II. Historical Context and American Policy

A. Outsiders Arrive

In early 1775, Spain's Captain Bruno Heceta came ashore on the Pacific side of the Olympic Peninsula. It's not certain but he likely landed near the Hoh River where he and crew his claimed the country for the king of Spain before rowing back to their ship and sailing away. As brief as it was, this visit probably marks the first arrival of Europeans on the northwestern coast of Washington and may have signaled the first encounter between the Natives on the region and white men. That encounter was confirmed, violently, later when another Spanish vessel, the schooner Sonora, arrived off the coast near Destruction Island and was greeted by Indians in canoes who were interested in trading skins and fish for European goods. The next day sailors dispatched to get water were attacked, overwhelmed, and killed by Indians when they landed on the beach. It is not clear why the sailors were attacked-although it's possibly that the sailors entered a safe haven for women-but the Indians removed the iron from their boat and then paddled out to schooner and acted in a way that the remaining Spanish sailors believed was threatening. The Spanish opened fire, killing or wounding six or seven Indians, and then fled. A dozen years later, in a remarkably similar incident at the mouth of the Hoh River, six crewmen of the British Imperial Eagle were killed. Just who were the Indians the Europeans meet along this stretch of coast is still unclear: Although the Hoh seem a likely choice, anthropologists and historians suggest that the Natives could also have been Quileute, Quinault, or Queets. Regardless, those first encounters gave the Natives of the coast a reputation for fierceness and independence.

Further north, of the earliest recorded encounters between the Makah on the northwestern edge of the Olympic Peninsula and Europeans occurred in June 1788 when Captain John Meares, a British sailor and merchant sailing under the Portuguese flag, arrived off the coast of Cape Flattery near Tatoosh Island to trade. Met by boatloads of Makah men, including the leader Tatootche, Meares found the Indians unwilling to trade and, after several futile attempts to negotiate, Meares sailed on down the coast. In the ensuing years, other traders had more luck with the Makah and, when the Spanish arrived at Neah Bay in 1790, they found the Makah ready to do business. Two years later, while seeking to establish territorial claims to an area that was attracting European competition in the fur trade and
therefore seemed to threaten Spain's control of California, the Spanish returned to Neah Bay to build a military settlement. (For a synopsis of the Nootka Sound Controversy, see the CSPN's online curriculum packet Indians and
Europeans on the Northwest Coast, 1774-1812: Historical Context
.) The expedition of 83 men, led by Salvador
Fidalgo, arrived at the end of May with orders to choose a good site for a fort.

While Fidalgo was ordered to take possession of the land through the customary ceremonies (which usually included erecting a cross and burying a bottle containing documents claiming the land for the king), he was also instructed to establish good relations with the Indians, avoid conflicts with them, and, possibly, enlist them as laborers for the settlement's farm. The Spanish occupation did not last long: Within months worries about the site's defensibility, changes in Spain's policy, and a lack of cooperation from the Natives persuaded the Spanish to abandon Neah Bay. Although the Makah and the other Natives in the northwestern corner of the peninsula continued to have intermittent contact with European traders, explorers, or shipwrecked sailors, more than 50 years would pass before other outsiders would arrive to lay claim to the Indians' land.

B. Colonial Heritage

At about the same time that Meares was trying to initiate trade with the Makah, a new nation on the other side of the continent was beginning to establish and articulate its ideas about the acquisition of Indian lands. The United States, having only recently broken free from British colonial authority, was developing a series of legal policies that would guide U.S.-Indians relations for the next 200 years.

