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The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Rails through Umatilla Reservation
Maj. Lee Moorhouse. PH 36, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, #M5679
Indian Police, Umatilla Agency, 1888
Maj. Lee Moorhouse. PH 36, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, #M5090
1881 Symons map
Courtesy of S. Dakota State Historical Society
Ceded lands map
Courtesy of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Map of Columbia River watershed
Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission.
Stagecoach in parade during Pendleton Roundup.
Courtesy University of Oregon Special Collections & U Archives, Furlong Collection.

Umatilla River > Culture > The Shrinking Reservation

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Kathleen Gordon
"Like animals in cages..."
Umatilla Reservation Council of 1871

"In early August of 1871, the U.S. government, once again on a land acquisition mission, attempted to buy lands set aside for the three tribes on the Umatilla reservation. They met in council from August 7-13 with representatives from the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla to negotiate this land deal. The tribes were adamantly opposed to any further loss of land."

Wenap-Snoot, the Umatilla chief who signed the 1855 treaty, told Brunot at the council:

"Our red people were brought up here and some one had to teach them as they grow. Those who were taught grew up well; I believe that the man who understands and follows the way he is taught grows up well. I learned from the way in which I was brought up, and am going to have my children taught more and they will grow up better than I am. When my father and mother died, I was left here. They gave me rules, and gave me their land to live upon. They left me to take care of them after they were buried. I was to watch over their graves. I do not wish to part with my land. I have felt tired working on my land, so tired that the sweat dropped off me on the ground. Where is all that Governor Stevens and General Palmer said! I am very fond of this land that is marked out for me, and the rest of the Indians have no more room for their stock than they need, and I do not know where I'd put them if I had to confine myself to a small piece of ground; should I take only a small piece of ground, and a white man may sit down beside me, I fear there would be trouble all the time."

Wal-che-te-ma-ne, whose tribal affiliation is not identified, told Brunot and the others at the council:

"Listen to me, you white chiefs, you are my friends, and you (to Rev. Father Vermeerch) are the one who straightens out my heart. My father and mother and children have died; I am getting old now, and I want to die where my father and mother and children have died; I do not wish to leave the land and go off to some other land. I see the church there, I am glad to see it, and I think I will stay beside it, and die by the teachings of the Father. I see where I have sweat and worked in trying to get food. I see the flour-mill the Government has promised, I see my friends. I like all that I have and cannot go away from here. What the whites have tried to show me, I have tried to learn. It is not much, but I have fenced in a small piece of land and try to raise grain on it. I am showing you my heart. The President will see the record, and know what we poor men have said in this council. I love my church, my mills, my farm, the graves of my parents and children. I do not wish to leave my land, that is all my heart and I show it to you."

These leaders had made their wishes loud and clear. Commissioner Felix R. Brunot concluded his report with a recognition that these people should not be moved off of their lands:

"The Indians evinced a full and perfect understanding of the subject; and with entire unanimity expressed their determination not to sell their lands at any price, or to consent, upon any terms, to leave the reservation, which the Government had by the treaty marked out for their occupation… At the close of the council, I made some remarks to the Indians, and to the whites who were there, in which I assumed that the question of removing the Indians from the Umatilla reservation was now finally settled. That the Government would protect them in their right, and advising the whites to give up all expectation of ever getting the Umatilla lands… The arguments used in favor of their removal will apply with equal force to any other place to which they might be sent; and even if they did not, these poor people. Relying on the promises of their 'Great Father' for protection, prefer to keep their little homes and die by the graves of their fathers, and nothing remains but to do them simple justice and protect them in their rights."
Ft. Taylor at the confluence of the Tukannan and Snake Rivers
Courtesy of Wash. State Historical Library, Pullman
G. Sohon, 1858
Act of Congress Aug. 5th, 1882: Town of Pendleton
This act provided the sale of 640 acres of land on the Umatilla Reservation, adjoining the town of Pendleton (Powell 1899: 908).
Land Allotment Act imposed on the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla
Ratified on March 3, 1885

The purpose of the 1885 land allotment act was to aid in the "civilization" of the above-mentioned tribes, and to make "surplus" lands, totaling 90,000 acres, available for sale to White settlers. Also, as a result of giving Indians individual titles to the land, much of it was sold or leased to Whites, creating checkerboard reservations. The actual Act begins:

Whereas the confederated bands of Cayuse, Walla-Walla, and Umatilla Indians, residing upon the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in the State of Oregon, have expressed a willingness to settle upon lands in severalty on their said reservation, and to have their lands not needed for such allotment sold for their benefit.

After the council of 1871, was there some big change of heart in these people who were already not happy with the tiny reservation created by the 1855 treaty? Why would they want to give up their homelands and way of life for one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre?

The Act stipulated that "the said Indians shall pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of seven and fifteen years, to attend said school." This was a further attempt to force "civilization" on the Indian residents of the Umatilla Reservation. The schools would forbid the children to use their language and teach them that the customs of their people needed to be replaced with those of the "civilized" American way. Just as the 1855 treaty had intended on "converting" the Indians to an agricultural farming life-style, this effort, thirty years later, was an attempt to further encourage that transition. Of course, the Act was also a clever, "legal" method to gain the desired land owned by the Umatilla and others.

Order of the Secretary of the Interior, Umatilla Reservation Dec. 4, 1888
This order gave the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla back 15,000 acres of their reservation. Increasing its size from 157,000 acres to the present day 172,000 acres.
Background: Sohon, 1855
Courtesy Washington State Historical Society