According to Klamath tribal legend, the Creator and animals existed before humans, and consulted in their creation. For millennia, the indigenous Klamath tribes flourished in what is now called Oregon's Klamath Basin, east of the Cascade Mountains.
Theirs was a diligent culture. They subsisted on hunting, fishing, root and water lily seed gathering. Following the introduction of the horse on the North American continent, ownership of the animal became a sign of wealth. The tribes placed great emphasis on family solidarity and fidelity. The Klamath spoke two languages, Klamath and Modoc.
The first European to arrive in the region was a trapper from Hudson's Bay Company, Peter Skeen Ogden, in 1829. He opened trade relations with the tribes. Ogden was followed by explorers, missionaries, ranchers and settlers in the thousands. The tribes resisted the outsiders' encroachment until 1864, when they signed a treaty to formally capitulate and relinquish some 23 million acres of their homeland. Then life on the new Klamath Reservation began.
Cattle raising was encouraged there and to this day it has been a successful venture for many tribal members. Members also took vocational training at the reservation agency and obtained gainful positions at various locations. Another successful venture was freighting, based on pre-European trade networks. In 1870, the Klamath Tribal Agency set up a sawmill from which lumber was delivered to Fort Klamath and other customers. With the advent of the railroad in 1911, lumber became a far more profitable commodity. By the 1950s, the Klamath ranked among the wealthier tribes in the country.
In 1954, federal recognition of the tribe was terminated by Congress, which ended that source of human services, and the reservation land base of 1.8 million acres was seized by condemnation. Nevertheless, in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the tribes had retained their treaty rights to subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering, and by 1986, federal recognition was restored -- albeit without giving back the land base.
The tribes were directed to draw up an economic self-sufficiency plan that eventually led to the construction of the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino, which opened in 1997.