The Years 1893-1912

As soon as the 1892 agreement was signed, an effort to split the western part of Benton County off, to form a new county, went into overdrive. The result of that effort was that within 4 months, Lincoln County was established. Ever since non-Indians had moved into the Yaquina Bay strip in the 1860’s, there had always been a certain amount of tension and animosity between the Willamette Valley citizens of Benton County and the coastal residents of that county. Politically, the inland population was able to control the purse strings and other economic factors important to the coastal white population. Essentially, the coastal county residents were treated like poor relations and to a certain extent, the inlanders, tried to make sure they were.

Lee and Ira Wade, B.F. Jones, C.B. Crosno and other white men who were residents of the reservation area that had been opened to settlement in 1865, were in attendance of, and very interested in, the “negotiations” leading to the signing of the 1892 agreement. These men were very interested in the formation of a new county. Getting the last remaining reservation lands opened to settlement (except for the allotments and 5 sections of tribal timber reserve), was crucial to the future of this new county they envisioned. In their minds, you couldn’t have a block of 225,000 acres of untaxable lands taking up a good portion of a county and still expect there to be sufficient revenues for roads, schools, etc.

The years immediately leading up to allotment had been tough years for our people health-wise. There were even letters of concern coming from the Indian Office in D.C. – asking the Siletz Agent the reason for the completely off-the-charts rate of death among the young people at Siletz. Special inspectors came to investigate the conditions at the boarding school and other potential factors contributing to the death-rate. There were some changes made at the school, but still a majority of our younger generations slipped away. Many of the adults who had been assigned allotments died over the next several years too. This left a good number of allotments without original owners.

Heirship to the allotments came into question in many cases. Sometimes several siblings or other more distant relatives of an allottee would share interest in the estate. Questions about how to handle heirship at Siletz soon resulted in more legislation. In 1901 Congress passed the Siletz Indian Inherited Lands Act. To my understanding, the act limited Siletz Tribal members to having only one allotment in their name. Any other lands in their name, had to either be deeded (so that county taxes applied), or the Siletz Agency would sell the allotment by advertised sale and divide the proceeds among the heirs.

Most of our tribal people were not in a condition to begin paying property taxes, & in cases of multiple heirs, the deeding became a complicated matter, so advertised sales became a common practice at Siletz Agency. Through this streamlined process, many allotments were quickly sold to non-Indians. Homesteading within the recently opened tracts of the reservation was also very active.

During the 1892 negotiations, the Commissioners had promised that no white men would be allowed to settle within the area ceded under that agreement unless they strictly complied with the land laws and in good faith intended to make a permanent home where they homesteaded. Soon, however, it became more than obvious that the opening of the remaining reservation lands to homesteading was bringing in speculators and proxies of the timber companies.

Fraudulent homestead entries within the 1892 cession area eventually ran so rampant that the several local citizens of the Toledo area were charged with land fraud. Also named in the suits were General Land Office officials who had taken bribes and cuts to approve titles to known fraudulent homestead entries. The case was so well known, that a man named S.A.D. Puter, who was himself in jail for land fraud, wrote a book called “Looters of the Public Domain.” Chapter thirty of his book is specifically about the details of the Siletz Reservation land fraud cases.

While speculators were having free reign within our reservation boundaries, state officials began cracking down on our tribal members for fishing and hunting outside of state regulation. Our traditional eel traps were outlawed because the state fish & game officials were worried about the number of trout also being caught with the eels. There, of course, was no recognition of treaty rights – which should have stemmed from the removal, and confederation of, ratified treaty tribes with our other tribes on the Siletz Reservation.

Eventually, the Portland Area Office of the BIA devised a Siletz hunting and fishing policy, wich was more or less respected by the state. This policy did not even go near considering the possibility of treaty rights at Siletz. It was more of a band-aid on a complicated issue, without looking at the complete legal history. The policy eventually was, that Siletz tribal members could set a net or take a deer outside of state seasons & regulations, as long as they did so on Siletz allotment lands that still remained in trust status (had not been deeded to the allottee or the allottee’s heirs).

Meanwhile, our land and resource base shrunk. A provision within the 1892 agreement was that Siletz allotees could ask for clear titles to their allotments within five years (instead of the automatic 25 year trust period stipulated under the General Allotment Act), if they could speak english well enough and were considered “Competent” by the Agent. That was another glitch that caught our people unaware. Clear title meant that you could mortgage your allotment to purchase food, building materials, farm equipment, etc. and if you couldn’t repay the loan, you lost your property.

In 1908 the Siletz Boarding School was closed. This meant that the School Farm reserve that Agent Buford had fought so hard to keep out of Siletz peoples allotments was now considered surplus. In 1910, Congress passed another act, which authorized the BIA sell the five timber reserve tracts. Only one, however (the Dewey Creek Tract), was sold under that act. The act also affected the School Farm reserve, and authorized town lots to be sold out of that 200 acres (now downtown Siletz).

The selling of the School reserve tract, the relaxed policy on deeding of allotments, combined with what happens in cases of non-payment of property taxes – along with the allotment inheritance law, had a devastating effects. By 1912, Siletz Agent Egbert would comment that over half of the Siletz Allotments were already moved out of Indian ownership.

Next month’s article with discuss the years leading up to reforms in Federal Indian Policy beginning with the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.