Condition of the Oregon Indians in 1890

The area of Oregon was acquired by the United States by discovery in 1792, and it is also claimed to be a portion of the territory of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was organized as a territory August 14, 1848. English and Russians early explored its territory, and stories were scattered broadcast of a vast aboriginal population. Eastern Oregon, an arid region, contained but few Indians, and those mostly of Shahaptian or Shoshonean stock. Along the Columbia, on both banks, as far east as The Dalles, and at the head of the Salmon River, were many Indians, fish eaters. The Willamette, a river running north through western or coast Oregon, with falls at Oregon city, a limited distance from its month, and which cut off much of the salmon run, had Indians on both banks; there were also Indians along the streams running into the Willamette. A line of small streams flowing from the Blue Mountains to the Pacific, generally not more than 150 miles in length, gridironed western Oregon from the Columbia River south to the Klamath, or to the present California state line. These streams at the date of the white occupation were in the possession of numerous small tribes, who were almost constantly at war, one with the other, for food or fish preserves. Many of these tribes had no linguistic affinity and many of them have now disappeared. In illustration of the variety and number of these tribes, observe the list of the remnants of the 31 tribes now at Siletz agency. Oregon now contains remnants of many tribes of 10 stocks of Indians. Whether long residence in separate localities by Indians of an original common stock made these linguistic varieties, or whether the Indians brought the several tribal languages with them when migrating, will remain a doubt. The early Oregon Indians have left us no evidences of particular mechanical skill or ingenuity. There are some evidences of the stone age with them as with other North American Indians, and also some useful implements of the limit, chase, and art of fishing. There were tribes which hunted in the mountains for food, tribes which lived on nuts and roots, and tribes, along fishing grounds, which lived by fishing.

The Oregon Indians, save in the number and variety of their tribes, present no marked features of difference from the Indians of the northwest coast, except those of Alaska. They were fierce and warlike and brutal to captives. From the time of the first attempt at an American occupation after 1800 and to 1854 there was an almost constant friction between the English fur-trading companies of the northwest coast and the Americans, The Hudsons Bay Company had many trading posts in Oregon and Idaho south of the Columbia. Old Fort Boise on Snake River, about 90 miles west of the present Boise city, the capital of Idaho, was a Hudsons Bay trading post, and was not abandoned until 1854. The Indians of Oregon were drawn into these contests between nations and took sides against one party or the other, but they were generally on the side of the English. Many fierce and bloody battles occurred between the Oregon Indians and the United States authorities from and after 1850. Many of the white people and thousands of Indians were killed in these engagements.

The number of the Indian population of Oregon, from 1792 to 1870, has been largely exaggerated. The early navigators first saw many of the Oregon Indians at points along the seacoast or rivers. They were obtaining salmon and other fish to dry for their winter food, and in many instances had come, during the season for this food, from long distances in the interior; so the early navigators reported hordes of Indians in Oregon, supposing that the back country teemed with them, as did the seacoast or rivers. If Oregon ever contained more than 40,000 Indians the battle for food must have been intense, and the club and bow and arrow seldom idle. They were about the last of the American Indians to become owners of horses, and were stream, river, and bay Indians, or canoe or plains men, moving about on foot.

Total Indian Population As Of June 1, 1890 – 4,971

Reservation Indians, not taxed (not counted in the general census) 3, 708
Indians in prison, not otherwise enumerated 5
Indians off reservations, self-supporting and taxed (counted in the general census) 1, 258
The self-supporting Indians taxed are included in the general census. The results of the special Indian census to be added to the general census are: Total 1,937
Reservation Indians, not taxed 3,708
Indians in prison, not otherwise enumerated. 5
Other persons with Indians, not otherwise enumerated 224

Indian Population of Reservations

Agencies and Reservations Tribe Total
Total 3,708
Grande Rondo agency 379
   Grande Ronde reservation Rogue River 47
Wepato Lake 28
Santiam 27
Marys River 28
Clackama 50
Luckimuto 29
Calapooya 22
Cow Creek 20
Umpqua 80
Yamhill 30
Klamath agency
   Klamath reservation Klamath, Modoc, and Snake1 835
Siletz agency
   Siletz reservation  31 tribes2 571
Umatilla agency
   Umatilla reservation Walla Walla, 405; Cayuse, 415; Umatilla, 179. 909
Warm Springs agency 924
   Warn, Springs reservation Warm Springs 430
Wasco 288
Tenino 69
John Day 57
Piutes 80

The civilized (self-supporting) Indians of Oregon counted in the general census, number 1,258 (622 males and 636 females), and are distributed as follows:

Benton County, 14; Clackamas County, 53; Clatsop County, 29; Coos County, 114; Curry County, 121; Douglas County, 120; Gilliam County, 28; Harney County, 27; Jackson County, 28; Klamath County, 23; Lake County, 42; Lane County, 63; Malheur County, 91; Marion County, 219; Multnomah County, 28; Tillamook County, 46; Wasco County, 166; other counties (11 or less in each), 46.

