Miller family members are the last Methow tribe descendants to live on a Moses Allotment

Editor’s note: For more than 13,000 years, Native Americans have lived along the waterways of the Pacific Northwest. Columbia River tribes share the names of waterways they call home: the Entiats, the Wenatchiis, the Chelans, the Lakes, the Okanagans and the Methows.

Members of the Miller family are the longest known continuous residents of the Methow Valley. Descended from indigenous Methows, their story is told through generations by the intricacies of their artwork, their native language, their connection to the land and their dedication to building strong communities.

They generously agreed to share their story with the Methow Valley News. In a five-part series, we will share the history of the Methows through the Millers. Following is the fourth installment.

Photo provided by Chuck Borg
A 1952 aerial photo of the Moses Allotments. The Millers retain No. 27.

By Joanna Bastian

In the 1960s, the Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD) built Wells Dam on the Columbia River, forming the placid Lake Pateros reservoir. Before the dam, the mighty Columbia was a spectacular sight, with the Methow rapids below Pateros roaring during spring runoff. But in 1967, the Methow rapids disappeared beneath the rising waters of Lake Pateros behind the dam.

The rapids were not the only part of the waterway that disappeared. The Methow Valley and surrounding areas were once part of an Indian reservation named after one of the most influential Native American leaders in north central Washington, Chief Moses.

In 1855, the Walla Walla Treaty stripped away Native American land rights in central Washington. Multiple tribes were ordered to move to the existing Yakima (now Yakama) Reservation.

Chief Moses refused to leave his established traditional territory. He was joined by people of other tribes who were being pushed out of their own territories by white settlers, and who did not want to move from their traditional lands onto a reservation.

Chief Moses was close friends with Sam Miller, the postmaster and owner of the first trading post in Wenatchee. Miller also served as a mediator between the U.S. government and Native Americans in the Columbia basin.

In 1878, Chief Moses and Miller met with General Howard. During their meeting, the chief negotiated what would become the Columbia Reservation. It reached from the Spokane River to the Columbia River to Lake Chelan, and north to the Canadian border. The reservation was commonly known as the Moses Reservation.

The U.S. Congress ratified the agreement, but the reservation was short-lived. Hyram “Okanogan” Smith lobbied to return large portions of the northern Methow Valley to public domain when gold and silver were discovered within the reservation’s borders. Miners and settlers pushed to claim lands along the river drainages, and exerted political pressure on Congress to eliminate the entire Moses Reservation.

Chief Moses compromised, and agreed to move to the Colville Reservation only if Native Americans could stay on parcels of land if they wanted. A Presidential Executive Order dated July 1886 determined allotment boundaries, and Native American allottees were named. These parcels were identified as the Moses Allotments. Every head of household who wished to remain was allotted 640 acres of surveyed land. Forty allotments were issued, totaling more than 25,000 acres.

By early 1900, most indigenous Methow people had moved, or been moved, to the Colville Reservation. Eventually almost all of the allotment acreage was lost to irrigation right-of-ways, mining claims, road development, dams, and the deep pockets of corporate orchards and ranches.

Photo provided by Chuck Borg, courtesy of the Miller family.Left to right, brothers Albert, Henry, and Jerome Miller.

Photo provided by Chuck Borg, courtesy of the Miller family.
Left to right, brothers Albert, Henry, and Jerome Miller.

Only one Methow family continues to live on a piece of history, Moses Columbia Allotment No. 27, located on a wide bend of the Methow River near its junction with the Columbia. The Miller family members are direct descendants of the Methow tribe and of Chief Moses’ friend, Sam Miller. They have called this land home for hundreds of generations.

Captain Joe Neekowit, leader of the Methow Tribe, claimed the Alta Lake allotment. Alta Lake State Park is currently located on this historical Moses Allotment No. 24. Neekowit’s sister Mary secured the neighboring allotment, No. 27.

Mary’s granddaughter, Nancy Paul Chos Chostq, married Sam Miller, and moved to the Wenatchee trading post. A year after the marriage, she returned home to live with her grandparents in the Methow Valley, where she gave birth to her son, Sam C. Miller Jr. The Miller family continues to live on the historical Moses Allotment number 27 to this day.

Rose Marie Chus-chutl, who would one day become Sam C. Miller Jr.’s mother-in-law, lived on an allotment at present day Azwell Dam. President Grover Cleveland reserved the Moses Allotment No. 20, “for the exclusive use and occupation of Chus-chutl and her children,” by an Executive Order in 1894.

Chus-chutl’s daughter Lucy married Sam C. Miller Jr., and they had three sons, Albert, Jerome, and Henry Miller. The family planted 40 acres of orchard and cared for both Rose Marie Chus-chutl and the land.

When Chus-chutl passed away in October 1939, the Wenatchee Daily World cited her as one of the, “most interesting and influential Native Americans of North Central Washington.” Upon her passing, her sons Jerome and Henry acquired ownership of Moses Allotment No. 20.

In the late 1950s, the Douglas County PUD and Chelan County PUD placed condemnation signs on the land and began exploratory drilling. It was soon established that the PUDs had no authority to condemn the allotment, so they removed their condemnation signs — however, the construction of Wells Dam proceeded. The homes and surrounding orchards that had been lovingly tended for three generations were under water. The family was only compensated for “grazing land’” instead of the more valuable “industrial land” that was their orchards. The brothers were forced to move their families.

Jerome Miller moved his family to the Methow Valley and joined his parents on Moses Allotment No. 27 along the riverbank. There, they continued their tradition of caring for the land. Jerome’s son, Lewis Miller, worked with the Gebbers family for many years in their orchards.

Two of the Millers’ family homes were caught in the path of the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire. When asked if she would consider moving, Cyndy Miller responded, “Where am I going to go? My history is here.”

In the days after the fire, the Miller family immediately began clean-up operations. The long-held family home site was one of the first areas to be cleaned up and prepped for home building. Two new homes and landscaping took the place of burned houses.

Cyndy’s brother Mark summed up their sentiments about their historical land: “This land, this family, this is what makes us the Millers.”