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The Siletz Allotments in 1891-1892

Some of the treaties of our Siletz people mentioned that parcels of land (allotments) could be assigned to individual tribal members, and there was some early, informal allotting of lands to tribal members here at Siletz. George Harney, Henry Davenport, Alex Ross and others, were assigned lands to farm as individuals under this informal system. The government liked to have tribal members to use as examples of individual success.

At a superficial glance, allotment sounded like a good idea in some ways. Individuals would be able to profit by their own labor and become farmers “just like white men.” Many Indian people were for allotment, being tired of losing their homes, farm lands, fishing places and other resources through the reductions of their reservations. With the allotment of specific parcels to individuals, it appeared for the first time, that Indian people would be able to feel secure in maintaining a piece of property.

A deeper look at the real meanings and long term effects of allotment though, would give reason for some serious concerns. Allotment was an extension of federal policy towards Indians. Federal policy was directed at erasing tribal identities and the interdependent lifeways of Indian people. Allotment broke up communal ownership and communal management, of tribal lands and resources.

Although some formalized and informal allotting of lands had happened on various reservations across the United States prior to 1887, it was the passing of the Dawes Act (or General Allotment Act) in 1887 that really got the allotment procedures standardized. The 1887 Act also set the stage for some additional land grabbing by the government.

There was sometimes specific legislation appropriating money to pay for a surveyor to mark out allotments, and sometimes those specific acts directed specifics about the size of the allotments (if they were to be different than the standard sizes authorized in the 1887 Dawes Act, etc.) The standard was (if there was enough land available on the reservation) 80 acres per allotment of agricultural land (tillable land) or 160 acres of timber or grazing land.

When the allotting agent was first sent to Siletz in 1891, he told our people that the allotments were to be 40 acres each. Knowing that this was different than the provisions in the Allotment Act, our people said they would reject allotment if that was all the people would receive. Eventually, the allotting agent agreed that the allotments could be approximately 80 acres each (whether it was tillable land, timber or grazing).

The first allotting agent was a man named Mayhugh. He and Agent Buford clashed at every turn. Agent Buford insisted upon reserving all of what is now the downtown Siletz area as Agency Farm, to continue supporting the Siletz Agency and boarding school as it had done for many years with its hog farm, vegetable gardens, dairy pasture, orchards, etc.

Mayhugh seemed to be more interested in seeing the best of the reservation lands distributed among the Siletz people. When he attempted to make allotments within the area claimed by Agent Buford for the School or Agency Farm, Buford fought back. Before long, Agent Buford and Special Agent Mayhugh were each writing accusing letters to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Eventually Buford was successful in getting Agent Mayhugh replaced. Mayhugh was sent to the Hopi lands in Arizona, to make allotments there.

Mayhugh’s replacement was a Mr. Jenkins. He and Buford got along much better, no doubt because he didn’t question Buford’s plans or decisions about the Agency Farm. By mid summer 1892, the majority of tribal members present at Siletz at the time had chosen, or been assigned, an 80 acre parcel or two 40 acre parcels in different parts of the reservation. The original list of allotments submitted for approval contained allotments for 536 Siletz Tribal members. Very quickly though, another 15 people showed up, bringing the total to 551 allotments.

The Siletz Agent exercised a lot of control over who could or couldn’t receive allotments at Siletz. If children of allottees had been born off of the reservation and not had constant contact with the agency, the agent considered them ineligible for allotments. It is also questionable as to how much effort, if any, was put into contacting tribal members absent from the reservation that they needed to return in order to receive their parcel.

Some of our families living “off reservation” were able to receive allotments of up to 160 acres each under the 4th Section of the Allotments Act, but they had to claim to have severed their tribal relations in order to qualify for them. These 4th Section (or Public Domain) Allotments were at times administered through a separate office in Roseburg, and at other times they were administered through Siletz Agency. There were also provisions under the amended Homestead Act, by which tribal people could receive “Indian Homesteads” these were eventually treated and administered the same as Public Domain Allotments.

Some families had members who had Siletz allotments and other family members who chose to take allotments near their home villages on the Siuslaw, Umpqua, Coos Bay Rogue or Chetco River. Some were tricky enough to have both – until they were found out, then they were forced to give up one or the other.

Whatever security the allotment process promised, the people would soon find out it also carried a heavy price. After the list of 15 supplemental allotments was created, the allotment rolls were closed, never to be reopened for those who were late getting home to register for one. Before the Secretary of the Interior even approved the list of 551 Siletz Allotments, he would use a section of the Allotment Act to declare the remainder of the Siletz Reservation “Surplus” and force our people into an agreement ceding those lands. Those October 1892 “negotiations” will be the topic of the next article.