The Umpquas celebrated numerous feasts and gift-giving occasions, such as birth, naming, first kills, puberty, war, death, and the make-doctor dance for new shamans. Feasts included both sacred and secular elements. Each village had a chief who had several wives and slaves. He acted as an arbiter and received a share of all financial transactions as well as a food tithe. The position of chief was generally inherited through the male line. Although they slept in sweat houses, men and boys ate in the family house, where their mothers or wives cooked for them. Women gathered firewood and plants, made baskets, prepared foods, and carried water. Men fished, hunted, tanned hides, tended tobacco, and made nets, planks, and canoes.
Although society was ranked according to wealth, the divisions were not as rigid as they were farther north. Slaves were usually acquired in raids, although a chief could enslave a villager for improper behavior.
Most shamans were women. They cured by extracting a pain, a small object filled with the patient's blood. Some groups also had common shamans, who blew smoke and waved a flicker feather over the patient. Unsuccessful cures sometimes led to the identification and murder of evil shamans (sorcerers). However, in such cases, a murder compensation had to be paid for the dead shaman. A shaman's fee was often paid to her husband. Shamans' powers derived from guardian spirits. Other powers conferred by certain spirits included the ability to cure rattlesnake bites, talk to herbs to receive remedies and love charms from them, and find lost objects.
Numerous rituals were associated with pregnancy and birth. Girls were secluded when they reached puberty and were permitted neither to touch their hair or skin nor to eat anything except dry food for a year. They also had to swim twice a day, and their fathers also underwent certain restrictions. Women were purchased for marriage; children were illegitimate if their mothers were not paid for. Jealousy, meanness, and barrenness were acceptable reasons for divorce. Parents could also buy back their daughter, who then had considerable personal freedom.
The various death customs included the deathbed confession of wrongs, carriage of the corpse to the cemetery on a deerskin, and funeral orations. Mourners cut their hair and wore ashes and pitch on their heads and faces.
Non-Indian traders first arrived in the area in the late eighteenth century. The fur trade began around 1818, at which time a group of Umpquas was killed by traders, possibly Iroquois in the service of the North West Company. Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Umpqua in 1836. Around this time, previously unknown diseases began taking a serious toll on the Indians.
Sporadic, trade-based contact continued until the flood of settlers in the late 1840s and the Rogue River Valley gold rush of 1852. In 1851, the Tututnis traded 2.5 million acres of land for $28,500. Their bitterness when they subsequently understood the deal fueled their desire to extract revenge. They soon began killing whites and burning settlers' houses. Two years later, when a group of whites attacked some Chetco Indians after persuading them to disarm, the Chetcos attacked some soldiers, and the fighting spread.
Upper Umpquas stayed out of the war, having signed a land cession treaty in 1854, and moved two years later to the Grand Ronde Reservation. Some Upper Umpquas, along with villages of different linguistic groups, signed a treaty in 1853; in exchange for a land cession of more than 700 square miles, it recognized the existence of and called for a reservation for the Cow Creek band of the Umpqua tribe. The Rogue River War of 1855–1856 provided an opportunity for whites to destroy game trails and hunting grounds and to appropriate and clear land for farms. Cow Creeks fled the area during this period, hiding in the mountains as refugees.
After the war, local Indians, once fiercely independent, were shattered. Some Upper Umpquas, Tututnis, Chetcos, Coquilles, Chasta Costas, and others were forced to walk over the mountains in winter to the Grand Ronde Reservation. Other groups straggled in until 1857, when many Indians were moved to the Coast (or Siletz) Reservation, created two years earlier. On the way, and once there, several hundred died from exposure, starvation, and disease. Shamans who failed to cure the diseases were persecuted by their people, which gave the government an excuse to step in and disarm the Indians.
Meanwhile, the Grand Ronde Reservation was created in 1857. A school system designed to eradicate Indian culture was promptly set up. Many people left Grand Ronde for the Siletz Reservation or local communities. Those that remained worked as farmers or loggers.
Disparities between treaty and nontreaty Indians, as well as agents' promotion of alcohol and thievery, spread discord and exacerbated intertribal conflict. Many Indians escaped during this time but were rounded up by soldiers, who further abused them. Meanwhile, intermarriage further weakened tribal identities.
In 1865, a central strip was removed from the Siletz Reservation and opened for white settlement. The northern part then became the Siletz Reservation and the southern half (Coosans, Siuslawans, and Alseans) became the Alsea Reservation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) turned all operations over to the Methodists, who worked to eradicate all vestiges of Indian culture. Indians danced the Ghost Dance in 1871; the variant Earth Lodge cult (locally known as the Warm House Dance) began in 1873. The Indian Shaker Church became popular beginning in the 1890s.
By 1894, most of the Siletz Reservation had been ceded to the public domain, and tribal languages had all but disappeared. The remaining residents worked in subsistence activities or in logging, cutting trees on their plundered reservation. By 1928, as a result of both widespread theft and the allotment processes, most of the land base was gone. Eighteen years later, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation voted to accept termination of government recognition and services. The former reservation land base of 1.3 million acres had completely disappeared. Most of the allotments were lost shortly thereafter, due mainly to nonpayment of taxes. Tribal life for most of the former Siletz tribes virtually disappeared. At the same time, although 537 acres of land had been added to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1936, it too was declared terminated.
Meanwhile, the Cow Creek band had intermarried extensively with other Indians as well as the French Canadian population. The group created a formal government around 1918. They pressed their case for land claims litigation, but by the time they learned of the existence of the Indian Claims Commission, they had missed the deadline for filing a claim. Officially terminated in 1956, they were formally restored in 1982. Later in that decade they accepted a land settlement of $1.5 million and, over the objections of the BIA, placed the funds in a permanent endowment.
In 1973, the Siletz reservation Indians formed a new council to work for the restoration of tribal status, which was obtained in 1977. The new 3,630-acre Siletz Reservation was created in 1980. Grand Ronde was restored in 1983, with all former rights save those pertaining to subsistence activities. A tribal council was formed the same year. Five years later, Congress gave the tribe 9,811 acres of timbered land, the income of which was used to purchase a one hundred-acre administrative land base.