Garnett Bowa, right, and other
members of the Basin Alliance to Save
the Winema and Fremont Forests protest a
proposal to return Forest Service lands
to the Klamath Tribes. The protest took
place in December 2003 outside the Shilo
Inn, where parties were meeting to
discuss the proposal. - Ron Winn photo
Garrick Jackson, right, a member of
the Klamath Tribal Council, helps a
young member make a bow at the Klamath
Culture Camp near the headwaters of the
Williamson River last summer. Terminated
in 1954, the tribes launched a comeback
in the 1970s. The camp is in its 24th
year. - Gary Thain photo
KEY KLAMATH TRIBE DATES
1825 – Finan McDonald and Thomas McKay
are believed to be the first white men
to enter the territory of Klamath
1852 – Ben Wright, an “Indian hunter”
from the mining town of Jacksonville
trying to halt attacks on Applegate
Trail pioneers, 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
Oct. 14, 1864 – The federal government
signs a treaty with the Klamath Tribe.
The treaty applies to the Klamath, Modoc
tribes and the Yahooskin band of Paiutes.
All three roamed a large area. Claims to
20 million acres were ceded, and 2.2
million acres were retained as a
reservation. The treaty provides
hunting, fishing and gathering rights in
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 of tribal land.
Nov. 29, 1872 – After prolonged
negotiations, a U.S. Cavalry detachment
is sent to bring the Modocs back to the
reservation. Civilians join in raiding a
neighboring camp, and the Modoc Indian
war is on. Most of the military action
centered on a standoff in what is now
Lava Beds National Monument.
June 1, 1873 – Modoc war leader
Kientpoos, also known as Captain Jack,
surrenders after leading the Modoc
Indian War. Leaders are tried, and many
families are deported to a reservation
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
both efforts fail.
1933-1937 – Wade Crawford, a member of
the Klamath Tribe, serves as
superintendent of the reservation, the
only American Indian to serve at the
1945 – Crawford goes to Washington,
D.C., to endorse a bill that would
liquidate the tribes.
Aug. 13, 1954 – Congress adopts the
Klamath Termination Act calling for the
end of federal supervision of the tribe
and the abolishment of the
May 1958 – Tribal members vote, either
to withdraw from the tribe and receive
cash payment or to remain in the tribe
with a portion of land managed by
trustee. Of the 2,133 members on the
final roll of 1954, 1,658 vote to
withdraw, and 77 choose to remain. The
398 who don’t vote are added to the
remaining group. Later, 135,000 acres of
timberland is set aside as for what will
be known as the “remaining members.” The
balance of the land is allocated to a
liquidation process that takes more than
a decade to complete.
1959 – U.S. National Bank of Oregon is
designated land trustee for the 475
remaining members. Trustees get $38,000
each from timber sale profits.
1960s through early ’70s – The
government sells former reservation
lands in blocks of 5,000 acres, which
few tribal members can afford. Crown-Zellerbach
buys 90,000 acres. The U.S. Forest
Service takes over management of 690,000
acres, which become part of the Fremont
and Winema national forests.
1961 – The termination process is
completed. The federal government issues
$43,000 checks to the 1,658 members of
the tribe who voted to withdraw.
1964 – Remaining members vote to keep
land trust in place.
1969 – Remaining members vote to
terminate the land trust.
1974 – Remaining members get $103,000
each for their interest in trust land
sold to the U.S. government and added to
Winema National Forest.
1975 – In a lawsuit titled Kimball vs.
Callahan, a federal court upholds the
treaty rights of tribal members to hunt,
fish and gather on their former
reservation lands. The case is appealed.
1980 – U.S. Bank wins a lawsuit against
the federal government asking for more
money for the reservation land that was
held in trust. Remaining members are
paid another $170,000 each.
1986 – Congress restores federal
recognition for the Klamath Tribe;
Congress reaffirms tribal hunting,
fishing, gathering and water rights, but
does not restore tribal lands.
Early 1990s – The Klamath Tribe, which
includes descendants of the Klamath and
Modoc tribes and the Yahooskin band of
Paiute Indians, changes its name to the
Klamath Tribes, to signify
representation of all three groups.
1997 – Tribes open Kla-Mo-Yah Casino,
their first enterprise since
October 2000 – An economic
self-sufficiency plan called for in
restoration legislation is released. The
plan says a restored reservation is key
to the tribes achieving economic
2002 – The Interior Department and
Klamath Tribes announce discussions
aimed at restoring 690,000 acres as a
Klamath Tribes reservation.
