Feds decide to force Tolowa to become farmers

March 20, 2007 12:00 am

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

After the Klamath Reserva-tion was occupied by members of the Tolowa tribe during the late 1850s, the Office of Indian Affairs took action against several of its staffers, citing them with wrongdoing.

The first to go was Subagent J.P. Heintzelman. Indian Super-intendent Thomas J. Henley had determined that the movement of the tribe to Klamath was "premature" and had sparked the conspiracy that ended in the fight on Wau-Kell Flat.

His successor was David Buell, who took charge of the reservation in 1858.

Along with the subagent in charge, the agency staff included a physician, farmer, blacksmith, interpreter, overseer and teacher. All but one of the positions were at Wau-Kell, with overseer stationed at Kepel.

Henley resigned under fire in 1859, and was succeeded as Superintendent of the California District by James Y. McDuffie, who had visited the area.

He realized that the setting was in a beautiful valley of 800 acres that was fertile and well-adapted to a variety of grain and vegetables.

About 160 acres were under cultivation, which McDuffie felt "spoke well" for the industry, management of the agency and employees, and promised great success.

About a mile below the agency and on the opposite side of the river, was a 40-acre farm. McDuffie spotted adjacent to it another 80 acres of arable land.

McDuffie also had visited an 18-acre farm about 10 miles away at Pecwan. It adjoined 50 acres he felt could be profitable. Also in its favor were surroundings "unsurpassed for grazing purposes" and protected from "the invasion" of white settlers, and near other acres that could be cultivated.

He figured its yield could support upwards of 5,000 Native Americans.

Based on his favorable im-pression on the Klamath, McDuffie pitched his desire to have the Tolowa become a self-sufficient farming commune.

John A. Dreibelbis, incoming head of the Northern District of the California Superintendency, toured the area with Buell in 1860, complimenting him on his well-managed area.

He also examined Buell's books and reappointed all the staff and allocating $1,200 to fund the reservation during Fiscal Year 1861.

Buell had checked "predatory" whites who tried to trespass on the Indians' fishing rights. The poachers threatened to return with their lawyers and occupy three small islands near the river's mouth. To head them off, Dreibelbis asked Commis-sioner A. B. Greenwood to survey the reservation and determine its boundaries. The result was proof that the islands belonged to the reservation.

After President Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861, George M. Hanson replaced Dreibelbis. He was not as optimistic as his predecessor until he visited the area and saw the 300 acres of crops and 600 more acres that could be cultivated.

Although the agency buildings were in "tolerable" condition, money was needed to buy younger working animals and better farm equipment.