American Indians in 1890

The 1890 United States Census formally enumerated all of the Indians of the country. According to the Census, there were a total of 248,253 Indians in the United States: 58,806 are “Indians taxed” (that is living off their reservations) and 189,447 are “Indians not taxed” (Indians on reservations). With regard to the difficulties in counting Indians, the Census Bureau reports:  “Enumeration would be likely to pass by many who had been identified all their lives with the localities where found, and who lived like the adjacent whites without any inquiry as to their race, entering them as native born white.”

In California the Indian population was estimated at 15,238, down from an estimated 300,000 in 1848.

In 1890, most Indians were not citizens of the United States because Indian tribes, as indicated in the U.S. Constitution, were sovereign nations and Indians, therefore, were considered to be citizens of these Indian nations. In an effort to make more Indians citizens, Congress passed the Indian Territory Naturalization Act which allowed any member of an Indian tribe in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) to become a United States citizen by applying for such status in federal courts. The act allowed these Indians to maintain dual citizenship by maintaining tribal citizenship. Few Indians, however, actually applied for U.S. citizenship under this legislation.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs announced that the 8th of February was to be celebrated by American Indians as Franchise Day. It was on this day that the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) was signed into law. The purpose of this legislation was to break up the reservations into small family farms and to open up “surplus” lands to non-Indian settlement. The Commissioner felt that this legislation–  “is worthy of being observed in all Indian schools as the possible turning point in Indian history, the point at which the Indians may strike out from tribal and reservation life and enter American citizenship and nationality.”

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs published a detailed set of rules for Indian schools which stipulated a uniform course of study and the textbooks which were to be used in the schools. The Commissioner prescribed the celebration of United States national holidays as a way of replacing Indian heroes and assimilating Indians. According to the Commissioner:  “Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes, and not their segregation. They should be educated, not as Indians, but as Americans.”

Schools were to give Indian students surnames so that as they become property owners it would be easier to fix lines of inheritance. Since most teachers could not pronounce or memorize names in native languages, and they did not understand these names when translated into English, it was not uncommon to give English surnames as well as English first names to the students. Many Indian students were given names such as “George Washington,” “William Shakespeare,” and “Thomas Jefferson.” On the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the Indian agent reported that:  “Now every family has a name. Every father, mother; every husband and wife and children bears the last names of these people; now property goes to his descendant.”

In noting that Indians often change names in response to events in their lives, Frank Terry, the Superintendent of the Crow Boarding School in Montana, wrote:  “Hence it will be seen that the Indian names are nothing, a delusion, and a snare, and the practice of converting them into English appears eminently unwise.”

While it was government policy to force American-style education and indoctrination upon Indian children, Indian parents on many reservations resisted. To force compliance, rations were withheld from Cheyenne and Arapaho parents who refused to place their children in school. In California, Indians burned the Indian day school at Tule River.

In Arizona, conservatives in the Hopi village of Oraibi refused to send their children to school. The Tenth Cavalry was sent in to ensure peace. The military troops invaded the village and “captured” 104 children for the school.

In Idaho, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall reservation managed to enroll 100 Shoshone and Bannock children in the agency boarding school. With the use of Indian police and a policy of withholding rations from reluctant parents, nearly half of all of the school-aged children on the reservation were enrolled in the school. When enrollment at the school dropped, a council was held with the Shoshone and Bannock and they were informed that the school was to be kept filled or the soldiers would come.

Taking a moralist approach to the “civilizing” of American Indians, many non-Indians felt that Indians needed to understand the meaning of hard work and sacrifice. Things that might bring some semblance of enjoyment, such as gambling, drinking, and singing traditional songs, was felt to be immoral. Thus the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered traders to stop carrying playing cards. This was one of the government’s efforts to discourage gambling on the reservations. In a related action, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered Indian agents to seize and destroy peyote and to classify it as an intoxicating liquor.

Many non-Indians felt that it would take time for Indians to be lifted out of savagery and barbarism so that they could benefit from Christian civilization.  Reverend Daniel Dorchester, a Protestant minister, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:  “As a race the red men lack self-reliance and self-directing power—the natural effect of the centuries of ignorance, idleness, and hap-hazard lying behind them—and will long need to hold the relation of wards, that they may have the benefit of paternal counsel and advice. We must not expect that a few Indians right out of savagery can acquire such development in civilization as to leaven at once the mass of barbarism.”


An Iroquois in Oregon

In 1857, Enos Thomas, whose tribal identity is simply listed as Iroquois, was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford, Oregon to be tried for war crimes committed during the recent Rogue River War. When the primary witness against him failed to appear, the Justice of the Peace William Copeland ordered the sheriff William Riley to free Enos. As soon as the blacksmith had freed him from his chains, a mob seized him, gave him some whiskey to drink, took him to the historic Battle Rock, and hung him. His body was buried at Battle Rock.

