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   Chapter 11 No.11

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 14341

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Indians at home-?The reservation-?The Upper Farm-?Log-cabins-? Women must work while men will play-?The agency-?The boarding-house -?Sunday on the reservation-?Indian Sunday-school-?Galeese Creek Jem-?The store-?Indian farmers-?As to the settlement of the Indians -?Suggestions-?A crime-?Its origin-?Its history-?The criminals-? What became of them-?Indian teamsters-?Numbers on the reservation -?The powers and duties of the agent-?Special application.

At Rock Creek we are only ten miles from the Siletz Indian agency, and I have paid many visits there, and have seen a good deal of the working of the agency, and also know a good many of the Indians pretty well.

THE RESERVATION.First, as to the place itself. There is no question that on the reservation is some of the best land in the country, and the most easily improved. At some not very distant geological date, the valley must have consisted of a series of lakes, connected by rivers. On the sides of the hills are two clearly defined terraces, and the flat bottoms, are not covered with heavy timber, either alive or dead. There must have been one convulsion which let the waters out and reduced the level to the lower terrace, and then a subsequent one which abolished the lakes altogether, leaving the Siletz River for the water-course of the whole district. Entering the reservation from the Rock Creek trail, there is about six miles of rough and tangled country to get through, where the hills are broken, and the river foams and breaks every now and again over rocky ledges. The brush is thick along the river-banks, and the thimble-berries grow so high and strong that, as you ride by, you can pluck the berries from the level of your face.

Mounting a hill, which closes the gorge ahead of you, the whole valley known as the Upper Farm lies before you. At this point Rock Creek joins the Siletz itself, which here is a wide and rushing stream, and divides the valley along its entire length into two unequal parts. The hills fall back on either side of you and lose their broken forms, becoming long slopes, draped thickly with the heavy brake-fern. Here and there stand the houses of the Indians, each with its grain- and hay-fields; while of cattle of all ages, and little groups of ponies, there is no lack.

Except in one or two instances, the houses are log-cabins, and you miss the staring white paint so common in this country. The barns also are log-built.

There is not much show of neatness about the houses, fences, or the inhabitants. As you ride along, you pass an old crone or two, with bare feet, and ragged, dirty petticoats, each with a large basket on her back, supported by a broad band across the forehead, in which she is carrying home the potatoes she has been digging in the field.

Round one or two of the doors you see a group of lazy ones, men and children, lying or squatting on the grass or in the dust of the bare patch in front-the women you see through the open door at work inside the house. The voices cease as you come in sight, but your salutation, either in Chinook or English, is civilly returned, and a quick glance takes in at once your personal appearance and that of your horse, and every detail of your equipment. You see a few men at work in the fields, but only a few. The men are better dressed than the women; torn or ragged clothes are very rare, and nearly every man has a red or red and yellow handkerchief loosely knotted round his head. Here come two cantering after you on their ponies; one carries a rifle, and you recognize him as one of the reservation Indian police. He asks you your destination and business, and, as you are bound straight for the agency, he lets you go on without a pass. They are bound to be strict, and to see that unauthorized visitors do not enter, and, above all, that no whisky comes within the reservation boundaries.

Four miles more along the road, nearly all the way through farms, or by open pasture-fields, where grass and fern dispute possession, but all through fine bottom-land, varying in width from one to two or three miles across, brings you to the agency on the Middle Farm. What timber is left standing are huge firs, splendid specimens of trees. Here is the agency, the central spot of the reservation-life. The prominent building there, two stories high, with overhanging eaves, spick and span in new white paint and red shingles, is the boarding-house. Here some forty or fifty Indian children of all ages are collected from the outlying portions of the reservation, and are clothed, fed, and trained; their actual teaching goes on in the adjoining school-house. The low, gray house in the orchard, behind the boarding-house, is where the agent lives; those other two white houses, each in its garden, are inhabited by the farmer and the builder or head-carpenter and millwright. In front of the boarding-house is a pretty, open grass-field of six or seven acres; and that neat, white structure at the lower corner of it is the store. The Indians' houses are dotted round; the fields are better kept and cultivated than the Upper Farm; there is a notable absence of loafers and stragglers round, and more farming going on; several teams of horses are in sight.

INDIAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL.The agent receives us kindly, and shows us round everywhere with interest in his work and its results. One Sunday I was there, and, hearing the church-bell calling to service, went in. The Sabbath-school was just beginning in the school-room behind the boarding-house. It was a mixed assembly of all ages, some ninety or a hundred in all. The women were better dressed, and the little children had been treated to all the comforts and care in the way of dress their parents could muster. There was a great variety of type apparent, for the remnants of thirteen tribes of the coast and Klamath and Rogue River Indians are collected on this reservation. Nearly all could speak a little, and understand more, English-and I think we could have got on quite as well without the help of the Indian interpreter, who turned our English into fluent Chinook. This man, named Adams, is an excellent fellow, well instructed, capable, civil, and, I believe, an earnest Christian man. The agent asked me to take the Bible-class at the far end of the room, and soon I was the center of the observant eyes of a dozen Indian men of all ages. Certain of them were friends of mine. Old Galeese Creek Jem, a little fellow about five feet high, with a broad face and a pair of twinkling, laughing eyes, had brought us some salmon in Rock Creek a few days before, and was under promise to bring us some more on Monday. Two or three of the others always stopped for a chat as they passed through. All of them, I noticed, were curious to see how King George's man would act in this new capacity. I am bound to say that they showed considerable knowledge and some reflection in the answers they gave. Perhaps this is not to be wondered at, considering the resolute efforts made now for several years past to instruct and Christianize the Indians here.

