A Local Story Conversation with David G. Lewis, PhD

The Oregon Trail of Tears and Other Hidden Native Histories

A Local Story Conversation with David G. Lewis, PhD

The Oregon Trail of Tears and Other Hidden Native Histories


This special Local Story conversation between David G. Lewis and Stephanie Littlebird Fogel, guest curator of the museums latest exhibit This IS Kalapuyan Land, covers Indigenous representation in museums and the Oregon history that is often left out: the creation of reservations, the residential school system, termination, and restoration of Indigenous sovereignty. This traumatic period from the 1850’s-1970’s was neglected on our museum’s own original panels before Fogel addressed them. Lewis shares his research on the impact of these policies then and now and how people and institutions can address truth and healing today. The event concludes with an open audience Q+A and discussion.

David G. Lewis, PhD, is an esteemed author, Native American historian, ethnohistory consultant, anthropologist, teacher and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

This event took place on October 5, 2019 while Five Oaks Museum was known by its former name, Washington County Museum.



0:21-1:09: Steph gives a brief overview of her approach to the exhibition, introduces David and explains why their work was important.


1:19-2:43: Steph introduces David’s original letter to the museum, points out gaps of the original exhibition that needed to be addressed, and reasoning for why it was important to address those gaps


3:27-3:47: Steph mentions that there are lessons to be learned from the exhibit that can be applied to present day issues and understanding intergenerational trauma.


4:28-5:09: David introduces the Trail of Tears (removal from Table Rock to Grand Ronde). His research found that it wasn’t the first removal (Umpqua was a month earlier).


5:17-5:46: David talks about more removals to Grand Ronde, Klamath, Warm Springs, etc. reservations.


5:50-6:30: David doesn’t like the name “Trail of Tears.” It’s too poetic and doesn’t reflect the harsh reality, which he then describes.


6:35-7:02: David compares contemporary immigrant concentration camps to reservations, describes terrible conditions.


7:30-7:48: David talks about how winters were colder at the time these removals were happening, the Columbia would freeze over every winter.


8:27-10:16: David talks about treaties that ratified Western Oregon, they reference the tribes on the Columbia that have fishing rights, spawned contemporary fights about who does/doesn’t have fishing rights on the Columbia. 1851 was the first treaty process that failed; 19 treaties written in Willamette Valley, southern OR and the Columbia. Dart, the government person responsible for the treaties “harpooned” them because the treaties allowed the tribes to keep lots of land and the government would have to buy land from settlers. They were not ratified.


10:27-10:31: David describes finding the treaties in the National Archives


10:55-11:38: The treaties aren’t very historically important besides the fact that they contain information about the tribes, who were very involved in their creation (describes the process of the whole tribe being there rather than just the leaders). Maps were used and people point out where their lands were, rather than federal authorities making it up.


11:42-14:10: Describes treaty dealing with Kalapuyas in the Umpqua Valley, shows us that the Kalapuyas lived in a broader area. Talks about “Palmer era” in which 7 treaties were ratified. General Palmer wrote the treaty for the Willamette Valley in 1855. Valley was mostly conflict free but the tribes were “a nuisance.” Settlers owned all the Willamette Valley and the tribes were on their lands. Farming had deprived the tribes of the land necessary for their spiritual practice, root crops, and settlers were killing all the game. They wouldn’t give handouts to the tribe but counted on them for their labor.


14:17-14:50: Tribes began stealing from the settlers, which David points out is caused by the settlers depriving them of their food sources.


15:00-15:53: Newspapers of the time describe tribal members as “vermin, scoundrels,” etc. that needed to be removed, and in late 1855 many people were moved to the Grand Ronde reservation.


15:45-18:43: David shares text from the 1851 treaty proceedings that describes sentiments of the tribes about this removal. They would rather be shot than leave the land. By 1855 they were worn down enough that they agreed to it. David shows image of map of the temporary reservations established in 1851, describes in relation to contemporary towns.


18:44-19:25: Describes the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty, lists the tribes involved. The tribes mostly wanted safety from the settlers.


20:48-23:02: Oregon Trail of Tears was in Feb-Mar, Jan-Feb was Umpqua. People were walked overland on the Applegate Trail to the Grand Ronde, were attacked often by settlers. In Apr-May Kalapuyas are also moved to Grand Ronde. David describes history of temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley. Palmer paid farmers to take care of a “tribe” which was like 25 ppl.


23:03-27:00: The Mohawk band of Kalapuyas were placed on a temporary reservation near Marcola. The Chaffin band were on the Jacob Spores land claim that possibly already included an indigenous village before it was claimed. David describes figuring out exactly where that was using GIS maps. The Chemapho band of Kalapuyas were placed near Alpine on the Jacob Hammer allotment and stayed at least 10 months. By 1856 though, Palmer would have to move everyone to Grand Ronde in response to violence.


27:01-29:37: David also found the Halo band’s village in the south. Chief Halo took the last name Fearn. David describes examining the archival documents in order to find it and the conclusions he drew. The Halos are ultimately sheltered by the Applegates, who stop the removal of the Halos, one of the few examples of where settlers stood up for Natives.


29:43-32:23: David is finding that the removals continued into the 1870s. Mostly scattered tribes from the coast or hills. Meanwhile in the south, the settlers continued attacking the tribes, so the tribes hid in the Coast Range. Contractors were hired to capture them and bring them to the reservation. Eventually a third of the people at Grand Ronde were moved to the coast reservation. In 1857 Siletz Agency was built, and people moved there as well. Eventually the coast reservation was mainly tribes from the south and the southern coast. Grand Ronde was mostly people from the valley and the Columbia.


32:34-34:28: David shows a map of the Grand Ronde reservation. There were already farms in place when people were moved there. The government bought out the settlers that were there. There were also good roads, which made it a preferred location for a reservation. The coast didn’t have good supply routes.


34:29-37:52: Native people were still able to get passes to move around the Valley. David shows some archival photos of intertribal gatherings. Also children in a labor camp. People would stay on the reservation for the winter, and in the spring get passes to help out with harvests, and return at the end of the summer. The soil made it hard to grow food on Grand Ronde. This pattern approximated the traditional seasonal rounds, and continued into the 1950s and even the 1970s. David recalls going on the “berry buses” as a kid.


38:47-46:38: David describes how he became involved with the exhibition (was asked to consult on 2004 exhibition). He saw Oregon history as not just pioneer history, which is how it’s been told for a long time. Mentions some research into how much Native people helped pioneers build their farms, etc, who would have had to have help. Settlers often traded “wealth items” for Native labor. In some ways, David argues, Native people of the time saw settlers as a benefit to them (before treaties, etc.). Talking about Native people as passive recipients of violence dehumanizes them. It’s engaging for the descendants of settlers to think that their ancestors did something great. David also points out that many of today’s Indigenous people have dual ancestry from settlers and Natives marrying.


46:39-48:44: David says it’s our collective responsibility to admit these things and not avoid difficult conversations. He teaches students encountering these narratives in college for the first time because they’re not exposed to it in grade school. Indigenous kids have to go through the system even now and not learn about their cultural past.


48:57-55:58: In his career, David has been looking at the difficult parts of our history, especially residential schools and forced sterilization (which has been the focus of his wife’s research). He questions what else was happening at the boarding schools. Education efforts started in the 1830s with Jason Lee. The mission school was then adopted by the government. For the first 15 years of day schools on the reservation, a church was responsible for each reservation. Siletz was Methodist, Grand Ronde was Catholic, etc. Boarding schools of the 1880s were run by the government for kids ages 6 and up. The government had realized the kids weren’t assimilating fast enough in the day schools. To cut down on costs, they eventually moved to area boarding schools where kids were sent from multiple tribes. The first one off-reservation was Forest Grove, which later moved to Chemawa. Money from the childrens’ farm labor was used to buy more land for the school. Now, Oregon and the tribes are discussing who actually owns the school lands.


57:40-1:02:38: The government addressed religious beliefs/practice such as polygamy, and health care, encouraging/insisting that the tribes adopt Western ways of doing things, destroying the spiritual power of healers, etc. Up until 1924 Natives were not citizens of the US. Immigrants had more ability to integrate into society. David speculates that if you wanted people to integrate, you would give them citizenship. Grand Ronde was self-supporting in the first ten years because they learned not to rely on the government. The fine detail of these histories has been ignored by historians. Structural changes still need to be made.


1:02:48-1:10:45: David discusses the Termination policy. None of the tribes in Oregon ever agreed to termination, but of course the government lied and Congress terminated the tribes. Some tribes were paid $35/person for land. This had a huge effect on tribal culture and language as well as individual identity.