives on the issues and perhaps the beginnings of a solution.

For most of the past century of archaeological investigation on the Northwest Coast archaeologists were focused on finding evidence of the lifeways of cultures of the past based on available evidence. Much of that evidence that survives are tools that typically are used to hunt down animals and kill them and process them. The most common of these artifacts are spear points, one of the most prized in North America being the Clovis point. The surviving animal remains are normally their bones and teeth. Archaeologists have generally shown the public a cultural progression of spear points, from the largest to the smallest in a temporal framework (14000+ ybp to 100 ybp). The largest points mounted on spears and later atlatl being used to kill larger animals, megafauna, down to the “bird-points”, really just arrowheads that are capable of killing deer, elk and most animals, birds and even fish.

From those studies of spearpoints made from obsidians and other materials (Jasper, agate, chert, flint etc) have emerged a good number of theories as to what paleo-Indians were hunting for and how much time they spent hunting and how they hunted megafauna to extinction. The theory is that the paleo-Indians were essentially meat-eaters and hunted the animals so vigorously and often that they were a key cause in their extinction (An anthropocene event). The other effect was perhaps the effect of a large meteor hitting the earth, which caused huge environmental changes, combined with environmental changes when the glaciers receded.

When studying cultures of the world some 15 years ago, one notion discussed was that of the ruby lens. The notion is that all people look at the world around them from their own lens, their bias. Their lens is created by the society they grow up in, their religion, and their education. Its a socialized ways of looking at the world. Few people can completely escape from that perspective.

Nowhere in theories of the how the paleo-Indians fed themselves is there any notion of agriculture (I have not read all the literature but in the general texts there is nothing about the tribes engaged in agriculture). In fact the whole of the Northwest Coast is considered a region of Hunter-gatherers. That means that the tribes in this region hunted, fished and gathered their food from the forest as foragers. The whole region had hundreds of tribes who lived in an annual cycle called the seasonal round where they could “read” the seasons and understood when specific resources were read to be hunted, fished and gathered and they traveled about their homelands establishing resources camps to collect the resources. Tribes had long term associations with some camp sites. Some fish camp sites have 10,000 years or more of deposition (Celilo Falls). This was a consistent resource gathering activity as the region of the Northwest Coast was wealthy in all manner of resources and fed by huge networks of trade routes, from the Great Basin to the Pacific Ocean.

Then later in our history, archaeologists were forced to change their label of native peoples of the Northwest Coast. These “complex” hunter-gatherers had complex systems of governance. Governance is normally associated with the growth of agriculture, as early humans had to organize to develop specialization and to get grains and vegetables to urban markets. But on the northwest coast, the tribes had to advanced their governance, likely in response to the numerous annual salmon runs, and competition from other tribes to gain access to the best fishing locations. Then perhaps in part the need to manage trade relations with other tribes had a part to play in developing a trading class structure.

(Interesting parallel that meat is also the major food of our contemporary society and meat is valued above most other foods by a majority of people.)

The majority of research and writing about the tribes is really a study in hunting and fishing. Hunting and fishing are really where the great majority of artifacts are found, and the subject that was most interesting to our aforementioned male archaeologists.

It is perhaps unfair to single out archaeologists for their interests, because Anthropologists did the same thing. Anthropologists studied the cultural phenomenon they attracted the most attention, native spirituality, expressive artwork, and warfare of the natives. These were subjects that were interesting to the broader white population. Much of their work engaged with memory culture of native peoples, languages were intensely interesting as they offered other perspectives of the world around them. hat they did not engage with until much later, is the culture in front of them, cultural change as it was happening on the reservations. We only have rare studies of that cultural change.

There are some rare exceptions. Anthropologist Albert Gatschet collected something in 1877 from the Grand Ronde Reservation, a calendar. The Tualatin Calendar is one of two Kalapuya calendars collected, the other is Santiam. Gatschet’s Tualatin calendar is focused almost exclusively on the cycle of the Camas and Wapato plants. The calendar sets up a time to collect them. In fact nearly every month they tracked the progress of the Camas and wapato. They appear to have really devoted their whole seasonal round to the cycles of these plants.

Wait, where is the need to hunt and fish? Isn’t that the principle resource of all of the tribes?

