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The Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians

The Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw were the original human groups to inhabit the central and southcentral Oregon coast, which included the Coos Bay, Umpqua and Siuslaw estuaries. Their lands were part of what later became several counties. The Coos spoke the Hanis and Milluk languages; the Lower Umpqua, Athapascan; and Siuslaw, Kuitsch and Siuslaw. Social life consisted of extended families supervised by a headman. Because of close family ties, marriages were sought outside of their communities, which consisted of winter villages and summer camps. Dwellings were constructed of cedar planks. Winter villages were usually located near a regular water source, such as a spring or large stream. Summer camps were erected upstream to follow the fish migrations. Women collected berries, roots and nuts. In addition, their rich diet consisted of seafood, game, sea bird eggs and other delicacies. Deer and elk skins were fashioned into garments and blankets. Baskets were woven using a variety of materials, from conifers to grasses. Nearly everything had a spirit, and spirits could exert a positive influence on people's lives. Young people set out on vision quests to locate their spirit power. To become a shaman, one had to possess five powers. During the mid-16th century, Spanish, then British explorers touched the Oregon coast, but there was little contact with Indians. Fur trappers appeared in the early 1800s and struck up trade with the tribes. Such European diseases as smallpox arrived with the white man's penetration into the area and sickened the tribes. Settlers made their appearance in the 1850s. They were hungry for land, but federal law precluded acquisition of Indian territories without a signed treaty. The Coos, Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes became a confederation with the signing of the Treaty of August 1855, which promised a supposedly protective relationship with the federal government in exchange for relegation to reservation life. Along with loss of their homelands to white settlement, federal promises of just treatment were persistently broken over the ensuing 100 years. In 1856, the bloody Rogue River War broke out between whites and Indians to the south. The military decided to prevent the Coos, Umpqua and Siuslaw from getting involved by rounding up most of them and putting them in Fort Umpqua, a new structure on a spit of the Umpqua River. In 1860, they were moved to the Alsea subagency in Yachats. In 1876, the subagency was handed over to white settlement and the tribes were assigned to the Siletz Reservation, which created a major disruption among the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw bands. Many declined to move. The 1855 treaty left bitter and lasting memories among descendants. The Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw allied to seek redress and make land claims. The struggle was slow and difficult. In 1941, 6.1 acres of donated land were made available to the tribes for a reservation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs constructed a tribal hall on the property. In 1956, the Congress terminated its relationship with the confederation, which was stoutly opposed by the bands. In 1984, however, the government reversed its stance and restored recognition of the tribes. A recent major project of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians has been to construct their Three Rivers Casino in Florence, Oregon.

See also Indian Wars Time Table. Native American Cultural Regions Map