Ethnic Groups of Oregon

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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Oregon Family History Research series.
History of Oregon
Oregon Vital Records
Census Records for Oregon
Background Sources for Oregon
Oregon Maps
Oregon Land Records
Oregon Probate Records
Oregon Court Records
Oregon Tax Records
Oregon Cemetery Records
Oregon Church Records
Oregon Military Records
Oregon Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Oregon Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Oregon Immigration
Oregon Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Oregon
Oregon County Resources
Map of Oregon


Native American

The history of Oregon’s Native American population is similar to that of Washington. Coastal tribes were little affected by the Spaniards in California or the fur traders. However, from the mid-nineteenth century onward, the Native Americans of Oregon were rapidly dispossessed and placed upon reservations as follows: most of the Chinookan tribes were placed on the Warm Springs and Grande Ronde reservations and on Yakima Reservation in Washington; all of the Athapascan tribes were placed on the Siletz Reservation; the Umpqua went to the Grand Ronde; the Kusan and Yakonan tribes were placed on the Siletz Reservation; the Salishan population of Oregon was placed on the Grande Ronde and Siletz reservations; most of the Kalapooian peoples went to the Grand Ronde and a few on the Siletz; most of the Molala went to the Grande Ronde; the Klamath went to Klamath Reserve; the Modoc went mostly on the Klamath Reserve, but a few went to the Quapaw Reservation in Oklahoma; the Shahaptian tribes of Oregon went to the Umatilla Reservation; and the Northern Paiutes went to the Klamath Reservation.

For a more detailed history of each Oregon reservation and land definitions, see Jeff Zucker, Oregon Indians: Culture, History and Current Affairs, An Atlas and Introduction (Portland, Ore.: Oregon Historical Society, ca. 1983).

Many Native Americans converted to Catholicism, and the early parish and mission registers have been printed. An excellent source of Native American family genealogies is Charles E. McChesney et al., Rolls of Certain Indian Tribes In Washington and Oregon (Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1969).

Many Native American records are microfilmed and are on file at the National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle); some are on file at the FHL. The following agency records are available:

Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency, Toledo, Oregon (1863–1954). Records include general correspondence and decimal files, school records, heirship cards, maps, annuity payrolls, ledgers for accounts of individual Indians, vital statistics and census rolls, health reports, social service case files, court records, tribal constitutions, records concerning land allotments and sales, forestry, Civilian Conservation Corps work, and relief and rehabilitation. This agency was established in 1856 for Native Americans living on the Coast Reservation who had been moved from other parts of Oregon. The principal tribes under this agency were the Joshua, Sixes (Kwatami), Chetco, Rogue River, Chastacosta, and Klamath.

Klamath Indian Agency, Klamath Falls, Oregon (1865–1960). Records include general subject files, tribal election ballots, business committee and general council minutes, Klamath Loan Board files, records concerning irrigation, allotments and other land transactions, forestry, grazing, agricultural extension, accounts of individual Indians, law and order, annuities, and medical care. Klamath was made a full agency in 1872, with the Klamath, Modoc, “Snake,” Pit River, and Shoshone tribes under its jurisdiction.

Portland Area Office, Portland, Oregon (1902–64). Records include program planning records, minutes of the Columbia Basin Inter-Agency Committee, correspondence and reports concerning schools, grazing permits, welfare case files, tribal constitutions, legal case files, allotment ledgers, records concerning land allotments and sales, land classification, heirship, forestry, irrigation, road construction, tribal welfare, and health.

Umatilla Indian Agency, Pendleton, Oregon (1862–1964). Records include general correspondence, school records, tribal rolls, records concerning farming and grazing leases, the Civilian Conservation Corps program, individual Indian accounts, land allotments, heirship, family histories, medical treatment, law enforcement, court cases, and economic and social surveys. This agency was established in 1861 for the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla tribes. Other tribes were later transferred to this agency.

Warm Springs Indian Agency, Warm Springs, Oregon (1861–1952). Records include general correspondence, decimal files, school attendance records, land and survey field notes, a tract book, cattle sales reports, ledgers and abstracts of individual Indian accounts, appropriation land allotment ledgers, censuses, a family history record, individual Indian history cards, court dockets, birth and death registers, medical reports, tribal council records, records concerning lease payments, forestry, Civilian Conservation Corps programs, roads, and per capita payments. This agency was established in 1851 for the Warm Springs, Wasco, Tenino, John Day, and Northern Paiute tribes.

A valuable source for Native American research is the Chemawa Indian School records, a non-reservation school established in Forest Grove, Oregon, in 1880. In 1885 the school was moved to a site north of Salem known as Chemawa, where it has been called both Chemawa and Salem. The school is important because it enrolled students from all over the Pacific Northwest. The school records include general correspondence, decimal files, descriptive statements about children, applications for admission, attendance records, student health cards, student and graduate student case files, and ledgers for accounts of individual Indians. These school records are on file at the National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) and the FHL.

Another major source for Native American research is the Major James McLaughlin Papers.

Other Ethnic Groups

The southeast corner of Oregon has a large population of Basques, who arrived in the latter 1800s and early 1900s. Basques usually entered America at Ellis Island and drifted across the country. Principal Basque settlements in Oregon were McDermitt, on the northern Nevada border; Jordan Valley; Andrews, 125 miles south of Crane; Fields, 15 miles further south; and Ontario, Oregon, at the junction of the Malheur River and the Snake River.

In 1925 McDermitt was almost completely a Basque town, and by 1945 Jordan Valley had the largest Basque settlement in southeast Oregon with two-thirds of the population of Basque descent. The University of Nevada has major Basque collections, which include 12,000 volumes concerning the Basques in America. For more information, contact at the Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Getchell Library, Rm. 274, Reno, NV 89557 www.library.unr.edu/depts/basqlib/Default.htm.

During the 1880s, Oregon’s Chinese population greatly increased as a result of extensive railroad construction in the area. Tension rose against the Asiatics in the Pacific Northwest. Shortly after the riots against Seattle and Tacoma’s Chinatowns in November 1885, Portland held an anti-Chinese convention during which resolutions were adopted requiring the Chinese population to relocate to San Francisco within thirty days. The first group of Chinese laborers coming directly to Portland arrived in 1888.

The Chinese played a vital role in the development of eastern Oregon. Eastern Oregon’s growth was dependent on the railroad and mining for which the Chinese provided the majority of labor. By 1857 the Chinese began moving north from California to Oregon to begin mining. Migrants began to move eastward from southern Oregon when gold was discovered on the Powder River in Oregon and the Salmon River in Idaho. By 1880 many Chinese mining companies were in operation at John Day in Grant County. Christopher Howard Edson’s, The Chinese in Eastern Oregon, 1860–1890 (San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1974) is an excellent study of the contributions of the Chinese community to the settlement and development of eastern Oregon.

A few Japanese entered Oregon between 1880 and 1890, but the greatest migration came during subsequent decades. Japanese immigrants generally worked as railroad hands, sawmill workers, and agricultural laborers. A total of 2,501 Japanese were recorded in the 1900 U.S. census of Oregon. By 1930 the Japanese population in Oregon had doubled. During World War II, hysteria swept America and Oregon’s Japanese community came under suspicion. Many Japanese-Americans were relocated to camps in Idaho where they remained until the war was over.

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