Secretary of the Interior J. P. Usher creates the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation on July 8, 1864.

  • By Jennifer Ott
  • Posted 5/03/2008
  • Essay 8533
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On July 8, 1864, Secretary of the Interior J. P. Usher creates the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, located at the confluence of the Black and Chehalis rivers in southwestern Washington Territory. Usher's directive reserves 4,224.63 acres for the Upper and Lower Chehalis. Some of the Chehalis move onto the reservation, while others remain living amongst American settlers.

In February 1855, the Quinault, Queets, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Shoalwater Bay, Chinook, and Cowlitz tribes met at the Chehalis River Treaty Council (at the location of Cosmopolis today) with Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862). The tribes did not object to ceding their lands, but once they heard the terms of the treaty they refused to sign it. The treaty required that they move to a reservation away from their traditional lands with the location of the reservation to be determined later. The tribes refused to accept those conditions and Stevens left without an agreement.

This did not stop American settlement and the Chehalis lived among the settlers, returning to their traditional winter and summer villages. Those settlers and the Chehalis seem to have maintained good relations.

The Chehalis did not participate in the treaty wars of 1855-1856. During the conflict about 400 Chehalis moved onto Sidney Ford Sr.'s land near the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers as a temporary reservation.

After the wars, the Chehalis remained in a difficult situation. They had not ceded their lands through a treaty, but American settlers continued to file claims on their lands. In 1864 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote to the Secretary of the Interior, "The choicest portions of their lands have been occupied by whites without any remuneration to them, and without their consent or having relinquished their claim or right to it" (Executive Orders, 111).

To remedy the situation, Secretary Usher authorized purchase of land for a reservation at the confluence of the Black and Chehalis rivers and its lands included both prairie and timberlands. The location fulfilled the needs and requests of the Upper and Lower Chehalis from the beginning: that they have a reservation to themselves and that it be located within their original territory.

More than 700 Chehalis live on or near the reservation today. The tribe is a sovereign nation governed by the Chehalis Business Council. In addition to residences, the reservation includes a tribal hall, Elders and Youth buildings, the Lucky Eagle Casino, a hotel, and other businesses. Members of the tribe are involved in tribal economic enterprises and work on and off the reservation in a wide variety of professions.

Sources: Carolyn Marr, Donna Hicks and Kay Francis (authors of first edition), and Richard Bellon (author of revisions of second and third editions), The Chehalis People, 3rd ed. (Oakville, WA: Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Indian Reservation, 2001); David Burnett, email to Jennifer Ott, March 6, 2008, in possession of Jennifer Ott, Seattle, Washington; Dorothy Mae Rigg, "The Friendly Chehalis and the Early Settlers," in Centralia: The First Fifty Years, 1845-1900 compiled by Herndon Smith (Centralia: The Daily Chronicle and F.H. Cole Printing Co., 1942), 232-233; Executive Orders Relating to Indian Reserves, From May 14, 1855 to July 1, 1902, compiled by the Indian Office (Washington, D.C.: Government Publications Office, 1902), 111-112.

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