This is the third in a four-part series about the Puyallup Land Allotments.
A Split Within the Puyallup Tribe
Following Eells' survey and census of the Puyallup Reservation, a political split visibly emerged among tribal members. The growing settler presence placed greater pressure on the Puyallup tribe. The Puyallup people had never been a monolith; they did not have the same opinions on all topics. Some believed that the tribe should take a more diplomatic route toward solving problems. Others believed that the tribe should pursue a more aggressive stance.
1891 photo of Puyallup Indian Tribe members gathered on Feb. 9, 1891 as part of their monthly neighborhood meetings. The men gathered to discuss the business of running the reservation and making quality of life improvements. From the image archives of the Tacoma Public Library.
One group within the tribe were known as Conservatives. They tended to be older and had historically held leadership positions within the tribe. Puyallup Conservatives limited their interaction with settler society to trading within the City of Tacoma. They wanted little to do with the government's economic or assimilation programs.
The opposing faction within the tribe were labeled as Progressives. They tended to be young and educated in boarding schools run by the United States government. They believed that land ownership was a necessary step towards forming strong ties with the white community in neighboring Tacoma, as well as establishing economic security for individuals and the tribe. Puyallup Progressives encouraged the US government to complete the reservation allotment process. They also argued for the removal of restrictions on land sales in order to give Puyallup members the ability to participate fully as United States citizens.
Jerry Meeker and Peter Stanup were two of the tribe's leading Progressive figures. Both had attended Forest Grove Indian School where they developed pro-American sympathies and adopted settler customs. Around 1883, the two men became land brokers, selling Puyallup Reservation allotments.
As a child, Jerry was employed by the "Hop King" Ezra Meeker, who was the inspiration for his family's last name. In addition to his role as a land broker, he worked for the Puyallup Land Commission and acted as a guardian for minor allottees, making decisions concerning what should be done with their land patents. Meeker was instrumental in developing the Browns Point and Dash Point regions.
As competition for Puyallup land increased, Tacoma businessmen joined forces with the Progressive faction of the Puyallup tribe. This collaboration on the settlers' part was not due to a belief that the Puyallup people should have equal land rights; it was for economic gain.
Both groups wanted restrictions removed from the allotment lands in order to sell them on the open market. The Puyallup Progressives wanted the funds for community improvement. They believed this was a way for the tribe to become integrated into the broader community. They also thought that the paternalism of government oversight was unnecessary; the Puyallup people should be able to fully exercise the same rights as white citizens. On the other hand, the Tacoma business men wanted to buy the land to urbanize it, further expanding the City and their pocketbooks. The growing city was quickly attracting more people, driving up local land prices.
The most notable example of this unlikely alliance was between Tacoma real estate broker Frank C. Ross and Puyallup Progressives Jerry Meeker and Peter Stanup. Beginning in 1889, they worked together to sign lease-to-own contracts between Natives and Non-Natives. These contracts allowed white settlers to lease lands from Puyallup allottees for 2 years. If Congress removed restrictions on the allotmentments, then ownership would transfer to the lessee. Between 1889 and 1893, they secured 146 contracts. Some of the Puyallup people, however, did not fully understand the legal nuances of the agreements they signed.
Frank Ross moved to Tacoma in 1879, working as a laborer, a merchant, and then moving into real estate. He and Naubert established the Tacoma & Lake City Railway, opening the north and south ends of Tacoma for urbanization. Ross, aong with other local businessment, called on the federal government to dissolve the Puyallup Reservation. When this did not happen, he argued that it should be broken up into allotments.
Puyallup Reservation land became increasingly valuable as the years progressed. The booming town of Tacoma and an ever-expanding Seattle put pressure on local land speculation and development. Puyallup land loss was exacerbated by the lease-to-own contracts. By 1890, over half of tribal allotments were under these contracts.
The Pressures of Urbanization
Tension escalated on the Puyallup members who retained their allotments as demands of the growing population surged. As parts of the tribe attempted to resist urban development, many settlers viewed the reservation as "wasted potential." The growth of the city also made it more difficult for Puyallup members to hunt and fish on their ancestral lands as promised in the Medicine Creek Treaty. Some Puyallup people decided to sell their allotments in order to move away from the reservation to more remote locations where they might still be able to practice a traditional lifestyle. Others chose move into the city and abandon the reservation because it was not a place of refuge.
The Northern Pacific Railroad also played a large role in the loss of Puyallup Reservation lands. The U.S. government gave the NPRR free land to build rail lines across the continent and their terminus in Tacoma. Job Carr and many other settlers believed in the promise of the railroad for economic expansion. As the NPRR expanded their rail network, their need for land increased as well. Although they were required to provide compensation for reservation allotments, they often used underhanded methods to obtain the required signatures and to pay an undervalued price.
Violence also played a part in the loss of allotment land. Some settlers threatened and physically harmed Puyallup members who refused to sell their lands. Numerous Puyallup people, including Peter Stanup, were killed for speaking out or refusing to cooperate.
1881 or 1882 photo of 12 male students from the Puyallup tribal agency who were attending the Forest Grove Indian School. The first group of students admitted to the school in February 1880 included Jerry Meeker and Peter Stanup. From the archives of Friends of Historic Forest Grove.
In May 1893, Peter Stanup disappeared. He was later found dead in a stream. Some Non-Natives claimed that he must have been intoxicated, accidentally falling and drowning in the water; others tried to pin the blame on rival Puyallup members. However, many Puyallup people, including Jerry Meeker, knew that Peter was murdered as a result of his political activities, specifically for speaking up about Native property rights. Their business partner Frank Ross also told the news media that he believed Stanup was murdered by a white man because of land claim arguments. Because of his leadership within the tribe and the controversy surrounding his death, hundreds turned out to mourn Peter Stanup. At the time, it was reported as one of the largest known funerals in the region.
While the US Congress attempted to create a safety net for the Puyallup with passage of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1893, their "good intentions" continued to create devastating effects for the tribe.
The Tide Flats, The Indian Reservation, The Foot Hills and Mount Tacoma. From the 1889 publication Tacoma Illustrated.
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 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.