FT. KLAMATH, Ore.–For what may be the first time in decades, Klamath tribal leaders and those interested in Klamath Basin history trekked to what is widely believed to be the grove of pines called “council grove.” This is the place where, on October 14th, 1864, U.S. government officials and chiefs from the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes signed a treaty that continues to have widespread impacts on the Basin today. Klamath County Museum Director Todd Kepple says, “we might think that the treaty granted the Indians a number of things, but when you think about it, really what it was doing was confining the Indians. They were prohibited from leaving the reservation without getting special permission from the government.”
Tribal chairman Don Gentry attended the tour to the site of a historical marker placed about 30 years ago, and says the treaty was bitter-sweet for the tribes back then. Gentry recalls that, “originally we ceded over 20-million acres of what was recognized as our land to the United States for the benefit of its citizens and to keep the peace. And we were to have a reservation.” That reservation was about two million acres in size. Kepple says, “when the government first asked the Klamath tribes what land they felt they were entitled to, they took in quite a wide swath through south central Oregon. The first request that the tribes made was that everything from Three Sisters east to Steen’s Mountain, and south to the California-Oregon border. And what the Indians were told was that that’s just too much land for them to really control, and so the Indian agent said, ‘we’d like you to go back and think about this and come back and give us something that’s more realistic of what you think you can control’.”
And so the next day they came back and surrendered 90 percent of their traditional hunting and fishing land and settled for a reservation that essentially required the Modocs to give up their California land and move onto Klamath land in south central Oregon. And keep in mind also that the U.S. Civil War on most people’s minds back east at the time. But when the U.S. Senate took three years to ratify the agreement, some Modoc chiefs gave up and moved their people down into the Tulelake area, sparking the bloody 1872 Modoc war. Captain Jack and his companions were captured and four were hung at Fort Klamath. Some still regard them as war heroes.
But the location of the treaty marker was lost until just recently. “We know the historical society placed a marker at the treaty signing site back in the 1980′s,” Kepple observes. “But another generation of historical society members has come along and none of us could recall where that marker was. And so it took a little bit of research and a few phone calls to be able to locate that marker again and obtain permission from land owners to be able to get in here. So it’s been a real pleasure for us to be able to visit this site today with members of the Klamath tribe, members of the tribal council, and recall this history–the good parts. Um, the parts that’re not so good and just process through all those issues together.” Gentry also observes that, “the treaty is important… But its been a mixed blessing of course, as history has shown.”
The Klamath tribes lost their federal tribal status 90 years later, in 1954, and by 1964 the old reservation was broken up and most tribal members offered cash settlements instead. Then, in 1986, tribal status, without the reservation, was restored and celebrated in Chiloquin with speeches, dancing and feasting. The tribe continues to celebrate restoration of tribal status every year since.