There is another set of artifacts than sometimes survive, stone bowls, and mano and metate in various forms, do survive in the archaeological record. Tribes had a need to grind wild wheat and nuts unto a usable flour. Many of these artifacts are destroyed, intentionally, as part of the burial goods of a female native. There have been some studies of the uses of these tools. We do have pretty advanced theories of the acorn cultures of the interior valleys of the west coast. Acorns, Camas and Wapato are now well known to have had advanced gather and processing facilities in archaeological sites. The problem is the majority of the tool that were used to gather and process such foods, are themselves organic, and readily degrade. What is found in archaeological sites is perhaps a few horn handles of the digging sticks, and they survive only more recent cultural sites, about 300 years or less. Therefore, it is perfectly clear that the  lack of such cultural materials in archaeological sites is a quantitative bias that archaeologists must figure for in their reports, or if not their findings are inaccurate.

Where is the discussion of the other botanical food sources in our theories of the paleo-Indians? in many archaeological texts there is very little discussion of botanical foods, while discussions of hunting technologies and cultures is very common. Its very tough to create a theory about botanical resources when not much remains of the collection and processing of these resources. The material evidence is just not as common. And men, early archaeologists, were not really that interested in such studies. It is really in the past 30 or more years that archaeologists have engaged in studying what paleo-Indians were eating in the vegetable world. In the last 20+ years, most archaeological sites include the taking of soil samples so that pollen may be extracted from the soils. Pollen studies allows us to predict what sort of plants were available to be eaten by early peoples. (This understanding perhaps puts the theory of paleo-Indians killing off the megafauna in jeopardy, once we know more about the botanical foods they were eating and how much of their diet was plant-based.)

The follow is an example of how there are biases in archaeological findings.

I apologize in advance for using this example, it is not the only one, and just happened to be the one I was looking at today.

The majority of debitage from Sunken Village, 67%, are wood and fiber elements of wood chips, split
wood and basketry waste elements. Lithic debitage, representing 33%, produces a higher percentage than we normally see in wet sites in Puget Sound and northward, reflecting the emphasis on stone tool making at the site. Probably the most striking contrast with sites to the north, and especially the Qwu?gwes wet site on southern Puget Sound (the next well-recorded wet site to the north of 35MU4), is the low amount of basketry waste elements encountered, 2% at Sunken Village (see Basketry paper, below). I certainly began to conclude that little basketry was actually being constructed from this site, and lots of wood working and stone tool making was taking place. Since ethnographically woodworking and stone tool making are generally perceived as men‘s tasks (Ray 1975:142), and basketry tends to be considered a women‘s task, one could conclude, or at least hypothesize, that men were mostly active at the site, and/or at least that women were not making basketry from the site. One thought, especially if this location is mostly an acorn processing/leaching location, and not a large village location, men were stationed there to guard the pits during the minimal 4-5 month period of aquifer leaching. (Croes et al. Sunken Village site report 2009)

Croes is a good archaeologist, the problem here, however, is clear, women’s things are more likely to have been organic in nature and they would have degraded. Basketry rarely survives in archaeological sites and the lack of much basketry is scant evidence  of women’s perceived activities at the site. Many of these activities in tribal ethnographies are family activities. This might have been a acorn processing camp where a family would stay here for a month to collect and process acorns. Part of the problem here is there is not enough ethnographic studies about the Wappato Indians and their cultural practices around such activities to make any determination of which gender was most likely present. In fact I have not seen any detailed studies of the activities of the Chinookan Indians when they are participating in a resource camp site. There may very well have been a division of labor, and/or women and children and some men, stationed to gather acorns and watch the leaching while young men hunted for waterfowl, or fished. The problem with ignoring these obvious biases in the data gathering across the profession suggests that more work need to be done to expand our studies and determine just what the problems are.

Popular culture stereotypes

Many of the early theories of hunting and fishing cultures are still common, even now that many researchers are incorporating studies of plant resources.  In the media industry we see that early characterizations of native peoples culture are still very  meat-based.These original theories of early man are a bit set in stone, the die is caste, it was Mammoth steaks and Giant Sloth flanks that early hunters wanted. This idea has the convenience of fitting into American ideals of the best diet, with meats being the most important ingredient.

