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During the late 1860s and 1870s the word spread that the Klamath River Reservation would be opened to settlement by whites. This belief led a number of them to locate on the Reservation and to make improvements to the land. Martin Van Buren Jones of Crescent City established a fishery at the mouth of the river. A tavern for the accommodation of travelers was built by Morgan G. Tucker, and a ferry put into operation. A dozen settlers had taken up homesteads nearby, and others were preparing to locate there, as soon as the Indians' title was extinguished and the Reservation declared open for settlement. Those who had already squatted felt secure. [28]

United States Representative J. K. Luttrell, urged on by his constituents, applied to the Department of the Interior for information as to whether the Klamath River Reservation was still held by the Federal Government. He received a letter from Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward Shuter, dated February 27, 1874, informing him that the land in question was one of the two reservations for Indians in California authorized by a clause in the Indian appropriation act of March 3, 1855. In 1861-62 floods had destroyed nearly all the arable land in the Klamath River Reservation, and the Secretary of the Interior on May 3, 1862, had established the Smith River Reservation. That reservation had been discontinued on July 27, 1867. Since the great flood, the Klamath River Reservation had not been used for any public purposes, Shuter informed Luttrell, and "the department has no claim upon it." [29]

The Shuter letter was circulated by those interested in securing land on the lower Klamath. Just as the squatters were congratulating themselves on a successful land grab, H. R. Clum, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs on August 15, 1874, notified Del Norte County Clerk P. H. Peveler that the Reservation had not been relinquished. This was in reply to an inquiry from Peveler asking, "whether the lands formerly occupied as an Indian Reservation at the mouth of the Klamaht" have been abandoned and whether the land was open "to settlement the same as any other unsurveyed Government land." [30]

An attempt was now made to rally support to pressure the United States into opening the Reservation to settlement. One hundred and forty-four citizens of Del Norte County petitioned the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to declare the reserve abandoned. They pointed out that since the great flood the land had not been "occupied and used as an Indian Reservation; that on the lands formerly used . . . there are not to exceed 50 Indians of all ages, whose chief occupation is hunting & fishing." These Yurok, at the moment, were not supervised by an agent. Within the Reservation, they wrote, were about 10,000 acres "well adapted to grazing & agriculture, be sides a large quantity of land valuable for lumbering." According to the petitioners, the few Yurok living on the Reserve had expressed a desire to remove to Hoopa Valley. [31]

The Yurok, however, had some friends in the region. E. Steele and others forwarded a memorial for consideration by the Senate. They challenged the assertion that there were few Indians on the lower Klamath, pointing out that they were quite numerous, "living upon the fish caught in the stream, the game found in the redwoods, and by means of such employment as they can obtain in passing travelers & freight in their canoes up & down the river."

Continuing, Steele and his friends pointed out:

The Reservation passes through a close canon with high precipitous mountains rising from the water's edge, with small sand bars or flats at each bend in the river, and where is generally found a little brook of water flowing down from the Mountain side. The Mountains are covered with a heavy growth of redwood trees and a dense underbrush, and when combined with the rough, steep and rugged hills renders the country impassable by even men afoot.

Most of the flats were occupied by rancherias. Many of the Yurok had excellent gardens, while some had orchards. Steele and his partisans were satisfied that the land grabbing whites would have no use for this area, "until the redwoods of other more accessable districts are exhausted, which will not happen for at least 100 years."

Instead of the government abandoning the Reservation, it should be expanded to the topographic crests of the ridges north and south of the Klamath. The Yurok, they petitioned, should "be allowed to remain and to provide for themselves as long as they shall be orderly and peaceable." [32]

Confronted by these contradictory statements, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs called on the army at Fort Gaston for help. A thorough reconnaissance of the Klamath River Reservation was desired. Second Lieut. George S. Wilson of the 12th U. S. Infantry was given the assignment. He left Fort Gaston by canoe on May 19, 1875, and took two days to reach Wau-Kell Flat. The return to the agency required five days. [33]

Taking a rough census of the Indians living on the reserve, he calculated their number at 1,125. He counted 225 houses, exclusive of sweathouses and other small structures not used as dwellings. [34]

Many of the Yurok were in a "very miserable condition, physically, the result of veneral diseases, and their number was rapidly decreasing." They seemed well fed, living on an abundance of salmon, sturgeon, and acorns. In each house that Wilson visited, he found large supplies of food on hand, with a good surplus of dried fish left over from the winter. Many of the young men were in the habit of traveling to Humboldt Bay to work on farms, cultivating potatoes.

