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Native Americans
Latgawa Indians
Rogue Valley, Oregon

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The Latgawa Native American Indian Tribe flourishes today and existed long before the white man came to the Rogue Valley.

The Latgawa are half of a small linguistic family of two tribes: the Takelma on the east side of the Klamath and Coast Mountains in the middle Rogue River area around Grants Pass, Oregon; and the Latgawa in the upper Rogue River area around Applegate, Jacksonville, Talent, Medford, Eagle Point, Butte Falls, Shady Cove, Trail, and extending beyond Prospect and Union up to Crater Lake.

Their language is called Takelma, of the Kalapuyan-Takelman family, which was likely associated with the Shastan (Chastacostan) linquistic stock. Latgawa means, "those living in the uplands."¹

Pre-European contact days

The indigenous tribe of the Greater Rogue and Bear Creek Valley were Latgawa. The Latgawa considered home to be the land extending from near Wagner Creek southward and over the Siskiyou Pass into California along Bear Creek near the present-day town of Talent northward above the Table Rock vicinity, and east to Crater Lake.

The Latgawa relied on hunting, gathering, and fishing for their subsistence. In the ancient days, Latgawa dwellings were small brush shelters for warm months and fashioned of sugar pine boards for cold months. They adorned their garments with dentalia shells, and skin art was practiced regularly. They also bore cultural traits from California, and valued obsidian and Shasta basket hats. The linguist Edward Sapir (1915) recorded the existence of one village belonging to the Latgawa tribe, known by the tribal name, and also called Latgauk. That was a full 60 years after the cataclysmic Rogue Wars (see below).

During the winters, extended family bands resided in semi-permanent villages at lower elevations often situated at the meeting of major streams, where the spring steelhead runs would provide a welcome supply of fish. From late spring through early fall, they typically spent much time in the nearby uplands and mountains, following game and harvesting plant foods as the snow melted from higher elevations. By autumn, the far-afield hunters and gatherers regrouped with village elders and others along the lower-elevation streams to intercept the fall salmon run and prepare for another winter.

Their entire environment was the source of a deeply spiritual existence. Both living and nonliving things were held to be inherently sacred, and celebrated in song, dance, drum, and ritual. There was no such thing as "Nature" separate from humans.

Chief John of the Latgawas

Contact with European settlers

With the arrival of the European settlers in the 1850s, the Latgawa and Takelma began to lose their homeland. As a result of that aggressive migration, severe hostility and violent assaults erupted between early homesteaders and the tribes.

Like their neighbors, the Latgawa resisted encroachment on their lands and became embroiled in the bloody Rogue Wars of the 1850s. Rogue Valley Indians were killed or captured, but some escaped. The U.S. Army decided to exile the remaining Takelma and Latgawa to the Grand Ronde Reservation many miles to the north, where they arrived both overland and by sea.

An 1853 treaty established the short-lived Table Rock Reservation in order to throw open the entire Bear Creek Valley to white settlement. In the end, from 1855 to 1856, a final Indian War raged from one end of the Rogue Valley to the other. The natives were again compelled to move from Table Rock to the Grande Ronde and Siletz reservations.

Many of the Latgawa escaped the wars and survived with the assistance of such tribes as the Klamath, Blackfeet, Nez Percé, Chief Seattle and the Suquamish tribe, and others. Their diaspora ranged as far away as Colorado, into Canada. Some returned to their aboriginal lands in Southern Oregon and Northern California. They continued to grow as more native Indians came home and others were accepted into the tribe.

The Latgawa today

The Latgawa Indian tribe is the only surviving aboriginal group having full rights to the Rogue Valley Indians Treaties of 1853 and 1854, which recognize them as a nation within a nation. Other binding agreements, laws, and executive orders apply as well.

The Latgawa were never captured or formally terminated as a tribe, and have full jurisdiction over their people, lands and relationship with the federal government as a domestic sovereign Indian nation.

They do not require the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, although they are listed as tribe number 180, the Confederated Tribes - Rogue - Table Rock and Associated Tribes. They have federal, tribal, state, and local government recognition from more than 70 entities. As of June 2005, their enrollment amounted to more than 400 tribal members.

They maintain a tribal council government, judicial court, police department, lands division, and more. They issue driver and vehicle licenses through their Department of Motor Vehicles.

Spirit of the Rogue Nature Center

The following are examples of tribal functions:

  • Government. The Latgawa have had to adapt to the white man's way of business, law, government structure, law enforcement and in other areas of living; however, they have also retained many aspects of their culture and traditions. Their Tribal Code contains the information by which they govern.

  • Justice. The Police Department works with all citizens to preserve life and property, protect individual rights, and promote individual and community responsibilities, while maintaining and respecting the culture and traditions of the Latgawa Indian Tribe. The department comprises a chief of police, two police officers, one secretary, and the Tribal Justice Court has one tribal marshal.

  • Firefighting. The Latgawa Tribe employs highly experienced tribal members engaged in the war against wildland fires.

  • Recreation. Payette Trail, No. 970. Recommended Use: hiking, mountain biking. Length: 9.2 miles (one-way). Difficulty: easy. Season: open all year. Level of use: moderate. Connecting trails: outdoor study trails; viewpoint trails. This scenic trail parallels the eastern shoreline of Applegate Lake, contouring just above the reservoir's high-water level. Several connecting trails provide opportunities for alternate loops. Additionally, three walk-in U.S. Forest Service campgrounds are found along the route including Latgawa, Harr Point, and Tipsu Tyee.

    Camp Latgawa at:, wooded area of the Rogue National Forest. Two gentle, flowing creeks and towering evergreens provide a peaceful setting just 35 miles east of Medford, Oregon..."

  • Most importantly, they have their people, their spirit, and dignity.

    ¹They also were called the Walumskni by their neighbors, the Klamath.
    ² Emphasis added.
    See also Indian Wars Time Table.
    Native American Cultural Regions Map

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