Those policies relied heavily on the models that evolved after English settlers arrived in North America in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. From the outset, the Europeans and the Indians on the East Coast of North America had different concepts of land ownership. The Indians understood the countryside as having spiritual powers that required the Natives to treat the land with respect or face dire consequences. While Indians recognized that tribes had definable homelands, they did not ordinarily consider that individuals could "own" land, let alone buy it and sell it-something the Europeans who arrived on their shores took for granted. Even then, the situation in North America created questions in European minds about their rights in acquiring lands among the Native Americans. Some Englishmen argued that Europeans had no rights to Indian lands, others that Europeans were entitled to "share" the lands with the Indians because of an innate European superiority, and, as one nineteenth-century historian observed, "The sovereigns of the Old World therefore found no difficulty in convincing themselves that they made ample compensation to the Natives by bestowing on them the benefits of civilization and Christianity in exchange for control over them and their country." Still other Europeans asserted that, because the "Godless savages" had not heeded the Biblical injunction to "subdue the Earth," Indians had forfeited any right they had to the land. Puritans, in particular, believed they had a divine right to take possession of Indian lands. Moreover, these ideas continued to inform questions about Indian land ownership through the 1800s.

In addition, while few Indians claimed land as private property, families, villages or tribes often recognized rights to use certain lands to plant and gather crops or hunt and fish, and several families or tribes could use the same lands at different times of the year. This created problems for colonists intent on land acquisition. Early on in negotiations between whites and Indians, Native Americans were often agreeable to granting the colonists nonexclusive access to Indian land in transactions that colonists assumed were equivalent to the transfer of title. The result was often a confusing, overlapping profusion of colonial and Indian claims to the same pieces of real estate. It also did not help that-especially in the first few years of European settlement-the colonists and the Indians often did not share a common language and negotiations were carried out through translators and sign language.

Although the English crown had arbitrarily and unilaterally claimed Indian lands by right of "discovery"-reserving the right to parcel the land out as it saw fit and granting Native Americans only possessory and usufructuary rights (the rights to occupy and use the land)-by the middle of the seventeenth century most colonies found that it made sense to establish treaties that extinguished Indian title and ceded lands to the colonies in exchange for some kind of payment. These agreements lessened the initial frictions between Indians and Europeans but also contributed to confusion and misunderstanding as each colony approached the treaty-making process in different ways.

By the middle of the 1700s this patchwork of colonial treaties had led to a growing number of violent conflicts between the colonists and the Indians that threatened to disrupt the growth and stability of colonies. These conflicts increased in intensity as the colonists ignored both imperial policy and Indian boundaries as they continually pressed westward into Indian lands. In 1755 the British took a large step toward removing Indian policy from the individual colonies and centralizing its administration under the crown by appointing the first superintendent of Indian affairs. He was charged with, among other things, protecting the Indians from unscrupulous traders, maintaining amicable relations with the Natives, and establishing the boundaries between Indian land and land open for settlement. Less than a decade later King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763 that, in part, prohibited English settlement beyond the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains and declared that all the lands west of the mountains to the Mississippi River were reserved for the exclusive use of the Indians. By setting up this Indian-only territory, the British hoped to preserve friendly relations with the Indians and maintain order in the colonies by separating the Natives from the whites. In addition, the imperial government sought to regularize relations with the Indians by controlling trade and political intercourse. Although this new system was only partially successful, it was still in place when the American Revolution broke out. While the British eventually lost the war-despite the military aid of numerous Indian allies-the Indian policies the crown had established served as a model for the new nation.

C. New Nation

Even as the framers of the Constitution went to work in Philadelphia, Congress, acting under the Articles of Confederation, approved a law that enunciated the government's intent to establish a clear and impenetrable
boundary between whites and Indians while at the same time promoting the orderly transfer of Indian lands to American citizens. This law, the Northwest Ordinance, was approved in July 1787 and is known primarily because it outlined the procedure by which the nation's territories could become states and assured that all new states would have the same rights and privileges as those that preceded them. It did, however, also assert:

The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their land and property shall never be
taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress, but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and
friendship with them. (See Northwest Ordinance, pp. 340-41.)

