Umpqua Basin Tribal History

The interior Umpqua basin had at least four primary tribes. There were the Yoncalla Kalapuyans, the Southern Molalla, the Upper Umpqua, and the Cow Creek Umpqua. There also was a Fort Umpqua established by Hudson’s Bay Company, and the first Umpqua Reservation. There was a fifth tribe on the Lower Umpqua as well called the Lower Umpqua or Quuiich. There have not been any texts which have brought together all of the scattered sources of information about the Umpqua Valley tribes and so the sources remain scattered. There have been many assumptions about the Umpqua tribes, that they all spoke one language and that they are all bands of one tribe. This is not the case at all as the five tribes of the basin have five different languages. The Cow Creek peoples occupied a river basin of the upper Umpqua tributary, Cow Creek, which was somewhat separated from the Umpqua Valley floor. The Cow Creek peoples spoke Takelma language and so more properly they are a member of the Takelma culture group which includes the Takelma and Latgawa. The Takelma language is thought by some scholars to be related to Kalapuyan.

The Upper Umpqua peoples spoke Athapaskan and occupied the center of the Umpqua Basin. There were individual tribes of the upper Umpqua, Lookingglass was one of these. Recent research into the origins of the Clatskanie tribe has discovered stories in the J.P. Harrington notes, of the Clatskanie and their relations in Washington State migrating into the Umpqua Valley and becoming the Upper Umpqua tribe of Athapaskans. Therefore, they are not directly related to the southern Oregon/northern California Athapaskan peoples who originated from the Tolowa migration, Yontocket, but a different migration and branch of the very large Athapaskan language tree. The Yoncalla Kalapuyans occupied an area on the north side of the basin and over the Calapooia Mountains as far as the Row River where there was a main village noted in surveyors’ GLO maps. The Yoncalla, also called Komemma (From Jesse Applegate’s the Yangolers), spoke southern Kalapuyan which is similar to but slightly different from central and northern Kalapuyan. The Southern Molel or Molalla occupied the foothills of the Cascades up to the headwaters of the Rogue River. Some scholars have noted that they are more related to the Klamath peoples, in some words, and through kinships. There appears to have been little or no contact between the Southern Molalla and the Northern Molalla. Finally, the Lower Umpqua lived between the Umpqua estuary and just over the Coast Range to as far as just below Elkton. They spoke a language called an isolate which is related to Siuslawan and there was also some word borrowing from Hanis/Coos due to their close relationships.

These tribes interacted well with each other and there were numerous intermarriages and kin relations. Another essay about the Yoncalla Kalapuyans notes these interrelationships.

Colonization really begins with the Hudsons Bay Company establishing their Fort Umpqua in the basin to trade for animal furs. The long-term outpost becomes a hub of activity and most travelers and explorers stop at the fort when going north and south. The site of the fort eventually becomes Elkton. There is an additional Fort Umpqua establish by the U.S. Army at the Umpqua estuary, which was meant to keep the peace and to be the gateway to keep Indians on the Coast Reservation.

There are two reservations in the Umpqua basin, the Umpqua Reservation in the center of the basin, and the Cow Creek Reservation in the Cow Creek watershed. These reservations are established in 1853 and 1854 to hold the tribes under the terms of the treaties of purchase until they can be moved to a permanent reservation. The removal north to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation happens from late January to February 1856. There is a third reservation to mention, the Umpqua Reservation at the coast. It was another temporary reservation that existed for seven years, until 1863, and held several hundred tribal people awaiting removal to the Coast Reservation. Some scholars have suggested that this Umpqua reservation was insignificant, but with a seven-year history (1856-1863) and population counts at the reservation topping 600 or more people, it does not seem insignificant at all.  Its purpose was also unique, not just a temporary holding area for some tribes, but providing the gateway to the Coast Reservation, or from the reservation, and in-taking several bands of tribes that were hiding from the military and later forcably removed north to the Coast Reservation. All removals of tribes from the Coastal plains were without a ratified treaty and as such may have been illegal.

The Umpqua Basin was depopulated of Indians by 1856 due to removal. The removals occurred to create a “volunteer desert” to eliminate the possibility of recruitment of these Indians by the brethren in the Rogue River Confederacy during the Rogue River War. Similar actions were taken during this same period with the Coos, Coquille, Tolowa (northern California), and all Rogue River tribes that remained at Table Rock Reservation. Secondarily they were removed to eliminate settler attacks on the peaceful tribes in the basin, of which there are numerous accounts. Perhaps the last tribe technically in the basin was a band of Southern Molalla, who appear to have been arbitrarily removed to the Klamath Reservation once it was established. During the years following the removal of the tribes, there were many escapements from the Grand Ronde and Coast Reservations. Indians regularly traveled back to their homes and gathered in encampments outside of the settler towns. Places like Days Creek and Roseberg saw these encampments and there were calls – and letters sent to Indian agents- to remove these rowdy savages. Indian agents would send deputies to collect the escapees and return them. A few tribal peoples were allowed to remain, the Halo family of Yoncalla Indians is one example of this. They remained because of their friendship with the politically powerful Applegate family who supported and even defended their right to remain.

The following are a series of articles about the peoples and events of the Umpqua Basin.

David Douglas and the Sugar Pine

Slavery at Canyonville 1853

Coles Valley settlers want the Resources on the Umpqua Reservation, 1854

The Umpqua River Indians Prepare for Removal

The Cow Creek Temporary Reservation

The Umpqua Reservation Census, 1855

When the Southern Molallas moved to the Umpqua Reservation

Cow Creek Umpqua treaty

Umpqua and Kalapuya Treaty

War of the Umpqua Tribes and removal 

Umpqua journal of removal

Umpqua Encampments at Grand Ronde

Umpqua Off reservation allotments

Related to Old Man Fisherman

Umpqua Valley Settlers Murder Klikitat Farmers: Dick Johnson’s Family Story, by Sallie Applegate Long

Beginnings of the Umpqua District, Agency, and Reservation


The Quartux Journal