A brief history
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. Mt. 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 Indian 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 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 that 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.
The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe today
The tribe is a sovereign nation. A definition: "Sovereignty means that the tribe is an independent nation. Sovereignty empowers the tribe to determine its own form of government, and to define its membership."
Its government consists of a tribal board whose 11 directors are elected by the tribal members. The board has a chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary and treasurer. According to the tribe:
"The tribal board develops and maintains policies, procedures, laws and ordinances that are intended to ensure the integrity and strength of tribal government, the protection of the tribal constitution and sovereignty, tribal history and culture, tribal assets, and the well-being of the members of the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe."
The tribal board maintains relations with local, state and federal governments, and cooperates with people and firms in the local area.
The Umpqua Indian Development Corporation operates several businesses for the benefit of its members. In addition to the casino, the corporation runs the:
Seven Feathers Truck and Travel Center
Umpqua Indian Foods
Nesika Health Group
Canyonville Cubbyholes (storage units)
Valley View and Riverside Lodge motels
Umpqua Indian Utility Cooperative
K Bar Ranches
An important aspect of tribal life is the esteem in which their elders are held. They represent seven historical core families. The tribe believes that their elders embody wisdom that can exert a beneficial impact on the future.
The tribe also maintains a foundation to which individuals and organizations can apply for funding grants.
The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation gave nearly $400,000 to 37 charitable organizations in seven southwest Oregon counties in January 2003. The foundation has granted more than $3 million since its inception.
In April 2003, the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Roseburg Area Non-Profit Coalition presented Sue Shaffer, Chairperson of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, with a plaque reflecting significant support to local charities.
Governor Kulongoski was on hand in November 2003 for the groundbreaking of the $25 million Creekside Development Project that will eventually include two dams, a lagoon, a water treatment facility, an RV park, rest stop and an expansion of the Seven Feathers Hotel.