2004 – Tribes break ground on $3.1
million tribal health building in
– Sources: Herald and News, Klamath
historian Andy Ortis, Klamath Tribes,
U.S. National Park Service,
Shaw Historical Library
Water issues linked to tribal quest for
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – By definition,
“termination” means end.
But for the Klamath Tribes, the word is the
start of controversy.
The 1954 federal termination of what was then
called the Klamath Tribe left the American
Indian group that had been based in Chiloquin,
Ore., without a reservation, some of its members
with loads of cash, some with land held in
trust, and all members free of federal
A half-century after the end of the reservation,
Klamath leaders are talking about a restored
reservation. Federal officials have been in
discussions with them about the possibility,
fueling rumors and speculation about what might
happen in the perennially water-short Klamath
The state of Oregon’s long-running adjudication
of pre-1909 water rights is dominated by how
claims will play out for ranches, farms and
downstream water users. Claims arise from an
1864 treaty reinforced by several federal court
Some say the deals made as a result of
termination were cut-and-dried sale of land –
the tribes sold and the government bought,
federal aid ended, and members of the dissolved
tribe got a bundle of cash.
But others say the termination process didn’t
make sense to many of those whom it most
affected, the members of the tribe.
The Klamath Tribes want a reservation returned
to them, and they have identified a 730,000-acre
chunk of national forest and wildlife refuge
land about the size of Rhode Island. Various
groups around the basin are opposed to the idea.
“We have the opportunity to have a better
basin,” said Allen Foreman, chairman of the
The latest plan floated by the tribes involves
buying back the land for “fair market price,”
but leaders have given no indication of what
that price would be or where the money would
If not with money, the tribes may use water to
get the land, or at least to get the support of
farmers and ranchers for the political deal
needed to get reservation restoration through
Water holds the key to many political debates in
the basin, often bringing various groups
together while sometimes pitting one against
The summer of 2001, when much of the federal
Klamath Reclamation Project was shut down for
most of the growing season, widened the gap
between groups already divided, and further
bound those already together.
Since then, there have been many efforts to try
to get the groups together, but the debate is
still fierce and positions firmly entrenched.
The 730,000-acre patchwork piece of federal land
sought by the tribes includes all land within
the former reservation boundary that is now
under federal control. Most of the land in
question is within the Fremont-Winema National
Forests in Klamath and Lake counties.
Tribal leaders say they won’t make any attempt
to recover former reservation lands now in
In early March, Fort Klamath rancher Roger
Nicholson and Foreman traveled to Washington,
D.C., to talk about an agreement to drop
challenges against competing water claims on
about 280,000 acres of agricultural lands above
Upper Klamath Lake.
In July, project farmers joined Foreman as he
presented the “fair market price” concept to the
Klamath County Board of Commissioners.
ISSUES OF THE PAST
The debate about the tribes’ future brings up
issues of their past. There’s argument about
whether the tribes were swindled out of their
1.2 million-acre reservation, or if they
willingly sold most it to the federal government
following termination in 1954.
Some tribal members argue there was a
misunderstanding by those who in 1958 voted to
withdraw. They say those favoring withdrawal
thought their vote would only end federal
supervision of the tribe and the reservation.
Critics say the tribal members knew that the
deal meant the reservation land would be sold,
and that those favoring it simply wanted the
Foreman said he is still optimistic about the
possibility of the tribes getting a reservation
again, but he wouldn’t speculate on when it
Bill Bettenberg, director of the Interior
Department’s Office of Policy and Analysis, was
designated by the Bush administration in 2002 to
meet with the tribes about the restoration of a
reservation. But he recently said he has been
preoccupied with other issues and hasn’t had a
chance to focus on it.
There have been “a few phone calls, but no
meetings,” Bettenberg said. “Last time I was in
the Klamath Basin was early last year.”
Bettenberg plans to retire in August. Interior
hasn’t named a replacement for Klamath tribal
For the reservation to become a reality,
Bettenberg said, it would have to be part of a
broad “basinwide” agreement that brings balance
to the water issues.
Closed-door meetings a year and a half ago that
could have brought a deal spurred opposition in
the basin. Although the effort failed, the
Called the Basin Alliance to Save the Winema and
Fremont National Forests, the group opposed to
land return is made up of small landowners,
Upper Basin water users, forest recreationalists
and others. The alliance is ready to publicly
oppose any proposals the tribes have concerning
a restored reservation.
