This is the final post in a four-part series about the Puyallup Land Allotments.
The Puyallup Act of 1893
The United States Congress passed the Puyallup Act as part of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1893. The Puyallup Act altered the land restrictions on reservation allotments. It divided the patents on the reservation into “Indian” and “individual” patents. Those who sold “Indian” lands had a portion of the proceeds put towards supporting the Puyallup (later Cushman) Indian School. They were mandated to keep half to one third of their allotments. Meanwhile, those who sold “individual” patents were able to immediately sell their lands for the price it was appraised at or higher. The restrictions on the Puyallup-owned lands were still much stricter than those of surrounding claims.
The Puyallup Act also established the Puyallup Land Commision. This three man group was initially composed of outsiders with little knowledge of the area or of real estate. C.D. Drake, George B. Kinkhead, and B. F. Harness were tasked with determining the value of the land on the reservation, how land should be passed down, if restrictions on sales should remain, and what should be done with unallotted lands. The commission determined that the average acre was worth $273.50, meaning the reservation as a whole was worth $4,776,130. Additionally, the PLC told Congress that they did not believe the Puyallup members should be able to sell their lands without restrictions. They also questioned whether the tribe should continue to be a tribe. In 1897, Congress reduced the Commission to a single commissioner, a local businessman named Clinton A Snowden.
The Effects of the Puyallup Act
Congress intended the Puyallup Act of 1893 to act as a safety net for the tribe. In an attempt to prevent poverty and homelessness, Congress mandated that not all of the allotted land could be sold off at one time. The Act used the tenants-in-common system as a way to trace ownership of alloments. Under these rules, heads of households were limited in how they used the funds gained from the sale of their lands. The process of tracing land claims also created a complicated inheritance dynamic, since it often chopped up a typical-sized plot into small, strangely shaped portions depending on the number of family members who survived the deceased.
In addition, the government deducted 10% in administrative costs from a sale and charged the Puyallup allotment sellers an additional 10% every time their escrow account received a payment (a temporary arrangement between two parties where a third party, normally a bank or escrow agent, holds the financial payment). Although they were supposed to be paid 4% interest on those accounts, this was not always the case. The government often did not pay sellers all the money they were owed for the transaction. Not only were the Puyallup charged extra money for sales and for their accounts, government agents frequently cheated them out of money they were owed for their land sales, contributing to poverty on the reservation.
Instead of preserving the economic stability of the tribe, the Puyallup Act served to undermine it. Historians have gone so far as to conclude that the act paralyzed the Puyallup economically. Not only were there limitations on how much land they could sell, but when they did sell their land, they were charged exhorbitant fees. Furthermore, the government frequently failed to pay those who had sold their lands what they were owed for the sale.
- The first bar reflects a 4-acre and 100 sq ft allotment originally sold for $2,400. It resold for $40,000 2 years later; the land sold again later that same year for $25,000.
- The second bar reflects a 5-acre allotment sold for $1; the plot resold 3 years later for $2,500.
- The third bar reflects a 10-acre allotment sold for $700; the land resold 4 years later for $2,500.
- The fourth bar reflects a 20-acre allotment sold for $750; it resold 11 years later for $11,000.
Compounding the pain felt by those on the reservation, the Puyallup Act was signed into law at the beginning of the Panic of 1893. This economic depression lasted until 1897 and sent the entire country into a tailspin. Across the country, 16,000 businesses and 500 banks closed. In Tacoma, 14 out of 21 banks were forced to shut their doors. The city and county governments both declared bankruptcy.
The Panic also decreased the amount people earned and the price of land. The Puyallup members who sold their allotments due to the drop in wages received signifiantly less than they would have a year earlier. In order to feed themselves, many Puyallup tried to sell their lots, but lower prices meant that they moved further into poverty and homelessness.
In addition to this, the economic depression adversely affected the Euro-American population of Tacoma. Many had a difficult time financially, having over-extended themselves. This meant that those in lease-to-own contracts with Puyallup allottees fell behind on their payments. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William Jones, told Eells to give the settlers more leeway than the Puyallups when working with the two groups.
