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
Klamath Tribes' claim to former reservation stirs
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
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
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.
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,"
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
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
Contention between the two men continued for years
while the federal government considered methods
for assimilating Indian people into mainstream
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
Crawford wanted the Tribe to end its relationship
with the federal government and become its own
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
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
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.
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
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
1871 - The Tribe's reservation is reduced in size
when a government survey excludes large parcels
June 1, 1873 - Modoc war leader Kientpoos, also
known as Captain Jack, surrenders after leading
the Modoc Indian War. The war lasted for six
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
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
1945 - Crawford goes to Washington, D.C., to
endorse a bill that would liquidate the Tribes.
- Sources: Klamath Tribes, National Park Service.