“I think the possibility is always there –
politics and money are always there,” said Lynn
Bayona, spokesman for the Basin Alliance.
Alliance board members say the group is
concerned about possible infringement of
property rights for people who own land near and
around a new reservation. They call it a “land
In the meantime, other developments make the
water issue ever more complicated.
Irrigators are hoping Congress will change the
Endangered Species Act. That would ease
restrictions on water in the basin. The tribes
have a $1 billion damage suit against PacifiCorp
over salmon runs cut off since 1918 by a
hydroelectric project on the Klamath River.
Downstream American Indian tribes lead a push to
get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to
order removal of the hydroelectric dams as part
of the 2006 relicensing of that project.
A FOREST IN DISARRAY?
Chuck Kimbol, a former tribal chairman, said a
Klamath Tribes’ reservation would restore a
forest left in disarray by the management of the
federal government, and the restored reservation
would be a key piece to a lasting solution to
the basin water conflict.
“What gets me is, they are saying, ‘If you get
it, what will happen to it?’ Well, you had it,
look what happened to it,” Kimbol said.
Figuring out the logistics of termination took
several years, and it was finally complete for
the Klamath Tribe in 1961, when the federal
government paid off tribal members who voted to
terminate. It was 1974 before remaining members
got their payout after a 1969 decision to
liquidate a 135,000-acre timberland trust.
The release of the money started a flurry of
Adjusted for inflation, the individual members’
payout would be $276,600 today, according to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor’s inflation calculator.
The money didn’t last long.
“They spent it everywhere,” said Glen Kircher,
who started a hardware store in Chiloquin with
his uncle in 1954. “I’m sure the businessmen in
Chiloquin, Klamath Falls and around liked to see
the infusion of cash.”
Many of his customers paid off debts and bought
something they had always wanted. Some purchased
houses or land; others invested in stocks or
“And some threw their money away – partying,”
Clarence “Boonie” Jenkins, a member of the
Klamath Tribes who graduated from Klamath Union
High School in 1961 after growing up in
Chiloquin and Klamath Falls, said he saw many
members of the tribe go through their money
fast, buying new cars, expensive appliances and
other big-ticket items.
“If you go back, the root of the thing is these
people were getting $100 per month,” Jenkins
said. “If you give someone $43,000, hell yeah,
they are going to buy a new car. ... The new car
dealers were in hog heaven because everyone had
two or three.”
He said many members simply didn’t know what to
do with that amount of money. Mistakes ranged
from bad business decisions to flat-out fast
Not all of the members of the tribe spent their
money quickly or lived dangerously. But even
many of those who tried to spend their money
wisely didn’t escape harm.
Lawyers from the Native American Rights Fund, a
nonprofit Indian legal services organization
based in Boulder, Colo., charged that merchants
had exploited withdrawing members.
In December 1972, Federal Trade Commission
officials from the Seattle regional office
traveled to Klamath Falls for a public hearing.
The FTC concluded that members of the tribe were
charged inflated prices for cars, homes and
other items compared with what white customers
paid, sometimes double the cost or more. Many
were also bamboozled by door-to-door salespeople
who charged ridiculous prices for products with
THE TRUST FOREST PAYS
In the 1960s and ’70s, while many of the
withdrawing members were spending away, the
remaining members of the tribe were still
getting per-capita payments. Part of the
reservation continued to be held in trust,
administered by U.S. Bank’s Klamath Falls
The 474 remaining members ended up getting about
$38,000 each from 1959 to 1974. The money came
in the form of quarterly checks that ranged from
$200 to $3,000, depending on the success of
timber sales from 135,000 acres of land held in
Bob Mezger, who was the forest manager for U.S.
Bank, said the goals of the bank paralleled the
goals of the tribe.
“There was always a focus of what was best for
the Indian owners,” Mezger said. He said the
trust officials weren’t out to make money from
the remaining members. Rather, they wanted to
get the most out of their investment and manage
the forest accordingly.
Remaining members voted to end the trust in 1969
and were paid $103,000 each in 1974 and then
another $170,000 each in 1980 after a lawsuit
setting the federal government’s appraisal of
After watching the experiences of the
withdrawing members, many of the remaining
members invested their money well, putting the
money in trust funds, buying land and using
other secure investments.
The real financial losers in termination were
the descendants of members of the tribe on the
final roll of 1954.
