Warm Springs treaty turns 166: ‘This was the real story of the West’

By Emily Cureton Cook (OPB)
June 25, 2021 12 p.m.

June 25 marks a milestone. On this date in 1855, a treaty paved the way for what would become the state of Oregon, and land ownership as it exists today.

“This was the real story of the West,” said Louie Pitt Jr., director of government affairs and planning for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.


Throughout history, the United States has signed hundreds of treaties with tribal nations across North America.

The Treaty of 1855 created the Warm Springs Reservation on a small fraction of the tribes’ original 10 million-acre territory. Oregon became a state in 1859, in part, by using that land.

“You watch on TV, the wild West, where you’ve got the black hat guys and the white hat guys having a showdown at high noon. ... No. The story of the West is very boring. It’s land. And the cutting up of land. The owners of 10 million acres here were the Warm Springs and Wasco tribes,” Pitt said.

Louie Pitt, Jr. on the Warm Springs Reservation on Oct. 1, 2020.

Louie Pitt, Jr. on the Warm Springs Reservation on Oct. 1, 2020.

Emily Cureton Cook

In 1855, tribal leaders moved to the reservation, while retaining rights to fish, hunt and gather plants at their “usual and accustomed stations.” Pitt said that 166 years later, the provision remains an important legal tool to protect a way of life, and natural resources.

Related: Congress acknowledges 155-year-old betrayal of Warm Springs and Wasco Tribes

“Some species of salmon are at the lowest point they’ve ever been. Development all around us has taken up the root areas, the berry areas. … Recreation is always something that really adversely affects our right to get to places,” he said.

On the anniversary of the 1855 treaty, Pitt said, remembering the tribes’ history in the now state of Oregon is essential.

“Don’t forget. We gave them 10 million acres, 13 different counties, one sixth of Oregon,” Pitt said. “Isn’t that worth something?”


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