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Mace Tipton, last of the Umpquas, and a hidden cemetery

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A blast of sparks and embers pummeled a small bronze plaque in an unmarked cemetery. The wildfire’s heat may have made the words on the plaque glow: “Mace Tipton: Last of the Umpquas.”

The man known as Mace Palouse Tipton proudly bore the moniker of being the last Chief of the Umpqua Indians during his life, which ended in 1932. His chieftainship was largely symbolic. Most upper Umpqua Indians had been removed to the distant reservations by 1856. A few others — those closest to Mace — simply disappeared into the upper reaches of Little River and the North Umpqua.

Mace Tipton

Douglas County Museum

Mace Tipton

Even so, “Chief Mace” ultimately played a critical and long-lasting role for his people. Fully immersed in non-Indian society, he served as a living reminder of the area’s first inhabitants. Local settlers and newspapers were fascinated with him. Perhaps Mace’s dignified and peaceful persona defied their bellicose presumptions of what Indians were really like. While Mace’s tribe was physically gone, he ensured their story would not be erased from history.

From all accounts, Mace Tipton’s first years were spent with the last band of Upper Umpqua Indians remaining in their homeland. An 1854 treaty with the Upper Umpquas ceded to the federal government their land from Mount Scott to the crest of the Cascades. The treaty led to the creation of a permanent reservation hundreds of miles away, to which they were marched by military escort. However, a small band of Indians under the leadership of a man named “Captain” refused to submit to reservation life.

Instead, Captain’s band intended to remain in the land of their birth, living a peaceful and traditional life. Yet, they were considered fugitives by the U.S. Army and hunted by local settlers. Captain’s band found refuge in the Little River area and continued making summertime treks to Illahee Flat, also known as Cap’s Illahee because of his close connection to the site.

During this time, Mace’s mother died accidentally when he was a young boy and he was fostered by other women in the tribe. Eventually, he was adopted by a local white family in the Glide area where he assumed a variation of his new guardian’s name: Meshek Tipton.

Mace Tipton

Douglas County Museum

Mace Tipton was featured in the Strawberry Carnival Parade in Roseburg.

Mace would have grown up in a community with few, if any, remaining Indian people. Captain’s band had vanished into the mountains and the “treaty” Indians were largely held at the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. Later in Mace’s life, the descendants of the reservation Indians began filtering back and re-establishing themselves in the area, particularly up Little River.

Mace was always a proud and bold embodiment of the Umpqua Indians. He participated in parades and told stories of his Umpqua heritage. He even advised Glide students how to best portray Umpqua Indians: with “lots of color ... lots of feathers.” Many newspaper articles ran variations of his life’s story. An oil painting of Mace hung in the Umpqua Hotel in downtown Roseburg until it was severely damaged in the 1959 Blast.

A personal priority in Mace’s life centered around a small, unmarked Indian cemetery. Mace befriended the homesteaders who occupied the site. He and his Klamath wife, Nance, would visit the family and camp near the graves for weeks at a time.

In 1912, Nance preceded Mace in death. Bereft with grief, Mace spent hours conducting traditional rituals prior to Nance’s burial in the cemetery. For the next 20 years, he made annual pilgrimages to visit her and leave bouquets of peonies, zinnias and roses — all picked from the homesteaders’ nearby garden. When he became too frail to visit, the homesteaders themselves decorated Nance’s grave out of respect for their old friend, Chief Mace. He died in June 1932 and was interred next to Nance and among countless ancestors.

The original homestead family protected the site for the better part of a century before passing the responsibility onto subsequent owners. Holes in the ground show evidence of insidious grave robbers lusting to unearth valuable artifacts. Already dispossessed of their land, however, the Indians there died with little more than the buckskins they were buried in.

For decades, Mace’s grave was marked only by a small metal marker on a stick supplied by the county. In 1966, the Daughters of the American Revolution honored the site with a permanent bronze plaque. Nance’s grave never had more than a wood marker with no words on it.

Since then it has been quiet among the Indian graves beneath the tall pines. Some of the trees began growing when it was still Indian land. The Archie Creek Fire swept over the graves and killed all of them. In the weeks after the fire, a gentle rain of dead pine and fir needles fell from the trees and covered the hallowed ground with a thin blanket.

Mace’s bronze plaque sits proudly, unscathed by the flames as if nothing has happened. Conifer seedlings will be planted on the slopes around the cemetery this winter. As they grow, the graves will once more be hidden in a new forest, one rooted in the ashes of the last. /

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(3) comments

Umpqua

Mace mountain

Bob Zybach

This was a very interesting article. I'm guessing by the author's middle name that his family may have been the ones to raise Mace when he was a boy. This adds interesting detail to research I have been doing on Little River and the Archie Creek Fire the past year.

pegrowe62

Thank you for this story.

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