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Catalog No. —
Mss 1500
Date —
Era —
1846-1880 (Treaties, Civil War, and Immigration)
Themes —
Environment and Natural Resources, Government, Law, and Politics, Native Americans, Oregon Trail and Resettlement
Credits —
Oregon Historical Society
Regions —
Central Columbia River
Author —
William Logan, Warm Springs Indian Agent

William Logan to Captain William J. Spencer

Warms Spring Indian agent William Logan wrote this letter to U.S. Army Captain William J. Spencer, commander of Fort Dalles, regarding Indian fishers at Celilo and Tenino in the Columbia Gorge.

In June 1855, the various Upper Chinookan and western Sahapatin peoples who regularly fished along the mid-Columbia River signed the Wasco treaty. In the treaty, these groups agreed to relocate to the Warm Springs Reservation while also reserving their right to fish at their “usual and accustomed stations” off the reservation. While U.S. officials may have believed that this provision would eventually become obsolete once the Natives were successfully re-settled on the reservation, the various Warm Springs groups were determined to maintain their traditional subsistence and exchange practices. Federal officials, commercial fishers, settlers, and railroad companies increasingly challenged the Indians’ resoluteness in succeeding decades, seeking to curtail Native fishing along the Columbia. 

During William Logan’s tenure as the Warm Springs Indian agent during the mid-1860s, he consistently sought to implement the assimilation policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In his annual reports, Logan often complained about the seasonal migration of Warm Springs groups to the Columbia River fisheries. Logan was particularly annoyed that Natives’ migrations prevented the development of a sedentary, agricultural-based economy on the reservation. However, agent Logan overstated the agricultural potential of the reservation’s rocky, arid landscape. His reports also alluded to additional reasons for the Indians’ activities on the Columbia: to engage in trade and social activities with other Natives, as well as white settlers, and to take their families out of harm’s way. During the 1860s and 1870s, the Warms Springs Reservation regularly faced raids by the Northern Paiute and Shoshone/Bannock (known collectively as the Snake Indians) living in eastern Oregon and western Idaho.

Captain Spencer ultimately declined to force the Indians at the Celilo and Tenino fisheries to return to the Warm Springs Reservation. In 1865, the Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs, J.W. Perit Huntington, convinced the Warm Springs leaders to sign a second treaty, known as the Huntington Treaty.  According to Huntington, this treaty would secure permits for tribal members to travel off the reservation. Such “passes” would ostensibly protect the Natives from harassment by local Euro-Americans. The wording of the treaty actually stated that the tribes agreed to relinquish their fishing rights in exchange for $3,500. After the treaty was ratified by Congress in 1867, Huntington absconded with the funds to California, and died soon afterwards.

Upon learning of the actual wording of the Huntington Treaty, the Warm Springs tribes maintained that it was fraudulent because they had never agreed to relinquish their treaty rights. Officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs later agreed with the tribes’ position. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, the Warm Springs people continued to fight for their right to fish in the Columbia Gorge. The Huntington Treaty was finally nullified in 1969 following the negotiations and litigation related to the construction of The Dalles Dam and the flooding of traditional fishing sites along the Columbia.

Further Reading:
Ulrich, Roberta. Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River. Corvallis, Oreg., 1999.

Written by Melinda Jette, © Oregon Historical Society, 2004.