Leader of White Deerskin Dance with crown of horns and Medicine Stone - Hoopa Valley

Hoopa Valley Reservation

Hoopa Valley Reservation from Bald Hill
Hoopa Valley Reservation from Bald Hill

Report of Special Agent I. P. Fell on the Indians of Hoopa Valley reservation, Mission-Tule Consolidated agency, Humboldt County, California, December 1890, and January 1891.

Names of Indian tribes or parts of tribes occupying said reservation: 1 Hunsatung, Hupâ, Klamath River, Miskut, Redwood, Saiaz, Sermalton, and Tishtanatan.

The unallotted area of this reservation is 89,572 acres, or 140 square miles. The outboundaries have been surveyed: It was established, altered, or changed by act of Congress approved April 8, 1864 (13 U. S. Stats., p. 39); executive order, Juno 23, 1876.

Indian population June 1, 1890: 468.

Situated in the extreme northwestern portion of the state of California and watered by the Trinity River, Hoopa valley, some 6 or 7 miles long and from one-half to a mile wide, is one of the oases in the wilderness of forest-covered mountains. The spot is very fertile, the soil in the valley being rich, black earth. Being surrounded by mountains from 2,500 to 3,000 feet high, it has a fine climate for a place situated so far north. The agency is at Colton, California.

Fort Gaston, a United States post with a garrison, occupies a tract a mile square in the very center of the valley. Its reservation, however, covers the poorest portion of the valley. In both directions from the fort up and down the valley to either end of ‘the reservation Indians are comfortably housed in little wooden shanties or houses that have been built for them, yet some of them prefer to live in rough huts made by themselves, whose only entrance is a round hole to crawl through.

The Indians on this reservation, made up of the remnants of the tribes given above, number 468. They at one time were numerous and were the cause of constant war with the whites until gathered up in 1855 and placed on this reservation. In appearance they are not so dark as the Indians further south. They are generally healthy and well eared for, the younger ones particularly being vigorous and strong. Almost all of them speak English, but this seems to be the most marked change from their old Indian life, for, aside from the fact that they all dress as white people do and use both cooking utensils and furniture made by white people, they have not changed much in their Indian ideas; habits, notions, and superstitions. However, they now appear perfectly contented. Situated as they are, with upward of 2,000 acres of fine arable land and some one to supervise and make them work a little, they can almost, if not quite, support themselves from the products of their sawmill and gristmill, and can provide most of the necessaries of life from the products of their lands. They raise wheat, some oats and barley, and plenty of vegetables; and manufacture and sell baskets and other woven ware. They receive no rations from the United States government. The valley is isolated and inaccessible and has been protected by the military from the encroachment of the whites.

The school building on the reservation is clean and homelike. The great trouble is to obtain anything like a fair attendance of the pupils. Out of about 40 children of school age, it is seldom they have as many as 25 to 30. It is also very hard to keep the children in school at all regularly; they attend for a day or two and then stay away several days. They will not continue their school attendance much beyond the age of 14 years. Some of them have shown a desire to acquire more than can be obtained at the school here, and such have been sent to training schools. It has been very ‘apparent in all the Indian schools I have visited that the children learn very little arithmetic. They do not seem to grasp figures at all, and most of them soon forget what they learn.

There is no religious teaching on the reservation and there has been none, practically, for years; but this does not seem to affect their industry or thrift. These Indians still retain their old beliefs and superstitions: They think that one of their number can bewitch them, make them suffer sickness or losses, and cause accidents, and if allowed to fellow their bent in this direction would kill or torture their supposed tormentor. It is another phase of witchcraft or Hoodooism.

The Indians of this reservation preserve some of their peculiar dances, most of them coming about harvest tine. The most prominent of them is the white deerskin dance. In this dance the leaders appear almost naked, holding in one hand a pole on which is suspended deerskins, among them 1 or 2 almost white (a most unusual kind), which are held in great veneration, some having been preserved for many generations, are of great value, and are claimed to possess many virtues. The woodpecker dance is another. In this the headgear of the dancers is made from the breast feathers of the woodpecker. In both this and the white deerskin dance they display no movement that would indicate a dance to white People; neither can a white observer see much amusement in it. Those who take part in this dance, all males, arrange themselves in 2 lines fronting each other and each with a leader. The leaders, a little more fantastically dressed, squat at either end of the line and accompany by shouts and grunts those in the line, who raise one foot and bring it down hard on the ground, and constantly repeat this action. As the excitement increases the action becomes more animated, and finally the 2 leaders leap from one end of the line to the other, their followers shouting. The woodpecker dance is in. the nature of a harvest home, the crops having been gathered and the nut crop safe. They have another dance, not now followed as closely as at one time, called the flower, or puberty, dance, which is held in celebration of the fact that a young girl has reached the age of womanhood. They use what is called the “flower stick”. The stick is about 2 feet long g and about 1.5 inches in diameter. It is split about two-thirds of its length into innumerable splints, which are dyed in many colors, and besides are decorated with ribbon. There is still another stick used in the ceremony in some mysterious Manner. This dance is done by both men and women, the men dancing and the women singing. It is a 10 days event, during which the girl eats no meat. On the tenth day the ceremony ends and she is ready to be married. There is also the “dance of friendship”, for old friends, and the “medicine dance”, when a new medicine man learns the art of the “shaman”. The continuance and features of these dances seem to depend to a great extent on the leading chief. If he has considerable control over the Indians, and is a Titan who wants to rule them through the observance of their obscure and mystic rites, he develops their mysteries to the fullest extent possible.

