Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory, met in council with the Indian nations of the Mid-Columbia Region with the purpose of establishing an Indian reservation which would get the Indians out of the way of American settlement. This was an area that was the traditional homelands for two primary tribes: (1) the Wasco who were the eastern-most group of Chinook-speaking Indians, and (2) the Warm Springs (described in the treaty as Walla Walla) who were Sahaptin-speaking.
In 1855 at a treaty council at Wasco, near The Dalles, several western Columbia Sahaptin bands of the Walla Walla (Tygh, Wayampam, Tenino, Dock-Spus) and Upper Chinook bands of the Wasco (The Dalles, Ki-gal-twal-la, Dog River) signed a treaty in which they agreed to move to the Warm Springs Reservation. The tribes were given the rights to take fish from the streams running through and bordering the reservation; to hunt, gather roots and berries, and to pasture their stock on all unclaimed lands.
At the time of the treaty council, many of the Indians were away from the area preparing for the annual root harvest and the Americans had been informed that this was not a good time for the meeting. At the beginning of the council, one American-John Edwards-warned the Indians that the purpose of the council was to rob them of their land. He was arrested and placed in the guardhouse.
At the council, Mark Chinook and William Chinook of The Dalles and Iso and Stocketly of the Deschutes strongly opposed the treaty.
At the council, the Americans tell the Indians:
“We have found that the white man and Indians cannot long live together in peace, that it is better that lines should be drawn so that the white man will know where his land is and the Indian where his land is, we may then live without quarreling.”
The Americans told the Indians that the reservation designated for them contained good farming land and that it was close to their fishing stations on the Columbia River. Both statements were false. The negotiator had the translators read the prepared treaty to the Indians. The Americans had come to the council not for the purpose of negotiating, but rather to intimidate the Indians and to force them to accept the dictates of the United States.
Under the treaty, the bands gave up ownership rights to about 10 million acres of land which had been their homelands for at least 10,000 years. The United States, of course, agreed to pay the bands for this land. According to the treaty:
All of which several sums of money shall be expended for the use and benefit of the confederated bands, under the direction of the President of the United States, who may from time to time, at his discretion determine what proportion thereof shall be expended for such objects as in his judgment will promote their well-being and advance them in civilization; for their moral improvement and education; for building, opening and fencing farms, breaking land, providing teams, stock, agricultural implements, seeds, &c.(sic); for clothing, provisions, and tools; for medical purposes, providing mechanics and farmers, and for arms and ammunition.
In other words, the government would control what the money would be used for.
Under federal law at this time, Indians were not allowed to have or consume alcohol and thus the treaty also stated:
In order to prevent the evils of intemperance among said Indians, it is hereby provided, that if any one of them shall drink liquor to excess, or procure it for others to drink, his or her proportion of the annuities may be withheld from him or her for such time as the President may determine.
During the early years of reservation life, the traditional ways changed greatly. First of all, salmon, which had been important to the traditional economy, weren’t as plentiful as they had been on the Columbia River. The climate was harsh and the soil was not good for farming.
In 1865, the tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation agreed to a treaty which relinquished all of their off-reservation rights: hunting, fishing, gathering, curing, and grazing. The tribes were to be given $3,500 in compensation.
The new treaty came about because the Indian agent was annoyed because the Indians spent so much time off the reservation fishing rather than tending their crops. He told the chiefs each Indian needed to have a pass signed by the agent which would show non-Indians, including the Army, that they had a right to be off the reservation. The chiefs, who could not read or speak English, thought this sounded reasonable and put their marks to the paper. The agent then inserted a clause about relinquishing their fishing rights and submitted it to Congress as a treaty.
When Congress sent the $3,500 in goods to the reservation in payment for the treaty rights, the agent simply “borrowed” them and headed for California. He was not heard from again.
In 1870, Tygh prophet Queahpahmah had a dream in which he left the Warm Springs Reservation. Citing this dream as a reason, he asked the reservation superintendent for a pass to leave the reservation. The agent refused. Queahpahmah left the reservation without a pass and avoided capture.
In 1879, the U.S. government decided to move a small group of Paiute to the reservation. Traditionally the Paiute had lived in southeastern Oregon and spoke a Shoshonean language unrelated to any of the other languages spoken by the Warm Springs tribes. The government was either unconcerned or unaware that the Pauite and the tribes of the Columbia River area had a long history of conflict. The government seemed unaware of the cultural differences between the Paiute and the other tribes on the Warm Springs Reservation.
The 38 Paiutes who were moved to the Warm Springs Reservation had been involved in the Bannock Indian war and had been taken first to Fort Vancouver and then to the Yakama Reservation.
Shown above are some women on the Warm Springs Reservation in 1902.
The Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act, often re¬ferred to as the IRA) was passed by Congress in 1934. The IRA has three objectives: (1) economic development of the tribes, (2) organization of tribal governments, and (3) Indian civil and cultural rights. Under the IRA, tribes were able to create a federally chartered corporation which could borrow money, enter into contracts, and sue. In 1937 the tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation organized under the IRA as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.
Since reorganization under the IRA, the tribes have pursued economic self-sufficiency by establishing several businesses including the Warm Springs Lumber Company (1942), the Warm Springs Power Enterprise (1982), and the Indian Head Casino (1996).