The End of Wars & Removal

The action of the President in creating the Coast (Siletz) Reservation did nothing to quell those in the mining camps and settlements screaming for the complete “extermination” of our people. In fact, the last portion of the Rogue River Wars was started by a totally unjustified and very bloody attack on one of our villages in the Rogue Valley, just prior to the creation of the Coast (Siletz) Reservation. As word came to our people on the Table Rock Reservation about the attack, a portion of our people went to Fort Lane, and pled for protection from the Army. The majority however, fled down-river into the Rogue Canyon, attacking the settlers who were not friendly to our people along the way. Open warfare then raged through the end of 1855 and into the first half of 1856.

In the actual state of emergency that existed when word came that the Coast Reservation had been established, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Joel Palmer knew there had to be some quick action. With that in mind, Palmer designated a temporary camp to be established on the south fork of the Yamhill River (Grand Ronde). He believed that removal to the Coast Reservation before the Siletz Agency buildings had been established and fields fenced & plowed, would be a complete disaster. There was also a good deal of uncertainty about the best way to get supplies to the future Siletz Agency. In preparation for arrival of much of the native population of western Oregon, the United States bought the improvements on lands occupied by a couple of settlers on the South Yamhill River.

In January 1856, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Joel Palmer organized a removal of the Umpquas, Kalapuyas and Molallas to the temporary camp on the south fork of the Yamhill River. In late February 1856, the coastal tribes on and near the Rogue River rallied with the inland tribes to chase the miners into their fortified positions at Gold Beach, Port Orford and other locations. However, the re-taking of the coast would be short lived.

At about the same time as the attack on Gold Beach, Palmer organized the removal of our people who had been staying at Fort Lane since the attack in October 1855. As the group was moving out to head north over the snowy passes, a miner came riding up and shot one of our men in the back, killing him. This nearly ended any hopes of an orderly removal, especially with open threats being issued by settlers along the travel route, that they would kill any Indians passing on their way to the reservation, along with any white men that were with them.

It was apparent by this point, that it would be impossible for the US Army even to control the more reckless elements in the miner and settler populations. This is when Palmer wrote the letter mentioned in the last article which stated that the Table Rock Reservation could not be considered for a permanent reservation, that the miners would never leave our people alone there and that the Rogue Valley Tribes would have to remove to Siletz also. Several times it was declared that the warfare could have ended in early 1855, but for the interference and actions of the “volunteers” (miners/wannabe soldiers) which were calculated to prolong the war. The war was clearly thought of as a monetary boon by many which made it even easier to promote “clearing the country of Indians”.

The correspondence between Superintendent Joel Palmer and General Wool, Commander of the Pacific Division during this period is full of disgust for the volunteers. Neither Palmer nor Wool had any respect for the motives or methods of the volunteers. The volunteers constantly foiled any chance for peace talks. As our people were coming in for the peace talks at Big Bend, the volunteers were busy ambushing as many of us as they could. It was their meddling that made our people afraid that the peace talks were going to be one big ambush, and swung the vote towards a battle instead.

At the end of the Battle at Big Bend, the majority of the people were willing to give up resisting removal. Tyee John’s Band along with the Pistol Rivers and Chetco people were among the last to surrender. Tyee John finally gave up at the end of June 1856, on the headwaters of Rinehart Creek, having been chased many miles from his home country. Many small groups and individuals hid out as long as they could, but many were hunted down and shot as “hostiles”.

In the Summer months of 1856, two groups of approximately 600 700 each were loaded on the deck of the steam ship “Columbia” at port Orford and taken up the coast to the Columbia River. From there the ship went up the Columbia to Portland. The rest of the trip up the Willamette & Yamhill Rivers to the temporary camp at Grand Ronde was on other boats & barges, and by foot. All of the people removed after these two ship loads were marched up the coast. Many being taken directly to Yaquina Bay (where the Army built a blockhouse), to Salmon River or the Siletz Valley (as a blockhouse and other Siletz Agency facilities were built).

The way that the Siletz Agency buildings were established, give a person the idea that there was confusion from the start and no wonder that the history of the reservation and its status as a permanent reservation came into question. Of course there is all of the confusion about establishing a temporary camp, & by this time Palmer was actually promoting the idea that the Coast Reservation be extended to include the temporary camp. The first building at the new Siletz Agency was the requisite Army blockhouse. It was first constructed in 1856 above (what’s now) Logsden on a low hill near Mill Creek. Soon it was found not to be the most ideal location and the logs were dismantled and floated down to Siletz and somehow dragged up to what we now lovingly refer to as Government Hill. Phil Sheridan and his crew built a “road” from Ft. Hoskins to the Agency and actually brought a wagon over it, but the wagon wasn’t worth much by the time it arrived on this end. The first shipment of supplies to the reservation included the year’s supply of flour and other staples. It wrecked on Siletz Bay and virtually the whole cargo was lost & the government had no other funds to purchase more supplies with. In May of 1857 nearly all of the coastal people and two thirds of the Rogue Rivers and Cow Creek people were brought to Siletz Agency from the temporary camp at Grand Ronde. Approximately a month later, an Executive Order was signed by President James Buchanon that instead of permanently attaching the temporary camp to the Coast (Siletz) Reservation, established the Grand Ronde Reservation as a separate (but bordering) reservation.

Many of our ancestors decided to return to their old homes where they knew they could find acorns and other foods not found at Siletz. Usually those ones were doomed to make the long walk again back to Siletz and sometimes several times they made the same walk, as the soldiers made their periodic sweeps through SW Oregon, looking for runaways. One group of about 75 people who hid out and didn’t come to the reservation at first was forced by starvation out of the hills down-river from Grants Pass in spring of 1857. The settlers supposedly thinking them still “hostile” went out and shot all the men (about 10) & penned up the surviving women and children until the Agent could send the soldiers down to march them to Siletz.

Yes those early reservation days were full of hard times, but our people were strong enough that some survived so that we could be here today.