The Cow Creek Umpqua Indians lived peacefully along the north and south fork drainages of the Umpqua River in the wet and verdant Pacific Coast Range of southwest Oregon. They were closely related to neighboring bands and sometimes shared parts of the same territory. They dwelt in bark-covered plank houses partly sunk into the ground. Like all primordial human societies, they had their creation stories. One striking account told of a mighty eruption in the Cascade Mountains at the eastern edge of their territory. Mount Mazama had literally blown up and left a caldera that became Crater Lake. The lake and its environs were sacred to the Umpqua. They spoke the Takelma language.
The earliest contact with Europeans occurred in the late 18th century when Spanish galleons from Manila skirted the northwest coast of North America. Parties from the ships investigated the shore. In 1819, fur trappers from the North West Company encountered a group of Umpqua Indians and killed several of them. Land-hungry settlers began to arrive.
The Oregon Territory came into being as a result of the 1848 Organic Act, a tacit declaration of white hegemony passed by the U.S. Congress. It was followed by the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, which gave away 320 acres to any settler past the age of 18 -- heedless of any prior Indian claim to the land. Gold was discovered at Jackson Creek in Umpqua territory in 1852, which attracted miners and increased tensions. The Cow Creek Umpqua were the first Indians to ratify a treaty with the U.S. Government, in 1853. The chief at the time was Miwaleta, a peaceful man who counseled accommodation with the whites. The Indians relinquished their territory to the government for $12,000, to be paid out over two decades. The result was that the Umpqua received no protection from aggression and they were left as refugees in their former lands.
Miwaleta died a short while later and his successor decided to commit the band to a bloody fight with whites being carried on by the Rogue Indians to the immediate south. The result of the Cow Creek Umpqua involvement in the ill-fated Rogue River War was that the U.S. government annulled its commitment to the treaty.
After the war, quasi-military Volunteers took it upon themselves to banish the Umpqua and Rogue Indians. Tough fighting followed, but in the end, most were rounded up and force-marched to the Grand Ronde Reservation about 150 miles north -- another Trail of Tears. Others escaped the round-up and retreated to remote areas of their former territory. Some 800 Indians made it to the reservation, where they were kept in place by the surrounding U.S. Army. Life was harsh; shelter was poor, homesickness prevailed and starvation threatened. A few Indians managed to escape, but most were brought back.
By 1865, even reservation land eventually fell under the hungry gaze of settlers. Congress passed the General Allotment Act of 1887, which served to break up parts of reservations for white settlement.
Into the 20th century, the Cow Creek Umpqua quietly survived and subsisted on unwanted reservation land. In 1918, elders formed a tribal organization and went to Washington, D.C., to press for federal services to their people. In addition, they sought redress from the government for the land that was taken from them in 1853 at such a dirt-cheap price, then sold to settlers for far more. The land claim struggle would last most of the 1900s.
The 1954 Public Law 588 stated that there were no Native Americans left in western Oregon. As a result, the Cow Creek Umpqua were designated a terminated tribe. Part of the fallout of this was that the Indians had to start paying property taxes; some couldn't afford it and lost their alloted property to foreclosure. Nevertheless, the 1980 Public Law 96-25 allowed the Cow Creek Umqua to lodge a complaint with the Claims Court in Washington, D.C., over the monetary value of their lands ceded in the 1853 treaty.
Finally, after 13 decades, the 1982 Public Law 97-391 restored the Cow Creek Umpqua band to tribal status with the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1984, a $1.5 million settlement was reached. That amount was roughly equal to the value of their territory in 1853, had it been sold for the amount settlers paid per acre.
The settlement funds were used by the tribe to create an endowment fund, which was invested as collateral for a land purchase. In addition, interest from the fund was used to build a bingo hall on it in 1992, which eventually evolved into something much more ambitious: the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino Resort, an economic mainstay of the tribe.