The Western Oregon Treaties of 1853-1855

Joel Palmer was appointed as the new Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory, just as mining activity was bringing Indian/white relations to the breaking point. Palmer, an early arrival in the Oregon country, seems to have had an unusual amount of compassion and understanding of our people’s situation at least for a man of his time. He would soon be known and respected among our people by a name that translates as “knows in his head”.

During the late summer months of 1853, the Rogue Valley around Jacksonville & what is now Medford was the scene of open warfare & brutality. Our people, seeing their lands and resources overrun, & their rights being invaded in every way, had resorted to open conflict. Palmer, was able to effect a cease-fire and hold a meeting on Evans Creek to discuss having treaty negotiations. The headmen wanted time to gather the people, who were scattered from the Rogue/Umpqua divide to the summits of the Siskiyous.

On September 10, 1853 treaty negotiations were held at the base of the cliff of Lower Table Rock. The treaty negotiations nearly came to a halt when a tribal member came running into camp, sweat streaming from his body, threw himself upon the ground, & after getting his breath announced that a headman from down river had been tortured and hanged by some miners. But good-sense and calm eventually prevailed, with promises being made that the men responsible would be properly punished.

This treaty is called the “Treaty with the Rogue River” although it represented three distinct language groups, the Takelma, Shasta & Applegate River people. Under the 1853 Rogue River Treaty, our ancestors agreed to cede (relinquish to the United States) title to the entire upper Rogue Valley. Our people reserved, however, the right to remain on a temporary reservation within that ceded area, until a permanent reservation was selected & made “by the direction of the President”. A few days later, another treaty was signed with relatives of the Rogue River Takelmas who lived in the Cow Creek drainage of the South Umpqua. They also ceded all their territory and reserved the right to stay on a temporary reservation within their home territory, until the President selected a permanent reservation.

These first two of Palmer’s treaties went together through the full process of being ratified (sent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who forwarded them to the President, who in turn forwarded them to the U.S. Senate for ratification, after which they were then proclaimed law by the President.

Over the next two years, our ancestors would be forced to sign a total of seven treaties – which ceded the entire area between the Columbia River & the summits of the Siskiyous and from the Summit of the Cascades to the summit of the Coast Range (approximately 15 million acres). Six of these treaties were for actual cession of lands and reserving temporary reservations and one was for the specific purpose of giving the U.S. Government permission to confederate other tribal groups with the original Rogue River Treaty Tribes.

The only treaty signed in western Oregon during this period that did not receive the same recognition and become passed into law, was the summer of 1855 Treaty with the Coastal Tribes of Oregon. This treaty, though signed in good faith by our ancestors, was supposedly lost in the D.C. shuffle (52 treaties were negotiated between the United States and various Indian Tribes in the period of 1853-1856). Although our Coastal Tribes were forced into abiding by the terms of the 1855 Coast Treaty, the United States did not hold up its end of the deal at all.

The next article will be about creating a “permanent reservation” for all of our ancestral Tribes of Western Oregon, and will hopefully begin to explain some of the myths and confusion surrounding the history of the Coast (or Siletz) Reservation.