The McQuinn Strip Boundary Dispute: 1871-1972

The following information (including a copy of Public Law 92-4237) was published on November 22, 1972 to tribal members and friends with an attached message that read:

"To our many friends:
    All of the members of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation are pleased that you came to help us celebrate the return of the McQuinn Strip Lands to the rightful owners.
    To all of you, we say QUA-THLA-NUM-WE-UN-NOW-WE, which in our language means 'WELCOME'. We hope you have an enjoyable time on this historic occasion."

Signed by:
    Olney Patt, Sr., Chairman of the Tribal Council
    Kenneth L. Smith, Secretary-Treasurer of the Tribal Council
    Nelson Wallulatum, Chief of the Wascoes
    Amos Simtustus, Sr., Chief of the Warm Springs
    Ray Johnson, Sr., Chief of the Paiutes


The Indian tribes of middle Oregon signed a treaty with the United States in 1855. In it they gave up their ancestral lands and retained only that part which became known as the Warm Springs Reservation.

They signed with some misgivings but when Gen. Joel Palmer, superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory, told them it offered them their only protection from the coming hordes of white settlers, they believed him.

Palmer outlined, at a three-day council near The Dalles, where the proposed reservation would be. The Indians accepted it.

In a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, Palmer said: "A map of this reservation is herewith enclosed, but as no surveys have been made in that region, it can only be approximate to accuracy."

The first survey of the reservation was made 16 years later-in 1871-by T. B. Handley and there was an immediate outcry from the Indians. Handley had put the northern boundary well south of the agreed line. This meant that the western boundary also could not run as they had understood it.

This disagreement over the boundary continued-sometimes with bitterness-for more than 100 years.

It ended only with passage in 1972 of Public Law 92-427 which finally settled the northern and western boundaries virtually on the Indians' terms.

It restored to the Indians ownership of 61,360 acres that had been in Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests and put another 17,251 acres of patented, privately owned land, inside the reservation.

As Rep. Al Ullman said, it took all these years to "give back to the Indians land that is and always has been theirs."

The disputed land had come to be known as the McQuinn Strip named for John A. McQuinn, a government surveyor who in 1887 made a resurvey and found the boundary to be as the Indians had claimed-substantially north and west of the line resulting from the Handley survey of 1871.

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How did it happen that two competent surveyors could produce such widely varying lines?

The treaty said the northeast corner of the reservation was in the middle of the Deschutes River "opposite the eastern terminus of a range of highlands usually known as the Mutton Mountains." But it seems clear now that the name Mutton Mountains was applied in 1855 to one ridge and by the time of the 1871 survey was applied to quite another ridge.

And so the surveyors started at different points.

The change in name for the ridges was not immediately apparent, perhaps because when Handley made his survey he neither talked with the Indians nor referred to the sketch map that Palmer attached to the treaty.

But McQuinn talked with the Indians, ran the survey, later saw Palmer's sketch and said it confirmed the more northerly line.

The second or McQuinn survey had been authorized by Congress in 1886 on the basis of Indian protests against the Handley survey. After consideration of the two, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approved the McQuinn line as correct.

Then the whites, a number of whom had settled south of the McQuinn line, protested. So the Commission of 1890 was appointed to make a study. It recommended the Handley line. Congress in 1894 adopted it as official.

But that didn't end the Indians' protests. So in 1917 Congress appropriated $5,000 for another study. That study was made by French Mensch, U. S. surveyor. He said the McQuinn line was correct but that because of the number of settlers south of that line, there would be great legal difficulties in putting the reservation boundary there. He suggested cash compensation to the Tribes for loss of the land in the eastern and central section, then running the boundary up to the McQuinn line for the western area where there were not settlers. Tribal leaders rejected this and continued to protest.

In 1930 Congress authorized the Confederated Tribes to take their case to the U. S. Court of Claims. They did and in 1941 that court accepted the McQuinn line as correct except a triangle of about 8,000 acres at the northeast corner. The court said, however, that the Confederated Tribes should get the value of the land, not the land itself. Later it set the 1855 value of the approximately 80,000 acres at $80,925 plus interest for a total of $241,084.

However, instead of offering the Tribes that sum in settlement of damages, the court applied the rule of offsetting payments, under which it found that the United States had expended $252,089 in behalf of the Tribes so the Tribes actually owed money to the government. It then dismissed the case on the ground that no money was actually owing to the Tribes, even though the reservation had been shortchanged in setting the boundary.

In 1943 Sen. Charles McNary and Rep. Lowell Stockman introduced a bill setting the boundary on the modified McQuinn line as approved by the Court of Claims. The Departments of Justice and Agriculture opposed it and the bill failed.

Then Sen. Guy Cordon came up with a bill that would at least give economic justice to the Tribes. Congress approved it in 1948, giving to the Tribes the gross revenues from the lands in the McQuinn strip. There was little money from this the first few years, but in 1955 the payment was $240,433 and in subsequent years it ranged from a low of $39,354 to a high of $791,119 for a total through 1970 of $5,951,386.

Despite this cash gain, the Tribal Council continued to hold out for ownership. They knew this would mean the Bureau of Indian Affairs would siphon off 10 per cent in administrative fees, resulting in an actual loss of money. But they believed the land was theirs and they wanted it.

(Happily, the BIA has revised it fee regulations and if the 10 per cent is invested in new, previously unbudgeted forest improvement practices, the BIA does not take it.)

When Ullman introduced the McQuinn ownership bill in the House on Dec. 8, 1971, he said that to the Tribes it was not a matter of money but "a matter of pride and justice."

For about two years before the bill was introduced there had been intensive work to find points of disagreement among individuals and governmental units. Compromises were worked out where necessary and the bill began its way through Congress with what appeared to be no opposition.

Then in May, 1972, at a hearing before the House Interior subcommittee, a bombshell was dropped bye John R. McGuire, chief of the Forest Service. He said the administration opposed the bill. He called for a study of all Indian boundary claims; said it might involve 40 million acres of national forest land. He proposed a two-year study.

However, the Senate Interior Committee on July 19 approved an identical McQuinn ownership bill, introduced by Sens. Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, and the House Interior Committee followed with approval on July 26. On Aug. 2 the full Senate passed the bill and only house approval remained.

Then, as though there had not been enough obstacles in 101 years, the House Republican Conference Legislative Digest repeated the administration's opposition, saying both Interior and Agriculture feared "it will establish an undesirable precedent."

But the House paid no attention to this and on Sept. 7 gave unanimous passage to the bill.

On Sept. 21 President Nixon signed it and the Warm Springs Reservation finally included all but a small fraction of the land the Tribes had claimed since giving up all the rest of north central Oregon in 1855.

A small triangle at the northeast corner, included in the reservation by the McQuinn survey, was ruled out when the Court of Claims amended that McQuinn line so it would make a straight run from the Deschutes to the Cascades.

The privately owned acres in the McQuinn Strip had been a source of concern to the Tribes for a long time. In 1971 it was feared that one 11,600-acre unit of grazing land would fall into the hands of developers so the Tribes bought it for $40 an acre, although there seemed little chance of recovering that much from it. The remaining fee patent lands in the strip and in the original reservation total about 9,000 acres. The Tribes have offered to buy from such owners as care to sell. The rights of those who do not sell will be maintained as in the past, with general jurisdiction in the hands of the Tribal Council.

The McQuinn Strip Boundary Dispute:
Important Dates

1855-The Warm Springs Reservation was established by treaty.
1871-T. B. Handley made the first survey; the Tribes protested that the northern line of the survey was farther south than agreed.
1886-Congress authorized a resurvey
1887-John A. McQuinn completed the resurvey, establishing a line farther north than the Handley line.
1888-The Commissioners of Indian Affairs approved the McQuinn line.
1890-A commission appointed at the request of white settlers recommended the Handleyline.
1891-Congress approved the Handley line and established it as the reservation's boundary.
1917-Fred Mensch made a study in response to continuing Indian protests, found the McQuinn line correct, but recommended revisions with cash compensation to the Tribes in lieu of lands on which settlers had located.
1919-The General Land Office approved the Handley line.
1921-The Tribes refused to approve the Mensch Report.
1930-Congress authorized the Tribes to sue in the Court of Claims.
1941-The court accepted the McQuinn line except for a small triangle at the extreme northeast but said the Tribes should recover the value of the land and not the land itself.
1943-Sen. Charles McNary and Rep. Lowell Stockman introduced a bill fixing the modified McQuinn line as the boundary; the bill failed.
1945-The Court of Claims, setting the value under its 1941 decision, said the Tribes should get $80,925 as the 1855 value of the 80,000 acres plus $160,159 interest. However it applied an "offset" rule, said the government had expended more than that on the Tribes. It said this wiped out the claim, and it dismissed the suit.
1948-Congress passed a bill by Sen. Guy Cordon providing that the Tribes should receive the net revenues from the 61,360 acres of government land within the disputed area.
1971-Rep. Al Ullman introduced in the House and Sens. Mark Hatfield and bob Packwood in the Senate a bill establishing the McQuinn line, as modified by the Court of Claims, as the north and west boundary of the reservation.
1972-The bill ending the McQuinn strip dispute became law.

Public Law 92-427
92nd Congress, S. 2969
September 21, 1972


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