Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Your land, my land?

Members of the Klamath Indian Tribe gather for a land allotment drawing in this 1908 photo. The Tribe's large reservation, covered with valuable pine timber, made the Klamath Tribes a prime candidate for termination.

The Klamath Tribes' claim to former reservation stirs controversy

First of five parts

By DYLAN DARLING Herald and News June 19, 2005

Before European-Americans began settling in Southern Oregon, Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Indians roamed over some 22 million acres, an area spanning from the upper reaches of the Sprague and Williamson rivers down to Mount Shasta in Northern California.

The Klamath and Modoc tribes were familiar with each other, lived near each other, spoke similar languages and even had some overlapping territory. The Yahooskins were different - part of a larger group called Snake Indians by white explorers because of the hissing sound of their language.

In 1864, the United States government signed a treaty with the three groups that established a single reservation on 2 million acres of what is now central Klamath and Lake counties.

The 2-million-acre reservation's boundary was made by tracing a line from mountain top to mountain along the peaks that ring the upper Klamath Basin, giving the boundary the name "peak to peak." The reservation snugged up to the east side of Crater Lake, and most of Upper Klamath Lake was within its boundary.

Over the following decades, surveys, changes in boundaries and land cessions reduced the size of the reservation to the 1.2 million acres it encompassed in 1954, when the federal government terminated the tribe and began the process of abolishing the reservation.

Per capita payments

Before termination, the federal government administered timber sales from reservation lands, with a portion of the proceeds going to each member of the Tribe. The disbursement of money to each member was called a "per capita" payment.

By the time of termination in 1954, many of the members had come to depend on the per capita payments as their primary source of income. Although the payments put money in the pockets of the members of the Tribe, some members said the payments ended up weighing them down.

"They knew that the per capita payments were coming in regularly, so what the heck, why would you work when that kind of situation is at hand?" said Andy Ortis, a member of the Klamath Tribe, who was 16 at the time of termination and whose mother and grandmother passed records on to him.

Tribal members were both undereducated and overdependent on their per capita payments, according to Theodore Stern, a scholar whose 1966 book "The Klamath Tribe: A People and Their Reservation" tells part of the Tribe history.


An unidentified man stands in front of a billboard welcoming visitors to the Klamath Indian Reservation. The photo was taken between 1942 and 1945.


In the 15 years before termination, each member on the Tribe's roll was getting about $800 per year. When totaled up for a family of four, that was more than the median income for the population as a whole in Klamath County at the time.

Getting the checks every few months had a social impact as well as an economic impact on the Tribe.

"There was little incentive to work to supplement timber revenues," Stern wrote.

Tribal members also came to have negative views of public education, based on personal experiences and the stories of relatives who attended Indian schools, according to Stern, who is now retired in Los Angeles.

The low opinion many members of the Tribe had of western education was forged in the federal Indian boarding schools. In the early 1900s, children from the Tribe were shipped away from their homes and boarded at schools at the Klamath Agency, Yainax Agency and Beatty. Many of the members had bad experiences in the boarding schools and passed their dislike and distrust on to the younger generations.

"The schools ... offered little incentive to children who were convinced that a ceaseless flow of per capita dividends gave them an assured income for life," Stern wrote.

While tribal members on the reservation suffered from a variety of social problems, the Tribes had something the federal government wanted - almost a million acres of productive timberland.

Even after years of logging, the ponderosa pine stands on the Klamath Reservation were thick with valuable timber. But tribal members had little input on their management. The Bureau of Indian Affairs determined when and where the trees were cut, with a portion of the proceeds being doled out to the members of the Tribes.

The reservation's superintendent, who with one exception had always been a white man, had complete authority. Tribal members had to ask him about almost every major decision, including whether they could leave the reservation.

"They treated us like children and dictated to our people," said Joe Hobbes, current vice chairman of the Klamath Tribes.


As early as the 1920s, the tribal groups who had lived more than a half century on the Klamath Indian Reservation wanted out.

They wanted out from under federal control. They wanted out of the reservation system. They wanted to control their own destiny. But there was disagreement over how to make it happen.

Ideas ranged from selling the land and divvying the cash among individual members to creating a timber corporation run by the Tribes.

By the 1930s, two leaders emerged with different visions of how to begin a life free of federal control in the 1930s: Wade Crawford and Boyd Jackson.

Contention between the two men continued for years while the federal government considered methods for assimilating Indian people into mainstream culture.

At least once in course of their debates, Crawford and Jackson ended up swapping stances on what would be the best course of action, and at one point came to a rare agreement.

Crawford was the only tribal member to ever hold the position of superintendent of the Klamath Indian Reservation. Crawford took the job in 1933, but was removed by federal officials in 1937 because he hadn't been able to work with the factions among the Tribe. Some scholars speculate that he was bitter about that, fueling his desire for termination.

Crawford wanted the Tribe to end its relationship with the federal government and become its own corporation.

When that idea didn't pan out, he supported a buyout program in which tribal members could sell their interest in the reservation to the government for cash payments - an early notion of what termination would eventually become. In his view, tribal members could use the money to start their own businesses.

