The last Siletz Community Meeting takes place today at 5 PM. Link available here.

The Early Treaty Making Period of 1851

As over 2,000,000 acres of our homelands were being taken up in Donation Land Claims by thousands of U.S. citizens, the United States knew it could not guarantee clear title to its settlers unless our people formally ceded those lands to the United States by treaty. It is a pattern that has been repeated over & over across this continent – Indian land was recognized as Indian land only so long as settlers, miners, timber barons or whoever weren’t interested. Once one of the above became interested however, they generally moved in and held – by forced occupation – the location until they had caused enough trouble that the U.S. Government had to “take action to secure the rights of its citizens”. It has always been an unbalanced and unfair process – but based, in theory, on U.S. Constitutional recognition of our people’s rights to life, liberty & property.

At about the same time that the Donation Land Act was passed (1850), Congress passed an act creating the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs. Previously, the Governor of Oregon Territory had held dual office as also being in charge of Indian Affairs for the region. The act, created a separate superintendent’s position. Anson Dart was named as the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Oregon. Remember that “Oregon” at the time was Oregon Territory, consisting of what is now Oregon, Washington and Idaho). Dart’s directions from Congress were to make treaties with each of the Tribes in Oregon, starting with our tribes who were living in the areas most occupied by settlers (western Oregon). Congress’ intent of the treaties was to get our tribes living in the most settled areas to cede all of their lands & agree to move east of the Cascade Range (where a permanent reservation would be created, & we would be “out of the way of settlement”).

In June of 1851, two incidents preceded the negotiation of treaties. The U.S. Army (for the first time) fought our people when they attacked our villages along the Rogue River near Table Rocks (killing about 50 & taking 30 women & children prisoner). At about the same time, Captain Tichenor landed a group at what is now Port Orford with intentions of establishing a town-site near the main village there. About thirty of our people died at “Battle Rock” in the conflict that followed. There had always been tension & skirmishes, but now, our people were threatened by an all-out Extermination movement growing among the settlers – which was especially popular among the miners, who were now invading formerly secluded areas of SW Oregon & NW California by the thousands.

Later in 1851, Dart conducted treaty meetings in the northern Willamette Valley, along the lower Columbia River down to Tillamook Bay, & from Sixes River to the mouth of the Rogue. Under these treaties, each tribe refused to conform to Congress’ plan for them. Each group was willing to cede the majority of their territory, but insisted on permanently reserving a piece of their home country for themselves, & reserved the right to fish in all usual & accustomed areas. Word of Dart’s over-expenditures (in presents, room & board and salaries for his helpers, etc.) & about provisions of his treaties soon made it to Washington D.C. Before Dart knew it, his authority for making treaties was ended. Dart had tried to honor the wishes of the tribes, but he was to be ever after mistrusted by both Indian & settler alike.

The U.S. Senate refused to take action on the treaties that Dart had negotiated in 1851. So while our people who signed those treaties technically maintained aboriginal title to all their homelands, more settlers and miners continued to arrive, many of them violent, lawless characters. It would not be until a new Superintendent took over in 1853, that things began to change. Next month’s article will be about that new Superintendent – Joel Palmer & his treaties of 1853-1855, and what those treaties promised our people.