In 1777, the Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation to govern the new nation but not without first wrangling over provisions dealing with whether the management of Indian affairs should follow the British model and be consolidated under federal authority or if Indian policymaking should be granted to the individual states. It was an important question-seeking allies against the British, the Americans negotiated their first Indian treaty with the Delaware in 1778 (see Treaty with the Delawares, 1778) - and, in the end, Congress approved ambiguous language that gave the federal government the "exclusive right" of "regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indian" outside of state boundaries but seemingly left Indians living within state boundaries under state authority. The ambiguity was finally resolved when the Articles of Confederation was scrapped in favor of a new Constitution in 1787-a year before John Meares dropped anchor at Cape Flattery to trade with the Makah.

As historian Colin Calloway has pointed out, there are inherent inconsistencies in the idea of converting Indian territories into states while respecting the integrity of Indian lands and maintaining peace: "…the Ordinance … laid out a blueprint for national expansion: the [Old] Northwest Territory was to be divided into districts which, after passing through territorial status, would become states.... Indians who resisted American expansion soon found themselves subjected to 'just and lawful wars.'" Indeed, Natives everywhere along the border between Indian country and white settlements were feeling pressure from Americans hungry for new lands.

While the framers of the Constitution made it clear that Congress-not the states-had the power "To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes," the supremacy of federal authority in Indian affairs was still disputed by some states. That supremacy was established conclusively in the landmark 1832 Supreme Court decision, Worcester v. Georgia. Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall said that single Constitutional clause gave Congress the power to establish treaties with the Indians and regulate trade with them. He concluded that "These powers comprehend all that is required for the regulation of our intercourse with the Indians." In a previous case, Marshall had also authored the court's decision in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) that established that Indian tribes should be considered "domestic dependent nations" that had a relationship with the United States that "resembles that of a ward to his guardian." (See Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.) Marshall wrote, "They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the President as their great father." Taken together, the two court decisions clarified the status of Indian tribes in the new nation. These court decisions also tacitly recognized the failure of federal policies aimed at maintaining peace between whites and Indians by establishing impenetrable boundaries between their communities.

D. Indian Removal

In 1790, the new Congress passed its first Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. It was aimed at regularizing trade relations with the Indians and allowing the federal government to enforce treaty provisions that prohibited encroachment by white settlers and punish whites who committed crimes against Natives in Indian country. It also invalidated the private acquisition of Indian lands and required that all tribal lands be purchased through treaties negotiated between Indian leaders and federal commissioners. It was followed by a new law in 1793 that tried to strengthen Indian protections against attacks by white settlers and better regulate the sale of Indian lands while providing goods-primarily agricultural implements and draft animals-that would "promote civilization" among the Indians. Again, in 1796, the federal government restated its desire to protect Indians from white encroachment by passing another trade and intercourse act, this one establishing a defined line between white settlement and Indian country-provisions that were essentially made permanent under President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

In passing these acts, the government displayed its desire to create a barrier between Indians and white Americans by removing Indians to western lands and isolating them from the negative influences of white society. The idea-which would become de facto federal policy for roughly the next fifty years-was based on the assumption that, given careful guidance, the Indian populations could be fully assimilated into American society. It was understood that this assimilation process would take time and, until the Indians had learned all the skills they would need to become citizens, it was best to isolate them from the pernicious aspects of white encroachment by moving the Indians westward. Thomas Jefferson and others saw the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of the U.S., as a way to provide the Indians with a safe haven to become "civilized." Few, however, could conceive how quickly white Americans would rush into these new territories, each successive wave of settlement creating the same tensions and conflicts-often resulting in violent local "wars" between Indians and whites-that had plagued Native peoples since the arrival of the Europeans. At the same time, the federal government did not allocate the resources needed to effectively enforce these laws protecting Indians or their lands or provide a way to stem westward migration. As a result, the first five decades of the nineteenth century were marked with an increasing number of Indian removals, the most well-known being the 1838-39 Cherokee removal and the "Trail of Tears."