Amazingly, folks trying to help us by devising diets that approximate the diets of early man, before they had processed foods, paleo-dieters, who mainly eat meats and nuts. They are eating a diet based on stereotypical assumptions of early native societies. While evidence from the tribes really suggest that people ate more vegetables and starches than meats, and meats were an occasional find, and as such much smaller portion of our diet in the past than today. Many Tribes today spend just as much time on their botanical resources as hunting and fishing.

Associated is the study of women and children’s cultural roles in early societies. Unless they were hunters or fishers, we really know little about them. We need more focused studies of  the culture of women and children in early societies. A more inclusive holistic vision of tribal societies of the past is really what is needed. As Dr. Erlandson (UO) has noted, just because there is not evidence of an activity, does not mean it did not happen (in reference to the use of canoes to immigrate to North America, rather than solely relying on the theory of the Bering Strait Landbridge). Some of this work is happening in growing research areas like feminist archaeology and Indigenous archaeology, but the discipline is still very centrist around the old-standby theories.

A noted issue in this same vein is the theory of the salmon culture of the Northwest Coast (salmonopia). The idea that people were dependent on salmon exclusively for their very survival. When in fact, in the area of fishing, it turns out that a good number of other fishes were also captured. Small fishes and shellfish were a good portion of the regular food people would eat. At certain times of the year ooligan was the major food; smelts and other small fishes were saviors for some tribes in times of starvation. So while salmon are important, its not the only fish and at some times of the year other fishes were more abundant.

Is this a real problem? I think it still is as we continue to see the same characterizations of native peoples appear in archaeology texts; meat-eating mammoth hunters. Its not difficult to mention in passing that they were omnivorous, or ate a few vegetables. The botanical information needs to be an equal part of what is presented to students. For students getting into cultural studies today, perhaps becoming archaeologists, there are vast areas of paleo-botanical studies that are in need of more attention. Archaeologists need to open up to women and minority researchers and begin working on completing the image of the past and correcting the notion of meat eating paleo-Indians. Students need to come into the discipline prepared to be critical and ask a lot of questions.

An additional issue we all need to be aware of is that plant based foods are more stable than meat based. In fact, settlement studies suggest that farming produces a more stable protein and allows societies to grow and mature. In the region the tribes did not have farming. But the environment was rich and lush enough they it still produced a lot of stable plant communities, like camas, wapato and acorns. So their fecundity and the ways in which the tribes managed their lands, created rich and stable food sources. Tribal families would return to the same camas fields every year perhaps for hundreds of years. This wealth and that of salmon and fish allowed for high human populations to develop. These factors in the settlement studies of the tribes are missing in most analyses.

~The photo is my own, a blue striped camas flower from the State Fairgrounds parking lot in Salem, Oregon.



Because they are Wasting the Lands! Colonization of Federal Lands by the Malheur Militants

The situation on the Malheur Reservation is very reminiscent of what happened to the tribes in the 19th century, when thousands of acres of Indian reservation lands were taken from the reservations and allotted to Americans seeking their piece of land, with the promises of opportunity. This notion maybe connected with that of Manifest Destiny, the idea that America has the god-given right to take all of the West and expand its empire to the Pacific. Its a very American model of taking land, because Americans are deserving of every opportunity, regardless of who they have to push out of the way to get it. It is an amalgam of American Exceptionalism as applied to the American spirit, that many people are taught that they have the right of life, liberty and happiness, and if anyone gets in the way, run over them to get what you deserve. And that they are not doing anything illegal, they are excepted from following the laws as it is the right of true Americans to act in this manner.

Lets take of look at what happened to most if not all of the tribes in Eastern Oregon in the 19th century.

Eastern Oregon is a huge land, where many tribes and bands lived for thousands of years. Many tribes, Paiutes, Umatillas, Nez Perce, Kalmath, Modoc, all had a scattering of conflicts, battles and wars with settlers, ranchers and the federal and state troops. In the 19th century there were reservations set up to removed the tribes from conflict with the settlers. Treaties had been written and signed, some had been ratified. The tribes got some payment for their original homelands, and then services promised on the reservations.

In the arrangement with the tribes of Eastern Oregon, they were to be paid for their lands in annual installments over a period of about 20 years. Some of the tribes got funding for schools. But all the tribes were to get health care, help for creating farms, and annual supplies of food and clothing. Many years in the first 50 years (~1856-1900) the supplies were late and funding may or may not be timely, depending on whether Congress appropriated the funds. Letters from Indian agents were always seeking permission to feed the tribes with the remaining livestock of the agencies, and seeking funding for blankets and supplies. Life was very harsh on the reservations and it is understandable that the tribes did not trust the government thereafter. Support for the tribes continued to be extended well into the 20th century with the ultimate goal of someday assimilating the tribes to be Americans. In the 20th century the tribes began suing the federal government for all manner of mismanagement of Tribal money, for non-payment for lands, and for general mismanagement.

Historians and Tribes today question the fairness of the 19th century agreements. The tribes were paid a very small amount for millions of acres of land. Then, the federal government fairly to deliver promised supplies in a timely manner. Health care and resources were hard to find, the tribes became impoverished because of their treatment on the reservations. They were not allowed to manage their own finances. Most did not get the resources to start businesses. In the first few decades of the reservations, many people died from malnutrition and neglect.  The stress of removal and reservation life was too much for many. Populations on the reservations declined. These situations are coupled with the extreme prejudice of their American neighbors. White Americans simply wanted to exterminate all of the tribes, and did not even consider the tribes as people. Death came easy to tribal people in this time. Finally the government enacted policies of education and assimilation that were designed to eliminate the tribes through a process of attrition. With fewer people identifying as tribal, they would eventually demand less tribal rights and less resources. An 1887 act to eliminate the tribe was in the Trojan Horse of the Dawes Act.  The act was designed to given individual allotments to reservation people, but also instill individualism into the people, eliminate the tribal people who did not have 1/2 Indian blood quantum, and sell off the surplus acreage to Americans.  The act appealed to tribal members because they could get a large piece of land and eventually own it. However the tribes were so impoverished that once they received their fee simple title, in 20 years, many were forced to sell the land to pay their living expenses. The Dawes act cause a loss of tribal population (blood quantum), a loss of land (sales, blood quantum) and a loss of Indian identity (individualism). All of these strategies worked to horrible degrade the tribes and the reservations. Some land sales were under trickery by the neighboring whites, and many more acres were sold after the allotted passed on. Millions of acres that had been allotted passed from tribal hands. Some of the reservation kept their lands intact by keeping forest lands under the sole management of the tribal government. The Klamath reservation kept nearly a million acres intact for the valuable ponderosa pine forests.

Many of the reservations in the 19th century were harsh places to live. Life on the Klamath Reservation involved the amalgam of three tribes, Klamaths, Modocs and a band of Paiutes. The Modocs and Klamaths did not get along very well (at that time) and when the Modocs arrived on the reservation they were treated very poorly. They decided to leave under the command of Captain Jack, and the Oregon Militia, under General Canby worked hard to extricate the Modocs from the lava lands, that were like a fortress. Canby was eventually killed and the Modocs were tricked out of their fortress, the leaders caught and hung.

The Nez Perce also had a very negative experience under federal management. They received the Nez Perce Reservation and a treaty and settled in their homelands in the Wallowas. Yet settlers and Ranchers began encroaching onto the reservation and the federal government failed to defend the reservation from them. The lands in the Wallowas are absolutely beautiful and much prized by the newly arrived settlers. Encroachments caused much conflict in the community and after an attack on the settlements the Nez Perce had to flee to save themselves. They began working their way east and north to escape from the cavalry. This event is now legend, many books being written about the Nez Perce situation and their near-escape from the army.

The Malheur Reservation suffered a similar fate as these others. The reservation created by executive order, hosted many Paiute peoples. But local ranchers and farmers coveted their lands, and began settling in the reservation. This and ill treatment of the tribes by the federal government caused the Paiutes to decide to leave and they were chased down. The eventual “war” caused the government to close the reservation and separate the various Paiute tribes, removing them to Warm Springs, and Yakima, as well as jailing others. A small number remained living in their traditional territory and were hosted and supported by local farmers and ranchers in some reports. Other reports suggest the Paiutes became the area laborers and survived off these meager wages.

The Umatilla reservation was allotted out under the Dawes act and the remaining acreage was sold to white Americans. The reservation became a checkerboard reservation. The impetus for allotment under the Dawes Act came from a sector of the government that wanted to open up more lands to Americans to settle and for American companies to exploit for natural resources. Even though the tribes had lost and sold millions of acres in exchange for small reservations, that was still not enough. The tribes were envisioned as wasting even those reservations, and so more lands needed to be taken from them.

The Tribes in this area of Oregon, like those across the United States, lost most of not all their lands. A few tribes were able to keep their lands together, like Warm Springs. The main conflict was in the way in which the notions of Manifest destiny, or the idealized notion that Americans were destined to own the West, was translated into a notion that all Americans deserved to have free land in the West. As settlement progressed, there was less and less land available to allot and settle on for Americans. By the 1870, Americans began clamoring for the federal government to open more lands for settlement. This meant all federally managed lands would become subject to allotment. This included Indian Reservations, which were all managed by the Department of the Interior. So numerous reservations in Oregon suffered reductions or termination, Nez Perce, Malheur, and the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. In 1865 and 1875 respectively, there were reductions of thousands of acres of the Coast reservation. The termination of Malheur may then have been more a matter of the need to open land for White American settlement, than a need to manage the Paiutes. This is also clearly the case with the Nez Perce reservation. This was a new phase in the colonization of Indian country. Tribes possessed the last remaining non-allotted lands and American worked to eliminate the tribe’s grasp over those lands further.

It is then likely the case that the conflicts in eastern Oregon, in the latter part of the 19th century were really engineered by settlers to make the tribe appear warlike. Once determined warlike this would prompt the Federal authorities to take these lands and make these lands open to settlement. Whether this land grab was engineered this we can not be sure, without more research, but it is clearly the result of continuous encroachment and continuous maltreatment of the tribes and racist acts by the surrounding community, which caused them to react and leave the reservations.  This question is not outside the realm of possibility because in the 1850s, settlers in southwestern Oregon, engineered the Rogue River Indian war, to cause the United States to send regular troops to Oregon to defend the white American Settlements and remove the tribes to reservations. This was noted by not less than General John E. Wool, commander of the American Military on the Pacific Coast, after his investigations. Wool suggested that the supposed attacks by Indians on white settlements was in actuality a response to the war of extermination being carried out by the people of towns like Jacksonville and supported by actions by the Territorial government of Oregon.

The final bid for all tribal lands was in the 1950s with the policy of termination and liquidation. Tribes were seen to be wasting these lands still, and those natural resources could be better used to help state and the federal economies and so the elimination of reservations would make all those resources available. For three reservation in Oregon, termination occurred, the Klamath losing their forest lands. Termination was the last bid to completely colonize all of the tribes and reservations in the United States. 109 tribes were terminated nationally until the policy ended with successive presidential statements in the 1970s against termination.

The point of this essay is that conflict, the initiation of conflict is an American way of taking land from other people. Its a way of manipulating the government into opening more land for farmers and ranchers. It has been employed in the past and is now being employed in eastern Oregon at the Malheur refuge. The militants in this conflict are making wild claims about setting up their own governance, which has little chance of being successful. But the real problem is the court of public opinion. While the militants have been engaged in this occupation, they and their issues have been broadly advertised in the American media, and that advertising is now attracting a following. There are politicians and other like-minded people joining the cause. And the media is discussing the issues the militants are raising in a serious manner. Still many feel this occupation has little chance of success.

Yet as the discussion continues, a serious dialogue is now being opened into whether federal lands are poorly managed and the valuable lands are being wasted. That it would be better to allow Farmers and Ranchers the opportunity to put that land into use, because the federal government is wasting it on environmental programs and projects. That leases should not apply. In all appearances this discussion is approaching the same look as that of the 19th century when Indian reservations were closed to make more land available for American farmers, to give them more opportunity. Only now the tribe in that area has little land to take, so its the federal government who is being villainized and victimized. This is a similar situation with the Colonization of the Eastern Oregon of the 19th century and is perhaps a new way to impose colonization in the west, to colonize lands held by the federal government. Its is now the federal government, Big Government, who is in the way of the destiny of these true Americans from having land, and so they simply take it back because it is their  right as Americans to have land,, and to open logging operations, and to raise cattle and have opportunity. Who really cares about environmental health anyway?

Again, when did the Paiutes get the right to have their lands? These rights were taken away by the ancestors of many of the farmers and ranchers who the militants are supposedly acting on behalf of today. This movement is not about rights, or fairness, but simply about stealing land and rights by self-serving people who do not deserve the respect or attention the media is feeding them.



%d bloggers like this: