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In compliance with the resolution of the House of the 15th instant, the report of J. Ross Browne, on the subject of the Indian war in Oregon and Washington Territories.
JANUARY 25, 1858.-Referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, and ordered to be
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
January 25, 1858. SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the report of J. Ross Browne, special agent of the Indian Office, on the subject of the late Indian war in Oregon and Washington Territories, called for in the resolution of the House of Representatives dated the 15th instant. With great respect, your obedient servant,
J. THOMPSON, Secretary. Hon. JAMES L. ORR,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
Office of Indian Affairs, January 19, 1858. SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the report of J. Ross Browne, on the subject of the late Indian war in Oregon and Washington Territories, called for in the resolution of the House of Representatives dated the 15th instant.
The resolution is herewith returned.
CHARLES E. MIX,
Acting Commissioner, Hon. J. THOMPSON,
Secretary of the Interior.
Letter from J. Ross Browne, special agent of the Treasury Department,
to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, reviewing the origin of the Indian war of 1855-'56 in the Territories of Oregon and Washington.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA,
December 4, 1857. SIR: In the course of my late tour of inspection through the Territories of Oregon and Washington, under your instructions of May 1, 1857, I had occasion, in my inquiries respecting the condition of the Indian reservations, to investigate the causes of the late Indian war. The information thus obtained has so important a bearing upon our Indian policy and the future prospects of our territorial possessions on the Pacific coast, that I am induced to believe it will not be unacceptable to the department.
On my arrival in Oregon I conferred with all the leading citizens, and obtained the views of nearly every federal officer in the country. During a tour of more than two months I heard but one sentiment expressed, a general denial of the allegation that the hostilities were commenced by the settlers for purposes of speculation. From previous acquaintance with the people of Oregon, I had formed the opinion that they were peaceable, honest, and industrious, and it seemed to me scarcely possible that they could be guilty of so great a crime as that charged against them.
In view of the fact, however, that objection might be made to any testimony coming from the citizens of the Territories, and believing also that it is the duty of a public agent to present, as far as practicable, unprejudiced statements, I did not permit myself to be governed by any representations unsupported by reliable historical data.
L'pon a full review of the origin and progress of the war, I arrived at the conclusion that the feud between the commanding officer of the military department on the Pacific coast and the citizens of the Territories-out of which the charge of speculation upon the public treasury grew—is a matter of very little national importance. The result of a mere political and personal quarrel of this kind cannot affect the great questions at issue. The origin of the war is not different from that of any other Indian war. It is the natural result of emigration and settlement; and whether the governors of the Territories, public officers, and citizens generally, committed an error in not placing themselves under the control and direction of General Wool, who came up after the war had commenced, or whether the part taken by him was best calculated to preserve and maintain peace, is not the question now to be decided.
A war took place an expensive and disastrous war—from the effects of which the Territories will suffer for many years. Neither the commanding officer of the military department, nor the citizens of the Territories, in my opinion, could have prevented it. The quarrel between them is undignified and unstatesmanlike. It was a war of destiny-bound to take place whenever the causes reached their culminating point. Although occasional hostilities have been engendered between the whites and particular tribes of Indians in every State of the Union by individual acts of aggression, either on the one side or the other, the history of our Indian wars will show that the primary cause is the progress of civilization, to which the inferior races, from their habits and instincts, are naturally opposed. From the time of the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock to the present day we have had wars with the Indians, and they have all had a beginning. It matters little whether an individual act of aggression or a general movement becomes the signal for hostilities—a prior cause must exist.
The explorations of Lewis and Clarke, who were sent out by the government of the United States in 1802 to ascertain the character and boundaries of the territory west of the Rocky mountains, with a view of investigating the unwarranted assumption of the British Hudson's Bay Company of an exclusive right to trade with the Indians, present the first official narrative of American intercourse with the Indians of Oregon. From that period, during a series of many years, the country was visited by trappers and hunters from the frontiers of Missouri-a wild, reckless, and daring race of men, whose intercourse with the Indians was not calculated to afford them a high opinion of the Americans as a people.
In 1835 missionary establishments were formed west of the Rocky mountains. The French, through their consexion with the Hudson's Bay Company, established Catholic missions, and the Americans Protestant missions, between which jealousies and bickerings soon sprang up. Misrepresentations were, no doubt, made on both sides, and the result was, that bitter hostilities were engendered between the cliques attached to each persuasion. In the autumn of 1847 Doctor Marcus Whitman and his family were murdered by the Indians. Mr. Spalding, another missionary, charges that it was done with the knowledge and connivance of the Catholic missionaries. I send enclosed the reply of Father Brouillet, which professes to refute this charge. A perusal of the pamphlet will abundantly show the bitterness of feeling existing between the different sects, and its evil effects upon the Indians. It will readily be seen that, as little dependence can be placed upon the statements made by one side as by the other, and that, instead of christianizing the Indians, these different sects were engaged in quarrels among each other, thereby showing a very bad example to the races with whom they chose to reside.
The fact also is shown, that as far back as 1835 the Indians west of the Rocky mountains protested against the taking away of their lands by the white races ; that this was one of the alleged causes of the murder of Doctor Whitman and family.
It is needless to go into a detail of all the difficulties between the whites and the Indians since the first emigration to the Territory of Oregon.
The same primary causes existed in every case-encroachments of a superior upon an inferior race.
In 1840 and 1841 the subject of the settlement of Oregon was agitated in the Senate of the United States by Senators Linn and Benton. Information as to the value and extent of this Territory was published to the country in their speeches. Settlers wereencouraged to go there and secure
homesteads for their families. Congress was urged to grant liberal donations of lands. Senator Linn made it, session after session, the especial subject of his mission to Washington, and never ceased, until the day of his death, to urge upon government the great value and importance of our Pacific possessions, and the expediency of encouraging emigration there.
In 1849 Mr. Thruston went to Washington city as a delegate from the Territory of Oregon. He represented to Congress the unsettled condition of affairs in that Territory, arising from the proximity of the Indians to the white settlements, and the difficulties which were frequently occurring between them. He urged that the people of Oregon were in an isolated and unprotected condition; that inducements had been held out to them by the government to settle there, but they had not as yet acquired a legal title to their lands, and the Indians were constantly threatening to dispossess them. In fact, they only maintained their position by sufferance.
They were liable at any moment to be inassacred. In consequence of these representations, and the pressing petitions of the people through their delegate, Congress, in June, 1850, passed a law authorizing the appointment of a commission to treat with all the Indians west of the Cascade mountains.
On the 27th of September following the donation law was passed, granting to single persons, who had settled prior to the 1st December, 1851, 320 acres, and to married couples 640 acres of the public domain, &c. No reservation was contained in this act predicated upon the action of the commission. The land was to be granted in fee simple, upon actual residence for four years. In the pre-emption act of September 4, 1841, section 10, extended to Oregon July 17, 1854, provision is made excepting from pre-emption lands held in reserve by the government, or to which the Indian title has not been extinguished. In the donation act government departed from its usual policy, and made no such exception. That this has been a fruitful source of difficulty there can be no doubt. It was unwise and impolitic to encourage settlers to take away the lands of the Indians. It was well understood, from experience with the Indians of other States, that they always claimed a right to the lands upon which they resided. They could never be taught to comprehend that subtle species of argument by which another race could come among them, put them aside, ignore their claims, and assume possession, on the ground of being a superior people. Ever since the ordinance of 1787 it had been the practice of government to recognize in them a possessory right, which could only be extinguished by purchase or mutual agreement. Of course, as the terms were always dictated and enforced on the one side, whether the other party was satisfied or not, this compulsory process cannot properly be dignified by the title of treaty. None of the so-called treaties with the Indians are anything more than forced agreements, which the stronger power can violate or reject at pleasure, and of which privilege it has availed itself in all the treaties made with the Indians of Oregon.
The organic act of August, 1848, creating the Territory of Oregon, reserves to the general government the right to make such regula
the don again, was the settle
tions respecting the Indians as it may deem expedient; in other words, to treat with them, purchase their lands, remove them to reservations, or otherwise dispose of them, as might best subserve their welfare and the public interests. Such portions of the act of 1834, regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians, as were found applicable, were extended to Oregon by act of 1850. This has relation chiefly to municipal control over the trade between the settlers and the Indians-selling whiskey, &c. Here, again, was another source of trouble. Each settler under the donation act, holding his title direct from government, could hireas many Indian laborers as he pleased for whiskey—the article held in highest esteem by the Indian.
The Indian law of 1834 could not reach this offence, for government had ignored the Indian title. It was beyond any military power, and was made the subject of civil action, the same as any other offence against the laws of the Territory. The accused was entitled to a trial by jury. The jury consisted of his peers, that is, of men who hired Indian labor in the same way. It was impracticable to procure the necessary testimony of white witnesses. I do not believe offences of this kind prevailed amongst the better class of settlers in Oregon ; but they were sufficiently common to produce constant trouble with the Indians.
In reference to the question of original right, I believe there is but little difference of opinion at the present day. Civilization cannot be held back upon grounds of priority of possession. The question is simply one of public policy. When it becomes necessary to remove the aboriginal races to some more convenient location, they must be removed; but the stronger power, from motives of humanity, concedes to the weaker certain rights which it is bound in honor to respect. That Congress recognized these rights and intended to provide for them, is shown by the passage of the act providing for the extinguishment of the Indian title prior to the donation act of September 27, 1850.
In pursuance of the authority vested in him, the President appointed a commission, consisting of General Gaines, governor and superintendent of Indian affairs for the Territory of Oregon, Mr. Allen, special commissioner, and Mr. Skinner, an Indian agent.
The commission met at Shampoag, in the Willamette valley, in March, 1851, and proceeded to negotiate with the various tribes of the Willamette. În April they concluded several treaties. Under these treaties reservations were fixed at the forks of the Santiam and at Yam Hill. The selection of lands thus made was singularly unfortunate, most of them being already covered by claims under the donation act. The removal of the Indians from one part of the valley to another, where the interests of the settlers were the same, could in no way have operated advantageously. The sum of $20 000 was expended in making these treaties, without any beneficial result. The settlers held meetings and protested against the acts of the commission. Petitions to the same effect were forwarded to Congress. It was considered that the treaties were injudicious in their terms and ought not to be ratified. But this was not the fault of the Indians. A solemn compact was made with them. The terms were imposed