The McQuinn Strip Boundary Dispute

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

The Indian Tribes of Middle Oregon signed a treaty with the United States in 1855. The Indians gave up their right to ancestral lands and retained only that part which became known as the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. They were reluctant to give up these lands but were told that it was the only way they could protect their land from the rush of settlers. A map was roughly made of the new Reservation boundary based on agreement with the Tribal signatures of the treaty.

The first survey of the Reservation was done in 1871 by T.B. Handley and there was an immediate objection from the Indians. Handley had put the boundary well south of the agreed upon line. That also made the western boundary line run differently.
The protest by the Warm Springs Tribes stated that the starting point for the survey was in the wrong location and resulted in an unacceptable boundary line location. The protest was not acted upon until 1886 when Congress authorized a resurvey of the boundary line. John A. McQuinn completed the survey and after consultation with tribal members that had signed the treaty determined that the landmarks used by Handley to initiate the original survey had been wrong and surveyed the line further north. This resurvey became known as the McQuinn Strip. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs approved the McQuinn line in 1888.

White settlers protested the McQuinn line in 1890 and after Congressional inquiry the Handley line was reinstated as the official boundary. The Tribes continued to protest without successfully changing the boundary.

The continued Indian protest led to a study by Fred Mensch that determined that the McQuinn line was correct but recommended that the Indians be paid cash compensation in lieu of lands on which settlers had located. The General Land Office approved the Handley line in 1919 but the Indians refused to accept the Mensch report. Their perseverance led in 1930 to Congress authorizing the Tribes to sue in the Court of Claims.

The court accepted the McQuinn line but said that the Tribes should recover the value of the land and not the land itself. The Tribes refused to accept this decision and continued their effort to reclaim land that was rightfully theirs. Finally the struggle met with success in 1971 when Representative Al Ullman introduced in the House and Senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood in the Senate a bill establishing the McQuinn line as the north and west boundary of the reservation.

In 1972 the bill ending the McQuinn Strip dispute became law and an additional 61,360 acres was included within the boundary of the Reservation. The long struggle of the Tribes finally resulted in acquisition of the lands initially agreed upon in the Treaty of 1855.