Tribe, Stock, And Location Of The Indians In Oregon

Tribe Stock Reservation Agency
Alseya Yakonan Siletz Siletz.
Applegate Creek Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Calapuya Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Cayuso Waiilatpuan Umatilla Umatilla
Clackama Chinookan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Coquille (Upper) Athapascan Siletz. Siletz.
Cow Creek (Umpqua) Athapascan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Enchre (Yukwitche) Athapascan Siletz. Siletz.
Galice Creek Athapascan Siletz. Siletz.
John Day Shahaptian Warm Springs Warm Springs
Joshua Athapascan Siletz. Siletz.
Klamath Lutnamian Klamath River Klamath River
Kusa Kusan Siletz. Siletz.
Luckamute Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Marys River Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Mick wunntiunne Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Modok Lutnamian Klamath River Klamath River
Molele, or Molaio Waiilatpuan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Nestucca Salishan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Nostucca Salishan Siletz Siletz
Nultnatana Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Piute Shoshonean Warm Springs Warm Springs
Piute Shoshonean Klamath River Klamath River
Rogue River Athapascan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Rogue River Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Saiustkla Yakonan Siletz Siletz
Salmon River Salishan Siletz Siletz
Salmon River Salishan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Santiam Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Shastao-Skoton (Shista-Kkhwusta) Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Shasti Athapascan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Sixes (Kwatami) Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Snake Shoshonean Klamath Klamath
Tenino Shahaptian Warm Springs Warm Springs
Tillamook (Killamuk) Salishan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Tumwater Chinookan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Tututena (Rogue River) Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Umatilla Sahaptian Umatilla Umatilla
Umpqua Athapascan Siletz Siletz
Umpqua Athapascan Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Walla Walla Sahaptian Umatilla Umatilla
Walpape Shoshonean Klamath Klamath
Wappato Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde
Warm Springs Shahaptian Warm Springs Warm Springs
Wasko Chinookan Warm Springs Warm Springs
Yahuskin Shoshonean Klamath Klamath
Yamhill Kalapooian Grande Ronde Grande Ronde

Of the above the following are peculiar and local to Oregon: Chinookan stock, Clackama, Oregon City or Tumwater, and Wasko; Kalapooian stock, Calapooya, Luckimute, Marys River, Santiam, Wapato, and Bramhill; Kusan stock, Kusa; Waiilatpuan stock, Molele or Molale and Cayuse; Yakonan stock, Alsea and Saiustkla.

The following tribes of the Chinookan stock are in Washington: Klatsop, Shoalwater, and Tsinuk, at Puyallup Consolidated agency, and Wishful, at Yakama agency.

The Chinook Language

The Chinook language, or more properly, jargon, quite commonly spoken by the Indians of the Columbia and Puget Sound country, has taken the place in many instances of tribal languages. It is a singular example of quite recently created language. It is used in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, northwestern Montana, British. America and even in portions of Alaska.

Grande Ronde, Klamath, Siletz, Umatilla, and Warm Springs Agencies

Report of Special Agent Will Q. Brown on the Indians of Grande Ronde, Klamath, Siletz, Umatilla, and Warm Springs reservations, Grande Ronde, Klamath, Siletz, Umatilla, and Warm Springs agencies. Oregon, August, September, October, and November 1890.

Names of Indian tribes or parts of tribes occupying said reservations3
Grande Ronde: Kalapuya, Klakama, Luckiamute, Molele, Neztucca, Rogue River, Santiam, Shasta, Tumwater, Umqua, and Yamhill.

Klamath: Klamath, Modok, Pai-Ute, Walpape, and Yahuskin band of Snake (Shoshoni).

Siletz: Alsiya, Coquell, Kusa, Rogue River, Skoton-Shasta, Saiustkia, Siuslaw, Tootootna, Umqua, and thirteen others.

Umatilla: Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla, Walla.

Warm Springs: John Day, Pi-Ute, Tenino, Warm Springs, and Wasko.