This type of incident—a mob hanging an Indian for “crimes” committed during a “war” with the United States—was common in the nineteenth century West. The interesting question is, however, how did an Iroquois, whose homelands are in the Northeast, come to be a war leader among tribes in southern Oregon?

The answer to this question lies in the early nineteenth century fur trade. The fur trade in the Pacific Northwest (in what would become Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) was dominated by two major fur companies: the London-based Hudson Bay Company (HBC) and the Montreal-based North West Company (the Nor’westers). As the Nor’westers moved into the area, they brought with them a number of Iroquois who were employed as trappers. These Iroquois had been educated by the Jesuits at the Caughnawaga Mission near Montreal in Canada. It was relatively common for these Iroquois to leave their employer and to settle among the tribes in the region.

The designation “Iroquois” does not refer to a single tribe, but is most frequently used to refer to the six Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora. The Iroquois homeland had originally included most of what is now New York and Ontario. Following the American Revolutionary War, many of the Iroquois settled in Canada.

Since many of the Iroquois who came to the Pacific Northwest spoke French as their primary European language, it was common for American settlers in the region to view them as French-Canadian. In most cases, the historic record does not indicate which of the Iroquois nations these trappers came from.

While there are no records regarding the early life of Enos (whose name is also indicated as Enas and Eneas and who is often described as a Canadian Indian), it is likely that he came into the region in the employ of HBC after the merger with the Nor’westers. He may also have grown up in a community of former HBC employees who had settled in Oregon. If this was the case, then his mother was most likely from an Oregon tribe or a Métis whose family was associated with the fur trade.

According to some historians, Enos may have worked as a guide for the 1843-1844 exploring expedition of John Charles Frémont: in 1843 Frémont hired two Indians—neither their names nor their tribal affiliations are recorded—to guide him from The Dalles to Klamath Lakes. According to Frémont’s records, one of these Indians had been to Klamath Lake and bore the battle scars of encounters with the Native people of that area. The physical description of this Indian appears to match that of Enos.

By 1855, Enos was living among the Tututni and had a Tututni wife. He was also friends with Benjamin Wright. In 1852, Wright had organized a party of volunteers in northern California for the purpose of killing Modocs. The Americans wanted to punish the Modoc for supposedly attacking wagon trains as they passed through Modoc territory. Wright then invited 46 Modocs to a peace conference. They first attempted to poison them with strychnine, but the Modoc declined the feast which was offered to them. The volunteers then opened fire with rifles on them. The Modoc had no guns. Only five of the Modoc, including Schonchin John and Curly Headed Doctor, escaped. The bodies of the dead Modoc were scalped and mutilated. The volunteers were proclaimed heroes and the state of California paid them for their services.

The following year, a group of Indians were invited into Wright’s camp under a white flag in order to negotiate peace. In a well-planned attack, Wright’s volunteers killed 38 Indians and scalped them.

In 1854, Benjamin Wright was appointed as special sub-Indian agent to handle affairs in the Port Orford, Oregon district. Enos and his wife gained Wright’s trust and he brought them into his confidence and sought their counsel.

In 1855, the so-called Rogue River War broke out between the Americans (particularly gold miners) and the various Indian nations along Oregon’s Rogue River. In 1856, Enos asked Benjamin Wright to meet with him at the Tututni village to discuss a possible peace. Wright, together with John Poland who represented the mining communities in the area, went upstream to meet with Enos and the Tututni. Both men were then killed and their bodies mutilated. Their bodies were never found by the Americans. These murders were the first step in a well-planned Indian uprising. The following day, the Indians attacked a volunteer regiment on the north side of the Rogue River and then went downstream to attack the community of Gold Beach. Under the leadership of Enos, the Indians burned about 60 non-Indian cabins and killed 31 people. The Americans branded Enos as a war criminal.

The siege of Gold Beach lasted for about a month and the Americans easily recognized Enos riding a white horse and encouraging the Indians in their fight. When U.S. Army troops reached the area, the Indians retreated upstream. According to one account, Enos was wounded in the thigh at a skirmish at Pistol River.

In late July, 1856 (perhaps the 26th or 27th), Enos was at the camp of Tututni Chief Taminestse at Port Orford where the Indians were awaiting transportation to the Siletz Indian Reservation. Indian agent William Chance describes his arrest:  “He made no resistance, said he could not keep away. He did not know why but it appeared to him that he had to come to the reservation.”

Among the Indian leaders of the Rogue River War, only Enos was arrested and singled out for trial. While Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer advocated the execution of all Indians who were known to have killed non-Indians during the war, only Enos was chosen for punishment. Enos was transferred from the coast reservation to Fort Vancouver where he was to be held awaiting a civil tribunal. The charges against him were murder and inciting to massacre.

In the spring of 1857, Enos was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford by steamer. Due to bad weather, the ship had to dock to Crescent City to the south, when Enos was held in the local jail. When the weather cleared, he was taken north to Port Orford where he would be hung without a trial.

While it seemed to be important to the Americans to have a legal ritual (trial) before executing an Indian, in reality most Indians accused of crimes at this time were simply killed without this formality.

The York Factory

In 1670 the English Crown granted a royal charter to a group of investors incorporating the Hudson’s Bay Company (Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay). The newly formed company proposed to circumvent the French trading monopoly into what was become Canada by locating in Hudson’s Bay. The charter required the company to furnish the King (or his heirs) two elk skins and two black beaver pelts as rent or payment for the charter.

 The English Crown, relying on a European legal doctrine known as the Discovery Doctrine, which in their minds gives Christian monarchs the right to rule over pagans, ignored possible First Nations’ claims to the land and granted the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) all lands which drain into Hudson’s Bay.  HBC was given all the powers of a sovereign state: absolute proprietorship, supreme jurisdiction in all civil and military affairs, the power to make and interpret laws, the power to maintain ships of war, the power to erect forts, and the power to declare war against ‘pagan’ peoples.

   The HBC strategy was relatively simple: to locate trading posts, known as factories, along the shores of Hudson’s Bay where ships from England would unload European manufactured goods and load North American furs. The furs would be obtained in trade from First Nations peoples. The HBC would use a standard advertising technique—word of mouth—to spread the news of the factories and the many wonders that they contained to the inland First Nations. The company envisioned its factories on the coast rather than inland.

 The land along the southern portion of Hudson’s Bay was occupied by the Cree. The Cree quickly became trading partners with HBC, bringing their furs directly to the HBC factories rather than trading them to the Ottawa who then would trade to the French. Just as the Ottawa had served as middlemen for the French fur trade, so the Cree now became the middlemen for the HBC.

 Cree became a major trading language and many HBC employees learned it. In addition, many Cree learned English. While HBC policies, unlike those of the early French traders and the later traders from the North West Company, discouraged intermarriage with Natives, such marriages were, in fact, fairly common. As the HBC traders and explorers moved inland from Hudson’s Bay, they did so with Cree guides and thus learned the Cree names for the people they encountered: the Dene were called Chipewyn (meaning “Pointy Coats”) and the Inuit were called Eskimo (“Eaters of Raw Meat”).

 It should be pointed out that the designation “Cree” comes not from the Cree, but from a closely related people, the Ojibwa, who called them “Kiristinon.” The Cree called themselves “Nehiawa” (“The People”). The Cree were allies with the culturally and linguistically related Ojibwa. Later, as they moved west with the fur trade, the Cree and Ojibwa became allied with the Assiniboine, an unrelated Siouan-speaking people.

 In 1684, the HBC built York Fort (also known as the York Factory) at Port Nelson, near the mouth of the Nelson and Hayes Rivers. For more than two centuries the York Factory would be the most important HBC fur trading post. It became the capital of the fur trade.

 When the original York Fort was established it was on disputed ground: disputed between two European powers, England and France. With the Treaty of Utrech in 1714 the French withdrew. By 1782, it became the most profitable HBC trading post, trading more than 30,000 Made Beaver per year.

  By the 1760s, the fur trade at York Factory began to decline and soon HBC found itself locked into battle against a major rival, the North West Company. To meet the new challenge, HBC began to locate trading posts in the interior. One of the major highways into the interior was the Hayes River. Since the York Factory was situated at the mouth of this river, it gained new importance as the entrepôt for the interior trading posts. For here, European goods would be transported into the interior, and the furs obtained in the interior could be loaded on ships bound for the lucrative English and European markets.

 In 1782, a French naval expedition captured the York Factory and destroyed the fort. The following year HBC returned and re-established the post. Disaster struck again in 1787 in the form of a major flood. As a result of the flood, the trading post was relocated to a site on higher ground about two kilometers upstream. Work was started on a complex which combined a warehouse, residence, and workshop. The employees called the new complex the Old Octagon in reference to the shape of the courtyard.

 By the 1820s, the York Factory was a small town which included not only the HBC employees, but also a group of Homeguard Cree who lived around the factory. Between 1830 and 1838, HBC constructed a huge warehouse—30 meters square and two stories high—which would be the largest building constructed by HBC until the advent of its retail stores in the twentieth century.

 From 1821 until 1846 two brigades each year, known as the York Express, would travel from York Factory to Fort Vancouver in present-day Washington state. Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River, was the headquarters for the HBC Columbia Department.

 By the 1860s, the York Factory was in decline as HBC was able to ship goods to the Red River from St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1957, after 275 years of operation, HBC closed the factory. It was declared a national historic site in 1960 and has been operated by Parks Canada since 1968.