Provisional and Territorial Records Guide

Superintendent of Indian Affairs

The US Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1824 as a part of the War Department. Its duties included managing annuities appropriations, approving all vouchers for expenditures, administering the funds appropriated to acculturate the Indians, deciding on claims arising between Indians and whites under the trade and intercourse laws, and handling correspondence dealing with Indian affairs. In 1849 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was transferred to the newly created Interior Department.

Territorial governors often served as ex officio superintendents of Indian affairs, using their position to regulate contacts between white settlers and Indians. In their capacity as superintendents, the Governors were often key figures in negotiating treaties and clearing land titles. A system of agencies was established under each superintendent. Superintendents had general responsibility for Indian affairs in a territory or other political area. Each agency was responsible for one or more tribes and was usually subordinate to a superintendency.

Indian agents were appointed by the President with approval of the Senate. Most agents reported to the superintendents but some reported directly to the central office in Washington. Local marshals and territorial courts were responsible for the enforcement of the trade and intercourse laws. Indian agents frequently had to rely on the nearest military post to enforce the liquor law, drive intruders from Indian land, and control lawless behavior.

In 1842 a subagency for the "country West of the Rocky mountains" was established and located in the Willamette Valley. The Oregon Superintendency was established in 1848 when Oregon Territory was organized. It originally had jurisdiction over the entire area west of the Rocky Mountains and north of latitude 42'. The territorial governor acted as the ex officio superintendent until 1850 when a separate official was appointed. In 1851 the superintendency headquarters was moved from its original location at Oregon City to Milwaukie; in 1853 to Dayton; in 1856 back to Oregon City: in 1857 to Salem; in 1859 to Portland: and in 1861 to Salem again. When Washington Territory was established in 1853, a separate superintendency was established there with jurisdiction over the area north of the Columbia River and latitude 46'.

The first three regular agents were appointed for the Oregon Superintendency in 1850. They were assigned to geographical areas rather than to particular tribes. The agencies in Oregon were Rogue River, Warm Springs, Puget Sound District, Southeastern District, Port Orford, Siletz, Grand Ronde, Umatilla, Klamath and Malheur. The agency structure in Oregon was complicated due to the removal of Indians from their original homes and the attempt to concentrate them on reservations. There were also many sub agencies, special agencies and local agencies, especially after the wars of 1855.

The bands included in the Oregon Superintendency were Cayuse, Chastacosta, Chetco, Clackamas, Joshua, Kalapuya, Klamath, Modoc, Molalla, Nez Perce, Paiute, Rogue River, Shasta, Sixes (Kwatami), "Snake", Tenino, Umatilla, Umpqua, Wallawalla, Warm Springs, Wasco, and Yamel.

From 1857 to 1861 the Oregon and Washington Superintendencies were combined. The Oregon Superintendency was abolished in 1873. Thereafter the agents in Oregon reported directly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington.

Series Descriptions for the Superintendent of Indian Affairs


326. Superintendent's Correspondence (SUPIND0001)

.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents communications between the Oregon Superintendency and Indian agents, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, and territorial agencies. Correspondence shows date, correspondents' names, and text or communication. Series also includes a few attached reports. Subjects includes the prohibition of liquor sales to Indians, the organization of the Oregon Superintendency, and relations between whites and Indians.

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