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A History of Treaty-Making and Reservations

A History of Treaty-Making and
    Reservations on the Olympic Peninsula

  •  More Land for the Makah

One of the things that struck the first Indian agents assigned to the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay was the lack of arable land needed to make the reservation self-supporting or provide a training ground for potential Makah farmers. As early as 1862 C. H. Hale, the superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory, reported that the Makahs' reservation was "little more than a rocky promontory":

It contains no agricultural land, and it would seem to have been the intention at the time of the treaty was made to studiously avoid enclosing any such land within its limits, or neglecting to do so was the most wilful [sic] ignorance.

Hale ordered the agent in charge of the reservation to "temporarily" extend the boundaries of the reservation to take in adjacent unclaimed lands "until the pleasure of the President could be known." (See Report of the Washington Superintendency, 1862.) The president at the time was Abraham Lincoln and, a month before Hale put pen to paper in Olympia, the bloodiest day in the Civil War had been fought at Antietam, Maryland. The pleasure of officially extending those Makah Reservation boundaries would have to wait. It would eventually go to another president - Ulysses S. Grant - in 1872.

In the meantime, the Indian Agent at Neah Bay, Henry A. Webster, drew up lines that significantly expanded the reservation and encompassed nearly all the existing Makah villages. (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1862.) The one village not included in the redrawn boundaries was Ozette and it received its own reservation in 1893 by order of President Grover Cleveland. (See Executive Orders.) It was eventually folded into the Makah Reservation in 1970. Webster and his successors also began to make improvements on the unapproved reservation extension, building most of the agency buildings there, clearing fields for farming, and fencing in pastures. In 1869, realizing that the government had never finished the process of removing the land from the public domain and setting it aside for the reservation, Neah Bay Indian Agent J. H. Hays called the situation to the attention of his superiors. (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1869.) But it was too late, by 1871 Hays's successor, E. M. Gibson, was struggling with settlers who said that Hays had given them permission to claim the land:

The Indians claim this land, and most of them live upon it, and they will not relinquish it willingly; it is very embarrassing to me, as I have no authority to order them [the whites] away, and they are encroaching upon what has always been considered part of the reservation. It is a matter of actual and pressing necessity that the Government should settle the question as to whether this land, upon which most of the money appropriated for these Indians have been expended, is or is not to be part of the reservation. Nearly all the arable land of the reserve is upon this addition, and without it nothing can ever be done by these Indians in the way of farming. (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1871.)

His superior, writing to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, stressed that these white settlers knew they were settling on lands earmarked for the reservation. Indian Superintendent T. J. McKenny noted, "The parties taking these claims cannot plead ignorance, for nearly all of them have been employé on the reservation, and are now attempting to appropriate to their own use the improvements that they have been paid by Government in times past to make." (See Report of the Washington Superintendency, 1871.) Gibson subsequently underscored the "unpleasant state" the squatters' intransigence was creating among the Makah by comparing the situation to a recent Indian war in Northern California where about 150 Indians had fled their reservation and refused to return until forced to surrender by the army. Gibson asserted that only "very prudent management" had prevented "another Modoc war." (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1873.)


Figure 8. Map of the State of Washington Showing Location of the Colville Indian Reservation, 1910

Larger image and attribution

On October 26, 1872, the federal government moved to clearly define the reservation's boundaries when President Grant signed the order withdrawing additional property-about 3,500 acres-from the public domain (the description of the boundaries were clarified twice in 1873 in executive orders that superseded the first). (See Executive Orders.) The squatters, however, refused to budge, even after being offered compensation for the "improvements" they had made to the land. According to Agent Gibson, three of the settlers denied that the president had the authority to enlarge the reservation, prompting the agent to appeal to Washington, D. C., for instructions. Most remarkably, he was given authorization to use military force to evict the settlers.

In the last week of June 1873, a detachment of 25 soldiers under the command of Lt. James A. Houghey arrived at Neah Bay. Gibson reported that, even then, two of the settlers were unwilling to leave:

After again advising McCollum and Colby [the settlers] to peaceably abandon the reservation, and even offering to assist them in removing their effects, which they still declined to do, Lieutenant Houghey had a sergeant and four men placed in each one of their homes, and sent McCollum under guard to the outer limits of the reservation. Colby left without further trouble. (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1873.)

That still left one settler who had won a reprieve and had a full year before he had to remove his cattle from the Makahs' land, but even then Gibson could write, "The Indians are highly pleased at the result, and seem much better satisfied, since they now feel that their homes are secured to them forever where they can live in peace and enjoy the fruits and blessings of their own labor." (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1873.)

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