Klamath - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The winter village was the basic Social unit, with the same families returning to their earthlodges each year. Although true social classes were absent, a distinction was made between the wealthy and the remainder of the population and slaves were kept. Wealth was symbolized by the possession of horses, slaves, beads, archers' equipment, canoes, furs, hides, large lodges, and other material items. In 1864 the slaves were freed, and many returned to their native groups.

Political Organization. There were five or six geographical subdivisions or tribelets of the Klamath. The major tribelets were those living on Klamath Marsh and the middle Williamson River. Other tribelets were located near Agency Lake, Pelican Bay, Klamath Falls, and the Sprague River Valley. These divisions disappeared after settlement on the Reservation. Chieftainship was weakly developed, with some Villages having chiefs and others having none. Chiefs were men who had acquired prestige through warfare or wealth, were able public speakers and had some spirit experiences. The intensification of trade before placement on the reservation led a few men to acquire much wealth and increase their authority. During the reservation period, the Klamath had a general council, though they were largely under the control of the succession of agents at Klamath Agency.

Social Control and Conflict. The Klamath warred with other groups. All Klamath tribelets fought together, perhaps under the direction of a principal chief. War was motivated by plunder, a desire for slaves, and for revenge. Traditional enemies included the Shasta, Northern Paiute, Takelma, Kalapuya, and Pit River groups. Relations were close with the Modoc and peaceful with the Molala and Wishram-Wasco. Blood feuds between tribelets were not uncommon and were often precipitated by the murder of a man living with a wife of another tribelet. The feuds were usually ended by a negotiated payment of compensation.

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