E. Assimilation

When white Americans in the nineteenth century spoke of assimilation they were talking about a cultural transformation of Indian peoples that assumed that there were "stages" of civilization arranged in a linear, ladder-like structure. Grounded in Enlightenment thought-the same intellectual philosophy that produced the ideas of natural rights and human liberty enshrined in the U.S. Constitution-this concept of civilization stipulated that every society had to climb the ladder from savagery through barbarism to, at the pinnacle, civilization. Civilization, of course, was defined in ethnocentric terms of the Euroamericans. Under that model Indians would only become civilized and assimilated once they adopted agriculture (which included the abandonment of communal land holding in favor of "severalty"-the individual ownership of private parcels); learned to read, write, and speak English; and became Christians. Left unanswered by the white thinkers were knottier questions that revolved around questions of race and acceptance: Would whites welcome Indians as citizens? Would white parents allow Indian children to attend schools with their children? Would it be acceptable for whites and Indians to marry and have mixed-heritage children? These same thinkers, by and large, seldom paused to consider whether Indians wanted to be assimilated or whether Native peoples could be incorporated into American society without renouncing their heritage and identity.

Less than three years after Lea made his remarks the official Indian policy of the United States was one that still recognized Indians' property rights-and the need to extinguish those rights before allowing whites to settle on Indian lands. In addition, it now sought to move Indians onto reservations where they could be supervised by government agents who would teach them how to farm and educate them in the skills and knowledge needed to become American citizens. The government, acting as the paternal guardian of its Indian wards, also took on the responsibility of clothing, housing, and feeding its charges until they became self-sufficient enough to fend for themselves in American society.

F. Reservations

By 1848, the United States had become a transcontinental nation. In 1846 it had resolved a long-standing dispute with Great Britain and established its ownership of the Oregon Territory (which then encompassed all land west of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Columbia River to the 49th parallel) and, two years later, the nation's victory in the Mexican-American War (1846-48) consolidated the acquisition of Texas and incorporated nearly half of Mexico-including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico-into its territory. Addressing Congress in 1848, President James K. Polk noted that the United States had doubled its size in three years of aggressive expansion and was now a transcontinental nation. Although it may not have been apparent to most, the nation's expansion meant that it would become increasingly difficult to remove Indians beyond reach of white settlers. As historian Robert A. Trennert, Jr., has observed, this change persuaded government officials "that a policy of reservations would be the only practical solution, from the white man's viewpoint, to deal with a drastically altered Indian frontier."

America's push toward the Pacific had begun half a century earlier as Yankee traders sought to exploit the sea otter fur trade in the Pacific Northwest and, a little later, the hide and tallow trade in California. In 1788, Captain Robert Gray, a Boston trader, embarked on the first circumnavigation of the globe by an American, stopping to purchase furs from Natives at Nootka Sound before heading across the Pacific to sell them in China and returning to Boston in 1790. His return in 1791-92, along with the surveys and observations from the British Navy's Captain George Vancouver's visit to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound in 1792-93, generated a great deal of interest among British and Americans seeking to exploit the resources of the Pacific Northwest-primarily in the fur trade and whaling-and by 1791 there were at least six American ships plying the waters of the Northern Pacific. (For a more detailed account of Euroamerican and Indian relations in the region during this period, see the CSPN online curriculum packet "Indians and Europeans on the Northwest Coast, 1774-1812: Historical Context.")

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the subsequent transcontinental Lewis and Clark expedition captured the imagination of the nation and, according to historians Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, brought Oregon to the attention of the nation-so much so "that Americans thereafter assumed it was their own preserve." The expedition also spurred an international competition to exploit the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest, pitting the British North West Company against John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. The North West Company triumphed when the British captured Astor's outpost-Astoria-at the mouth of the Columbia River during the War of 1812. The trading post was soon moved to Fort Vancouver and, in 1821, the North West Company was absorbed by the Hudson Bay Company. The Hudson Bay Company remained the dominant European presence throughout the region for most of the next three decades.