At the store I found an excellent stock of all things that the Indi

ans need, and marked at prices which enabled them to lay their money out so as to get its fullest value. The assistant told me that they were all keen traders, and alive to minute differences in quality and texture of their purchases.

SUGGESTIONS.The great majority of the men now heads of families on this reservation, engaged in farming a little, and sufficiently instructed in methods of labor to add considerably to their resources by working during a part of the year for the outside farmers, who are very ready to employ them, do not, I consider, either wish or require to be treated any longer as children or wards of the United States Government. In my judgment, the time has come to apply a far different rule. Many to whom I have talked, and others whose opinions I have gathered from trustworthy sources, desire earnestly to be relieved from the restrictions and to abandon the privileges of their present condition. If the lands they now farm, the houses they now dwell in, could become their private property, I believe that they would support themselves and their families in respectability. It may be desirable, it probably is, to prevent their having now the power of free sale and disposal of such lands, so as to guard them at the outset from designing purchasers; but I believe the larger part by far would prize earnestly their separate estate. Why should not an independent officer have power to establish such families on homesteads of their own, on sufficient evidence of character and capacity-such men ceasing thenceforth to have claims for support on the agency as a whole, but still entitled to all the common benefits of the school, the church, and the store? The open land of the reservation would be diminished, of course, but how could it be put to better purpose? I am persuaded that the sight of their neighbors established on homes of their own would operate as a strong stimulus to those growing up and entering on life, to decent and orderly behavior. And as one district of a reservation became thus settled up, I think the boundaries of the open land devoted to general Indian purposes might be proportionately removed and contracted.

Naturally, this plan would be of slow operation, but I think it would be sure. I am aware of the powers given to Indians by the homestead act to obtain land, but the plan differs in important respects from that set out above.

The Indians on the Siletz reservation, of which alone I know anything from personal observation, are not all of the desirable class to whom I have referred. Some mistiness on the moral law yet remains. For instance, a murder was committed by three of them a month or two ago. It took place on the northern and remote part of the reserve, far away from the agency itself.

Here lived one who, being a quack-doctor, claimed the character of a mighty medicine-man, having power to prescribe for both the bodies and souls of his patients. To him resorted many of his neighbors, whose faith in his charms and spells was boundless.

He undertook the cure of the wife of one Charlie, and the poor thing endured his remedies patiently. But the woman grew worse and worse. Charlie and his friends debated the case, and at last concluded that, if the medicine-man could not cure the woman according to his contract, and that she died, it would prove to them that the doctor was a humbug, and deserved to die the death.

The catastrophe arrived, for the woman died. A council was held, and due inquiry made. The decision was fatal to the doctor, and Charlie and two friends undertook to secure that no one else should be misled and defrauded by the quack.

Proceeding to his house, away up north by Salmon River, near the sea-coast, the three fell on the medicine-man with clubs, and, despite threats, prayers, and entreaties, they beat him to death. The news soon spread, and was carried to the ears of the agent.

I can not help confessing to a half sympathy with the murderers, though I am fully aware of the enormity of the crime. It would be a satisfaction to feel justified in conscience in calling for a bodily expiation of the false pretenses and ignorant mummeries that did one's wife to death. And I hear that the Indians in question, while acknowledging that they knew they were sinning against the laws that governed life on the reservation, yet evidently had no consciousness of intrinsic wrong.

However, they were arrested by the agent, and carried off to Fort Vancouver for detention and trial. Hence they escaped, but were pursued by the soldiers. One, being caught, refused to submit, and was shot by the corporal in charge of the party in the act of flight; the others were recaptured, and what their fate is or will be I do not yet know.

But, as one stands on the beach at Newport, and sees a long string of wagons and teams coming down from the reservation for supplies, each in charge of its owner, a respectable-looking Indian, it is impossible not to wish for them the separate life and property they themselves desire.

The number of Indians on the Siletz reserve is most variously stated; the estimates range between twenty-four hundred and four hundred. I should fancy the truth to be nearer the smaller than the larger figures. It is obvious that the conditions of life, the stage of civilization, the state of education, the desire or readiness to acquire or own separate and individual property, must vary in every reservation. It is impossible to apply the same rules to each, and I do not presume even to have an opinion regarding reservations other than the one in our immediate neighborhood.

POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE AGENT.I had no idea till lately of the overwhelming power held by the agent. No Indian can leave the reservation, however well established his good character, and for however temporary a purpose, without the pass of the agent. No one can enter the reservation, even to pass through it, or to stay a night with one of the Indians at his house, without the same leave. Work on the roads or in the fields of the reservation is at the absolute order of the agent; no corvée in ancient France could press more crushingly on the peasant than could the order of a harsh or stern agent on his charge. In the choice and erection of houses, in the furnishing and distribution of stores, in matters of internal police of all sorts, his word is law. If any one desires to study the working of an instructed despotism in a partly civilized community, he can see it carried to its logical extreme on an agency.

So long as the Indians possess the attributes of children it may be right so to treat them. But I presume it was intended by the framers of the existing system that at some date the pupils should put away childish things and emerge from the condition of tutelage. The question is, whether that time has not come already in many instances.

My observations have all had reference to a reservation honestly governed, as I believe, with the best intentions toward its inhabitants. But how the system would lend itself to dishonest measures and arbitrary, even cruel, treatment, it is not hard to imagine.

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