The unallotted areas of said reservations are:

Grande Ronde: 61,440 acres, or 96 square miles. Treaties of January 22, 1855 (Dwamish, Kalapooia) (10 U. S. State., p. 1143), and December 21, 1855 (12 U. S. Stats., p. 982); executive order. June 30, 1857.

Klamath: 1,056,000 acres, or 1,650 square miles. Treaty of October 14, 1864 (16 U. S. Stats, p. 707).

Siletz: 225,000 acres, or 351.5 square miles. Unratified treaty, August 14, 1855; executive orders, November 9, 1855, and December 21, 1865; act of Congress, approved March 3, 1875 (18 U. S. Stats., p. 446).

Umatilla: 268,800 acres, or 420 square miles. Treaty of June 9, 1855 (12 U. S. Stats., p. 945); act of Congress approved August 5,1882 (22,U. S. Stats.), p.297.

Warm Springs: 464,000 acres, or 725 square miles. Treaty of June 25, 1855 (12 U.S. Stats,, p. 963).

Indian population 1890

Grande Ronde agency-Rogue River, 47; Wapato Lake, 28; Santiams, 27; Marys River, 28; Clackamas, 59; Luckimutes, 29; Calapooyas, 22; Cow Creek, 29; Umpquas, 80; Yamhills, 30; total 379.

Klamath agency-Klamaths, Modocs, and Snakes, 835.

Siletz agency (31 tribes)4 , 571.

Umatilla agency-Walla Wallas, 405; Cayuses, 415; Umatillas, 179; total 999, Warm Springs agency-

Warm Springs, 430; Wascos, 288; Teninos, 69; John Day, 57; Pintos; 80; total, 924, Grand total, 3,708.

Columbia River Indians. -Scattered along the Columbia River between the Cascade locks and Celilo are a number of Indians who have never been on any reservation. They live in huts along the river and subsist almost wholly on salmon. As a rule they are dirty and lazy. Some of them are neat in appearance and industrious, but they are the exception. Nearly all are believers in Smohalla. They own nothing. The government has provided them with an agent, who decides disputes among them and looks after their welfare.

General Remarks And Recommendations


The only rations issued are to old and infirm persons and to the Indian police and school children, except at the Grande Ronde reservation, where the practice has been to give rations to those who are temporarily in need. This practice has been abused by the indolent, who neglect to provide for themselves, depending on the agent to supply them with the necessaries of life on the representation that they are unable to make a living.

In concluding my report on the reservations of Oregon, and obedient to instructions, I shall summarize my observations and point out what I consider should be done for the best interests of the Indians.

Oregon Tribes in 1890

1890 Census, History,

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.

  1. A few Moleles, Spokanes, and Warm Springs Indians, and some whites, Negroes, and Chinese are Intermarried with these Indians. 

  2. Thirty-one tribes consist of the Tootootrna, Mequonnoodon, Joshna, Chetco, Coquille, Tillamook, Euchre, Klamath, Shasta Costa, Klickitat, Alsea, California, Umpqua, Nahltanadon, Sixes, Smith River; Galice Creek, Thachundon, Applegate, Nestucca, Port Oxford, Calapooya, Illinois, Shasta, Snake Yaquina, Siletz, Odes, Salmon River, Chinook, and Rogue River Indians. 

  3. The statements giving tribes, areas, and laws far agencies are from the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1850, pages 404445. The population is the recent of the census. 

  4. The 31 tribes consist of the Tootootna, Mequonnoodon, Joshua, Chaco, Coquille, Tillamook, Euchre, Manion, Shasta Costa, Klickitat, Alsea, California, Umpqua, Nahltanadon, Sixes, Smith River, Galice Creek, Thachundon. Applegate, Nestucca, Port Orford, Calapooya, Illinois, Shasta, Snake, Yaquina, Siletz, Coos, Salmon River, Chinook, and Rogue River Indians. 

1 thought on “Condition of the Oregon Indians in 1890”

  1. Georgia Sommerville

    Great site…..i am wondering if you can help me with a question about Malheur county ? Fourteen of us went riding in our ATV’S yesterday and a ways after Succor Creek we found a bunch of rock walls built way back in a canyon. It was absolutely the most exciting site i have ever seen…..Who moved all those rocks and why >>?? No one in our crowd knows anything about these walls….Some have seen it before, but don’t know about them. Can you PLEASE tell us what this site represents ??? SO BEAFTIFUL AND SUCH A CHALLENGE TO BUILD…Thank you for your time. Georgia [email protected]

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