The girls develop very early in life some of them bearing children when only 12 years of age. The fact that a girl has had commerce with men does not appear to be taken into consideration when an Indian takes one for his wife. The wives are now and then traded off or sold like any other chattel, and a squaw will assist at the trade if it happens when she desires to come into or go out of the family. She aids this by paying part purchase money. There can be little if any morality under such conditions. The Indian characteristics prevail on all sides, and those children who have shown the most progress in their studies when they leave school drop back into the old customs and manners.

A decrease in number has been going on during the past 25 or 30 years. They still have confidence in their medicine man, or shaman. This accounts for the high death rate, although the physician at the fort is at their service.

Beyond the level valley lands there is no soil that will ever furnish good grazing lands, except one hillside, at the lower end of the valley, called Bald Mountain.

In considering the question as to what should be done with the Indian, I have been convinced from all that I could see and learn that there are practically just two methods to pursue with them: either let them live in community or allot them. One method would be the best in some cases; the other method in different cases.. In illustration of community, I take the case of the Indians on the Hoopa Valley reservation. It has been their home from the time before it was set aside as a reservation, and they are apparently content and satisfied. The best results can be obtained by continuing the present policy of working all the available land as a community, under the charge- of an agent, either of the government, or employed by themselves, to see that their business matters are properly conducted, and that all of them do their respective share of work. Systematically carried out, this reservation should be self-sustaining and form a perfect community of satisfied people.

The Hoopa Indians make some very fine baskets and cages out of grasses, ferns, and roots, showing many geometrical figures. Some of the cages, which are almost perfect half globes, are quite beautiful specimens, almost as fine as if made of thread. A coarser specimen of the same shape is used by them at table for containing acorn Soup and mush, becoming water-tight soon after being wet. The baskets woven for their papooses are not so fine. They make many such articles as are mentioned, and obtain a large revenue from their sale.

Hoopa Valley Indians

Report of Captain Frank Edmunds, United States army, former agent of the Hoopa Valley reservation, Humboldt County, California, on the Hoopa Indians,. January 1, 1891.

Hoopa valley, in which the Hoopa Indians are located, is in Humboldt County, California, and extends along Trinity river for about 8 miles, with a varying width of a few yards to one-half or three-fourths of 4 mile. It is shut in completely by mountains on both sides, the only communication being a very rough and narrow pack mule trail to Arcata, about 40 miles distant. The whole valley is a rich gold placer, which, with the abundance of water and timber, could be very profitably worked at a small expense. On this account it would soon be seized by the whites and the Indians dispossessed but for the small garrison at Fort Gaston, consisting of a company of troops of the regular army, which has been kept here since 1868.

Until about 1862 the Hoopa Indians roamed the country between the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers. About that time they had become quite troublesome, committing depredations and murdering whites. Troops were sent against them, and in the course of 2 years they were collected on their present reservation, which in the meantime had been bought from the settlers-by the government.

The land is fertile and well suited to the purposes of the Indians, grazing and agriculture. In addition to the Hoopa language, spoken by the older ones, these Indians all speak English, many of them very well, and among them are found individuals fairly skilled as artisans; The great majority are competent farm laborers, and with proper means and the necessary supervision are entirely capable of sustaining themselves.
Although these people, in acquired intelligence and in the education that comes with experience in the struggle for existence, are far in advance of the wild tribes of the plains, yet many dark superstitions and the atrocious practices of the most benighted aborigines prevail and are deeply rooted among them. Polygamy does not exist, but the sale and abandonment of the women are still common practices, and a belief in witchcraft is often the cause of violence and retaliation.

The arable laud on the reservation is just about sufficient for the people now here. Allotments of land consequently to the young generation have been made temporarily, until a careful survey can be completed and permanent allotments made. It is very necessary that the tenure of their holdings should be secured to them, and that they should be protected in the possession of their property; for this the protection of the courts is necessary. They have entirely discarded their savage costume, and invariably appear in the same dress as the whites.

The annual census for several years shows a slight increase of births over the deaths. In 1886 the number of Indians on the reservation was 442; today they number 468. They have entirely abandoned their Indian names and very few even remember them.Citations:

  1. The statements giving tribes, areas, and laws for agencies are from the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1890, pages 494-445. The population is the result of the census.[]

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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