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Historical Documents – Northwest Ordinance / Donation Land Act of 1850

Sue Shaffer, Tribal Chairman
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians 

The Northwest Ordinance … Signed July 13, 1787

Except from the Northwest Ordinance

“The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to lime be made from preventing wrongs done to them, and preserving peace and friendship with them.”

The United States Constitution … Signed September 17, 1787

Article 1, Section 8, clause 3, commonly referred to as the Indian commerce clause. This clause states that “The Congress shall have power … …. to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states and with Indian Tribes.”Article V1, Section 2, states: “this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof and all treaties made or shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme law, of the land and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of the state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

(The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians is one of over 500 hundred federally recognized sovereign Tribal governments that are recognized by both the Northwest Ordinance and the US Constitution .)

The Donation Land Act of 1850

In 1843, by a vote of 52 to 50, settlers of the Willamette Valley authorized the formation of a provisional government until such time as the Unites States was extended to the Oregon Country. They drafted Oregon’s first constitution, called the organic act. The intent was to foster a community of self sufficient farmers working their own land.

When the United States finally did extend its authority and declare the Oregon Country to be a US Territory, Joseph Lane, the Territorial Governor appointed in 1849, was empowered to review all Provisional Government laws and accept or reject them. Only the law on minting gold “Beaver” coins was declared unconstitutional, as the US Constitution restricted the power of coining money to the federal government. The Provisional Government’s land ordinances remained in force until passage of the Donation land Act of 1850.

After 1854, land was no longer free in Oregon. The price was set at $1.25 an acre with a limit of 320 acres in any one claim. As the years passed, the cost per acre rose and the maximum acreage dropped.

(An example or the US Governments “good faith” toward the Cow Creek Tribe was the September 19, 1853 treaty in which the Tribe ceded more than 800 sq. miles for 2.3 cents ail acre, while at the same time the US Government was charging $1.25 an acre to the pioneers for land to which they had no title.)