Takelma Ethnohistory


The Takelma are the original Rogue River Tribe. They occupied the river valleys in the Rogue River Basin and the Rogue Valley up into the Cascades Range. Their territory was well intermixed with several other tribes, the Athapaskans, the Shastas, Umpquas, all with nearby villages in the river drainages. The lived on the plentiful salmon from the Rogue and Illinois rivers, prodigious hunting of deer and elk. They also dug root plants like camas and wapato, gathered berries in their high territory, and collected acorns. The inland valleys are high oak savannahs that followed a north to south acorn belt extending from southern California through western Oregon, to Washington State.

The Takelma travelled extensively throughout their lands and had economic trade relations based on kinship with all the other tribes. The Takelma had an upland branch of the tribe called the Dakelma who lived around Mt. McLoughlin. The cultures of all the tribes in the area were very similar such that the athapaskan tribes and bands practiced the same lifeways.

The athapaskans are a recent arrival to the region and likely spread from their colonization point at Yontocket on the northern California Coast, south of Smith River in the Tolowa area, between 800 and 1500 YBP (Gould, Drucker, Bommelyn). The Takelmas and Shasta are the older tribes in the region. Their language may have been spoken by members of the Umpqua tribe to the North (Dorsey). It’s likely that because of intermarriage between the principal tribes, that many people spoke multiple languages in all the tribes, which would facilitate trade, communications, and peace.

In the colonization era, gold was discovered in southern Oregon in 1851, causing a massive gold rush. Once Port Orford was secured (1851), the Goldminers came in droves and began pushing tribes off their lands to get unimpeded access to the river and mines. This invasion of southwest Oregon caused the tribes to begin protecting themselves from the genocidal actions of the Volunteer Ranger Militia appointed by the Oregon Territorial legislature.

The resulting war, The Rogue River Indian War, was between a confederation of many different tribes against the volunteer militia. Later the US army joined the conflict to force the tribes to accept removal from the territory. In 1856 the final battles were fought, and the tribes surrendered at Fort Orford to be transported north to the new reservations at Grand Ronde and the Coast.

Most of the Takelma were first settled on the Grand Ronde Indian reservation in 1856. In 1857 many were moved to the Siletz Agency on the Coast Reservation. While at the Siletz agency, the Rogue River Tribes began dying off, to where the agent said they would soon go extinct. It likely that the Rogue River Tribes were originally protected from the major introduced diseases during the early days of colonization. Once removed to the reservations in the north, and forced to live around people from unfamiliar tribes and white Americans, they began contracting diseases and died off in great numbers. The remaining Takelma tribal descendants are now a part of the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations.

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