American settlement of the Oregon Country-a loosely defined area that stretched from California north into what is now British Columbia and east into Montana-began in the 1830s with the arrival of Protestant missionaries and their families who came to Christianize the "heathen" Indians. Driven in part by a slumping economy in the United States, hundreds of settlers headed to the Oregon country in the early 1840s. From Missouri to Oregon, the settlers' trail bisected Indians lands, destroyed rangelands, depleted Indian hunting grounds, and created tense encounters. By 1845 there were about 5,000 Americans living in Oregon country. In 1846, the United States and Great Britain signed a treaty that divided the Oregon country along the 49th parallel and established the lands south of the border as American territory. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the subsequent rush to the goldfields sent thousands more overland, crisscrossing Indian lands and prompting the United States to build forts to protect the immigrants. The Gold Rush also accelerated economic development in Oregon and Washington by creating a demand for foodstuffs and lumber; by 1869 there were about 100,000 Americans in the region.

As early as 1841 the commissioner of Indian Affairs, T. Hartley Crawford, was suggesting that the Indian Territory west of Missouri be divided into two Indian "colonies"-one north and one south of the immigrant trail, creating a broad path of land for white travelers and settlers. In 1848 Hartley's successor, William Medill, put the suggestion into his annual report and made it policy, officially shifting the government approach to the "Indian problem" from removal to reservation. Medill intended to confine the Native Americans to these colonies and lead them toward "civilized" behavior and assimilation into American society by forcing them to take up Euroamerican agriculture practices. If the policy proved successful in the Great Plains, Medill expected it could be used elsewhere as needed-places like California, New Mexico, and the Oregon Territory. Although Medill touted the benefits the policy would have for the Indians, he and others may have found it particularly appealing because it was perceived as a way to reduce costs. In 1850 a new commissioner, Luke Lea, bluntly spelled out the new policy-and his ethnocentric views-in his annual report:

In the application of this policy to our wilder tribes, it is indispensably necessary that they be placed in positions where they can be controlled, and finally compelled by stern necessity to resort to agricultural labor or starve. Considering, as the untutored Indian does, that labor is a degradation, and that there is nothing worthy of his ambition but prowess in war, success in the chase, and eloquence in council it is only under such circumstance that his haughty pride can be subdued, and his wild energies trained to the more ennobling pursuits of civilized life. There should be assigned to each tribe, for a permanent home, a country adapted to agriculture, of limited extent and well-defined boundaries; within which all, with occasional exceptions, should be compelled constantly to remain until such time as their general improvement and good conduct may supersede the necessity of such restrictions. In the mean time [sic], the government should cause them to be supplied with stock, agricultural implements, and useful materials for clothing, encourage and assist them in the erection of comfortable dwellings, and secure to them the means and facilities of education, intellectual, moral, and religious. (See CIA Annual Report, 1850.)

Historians like Francis Paul Prucha and Robert A. Trennert, Jr., point out that Indian officials like Medill and Lea-as well as a host of other, self-styled Friends of the Indian-viewed the shift to a reservation system as in Indians' best interest. They believed that the Indian way of life was intrinsically inferior to theirs and that, if Indians were left in their "savage" state, they would fall prey to white vices (primarily drunkenness, prostitution, and gambling) and depredations. In their minds, Indians had two choices: extermination or civilization. Hoping to avoid extermination, these Friends of the Indian also believed that Native Americans needed to be protected until they could acquire the skills and knowledge needed to survive in the white man's world. They believed the best way to do that was by confining Indians to reservations. As Trennert notes, "The sincerity of this humanitarian concept must be recognized in any discussion of the foundations of the reservation system. It was not solely an attempt to locate the American native on the most undesirable lands and leave him there to rot." Yet, as numerous examples in U.S.-Indian relations attest, the gap between intentions and performance was often huge.

Less than three years after Lea made his remarks the official Indian policy of the United States was one that still recognized Indians' property rights-and the need to extinguish those rights before allowing whites to settle on Indian lands. In addition, it now sought to move Indians onto reservations where they could be supervised by government agents who would teach them how to farm and educate them in the skills and knowledge needed to become American citizens. The government, acting as the paternal guardian of its Indian wards, also took on the responsibility of clothing, housing, and feeding its charges until they became self-sufficient enough to fend for themselves in American society.

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Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest