Klamath people

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A Klamath man
Klamath people in dugout canoes, 19th century

The Klamath people are a Native American tribe of the Plateau culture area in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Today Klamath people are enrolled in the federally recognized tribes:



Prior to the arrival of European explorers, the Klamath people lived in the area around the Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath, Williamson, and Sprague rivers. They subsisted primarily on fish and gathered roots and seeds.

The Klamath were known to raid neighboring tribes (such as the Achomawi on the Pit River), and occasionally to take prisoners as slaves. They traded with the Chinook people at The Dalles.


In 1826, Peter Skene Ogden, an explorer for the Hudson's Bay Company, first encountered the Klamath people, and he was trading with them by 1829. The United States frontiersman Kit Carson admired their arrows, which were reported to be able to shoot through a house.

Treaty with the United States

The Klamaths, Modocs, and the Yahuskin, a band of Klamath erroneously believed to be a group Paiute or Shoshone,[1] signed a treaty with the United States in 1864, establishing the Klamath Reservation to the northeast of Upper Klamath Lake. The treaty required the tribes to cede the land in the Klamath Basin, bounded on the north by the 44th parallel, to the United States. In return, the United States was to make a lump sum payment of $35,000, and annual payments totalling $80,000 over 15 years, as well as providing infrastructure and staff for the reservation. The treaty provided that, if the Indians drank or stored intoxicating liquor on the reservation, the payments could be withheld; the United States could also locate additional tribes on the reservation in the future. The tribes requested Lindsay Applegate as the agent to represent the United States to them. The Indian agent estimated the total population of the three tribes at about 2,000 when the treaty was signed.

Post-treaty history

Since termination of recognition of their tribal sovereignty in 1954 (with federal payments not disbursed until 1961), the Klamath and neighboring tribes have reorganized their government and revived tribal identity. The Klamath, along with the Modoc and Yahooskin, have formed the federally recognized Klamath Tribes confederation. Their tribal government is based in Chiloquin, Oregon.

Some Klamath live on the Quartz Valley Indian Community in Siskiyou County, California.

A fictionalized account of historical events surrounding the 1961 tribal termination can be found in the 2005 Rick Steber novel Buy the Chief a Cadillac,[2] winner of the 2005 Spur Award.



The Klamath spoke one dialect of the Klamath–Modoc language, the other being spoken by the Modoc people, who lived south of the Klamath. Once thought to be a language isolate, Klamath–Modoc is now considered a member of the Plateau Penutian language family.[citation needed]

Both the Klamath and the Modoc called themselves maqlaqs, meaning "people". When they wanted to distinguish between themselves, the Klamath were called ?ewksiknii, "people of the [Klamath] Lake", and the Modoc were called moowatdal'knii, "people of the south".


The Klamath use Apocynum cannabinum as a fiber.[3] They also consume the roots of Lomatium canbyi for food.[4]


The Klamath people are grouped with the Plateau Indians—the peoples who originally lived on the Columbia River Plateau. They were most closely linked with the Modoc people.

See also


  1. Erminie Wheeler Voegelin. [www.jstor.org/stable/480624 The Northern Paiute of Central Oregon: A Chapter in Treaty-Making Part 1] Ethnohistory 2, No. (1995), pp. 95-132.
  2. Steber, R; Buy the Chief a Cadillac; Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, 2006
  3. Coville, Frederick V. 1897 Notes On The Plants Used By The Klamath Indians Of Oregon. Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium 5(2):87-110 (p. 103)
  4. Coville, Frederick V. 1897 Notes On The Plants Used By The Klamath Indians Of Oregon. Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium 5(2):87-110 (p. 102)
  • Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the year 1865: Reports of Agents in Oregon Washington: United States Office of Indian Affairs, 1865.
  • Hale, Horation. "The Klamath Nation: the country and the people". Science. vol. 19, no. 465, 1892.
  • Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York: Checkmark, 1999. ISBN 0-8160-3964-X

External links