I was playing around with the historical newspapers database at the University of Oregon, looking for mentions of the Alsea subagency when I stumbled on an article from a Jacksonville paper in 1867 about a fight there. A rather dramatic one – there was a dispute of some sort between the Indians and the agent employee in charge of farming, Thomas Clarke. He was allegedly attacked by an Indian with a hatchet but escaped. I have looked for mention of this incident in the agency reports and what copies of agency letters I have, but so far nothing. Only thing I can find about Clarke is that he wrote one published report in 1864, published in the annual reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1865, where he mentions he began work there in April 1864. He helped with ploughing and getting various crops planted (potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, wheat – which is insane, who would plant wheat on the OR coast?)
Anyway, here is the newspaper account:
Indian Troubles At Alsea – Agent Ben Simpson [note, at time he was agent at Siletz Agency, to whom the Alsea subagents reported] who returned Friday evening, after an absence of three months on active duty, informs us that the trouble at Alsea arose from the refusal of the Indians to dig their potatoes when directed so to do. Of course, it is most necessary that their crop be safely gathered, as their subsistence depends upon it. They are not particularly fond of work, and the refusal to attend to their duties brought on a scuffle between Mr. Clark, an employee and a refractory Indian, which resulted in Mr. Clark being overcome and held prostrate by the friends of the Indian, who was about to chop him up with a hatchet, when Clark fired his pistol at him with fatal effect. He fled to Siletz, and informed Simpson that matters were in a critical condition at Alsea and that Sub-Agent Collins desired him to come down and bring some men with him. Mr. Simpson took three men and went. He found the Indians much excited, and held a council with them, and talked the matter over. They came at last to peaceable results; concluded to be satisfied if Clark was not sent back and, as an earnest of their good intentions, the whole tribe set industriously to work digging potatoes. So all is quiet on the Coast Reservation. -The Oregon Sentinel 11/2/1867
So let’s read between the lines a bit here. First, cute racist dig at ‘lazy Indians’. Actually the Indian people had been busy for years planting and raising potatoes – Dr. EP Drew wrote about that back in 1856, noting gardens up the Smith River (and there is a much older gardening tradition, that of tobacco growing). Not to mention fishing, gathering mussels, digging camas, etc etc. And ever since getting to Yachats they had been setting up farms and their own family gardens. I suspect Thomas Clarke (which is how he spelled his name in the 1865 report) had been somehow badly mistreating the Indians, enraging one enough that if this newspaper account is to be believed, Clarke was attacked – yet managed to escape. I do note, however, that after a meeting with Simpson of Siletz, it was agreed Clarke would never return there to Yachats and the people had no problem harvesting the potatoes.
I have tried to track down any mention of the incident in annual reports from 1867 and 1868 but have found nothing yet, nor a mention in what copies of letters I have from the time frame. Maybe there is mention of it in a letter on the microfilm. But, the incident seems to have been embarrassing enough that I have found no other mention of it yet.
I’ve never seen a mention of it among oral history accounts from Jim Buchanan, Annie Peterson, Frank Drew or Lottie Evanoff. Maybe the incident didn’t stand out in the overall badness of life at the Alsea Subagency. I just don’t know.