RG75 M2, M234
Yes these are historian-archival resources that many of us in the research business know as the source for much of the information about Indian Affairs in the 19th century. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I envy your ignorance, as there must be a lot less stress, strain, and anguish in your life. These are microfilm series that contain correspondence from Indian Agents and others about the administration of tribes and reservations in the United States. There are two different series related to Oregon for RG (Record Group) 75:
NARA Series M234- Letters received, 1824-1881; registers of letters received, 1824-1880:Oregon Superintendency, 1842-1880 Oregon Superintendency 1842-1852
The Finding aid.
NARA Series M2- Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1848-1873
and index is here: Index to M2
Thus far we have always had to access these microfilm series in libraries. Many large university libraries have the series. The process of looking through the microfilm has been labor intensive, only in the past 8 years or so have digital readers and digital printouts become readily available to the public. This has made saving and printing from the films of letters and reports very easy and helpful. A process that at one time took hundreds of hours to now tens of hours.
But I recently discovered that the M234 films for the Oregon Superintendency are now online at the Montana Memory project. Yes they have all of the Oregon and Washington rolls completely digitized. I don’t know the full extent of the project, but I’ll bet its of a broad spectrum of the west.
We are still searching for access to the M2 series, perhaps they are digitizing the series now?
I also found the records for the Washington Superintendency:
So research away!
Down in Southwestern Oregon, along the Rogue River are not just one Table Rock, but two. They are Upper and Lower Table Rocks, horseshoe shaped buttes that were part of the Table Rock Reservation. We have spent quite of bit of time with Lower Table Rock as this butte was fully contained within the reservation, and the tribes saw this butte as a sacred place. The butte served as a natural fort, to protect against invaders, and was used by the tribes during the signing of the Rogue River Reservation in 1853 as a safe place for the people while negotiations took place.
The people of this valley, primarily the Takelma tribe, are my people, one of my ancestral tribes. So this trip was very thought provoking. I wonder about the peoples and their use of this place. The relative natural setting without any apparent clearings for native structures, meaning to me that this place was rarely used, it was a sacred place, perhaps a place for defense, or to escape from natural disasters. Otherwise there were few signs of native use. Some rocks on the landscape were arranged in interesting ways, probably placed there by someone. The circular patterns most probably meant something to the tribes. I was immersed in the environment of the tribes of the past, and because I seem to come back here each year, there may be some meaning to these experiences.
Upper Table Rock does not get the same attention. Half of the butte was within the reservation, and today there is a trail to the top, from the trail head off Modoc Road. Upper Table Rock gives great views of the surrounding valley and ranges, and there are some unique ecosystems at the top.
First, I was not feeling like a climb that day, but I decided on a whim to take the trail. I had been invited on several other hikes but had not brought the right shoes or clothing. But I decided to circumnavigate Upper Table Rock on Modoc road and saw the trial head and decided to go for it. I only had my slip on shoes that I normally wear to work and shorts and a t-shirt. I found one water bottle in my car and took off.
The trail was easy going. I felt OK most of the way up, took my time and was not overly winded. I had spent a good part of the summer hiking miles around New York and Washington DC so I think I had built up some stamina. It was not too hot, and the horizon was hazy, a result of the fires in Northern California, so this helped. I did not drink a lot, and actually found a full water bottle on the side of the trail half way up. I took some to fill my bottle and left the rest. I fell in among a madrone forest sprinkled with pine and other trees. The madrone is so interesting with its curling bark and red inner layer. My great uncle Frank Forster used to use the wood for his carpentry. Its a very beautiful wood. Reaching the top, I knew that I was there because the trees ended. It was also perfectly flat with a rolling prairie on top. The whole area is sprinkled with lava rock. The pattern is so random it must have been this way for a very long time. But following the trails on the top I found several rock shapes that looked mad-made, whether of native culture or otherwise I don’t know. I went straight to the other side of this leg of the butte and was able to see Lower Table rock in a haze. I wished for a better camera, but the other had no power. So I was limited to my phone, which takes good photos. Checking the meter on the phone I only had less than half power so I knew my photography time would be limited. On the way I found a few other plants of interest. A form of juncus which dries a shade of yellow, wild roses and the madrone.
I walked north along the inner seam of the south leg and so buzzards drifting and catching the updrafts at this edge. They were fast so I could not catch them with my camera. I walk north until the trail seemed to end. I wanted to get closer to Lower Table rock to take better photos of that butte from the North leg of Upper Table
Rock, so I set out westward, trying to get across the lava strewn fields. I found walking through the tall grasses was more difficult because the stickers would get into my socks and I could not see the lava so I would stumble a lot. So I adopted a pattern of following the edge of the round lava boulder fields. This helped me progress better but after about a half hour of this and I realized that I would not make it all the way west and then back to the car in time to get home at a decent hour.
So I headed north, found a recently driven road and followed that for a bit. I saw a white airplane warning tower peaking over the top of the butte, as I think there is a small airport on the valley floor and after a time turned back. On the way back I found an empty plastic water bottle and picked it up and a roll of toilet paper, just laying in a middle of the lava field. I picked these up to clear the area of this litter. I wish people would pack out their litter.
An excellent trip and learned lot about the butte. The haze was very apparent. I wonder what the Takelmans of long ago did when there were fires. The Table rocks may have been a hiding place from the fires.
I found the trail head down and headed back. I took a side trial which descended quickly, and when getting back to the trail, I found walking down is incredibly strenuous on the joints. When I got back to the car I had been on the hike for about 3 hours. I had at least one blister on a toe and for four days I was in muscle pain for this excursion. My shoes held up well but needed to be tighter and stiffer to deal with the lava shards.
Last Night I presented before some 200+ people at the Kennedy School in Portland. The presentation was well received. Some very good questions, the normal comments of surprise and shock at some of the numbers I was presenting about what happened to Native peoples in the past 200 years. The presentation is here, 200 Years of Changes
On August 7th 1871, Indian commissioner Alfred B. Meacham met with representatives of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The mission was to discuss the possibility of the tribe relinquishing its reservation and combining with one of their neighboring reservations in Washington State or Oregon.
The transcript of this meeting is found in the M234 series of microfilm. The series is mainly correspondence of Indian Affairs from the Oregon superintendency. the microfilm was accessed at the NARA downtown Washington, D.C. facility, but there are copies at many other libraries. This transcript is 61 pages in a report dated January 1, 1872. There is a follow-up transcript to another meeting in Salem, Oregon at the Methodist Episcopal Church (First Methodist Union Church) on State Street during the time of the State fair. This second meeting is 80 pages of content, includes most of the tribes, except for Klamath, which was too far away for travel.
Superintendent Alfred Meacham begins the meeting by addressing the Umatilla leaders, and continually stressing the advantages of the American civilization, their advancement ahead of the Indians and how far behind the Indians are. Meacham speaks in great detail about the way things were for the Indians before removal and settlement, and the ways things are in 1871. This has got to be painful and somewhat disrespectful to the tribal leaders assembled. Yet the tribal leaders decline to speak on the first day. They also allow Meacham to set the tone the next day too. Then when they have listened politely and completely, their first major statement is by Umapino (sp?) who completely captures the meaning and trivializes it at the same time, reducing the argument that Meacham is making down to the notion of “days”. The “days” in his statement stands for the differential in civilization and advancement.
“I suppose you bring your hearts from Washington. I am a poor Indian. I know nothing, you are a great many days ahead of us. I suppose you know that you are leaving us many days behind, we don’t know much, we will not take offense because you tell us that we are many days behind you.”
In the midst of his statement, Umapino states clearly that the tribe is aware that the United States is impoverishing them intentionally. This seems like a statement that begs to be answered by Meacham.
Meacham answers with a speech about the values of books, of knowledge. That books tell the truth, and that there are honest men and dishonest men. That the government has the welfare of the Indians at heart and are honest and that the tribe could not maintain its reservation for 24 hours without the government to keep the settlers off the reservation. This argument by Meacham is his attempt to put everything into perspective but does not really address Umapino’s statement.
The third day the federal agents stress the coming conflicts when more whites come on the railroads and want more lands. They state they do not want a war of extermination. They caution the tribe against retaliatory acts against the whites who attack them. They stress all of this and then ask if it would not be better to reduce the reservation or move elsewhere. It seems like they are trying to put a little fear in the hearts of the tribe and spark some self-preservation. What they do not state is telling. They don’t say they will defend the reservation against the settlers, nor do they offer to allow the Indians to defend their own lands. The argument is very much stacked against the tribe towards removal.
In this era, there were lots of efforts by settlers to take the reservations lands of the tribes. Land claims had nearly ceased as land claims had taken all the best lands and resource rich lands were no longer available. So settlers saw the vast expanses of some of the reservations as perhaps subject to settlement. American settlers began complaining to the politicians to open more lands for settlement. They were successful. In 1875 the Coast reservation was reduced again (previously reduced in 1865) opening some 2/3 of the former reservation to settlement. In addition, the neighbors to the Umatilla Reservation, the Nez Perce Reservation, was being challenged by squatters, ranchers, and gold miners who wanted the Nez Perce tribe out of the way. Gold had been discovered in 1860. Pressures on the tribe mounted and large sections of the reservation were subject to sale in 1863, with the Nez Perce gaining additional money from the federal Government for the encroachment of the Americans. But tensions rose in 1876, and in 1877 the Nez Perce War caused the tribe to attempt to escape to Canada. The result being that the Nez Perce Reservation was terminated and the tribe has yet to return to Oregon. We can assume the same pressures existed for the Umatilla people a short distance to the west of the Nez Perce territory in the Wallowas.
Herotish-Wampe spoke on this day. His statements were about the things promised by the government that they had not seen yet on the reservation.
“When Stevens made the treaty he told us as much as 3 mules could pack of money should be sent to us, and pointed out this law and said there is so much land for you- I don’t know what has become of that money- all the chiefs where to have good houses with windows like your white chiefs, I don’t see any of them- I git up and moved and came here on this reservation. He told me this was for 20 years, he told me we were going to stay 20 years and have an Agent and then look out for ourselves. Then I came here. I have been here 11 years and all that he promised I have not seen. I think it must be lost. I hear what you say about my land, I like my land. I don’t want to dispose of it. I look at this land like my mother, as if it was giving milk and I was sucking. I see that this little piece of land is good. This reservation I see marked out for me. The people on this reservation are doing their work themselves. I know that you are asking me for my land, and I don’t know whether you will fulfill whatever you promised me. I do not see that money that was promised before. All my stock I have , I have to keep on what little land I have, that is the reason I want this little piece of land left me. The land that I gave Govn. Stevens the whites have got and settled and I feel that I have only got a small piece of land left. The other reservations are already filled with Indians. The Nez Perces are living on their reserve. At Simcoe the same and at Warm Springs the same. I see them on their reservations, they feel that I am living on my reservation. My reservation that I am living on I cannot let go.”
A powerful statement indeed.
Later Meacham does address the issues raised. He states that the money funded services to the reservation, including a carpenter “to build coffins wherein to bury your dead.” A bit of a morbid statement. Meacham does not miss a chance to point out the decline of the tribes at the reservation.
Pierre- an old man at the reservation, Pierre is particularly strong in his statements. He states he has no need for money and that he will never sell his land. He invokes the notion of heart like many others. He states “not with a bad heart”. To me he is saying that he speaks from his heart and from his inner feelings for his land. That he speaks the absolute truth, and that he does not have bad feelings about the discussion taking place. He speaks the truth and so he has no grudges, nothing left unsaid and so nothing to take away with him.
This council with the Umatillas lasted for four days. Over and over the tribal leaders told the commission they would not sell their lands. yet still a proposal was forwarded. This was likely rejected. In this transcription, we learn a lot about the thoughts of these people in the 1870s. They were strong, had a string philosophy regarding their peoples and culture, and knew that relinquishing any more land would be foolish. They knew that the government would lie again and take their land and not return what it promised. They were having none of that, and so they all rejected the proposal. Meacham continued to talk about the negatives which would be inflicted on their culture and land, and the potential impacts of the impending railroad into the region. The Tribal leaders were not having any of it. Through the strength and conviction of the Tribal leadership, the white American in the area of the Umatilla reservation had to adjust to a permanent reservation in their midst.
This event compares favorably with the statements from the Governors’ Indian Affairs Council in Salem in 1950 when termination policy was being discussed. There the Umatillas again state their power, the lack of follow-through by the Americans and the fact they were treated as second class citizens. Then their condemnation was answered with changes in Oregon laws regarding Native rights. But, the strength of the Umatilla leadership also halted one of the most horrible federal Indian policies, termination. The Umatilla Reservation was never terminated, unlike the western Oregon tribes and Klamath.
August in Washington, D.C. is hot, humid, and is always seen as a great opportunity to find incredible resources that are lost in the archives. I say lost because archives like NARA are so vast that the many finding aids they have for the collections can only help to a point, then researchers must rely upon the knowledge of the archivists to find resources, or happenstance. So yes many resources are simply lost as so many archivists have retired and with them goes intimate knowledge about the collections. This is a fact about many archives.
I began at NARA because I was seeking some particular documents. I was able to find great resources about the treaties. The archivists are very helpful but their knowledge of native documents has limits. I was able to find numerous documents, the original 1851 treaties, four amazing maps, and got into the microfilm set M234. The M234 series I had not seen before and proved to be an amazing collection. This series which parallels M2, Correspondence from the Oregon Superintendency, has numerous letters documenting the goings on at the reservations. I found transcripts of a meeting with the Umatillas, perhaps the first, and a transcript of the tribal meeting at Salem (1872). Albert Meacham states that this is the first. I think this is the basis for his book about the tribes, Wigwam and Warpath. Then found a series of letters from the agents at Siletz discussing how the reservation was in debt. Palmer had put the reservation in debt to feed and clothe the people, because no funds were being given from Congress. At one point the agent states that Grand Ronde was getting all of the treaty funds from the Rogue River treaties.
The Library of Congress has a scattering of documents and it is difficult to get finding aids for their collections so very hit and miss. The online search is good but not in fine detail that would facilitate research in their collections
The NAA is very good, lots about the tribes. This year’s research was fruitful there. The SWORP project was already able to copy most of the ethnographic records related to the western Oregon tribes in three research trips (1995, 1998, 2006). There are still some good resources for the eastern Oregon tribes.
A short visit to the exhibits in the National Museum of the American Indian revealed that that still have very little related to western Oregon. They likely had a Siletz exhibit some years ago, so we would have to approach them about an exhibit for Grand Ronde to make that happen. this time the Hupa and Yakima exhibits were the closest related to Oregon.
A visit to the Museum of American Art revealed some good contemporary art. I was most interested in seeing the Albert Bierstadt paintings. These are huge paintings of the American west. They have always seemed related to some of the European landscape paintings in that they try to capture the mythology of the lands. But the American landscape from the perspectives of the time was that it was simply huge, beyond what ever experience there ever was in Europe. Albert Bierstadt tried to capture this spirit by making his paintings likewise huge, and he has captured that sense of enormity of the time. I saw one of these paintings.
Then at the National Archives Museum, the opposite side of the research center, I saw some of the original founding documents of the American nation. As always I look to see if they try to interpret American Indian documents. There is a small section about treaties, of South Dakota. Sort of disappointing. It was hard to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, because of the crowds of people.
I learned some important lessons from this research. First, go with a team, because you can cover more ground with more people and you will have companions for traveling. I had to take the METRO system into downtown, actually an easily procedure, but my place was about an hour away, and it was impractical to go back to my place in the middle of the day. With no office in the city, basically you have to keep moving around. I found that the area on the Orange line south of the Capitol, at the Eastern Market is more welcoming to travelers. There are lots of eating establishments and even some good coffee shops, a rarity in the Washington, D.C. area. Dupont circle is also good for researchers, and for the most variety of food, Union station is the best and the cheapest. Wireless access was not a problem.
Basically the METRO is your friend in DC, make sure you fly in to Reagan and not Dulles so you can use the METRO system right at the airport. The culture in DC is so formal that I felt I was from an alien culture at times. But I survived and found some great resources and learned lots about the current state of the archives. I have some good ideas for the next trip. The research was a success and now its time to process the new collections of PDFs, photocopies and photos. Stay tuned.