John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter One:

Tribal territories

Consultation efforts with Indian groups affiliated with the upper John Day Basin are complicated by uncertain territorial affiliations and overlapping areas affected by treaties. Two groups, the Tenino and the Northern Paiute, appear to be the most closely connected with lands comprising John Day Fossil Beds National Monument during the protohistoric (about 1730 to 1810, or the time between acquisition of horses and first contact with non-lndians) and historic periods. The two peoples, however, have had considerably different experiences in treaty-making with the federal government.

Indians have lived in what is now called Oregon for more than 10,000 years. Throughout this time territorial boundaries have fluctuated, but probably became more pronounced in the protohistoric period, due to increased mobility provided by the acquisition of horses. European-introduced diseases from roughly 1800 onward brought further territorial instability by decimating a number of Pacific Northwest tribes. [1] The changes brought by contact with non-lndians encouraged loosely affiliated bands to begin working together (and even confederate in some instances) for the purposes of maintaining trade, making treaties, or protecting home territory. [2]

Anthropologists have divided Oregon into a number of traditional culture areas in order to describe similarities and differences among aboriginal groups. Much of the basis for differentiating between two culture areas is physiographic due to the natural environment's obvious importance, but there is also a distinct linguistic division along these lines east of the Cascade Range. The Columbia Plateau culture area encompasses much of the John Day Basin and refers to a region where groups spoke languages classified as being part of the Sahaptian family and Penutian phylum. South of them is the Great Basin culture area, a region of interior drainage which extends from southeastern Oregon into Nevada and adjacent states, where Indians spoke Shoshonean languages of the Uto-Tanoan phylum. A border between Columbia Plateau and Great Basin culture areas is, however, less rigid than other culture area borders in Oregon because of comparatively sparse food resources and therefore few permanent settlements. [3]

Hypothesied tribal distribution in northeastern Oregon
Hypothesied tribal distribution in northeastern Oregon during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Serrated line represents northern boundary of Paiute peoples in the 18th century and earlier.
Note how the John Day River is used to divide the Umatilla and Cayuse from the Paiute, as well as the uncertainty over the boundary between the Tenino and Paiute.
(from Verne F. Ray, et al., "Tribal Distribution in Eastern Oregon and Adjacent Regions," 1938).

The upper John Day Basin is part of this transition zone, where the Tenino and other Plateau peoples sometimes collided with Northern Paiute bands from the Great Basin. Northern Paiute appear to have been the primary occupiers of the Sheep Rock Unit in the early historic period, though one or several Penutian-speaking groups may have been in the area at various times. [4] Among the latter are Tenino, Umatilla, Molala, Wasco, Cayuse, and Nez Perce. [5] Both Painted Hills and Clarno appear to be within the Tenino culture area because this tribe vigorously expanded up river following their acquisition of horses. Overlap with Umatilla territory in what is now Wheeler County during this period, however, makes exact determinations tenuous, as does a record of skirmishes between the Paiute and their northern neighbors in which no conquest followed on either side. [6]

Two treaties of 1855 have the potential to affect monument lands. All three park units are within the territory ceded by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, an amalgamation which consists of the Tygh, Tenino, Wyam, John Day, and Wasco tribes, as well as several Paiute bands. These groups retain the right to fish, hunt, and gather berries at traditional places within aboriginal territory delineated by treaty. The monument is outside an area ceded by the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla people, but is within their larger aboriginal territory. Treaty rights accorded this confederation, however, do not appear as extensive as those for the Warm Springs. [7] Leaders of seven Northern Paiute bands signed a treaty in 1868. They did not cede any land, and the treaty remained unratified. [8]

Indian reservations in the vicinity of the monument
Indian reservations in the vicinity of the monument. A dotted line indicates Warm Springs ceded lands.
The John Day River and units of the monument (indicated in circles) are shown as reference points.
(derived from Jeff Zucker, et al., Oregon Indians: Culture, History and Current Affairs, 1983).

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002