Born after the roll book was closed on Aug. 13,
1954, the descendants didn’t get any payments
from the liquidation of the land, the claims
that followed or the liquidation of the trust,
unless they inherited it.
But they shared in the hardships, and as they
grew up, many resented those who withdrew, those
who pushed for termination, and, most of all,
the government that ended the reservation and
Many descendants tried to forge a life in the
area of the old reservation, where the economy
was poor, employment chances were limited and
social problems abounded. Many left in search of
When the federal government terminated the
Klamath Tribe, it ended the flow of monthly
payments that had been the sole source of income
for many of its members.
Gone, too, was the government’s help with
health, education and economic development.
The consequences of the U.S. Congress’
termination of the Klamath Tribe were poverty,
confusion and division among former tribal
“It created a chain of events no one expected,”
said Allen Foreman, current chairman of the
Friction developed among the three categories of
former tribal members – withdrawing, remaining
No matter what category that members of the
tribe fell in or what percentage of American
Indian blood flowed in their veins, they were no
longer considered Indian in the eyes of the
federal government, and thus also by many other
Members of the tribe who tried to enter American
Indian rodeos, basketball tournaments and other
competitions and gatherings were turned down
because they were no longer considered Indians.
“The loss of the land, and to have people tell
you are not Indian any more – it didn’t help
your self-esteem,” said Gerald Skelton, cultural
director for the Klamath Tribes.
MAKING A COMEBACK
Fortunes began to change for the Klamath Tribe
in the 1970s. Led by Chuck Kimbol, head of the
resurrected tribal government, members of the
tribe started the political fight for
restoration of the Klamath Tribe and its
Progress came in 1974 when a federal judge ruled
that tribal members had the right to hunt, fish
and gather materials from federal land that
formerly lay within the tribe’s reservation
There were no formal tribal government meetings
for a decade. But there had been informal
gatherings for years, with Kimbol emerging as
the leader. In 1973, Kimbol and others went to
U.S. District Court in Portland to argue that
although their tribal status was terminated in
1954, their hunting and fishing rights spelled
out in the treaty of 1864 were not.
They won. Treaty rights were restored to all
members of the tribes whose names were on the
final roll of 1954. Those rights were extended
to their descendants in 1976.
The state of Oregon appealed. The U.S. Supreme
Court upheld the lower court decision in 1979.
After the initial ruling, a Klamath tribal
government was convened to administer treaty
rights. The first General Council, or meeting of
the tribes general membership, was held in 1975.
An election for a new executive committee was
held soon after, and Kimbol became chairman.
A separate court case concerning water rights
started in the 1970s. The tribes won that, too.
Water needed for treaty rights of hunting,
fishing and gathering were given the priority
date of “time immemorial,” or from the
beginning. The ruling makes their claim superior
to all others in the Klamath Basin.
The ruling, however, did not specify how much
water was needed to satisfy the tribe’s claim.
That’s what the adjudication process, now nearly
30 years old, will settle.
But as the Klamath Tribe sought restoration of
its tribal status, it didn’t push for land.
Former Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., carried the
restoration bill; the tribes’ home was part of
his sprawling Oregon 2nd Congressional District.
He said he wanted to make sure tribal members
had adequate health care. From the time of
termination to the mid-1980s, child mortality
was high and the life span of adults was about
half the national average.
With restoration achieved, the Klamath Tribes
saw federal money flowing into their coffers to
be used for health, education, administration
and other services.
Smith, though, drew the line at restoring a
THE LAND’S SOLD
“They sold that land,” Smith said in a February
2004 interview with the Herald and News, a
Klamath Falls newspaper.
In all, the federal government had paid
withdrawing and remaining members of the tribes
about $209 million for the land in a series of
payments to various groups starting in 1961 and
ending in 1980.
Kimbol, then-chairman of the Klamath Tribe, said
Smith was good to work with, but firm on the
“He was all right, as long as we didn’t mention
land,” Kimbol said.
Still, land was the tribes’ quiet ambition. “If
you build a business,” Kimbol said, “you are
going to buy a piece of land.”
In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-398 to
restore federal recognition of the Klamath
Tribe. President Ronald Reagan signed the
measure on Aug. 27, 1986, restoring the Klamath
Tribe as a sovereign entity, but the now
official tribe remains landless.
The goal of a restored reservation was a part of
the tribe’s self-sufficiency plan in 2000 and
talk of it continues today. And as the talk
continues, so will the controversy in the basin.