Although the intention of the Puyallup Act of 1893 was to protect the tribe, the reality is that allottees did not benefit from the changes. The pressures of government policies, urban growth, economic downturns, and racism all combined with devastating effects on the economic status of the tribe and the further loss of their lands.
Between 1893 and 1909, nearly all of the Puyallup members had sold their property. Very few of them profited from the transaction. By 1950, there were only 10 families who still lived on their original allotments.
Tacoma Street Scene - Indians Weaving Baskets And Mats And Displaying Them For Sale. From the 1906 publication Tacoma New Herald Annual.
In the century since restrictions on the sale of Puyallup allotments were lifted, the tribe has continued to fight back against the sale of their reservation lands. Over the years, the tribe filed multiple lawsuits to defend their property rights and their treaty rights.
The largest of these lawsuits was in 1990 when the the state of Washington settled with the Puyallup tribe for $162 million in cash, real estate, and economic development programs in exchange for dropping their claim to 18,000 acres of land along the shores of Commencement Bay. The Land Claims Settlement became the second largest in US history between Native peoples and the American government. The tribe also gained a historic victory in the 1974 Boldt Decision, restoring treaty fishing rights.
Currently, the Puyallup tribe is working to buy back portions of their reservation lands. They are expanding their footprint through Puyallup Tribal Enterprises, with businesses such as the Emerald Queen Casino, Northshore Golf, and Marine View Ventures. They are also making investments in preserving their traditional culture, language, and history. The Puyallup are still here and thriving and letting it be known that this is Native Land.
1930 photograph of Jerry Meeker preparing salmon in Point Defiance Park for the national convention of the Masons. Jerry Meeker was instrumental in the development of Browns Point. In 1958, Meeker Middle School in Northeast Tacoma was named in his memory. From the digital image archives of the Tacoma Public Library.
Crawford O’Brien, Suzanne J. and Dennis F. Kelley. “AmericanIndian Religious Traditions: An Encyclopedia.” (2005).
Galacci, Caroline. “Planning the City of Destiny: An UrbanHistory of Tacoma to 1930.” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Washington, 1999).
Hirsch, Mark. “The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.”Smithsonian Voice, From the Smithsonian Museums, (March 23, 2017). https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2017/03/23/medicine-creek-treaty-1854/
Schaefer, Kurt Kim. “A Bitter Pill: Indian Reform Policy,Indian Acculturation, and the Puyallup Act of 1893.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 102, no. 1 (2010): 14–28. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23059492.
Schaefer, Kurt Kim. “ The Promise and the Price of Contact:Puyallup Indian Acculturation, Federal Indian Policy and the City of Tacoma, 1832-1909. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington (Seattle, 2016), https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/36721.
Peter C. Stanup. Woman’s Tribune, June 17, 1893, .Nineteenth Century Collections Online (accessed June 25, 2023) https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/TAVBRB329958463/NCCO?u=ilstu_milner&sid=bookmark-NCCO&xid=98212703.
White, M.H. “Puyallup Indian Reservation Showing AllotmentsPer US Patents.” Map. (1 centimeter is approximately 40 acres). Tacoma, 1886. (accessed 16 June 2023) https://www.reddit.com/r/Tacoma/comments/qbnbvy/map_of_the_puyallup_tribal_reservation_in_1886/?rdt=50388.
About the Author
Katura Hagerman completed an internship with Job Carr Cabin Museum in Summer 2023. She was a senior at at Illinois State University majoring in history education and minoring in Native American Studies.
Katura chose to intern with Job Carr Cabin Museum because "I like that they place a lot of focus on community outreach and make all of their events free so everyone is able to experience what they have to offer. I think it makes the cabin a really special place."
Her internship included a research project on the allotment of the Puyallup Reservation. She says that she learned a lot about that process and about the Puyallup tribe in general. She was able to compare and contrast the process with the her study of the Plains tribes.
After her internship, Katura returned to Illinois for a student teaching assignment. After graduation, she hoped to return to the Pacific Northwest.