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Promises. Promises. Promises.

By on August 24, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

As white Americans headed west to settle new lands, they were armed with the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” 

They had the right to take, for their own, the ancestral lands of Native Americans with thousands of years of prior claims. The native people, of course, resisted the taking of their lands.

White settlers insisted the Indians had too much land that they were wasting, land that could be put to better use by white farmers and ranchers. 

That notion persisted at least into the early 1900s. In 1891, the Belle of Chelan steamed up Lake Chelan carrying N.W. Durham, editor of the Spokane Review newspaper. 

A.F. Nichols, an owner of the Belle, was along to point out “the interesting features” along the lake. 

As they passed by the Wapato Point area, encompassing land allotments of 13 Wapato families, Nichols commented, “Of course we should prefer to see these choice lands in the possession of 200 or 300 white families.”

The United States government had, early on, settled on a program of negotiating reservations for the native people in exchange for them giving up their rights to the remainder of their ancestral lands.

On May 2, 1855, the government, in the person of Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, met with central Washington tribes to negotiate treaties and reservations. 

Five thousand Indian men, women and children gathered in camps, large and small, around the council grounds in the Walla Walla Valley. 

They represented many tribes including Nez Perce, Cayuse, Yakama, Walla Walla, Umatilla and, from the Wenatchee/P’squose valley, Chief Tecolekun and a few of his men.

Speeches from both sides went on for five weeks. The white men made promises, demands and threats. Stevens famously told chiefs that if they didn’t sign their people “would be knee deep in blood.” 

On June 11, 1855, three treaties were signed creating reservations for the Nez Perce, Umatillas and Yakamas. Other tribes would be placed on those reservations as well.

Article Ten of the Yakama Treaty was the government’s response to Tecolekun’s request for a fishery reservation at the critically important confluence of the Icicle and Wenatchee Rivers. 

There was no salmon fishery more productive anywhere on the upper Columbia and salmon was the foundation of the native diet. 

Article Ten provides for a reservation six miles square, a township, at the Wenatchee/Icicle confluence called the Wenatshapam Fishery, “to be surveyed and marked out whenever the President may direct.”

In the summer of the following year, 1856, Col. George Wright met with P’squose chief, Skamow, at the sight of the reservation and identified its boundaries. 

In 1858 Lt. Archer, with Lt. Garnett’s troops, expanded the reservation to eight miles to the side, a reward for the help the P’squose people gave to a group of white miners when they were attacked by Sinkiuse and Yakama warriors near the Wenatchee/Columbia confluence. 

In the end none of that mattered. The President never ordered the survey and without that protection white settlers claimed the fishery lands for their own.

In 1871, the federal government decided that reservations would no longer be established through negotiations but, instead, would be created by presidential executive order. 

One of the first was the Colville Reservation, created by President Grant April 9, 1872. It was intended for the Methow, Okanogan, San Poil, Lakes, Colville, Kalispel and Coeur d’ Alene tribes. 

The reservation was bordered by the Columbia River on the west, the Pend O’reille on the east, the Canadian border to the north and the Spokane River on the south. This included all of the rich farmland of the Colville Valley.

About 60 white settlers claiming to have farms in the valley immediately protested that the land was too good for Indians and that the reservation should be moved to drier, harsher land to the west. 

Three months later, July 2, 1872, to the dismay of Indians, President Grant did just that. The original reservation was returned to public domain and a new Colville Reservation created with a western border along the Okanogan River, Canada to the north, and the Columbia River to the south and east.

After giving resident Indians 80-acre allotments of their choice, the north half of the Colville Reservation was opened to white settlers Oct. 10, 1900 and the south half May 3, 1916, one of the last places in the United States to open for homesteading.

Even after the formation of the Colville Reservation in 1872, the government plan to open all north central Washington to white settlement was still beset with problems. 

Some tribes including the Wenatchees, who still believed they had a fishery reservation, the Entiats, Chelans, Methows and some Okanogans refused to move to the Colville Reservation. Chief Moses and his Sinkiuse people refused to go to any reservation including the Yakama.

On September 7, 1878, Moses met with his friend, General O.O. Howard, on the steamship Spokane at Priest Rapids. 

Moses laid out the boundaries of a reservation that he would accept. 

It was a huge piece of land including all of his people’s traditional homeland; the Wenatchee Confluence, the Wenatshapam Fishery, Badger Mountain, Moses Lake and south to the White Bluffs along the Columbia. 

White ranchers and farmers quickly objected. 

General Howard considered the request reasonable and sent it to the president for his consideration. 

The president, at the insistence of his Interior Department, refused the proposal.

At a subsequent meeting, April 18, 1879, in Washington D.C. Chief Moses did agree to land called the Columbia or Moses/Columbia Reservation. 

It was bordered on the west by the crest of the Cascades, Canada to the north, the Okanogan River on the east and the Columbia River and Lake Chelan on the south. 

It encompassed all of the Chelan and Methow Valleys as well as the western half of the Okanogan Valley. 

White ranchers and miners loudly objected and demanded that the northern most 15-mile strip be returned immediately. The president and Interior Department agreed and the strip was turned back to public domain on February 23, 1883. 

This set off a wave of demands that all the reservation be opened to white settlement. 

It was returned to public domain July 4, 1884. After allowing resident Chelans, Methows and Okanogans time to select individual allotments the Moses Columbia Reservation was opened to white homesteading on May 1, 1886.

Of North Central Washington’s three reservations, only the Colville remains, shared by both Indians and white ranchers. 

The Wenatshapam Fishery was never more than an unfulfilled promise. 

In the face of withering white objections and demands, the Moses/Columbia Reservation never had a real chance. 

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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