The Yurok had learned to garden and to build log and board cabins, which were beginning to replace the hewn-plank huts. Farming was on a small scale, and consisted usually of a potato patch.

Whites, with whom he had chatted, complained that the Yurok were "adept at petty theft." A Mr. Masters claimed that they had killed 30 of his cattle, but when asked by the lieutenant for proof, he was unable to produce any. Another source of complaint was the high charges made for ferrying whites and their goods across the Klamath. Captain Spott, who owned a ferry at Rekwoi, had stated that a white-operated ferry at that point was unthinkable.

Lieutenant Wilson's presence caused the Yurok to fret, because they associated him with the scheme to remove them from the Reservation. If the government sought to force them to go to Hoopa Valley, they promised to flee to the mountains and fight. If this occurred, they were well provided with firearms, especially muzzleloaders, had a large number of canoes and some horses.

The Yurok did not object to miners trespassing on the Reservation, nor did Wilson get the impression that they would complain about logging, but they hated and feared cattle ranchers, because their stock destroyed the supply of acorns and berries and frightened away the game. If the whites continued to trespass on the Yurok's fishing rights at the mouth of the Klamath, Wilson foresaw serious trouble.

If the United States wished to negotiate with the Yurok, it would be difficult, as "there was no tribal relations of any force." No chief or headman was recognized by the entire tribe. Each village had its leader: its wealthiest individual. [35]

After reviewing Lieutenant Wilson's report, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs decided he lacked authority to declare the Reservation abandoned. At the same time, he would not risk alienating the whites by ordering them off the land on which they were squatting. The squatters, however, felt certain of victory, when on April 10, 1878, the Postmaster General, in response to a plea, authorized the establishment of a postoffice at Requa, as Rekwoi was called by the whites. Morgan G. Tucker would be postmaster. [36]

To avoid a nasty situation, the Secretary of the Interior on May 14, 1877, transferred administrative responsibility for the Hoopa Reservation to the War Department. [37] That spring Lt. James Halloran, who like Lieutenant Wilson was posted at Fort Gaston, visited the Klamath River Reservation and "reported a condition of affairs likely to lead to hostilities between the whites and Indians if the cause of disagreement was not speedily removed." The inciting cause was not stated in Halloran's report, but it was hinted that liquor was being sold to the Indians. [38]

Lieutenant Halloran's report was forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior, through the War Department. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz, after reviewing the report, called on the army to see that the squatters were removed. Acting under orders from the War Department, Brig. Gen. Irwin McDowell, the Commander of the Department of the Pacific, on October 17, 1877, called upon Capt. Charles Parker at Fort Gaston to notify the settlers on the Klamath River Reservation that they were to leave immediately. Parker saw that this order was executed, and eviction notices were served on 14 persons to leave with their property. Four of these individuals, it was admitted, were living outside the Reservation. [39]

Morgan Tucker, knowing that the California legislature was in session, wrote his representative from Del Norte County, James E. Murphy, pleading that he employ his influence to secure a stay of execution, and barring this, to obtain a period of grace to enable them to remove their property from the reserve. [40]

Murphy contacted the California Congressional delegation, and they in turn descended on Secretary of War George W. McCrary. They told him that Congress would, in its current session, pass legislation opening the Reservation to settlement. After checking with Secretary of the Interior Schurz, McCrary directed the Adjutant General on December 19, 1877, to telegraph General McDowell that "the execution of the order to remove the settlers from the Klamath River Indian Reservation be suspended for six months." [41]

The settlers used this period to file protests that they had lived on the Klamath for years in the belief that they were on public lands, and

such belief was strengthened by the universal impression that such was the fact, and that the Government had relinquished its claims as evidenced by the letter . . . of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs addressed to the Hon. J. K. Luttrell, Representative from California. [42]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004