While Crawford called for tribal incorporation, Jackson proposed that the reservation be divided up and its pieces given to the individual members of the Tribes. Later, he and others called for the reservation to be held as a tribal asset, but not as a corporation.

In a development that confused tribal members, the two agreed in late 1953 on the idea of a tribal cooperative taking over control of the reservation once federal supervision ended.

But then Jackson changed his mind, and voted against the idea at a meeting of the Tribe's general council, according to Patrick Haynal, who wrote a doctoral thesis at the University of Oregon about the termination of the Tribes.

While Crawford and Jackson, and their respective followers, debated, momentum was building nationally for terminating Indian tribes.

Crawford went to Washington, D.C., in 1945 to push a liquidation bill, under which all jointly held tribal assets would be sold and money distributed to the members.

The bill didn't pass, but the federal officials latched on to the idea of terminating the Klamath Tribes because they seemed ready for it, Haynal said.

Termination pursued

Congress had already been talking about using termination as a way to fully accomplish the assimilation of Indians into society, which began with the Dawes Act of 1887.

The act provided for allotment of reservation land to individual Indians, making the lands eventually available on the open market and the American Indians subject to the laws of the federal government.

Under the Dawes Act, officially called the General Land Allotment Act, Indian reservations were reduced in size while more land was opened up to settlement through the allotment of land in trust to individual Indians. In taking a piece of the reservation, the individual tribal member gave up regular payments that came from the selling of pooled resources on the reservation, such as timber on the Klamath Reservation.

By the 1950s, the Klamath Reservation had been whittled to about 1.2 million acres through the revision of boundaries by the federal government and the allotment of land to individuals.

In 1953, House Concurrent Resolution 108 called for an end of federal supervision and control for all the tribes of California, Florida, New York and Texas as soon as possible. Beyond those, it named five tribes that should be terminated - one was the Klamath Tribe.

Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and political activists told Congress that the Klamath Tribe were practically assimilated already and were ready for the government to get out of their affairs. The Tribes were considered ready for termination mostly because of their timber assets and their potential to be financially independent.

One of the strongest backers of termination was Republican Sen. Arthur V. Watkins of Utah. He led the push for Resolution 108, and he then began the call for more legislation to bring about the termination of tribes across the country, including the Klamath Tribes, BIA officials said.

Watkins was "bull-headed, wouldn't take no for answer" in his determination to get termination accomplished, according to Charles Wilkinson, an Indian law scholar who represented some members of the Klamath Tribe, and is now a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The push for termination alarmed many Indians, Wilkinson said. Although some tribes had been calling for the end of federal supervision, they had to scramble to prepare for the sweeping changes that Watkins wanted to enact.

The Klamath Tribe and the Menomonee Tribe of Wisconsin were the first tribes to be terminated, both in 1954. They rode the crest of a wave of 12 termination bills that by 1962 would eliminate 61 bands and tribes.

The Klamath Tribe was a target for termination because of its success under federal control. It was one of the wealthiest tribes in the country, with the receipts from timber sales that generated payments to each tribal member.

While the Klamath Tribe included Indians from three ethnic groups, the 2,133 members were bound by a common fate. They were going to be given an option by the federal government: Withdraw from the Tribe and get a cash payment, or remain and have whatever is left of the reservation held in trust by a bank.

Timeline of Klamath Tribe's early history

1826 - The first contact between Europeans and Klamath Indians comes when explorer Peter Skene Ogden traverses the region.

1852 - Ben Wright, a local "Indian hunter" on the Applegate Trail, leads an ambush on Modoc Indians during a parley. His group kills 52 men, women and children, estimated to be about 10 percent of the entire Modoc population.

Oct. 14, 1864 - The federal government signs a treaty with the Klamath Tribe. The treaty applies to the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin bands. In the treaty, the Tribe cedes 20 million acres of territory to the United States, while retaining 2.2 million acres for a reservation. The treaty provides hunting, fishing and gathering rights in perpetuity.

1870 - A sawmill is completed to provide lumber for construction of the Klamath Tribal Agency.

1870 - A group of Modoc Indians leave the Klamath Reservation to return to their homelands near Tulelake.

1871 - The Tribe's reservation is reduced in size when a government survey excludes large parcels tribal land.

June 1, 1873 - Modoc war leader Kientpoos, also known as Captain Jack, surrenders after leading the Modoc Indian War. The war lasted for six months.

1896 - A federal boundary commission says 617,000 acres had been excluded from the reservation in previous government surveys. The commission values the land at 83 cents per acre.

1896 - The sale of processed lumber from the reservation reaches a quarter-million board feet per year.

1901 - The United States pays the Tribe $537,007 for 621,824 acres. Twice the Tribe tries to get more payment, but fails both times.

1933-1937 - Wade Crawford, a member of the Klamath Tribe, serves as superintendent of the reservation, the only American Indian to serve at the post.

1945 - Crawford goes to Washington, D.C., to endorse a bill that would liquidate the Tribes.

- Sources: Klamath Tribes, National Park Service.







Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved