In a seldom-told part of the Chinook treaty story is the role of Robert Shortess (1797-1878). Shortess, an early Oregon pioneer, played a significant role in the acquisition of Oregon Territory, the formation of the Oregon state government, and in the formation of the region’s relationship with native tribes.
Anson Dart, the Oregon superintendent of Indian Affairs, named Shortess subagent of the Astoria District in October 1850, tasking him with arresting Indians for crimes against Americans and keeping them from liquor. Shortess felt a personal need to enforce prohibition among the tribes, both because of the Methodist Church’s position on liquor (he being a staunch Methodist), and because some settlers were using liquor to steal land from native people, many of whom were Shortess’s relatives through his wife’s Indian heritage.
In February 1851, Shortess reported a census of the Lower Columbia tribes and prepared the Chinook and Tillamook tribes for treaty negotiations. He served as a translator during the negotiations with several tribes at Tansy Point, likely communicating in Chinuk Wawa Chinook Jargon). Shortly afterwards, he wrote Dart, siding with the tribes over Washington Hall, who had claimed the land, and requesting that Hall vacate the claim.
On Oct. 10, 1851, Dart wrote Hall that he did not need to vacate the claim and that Shortess would no longer be an Indian agent. He then fired Shortess by a letter on Oct. 18, 1851.